§ Mr. Easthope
reminded the House that there had been no discussion on this bill. He had waited till the last moment, being desirous of seeing whether any other hon. 906 Member would occupy the attention of the House; and also with a view of learning what the opinion of other Gentlemen might be with reference to the principle of this measure. But finding that no hon. Member was disposed to rise, he felt it his duty to offer a few observations to the House. In the Select Committee appointed to consider this subject, he found himself in a very small minority, objecting to any legislation on this question, with their present imperfect information. The ground on which he rested his objection to any legislation at the present time upon the subject, was the conviction he had of its being the unanimous feeling of all who had directed their attention to the practical working of these great undertakings, that they had hitherto proceeded with a degree of success—whether the interests of the parties more immediately concerned in their management, or the paramount interests of the public itself, were considered—far beyond the most sanguine expectation. When the Legislature was called upon to direct its attention to matters connected with the trade and commerce of this great country, with a view to pass enactments intended to restrain and regulate those great interests, it was obviously the duty of Members of Parliament, before commencing the work of legislation, clearly and distinctly to ascertain what the real object was, that they desired to attain. Now, he would ask his noble Friend under whose auspices this measure was introduced, what it was that he specifically aimed to accomplish by his bill? Great danger was always to be apprehended from premature legislation; and he certainly did, in this instance, entertain the strongest apprehensions of danger from hasty legislation, It was impossible that any one who had read the evidence presented to the House last year, and had heard the evidence that had been given before the Committee during the present Session, could come to any other conclusion than that, so far from there being any crying evil to be redressed, so far from there being any mal-administration to reform, so far from there being any disposition to disregard the public convenience, or to extort unjust exactions from the public, on the part of the companies engaged in these important undertakings, that so far from any of these things existing, there was, on the contrary, the strongest grounds for affirming that the 907 individuals to whose direction the railways throughout this country were confided, fully felt and understood that their own true interests, and the interests of the proprietors of these public undertakings, were identical with the interests of the public; that their interests were best promoted by looking to a minimum rather than a maximum of charge; and he thought it would be impossible for his noble Friend to show any clear and intelligible evidence to the contrary. There was nothing to warrant his noble Friend to act on the assumption that there existed any systematic abuse in the management of railways, or that the course pursued by the individuals who directed those works was so fraught with mischief as to render it necessary to have recourse to what he must, in the absence of full and satisfactory information, designate as hasty and precipitate legislation. His noble Friend must, from his position in respect to this question, be aware that there prevailed a great diversity of opinion upon many most essential points connected with railway management, even among those who were the most deeply interested in that species of property, and who were best acquainted with their practical operations. The anxiety that prevailed on this subject, and the rapid progress of improvements in respect to railway communication, he thought ought to be viewed with great satisfaction by all those who looked to the interest of the public, and desired the attainment of a system of management that should combine the advantages of cheapness, regularity, and speed, with the least possible abuse; which he (Mr. Easthope) considered to be strong reasons for deferring legislation till another year. The House would then be in a situation to proceed with greater benefit to the community, and with less danger of impeding the progress of these undertakings. He could readily say, with reference to those directors with whom he had the honour to be acquainted, that there was not one to whom the public looked up as an authority, who did not believe that the interests of the railway proprietors and those of the public were united, and who did not desire to act on that principle. The evidence that was before the House satisfactorily proved the fact, that railway directors were anxious to adopt those plans that were the best calculated to promote economy and utility; he, therefore, thought the best 908 plan was to let them proceed in that course without dangerous meddling. If, however, he should find it was the disposition of the House to entertain the same apprehensions of danger from delay which appeared to influence his noble Friend, and if it should be considered, under all the circumstances, that it was better to proceed with the bill at this advanced period of the Session, rather than wait for the additional knowledge which another year's experience would give them, he certainly was not inclined to oppose himself to the general opinions of the House, but would, in that case, devote himself to the improvement of the measure to the fullest extent in his power. His object, at the present moment, in making these remarks upon the principle of the bill, rather than speaking to its particular provisions, was to elicit from hon. Members, who might have been instructed by their constituents, their sentiments with respect to proceeding now, or postponing the question until another Session.
§ Preamble postponed.
§ On Clause 1, which requires that no railway, which shall not have been opened before the passing of the Act, shall be opened for the conveyance of passengers or goods until one calendar month's notice in writing to the hon. Committee of the Privy Council appointed for trade and foreign plantations.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
thought that there ought to be a certain time allowed before the notice should come into effect, that parties might be made aware of the law, and have time to comply with it, without injuriously stopping railways now nearly finished. He proposed, therefore, to insert after the word "that," the words "after two months from the passing of this Act."
§ Mr. Hume
thought that these lines should be left as independent and free as possible, and that so far as was consistent with the public safety there should be no interference with the capital and skill employed. He had not had an opportunity of seeing the evidence taken before the committee; and it was only yesterday morning that a large blue book was delivered, marked "railway evidence." It appeared to him, therefore, that they ought to act cautiously, lest they should create evils in the restrictions they were about to propose. The second clause was in the highest degree sweeping; it was scarcely 909 possible to conceive a more stringent clause, to take the management of the books out of the hands of the company. They might injuriously interfere with the employment of capital, and he thought that they required more time before they legislated, and that they ought to be better masters of the evidence before they proceeded. At the same time he was anxious, as far as possible, to give protection to the public, and for this reason, that he believed to a certain, extent the railroads would have a monopoly wherever they were established. He would ask the noble Lord who had charge of this bill to consider whether it would not be more consistent, and more wise, after making all the amendments that could be suggested to perfect the bill, so that parties might have an opportunity of seeing what was intended, not to proceed with the bill this Session. And he made this suggestion because he knew that the noble Lord meant to do nothing except such as should be beneficial to the public.
§ Sir Robert Peel
thought it desirable to legislate upon this question during the present Session. No one was more adverse to any general interference with the employment of capital than he was; but it was impossible to deny, that the railways were a practical monopoly, and that they had been established by the Legislature giving to them extensive powers over the property of individuals. It was their duty, therefore, to see that by those in possession of the monopoly the public rights were not interfered with. He thought it was unwise to go beyond that, by introducing minute regulations; but it was not unwise to guard the general interests of the public. If, then, legislation was to take place, the sooner the decision was come to the better. They were only keeping parties in uncertainty by any delay. The moment they admitted that there was a fit case for legislation, they ought to determine what it should be. The subject had undergone great investigation in the only place in which it could be thoroughly examined—a select committee; and it was for the interest of the companies themselves that they should be relieved from all doubts and anxiety. Upon these grounds he thought that the noble Lord was authorised in proceeding with his bill; and, without pledging himself to every minute detail, he was of opinion that it would be advantageous now to legislate.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Mr. Vernon
must now object to the words "shall not be opened before the passing of this act;" since this amendment, they were entirely unnecessary.
§ Mr. H. G. Ward
could not see any desire that a railway could have to exempt itself from giving notice, and the only object of the amendment was, to protect some that were about to open from suffering by an ex post facto law.
§ Mr. Finch
could not see the object of causing the railways to give notice at all; it seemed to him to be utterly useless. The railway companies were required by the bill, to give a notice to the Board of Trade previous to any opening, and they might send, if they should think fit, an inspector to inspect the railroad, and of course to make a report. Now, he would ask the noble Lord whether he intended to impose any penalty or punishment if any railway intended to be opened should be declared by the inspector to be unfit to be opened? He had looked through the act, and could not see any penalty for opening railroads declared unfit, and without that the notice appeared to be unnecessary.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
said, that as they had inserted his noble Friend's amendment, he would suggest that the words now in debate should be left out. And whilst he was up he must remark, that he was very much struck with the observations of the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Finch). He wished to see the object of the notice. They were imposing an unnecessary restriction, by causing the notice to be given, if it could not be followed up by any order, regulation, or restriction. He could not, therefore, understand the object of amending the clause, till he was told of the meaning of the clause itself.
§ Lord Seymour
did not impose any penalty, if a railroad which was unfit were opened, after notice, although there should be a remonstrance against it, because he thought that if the Board of Trade should remonstrate against the road as unfit to be opened, or as endangering the public, it was so much the interest of the railways to attend to the remonstrance, that it was not necessary to give the Board of Trade the absolute power of saying whether it should be opened or not.
The words "which shall not have been 911 Opened before the passing of this act" were struck out.
The next proposal was, to fill up the blank with the words "one month."
said, the noble Lord who had charge of the bill had, in some measure, admitted that some steps must be necessary, because he thought that the interest of the directors would induce them to comply with the remonstrance of the Board of Trade; but they ought to leave nothing to chance—they ought either not to legislate, or they ought to make it compulsory.
§ Viscount Sandon
said, the Privy Council, in the first instance, would have no power to prevent the opening of a railroad after the notice; but then the noble Lord said, that they had virtually a power over the parties managing the railroad, because no one would travel on the line after such a remonstrance had been given. What opportunity, however, would they have of judging? They might send an inspector, they were not compellable, but suppose they did send one, they all knew that with a railroad the last month was the most important of all; a month before the opening the bridges were imperfect, the rails were not all laid down, the fences were not put up, the gates that protected the side roads were not made, in short, in such a condition was it that it was totally unfit for the public. He said, then, that the inspector would go his rounds, he would come away with a hostile impression as to the opening, he would say that in his opinion the road ought not to be opened, and if the Privy Council, acting upon that, should issue their remonstrance, they would injure materially the whole property of the proprietors, and would not promote the interests of the public, because it would be issued after an imperfect instruction. He said, therefore, that this clause was useless on the one hand to the interests of the public, which would not be provided for when the inspectors were unable to come to a right conclusion; and, on the other hand, it would give to the Privy Council a dangerous power of condemnation. Had a single instance yet been quoted of a railroad having been opened when it was in a condition unfit for the interests of the public? He did not believe that there had been one instance. The other powers were so arbitrary, that there was every possible objection to them. He himself 912 could quote instances in which the public had been inconvenienced by the improper junction of two railroads; but they did not arise' from any breach of the Act of Parliament; they were made in compliance with the Act, which was in error. No doubt the junction of the Greenwich and Croydon was imperfectly made, but that was the fault of the Act of Parliament; the inspector would have no right to interfere in such a case.
§ Sir Edward Sugden
believed it to be quite unimportant whatever way the blank was filled up. It only required that the road should not be opened till after one month's notice, and if the directors were wise they would continue to give notice during the progress of the railway.
§ Blank filled up with the words "one month."
§ On the question that the clause as amended stand part of the bill,
§ Sir James Graham
stated, that it was only on the supposition it would afford safety to the public that the clause ought to pass. If they failed to establish that, not only were the amendments unnecessary, but the whole clause ought to be struck out. The noble Viscount (Sandon) wanted to know the advantage or the necessity of notice. He would have had a reply to his question, if they had had the benefit of more of his assistance on the committee which had sat on this subject. His noble Friend said, that there was not a single instance of a railroad being opened prematurely. Now he (Sir J. Graham) believed, on the contrary, that almost without exception every railroad that had been opened had been used before it was properly ready. He would take the clause as providing for the safety of the public. It might be the case, that none of the defences to the line of railway were complete—that the bridges were not quite finished at the time of opening the line, and what might be the result? That heavy weights being drawn over those bridges at a great speed, their fall would take place. It had recently occurred, that on the Preston and Lancaster railway a viaduct had given way, and, although happily no lives were lost, by a most providential circumstance, it was evident that the accident arose from the newness and rawness of the building. He thought, therefore, that it was for the safety of the public that this notice should be given, and that one month was the shortest 913 period which could have been fixed upon by the committee.
did not think that the arguments of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Pembroke, were at all sufficient to show, that the clause could have any effect in protecting the public from danger. In the case which had been alluded to, he believed the accident to have been in some degree attributable to the early period at which the railway had been opened; but he must say, that the directors had been urged to give the public the earliest opportunity of employing it by local newspapers and by other means.
§ Mr. Ewart
objected to the use of these words, because he conceived, that they would give a power to the Board of Trade far beyond that which was necessary. One month's notice was directed to be given, and he thought that it would be quite sufficient for the officers of the Board of Trade to make their inspection during that period. He objected, however, to a power so indefinite as that proposed being placed in their hands.
§ Mr. Easthope
observed, that the hon. Member for Lambeth had stated, that the railway directors had no objection to this clause. He believed if they had not it was because they were of opinion, that it would be practically inoperative, for they felt that the responsibility which attached to their own engineers would be in no wise decreased by the appointment of any officers to superintend their proceedings, such as was proposed. The responsibility with regard to the opening of railways now rested upon the directors, under the guidance of their engineers. If they threw open the works before they were in a condition to be employed with safety to the public, and if the public were injured thereby, he was confident that he should be told by the hon. and learned Attorney-general, that if such a case were brought into a court of justice, it would bring upon them damages proportioned to their offence. If they contemplated, that the state of the railway was to be the subject of conflict at the time at which it was proposed to be opened, they would produce infinitely more evil to the interests of the public than they would do good.
§ Sir E. B. Sugden
begged to throw it out 914 for the consideration of the committee, that under the words of the clause, in some events it might be that a second notice would be required; for if by some accident it should happen that the railway was not opened on the day specified in the first notice, a new one would be requisite. The clause, he contended, did not touch the case for which it was intended to provide. The object must be taken to be to compel the railway companies to do that which was right, or not to do that which was wrong, but as the clause stood it was a mere compulsory enactment requiring them to give a notice, which was not followed up by any penalty.
§ Mr. Warburton
could not find anything in the clause to show that the object of it was to enable the Board of Trade to ascertain whether the railways were complete and in working order. It simply provided, that a notice should be given, that on a certain day the railway should be opened. If it were intended that the Board of Trade should send an engineer on that notice to inspect the railway, he should object to the adoption of such a course, because if any such officers were appointed at all, he thought that they ought to be appointed from the very commencement of the undertaking, in order that they might inform themselves of the solidity of all the works, upon which he thought it must be admitted, that they could only form an opinion from an inspection from the first. He agreed with the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. East-hope) that they ought not to lessen the responsibility now imposed on the companies or their engineers. If the Board of Trade were to employ an engineer, he might have some crotchet as to some particular method of constructing a portion of the railway, and until that crotchet was attended to the work could not be opened. The same species of circumstance had before occurred, and he thought, that they should do well to leave the undivided responsibility to the railway companies.
§ Viscount Sandon
was decidedly of opinion that the power to be exercised by the Board of Trade should be distinctly defined, and that it ought not to be left to them to say what should be done. He thought that it must be seen that there was no real protection in the notice proposed to be given.
§ Mr. Labouchere
knew that this ques- 915 tion had been discussed in the committee Which had sat, and that with the single exception of the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool, all the Members of that body were of opinion that it would be beneficial that this clause should be included in the bill. It was thought, however, that it was decidedly best not to encourage the interference of the Government, but to limit it to the smallest possible degree; and the committee chose to render the powers conferred in the first instance inoperative for the protection of the public, rather than give to the Board pf Trade an authority, the absolute necessity of which might not have been proved. It was to this circumstance, therefore, that the limited provisions of this clause was to be attributed. The object of the committee was to give to the Board of Trade the amplest information as to what was doing, and if they should find that railways were to be opened, and upon sending down their engineers they should discover that acts of Parliament had not been complied with, then it would be their duty to interfere, and to give a warning to the railway company of the neglect of which they had been guilty, and of which they must take the consequences. Every effectual check would in that case be given, without the authority of the Board of Trade being pushed too far, and he thought that it would be going very far to allow a Government Board at once to interfere to stop the progress of any public work merely upon their own declaration. He believed that the knowledge of the existence of such a power in a Government Board would do much to render it inoperative, for it was hardly to be supposed that a railway company, knowing such an authority to exist, would conduct their proceedings in such a way as to render them open to its exercise. Upon these grounds it was that he supported this clause. So far as his personal interest went upon the subject, it would be to his advantage to oppose such a provision as that proposed, because it would necessarily bring upon the department of which he had the honour to be the head, a vast degree of additional labour involving duties of a most disagreeable description; but he felt that he should be shrinking from his duty if he refused to undertake the exercise of the powers proposed to be conferred upon him. It would be his object to exercise them only 916 in cases where it was absolutely necessary that he should do so, and to interfere in cases in which he could not avoid it.
§ Mr. Muntz
entirely agreed with the hon. Member for Bridport. With regard to the question of the inspection of works after their completion, being acquainted with such matters, his opinion might have some weight with the committee. He was decidedly of opinion that it was impossible for any engineer to form a just estimate of the solidity of works upon a railway which was already completed. He looked with very great jealousy upon any Government interference in these matters, and unless very ample grounds were shown to warrant it, he considered that it would be quite unnecessary. He conceived that if Government engineers were appointed at all, they ought to have an opportunity of inspecting the works from the very first; and if this bill proceeded upon any other principle, the House would, in fact, be deceiving the public.
§ Mr. Easthope
fully concurred in the remark, that it was impossible for an engineer to form a just opinion upon the subject of works which were already completed. He had within his recollection an embankment of eighty feet, covering a bridge, and he should like to know how any person going over that could form any opinion as to the solidity of its construction. He conceived, therefore, that the clause would be totally inoperative as it at present stood.
§ Sir James Graham
did not support the clause on the grounds pointed out by the hon. Member for Bridport, but he conceived that it must be taken in conjunction with the 5th and the 11th sections. The 5th section empowered the Board of Trade to appoint inspectors of railways, and the 11th enabled the same body to direct prosecutions to enforce the provisions of railway acts. The hon. Member for Leicester, following the hon. Member for Bridport, had observed with great truth, that with respect to the sufficiency of any inspection of works, it could afford but little satisfaction. He admitted that, but he contended, that the converse of the proposition did not hold good for the insufficiency of works might be easily discovered. He could conceive many cases in which the acts of Parliament 917 under which railways were constituted were flagrantly violated with respect to many material points, and in which some interference would be requisite. Cases, for instance, of the bridges being too low, or of one railway traversing another at right angles, from which danger might result, and in which, therefore, some public officer should have an opportunity of inspection; but those cases he conceived were provided for by the clauses to which he had alluded. The notice, therefore, in such instances would have a greater effect than that merely of conveying intimation of the opening of railways to the Board of Trade, because it would enable that body to adopt measures by which any dangerous insufficiency in the public works would be remedied. If the sense of the Committee were taken upon this point, and it should decide against the clause, the noble Lord ought not to press the bill any further.
§ Mr. M. Philips
thought that it was impossible that any person should, within the time allowed by the bill, inspect a line of railway in a manner satisfactory to the public. In the first place, the railway would be in so incomplete a condition as to render a proper inspection impossible, and, secondly, the opportunity afforded would be insufficient for the purpose. If the inspection were to be a valid one, it must take place during the progress of the works. He was not insensible to the safety of the public, but he was far from believing that this inspection, if carried into effect, could afford that security which was necessary.
§ Lord Seymour
said, the object of this clause was, not to take away from the railway directors that responsibility to which they were already subjected, but there were many cases in which the inspection would be very useful. He would take the case of the Croydon Railway, which had been referred to in the Committee. It was found that a very dangerous arrangement had been made, by which the stations were placed, and the traffic on the line was conducted, in a manner as to render it exceedingly probable, that some accident might have happened. If such an inspection as was now proposed had then taken place, he had no doubt that the mere statement of the danger which might arise would have been sufficient to induce the directors to alter the arrangement. There were many other points in 918 which it might be attended with equally beneficial effects. In cases of building bridges, or of making roads cross lines of railway, it was very important that due information should be conveyed to the Board of Trade. He conceived, therefore, that the notice of one month would give practically to the Board of Trade the power of sending down inspectors to see that the arrangements of the railway were properly made; not to take upon themselves the responsibility of the railways which they directed to be surveyed, but to do that only which they were able to do for the convenience of the public. With regard to the meaning of (.he clause, he was very willing to take it as involving the general principle of the bill, and if the Committee were not satisfied with it, and were to negative it, they would in effect negative the principle of the bill itself.
§ Mr. Hawes
said, they had been informed by the noble Lord, that in discussing this clause, they were, in fact, involving the principle of this bill; so that, in fact, they were now resuming the debate which, but for the lateness of the hour, would have taken place on the second reading. He begged in the first instance to state his opinion that no ground had been made out for this bill—there had been no proof of practical inconvenience or of danger accruing from the existing system, nor had any reason been assigned why the bill should go so much farther than the recommendations of the report of the committee, conferring powers and a jurisdiction which it never contemplated. It had been argued that this species of superintendence was necessary, because the railways were practically monopolies. But he denied that they were monopolies in such a sense as to justify this measure. On the contrary, it was perfectly competent to parties to come to Parliament next session to allow the formation of a new line from London to Manchester. To be sure, his hon. Friend below him (Mr. M. Philips) did not believe in the probability of any such application being made, but he (Mr. Hawes) held in his hand a paper which proved that at all events the project had been entertained. Then, what became of the argument for the bill, founded on the existence of monopoly in the railroad companies. Nor did he see that the necessity for the bill was made out on any more practical grounds. Where was the proof 919 of evil that had arisen from the exercise of the powers of the railroad companies? It was not his fault that they were now discussing the principle on the first clause, but called upon, as he was, for his decision, he would at once say that he should feel bound to oppose the clause. One of the arguments of the noble Lord in favour of this system of interference was grounded on the fact that on some lines in the north the rail was carried across a level road. But how could this bill affect those roads already in existence? It gave no power of retrospective inspection, or to say to the company, "This road must be altered—it must be carried either over or under the level road. The bill went far beyond the recommendations in the report of the Committee. That report recommended that there should be a general superintendence, and an annual return. But this bill gave a power of access at all hours to information connected with the affairs of the company, a power to prosecute, accompanied by the means of collecting evidence from the defendants' own books, and thus bringing the defendants into court under every disadvantage. Surely the House would see that a bill which conferred such powers was most objectionable. To what might not the adoption of such a principle lead? What was to prevent the application of a similar system of inspection to joint-stock banks, canal companies, or any other great public bodies, the operations of which might be supposed to be possibly injurious to the community? He knew that in discussing the general principle of the bill on this clause he was irregular, but they had been invited to do so by the noble Lord; and as the noble Lord had staked the success of the bill upon the result of the division on this clause, he would at once declare his intention of voting against it.
§ Mr. Sheil
said there appeared to be an impression that this clause involved the whole principle of the bill. Nothing could be more erroneous. There were other clauses of the bill of great importance that were quite unconnected with this first clause. Nor did this bill exceed the recommendation in the report of the commissioners to the extent which had been alleged by the hon. Member for Lambeth. The question raised on the first clause was whether or not there should be a notice to the Government of the 920 opening of a railway one month before that opening—it did not embrace the question what should be done after such notice had been given. Mere notice might do good, and could do no harm: and the question whether or not notice should be given, did not involve the course to be pursued with regard to the opening of the railway, or the prevention of its being opened. For instance, it might be very wrong to give the Board of Trade a power of absolutely stopping the opening of any railway. The engineer who was a favourite with the Board of Trade might, under such a system, throw obstacles of the most unjustifiable kind in the way of a railway company, and cause loss, which it would be utterly out of the power of the Court of Chancery to fully compensate. But notice having been given under the clause, and the railway having been opened, the Board of Trade would be able to see how far the act had been complied with. All these matters he knew were the subject of subsequent clauses, and a division on the first clause therefore would not embrace the principles of the bill.
§ Mr. Ewart
urged upon the House to reflect that this question had assumed a different appearance in the course of the debate. They had been assured by the noble Lord that to discuss this clause was to discuss the principle of the bill, and as they had not yet had an opportunity of discussing the principle, they ought to seize upon this which was almost the only occasion that would present itself. The right hon. the Vice-President of the Board of Trade had argued that the fact of giving notice did not involve the principle against which the opponents of this bill were contending. But notice implied interference. If this principle of interference was applied to railroads, what was to prevent its being extended to canal companies and joint-stock banking companies? On the other hand, what evidence had been afforded of existing evils arising from the present mode of managing railways, to justify this measure? He, seeing that in voting against this clause he should be, in fact, voting against the bill, would most cordially give his vote against a most unjust and injurious principle.
§ The committee divided, on the question that the clause as amended stand part of the bill. Ayes 84; Noes 18; Majority 66.
|List of the AYES.|
|Adam, Admiral||Melgund, Viscount|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Mildmay, P. St. J.|
|Baines, E.||Morris, D.|
|Baldwin, C. P.||Morrison, J.|
|Baring, rt. hon. F. T.||Norreys, Sir D. J.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Oswald, J.|
|Benett, J.||Parker, R. T.|
|Boldero, H. G.||Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.|
|Bramston, T. W.||Pendarves, E. W. W.|
|Bridgeman, H.||Philips, M.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Phillpotts, J.|
|Brocklehurst, J.||Protheroe, E.|
|Brotherton, J.||Pryme, G.|
|Bruges, W. H.||Rice, E. R.|
|Bryan, G.||Richards, R.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Russell, Lord J.|
|Chalmers, P.||Salwey, Colonel|
|Dalrymple, Sir A.||Scholefield, J.|
|Darby, G.||Scrope, G. P.|
|De Horsey, S. H.||Seymour, Lord|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Sheil, rt. hn. R. L.|
|Eliot, Lord||Smith, B|
|Eliot, hon. J. E.||Somers, J. P.|
|Finch, F.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Freshfield, J. W.||Stanley, Lord|
|Gladstone, W. E.||Stewart, J.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Stock, Dr.|
|Greene, T.||Sugden, rt. hn. Sir E.|
|Grimsditch, T.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Hall, Sir B.||Thornley, T.|
|Harcourt, G. G.||Turner, E.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Vernon, G. H.|
|Hector, C. J.||Wakley, T.|
|Hobhouse, T. B.||Warburton, H.|
|Hodgson, R.||Ward, H. G.|
|Hope, G. W.||Williams, W.|
|Hutton, R.||Wood, Colonel|
|Knight, H. G.||Wood, G. W.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Wood, B.|
|Langdale, hon. C.||Yates, J. A.|
|Lemon, Sir C.|
|Lincoln Earl of||TELLERS.|
|Loch, J.||Parker, J.|
|Lushington, rt. hn. S.||Clay, W.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Ainsworth, P.||Kemble, H.|
|Attwood, W.||Martin, J.|
|Broadley, H.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Easthope, J.||Thompson, Alderman|
|Fleetwood, Sir P. H.||Vigors, N. A.|
|Hawes, B.||Wilmot, Sir J. E.|
|Hayter, W. G.||TELLERS.|
|Hollond, R.||Sandon, Viscount|
|Hume, J.||Ewart, W.|
§ On clause 2, which provides that railway companies shall keep such books and make such returns as the Board of Trade shall require.
§ Captain Boldero
said he could not but feel surprised that a clause so obnoxious and tyrannical should have been introduced. It did nothing less than empower 922 the inspector or commissioner appointed by the Board of Trade to enter the office of any railway company in the kingdom, and inquire into the most private concerns of the company—into the price of rails, or the price of coke, or any other matter on which he might desire to be informed. It might be said that this clause was necessary for the purposes of taxation. But surely the Government had already sufficient control in this respect. Every railway company was now obliged to send in a monthly return of the number of passengers, and of the distance which they travelled on an average, and this return was furnished on oath by the accountant, a highly respectable and responsible officer. The directors also were obliged every half year to furnish the Government with an account of the receipts of the railway. With regard to the question of taxing railroads generally, he very much doubted the policy of such taxation. Of ninety railway bills that had received the royal assent, in the case of fifteen only the shares of the railways were at a premium; and upon some of them the premiums were so merely nominal, as to render it questionable whether they could be realised on the sale of the shares. Only about five had arrived at a very high premium, and he was not surprised at it, because only three railways in the kingdom had paid a percentage upon the investment. The Great Western Railway was at a premium, but that was rather on a prospective view of the probable profits than upon any actual profit. There was an impression on the minds of the shareholders that the railway would pay, and they were content to let their capital lie for many years in the expectation that the railway would ultimately pay very well. The cost of the Birmingham Railway was estimated at 50,000l. per mile; and that of the Southampton Railway, which was the cheapest, was 30,000l. per mile. Who would say, that some new system might not be discovered which would neutralize all the present modes of transit? To tax railways under such circumstances was an injustice to the public. His noble Friend below him (Lord G. Somerset) had an amendment to propose, and unless the Government assented to it, he should feel it his duty to divide the committee against a clause so monstrous.
§ Lord Seymour
said, the object of the clause was this: the principle of a supervision of railways having been admitted, it 923 was to enable the Board of Trade to call for all accounts which would show the charges imposed by the railway companies on the public. For instance, when 6s. a ton was charged for carrying goods. Looking to the toll it would be seen that Is. a ton was all that they required to charge, and it would be found that the remainder was made up of a variety of charges, which it was necessary the public should be made acquainted with. It was also most desirable that the Board of Trade should know exactly what was the amount of accommodation afforded to the public by the railways. Any clause that would give him all this information would be quite satisfactory to him; and he had no desire whatever for that kind of inquisitorial power which had been So much objected to.
§ Lord G. Somerset
proposed to move an amendment removing from the inquisition of the Board of Trade all the purely private concerns of the railway companies, while, at the same time, it would admit of their obtaining all the information really required for the public service. It was most important that there should be some authentic register of the traffic upon the railways, but he would much rather that this bill were attacked for being insufficient ill its enactments than for being too stringent. For the purpose of providing all that was necessary for the public, and at the same time of avoiding the objectionable parts of this clause, a clause had been placed in his hands, which had been agreed to by many influential parties connected with these companies, and which he thought was very likely to be adopted by the committee. This clause he would move by way of amendment. The effect of it was to enable the Board of Trade to call for accounts with regard, first, to the total number of passengers and the aggregate number of miles they travel over each railway. The total tonnage of goods and the number of miles they travel over, also an account of all personal injuries to passengers, and an account of the average tollage paid on passengers and merchandize. These were the provisions of the clause which he wished to substitute in the room of the present one; but, in addition, he thought that if one railroad company was called upon to furnish such a return, all should be called upon, as it would be extremely invidious if they made a distinction, Again, he should propose, with 924 reference to the notice required, that if the return was made within five days after the thirty days required, the penalty should be moderate. He thought that by the course he had suggested, they would be enabled to get good statistical returns as to the number of passengers, the tonnage of the goods conveyed, and the average gain made on each. He would recommend the noble Lord to adopt the substitution of some such amendment as he had suggested. He admitted the splendour and munificence with which some of these great works had been completed, and the great facilities that had been afforded for rapid communication from one place to another, but he thought that it was the duty of the Legislature to see whether it could not afford further security and accommodation to the public, without, however, sanctioning any vexatious or inquisitorial proceedings towards the railroad companies.
§ Lord Seymour
should not object to striking out the clause as it stood, but he was not prepared at present to adopt the new clause suggested by the noble Lord. The amendment proposed did not give all that was required; for he thought that it was not only desirable to know the number of passengers which travelled on the railroad, but it was important that they should know what means of conveyance was furnished on each railroad to the labouring classes, and also which railroads did, and which did not, furnish such moans of conveyance. He thought also that they should not only have a return of the accidents by which injuries were inflicted upon passengers, but also returns of accidents by which property was injured. With regard also to the tolls and rates on railroads, the public should be made fully aware of the difference, and what was charged on the public in the shape of tolls. He also thought that there should be a registry of the servants employed on the railroads, because he understoood that at present it was by no means uncommon, when a servant was dismissed by one railroad company for neglect or misconduct, at once to get employ on another railroad. As the House appeared to object to the clause as it stood he would not press it.
§ Mr. Loch
would appeal to the noble Lord opposite whether there Were not most important omissions in the clause which he wished to propose, as to the ex- 925 tent of information which it was desirable to get for the public convenience. In the first place they should have returns of the number of passengers, and the average distance each travelled. Secondly, they should be furnished with the charge of conveyance; and, thirdly, they should have returns of the quantities of goods conveyed, and the charge per ton for such conveyance. The question was, whether certain railroad companies did not carry goods at the expense of passengers, and others passengers at the expense of goods. He believed that it was often the case that the railroad companies lost by the conveyance of goods, and charged more in Consequence than they otherwise would on passengers. He believed that between Manchester and Liverpool this was the case, and that the charge was too low on goods to pay a profit, and was therefore too high on passengers to make up for any loss that might arise. He trusted therefore that the noble Lord (Lord Seymour) would press that part of the clause by which returns would be furnished, as to the charge for transit of goods, and also for passengers. On this subject some of the witnesses examined before the committee on railroads had questions put to them. One gentleman—the secretary to the Manchester and Liverpool railroad—stated, in answer to some questions put to him, that the railroad company was obliged to charge a premium on the conveyance of passengers, to make up for the loss in the carriage of goods. The evidence thus given showed the importance of having such returns as he had just suggested.
§ Mr. Easthope
understood that the noble Lord wished to procure returns as to the charge of locomotive power on railroads. At any rate, if such returns were required, he was quite sure that nothing of the kind could be afforded with any degree of accuracy. The evidence before the committee showed that great diversity of opinion prevailed on this as well as on other subjects brought before them. It must be obvious that many accidents might occur on a railroad of which the directors could have no cognizance; for when an accident did occur on a railroad it was natural those immediately concerned should be anxious to keep it from the knowledge of their employers. If, in a long line of railroad an accident occurred, and no complaint was made to the directors, they might know 926 nothing whatever about it. If, therefore, it was intended to frame a clause, making it penal not to make a return of accidents occurring, he trusted that railroad directtors would be placed in the situation of being enabled to obtain such returns.
§ Lord Granville Somerset
thought that it would be advisable to draw a distinction between accidents of a serious or trivial nature. When, however, a serious injury was inflicted, he thought that the railroad directors should have sufficient inspection over their servants to insure their obtaining a knowledge of it. Railroad directors could not always insure proper conduct on the part of their servants, but they had the means in their power of controlling them to a considerable extent; he thought it would be an additional security for the public if returns were enforced of all accidents where personal injury was experienced; they should also know, as far as they possibly could, the cause of such accidents, for they sometimes occurred from the insufficiency of means of conveyance provided, or from other similar censurable causes. He objected to the insertion in his clause of such returns as had been suggested by the noble Lord, as to the expense of conveyance on railroads for passengers or for the transit of goods. He did not think that the House should interfere with the profits of railroad companies; and whether they were 1¼ or 25 per cent., he did not conceive that the House had anything to do with it. As for the profits or losses on the Liverpool and Manchester railroad for the conveyance of goods, he did not think that it would justify the House interfering. He would not, therefore, consent to adopt any words into the clause by which the House would be induced to pry into private matters. With respect to their expenditure or income, let the companies manage it as they thought fit without the interference of the House; and, in his opinion, the only returns that they could properly demand from these bodies were such as was necessary to insure Safety to the public, and to prevent the commission of fraud.
§ Mr. Labouchere
felt that it would be advisable for his noble Friend to postpone this part of the subject until the report was brought up. He thought, however, that the House would run a great risk of danger if they at once adopted the amendment suggested by the noble Lord. It would be desirable, therefore, that the no- 927 ble Lord should give notice of his amendment, and his noble Friend could prepare such alterations as he thought it desirable to make, by which means he hoped that all the objections which had been raised would be ultimately obviated. He feared, however, that if the committee limited the powers of inspection under this clause in the manner that had been suggested, that some of the most important objects which the committee up stairs had in view would be defeated. He had always thought that an important distinction should be drawn between the charges of railroad proprietors as owners of the road in the shape of tolls for the carriage of goods and passengers, and the charge for conveyance. Powers had been given to railroad companies which were never contemplated by Parliament at the period when the first bills received the sanction of the Legislature. He should be glad if the Board of Trade had the means of separating the profits of the railroad companies, as the proprietors of the roads, from those they derived for acting as carriers. He did not know how there could be an injustice in separating these charges one from the other, and he certainly did not see how this could be done without learning the expense of locomotive conveyance. He did not think that the amendment of the noble Lord would enable them to make this distinction or separation, or that there would be any means of placing the receipts under one head or the other. He believed the best course would be to strike out the clause, and another could be proposed in its place when the report was brought up.
§ Viscount Howick
agreed, that it would be better to have periodical returns in a form that should be prescribed, than to allow the Board of Trade the power of calling for returns. But he could not agree that the returns to be made could be too particular; he thought that every 928 particular should be included in these periodical returns. No well-managed concern had anything to fear from publicity, and it was most important to the public to know not only the rate of tolls, but the amount of profits received by the company. The House should recollect that it might be called to determine whether it would give its assent to the establishing of competing lines of railroad, and it was, therefore, of the greatest importance that it should have an accurate knowledge of the amount of charge, and of profits of rail-road companies. Moreover, the mere fact of knowing what the amount of profit was, operated as a great check upon exorbitant charges, if very large and exorbitant profits were made, it would lead to establishing competing railroads. It was quite impossible that different parties could run locomotive engines on the same railroad. The House had a right to know the amount of profits received, and he hoped that when the noble Lord framed the clause, which was to be substituted for the clause as it now stood, calling for periodical returns in a particular form, he would take care that the returns should show every particular.
§ Mr. Hawes
said, one of two things must be done—either the minute and precise returns required by the noble Lord should be furnished, or the Board of Trade must have the general power of calling for returns. He could conceive nothing more dangerous than such a general power. On the other hand, if returns so minute, as described by the noble Lord, were required from railroad companies, it would inflict great and deep injustice. He knew that railroad companies were desirous of giving every necessary information, but they desired to have the information defined.
§ Lord Seymour
said, he wished to obviate by the returns an evil which existed on some railroads, where the labouring classes were shut out of the carriages altogether. As to the objection to the words, "tolls and other charges," it had been asked, "What other charges were there?" That he wanted to know. On the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the rates as to goods were limited, but he had heard complaints that an additional charge had been levied on goods under the head of "porterage," and if he had introduced the term "porterage," then the act would have been evaded by a charge being made for "packing." It was important that the 929 charges on the public should be known to the public.
§ Mr. Brotherton
said, it was quite necessary that railroad companies should give all necessary information and show the expense of their locomotive power. It might be that a railroad was not a monopoly, but it must be treated as a monopoly. In the first place, the locomotive engines must be in the hands of the company, and it was impossible that a carrier on a railroad could compete with the company. There was an essential difference between a railroad and a canal; Parliament limited the tolls on canals, but not the carriage. Whatever law they made, it was virtually a monopoly to the company, and they could charge what they pleased for carriage. With respect to the returns that were referred to in this clause, he thought there could be no objection to their being furnished.
cautioned the committee as to adopting this clause; because, if they took the first step, they might go on until they called for an account of the profits of any company, or of the Bank of England, and carried out the principle to all trades, and to the meanest description of persons.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he could not quite concur with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The hon. Gentleman had asked, whether the House would extend this principle so far as to call for an account of the profits of private companies, or of the Bank of England? Yes, he said, he would call for such an account from the Bank of England, because peculiar privileges were given to it by Act of Parliament. He would not call from any private or joint-stock company, that was under the ordinary operation of the law, for a detail of their profits; but he would do so with the Bank of England for the reason he had stated, and it was on that principle he would assimilate railroads to the Bank, And then it was objected, that they asked for private information. He thought the principle of the new clause that was to be introduced into this bill, or that which ought to be the principle of it, was this—to specify the general objects aimed at in the clause, but to leave the details to the discretion of the public department calling for the returns. Because, if they went too much into detail, two inconveniences might result: they, on the one hand, might be too minute, and establish an inquisition which it was their wish to avoid; and, on 930 the other hand, if they described the kind of information they were to have, it might be in the power of the railroad companies to evade the law by making some new regulations. And how ought the public department to which such power was intrusted, to exercise it? It could not be supposed that it would exercise it improperly; but it must have a certain latitude in order to obtain the necessary information. It was, therefore, of no use to tie the hands of either party by precise enactments, endeavouring to foresee every possible case. He thought, too, it was for the interest of the railroad companies to afford all rational information that was required of them. Their monopoly was complete; but then the House had this check upon them—they might establish rival companies. But they did not want to do that, unless there was clear proof that undue profits had been made. There was no desire on the part of this House to interfere with those who ran the first risk, and who were getting only a sufficient return for their capital, and to cover their risk; nor should it be done unless the public benefit was likely to be endangered. But how could they avail themselves of that check? How could they establish rival railroads unless they had all the information necessary for the purpose? He was sure that a department properly constituted would not fail in obtaining such requisite information; and as he believed that the railroads generally were presided over by honourable men, who considered the interests of their particular company, and who had strong feelings in favour of its general reputation, he was certain it would be in the power of any public department, framing its regulations in connexion with a company, on the one hand to avoid vexatious interference in the details of the business of that company, and, on the other hand, to extract from them all the information required. But he would go further, and say that it was for the interests of the companies to give this information; because, if the proprietors withheld it, then Parliament could say, "If you refuse to give us the information we want, we will exercise the power we have and establish a rival company." In fact, it appeared to him that the interests of the public and of the company were in exact concurrence.
§ Mr. Easthope
, as the House had now determined to begin, was exceedingly 931 anxious that their legislation should be as definite and effective for the interests of the public and the railroad companies as it could possibly be. As to any concealment of charges and profits by railroads, he should have thought it was thoroughly unworthy of them. Every member of a railroad company had a right to demand an account, and it was impossible that the profits could be divided amongst the proprietors without their being made known to the public. He was exceedingly anxious to see every thing connected with railroads placed on a clear and intelligible footing; and that the railway companies should look to the magnitude of their business and the minimum of their charges as the basis of their profits.
thought there would be no benefit derived from minute inquiry, and that the principle was wrong; but it was important it should be generally understood, that railroads were a monopoly, and nothing but a monopoly, and ought to be treated as such. Whether they were carriers for the public, or carriers for other carriers, or were the medium for other railways, it made no difference; in all cases they might charge what they pleased. And it was perfectly well known to every one, that the introduction of a new gas company, or new water company, instead of reducing the rates paid by the public for those articles, increased them.
§ Mr. Baines
thought it was not proper to institute an inquisitorial or vexatious inquiry into minute points. In other countries, they were beginning to expend large sums in the construction of railways, and yet no restrictions were imposed there. If, then, such restrictions were imposed here, it was likely that capital would find its way into France, and be invested there. He hoped the restrictions that were imposed would not be more stringent than was necessary to carry into effect the objects which the public and the company must have in view—namely, to make the railroads beneficial to the proprietors themselves and to the public.
§ Clause 2 struck out; as were also Clauses 3 and 4.
§ The remaining clauses were disposed of, and the House resumed.