HC Deb 02 March 1837 vol 36 cc1201-2
Mr. Dugdale

begged leave to call the attention of the House to the depredations committed by persons employed by railroad, canal, and other public companies, for the purpose of introducing some measure for the protection of the persons and property of his Majesty's subjects during the time such public works were in progress, and moved for leave to bring in a Bill to effect the same. If Parliament were to evince the same readiness henceforth as they had done last Session, for the advancement of railroad speculations, in a short time there would be scarcely a village free from such depredations. Railroads were yet, however, but in their infancy, fifty-six railroad petitions had been presented last year, out of which thirty-five had been granted. They had had seventy-five applications for railroads this Session, and twelve for canals; and if Parliament were to assent to all these Bills, there would be about one hundred railroads forming in the country at the same time. At present there were 11,000 men employed on the London and Birmingham Railroad, and taking but half that number for each, they would have a body of not less than 500,000 men employed in these works, not of the most respectable characters, or taken from the most respectable ranks of society. He therefore thought the House would agree with him that there ought to be some law to prevent those persons from injuring the property of the neighbour hood in which they might be employed. He wished not to be understood as expressing a feeling hostile to railroads, which generally speak ing, were a great benefit to the country. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

observed, that the depredations of which the hon. Member complained were not confined to the vicinity of railroads or canals. There was not a great building of any kind carried on in the neighbour hood of which offences more or less did not consequently take place. He did not mean to object to the introduction of the Bill, but he hoped the House would maturely consider the question, and come to the conclusion of not passing such a measure, unless they were prepared to go much further, and legislate upon every alteration and minute circumstance that might occur in connexion with the commerce of the country. They should, indeed, be very careful of avoiding all confusion in dealing with the criminal law.

Mr. Pease

looked upon such a Bill as that proposed, to be a peace-preserving measure. There was no doubt that persons employed upon railroads set the existing laws at defiance, by quitting the neighbour hood in which they worked immediately after they had committed some robbery or outrage, changing their names, and looking for employment at a considerable distance from the scene of their offences. This he asserted from his own observation, residing as he did in a neighbour hood in which various railroads were in progress. He thought that the law, as respected master and servant, should be maintained with respect to railroads, and that the proprietors should be made responsible for any depredation committed by persons employed by them.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that they required no new law on the subject. The existing law was quite sufficient to prevent the evils complained of, as far as legislation could effect it. Before the hon. Member introduced his new measure, the House ought to have been made acquainted with its nature.

Leave given to bring in the Bill.