HC Deb 17 May 1836 vol 33 cc977-94
Mr. Morrison

spoke as follows*:—In bringing forward the motion of which I have given notice, if I trespass for a short time on the attention of the House, I must plead the importance and magnitude of the interests involved in the question as my excuse. Honourable Members, Sir, may differ from me on this subject some may consider my apprehensions as altogether unfounded—some, admitting the evil which I would seek to remedy, may think I exaggerate its probable effects—whilst others, perhaps, agreeing that something is necessary to be done, may allege that the remedy I propose is inapplicable or insufficient; but all must allow that the change now going on, and which is likely at no distant period to transfer our chief public conveyances from the King's highways to a number of Joint-stock Railway Companies, is a subject which demands the early, the deliberate, and the serious attention of Parliament.

I need not, Sir, occupy the time of the House by pointing out how important it is to a commercial and manufacturing people like ourselves that our means of conveying persons and goods from place to place should be as perfect as possible; every one must be aware how much has been done in this way during the last twenty or thirty years. It would be *From a corrected edition published by Ridge way, difficult to estimate the value of these improvements, or their effect upon the trade and prosperity of the country. They have carried competition not only into our smaller towns, but even into our villages; and the facilities which they have afforded to the dealer in visiting the warehouses of the manufacturer and the merchant, as well as in obtaining whatever he might require at the least expense and in the shortest space of time, have promoted in no inconsiderable degree that remarkable development of our internal industry during the last twenty years, which has so far outstripped the anticipations of those the best acquainted with the subject. I should have hesitated much before I brought forward this resolution, had I thought it would check in any degree individual enterprise or fair and legitimate speculation; but I am persuaded it will have no such effect. Though my proposition had been years ago the law of the land, I believe we should not have had one project the less before us. Experience shows in this as well as in other countries, that legislative restrictions, required by the public interests, do not prevent individuals from embarking their capital in public works affording the probability of a reasonable return. We all know, Sir, how much this country is indebted to individuals and companies for great and useful works; but for its water communications with the metropolis and other places, Manchester would now have been merely a large village. The illustrious Duke to whom the public is chiefly indebted for this improvement, is justly considered as among the greatest benefactors of his country; nor must we forget what is due to the public-spirited individuals who first undertook, under many and great discouragements, that truly national work, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the success of which has led to the extensive introduction of similar works on the continent, and still more in America. Hitherto on our public roads the most perfect competition has always existed; whoever paid the tolls was at liberty to use them. If any improvement took place which tended to lower the cost or to accelerate the speed of our public conveyances, the public immediately had the full benefit of it; but in the numberless Acts now before the House, no security is taken that the public should have the benefit of any improvement on railways. The superiority of this over all other modes of travelling in respect of rapidity, is perhaps not greater than the capability it promises of reduction of cost. The general introduction of railways may be of great future benefit to the country; and if the public do not reap from them all the advantage it is entitled to, the fault will be laid, and justly so, at our door. It is our duty, Sir, to give every fair encouragement to the enterprise of individuals and of associations, but we are at the same time bound to take care that we do not confer rights and privileges on any individual, or set of individuals, which may be employed to the public detriment, or which may hinder the public from hereafter reaping advantages they would have enjoyed but for the existence of such rights and immunities. All Acts of Parliament conferring on a Joint-stock Company the power of making a canal or railway between any two or more places, necessarily confer peculiar powers and privileges on the subscribers, the abuse of which ought consequently to be guarded against. Such Acts authorise companies to carry their works through the estates and properties of private individuals, often inflicting inconveniences and injuries which no pecuniary compensation can remove or repair, the only justification for which—and in my opinion it is always a sufficient one—being the subservience of private interests to the public good. But this is not all; these Acts further give them what is really equivalent to a monopoly. I put the case thus strongly because it is a fact, that between any two or more places that can be pointed out there is a certain line that is preferable to every other line for a railway or a canal; and which may, indeed, be the only practicable one that can be selected. Now the chances are ten to one that this preferable line will be the first that will be occupied; and a company authorised by the Legislature to take possession of it has thereby acquired an incommunicable privilege and a substantial monopoly, inasmuch as no company that may be formed at any future time for making a new canal or a new railway between the same places, could come into the field under equally favourable circumstances. The advantage conferred in this way may be in some cases so very great as to render all subsequent competition impossible, and in almost all cases it must be very decided. Not only, however, would there be the obstacle of an inferior line in the way of a new company, but the difficulties to be overcome in getting a new Act, the time necessary for the completion of the undertaking, and the vast amount of capital required all contribute to secure the monopoly conferred on the subscribers to the first line, and prevent their profits from being governed by that principle of competition which is in ordinary cases the best protection of the public interests. The railway from London to Liverpool, for example, will cost probably five or six millions sterling. Suppose, now, that the speculation should turn out a profitable one, and that the shareholders realize a large dividend, it is plain that, under the circumstances of the case, it would be all but impossible to reduce it, or to lessen their charges upon the public, by bringing a rival establishment into the field; for, first, the existing company is in possession of the best line; and, second, were it seriously in tended to form a rival establishment, the original company would seek to deter them by reducing their charges; and if, as is probable, they succeeded in this way in getting rid of the threatened competition, they might again raise their charges to the continued injury of the public. But suppose that, in spite of all the difficulties opposed to the formation of a new company, one is formed, obtains an Act, and actually comes into competition with the present line, would not the obvious interests of both parties, unless prevented by some such precaution as that which I have proposed, inevitably bring about some understanding between them, by which the high charges would be further confirmed, and all chance of competition removed to a greater distance?

The history of our Metropolitan Water Companies is most instructive on this point. After a fierce contention among themselves, they came to an agreement by which they parceled the town into districts; and having assigned one to each company, they left it to obtain from the inhabitants the utmost it can obtain, and to profit, without let or hindrance of any kind, by the extension of this ever-growing metropolis The public, too, is served not merely with a dear, but also with a bad article; and the probability of relief is perhaps more distant than it would have been had some of the companies not been established.

It is evident from what has been stated, that in such cases we have no security in competition. I am confirmed in this opinion. by the Report of a Select Committee on the supply of water for the metropolis, printed in 1821. The public is at present without any protection even against a further indefinite extension of demand. In cases of dispute, there is no tribunal but the boards of the companies themselves to which individuals can appeal; there are no regulations but such as the companies may have voluntarily imposed on themselves, and may therefore at any time revoke. All these points, and some others of the same nature, indispensably require legislative regulation, where the subject-matter is an article of the first necessity, and the supply has, from peculiar circumstances, got into such a course that it is not under the operation of those principles which govern supply and demand in other cases. The Committee afterwards state, that the object of Parliament in granting these Acts was to give the benefit of competition to the public, but that they had failed of their object; and they suggest that the companies should be obliged to lay their accounts annually before Parliament.

The history of the existing canals, waterworks, &c, affords abundant evidence of the evils to which I have been adverting. An original share in the Lough borough Canal, for example, which cost 142l. 17s-, is now selling at about 1,250l. and yields a dividend of 90l. or 100l. a-year The fourth part of a Trent and Mersey Canal share, or 50l. of the Company's stock, is now fetching about 600/., and yields a dividend of about 30l. a-year. And there are various other canals in nearly the same situation. But the circumstances already specified, that is, the possession of the best, or it may be, the only practicable line, and the vast capital required for the formation of new canals, have enabled the associations in question, unchecked by competition, to maintain rates of charge which have realized the enormous profits referred to for a long series of years. The advance in the value of the New River Company's shares may be referred to as affording a further and even more striking illustration of the same principle.

It is plain from the facts now stated, and I might have referred to fifty other similar instances, that competition in such cases is not to be depended upon, as a means of reducing the exorbitant rates of charge which produce such extraordinary and unlooked-for profits. But even though competition might be depended upon, the question arises, whether it would be right to trust exclusively to its protection? And to this question a decided negative should be given. The Legislature is bound to prevent, as far as it can, the unnecessary waste of the public capital. Now, it would be obviously a most flagrant waste of capital to construct two or three canals or railways to do the business that might be as well done by one, the only object, in fact, of the construction of the latter being the reduction of the charges made by the first, a reduction which might have been effected without trouble or outlay, by a proper legislative provision.

We have already seen that five or six millions sterling will be required for the construction of a railway from London to Liverpool. Now, suppose that the undertaking should at some future time become an exceedingly profitable one, that the charges are not sufficiently reduced, and that in consequence it is resolved to construct a rival line of road. This rival line will probably require an additional outlay of something like five or six millions for its construction; in other words, in order to reduce the rates on the first, it will be necessary to lay out other five or six millions in making a second! Ought not the possibility of so egregious a waste of the money of the community to have been provided against? And this might have been done without any difficulty whatever. All that can be gained by the second road might have been as effectually accomplished by the Legislature, had they reserved a power to revise the rates or tolls chargeable on the first; so that under the circumstances supposed, a capital of five or six millions will have to be sacrificed to repair a legislative oversight.

But expensive and wasteful as this resource undoubtedly is, it is all but certain that it will have to be resorted to. Had a railway been established between London and Manchester in 1770, and rates of charges fixed that would have yielded a moderate profit at the time, it would be difficult to say what profit they would now have yielded, but it must have been quite enormous. The cotton trade may be said to have almost entirely grown up in that interval. So low indeed was the estimation in which it was held at the period referred to, and for several years after, that it is not so much as once alluded to in the "Wealth of Nations," published in 1777; though the annual value of the manufacture may now be moderately estimated at thirty-five millions! The effect that this wonderful increase has had on the population and wealth, of the country has been quite unprecedented in the history of the world. Liverpool, Manchester, and Glasgow, from inconsiderable places have become great, opulent, and flourishing cities. The population of Lancashire, which in 1770 was about 400,000, was in 1821, 672,731, and at present certainly exceeds 1,500,000, having nearly quadrupled in little more than half a century. Now, can any one doubt that it would have been most unfortunate for Lancashire, and for the community at large, had the principal lines of communication with the metropolis, or any other considerable place been assigned to associations in 1770, with power to levy certain specified tolls and charges in all time to come? So preposterous an arrangement would long since have been felt as a great grievance, and the interference of the Legislature been imperatively required. But can that which, would have been folly in 1770, 1790, or 1800, be wisdom in 1836? Astonishing as has been the progress of the country during the last half century, there is every reason to conclude that its progress during the ensuing fifty years will be still greater. Every department of industry has been for years, and continues to be, steadily and rapidly progressive. It is stated by Dr. Kay, of Manchester, in a Report to the Poor-Law Commissioners, dated July last, that as many new mills were then in the course of being constructed in the cotton district of Lancashire as would, when completed, furnish employment for 45,042 mill hands, and require a moving force equivalent to 7,507 horses! If we look at the other great branches of manufacture we shall find a corresponding advance. The improvement in agriculture is not less striking. The application of bone manure, a more effectual system of drainage, improved machinery, and a better and more scientific rotation of crops, have done for agriculture what the steam-engine and the spinning-frame have done for manufactures; and it has made, and is now making, the most extraordinary advances. But it is unnecessary to trouble the House with details as to this point. It is sufficient to state, that at this moment the population of Great Britain, exclusive of Ireland, is certainly increasing at the rate of 260,000 or 270,000 a-year, and that we have not imported any foreign corn during the last four years.

But besides the improvement of the country, and the consequent increase of traffic, may we not also look for great improvements in the construction of locomotive engines, and in the whole machinery and management of railroads? These are admitted, on all hands, to be in their infancy; and yet the House of Commons has been legislating with respect to them as if they had already attained to the highest degree of maturity and perfection. Parliament fixes a rate of charge, supposed to be capable of yielding a profit to a company using the present engines upon roads of the present construction; so that if, as is most probable, the engines and roads should be so much improved, and the costs and other charges so much reduced, as to enable them to perform the same amount of work for a half or a fourth part of the present cost, the public will be shut out from all participation in the advantage!—Would not this be monstrously injurious to the interests of the public? And is not Parliament bound to provide against such a contingency?

The Legislature seems to have been always impressed with a conviction that while, by protection and the granting of peculiar privileges, it gave all due encouragement to enterprise and the undertaking of great public works, it was also bound to provide that the subscribers to them did not, by means of their peculiar privileges, acquire exorbitant profits at the expense of the public. It is to be regretted, that the measures devised in this view have been singularly ill fitted for the attainment of their professed object. They have consisted mostly in the limitation of the rates of charge for the services rendered, and, in a few instances, in the limitation of the dividend. But the limitation of the rates of charge is, in a progressive country, good for little or nothing. The increase of population and trade has been so very great, that a toll that would have yielded an ample profit on a railway constructed a dozen or twenty years ago, might now, perhaps, yield an equal amount of profit were the rates reduced a half. Nothing, in fact, can be more improvident, or more absurd, than that Parliament should, once for all, fix the rate of toll when an undertaking is entered upon, and divest itself, unless by violating the right of property, of the power to reduce that rate in all time to come, how greatly so ever it may exceed what would be a liberal return for the capital vested in the undertaking. I need not add, that it is of the greatest importance to the interests of the public that the cost of internal communication should be reduced as low as possible. The limitation of the dividend is a practice found to be as ineffectual as the fixing a maximum on the rate of charge. The public has no check on the system of management, nor can it explore the thousand channels in which profits may be distributed under other names among the subscribers, nor has it any means of preventing the wanton and; extravagant outlay of money on the works, &c. To make the provision for limiting the dividends good for anything, it would be necessary that all the proceedings of a company so limited should be controlled: by Commissioners appointed by Government. But I am aware that the objections to this are so numerous and obvious that I do not press this part of my resolution on the House.

For these, and a variety of reasons, I am clearly of opinion that Parliament should, when it establishes companies for the formation of canals, railroads, or such like undertakings, invariably reserve to itself the power to make such periodical revisions of the rates of charge, as it may under the then circumstances deem expedient. It should have the power to examine into the whole management and affairs of each company, to correct what may have been amiss in the former, and to fix the rates of charge for another period of years: always taking care that the proprietors are allowed a fair return for the original outlay of capital, as well as compensation for the risk which such undertakings are generally more or less subject to.

There is not the shadow of a reason for thinking that the reservation of the power to revise the tariff of charges, at defined periods, would prevent any undertaking from being entered upon, that promised a reasonable return; and in most cases, it would be a waste of the public capital to engage in any other. Those who take shares in canals and railroads, with the intention of holding them, do not look to exorbitant, but to reasonable profits for remuneration; and these would not be affected by the proposed provision.

When peculiar privileges and a substantial monopoly are conferred on any set of persons, the public interests ought always to be secured against their abuse: if competition afforded this security, it would be unnecessary, and therefore improper for the Legislature to interfere; but in cases of this sort competition can do really nothing, so that security against abuse, must (if sought for at all) be sought for in positive regulations.

The principle for which I have been contending is not a new one; it is one indeed which is frequently acted upon, and has, in many cases, received the sanction of the Legislature. The limitation of rates and of dividends, to which I have already adverted, involves in fact the principle for which I am contending; and our Turnpike Acts, which are generally, I believe, granted for twenty-one: years, are somewhat analogous. The cases of the Smalls', the Longships', the Dungenness' Lights, and other private light houses, are instances in point. The parties by whom these light-houses were erected, were authorised to charge certain rates for a specified term of years, on all ships coming within a certain distance of their lights; the light-houses becoming, at the: end of such terms, the property of the Crown or the public: and yet though this be a more stringent regulation than any I propose introducing, the arrangement has always been regarded, and with justice, as a most improvident one, on the part of the public. The Smalls' light yielded its proprietors in 1831–32, a net revenue of 10,973l., and when the Trinity House proposed to purchase it, the price asked for the residue of the term was 148,000l. The case of the Sherries' light house is even more striking: it was made over for ever to private individuals by an Act of the 3rd of George 2nd, when the! rates of charge were fixed; and it now produces, such has been the increase of trade, above 12,500l a year, nett revenue, over and above what is necessary for its maintenance.

But important as it is to have the charges on account of lights, as low as possible, it is infinitely more important that the charges on the principal lines of inland communication should be regulated by the lowest standard that will I suffice for their establishment and efficient maintenance. If the giving of power to the proprietors of the Smalls' light-house, to exact certain fees on all shipping for ninety-nine years, evinced a culpable inattention to the public interest; what are we to think of allowing the proprietors of railways to charge certain fees on all parties using them, in all time to come, though the traffic upon them be increased a hundred or a thousand fold? The history of the London Water Companies shows, also, how important it is that some such power as I am contending for, should be retained in the hands of the Legislature, when creating associations to which the ordinary principles of competition do not apply.

The Americans have set us a good example in the management of their public works, and in the proceedings in their legislatures. Whether their practice in this respect be owing to the peculiarities of their social condition or the nature of their political institutions, or to what other cause, I will not venture to conjecture. The Erie Canal in the state of New York, one of the most important public works in the world, was completed only in 1825. It has proved a very prosperous concern; and notwithstanding that polls have been progressively reduced, (between 1832 and 1834 two years only, as much as thirty-five percent.) the revenue has increased. But not only have the tolls been reduced, there is already accumulated a surplus of five millions of dollars; in the year 1837 the whole outlay will be repaid, and this magnificent undertaking will in twelve years have paid the whole cost of its construction and other expenses, and become the property of the State, leaving whatever revenue the Legislature may think it expedient to raise beyond the necessary expenses of management and repair, to be applied to the formation of other public works, or to remit taxes raised for the general expenses of the State. In the United States I believe there is no railroad so ancient as that between Manchester and Liverpool, the first having been completed in 1827, but they are, to borrow a phrase from that country, "progressing" at an extraordinary rate. I find the State of New York alone, granted acts of incorporation to twenty-four rail-road companies as far back as 1832, and others are forming, I believe, at this time in every State of the Union. I will trouble the House with some particulars of one only. They refer to that between Boston and Providence.—By Act of Legislature the dividends are limited to ten per cent., at the expiration of twenty years the State may take the properly, paying the stockholders at par, and making up the dividends at ten per cent, for the whole twenty years, if the revenue should fall short of the amount.

And now, Sir, allow me a few words as to the particular motion with which I shall conclude. Some hon. Members, admitting perhaps the existence and magnitude of the evils I wish to provide against, may consider the proposed reservation as affording the best or most effectual remedy. They may think that, after a certain term of years the roads ought to become, as in the case I have just cited, the property of the public. I have not ventured so far. There are many serious objections to any such resumption, and I doubt if a single advantage could be obtained by making these roads public property which will not be as effectually secured by the plan I propose, for a revision of the rates after a certain number of years. As to the proposed term of years it is one to which I am not particularly wedded, a few years more or less being of little importance. It may be said, perhaps, that the intended provision comes too late, seeing that some' of the principal lines are already occupied; but this is no reason for deferring the measure, though it be a good one for carrying it into effect, with as little delay as possible. It is high time certainly, that the efforts of the Legislature should be directed more effectually to the protection of the public interests in this particular, than it has hitherto been, otherwise great injury will be done, and great public dissatisfaction will eventually be created.—I beg Sir, to move— That in all Bills for Railways, or other public works of that description, it be made a condition, with a view to the protection of the public interests, which might otherwise be seriously compromised, that the dividends be limited to a certain rate, or that power be reserved to Parliament of revising and fixing at the end of every twenty years, the tolls chargeable on passengers and goods conveyed.

Mr. Gisborne

was opposed to the first branch of the alternative in the hon. Gentleman's resolution—namely, that which proposed to limit the amount of the dividends. In his opinion, that would be the sure way of securing improvidence in the management of the affairs of any company. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the Turnpike Act in support of his proposition. He (Mr. Gisborne) had never known a case in which the tolls had been reduced. The other branch of the alternative in the hon. Gentleman's resolution—namely, that which reserved to Parliament the right of revising and fixing at the end of every twenty years the tolls chargeable on passengers and goods, he should not oppose. Some limit to the continuance of existing tolls appeared to him to be very proper. Whether twenty years was the period at which the revision of them ought to take place he was not then prepared to say. It appeared to him that the hon. Member for Ipswich under-estimated the value of competition in keeping down the rates. As to the illustrations which the hon. Gentleman had derived from American legislation on the subject, they appeared to him (Mr. Gisborne) to be inapplicable. In America the projectors of canals or railways were not required to give large bonuses to landed proprietors. There was a phrase in the last part of the hon. Gentleman's resolution which he confessed he did not understand. On that, however, he would not dwell. But, supposing the resolution were agreed to, he presumed the hon. Gentleman would bring in a Bill founded upon it. Now was there any probability that such a Bill could pass both Houses of Parliament during the present Session? He should think it a great injustice if the Bills already passed were not subjected to the same restriction as that which the resolution purposed to impose upon all Bills not yet passed, or that might hereafter be introduced. His objections to the resolution were not so strong as to induce him to divide the House against the adoption of it, but at the same time he hoped the hon. Gentleman would consent to withdraw the first clause, and confine himself only to that part of it which proposed to give to Parliament the power of revising and fixing the amount of tolls, at the end of particular periods. If the hon. Gentleman would consent to adopt that course, he (Mr. Gisborne) should see no objection to the passing of the resolution; but at the same time he thought it ought only to be adopted upon the full understanding that it was to have no effect in itself, and to be considered only as a mere declaration of opinion on the part of the House, unless it were followed up by some ulterior measure, which should extend its operation as well to Bills already passed, as to those at present under the consideration of the Legislature.

Lord Stanley

was fully sensible of the very great importance of the subject, and he thought the thanks of the public were due to the hon. Member for Ipswich for submitting such a resolution to the House, particularly at a time when speculation on railroads was carried to a very great extent. At the same time he was bound to say, that although he concurred in the general principle of the resolution, he was by no means prepared to assent to it in the shape in which it then stood. The wording of it, he thought, was open to many objections. In the first place, he should be altogether opposed to any attempt that might be made, either by a resolution or a Bill, to fix the maximum or minimum of profit that any Railway Company should be allowed to enjoy. In support of a provision of that kind, the hon. Member had referred to the clause introduced for that purpose in the Manchester and Liverpool Railway Bill; but all the world knew that that provision of the Bill had always been, and would always be practically evaded. At the same time, he quite concurred with the hon Gentleman, that it was necessary for the protection of the public that there should be a power vested in the Legislature, of limiting in some manner the profits which these companies might derive after the lapse of a number of years; and he also agreed with the hon. Gentleman, that this could only be done by periodical revisions of the tolls or rate of carriage. Railroads, from their very nature, must always be a virtual monopoly. It was necessary, therefore, to give the public a protection against them. Improvements in machinery might enable the proprietors of railways to carry passengers at a much less cost, and yet at a fair profit to themselves. But unless a power were somewhere vested of revising the amount of the toll, the public in every instance, where a Railway Bill had been passed previous to the adoption of the improved machinery, would be for ever deprived of that advantage of cheap communication which they would otherwise enjoy from the improvements in science. The only possible remedy for this would be such a periodical revision by Parliament as the hon. Gentleman proposed in the latter part of his resolution. He should be disposed, therefore, to support that part of the resolution, excluding some of the words which were mere surplusage, and which would therefore be open to objection, if upon that ground alone. He thought the resolution ought to stand in this shape: "That it be made a condition prior to the passing of any Railway Bill, that power should be reserved to Parliament of revising and fixing, at the end of every twenty years, the amount of tolls to be levied under the said Bill." A resolution of that kind he thought would not only be not objectionable, but highly desirable. Then came the question—How were they to deal with the matter practically, or what was the resolution to do? Upon that point he (Lord Stanley) differed from the hon. Gentleman, who thought that such a resolution ought not to be applied to the Bills now in progress through Parliament. He thought it should he applied to every one of them; and whatever the objection upon general grounds might be, he thought that they ought in this instance to run all the risks of making an ex post facto law, and to apply it to all Bills which had already passed in the course of the Session. Because, if to the Bills already passed it were an objection that they conferred a monopoly, that objection would afterwards apply to them with double force, if they were permitted to continue to reap unlimited profits, whilst the profits of all railways subsequently established should be subject to the periodical revision of Parliament. As far as the objection on the score of monopoly went, therefore, he thought they were likely only to increase the evil, unless they followed up a resolution of this kind by a Bill applying the same principle to all Bills passed in the present Session of Parliament. What the time should be he did not pretend to say. Twenty years might be too long or too short, but whatever period should be fixed upon he thought it ought to be calculated as commencing, not from the passing of the Act, but from the time at which the railway came into operation. Many railway might take five or six years in their construction, and during that time, of course, the parties would be receiving no interest for their money. He thought that they ought to have the whole benefit of the period that Parliament should fix upon, whatever that period might be. When that period expired, Parliament would see whether they had derived a fair and reasonable profit, and whether, by improvements in machinery, a fair and reasonable profit could not be continued to them at a reduced rate of carriage. He repeated, that he should be prepared to support the resolution so amended as to embrace the propositions he had just stated; but, at the same time, he doubted whether, if it were necessary to bring in a Bill to apply the principle of the resolution to all measures passed in the present Session, it would be desirable for the hon. Gentleman to press his motion in the shape in which it now stood. He thought it would be much better that he should at once move for leave to bring in a Bill upon the subject. He should not be disposed to support a resolution of the kind proposed, unless he were certain that a Bill extending it to all railway measures would be subse- quently carried. He thought, therefore, that the most advisable course for the hon. Gentleman to pursue would be to withdraw the present motion, and to move for leave to bring in a Bill imposing upon all railroads that had passed, upon all railroads at present under consideration, and upon all that might hereafter be proposed, this condition, that they should be subject to the revision of Parliament at the end of such a time as Parliament should think fit to fix.

Mr. Poulett Thomson

, like the noble Lord who had just sat down, could not give his consent to a resolution of this kind unless it were to be made applicable to all railway Bills which had already passed. It would be most unjust to apply a rule to railroads hereafter to be undertaken which was not made applicable to those already commenced. The number of years at the end of which a revision should take place was a very fit subject for the consideration of a Committee. As far as he (Mr. Poulett Thomson) could form any opinion upon the subject, he should think twenty or twenty-one years would be the most proper period that could be fixed upon; but before any decision were come to upon that point, further consideration would be necessary. In any Bill upon the subject introduced by his hon. Friend, the Member for Ipswich, he should also be glad to have a provision introduced imposing upon all railway companies the obligation of making returns to Parliament of a statistical nature, by which the House might be placed in possession of the number of passengers conveyed on each railroad, the weight of goods carried, speed, wear and tear, &c. If a clause imposing such an obligation upon all companies were introduced into the Bill, he thought great advantages would result from it. Owing to the kindness of the proprietors of the Manchester and Liverpool railroad, he had received, with respect to that line of conveyance, such a statement as he had described, and he begged to assure the House that nothing could be more interesting. It threw a great deal of light upon these undertakings generally, and pointed out, in a striking and incontrovertible manner, the great advantages which the public derived from them. He trusted that his hon. Friend would yield to the suggestion of the noble Lord, namely, withdraw his motion, and move for leave to bring in a Bill.

Viscount Sandon

heartily concurred in the spirit of the proposition. He thought that Parliament ought not to confer upon any body of individuals the complete and positive control over such vast undertakings.

Mr. Hume

rose only to mate a single observation. His hon. Friend, the Member for Ipswich, had alluded to an instance of the pernicious effect of vesting a monopoly in individuals which ought not to be passed by with indifference. He meant the monopoly given to a particular person in a particular lighthouse, from which, for years past, that individual had been in the receipt of not less than 13,000l. per annum. He thought that that single instance ought to be sufficient to induce any hon. Gentleman present to support the Bill which he hoped his hon. Friend would introduce embodying the substance of his present resolution. It would certainly be unjust to apply the principle to any railways unless it were applied also in the instance to which he alluded. He, therefore, agreed with the noble Lord (Stanley)that the most advisable course for his hon. Friend, the Member for Ipswich, to pursue would be to withdraw the present motion and move for leave to bring in a Bill.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

had only one remark to offer. As a Bill of this description was about to be introduced, as it appeared, with the general concurrence of the House, he hoped he should be allowed to avail himself of the opportunity that would then be afforded, of carrying into execution a design which he had long contemplated, namely, to introduce a provision making it obligatory upon all railways to convey his Majesty's mail at the same rate as they carried all manner of other goods. A provision of this kind would be necessary, because as railways were monopolies, they might otherwise make what exorbitant charge they pleased for the conveyance of the mail.

Mr. Morrison

, after the general expression of the feeling of the House, begged to withdraw his motion, and in its stead to move for leave to bring in a Bill to the effect stated by the noble Lord.

Resolution withdrawn.

On the Question that leave be given to bring in a Bill,

Mr. E. Denison

rose to express a wish that the Bill about to be brought in should be made retrospective beyond the point yet suggested. Instead of being confined to Railroad Bills passed in the present Session, he thought it should be made to have a retrospective operation upon all railroads now in operation in all parts of the kingdom.

Leave given.

Back to