said, that he rose to bring under the notice of the House the important subject of Railways, which had on previous occasions been submitted to select committees, for the purpose of inquiry, but in several respects they have left their labours incomplete; and he felt fully justified in asking the House to appoint a new committee to inquire into many points 'connected with Railways. Before proposing his motion, he felt it necessary to explain the objects that he had in view; but he should be very brief in the statement which he was about to make to the House, as he thought that, instead of entering into an explanation of the views of the Government on the subject, it would be better to refer them to the committee for consideration and examination. There were, however, one or two points to which he felt called upon to refer. The Government was of opinion, after careful observation, and after the experience of several years, that it would be well to consider whether there should not be some modification in the Standing Orders respecting railways. One of these Standing Orders, which had affected all the railway bills which have hitherto passed, directed that before the bill was proceeded with, 10 per cent. Of the capital which it was estimated would be required to be laid out should be deposited. An opinion had been extensively entertained that there would be no disadvantage in reducing the proportionate amount of capital required as a deposit; and that, provided it was clear that the character of the proposed undertaking was bona fide, no evil could arise from relieving parties to railway bills from so much of the Standing Orders by which they were compelled to lock up at so early a period, and for such a length of time, so considerable a portion of their capital. There was another reason for modifying this part of the Standing Orders; namely—that there was already a Standing Order of the House of Lords, by which the paid up capital was ordered to be not 10 but 5 per cent. There was another Standing Order affecting the construction of the line of railroads, the consideration of which he thought that the committee might well entertain with a view to some alterations and modifications in it. The Standing Order which he referred to related to level crossings, but he 233 would not enter further into the subject than to say that in any alteration of this order respecting level crossings it would be necessary to make every requisite provision for the public safety; but he might say, on the part of the Government, that, at present, he had no alteration to propose. He was aware that he could not enter upon the consideration of the particulars of several of these Standing Orders without going into great detail, although it might be very expedient to bring them under the consideration of the committee, he, therefore, would not detain the House by dwelling further on this part of the subject. But, over and above this point, the House must be fully aware that the present was a very important era in the history of railroads. The House was aware that most of the great undertakings in railroads had been brought to a completion within the last four, five, or six years, and at the time of passing the various acts respecting them, great apprehensions were entertained respecting the speculations that might arise, and that if care were not taken, they would operate to prevent the completion of some of these great lines of railway. Since that time owing to the completion of the great lines, and to various other causes to which it was unnecessary for him to advert, and particularly within the last two or three years, the speculations in railways had considerably diminished; but at the present time owing to the great and almost unparalleled extent of capital unemployed, a disposition seemed again to have arisen to employ it in this way. He had already stated that since the period to which he just now adverted very few bills for the formation of railroads had passed through that House; but if Gentlemen would inquire at the Private Bill office, at the present moment, they would find that notices had been given in the usual way, that during the present Session no less than sixty-six applications would be brought forward for railway bills. Although all these bills might not be for the construction of new lines, yet all of them were either for an extension of existing lines, or for the formation of new lines. He believed that these bills involved the construction of not less than eight or nine hundred miles of new railway. The House must be aware that the present extent of railroads in this country was somewhat less than 2,000 miles, therefore, by the bills which it was proposed to pass during the present Session, it was intended to in- 234 crease railway communication nearly by one half. The speculations, therefore, in the formation of railroads had again commenced, and 'it was probable at future times they might see railway speculations greatly increase, while at other periods they might be comparatively slack. The House, therefore, was at present, in duty called upon to give its attention to this subject previous to these numerous railway bills receiving its sanction. At least, it appeared to the Government, in consequence of this great stimulus to this description of enterprise, that this was the proper time and fitting opportunity to refer the matter to a committee to investigate the subject. The proposal he had to make would affect those companies which came before Parliament of their own accord. These companies he divided into two classes. First, companies coming to the House for acts of incorporation and powers for the formation of new lines; and, secondly companies already incorporated which came to the House for new powers. In this second class he included the existing companies that came to the House to ask for powers to enable them to extend their lines, and also those existing companies that asked for powers to enable them to unite their lines. At the present time there was a circumstance that called for the serious attention of Parliament: namely, that tendency which bad been recently manifested by several railroad companies to unite together in one great mass. As an instance of this, he would only refer to the proceedings which had recently taken place to unite the North Midland, the Midland Counties, and the Birmingham and Derby Railroads. This was an important point for the consideration of the committee, for it was pretty clear that these railway companies would obtain considerable advantages by means of this amalgamation by acts of Parliament, and it was likely to confer on them further and more extensive powers than the Legislature originally contemplated. This was a system which he believed was likely to prevail to a very great extent, it therefore, called for timely consideration. It was not improbable, however, that if Parliament should give its sanction to bills to allow the incorporation of railway companies of this nature, that the result would be that the number of railway companies would be greatly diminished, and at the same time their powers and advantages would be greatly 235 increased. While, therefore, this remained a new question, he considered that it was desirable that the House should consider, not in a spirit unfair or inimical to the interests of railroad companies, whether, when they sought from the House new powers which it was impossible not to perceive would be attended with great advantages to them, that in return some equivalent should not be rendered to the public. With regard to the interests of the public on this point, it was desirable to come without delay to some determination as to the course which Parliament should take respecting the advantages to the public, which it might call for as an equivalent in some degree for the new powers which these companies required. It was also desirable to determine whether any and what sort of jurisdiction should exist wish respect to railroad bills. Hon. Gentlemen were probably aware that at the present time a certain jurisdiction existed, in the Board of Trade, with respect to all private commercial bills, excepting railroad bills. Now, while no inconvenience was found to arise respecting this jurisdiction, as regarded other commercial bills, he thought that it would be advisable to consider whether some similar jurisdiction should not be allowed as regarded this class of bills, and which would give the same right of supervision to the Board of Trade. He wished the Board to have this power in relation to the bills of those companies which asked for new powers, but he did not call upon the House to interfere with the original rights granted to companies when new advantages were not asked for. He did this not for the purpose of fettering or interfering with private rights, which he should be very sorry to do, but for the purpose of applying such general rules as he thought were called for, and which he had no doubt the wisdom of Parliament could lay down. He wished that this matter should be brought under the consideration of a committee without delay, and he repeated, that his proposal would refer not only to new companies which might come before the House, but also to such existing companies as came to the House for new powers. He earnestly hoped, also, that the other existing companies would be induced to adopt such arrangements as the committee might suggest, and that they would, without delay, adopt such rules and regulations as the committee should lay down. It was true that might be difficult to lay down general rules, which might be applicable to 236 very different circumstances, and which would include acts containing provisions of a different character. He had no doubt as to the competency and right of Parliament to interfere in this matter, as regarded all railroads, but he thought that there would be a general disposition on the part of the House, to restrain the exercise of this right within proper and moderate bounds. Nor was the exercise of the right called for at the present moment, justified on the ground of any general malversation on the part of railway companies. He had therefore excluded from his notice of motion, those existing companies which did not come to the House to ask for new or enlarged powers, but, he believed, that a consideration of their general interests would induce these companies to enter into such arrangement with regard to the management of their railroads, as Parliament might recommend. At present, when unemployed capital abounded to a degree almost unprecedented, and numerous parties were seeking for some mode of investing it, there could be no doubt, that it would take a direction towards the extension of railways. Under these circumstances, it was natural to expect, there would be a disposition to make application to Parliament for the establishment of rival and competing lines to those already existing. This circumstance suggested grounds for serious and deliberate consideration. He had had enough experience of railroads to make him feel assured, that they must not rely too much on the statements that had been made respecting the advantages of competition between rival lines, or that they could depend on such competition keeping down prices in the same sense and with the assured results which they could in other matters; the vastness of the capital required to be invested, and the circumstance, that the parties advancing it were limited in number, made arrangements between rival lines easy of accomplishment. It had been urged, and he conceived very justly, that the same effect that competition produced in other cases, would not follow as regarded competing lines of railroad; but, that if Parliament should be induced to pass bills for such a purpose, it would afford facilities to exaction. If this were the case, and he was induced to think that such would prove to be the result, the consequence of allowing competing lines would be in most instances an increase of the evil, and would turn out to 237 be a mere multiplication of monopoly; for such were the facilities of union between these large railway companies, that their apparent competition would lead to results very different from those which wisdom would dictate. Parliament, therefore, should well consider what course they should adopt with regard to lines recommended as competing lines, and which were not called for in consequence of the extent of local traffic. Of course these observations were not intended to apply to local lines recommended by the natural character and condition of the country, and by the traffic they were likely to have. Of course he did not allude to such lines as likely to be affected by the evils which might follow from the formation: of competing lines. But while Parliament had many strong grounds to avoid the practice of encouraging the construction of competing does, the existing railway companies had many motives to watch this disposition on the part of the owners of capital, and they must perceive that it was far better for their own interest to make such terms with Parliament as would be satisfactory to the general feeling of the public than to expose themselves to the hazard of bonâ fide competing lines. He was not then in a situation to indicate the particular terms that might be obtained from the present companies, but the extent and nature of these terms was a matter for the consideration of the committee; and he had little doubt but that the present companies, when they recollected the nature of the powers now possessed by them would wisely adopt whatever rules or recommendations the committee should suggest. There was one subject respecting which it was most desirable that some arrangement should at once be made. He alluded to the treatment of third class passengers. He was not prepared to propose any fixed price for them, nor did he think that they should enforce upon railway companies such an increase of accommodation in the carriages for the third class passengers, as would break down the general existing arrangements. No doubt those who were able and willing to pay for first and second class carriages, ought to have additional comfort, and it certainly would be improper to recommend the adoption of such arrangements as would offer an inducement to those well able to pay for the first and second class carriages, to avail themselves of the accommodation that was provided for those placed in less fortunate circumstances. This was a mat- 238 ter of importance for the consideration of the committee. He would not propose any measure which would break down the rules and regulations of the companies to such an extent as to induce persons who were able to travel in the other class carriages to avail themselves of the third class carriages. But, he thought, it was a most important matter, for the committee to consider whether persons in humble circumstances, and who were obliged to travel from one part of the country to the other, and who had not the means of paying for the higher class carriages, ought not to be covered and protected from the inclemency of the weather He knew, that there was a very strong feeling on this subject, both within the House, and out of doors; and it was a subject upon which public feeling was likely to increase. He was convinced that no Gentleman would wonder at the existence of this feeling in a very strong degree, by those who were not in a situation to avail themselves of that greatly increased accommodation which they saw was provided for richer travellers than themselves. He was happy, however, to be able to state, that there existed on the part of the leading persons connected with the great railroad companies, a disposition to consider whether greater accommodation and advantages could not be granted to third class passengers, and of such a nature as would free them from painful feelings excited by the distinction which was made between them and the passengers by the other class carriages. Having made these remarks, he would add, that it was necessary at as early a period as possible, to go into the investigation of this subject, and that there should be as little delay as possible before the committee came to a determination. He felt this strongly, as he was exceedingly desirous, that no inconvenience should be occasioned by the proceeding now recommended to parties engaged in promoting the railway bills, of which notice had been given. If the House should assent to his motion, he should propose the nomination of this committee which should proceed to business with an interval as short as possible, and he would lay before it on the part of the Government, such propositions as they were prepared to recommend. The committee would then hear the evidence of those who were likely to be able to furnish the best information on the subject, and whose opinion it was most desirable to obtain; and make their report at as early a period as possible, so that parties having 239 railway bills before the House, might be put to as little inconvenience or delay in commencing the works which they wished to construct. He was not aware that there was any other particular which it was necessary for him to state to the House; he would, therefore, place his motion in the hands of the Speaker. He would only add that he had made a few verbal amendments in his motion, as it appeared on the Votes. The right hon. Gentleman concluded with proposing:—That a select committee be appointed to consider whether any, and what new provisions ought to be introduced into such railway bills as may come before this House during the present or future Sessions, for the advantage of the public and the improvement of the railway system; and likewise to consider whether any and what changes ought to be made in the standing orders relating to railways, and to report their opinion thereon to the House.
§ Mr. Labouchere
did not rise for the purpose of objecting to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman. On the contrary, he was very glad that the Government had brought forward the question, because he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that great good would be likely to result from such an investigation as was proposed. He rose merely to make a suggestion as to the terms of the motion. The right hon. Gentleman had said truly, that the Legislature stood in a different position with regard to existing railway companies, to that with regard to new companies not having yet obtained their bills. The right hon. Gentleman also said truly, that when railway companies asked for new powers, Parliament was justified in making any new provision which it might think fit; therefore, when the House proceeded to legislate as regarded any railway company, it should proceed with great caution and deliberation. But if he understood the right hon. Gentleman rightly, he proposed that the committee should examine the whole subject of railway legislation. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed a hope, in which he (Mr. Labouchere) was sure that all hon. Members would join, that these questions, might, if possible, by amicable arrangements, be settled with the different railroad companies; and the right hon. Gentleman added, that he entertained strong hopes that the committee would be enabled to make such recommendations as would induce the old railway companies which did not call upon 240 the House for new powers in the present Session, to agree to, adopt them. He was afraid, however, that the terms of the motion would preclude the committee from considering the case of any railway company, that did not come to Parliament for a new bill asking for new powers during the present year. He, therefore, would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the propriety of enlarging the terms of his motion, and making the proposition so comprehensive as not to preclude the committee from considering the subject of railway legislation generally. If he did not do so, he would find that the committee would be excluded from going into the consideration of this important part of the subject. He agreed in the greater part of the general principles laid down by the right hon. Gentleman. On one point, however, he could not say, that he altogether agreed with him. He did not agree with him in considering it desirable that the Parliament and the Government should enter into some sort of compact or agreement with the existing railway companies, with a view to the promotion of the construction of competing lines of railway. The right hon. Gentleman said, that he did not consider that in cases of competing lines the public would always derive the advantages which generally followed from competition, but that it often would happen, that the two companies would combine, and the public would not derive the slightest advantage from the existence of two lines. Now he could not help thinking, that in many cases competing lines of railway might be found necessary, in order to secure to the public those advantages which they were justified in expecting when such extensive powers had been given to those companies. He confessed, that he could not help looking with feelings of alarm at the monopoly of carriage which the railway companies were gradually obtaining. The right hon. Gentleman intimated, that he was of opinion, that this would not be diminished by Parliament allowing the construction of competing lines. He was not satisfied that this would be the case, but at all events they could do no harm, and they often would secure the public against the monopoly of carriage possessed by some of the railway companies. Now, in the part of England with which he was connected, namely, the west, there were two railways which, to a certain extent, 241 were competing lines. He alluded to the Great Western and the Southampton lines, and this competition had led to the reduction of the cost of carriage, He knew that this was the case as regarded the charge of carriage to Bath. He happened very recently to be at one of the stations on the Southampton line, and he saw a number of parcels directed to Bath. He had made inquiry on the subject, and was informed that that company was competing with the Great Western line, and that when they had a branch to Salisbury, there would exist a still greater degree of competition, and this he thought would undoubtedly be attended with benefit to the public. He was satisfied that the right hon. Gentleman had stated too positively that no advantage could be derived from competing lines. There was one other topic to which he wished shortly to advert. He was sure that the public would feel obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for having directed his attention to the high rate of the fares charged for third class passengers, as well as for the inadequacy of the accommodation afforded to them. He was satisfied that any one who had recently travelled on the continent could not help being struck with the great advantages and beneficial results which were produced by the low third class fares. There artizans went to a distance to their work in the morning, and returned in the evening, and even labourers went short distances by these railroads to their meals, while in this country the exorbitant fares demanded for third class passengers pressed most heavily upon the humbler classes. He would only say, that the country generally was indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for having turned his attention to this point, as well as to the general subject of railways. He would again suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the propriety of altering the terms of his motion.
said, that he ought probably to have stated the reasons which had induced him to draw up his motion in the form in which he had proposed it. He was anxious, that the attention of the committee should be directed, in the first instance, to those railway companies which were about to apply to the House for additional powers. He hoped, also, that he should shortly be enabled, with the concurrence of all the existing railway companies, to submit the general subject of railway 242 legislation to the committee. As for enlarging the terms of his motion he would only observe, that if it was found desirable to do so, nothing could be easier than to enlarge the powers of the committee from time to time by means of further instructions, and that was the course which he should pursue.
§ Mr. Roebuck
was very glad that the right hon. Gentleman had taken up this important subject, and had brought it under the consideration of the House. He could not, however, understand the sort of half-and-half way in which the right hon. Gentleman intended to deal with the subject. There could be no doubt that a great revolution had been made in our social relations, and a new element had been introduced by the adoption of the railway system. These companies came to Parliament and asked it to create certain monopolies, for these companies were undoubtedly of that character, and to this Parliament had assented upon certain conditions. He would request the right hon. Gentleman to consider this question as a whole, and not in parts and fractions, but as one great monopoly question. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman would go into the whole subject, and not content himself with dealing merely with those cases in which railway companies applied for fresh powers. It should be remembered that this monopoly had been forced upon us by the extraordinary advances that had been recently made in physical science, and which could not have been dreamt of twenty years ago. He wished to deal with the railway companies which were now in existence in the same way that they would deal with those new companies which now came to Parliament for the first time. These companies obtained certain monopolies from Parliament, and it undoubtedly possessed the right and power to deal with them. He therefore regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had limited the powers of the committee, by shackling their inquiries. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had fallen into some confusion of ideas respecting competing lines. The right hon. Gentleman said, that competing lines would tell against the public, and would not be productive of benefit. Now let them take the case referred to by the right hon. Member for Taunton. The Great Western went to Bath, and the South Western to 243 Southampton, but supposing that it was extended to Bath, would not that competition increase which already existed to a limited extent between these two companies? He could not conceive any evils which could arise from the existence of such a competition. He should at any rate, be glad to have the principle tried, and to see whether the result would not be to lower prices by means of competition. These companies already possessed enormous power, and which would be increased by their union. Suppose that, by their union, the several companies formed one great railway company for the whole of England, it would have the complete command of communication throughout the country, and its power would be absolute and unlimited. The right hon. Gentleman said, that these companies might come to an amicable arrangement with one another, but this did not seem to be the case between the Great Western and Southampton lines, where the effect of the competition had been to lower prices. He had heard it said, that the effect of having three gas companies in any place, would be to keep up prices by means of two of them uniting secretly. Now, he wished to see whether they could not make provision to prevent this occurring between bodies to which the Legislature had given certain powers, and which it intended should be competing bodies. It had been intimated that past railway hills should not be dealt with by Parliament, but Parliament had a perfect right, and possessed the power of dealing with them as with any other bodies. He, therefore, intreated the right hon. Gentleman to give full powers to the committee to go into the whole subject, or otherwise but little benefit would result from its labours. He would take the case of very great hardship which had been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, the treatment of the third class passengers by some of these companies. He would say, if the committee did not interfere with the power which was exercised by the present railway companies as regarded these passengers, they would do little or no good. The treatment to which this class of passengers was exposed to on some of the railroads was really disgraceful. He knew of one railroad where the first class passengers could go a certain distance in six hours, while the poor man could not go the same distance in less than fifteen 244 hours. He believed that the fact was, that on the Great Western railroad there was no third class trains by day. Now, he wished to know, whether or not they were going to interfere with past railways, as he should term those for shortness, which had already obtained bills from Parliament. He would, at once, tell the right hon. Gentleman, that if he did not deal with this question as a whole, he had better not touch it at all. He conceived that Parliament had as much power to interfere with the existing railroads, as it had to pass bills for the formation of new railroads. It was the duty of Parliament to interfere for the benefit of the public. Take the question of the third-class passengers who were going to Bath. They could not go by day, and when they proceeded at night, they had to stand all the way. When they arrived at a station, there was no place for their shelter or accommodation; and, whatever might be the state of the weather, there was no fire at which they could warm themselves. He or any other hon. Member could travel in a carriage in which they found almost the accommodation of a drawing-room, so that travelling to a distance was not attended with any inconvenience; but this was not the case with the poor man, who was deprived of all comfort by the way, and was exposed to every inconvenience. He should say, therefore, if these proceedings of the existing railways were not inquired into, with a view to remedy them. Parliament would neglect its duty. There was another point, even still mote important, to which he should be glad to have the attention of the committee directed namely, the best means of facilitating the laying down of lines of communication upon existing roads, and the obtaining, where feasible, estimates of the expense of laying down such lines. The House had given certain parties power to make railways; those parties had done this in the most extravagant manner, expending 60,000l., for instance, on the construction of one mile of road. Now, was the public to bind itself to pay hereafter, and for all future time, this preposterous expense of 60,000l. per mile? Surely not. If you look at the Belgian and German railways, you find the expense of their construction to have been infinitely less than that of our own, while the rapidity of travelling on them is very nearly, or quite equal. Was it to be laid down as a rule, he would 245 repeat, that because certain parties had chosen to expend 60,000l. per mile, the people were to be for ever answerable for a heavy interest upon this monstrous cut-lay? He was prepared to say, that as advancing science taught us improved modes of laying down railways, they might eventually be constructed for 2,000l. per mile, instead of 60,000l.; and he was most assuredly prepared to contend that the public ought not, under such circumstances, to be called upon to pay the larger sum for practically the same accommodation which the smaller outlay would realise. He, therefore, hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not confine the inquiries of the committee to one single point or principle, but would extend those inquiries to all the railways now in existence, and to all the laws and regulations of those railways—to all that science, to all that experience now taught, to all that jurisprudence required. When the committee bad procured full information upon the whole of this most important question, let it be laid in a complete form before the House, and let the House then proceed to deal with the subject in a way that should show its sole consideration to be the public interest, before which all monopoly must give way.
§ Mr. Charles Russell
said, he was induced to rise in consequence of some observations the hon. Gentleman had made with reference to a particular railway, the Great Western, with which he (Mr. Russell) was intimately connected. The hon. Gentleman told the House that he understood third-class passengers were conveyed by that railway only by night; it was perfectly true that third-class passengers did travel by night, but there was also a day train by which they were conveyed. The hon. Gentleman talked of the length of time occupied by the third-class travellers on their journey. He should be glad to know how third-class passengers could travel by any other mode of conveyance so rapidly? Starting at half-past four in the morning, they reached Exeter, a distance of more than 200 miles, by nine at night. The hon. Gentleman said that third-class passengers were obliged to stand up: this was an entire mistake, the fact being that commodious seats were provided for them. It was true, indeed, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the third class carriages were not covered in, but there were backs to each carriage which 246 extended someway over the heads of the passengers, and gave them shelter. It was highly desirable that Gentlemen, before they made such statements as those advanced by the hon. Gentleman, should make themselves better acquainted with the facts. He could assure the House, on the part of the Directors of the Great Western railway, and he believed he might very safely include those of the other railways, that the various directors were extremely anxious to promote the comfort of the third-class passengers, to the utmost extent that was consistent with a fair and reasonable outlay of the company's means for that object; but it could not be expected that the companies should promote the comfort and convenience of the third-class passengers at a sacrifice of their resources beyond that fair and reasonable point. He was satisfied that the inquiry now proposed would show most clearly that the greater portion of the railways in this country carried third-class passengers at a loss. He would merely add, that there was a general disposition on the part of the Great Western Railway Directors, fully shared, he believed, by those of the other railways, to promote the inquiry proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. Some hon. Gentlemen proposed to carry the inquiry much further; he was persuaded, that at all events, the Clouse would never consent to interfere with the rights of vested property.
§ Mr. Wallace
said he was the person who had proposed the former committee on Railways, which he obtained from the late Government, and he had devoted much attention to the subject; he wished, therefore, to say a few words now. And first let him say he was very gratified to find the Government instituting this inquiry; and when it was appointed he hoped it would be enabled to conduct its inquiries in that spirit which had been so well described by the hon. Member for Bath; that it would not be an inquiry upon an isolated point or two, but that it would be conducted on this principle—that the poorer classes of the country have always had, and always ought to have, an equal right to equal accommodation on the public roads of England, Scotland, and Ireland with the richer classes of the people, and that they ought not to have a distinction so glaringly marked between them on these railways. The exclusion, to a large extent, on the roads of the 247 country, of the old means of conveyance, had given to the railways the monopoly which it had been clearly foreseen they would have by all persons acquainted with the turnpike system. It was the anticipation of this effect that induced the committees upon railway bills, when so many of those measures were before the House, in 1833, 1834, and 1835, to take special care to inquire of the promoters of those Bills in what manner they meant to protect the public, and what amount of return they expected from the public; and the general answer was, that the companies would be contented with six or seven per cent. profit. This was a positive fact, and hon. Gentlemen would do well to refer, at this time, to the evidence taken before those committees. As to the disposition of the railway companies, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, the disposition which he (Mr. Wallace) had seen evinced by the railway companies, was to look after their own interests most especially: to do, in fact, as other companies and private speculators do, to look especially and solely after their own interests; and he had seen of late, with great regret, but without an atom of surprise, that wherever there were competing companies, the one of these had been buying up the other, for the purpose of raising the fares upon the public. The public were never by any chance consulted on these points; the principal inhabitants of the towns passed through had it in no way put to them whether they could afford to pay for it, whether it were required or not, but by the mere arbitrary act of the railway directors, the fares were raised to what rate they pleased in order to fill their coffers. He could say, of his own knowledge, that the fares had been raised twice on the Grand Junction and on the London and Birmingham railways, which were the two most flourishing in the kingdom, and this without any reason at all, as far as he had heard. He should like to know why the same, or similar protection from the weather was not to be afforded to the working man as to other people? As to the expenses, let the companies put the high and low prices together, and they would have plenty of profits out of which to provide better accommodation for humble travellers. On Monday last, when he arrived at Lancaster by the mail coach from Scotland, and was taken to the station there, several persons who had ac- 248 companied him began to inquire for the second-class train. "Oh," was the answer, "there's no second-class here." "Well, then," said the applicants, "we'll go by the third class." "Third class!" cried the clerk, "we never heard of such a thing here." "But we have not money enough to go by the first class," said the poor fellows, honest, sober, steady cotton-jackets. That was their affair, they must get on as they could then. He did not know how the rest managed, but one or two who were pressed for time, sacrificed their money, and came with him in the first-class carriage. Now, this was a monstrous case. Here were these honest artizans, and thousands in the course of the year similarly circumstanced, wanting to make their way on, at reasonable charges, suitable to their means; but no second-class train, no third-class train for them, and they must either lose money by taking the first-class carriage, or perhaps lose work as well as money in the meantime by stopping till the next day, when the company should be pleased to let a second-class train go. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would allow the committee to have full swing to inquire into the whole subject and then there would be something like a satisfactory statement of the case before the public. He remembered, that on the occasion of the former railway committee being appointed, a right hon. Gentleman, who had spoken that evening, was extremely anxious about the rights and interests of the proprietors of railway shares; and he then, as he now said, that this was a class of persons who could take very good care of themselves. Before he sat down, there was one circumstance immediately connected with this subject which he wished to mention. Parallel with the line of the Greenock and Glasgow railway, there was a canal which had competed with the railway; the railway had lately bought from the canal all right of conveying passengers, and no person could now avail himself of the latter conveyance, of the choice of which thousands of persons, who regularly went from Glasgow to Greenock to carry home their wefts, were thus arbitrarily deprived. One consequence of this was, that many persons who lived in the villages on the way, and who used to be carried home by water, were now obliged to walk, if they did not think fit to use the railway. He trusted the House 249 would see the propriety of extending the inquiry to existing as well as to future railways. All those who were engaged in obtaining the acts for the former, obtained them on the principle that they were to furnish the public with faster, cheaper, more commodious, and more secure conveyances. They had supplied faster, and, to some classes, more commodious conveyances; but certainly the greater cheapness was yet to be effected.
§ Sir R. Peel
hoped that the House would accede to the proposition of his right hon. Friend, and in the first instance direct its attention to the proposal which was immediately made—that was to say, there being many applications for the establishment of new companies, and some proposals for the amalgamation of existing companies, that the House should proceed to appoint a committee for the purpose of considering what new conditions should be attached to the companies, in producing new lines of railway, and to the other companies which simply proposed to form a union together. There were good reasons for their confining themselves, in the first instance, to one particular inquiry; it was most important that they should not interrupt the progress of legislation, but at as early a period as possible, make a specific report on those points which affected the interests of new companies, and of companies which proposed to unite. The House was aware, unfortunately, of the expense attending litigation as to railways, and would, therefore, consider it a public object to relieve, as far as possible, these new companies from any expense which could properly be spared; and the committee which his right hon. Friend proposed could not do better than to direct its attention to that specific object, what conditions should be imposed upon the new or amalgamated companies They were perfectly authorised in attaching what conditions they pleased, to place what limitations they thought proper as to profits, and to impose what regulations they deemed right, on the applying companies as to the conveyance of third class passengers. He was not at all insensible to the evils of the monopoly which he considered Parliament had given to the existing railway companies; but he must contend for this great principle—that there was a material distinction to be drawn between companies approaching Parliament for the first time, and asking for 250 authorization, and companies which, on the faith of Parliament, had invested their capital in the construction and establishment of great railways. Parliament, it was true, might repent of the indiscretion and levity with which it had granted those powers to those companies, but still the powers had been granted. He did not deny the perfect competence of Parliament to interfere with existing railways, as well as with future ones; but he would advise Parliament to be very cautious how it interfered with the profits or management of companies which had been called into existence by the authority and had invested their money on the faith of Parliament. The hon. Gentleman said, that all the railway companies looked to was their own interest; to be sure it was; and what else was the life and soul of all business—all commerce, all speculation? It was precisely by the vigorous, judicious, steady pursuit of self-interest, that individuals and companies ultimately benefitted the public at large. There were, indeed, some cases in which he at once admitted that it would be right for Parliament to interfere with the existing companies; such a case, for instance, as that referred to by the hon. Gentleman of the Glasgow railway and the canal traffic, which he did not think could at all have fallen within the original meaning of Parliament in authorizing the railway, but, he would repeat, as a general principle, the House ought to have great regard to those cases in which large bodies of men had invested immense capital in certain speculations on the good faith of Parliament; he considered that in such cases, the House should hesitate very long ere it adopted such comprehensive principles of interference as those laid down by the hon. Gentleman. In his opinion the natural control over these companies was not by minute interference with their gains, or their management, but by holding out to them the menace of competition. To say to a company, "here you are dividing 15 per cent., whereas you told Parliament, some years ago, that you would be content to divide 6 or 7 per cent., and therefore we claim a right to interfere with your line by a competing one;" this would be laying down a principle destructive of all speculation. Let not the House limit its consideration to the alleged misdeeds of particular railway companies, but take a comprehensive view 251 of what had been done, on the faith of Parliament, by railway speculation. With out the advance of a single farthing of public money, what enormous advantages had been secured to the whole public by the investment, in this direction, of private capital? And how very large a proportion of that private capital so invested had not merely obtained no profit, but been attended with a heavy loss. True it was that the shares of one particular railway were at a premium of 140 or 150; true it was that the shares of another railway were also at a considerable premium; but how many other railways had found their shares falling and falling away to 40 or 50 discount. The public derived equal advantages from both the losing and the winning speculations; and, therefore, if hon. Gentlemen thought the country entitled to demand certain sacrifices at the hands of those who were making a profit by these undertakings, ordinary justice required that the losses of the less fortunate speculators should be made up to them by public compensation. The hon. Gentleman said, let us compel the companies to put on third-class trains; to do this, they must supersede the directors altogether, assume the whole management, and become responsible for the whole conduct of the concern, which would be a most mischievous blunder. To suppose that hon. Members, that the Legislature, could direct the daily, the hourly arrangements of a railway, was quite out of the question. But the House might say this to a railway company. We find your profits oppressive to the public pocket; we find your means of communication wilfully inadequate to the public accommodation, we shall, ere long, think ourselves justified in encouraging a new company, to supply the advantages you withhold. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite asked, are we not justified in profiting by every new discovery in science? He quite concurred with the hon. Gentleman, that we were so justified. The hon. Gentleman said, we are not to remunerate one set of railway people, at the rate of 60,000l. a mile, when we can obtain the same advantages at the rate of 2,000l. a mile. Again, he quite concurred with the hon. Gentleman. If we could apply railway combination to a turnpike road, at an expence of 2,0001. a mile, clearly the existing railway company had no right to exclaim against us for taking 252 advantage of the cheaper method. If the old railway company said, "We expended 60,000l. a mile on our road," the answer would be, "Well, and we gave you a monopoly; we gave you certain advantages. You spent your money at your own risk, and we used your road so long as we needed it; but there is a new discovery in science, which answers our purpose better, and you must submit to the loss, as other speculators have done." At this present moment, a new discovery in science was in practical operation, and it would be well for the existing railway companies to consider well and seriously what might be the effect of the Atmospheric Pressure System. Scientific men, who had gone in doubt to examine the practical working of that system, had come back with very altered opinions as to the utility of applying the principle to railways. He had seen the ingenious men who were entitled to the credit of the discovery, two brothers of the Jewish persuasion; and from all he heard, the experience of its working on a few miles of road was such, that he thought a doubt might very reasonably be entertained whether it were not capable of being equally applied to hundreds or thousands of miles. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman, that it would be unwise on the part of the Legislature to encourage two competing lines, running very near each other; but he was quite sure the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to exclude such competition, for instance, as might take place between London and Manchester, passing by another line, through new towns, serving all the practical purposes of competition, and yet not running in a parallel line to the old railroad; this he thought not liable to the same objections as a line running parallel, or within a few miles. As to the third-class carriage question, he himself thought the companies were neglecting their own interests in not affording more extensive facilities for this class of travellers. Those who being able to afford first or second class carriages, availed themselves of the greater cheapness of the third class carriages, might be said to be hardly acting fairly, but this was not the question; the question was, whether it would not be to the interest of the railway companies to carry as large a number of passengers as they could, at the cheap rate? He thought it would.
Mr. S. Wortley
conceived, that the House was bound to maintain in the hands of the existing railway companies, to as large an extent as was consistent with the public interest, the powers which it had given them, and on the faith of which they had invested large sums of money. At the same time, he must say, that as far as he had observed, it appeared to him, that there was some reason to complain of the want of accommodation upon the railways, on the part of persons in the lower class of society. The right hon. President of the Board of Trade had been urged by several Gentlemen to enlarge the powers proposed to be given to the committees, and to extend their inquiries to a far wider sphere. He concurred in this suggestion, and trusted his right hon. Friend would attend to what had been pointed out to him on this subject; the committee might in the first instance, indeed, confine itself strictly to the points affecting the applications about to come before Parliament, and then proceed to others. There was one question which, in his opinion, it behoved the House to turn its attention to, but which could not be reached by the terms of the resolution as it stood. He referred to the necessity which he thought existed for introducing a provision, empowering parties to resort to some other process of assessment of property required to be taken for railways, than the ordinary jury. He believed no person who had been engaged in controversies of this nature could fail to be aware how extremely imperfect a tribunal an ordinary jury was, for the assessment of compensation to parties affected by railway lines. He knew of cases of very considerable hardship which had occurred. Persons, whose property was affected by a railway speculation, were quite at the mercy of the company; if they asked what they deemed a fair price for their property, they were often fain to take less, threatened by the company with reference to a jury; for what was this reference? The reference to twelve men whom you cannot challenge, and chosen in such a way that it is impossible for you to know what interest they have in the speculation, and the consequence was, that very great injustice was frequently inflicted. He wished the right hon. Gentleman to take this point into consideration. The most effectual remedy would be to refer such questions to arbitration instead of to a jury; he 254 thought both railroad companies and proprietors of land would readily adopt this alteration.
§ Mr. P. M. Stewart
agreed in the necessity of referring this very important subject to a competent authority, but if it were intended to confine it to the remodelling the existing orders only, he believed the committee would meet to little purpose. He had heard it said, that the application making for new competing lines had been equal at least to one half of the existing ones. The right hon. President of the Board of Trade had himself, indeed, laid the ground for a complete revision of the railway laws of the existing companies. In addition to what had been so clearly pointed out that evening, there was one subject which of itself demanded an extension of the powers of the committee. Last year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a most important alteration, and as far as regarded the travel-ling public, a most advantageous one, in reference to the principle on which the tax on railways should be levied, changing it from a uniform mileage on all fares to a percentage on the gross receipts. To a certain extent this had worked advantageously; and if this committee were to have power to enquire into the whole case of the working of existing railroads, there would result, he was certain, suggestions which would in their turn lead to the realization of what seemed to be generally considered an important object, the extension of third-class carriages, and additional accommodation to passengers in a humble station. One of those suggestions was, that there should be no tax at all on fares below a certain amount. At the present moment, the public income derived from railways, which many persons thought an altogether, objectionable revenue, amounted to 80 per cent. from the first and second class fares, the remaining 20 being contributed by the third class fares. Now, if the tax on these lower class fares were remitted altogether, this, he had reason to believe, from conversations with the directors of the Great Western and other railways, would form an inducement for them to attach third class carriages to almost every train. As to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Greenock, respecting the Greenock and Glasgow Railway, he would beg to observe that the railway in question was one of the very cheapest in the kingdom. 255 First class passengers were conveyed by it twenty-two miles for 2s. 6d., and third class passengers the same distance for 6d., the same rates as they used to be by the canal. The importance and usefulness of railways had been ably vindicated by Members of the Government; but there was another point which required the investigation of a committee, in addition to those which had been mentioned—namely, that in consequence of the encouragement given by foreign Governments to the construction of railroads, British capital was, as the right hon. Gentleman well knew, directed to that object in a degree that was extremely inconvenient. Hitherto, the right hon. Baronet said, the great works of railroads had been carried on without the expenditure of a single public farthing, and without any., interference on the part of the Government, except in the necessary control of their proceedings; but he would ask his right hon. Friend whether it were not essential that on this subject, to which he had imparted so much importance by his statement, it should be distinctly understood that, although the committee was now limited, for the despatch of business and for the limitation of expense, to the motion now pending before the House, yet that before it should be dissolved, instructions might be given from time to time to enable the committee to act upon such suggestions as those offered by the hon. Member for Taunton, without which legislation would be injurious rather than beneficial.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
perfectly coincided in the opinion, that these companies considered their own interests alone, and cared nothing for that of the public. He had felt it his duty always to stand in opposition to every proposition of every railroad whatever, and he found no reason to change that opinion. He considered it to be the duty of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade, of the committee and of the whole House to take all possible precautions against the gross attacks and inroads that were made upon that which, until railways were introduced had been always held sacred—the rights of private property. The grossest attacks had been made upon those rights by these monopolising and irresponsible companies—for such they were in every sense of the word. He called upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to avail himself of the opportunity, and to lay a fair tax upon these 256 monopolising companies. Let the House look at the number of families and of respectable individuals who had been ruined by means of the railroads—he alluded to the innkeepers and those who lived by little shops in the various provincial towns, and who, although they were a most respectable class and, had afforded great accommodation to the public, were ruined in their business and in their prospects by the establishment of these monopolies. Travelling by railway might be a very pleasant and certainly was an exceedingly quick mode of travelling; but we should consider the injury which they had occasioned to so many industrious and respectable persons. He had lived to see many important changes—he had seen an administration turned out of office, having previously lost all character; and he had seen a respectable administration filling its place; and he hoped to see the injuries occasioned by the railway companies remedied, and such enterprises placed under proper regulation.
§ Mr. Plumptre
said, there was one point to which he thought it necessary to call the attention of the House, which was the use of railroads on the Lord's day. He was quite sure the committee would not, and could not, calmly contemplate any deliberate desecration of the Lord's day; and if the convenience of the commercial and travelling public were to be studied, he trusted it would not be forgotten that there was another public—the religious and moral public—whose feelings ought not to be disregarded. Great offence had been given by what was considered the undue use of railroads on the Lord's day, and he hoped that this grave and important subject would receive due consideration.
§ Mr. French
begged to say one word in reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. That right hon. Gentleman had pronounced a high eulogium upon the system of railways in England. He could not hear that without protesting against it. He asserted that in consequence of the system adopted in England upwards of 20 millions of the public money had been uselessly expended, and three times the charge had been imposed upon the public beyond the amount in Belgium, where the government interfered.
§ Motion agreed to. Committee to be nominated.