§ On the motion of Mr. Labouchere the Order of the day for the House going into Committee on the Mails on Railways Bill, was read.
Mr. Wallace said
, that in rising to bring before the consideration of the House in the most prominent form, the question involved in this bill, he meant to do so as briefly as he could. The subject he conceived to be one of paramount importance; it was untried, and it was equally new to the House and the country. He wished, first, to declare his unqualified approbation of railways, and to state his desire to see them extended all over the country. In entertaining that wish he must, however, say that he was completely hostile to all monopolies, and he thought, that the railway proprietors had obtained a mo- 448 nopoly which must prove exceedingly injurious to the country if not timeously checked. He must observe that a bill had been two years ago introduced by an hon. Member who had not then a seat in the House; but who, for some reason that he could not divine had afterwards withdrawn that most useful bill from the consideration of the House. That bill went to provide for the periodical revision of tolls levied on railways. Now, he begged to state to the Government and the country that he believed the time had arrived when the Queen's Government ought to take into consideration the propriety of acting on the principle of the bill which was then in his hand—No. 395 of the Session of 1836—and which had been introduced by Mr. Morrison and Mr. Gibson, and by which it was declared that the tolls levied upon railways should be revised periodically, for the purpose of seeing that no monopoly existed, and for giving the country the benefit of any improvement in the system of railways. The effects of railways it was plain had not been foreseen by that House; and when he made his remarks on this point, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, that it would be easy to regulate their charges, as the Government had the power of taxing railways. But what was the fact?—that when the duty was raised on the Manchester and Liverpool Railway, the company added fifty per cent. upon the passengers; and thus the public suffered extremely, and the Government only received the half of what was imposed. He conceived that full remuneration ought to be given for property invested in railways; but then he proposed that railway proprietors should not have a monopoly, or power of preventing free travelling through the country to the exclusion of all classes, but that these classes should have the convenience and advantage of passing along these railways. In authorising companies to construct railways, the condition was, that they should be permitted to take moderate profits in return for their capital. In the revision of these matters which he wished to take place he believed, that the House should demand that all railway companies ought to be bound to expose their accounts once a-year, and thus to show how far they convenienced the commerce of the country, and how far they did not do so. He distinctly denied that the railways had received exclusive privileges. He did not 449 see that the substance they used in the construction of their roads gave them superior advantages over others who made their roads of stone or of wood. He did not see that their using iron gave them a right to treat the people as they chose. With regard to the bill before the House, he was very much surprised to find, that the Government had considered it to be their duty to alter the resolutions which had been agreed to so unanimously by that committee of which the hon. Gentleman opposite was so excellent and so attentive a chairman. The principle laid down by that committee was, that on railways, as on common roads, the mails should be permitted to pass free of tolls. That was a principle recognised in England, and it was the law and the practice in Ireland, It was, too, distinctly the law and the practice in Scotland, until the good jobbing days of Henry Dundas, when his countrymen, who never lost an opportunity of effecting that which might be useful and convenient to themselves, contrived to have tolls upon mails, and this too for the advantage of their own trustees. Those days had, however, now passed by, and the time had come when men in that House could distinctly pronounce their opinion respecting them. At present, however, in Scotland, carriages with passengers were only subject to tolls; and now if the postmaster chose to have the mails carried in coaches without passengers they must pass toll free. It was only when there were passengers with the mails that they became liable to toll. In Ireland the case was very different. They had before the postage committee, of which he was chairman, the very interesting evidence of Mr. Bianconi, who had come a foreigner to this country at fifteen years of age, and who had now 200 carriages for the conveyance of passengers and occasionally of the mails through that country; that foreigner had the good sense to discover, that it was for his interests to consult the health and comfort of the persons who travelled in his coaches. Now, he wished that the rail way companies in this country would follow the example of Mr. Bianconi; for instance, on the Manchester and Liverpool railway the second class trains were composed of open carriages, exposed to the weather, and travelling at the rate of twenty-five miles in the hour. There were no cushions on the seats; there was nothing but hard boards, and, he might say, there was no- 450 thing provided for the convenience or the of the comfort of the passengers. This he considered was a question which regarded not merely the railways, but one also which affected the general convenience and prosperity of the country. The rules laid down by the railway companies were not suited to forward the convenience of the industrious and working classes. Every convenience was afforded to those who had portmanteaus and travelling bags, but those who brought with them baskets and boxes, which the poor generally used, found every inconvenience thrown in their way. The hon. Member was proceeding to state from the documents laid before his committee the charges made to the Post-office, when
§ The Speaker
called the hon. Member to order, and observed, that he had no right to make use of statements which had not been already laid before the House.
§ Mr. Labouchere
remarked, that a document had been furnished to him by the Postmaster, which he tendered to the hon. Member. The document was certainly one of importance, and he himself intended to make use of it.
continued by saying, that from the return of the Postmaster General it appeared, that the cost of the railway conveyance of mails was more than double that of their being sent by mail coaches. It was about two-pence a mile for conveyance in mail coaches, and nearly five-pence a mile for the conveyance of mails, when they could have them for two-pence, he did not see that any more petitions need be laid on the table of the House for that purpose. There had been a great deal of evidence gone into, and the report showed, that the Government could place engines on the railways for the purpose of conveying their own mails. The Government, in his opinion, was entitled to do this by all the acts which had been passed. Evidence had been received from parties, directly or indirectly interested in preventing the Government from availing themselves of the power which they had. He was convinced that there was no good reason why the Government should not have engines constructed, and place them on the railways for the carriage of their 451 mails. He believed there would be no more difficulty in putting their engines on the railways, than there would be in their travelling on the common roads. Let the speed be decided, and the engines of the Government or the company could follow each other without the slightest risk or danger. As to the difficulty of the matter, he believed it was all a mere bugbear. He should wish the Government to pay attention to the facts he stated. He believed the Government could convey troops and artillery along the railways as upon common roads. He believed the railway companies themselves never contemplated anything else when they originally applied to that House; and he believed that no objection would have been made by the railway companies if it had been proposed to them at first. He hoped an inquiry would be instituted by the commencement of the next Session as to the general working of the railway system, and the effects that might be produced by it upon this country. He had now brought before the House a general outline of his views, and he should merely say, that he exceedingly regretted that the Government had been induced to withdraw the sound principle, of mails being sent toll free on railways. In the present measure, he admitted there were a great many good things—there was especially, one excellent principle, which he very much admired—it was the principle, that no company should have the power, by any bye law, to impede the correspondence of the country in any manner similar to the attempt made upon the Manchester and Liverpool Railway, and again upon the Birmingham and Liverpool Railway, to put a stop to travelling on Sundays. It ought certainly to be permitted to travel upon railroads on Sunday as well as upon common roads, and when any private companies should have the power of preventing that, then he said, "Farewell to the boasted liberties of this country." Thinking that it would be more wise that the present bill should not pass into a law, and that time should be allowed for proposing a better, he, in accordance with the notice he had given, proposed, that the Committee should be postponed to that clay six months.
§ Amendment not seconded.
§ The House resolved itself into a Committee.
§ Upon Clause one,452
§ Mr. Labouchere
could, he said, assure his hon. Friend, who had just sat down, that if he did not enter into all the details of this important subject, it was not through any disrespect for his hon. Friend, and still less from any insensibility as to the importance of the subject itself. He agreed with many of the opinions which had been expressed by his hon. Friend. He agreed with him, for instance, in thinking that the House and the Legislature had legislated blindly and rashly on the subject of railways; and he agreed with his hon. Friend in fearing that the consequences would be so very severely felt by the country, as to require hereafter the consideration of Parliament. He felt, upon the present occasion, unwilling to ask the House to enter into the discussion of a subject which must involve so many complicated details. He was rather persuaded that he ought to limit their attention to that which, it was true, was but a small part of the subject, but yet, which was not in itself by any means an unimportant question, namely, what was the present state of the railways, as affecting the Post Office communications of the country. That was a question which required the consideration of Parliament. He was surprised, then, when his hon. Friend, after the speech he had made, and in which he had stated distinctly that which no man could deny, namely, that at the present moment the country was entirely at the mercy of the railway companies, not only as to the due conveyance of its correspondence, but also as to the terms on which it was to be conducted, or in other words that it was in the power of the railway companies completely to impede the correspondence of the country, or for the conductors of the railways to affix such terms as they might think fit—when he had heard his hon. Friend state this, he was certainly surprised, that after such a statement, his hon. Friend should have concluded by recommending that they ought not to legislate on the subject during the present Session, kit that it would be right for them to put off for six months any attempt at remedying such a state of things. Now, he thought, that whatever might be their opinions on other subjects, it was their duty, free from all party divisions, to attend to this very important matter; and, in his judgment, Government would desert its duty, and the House would de- 453 sert its duty, if it attempted to separate without devising some remedy for the existing evils. He then was not at all surprised that his hon. Friend, when he proposed the postponement of the consideration of this question for six months could not find a seconder. It was not at all surprising, that no other Member could be found to second such a proposition. For the necessity of their putting an end to such a state of things he would first quote the resolution of the committee appointed to investigate the subject. That was a resolution which had been agreed to almost unanimously; it had been agreed to by all the Members of the committee, with the single exception of his hon. Friend, the Member for Leicester. This was the resolution, "That it appears to this committee, that the companies who are the proprietors of railways have it in their power practically to prevent the due transmission of the correspondence of the country by means of the Post-office as well as to impose upon the public whatever terms they may think fit for its conveyance." He would also quote a sentence from the valuable report presented to the House by the Commissioners on Irish railways. They observed, "that it was a very important consideration, that the powers given to the railway companies placed the service of the mails at their entire discretion," and they recommended "an alteration in the present state of the law." He could not add anything to such testimony to show the necessity of their interfering at present with this matter. He should now proceed to make a few observations as to what his hon. Friend had said with regard to the conduct of the Government in abandoning their bill, and not standing on the original arrangement which had been sanctioned by the committee. He could assure his hon. Friend and the House, that he had not abandoned it without the most mature consideration. The original arrangement had been abandoned, much less from any alteration of opinion upon his part with regard to the justice and the necessity of that arrangement, than because he was convinced, from communications which he had had with various individuals, that a majority of that House differed in opinion with him as to that arrangement, and that if he did not make some changes in it he had no chance of passing it in the present Session. It had been urged, and he 454 confessed it had been urged upon himself with some force, by many Gentlemen, that the plan originally proposed was unlike the usual course of legislation in this country, where they never resorted to extraordinary and to strong powers until they had tried, fully and fairly tried, conciliatory measures. The proprietors of railway companies, it had been said to him, were aware of the situation of the Post-office; that they had no wish to chive a hard bargain with it; but upon equitable terms to treat with it, not only as to the mode in which the correspondence was to be regulated, but also as to the equivalent to be obtained for it. To be frank, he must, however, say, without meaning to cast the least imputation upon the gentlemen interested in those companies, that he must fairly own, that he did not entertain very sanguine expectations as to the satisfactory fulfilment of such promises. He believed, that self-interest would actuate those railway companies, as it influenced others, and that they would seek for the highest profits on this as on other matters which it would be in their power to obtain. Perhaps they would not do this at first; but he had no doubt they would attempt it gradually, and at last they would try to get every shilling that they could out of the Government and of the public. He did not pretend to state the arguments which many hon. Members had had with him, but the result was, that be agreed to try the experiment by bringing in the bill as it stood at present. Let them, then, he said, try the system, and see how it could work by leaving all disputed points to fair arbitration; and then they could afterwards see whether any stronger powers would be necessary. He believed this, that there were many Gentlemen who were opposed to the bill as it originally stood, who would, if the present experiment failed, be ready to support the Government in introducing stronger measures. For his own part, he said, he was not at all ashamed to bow to the opinion of a majority; and he must add, that he though it best suited to his duty to see the bil carried in its present shape; even though he preferred a better bill, which, however, he felt it his duty to abandon when he saw that it could not be carried. This was his frank avowal to his hon. Friend, and he hoped it would be accepted. He quite agreed with his hon. 455 Friend in one opinion which his hon. Friend had expressed, namely, that the rights of the Government and the public were not at all affected by the railways. He had consulted the law officers of the Crown on the subject, and by them he was informed, that the Government had an absolute power of running their own carriages on the railways; that they could convey troops; that they could run carriages not with passengers, but for any bonâ fide service of the Crown, and that they could do all this toll free upon the railways, just in the same manner that they could run them on the high roads. He imagined, then, that that was a point which must be admitted, that it was one which could not be disputed, and, therefore, there was no injustice in asking for powers to avail themselves of the railways as of other high roads of the country. He did not at all pretend to say, that there was not an important distinction between high roads and railways, and in the bill he proposed to introduce, that distinction should be preserved. The Crown used a common road, without contributing to its repairs, and without paying tolls; but, then, considering the tenures of railways, and the expense incurred in their formation, he thought it would be improper in the Crown to assert its right to the use of them in the same manner that it did to common roads; but then, with that restriction, the railways were no more than the highways of the country. Some reasonable terms ought to be agreed to for the use of them. But, then, he stood there on the part of the public, and he said they had the right of using them, and there was no injustice in vindicating that right. In the bill which he proposed to the House he entertained the hope and the expectation that the service of the Post-office would be performed regularly and well—he hoped, too, that there was a determination on the part of the railway companies, that the service of the Post-office would be properly conducted. He had little doubt upon these points; but he was equally sure of that to which the public had an equal right, that the service would be performed at a reasonable rate of charge. Looking at the principle of this bill, which was, that the payments should be referred to arbitration, and it was well known, that arbitrators always decided against the public; he did not believe, 456 that those services would be performed at such a rate as Parliament and the country had a right to expect; and he would say at once, for there was no use in blinking the question, that if Parliament was prepared to lay down, as a principle, that the Post-office should not be the favoured party, in any manner, in the negotiations with railway companies—if they were to be treated in the same manner as private individuals were to be treated, then he should at once think that it was nothing more nor less than this—transferring to the railway companies the greater part of the revenues of the Post-office. He knew there were Gentlemen in that House who would say, that the Post-office ought not to be made so much a branch of revenue as a matter of public accommodation, and who would willingly see the revenue reduced, provided the public derived the benefit; but he believed, that no Gentleman, with the exception of railroad proprietors, would lay down as a principle, that the revenue was to be taken from the Post-office, and not left in the pockets of the public, but transferred, in a great part, to the proprietors of railroad companies, and added to their property. That he believed was a principle which the House, with its eyes open, would not act upon; and yet, unless the House took care, there was a great danger of that actually taking place. He did not make these observations out of any prejudice against those great undertakings; on the contrary, he felt that they conferred the highest honour on the country, and he wished them every possible success. He hoped he should be the last man in the House to interpose anything which he believed would act injuriously towards them; but, at the same time, he knew, that there were plenty of Gentlemen in that House who were willing and able to tight their battle, and he felt, that he would not be discharging his duty to the public and to the country, unless he attempted to make the best bargain he could. He knew that some Gentlemen had been a good deal struck with an assertion made in a petition which had been presented to the House by the Liverpool and Birmingham Railway Company, in which it was stated, that really they did no injustice to the public, that there was no ground for complaint, or for introducing a measure to make them carry the mails at particular rates, since they carried them now at one-fourth the expense 457 which the Post-office was subject to while the mails were carried by the mail-coaches. Now, he must own, that he himself was startled a little when he saw this assertion in the petition, and he took the trouble to inquire how it was, and he held in his hand a return from the Post-office on this very subject. From this he found, that instead of the mails being carried, as stated in the petition, at one-fourth of the previous expense, the thing was reversed, and the Post-office was paying nearly four times as much as they were charged under the mail-coach system. He had a statement, showing the comparative expense of the conveyance of the mails by coaches, and of their conveyance by the railway upon the Liverpool and Manchester line, and upon the Grand Junction Line. The whole expense under the old system on the former line was 1,515l.; whilst for the railway services from the day on which the Post-office availed itself of this source under the contract that had been entered into, the whole expense came to 4,968l. There was thus a difference against the public and the Post-office of not less than 3,452l. He had also obtained a return with regard to the Grand Junction Railway, and the comparative amount of the expense was this:—Those mails, which were transmitted by coaches at the expense of 1,887l., cost the country now, when the service was performed by the railway, the sum of 5,862l. It was right that these things should be fairly stated to the House. If the House thought it consistent with its duty to give up the whole revenue of the Post-office, and transfer it to the pockets of the railway companies, he could not help it: but it was his duty fairly to state how the matter stood. He was not aware that he need detain the House longer. He could only repeat, that he hoped they would not refuse to try the present experiment. He knew, that in arguing or dealing with this subject in the present state of railroad communication, and with so little experience on the subject, they must find it extremely difficult to legislate or to adopt the provisions which should be the best: he thought that the best course would be, to adopt the present measure as an experiment. Before any long time elapsed, they would have considerable experience as to the working of the new system. If, as he sincerely hoped, it worked in all respects better than he was sanguine enough to antici- 458 pate, then the Post-office and the railway companies would have no difficulty in coming to an amicable settlement, than which nothing could give him more pleasure; but if that should not be the case, then, undoubtedly, it would be the duty of Government in a future Session of Parliament, to bring forward some other measure on this subject. He would only add one word. Some Gentlemen might be of opinion, that it was premature to make this experiment, and that railways were not advanced enough to render this bill necessary. In answer to this, he could only say, that there would be very great danger as regarded the Post-office communication, unless some provision were immediately made. Before next November, out of time thirty mails that started from London, only nine would be left. In this state of things the House would see, that Government would not be doing its duty if it did not at once consider, under all the circumstances of the case, what step it would be most advisable to propose. He hoped, that the House would at once go into a consideration of the question.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
perfectly concurred in the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, that some measure ought to be passed to give protection to the Post-office with regard to communication, but he must say, that he certainly was astonished at the statement of the right hon. Gentleman as to the comparative rate of expense. He did not for a moment mean to insinuate, that the right hon. Gentleman had not faithfully compared the returns which had been put into his hands, but those returns were so entirely contrary to the stream of evidence that had been given with regard to the communication on the Grand Junction Railway before a Committee of that House, that, until he saw some analysis, and the returns and data on which this comparative statement was founded, he felt bound to say, that he for one must hesitate to give his confidence as to the comparison that had been made between the expenses of the railroad and the former expenses. But he was still more astonished at the doctrine laid down by the learned law officers of the Crown, that these railroads might be used by the Crown by the right of the prerogative, and that the Crown might use the railroads, without fee or reward, for the conveyance of troops, as on any other highway. He certainly felt 459 great diffidence in venturing to put himself forward as an authority against the law officers of the Crown, but he must say, that he very much doubted, whether the right of the prerogative had ever been urged so high by the Tories as it was now attempted to be carried. With regard to the question more immediately before the House, he certainly thought, that it was not fair, that they should entirely overlook the outlay and the expense to which railroad companies had been put with regard to that improved mode of communication. If there was any degree of expense incurred beyond what they were remunerated for, the railroads ought not to be compelled to pay for the public accommodation, who could now send a letter in ten hours, when it formerly took from twenty to twenty-four. This, he thought, was a great principle to bear in mind. He would not enlarge further on the particular points that had been alluded to; but having been a Member of the Committee, although unfortunately unable to attend when the resolution was carried, he felt bound to protest against the principle of compelling persons to make a railroad out of their own funds for the accommodation of the public.
The Attorney General
felt called upon to say a few words after what had fallen from the noble Lord. He did this with great deference to the noble Lord, for he felt that he could not discuss a point of law with the noble Lord without some degree of awe as it was under the noble Lord that he had formerly practised in the early part of his career. He remembered that the noble Lord had laid down the law authoritatively and very satisfactorily; and for one in the station of chairman at quarter sessions, he had the opportunity of observing, that no man administered the law more to the satisfaction and the benefit of the public. At the same time, when it came to a question of prerogative—always speaking with very great deference—he must be allowed to look at the law authorities on the subject. He had to consider what the various luminaries of the law of England had laid down; and, with deference to the noble Lord, he must express an opinion totally different from that which the noble Lord had propounded. He had to contend that railroads were not distinguished for this purpose from other roads made with stone throughout the country. This doctrine had been laid 460 down by his hon. Friend, the Member for Greenock (Mr. Wallace), and whether these roads were made of iron or stone made no difference. They were highways, and all persons had a right to travel upon them, according to the terms laid down by the Legislature, as on turnpike roads, where the public had a right to travel, upon paying certain tolls. Her Majesty could not be called upon to pay tolls, nor any one in the direct employment of her Majesty. So also troops passing along a turnpike road did not pay, neither did the baggage waggons, when employed in the service of the public. It seemed to him, that the tolls to be paid upon railroads rested exactly upon the same footing. The public had a right to travel upon these railroads upon paying certain tolls. The question was, were these tolls to be paid by the Crown? It was not said, that her Majesty could not travel personally upon any of these railroads without being subject to the payment of tolls to which her subjects were liable, and he saw no distinction between the personal accommodation of the Sovereign, and that of any person in her Majesty's immediate employment, and engaged in the public service. He had no doubt that if the prerogative of the Crown were put in force, the Post Office communication might be carried on without the payment of tolls, that troops might be sent on the railroads without the payment of tolls, and that stores might be sent from one part of the empire to another, along railroads, without paying any tolls. He did not see any injustice or injury that this would inflict; but he certainly should not think it fair to enforce the prerogative. He thought that a reasonable compensation ought to be made to the railroad proprietors for the accommodation which the public enjoyed, and for that reason, he thought it most laudable that this bill should be introduced, for the purpose of doing justice to the public and to the proprietors of railroads. If this bill were obstructed, very many difficulties would arise. He hoped that when this bill was passed into a law, it would make the railroads, which were so liberally dealt with, reciprocate that liberality towards the public; but he wished them also to bear in mind, that if they exercised this act, with anything like a view of oppressing the public, and if they insisted upon having four times as much as was paid by the public, as a remuneration for the con- 461 veyance of mails through the medium of coaches, there was a remedy in the Legislature, and there was a remedy in the prerogative of the Crown.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, he was most anxious to support to the utmost of his power the harmonious settlement of this question. He was convinced that legislation was necessary, and therefore he agreed with his right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere), that if the terms of this harmonious settlement should ultimately be found insufficient for the protection of the public, further powers would be necessary. On a future day, he should be most willing to consider this subject, when the necessity presented itself; but they had now to deal with the present. He was very much opposed to the strong provisions contained in this bill in the first instance, but to these it was not necessary now to refer, as they bad very nearly arrived at an harmonious settlement of the terms. He must be allowed, however, to add, that he had heard with regret the topics that had been introduced by his right hon. Friend, and more strongly insisted upon by the high prerogative lawyer near his right hon. Friend. He was glad that his noble Friend (Lord G. Somerset) had come to the rescue, as he (Sir James Graham) was not prepared to argue such a point with a lawyer of such eminence, as her Majesty's attorney-general. The point, however, was worthy of some discussion, inasmuch as he thought that the differences with respect to the terms of the agreement depended on the distinct understanding of this point, and upon the right of the prerogative. The Attorney-general had laid it down broadly, that there was no distinction between railroads and the common highways, between roads of stone and roads of iron; and he added, that the Crown had the same rights upon railways as upon turnpike roads. In the first place, he must ask the hon. and learned Gentleman, whether he saw any difference between a highway made of iron or stone, and a highway of water? Did her Majesty's troops, which were constantly passing to Liverpool by the canal, and particularly the guards, pay nothing? What said the Master-general of the Ordnance, or the Secretary at War? Unless he (Sir J. Graham) had been misinformed, the troops so conveyed by the canal paid for their passage. Then, again, with respect to bridges, Fulham-bridge, for in- 462 stance, did they not pay for the use of that? But was there an unqualified right on the part of the country to use railroads, even upon paying the tolls? If he were not mistaken, in every act that was passed, it was provided, that no foot passenger should be allowed to come on the railroad. They could only use railroads in carriages of a particular construction, and subject to the bye-laws and restrictions which the company should think it right to make. But there were other and surer tests. First of all, highways were repaired at the public expense. By a bill then in progress through that House, it was rendered compulsory on the landowners to repair the roads. Thus the roads were made by the public, and were repaired by the public. But there was a yet stronger test. The hon. and leneard Attorney-general had referred to quarter-sessions law; and had stated, that his noble Friend (Lord G. Somerset), had been his master. Now, what little he knew on this subject, had been acquired from the same source; but he knew this, that one of the surest tests of the right of property, was the right of rating. Now, he had never heard of the tolls on the King's highway having been rated. But were not the profits of the tolls on the railroads rated both to the poor-rate and to the county-rate? This was as broad a distinction as he could well conceive between the public property in the one case, and private property, as contradistinguished from it, on the other. He would not press the matter further, although it appeared to him to be well worthy of consideration; and he would only say, that he was prepared to maintain, that railroads were private property, with all deference to the opinion of the learned Attorney-general. He was sorry, that this preliminary point had been raised; but having been raised, it was necessary that it should be discussed; for the subsequent question of remuneration would very much depend upon it. He was satisfied, that it was an erroneous notion, that the public had a right to use railroads in the unlimited sense, stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He must contend, that the real obstacle to the equitable settlement of this question of toll, was the ample remuneration to which the railroad proprietors were entitled. He was prepared to admit, that the public ought to have secured to them a right to use the railroads at all times, subject to notice; and 463 that the Post-office should be the sole judge of the time of the dispatch, and of the frequency, and that this service, under a heavy penalty, should be rendered to the exclusive satisfaction of the Postmaster-general. Then there remained the sole question of remuneration. He said, that the remuneration should be ample, and should be founded on the basis of a reference to the original cost of construction and the exclusive rights of ownership, for which he felt bound to contend. This was a matter for arbitration in the first instance. It might subsequently become a matter of direct legislation. But he was glad, that Government was prepared, as he thought most wisely, to attempt the experiment in the first instance of private arbitration. On this principle the bill was founded. On all other points the parties interested and the Government had come to an agreement, saving only one point, namely, the arbitration clause, Clause 15, and when they came to that clause, he should be prepared to state the view he took of this part of the question. He must repeat, that he was sorry that the preliminary discussion had been raised, and as it had been put forward by a high authority, he had thought it necessary to call the attention of the House to a few arguments of an opposite tendency.
The Attorney General
begged to be allowed to say one word in explanation. He was just as anxious as the right hon. Baronet, that a fair and ample compensation should be paid to the railroad proprietors for the use which the country derived from their roads. He did not say, that the public had an unlimited and unrestrained right to make use of railroads. What he did say, was this: that what right the public had upon payment of tolls to make use of railroads, that right the Crown had to make use of them without paying.
§ Viscount Sandon
said, that nothing could be more disagreeable to him than to attempt a legal discussion; but when he heard railroads put on the same footing as the highway, he confessed, that there seemed to him to be a very broad and evident distinction. It was very true, that her Majesty and her Majesty's troops and mails were permitted to pass over turnpike roads without paying toll; but that was in consequence of specific enactments in every turnpike act. But they did not find any such enacting clause 464 in any railway act. They invariably found those clauses in turnpike acts, but never in any railway act. Had he not then a right to say, that they did not stand on the same footing? He must, therefore, say, that whatever mysterious virtue there might be in the prerogative of the Crown, which was occasionally drawn forth from time to time to frighten the subjects of the Crown from their propriety and their property, he hoped at the present day men's minds were not to be swayed by it. He could not understand the principle which entitled her Majesty to make use of railroads without any expense, and yet that her Majesty should not be entitled to make use of canals in the same manner. It was a common practice to carry troops to Liverpool by means of canals, but he had never heard of their being carried without expense. It would, therefore, form a new element in canal property also, this right of prerogative now for the first time discussed. He would not interpose any further observations between the consideration of the clauses of the bill; but with respect to the first clause, he had to propose a few additional words. He thought, the clause as it stood would act injuriously upon railroads now carrying goods or passengers for hire, and he would, therefore, suggest, that the following words be appended to the clause:—"provided that nothing herein contained shall extend to railway companies not carrying goods or passengers for hire."
§ Mr. Labouchere
said, the principle of this bill was, that the whole control of railways should be left to the proprietors. They did not propose to interfere with that control, and he thought it would be more expedient to adhere to that principle.
§ Mr. Baines
said, that he could not concur in the claim set up on behalf of the Crown to enjoy the use of the railroads for the passage of the mails free of charge, and he was surprised, that this claim, which had been abandoned in the amended bill now before the House, was re-asserted in argument. If a claim of that nature was to have been asserted, it ought to have been made before the railway bills were passed through Parliament, and then the persons investing capital in those constructions would have known what they sad to expect, and they might either have undertaken, or not undertaken, the work 465 subject to those conditions; but now it was evidently too late to set up such a claim, and its enforcement would work great injustice. In discussing this subject, the House ought to recollect, that the persons who had invested their capital in railways were great public benefactors; and though their object might be individual advantage, combined with commercial facilities, it should be considered, that they had, at their own individual risk, rendered an incalculable benefit to the country. In proof of this he might mention, that the Manchester and Liverpool Railway now yielded an advantage every year of, at least, 400,000l. to the inhabitants of those two places, and that if the same number of passengers and the same amount of merchandise had to be conveyed between Liverpool and Manchester, and between Manchester and Liverpool, by the conveyances which existed immediately before the construction of the railway, that were now conveyed by it, the cost would exceed, by the amount he had mentioned every year the sum that was now paid for that accommodation, to say nothing of the saving of time in the transit. This was only one instance of the benefit of railways, but similar benefits were extending themselves all over the country, from the enterprise and public spirit of the railway proprietors, without any demand whatever upon the public purse; and he thought, that persons to whom the kingdom is so much indebted, ought not to be treated as adventurers, whose property might be invaded with impunity. This bill, as originally introduced into Parliament, had not only set up a claim of free postage for the mails, but it sought to give to the Post Office, a control over the railroads, and to make her Majesty's Postmaster-general a competitor with the railway proprietors in the conveyance of passengers. He was happy to say, that those obnoxious clauses had been withdrawn, and he might appeal to the Ministers, whether in the negotiations that had taken place on that subject, the railway proprietors had not shown a fair and a liberal spirit, and whether they had attempted to interpose any difficulties in the way of the public accommodation. They knew and felt the propriety of every facility being afforded for the conveyance of the mails, in which every individual in the country was interested, and they were anxious that this new and highly-improved 466 public conveyance should be made conducive, on reasonable terms, to the public good. Without wishing to impugn the statement made by his right hon. Friend, the Vice President of the Board of Trade, as to the greatly increased cost of conveying the mails by the railways, over the expense of sending them by the high roads, he must be allowed to doubt its accuracy till it had undergone revision, as he could not imagine how a mode of conveyance, which cost little more than half of the usual amount for the conveyance of passengers, should cost four times the former amount for the conveyance of the mails. To the principle of the bill now before the house, in its present form, he was disposed to give his best support, though he might urge objections to some of its details when in its progress through the Committee.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
submitted to the House, now that the preliminary discussion had, in point of fact, been closed, whether they had not better distinctly keep to the point immediately before them. He believed, that no serious objection would be raised till they got to the 15th clause.
§ Mr. Warburton
said, the point in dispute was, whether the company should receive remuneration for the conveyance of letters proportioned to the cost of constructing the railway. He thought the most equitable method of settling the matter, would be to assume as the original cost of construction such a sum per mile as might be presumed to be a fair average amount of expenditure. He believed, that from the natural difficulties presented by each route, few railways cost less than 25,000l. per mile, and there were instances in which, not from the difficulties of the country, but from the sumptuousness of the construction, the expense had reached 40,000l. per mile. It appeared to him unreasonable, that the proprietors should receive compensation for the extravagance of their plan of construction, and he thought 25,000l. a fair estimate of the amount which should be taken as the ground of compensation. In that way the principal questions that could arise before arbitrators might be got rid of, greatly to the advantage of all parties, as the cost of arbitrations, like that of law suits, was frequently so great as to exceed the sum the possession of which was disputed.
§ Sir J. Graham
was glad to find that 467 his hon. Friend the Member for Bridport agreed with him on this question, as he had distinctly waved the point which the Government were inclined to oppose—the admission of the original cost of constructing the railway as an element in the calculation of the compensation to be awarded by the public to the proprietors. He intended to make a proposition relative to this matter, for though he had no personal interest in it, his attention had been arrested by the vast importance of the subject. He was resolved, as far as his humble efforts could go, to secure to the public a constant, prompt, and invariable communication by railroads where-ever they existed, but he could not overlook the just claims of the proprietors. Let the Committee consider the advantages that had been secured to the public by the clauses of the bill already passed. There had been secured, in the first place, at all times in the day, and as frequently as the Post-office should require, a despatch of letters by railroad. In the next place, it had been provided, that those letters should be conveyed at the maximum speed of the first class train of passengers, and that no allowance should be made for the time of detentions, whatever it might be, arising from the orders of the Postmaster General, to leave bags along the line of communication, It was next provided, that no bargains should be binding as against the public for a longer period than six months, in cases where notice had been given, or even for as many days where notice had not been given, subject only to the question of compensation where no notice should be given. So unilateral was the enactment in favour of the public, that though the bargain was open at the end of six months with notice, and at the end of twenty-four hours without notice, railroad companies were bound for three years. Authority was given to impose summary penalties in default of fulfilment to the amount of 20l., with recovery by action against the company under a penal bond to the amount of 500l. These were the advantages secured to the public, and the only question was, how was the public to remunerate those private companies for the benefits they gained? Here let him call the attention of the Committee to the enormous outlay these companies had incurred. He believed, that at a moderate estimate, the communication by railroad between the 468 metropolis, Birmingham, Liverpool, and the adjacent manufacturing districts, executed, without any co-operation on the part of the public, at the expense of private individuals, would cost a sum approaching to 10,000,000l. The Birmingham and London Railway had cost already somewhere about 4,300,000l. At various times in the infancy of these great undertakings, assistance from the public purse had been humbly and earnestly asked by their projectors at the bar of that House. The answer to such applications always was, "The public have nothing whatever to do with the matter; with you is the profit, with you must rest the risk of loss." He did not think it possible to over estimate the advantages accruing to the country from this enormous expenditure of individuals. There were, first, the increased circulation of money and the profitable investment of capital, which alone might be regarded as benefits of the most important kind to the present generation. The railways would not only make a great addition to the comforts of the people and cause a great increase of the national wealth, but they would augment the national power and security, and their construction besides redounded to the national glory. Such were the advantages conferred by a few individuals on the country. Something had been said about the Post-office being a favoured department of the public service. He admitted it had been so much favoured, that it had many of the faults of a spoiled child; but if that were so highly favoured, surely the proprietors of railroads, in their character of public benefactors, might with a good grace come before the public and ask for some favour also. The correspondence of the country was not only of vast but of growing magnitude, and there were loud demands of a reduction in the present high rates of postage. The answer to such petitions used to be, that it was impossible to increase the bulk of the articles to be conveyed, as a reduction would certainly do, without at the same time diminishing the speed. But this great invention would supersede such objections, inasmuch as the railway carriages would be in fact moving post-offices, proceeding at the rate of twenty-five or thirty miles an hour. Bulk, therefore, had ceased to be an obstacle, speed was now compatible with the greatest bulk. The railroad proprietors asked for no favour, 469 though their claims might be as good as others; they asked only for simple justice; and he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Bridport, that they would not obtain justice if the original cost of the railroad were excluded from the calculation of the compensation to be awarded them. It was said, that they asked for the interest of their capital, but that was a mistake. The hon. Member for Bridport talked of their extravagant outlay. No doubt there had been in some instances an affectation of superfluous ornament beyond the solidity necessary for the purposes of the railroad; but for this no remuneration was asked. Would it be said on the other hand, that the public should obtain for the same money the same speed and facility of communication—in North Wales, for instance, where tunnels had been made through mountains, vallies arched over, rivers crossed, and deep excavations made at immense expense—ason the Bedford level, where nature had interposed few obstacles? So confident were the railroad proprietors of the merits of their case, that under ordinary circumstances they would be content to leave it open, certain that no accountant of sound judgment, in estimating the proper amount of remuneration, would admit the consideration of this element. Mr. Stephenson, the inventor of the locomotive engine, was, in his opinion, a man of the greatest ingenuity and judgment; he had conferred the most signal benefits on his country, and his name would go down to posterity with honours. He therefore spoke of him with respect. But it so happened that Mr. Stephenson, in conjunction, as he was informed, with his son—that these two gentlemen came to a decision, without an umpire, that the original cost of construction ought not to be included as an element in calculating the compensation to be awarded to them for the conveyance of the Post-office mails. Their report said, that under the arrangement proposed by them, the Post-office will not contribute to the first cost, nor towards the repairs of the railway. After this award the proprietors of the Grand Junction Railway took steps, as might have been expected, to lay before Government their objections to the award, and to give notice, that at the proper time they should relinquish the mail contract. Other railway companies also took up the subject, with much earnestness and activity. It was indeed 470 a subject of the most vital importance to all railway companies; and therefore it was, that he had brought it before the House. As to the objection of the extravagance, as it was called, of the payments demanded from Government by the railway companies, he (Sir J. Graham) did not think, that considering the short experience they had of the system, there were any grounds for making the assertion; but with reference to it he would mention, that it appeared from the evidence of Mr. Lewis, who was then an officer of the Government, but had since been removed from his situation, 2d. a-mile was enough to pay for the conveyance of a guard and letters to the weight of about one hundred cwt. Now, he was aware, that there were some doubts about the accuracy of the returns of the original cost and subsequent expense of the Grand Junction Company; but admitting, that a considerable addition had been erroneously made to the real expenditure, could it surprise any one, that complaints reached the House of Commons, and that railway proprietors were extremely anxious, that the proposition he was about to make should be adopted, when it appeared from the evidence of Mr. Lewis, that that railway was actually carrying the mails at a loss? Could it be believed of this country, that although these companies have conferred the greatest possible benefits upon the public, yet she imposed upon them in return additional taxation by obliging them to serve the public at less than a remunerating price? Therefore, although he thought the bill was on the whole rightly framed, and that the Government had acted in a most liberal and praiseworthy manner, in withdrawing the more stringent clauses which at first appeared in the bill, and in determining to try first the milder method, yet on this clause he was most decidedly of opinion, that the House was called upon to interfere, because he was convinced, that unless the House decided this question, the measure practically neither would nor could work. This was the question mooted—shall the original cost of construction be or be not included as an element of computing the remuneration? Let it be observed, every thing of the bill as it stood, passed into law, would depend on the umpire. As the bill then was, both parties were to agree on an umpire. Now neither party, it was plain, would give 471 consent to any man as umpire who would not support their own views. Therefore, he thought the clause could not possibly be allowed to stand; and if it did, he thought it impossible, that the measure could operate satisfactorily unless the House decided. He hoped, therefore, to have the acquiescence of the House in the words which he would now move be inserted in the bill, to the effect, that the cost of construction be included. The principle of reference to arbitrators would not, he thought, be just in its operation, in consequence of the great varieties in the cost of construction of different railways, while at the same time he did not expect from it any advantage to the public. He would only add, that he should be very much disappointed if it were not found, that the original cost of construction of railways, excluding from cost of construction all expenses for every thing not strictly necessary for the conveyance of passengers and goods, was not much less than was said. He did not mean in what he said to exclude outlay for the purchase of land; for how could you establish a railway communication at all without purchasing land? He moved, that at the end of clause 15 these words be added, "such arbitrators shall take into consideration the original cost of construction of the railway, and of the maintenance thereof."
§ Mr. Labouchere
entirely agreed with his right hon Friend who had just sat down, that nothing could be worse policy for the public, and nothing more unbecoming the Government, than to ask the railway companies to convey the mails on any other terms than such as would secure to those companies a fair and full remuneration; and he might add, that he for one should be very sorry to propose to the House any measure which he thought would not secure to them an ample and full remuneration for their services to the public. But unless the House were prepared to maintain what had ever been the policy of this country—namely, to make the Post-office service a favoured service—if they consented to do this, and put the Post-office upon a level with private persons, they would be sinking the revenue of the Post-office, not for the purpose of taking a burden off the public, but for the purpose of putting the difference into the pockets of the railway proprietors. And it was because he believed that course to be 472 as unjust as it would be ruinous to the finances of the country, that he was prepared to resist any proposition for that object. The question now before the House, had been very fully and very ably stated by his right hon. Friend opposite. That question was, whether the House would insist, that the arbitrators shall take into their consideration, the cost of the original construction of railways, or whether they would leave to the arbitrators to decide according to their best judgment on the ordinary outgoings. Now, his right hon. Friend had rightly stated, that an experiment with reference to this matter had already taken place. He (Mr. Labouchere) was very glad to say that the proprietors of the Birmingham Railway had agreed to take the machinery proposed in this bill, and put it into practice before the bill should pass, by way of experiment. Accordingly arbitrators were appointed, that on the part of Government being Lieutenant Harness, of the Royal Engineers; that on the part of the Birmingham Grand Junction being Mr. Stephenson the younger. They had for umpire an hon. Member of that House, Mr. Loch. A more fair tribunal could not be constituted. What took place? They made a report, in which they did not confine themselves to dry figures merely, but very properly gave their reasons for the opinions and observations which they put forward, and they remarked that the Post-office and the public have a right to expect from these great companies, that they should bear in mind and act upon the recollection, that if they confer advantages upon the public, yet they have also had great advantages bestowed on them by the public. They said, that they would not calculate the compensation to be awarded upon the principle of including the cost of original construction, or the cost of passage of bills through that House, or of the mistakes of the engineers, and other expenses, especially those relative to the passing of bills. No, they would calculate on other principles, and here he agreed with them; at the same time he would not have the railway companies lose one shilling for what they did for the public. He would have them fully remunerated for the services done. He went thus far, but no further. The first principle of adjudication was not to go into the expenses of construction; and, although his right hon. 473 Friend had anticipated something of the sort, he could not believe that the railway companies would offer a dogged opposition to the enactments of the law, and that they would appoint no arbitrators or umpire but such as they knew to be pledged to their own views; but if they did, it would furnish the best argument to Government to come down next Session, and ask for a bill to put a stop to such an abuse. The argument, that it was a vague and unrestricted method to leave the decision with arbitrators did not apply to the bill only, but to the proposed amendment also, for there was just as much vagueness about the question of the cost of construction—a question which depended very materially on the degree of skill with which the railway was originally projected, and it was not fair, that the public should be made to pay for the mistakes that might have to be corrected in the first design. However, he believed the whole question of railways would be forced on the consideration of the House at no very distant period. They had bound the country in chains of iron; we were in a state such as was submitted to by no other country. America had taken measures to secure the interests of the public on the railways. France had taken similar meaures—in a less degree it was true—still had taken measures, that this sort of monopoly should not be established against the public. Now, he warned the House, that if the clause of the right hon. Baronet were carried, he would not be answerable that the whole of the Post-office revenue would not be transferred to the railway companies. He had asked Lieutenant Harness, who was well qualified to judge, what in his opinion would be the result of carrying the proposition of the right hon. Baronet, and he answered, that the expense to the Post-office would be more than double the present. The Grand Junction had begun to carry for the Post-office at a very reasonable rate, but lately they had insisted on terms infinitely higher. Now, he hoped the House would not believe, that he wished to do anything unjust to the railway companies, or that he was insensible of the honour they had conferred on the country; on the contrary, he was willing to defend them—to defend them from the difficulties which, much against his will, they experienced in getting bills through that House; but 474 he would not consent to make over to them the revenue of the Post-office; if that was to be abandoned, let it be given up in remission of taxation. The payments made to the Post-office must be kept up; but if this amendment were carried, those payments would go, not to the account of the public revenue, but to enrich the railway companies. Let the House consider, that the public might at some future period adopt more generally than at present the cry for a cheap postage and rapid communication, while the law would prevent the Post-office from concluding such terms with these companies as would serve to lighten the pressure of the taxation for postage, at the same time that it secured speed. He must repeat, that if the Post-office were obliged to pay these enormous sums to railway companies, the most disastrous results might be apprehended. He did not believe, that the public attention had been sufficiently called to the subject, nor did he think that the House was sufficiently aware of the state of the case. On the whole, however, as this measure was avowedly an experimental one, he thought the best course would be, to leave the whole question open to the arbitrators; at the same time he should have no great objection to the principle of taking into consideration the original cost of construction, because he believed that principle to be a fair one.
§ Lord Sandon
complained, that the right hon. Gentleman should have endeavoured in the speech he had just delivered to enlist in his favour all the sympathies of the House, by declaring that the object of the bill was to confer a benefit on the public by establishing a cheap conveyance of letters, and thereby effecting a reduction in the amount of postage. That was not the question which the House had to consider. The question, was, whether the public interest conferred a right upon the Post-office to take possession of rail-roads and make use of them without the slightest remuneration whatsoever. That was the plain and simple question which the House was called upon to decide. That the railway companies should be subject to control he readily admitted; but there was a wide difference between justifiable control and absolute sway, between fair remuneration and robbery; for such it would be, to use the property of those companies without paying for it. He felt it to have 475 been admitted, that there was a wide distinction between railroads and common roads, not however of such a nature as to prevent the principle of prerogative from being applied to the former as well as the latter; but he could not consider it inconsistent with that principle to grant to the proprietors of railroads a fair remuneration—that was to say, a remuneration founded upon the expenses of executing and carrying on the work. If they had a right to do with railroads as they pleased, they had an equal right over canals. Yet it had never been contended that in making use of canals for the public service the payment, therefore, should be regulated solely by the wear and tear of the canal, and not by the amount of expenditure in constructing it. Even remunerating for the wear and tear of railroads generally upon the same scale would be unjust, seeing that one might have cost 4,000,000l. when another, of the same extent, might have cost but half that amount. The authority of Mr. Stephenson was, no doubt, a high authority, but not entitled to more weight than that of any other engineer.
§ Mr. Hawes
thought, that the question before the House was one of a very simple character, and should be considered quite apart from those other considerations which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had sought to throw around it. It was a question of dispute between the Post-office and railroad proprietors, in order to settle which an arbitration clause was proposed. Now, if the object were to allow to the arbitrators a full opportunity of considering every matter in dispute between those parties, there was no doubt that such a course would afford the greatest facility for doing so; but if there was to be anything in the shape of exclusion, it would neither be fair nor likely to lead to an harmonious or satisfactory settlement. It was but right they should come to a distinct understanding on that point. The right hon. Gentleman was desirous of excluding from the arbitration one branch of the question. If that were just, why not have mentioned it in his clause? By this bill they were trying to collect together such a body of facts and authentic information as would enable that House or the Government to introduce at a future period an act which would set at rest all contested points, and compel justice to be done. If they worked harmoniously with the railroad companies, 476 and made such concession on the part of the public as was but fair, in consideration of the advantages they were to gain by the great increase of speed, there would not, he was certain, be any difficulty in coming to a speedy arrangement; but if it were attempted to impose conditions, or exclude one single element which either party might think ought to be made part of the arbitration, not only would there arise great practical difficulty, but very great dissatisfaction.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
had very little to add to the able and concise statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Trade, and he rose only for the purpose of correcting any misconceptions the House might have derived from the observations which had fallen from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lambeth, and the noble Viscount the Member for Liverpool. The noble Lord had used terms with respect to this subject which were improper as to the conclusion which he appeared to have drawn. What the noble Viscount had said was, that the proposition would have the effect of cheating the railway companies, and that the Government proposed to give them no renumeration. He denied, however, that such was the case. The practical question was simply this. The Government found a railway between Manchester and Liverpool, for instance, created as a private speculation, and they called on the private company to perform a public service, and they said, that no additional charge should be made with respect to the speculation, but that the company should receive only a fair and adequate remuneration for the services performed, for the speculation was entered into, not for the benefit of the Post-office, but merely for the advantage of private individuals, and, therefore, as they did not affect them in any way, the additional charge to which they should be subject by reason of the Post-office services was the quantum of remuneration to which the company would be entitled. He maintained that that was a fair principle of dealing with these parties, and that it was totally distinct from the principle of requiring services from them and giving them no adequate reward. So much for the remarks of the noble Lord. He came now to the observations of his hon. Friend (Mr. Hawes) near him, who said, "when you propose to leave this matter to arbitra- 477 tion, why will you endeavour to exclude any one element from the consideration of the arbitrators?" That was not the proposition of the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham). The right hon. Baronet's proposition was, not whether any one element should be excluded or not, but whether one particular element should not be introduced. The right hon. Baronet's amendment was not whether the arbitrators should take into consideration the original cost of railways and the maintenance thereof in such cases as the arbitrators might deem fit, but whether they (the arbitrators) should not, by Act of Parliament, be compelled to include that element of calculation in every case. He maintained, that a proposition more untenable upon every principle of justice and fairness could not by possibility be suggested. They had upon the table of the House the opinion of three competent parties, by whom it was declared that the element of calculation proposed by the right hon. Baronet, so far from being applicable to every case, was directly the reverse. If this amendment were adopted, what would follow? Why, every blunder, every mistake, every extortion (and it was well known that many extortions had been practised) in the construction of these railroads would be taken into calculation, and a heavy portion of the burden of them saddled upon the Post-office communications of the country. Upwards of three years ago, when the Duke of Richmond was at the head of the Post-office department, the attention of the Government and of Parliament was directed to this question; and repeatedly, upon the occasion of railway bills passing, had he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) stated to the House that a time would come when it would be necessary to deal with them by some general legislative enactment to protect not only the revenue of the country, but the rights of the public. It was well known, that when those bills were in progress, the gentlemen who then were suitors, but who now assumed so much the tone and character of masters, would have submitted to any terms. [No, no!] The hon. Gentleman who said "No," certainly knew much more about the feelings of railway proprietors than he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did; but it stood upon evidence, that at the time the bills were in progress, they (the proprietors) were perfectly willing to submit to terms which, now that the bills 478 were obtained, and the railways in full activity, they were so obstinate in resisting. Let these railroad proprietors, however, recollect at least this one thing, that if they should succeed by their activity, energy, and zeal, in defeating what he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) considered a fair and just demand on the part of the public, Parliament would yet have it in its power to deal with this question of Post-office communication, even if the present experiment should fail. When these gentlemen came to have their bills renewed—when they came to Parliament for fresh powers—when they appeared again in the capacity of suitors, and not in the character which they now assumed, of dictators, Parliament, after the experience it had obtained, would not fail to secure by the strongest and most stringent measures a full protection to the public service of the country. The Members of the Government, in the discharge of their duty upon this subject, had been made the subjects of the most malicious and malignant misrepresentation; but they would not be deterred, either by harsh language, or false accusations, from doing what they conceived to be their duty to the public. The bill now before the House was considered only as an experiment—an experiment which, with fair play, it was hoped would succeed; but if that should not be the case, if from any cause the experiment should fail, his hon. Friend the Vice-president of the Board of Trade (Mr. Labouchere) reserved to himself the full right of asking for further powers, for more stringent authority to enable him to deal with these companies. It was the duty of the Government, who were in a great degree responsible for the creation of these corporations, to guard the interests of the public against the monopoly they would establish, and to take care that they did not possess and exercise a power which might endanger all the communications of the country.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that the House was now called upon to repair an enormous error into which it had fallen, when the railroad bills were under discussion. They ought to have foreseen, when these bills were before them, that they were, in fact, establishing a monopoly, a monopoly in respect to which there could be no future condition. They ought to have foreseen, that if the railroads were successful, other modes of internal communication would 479 almost necessarily fall into disuse; and they ought therefore to have stipulated, as it would have been perfectly just and easy for them to have done, that certain public services should be performed at a very reasonable rate. Parliament, however, did not take those precautions, and the railroads were now established. He apprehended that the public now stood to these companies in much the same situation as the railway companies, at their first formation, occupied with respect to the owners of private property. The Legislature had then said to those owners, "you must, for a great public benefit, forego your own will and discretion, and dispose of your lands to these companies;" and just the same right had Parliament now to say to the railway proprietors, "for a great public benefit you must to some extent give up your rights of private property." But how was the rate of compensation to be fixed? In the same way as it had been fixed between the railway companies and the proprietors of the soil. The principle observed in those cases was the principle of arbitration. In the first place, the parties had an opportunity of making a private bargain. If they could not agree, the question was referred to a jury, who awarded damages according to the value of the property. Why not take the same course now, with the single exception of referring disputed points not to a jury, but to two arbitrators with an umpire? In the former case, when the value of property was to be ascertained and assessed, the jury were not bound to take into consideration what was the original cost of an estate, nor what the expense of keeping it in repair—they were left, upon an equitable view of the whole case, to determine what in their opinion was a fair and just compensation. Why should not the same course be taken now? He could not agree to the words of his right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham), neither could he agree to the absolute exclusion of them. He thought that each case must depend upon the particular circumstances by which it was surrounded, and that it should be left to the discretion of the arbitrators as to the rule they would adopt. If the calculation were in every case to proceed upon the principle laid down in his right hon. Friend's amendment, he (Sir Robert Peel) thought that the arbitrator would be obliged to consider something more than the original 480 cost; he would be bound also to take into account the profit of the company. Suppose, without reference to the Post-office communication, that a company were making large profits, surely, in any such calculation as the arbitrators would be bound to make, the amount of profit ought to be placed against the cost of construction; and it would be just for the arbitrator to say, "I see your profits are great; therefore I shall determine what, in your case, I deem a handsome and liberal reward for carrying on the communication of the Post-office." But he doubted the policy of tying down the arbitrator to any particular rule to be observed in all cases. He had supposed the case of a prosperous company. Take one of an, opposite description. Suppose the case of a company whose outlay had been enormous, and whose receipts yielded no profitable return: would it be just, in such a case, for the arbitrator to say, "I find that yours is a very losing concern; therefore, I will compensate you at very high rate: I will not only pay you for the original outlay for construction, but I will also make you some allowance for the reduced amount of your receipts." He (Sir Robert Peel) did not think that that would be just to the public. In his opinion the arbitrators ought to proceed, not upon any fixed and arbitrary principle to be observed in all cases, but upon an equitable view of the merits of each particular case. He did not object to the bill as it originally stood. He would not have the interests of the railroads prejudiced by a preliminary discussion in Parliament, but would leave all to the discretion of the two arbitrators, subject to the final decision of an umpire. That, upon the whole, he thought would be the most proper course. If his hon. Friend had an assurance that the words as they originally stood were not prejudiced by anything which had taken place, but that they were to be construed according to their proper construction—namely, that the two persons appointed should have full power to make any award which they might deem proper, he should recommend him to withdraw the amendment, and permit the clause to remain as it originally stood.
§ Sir James Graham
would at once reply to his right hon. Friend's suggestion by stating, that he only brought forward his amendment in consequence of what appeared to be the prejudice of this award. 481 He quite agreed with his right hon. Friend, that the most equitable course would be to place the railroad proprietors now in precisely the same situation as the proprietors of the soil were placed when their undertakings were commenced. Therefore, if his right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere), on the part of her Majesty's Government would adopt the opinion of his right hon Friend, the Member for Tamworth, and declare, that notwithstanding all that had passed, the arbitration in every case should be left to the free and unshackled discretion of two arbitrators, with an umpire to decide, if need were, between them, he would at once, with the permission of the House, withdraw his amendment.
§ Mr. Labouchere
had no hesitation in replying to his right hon. Friend's appeal. He admitted, that it was the intention of the Government, in proposing this bill, that the arbitrators should be left entirely free, and with a perfect right to enter into such inquiriesas they might deem necessary to enable them to make their award. He had felt it necessary, however, to state, that he thought it would require very special circumstances to justify the original cost of construction being taken into consideration. The wish of the Government was, that the whole question should be left to the decision of fair and honourable men.
§ Sir James Graham
begged it to be understood, that if he had said anything in the shape of a threat it was not for a moment intended. He was quite satisfied with what had been stated by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Labouchere), and sincerely hoped, that the bill would operate in such a way as to prevent the necessity of any further Parliamentary interference. At the close of the discussion he begged to repeat, that if, contrary to his hope and expectation, any obstacles should arise from a system of unfair dealing on the part of the railroad companies, no Member of the House would be more ready than he should be to join with the Government in adopting the strongest measures to compel them to be just.
§ Amendment withdrawn, and clause agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ The House resumed.