§ Mr. Gisborne
rose to speak to the Order of the Day. Although he did not intend to enter into any discussion as to the principle of the measure, he wished to address a few considerations to the right hon. Gentleman opposite with respect to the Bill. The foundation of the measure was, that a certain hypothetical arrangement contained in the Railway Committee's report shouid be adopted between Government and Railway Companies, upon conditions which would induce the latter voluntarily to agree to it. He thought that the general feeling in that Committee was, that any arrangement, made without the consent of the general body of railway proprietors, was not likely to be successful. He wished to put it to the 466 right hon. Gentleman opposite whether, having started upon that principle, he would think it right to proceed with the Bill now that it was quite evident that the whole body of railway proprietors were arrayed against the measure. The right hon. Gentleman would remember that upon the main resolution, upon which this Bill was founded, there certainly was by no means an unanimous feeling in the Committee. That Resolution was carried, but only by a majority of six Members of the Committee to four. It was in these terms:—That if, at the end of a term of years to be fixed, the annual divisible profits upon the paid-up share capital of any such line of railway shall be equal to a per centage to be fixed, or so soon after the expiration of the said term as the said per centage shall have been reached, it shall be in the option of the Government either, first, to purchase the line at the rate of a number of years' purchase, to be fixed, of such divisible profits; or, secondly, to revise the fairs and charges on the line, in such manner as shall, in the judgment of the Government, be calculated to reduce the said divisible profits, assuming always the same quantity and kinds of annual traffic to continue, to the said per centage; but with a guarantee, on the part of the Government, to subsist while such scale of fares and charges shall be in force, to make up the divisible profits to the said per centage.There voted in favour of this Resolution six members of the Committee:—Mr. Labouchere, Lord Seymour, Mr. W. Patten, Mr. B. Denison, Sir J. Easthope, Mr. Maclean; and against it, four, namely, Mr. Gisborne, Lord G. Somerset, Mr. Horsman, Mr. Thornely. Considering the circumstances of the case, then, he would ask whether the House was prepared to go into the measure? The instances were few in which, with such a mass of evidence before them, the House had been called to found a measure upon it in the same Session of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman must feel that, ever since this report had been in the hands of railway proprietors, the opposition to the measure founded upon it had been daily growing stronger, and now the universal Railway world was arrayed against the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, so at least he gathered from all the communications which he had seen from parties interested. A large body of Railway Directors, representing all the principal lines throughout the kingdom, had met in London, with the view of pressing the withdrawal for the present of the Bill. He was very far from saying that no 467 legislation was required upon the subject; he was very far from saying that the present state of railway law was satisfactory; but he was opposed to precipitate legislation upon such an important subject. He believed that in every Railway Bill which had passed this Session, a Clause had been inserted to subject the Companies to any measure which might pass with respect to Railways in this or in any future Session of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman would, therefore, gain nothing by pressing on the Bill. If he would take the recess to consider the subject, giving the Railway Companies the opportunity of enjoying the same advantage, a Bill might come on in the next Session of Parliament, with a much greater chance of unanimity of opinion upon its merits, than that which the present proposition enjoyed. He did not think that a regulatory measure carried in opposition to all the Railway Companies could possibly work well. By next Session, he thought it was very probable that the alarm and surprise with which Railway Proprietors now looked upon the Bill would be much allayed, and that then the right hon. Gentleman would be able to carry many of the principles embodied in the present measure with their concurrence and approval. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the other Orders of the Day be proceeded with.
§ Mr. C. Russell
was reluctant to take any share in the discussion at that early stage; but having an intimate connection with Railways, and having been appointed by the House a member of the Committee recently investigating this subject, he considered himself fully justified in seconding the Motion of the hon. Member for Nottingham. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade when he addressed the House on a former occasion had stated that he expected to meet with the entire concurrence of the Railway Companies, and, indeed, had gone far to pledge himself that he would introduce no measure on the subject which had not their approval. When the right hon. Gentleman laid the Bill in question upon the Table of the House he had further stated that he had reason to believe the concurrence of the Railway Companies in that measure would not be withheld. They were therefore surprised that he should persist in a measure to which they were unanimously opposed. The Railway Proprietors, felt that they had not been fairly heard before the Committee which had recently reported to the House. 468 The witnesses who had been examined, and whose statements were embodied in the evidence which was annexed to the Report, were all of them selected by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and had been most skilfully examined by that right hon. Gentleman himself. Not one of the Railway Companies had been permitted to select those witnesses they would have desired to be examined. Neither they nor their representatives were permitted to be present at the Committee, contrary to every precedent though the principal Government witness was present during the entire proceedings; nor were they suffered even to know the nature of the evidence taken until it had been embodied in the Blue Book on the Table and laid before the whole country. Was this giving fair play to the Railway Companies? Yet, notwithstanding all the advantages thus taken by the Government, he affirmed that the scheme proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had entirely broken down. The Railway Companies had been led to anticipate a totally different scheme from the Government. They had been led to expect a reciprocal exchange of advantages and concessions, and all the evidence which had been taken on the subject was given on the basis of a reciprocal scheme. Even on this basis many of the most influential companies opposed the measure while those who did not absolutely oppose it, gave to it only a conditional concurrence. He was satisfied, if that had not been the belief of the Railway Companies, the right hon. Gentleman would never have received even the hypothetical support which he had received from them. How could Railway Proprietors have anticipated this scheme, when the President of the Board of Trade himself, had not made up his own mind upon it. On the 27th of March, three days before that Report was agreed to, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) came down to the Committee, and admitted that his evidence had failed to sustain his views, and that the Government scheme must be abandoned, showing that, within so short a period as three days from that on which the Report was determined upon, the right hon. Gentleman had not made up his mind upon the subject. He took one day to consider whether he would not abandon the Government scheme altogether, and this was whilst the Committee was actually engaged in discussing their Report. Until 469 therefore the Bill which embodied the scheme of the Government had been actually printed and laid on the Table of the House, the railway proprietors could not have the slightest anticipation of its nature. But the moment they saw the Bill, and the nature of the scheme became known, the alarm which it created was universal amongst all those who were connected with that species of property. Petitions were prepared and sent up to the House of Commons, and the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury; meetings of the railway proprietors were held to consider what steps were necessary to be adopted in order to protect themselves, and a deputation representing no less than 50,000,000l. of invested capital waited upon the right hon. Baronet, and earnestly entreated him to postpone the further progress of the Government scheme and to delay it until the next Session. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had on that occasion asked the heads of the deputation whether, if this delay were agreed to, they had any chance of being able to come to such an agreement amongst themselves as would allow the Bill to pass during the ensuing Session. They replied, that they had a confident expectation that a delay of that extent would enable the Railway Companies to come to such an agreement as would satisfy the Government. Why the right hon. Gentleman had put that question he was at a loss to understand. Whether it was that he had desired and expected an answer in the negative, which he did not get from them, he did not know; but all he could say was, that such a question as he had described had been put, and the answer which he had stated had been made to that question, yet still the delay had been denied to them. On behalf, therefore, of the whole body of railway proprietors, he opposed the further progress of the Bill. On behalf of the proprietors of 80,000,000l. to 100,000,000l. of capital, he entreated the House to exercise those high functions with which it was invested, and to give them further time to consider the course which it was expedient for them to pursue on a question of such vital importance to them. He entreated the House to consider the fact, that the bulky volume which the right hon. Member for Newark had presented, had only been laid on that Table and circulated amongst the railway proprietary bodies since the latter end of 470 June, and that sufficient time had not been allowed them to become acquainted with its contents, so important to their interests. Let him ask, was it possible that the Report and the evidence on which it was based could have been sufficiently considered by the House? Let him ask, had the Ministers themselves read it? He expected the House to consider the Bill, not in relation merely to the interests of the Railway Companies, but with reference also to the principle on which it was founded. He asked was the House prepared, looking at the matter solely on commercial grounds, to take so violent a step as the Government called upon it to take? He asked, was the House prepared, on political grounds, to sanction a measure which would place such immense patronage in the hands of Ministers, and that, too, without any precaution to guard the use of it? He asked, nay, he implored the House to give the Railway Proprietors until the next Session to consider what course was the best. He did not ask that the measure should be definitively rejected or abandoned; all he wanted on behalf of the Railway Companies was time, and he was satisfied that the House, looking at this important question in all its bearings, would not refuse so just, so reasonable a prayer.
could hardly think that the hon. Member for Nottingham had well considered the effects which so extreme a proceeding as that contemplated by his Motion would necessarily produce. That Motion was so violent in its very principle that he was sure the hon. Member must perceive, on reconsideration, that it was hardly in conformity with the received usages of that House; for if affirmed it amounted to a total refusal to entertain even the consideration of the Bill which the Ministers had thought it their duty to prepare and present to Parliament. He had said, and he would repeat it, that the House was not in a condition to refuse to entertain the Bill until the Government had had an opportunity of explaining its proposed operation and the Clauses which it contained. When that explanation had been given, and when the measure with all its details and the reasons which had induced the Government to prepare and bring it forward, were before the House and the country, then it was competent for those who were out of doors to petition against its progress, and for those hon. Members who were adverse to it to move that its further consideration be 471 postponed. But the Bill before the House was one which was founded on the Reports of several Committees of that House, and which corresponded in all respects with the recommendations contained in those Reports; and when a measure which had thus been prepared, and which had been sanctioned by the Committees of that House and by the Executive Government was thus presented to Parliament, he must say, that in his opinion, the House was bound to entertain it, and to give it an attentive consideration. The course which he had pointed out was the only one which would enable the House to proceed to the discussion of the measure; then would be the proper opportunity for those who did not think the question ripe for legislative interference to move such resolutions as would, if approved of, have the effect of retarding its progress; or, if they were afraid of being misunderstood, let them propound some more general motion, their concurrence in which would leave the question upon the footing that the House was not willing to proceed with it at present. That was the course expedient to be adopted, for unless the Order of the Day was agreed to, he could not explain the nature of the measure, nor could he state the reasons which had induced the Government to bring it forward.
§ Mr. Hawes
did not see how the Government could, consistently with justice or reason, be permitted to proceed to the second reading of a measure avowedly founded upon a Report and a large volume of evidence which three-fourths of those who were called upon to take a part in the discussion, and to give their votes upon it, had not had time or opportunity to read. He must retort the argument urged to induce the House to let the measure proceed, and ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it was reasonable on his part to press the Bill forward when the House positively did not know the contents of the Report upon which it was founded? The right hon. Gentleman had all the advantage which a constant attendance on the Committee and daily familiarity with the evidence given there could give him over the House generally, whereas hon. Members had only had a few days. [Mr. Gladstone Three weeks.] Well, three weeks to read and consider the voluminous mass of evidence contained in the book on the Table, and let him ask the right hon. Gentleman was that sufficient time, encumbered as the House was with other business, to enable 472 them to master the details of this important measure? Let him only remind the right hon. Gentleman of the variety and serious nature of the business which had occupied their attention and time during the last three weeks: there were the various Joint-Stock Companies Bills, there was the Bank Charter the Poor Law Bill, and other measures of importance, and how was it possible, he would ask, for hon. Members to do justice to all these subjects, and to acquaint themselves at the same time with the details of the Government Railway Bill? He had another objection to the precipitate mode of proceeding of the right hon. Gentleman; he did not think it was consistent with good taste. The speeches of the right hon. Baronet opposite, and the right hon. Gentleman on a former night during the present Session afforded him just grounds for taking a specific objection to the course now pursued by them. He relied on the explicit declaration of the two right hon, Gentlemen opposite, that the existing Railway Companies were not to be placed in jeopardy by the measure which the Government contemplated bringing in. The right hon. Gentleman said, on a former evening, that no existing Railway Company was to be effected by the inquiry which it was proposed the Committee about to be appointed should institute. Ad the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) had likewise distinctly stated, that whilst he admitted the evils resulting from monopoly and whilst it was to be regretted that the House had granted lightly and without forethought the exclusive privileges enjoyed by the Railway Companies, still, so important was the question which involved so vast an amount of capital, that he could not too earnestly warn the House how it interfered with the rights acquired by existing railways. He considered therefore he was justified in asserting that the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman opposite was hardly consistent with good taste, to have introduced so important a Bill at so late a period of the Session, and with so much haste, and he moreover would seriously ask the House whether hon. Members were sufficiently informed on the subject to be enabled to proceed with it advantageously to the country?
§ Mr. Colquhoun
said, that it appeared the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had placed the question under discussion upon the footing of the great responsibility which the House would assume by refusing at that stage of the proceeding, to enter- 473 tain the further consideration of the measure. He agreed entirely in the remark made by the hon. Member for Lambeth, that when the measure was brought fairly under the consideration of the House, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman would be fortified by his official position, his great talents and the intimate familiarity with the evidence upon which it was based, of which the House at present could not boast. The Government possessed advantages with respect to the Bill which Members at large had had no opportunity of acquiring. A voluminous book containing a Report, and a vast body of most important evidence had suddenly, and at a most busy period of the Session, been thrown down upon the Table of that House, and before time had been allowed for Members to make themselves acquainted with its contents, they found themselves called upon to take a step that was not only unprecedented, but which was, in his opinion, fatal, as it would be, a direct interference, on the part of the Government, with private property. The Bill before the House was one which would place in the hands of Government powers of such a nature that he could not have believed it possible for a measure so unjustifiable to have emanated from a Government of which the right hon. Baronet was at the head. He well recollected that when his noble Friend the Member for Dorsetshire called upon the House to legislate upon a matter involving considerations of humanity, the right hon. Baronet was the first to object to what he called an impolitic and uncalled-for interference with the rights of labour and of property. ["Hear."] He understood the taunt of the right hon. Gentleman; but he would remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman had first obtained from them the power of instituting a searching inquiry into the receipts and expenditure of the Railway Companies, he had proposed and obtained a most searching and inquisitorial investigation into the private concerns of individuals, an inquiry the most unfair and unprecedented that had ever been instituted by any Government, and upon the information thus obtained he had founded a measure tending to deprive them of their vested rights. He, for one, was of opinion, that the Railway Companies had no cause to shrink from the discussion which the right hon. Gentleman wished to accelerate, if the Government, with the information which it possessed, desired to force the question 474 upon the House, he, for one, would not shrink from it. He thought that it was in the power of the Railway Proprietors to show that it was unwise in the Government to have proposed such a measure at all, but that to think of carrying it during the present Session was perfectly unreasonable. He did not oppose the progress of the measure from interested motives, for the amount he had in railway investments was an infinitesimal fraction; but he was actuated by the belief that it was a dangerous precedent for the Government to establish by its interference with private boards of management, and above all when these parties represented upwards of 80,000,000l. of invested capital expended in the formation of 2,000 miles of the best and cheapest railways in Europe.
§ Mr. Wallace
begged distinctly to state that he understood out of doors that the railway interest in that House had come down prepared to stop discussion on this Bill, and that if they could not carry it by votes they would by postponement. Six years ago this month, upon bringing up the Report of the Railway Committee, a similar scene took place to that which was about to be enacted. All who were in favour of railways or connected with them opposed the improvements then suggested, although the majority of the House went with the right hon. Gentleman; and the question now was, whether the interests of the public at large should be considered, and discussed in that House upon the merits of a Bill introduced after a long investigation, or choked in limine by this and other manœuvres. On the 5th of February in this year the right hon. Gentleman moved for the Committee from which the Report on which this Bill was founded emanated; that Committee, however, was composed, much against his inclination, of a large proportion of Gentlemen representing railway interests. He said, a great many of that Committee represented railway interests, and out of twenty-six witnesses there were twelve who were brought forward in behalf of railway interests against the interests of the people. ["No, no."] Well, that was his way of putting it; and here was the beginning of a system of preventing the business of the House going on by those who claimed to have private interests in this matter. He understood that those who had pecuniary interests in it were not the persons who ought to be listened to, and that if he or any other hon. Member put any Motion upon that point, 475 the Speaker would not permit them to vote. He should first give his support to the measure being discussed, as it ought to be, on the second reading, and upon that being carried he should then support the Bill.
§ Mr. Gisborne
denied that he was the organ of the Railway Companies in endeavouring to stifle discussion upon this Bill. The course he had pursued was solely of his own concocting. It occurred to himself as he came up in the railway train on the preceding evening, and he took it without any communication with any person whatever. The ground upon which he took it was this: first, that the right hon. Gentleman was precluded by the course he had taken in Committee from bringing in a Bill opposed to the wishes of the body of Railway Proprietors; and, secondly, that the bulk of the evidence was a sufficient reason against not only this, but any other Bill on railways being introduced in this Session.
Mr. H. Hinde
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman wished only to take a discussion on the present Session, he saw no objection to it on the part of Railway Companies, and he thought he might almost answer for the hon. Gentleman opposite, that he would withdraw his Motion. He was anxious that the right hon. Gentleman should have an opportunity of explaining away what he considered unfounded apprehensions of Railway Companies: but if the right hon. Gentleman proposed to take the discussion with a view to proceed further with the Bill, then he must say, he thought they were entitled in fairness to have such time as would enable them to read the evidence and rebut the arguments, if unfounded; and as they would not have that opportunity during the present Session he was prepared to support the unusual, but necessary, Motion of his hon. Friend. He would appeal to the right hon. Baronet and to the late President of the Board of Trade, and would ask them whether, where parties had invested their money to the amount of 80,000,000l., it would not be fair that they should have an opportunity of considering this Bill and answering the evidence, which, in some instances, was most contradictory? He took as deep an interest in this matter as any hon. Member in that House, but he had not yet been able to attend to it, and at the same time discharge his other duties as a Member of that House. If it were postponed to another Session it would be most advantageous to the measure itself, as hon. Members would then have had time 476 to consider it, and on that ground he hoped it would not be pressed.
§ Mr. Labouchere
took that opportunity of saying a word, as he differed from those with whom he generally acted. The question now before them was, not whether they approved the principle of the Bill (and he was bound to say he did), but whether the subject should be discussed at all. The question was, whether there was anything in the nature of the Bill, or in the circumstances under which it was brought forward, which rendered it unfit that the Bill should be discussed in the present Session. Now, he for one should deeply regret if the House were not to discuss the principle of the Bill fully, fairly, and dispassionately in the present Session. He was bound to say, in justice to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that it was at least as much the Bill of the Committee who had been appointed to investigate the subject, as it was the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman and the Government, though, of course, they had the responsibility of the Bill, having adopted and sanctioned the recommendations of the Committee. What took place in that Committee? The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade came forward, in the first instance, with a scheme varying most materially from that which had been adopted by the Committee. The Committee fully discussed the scheme; they examined a great deal of the evidence, and came to the conclusion, in which he believed the right hon. Gentleman himself concurred, that it was not expedient to give their sanction to the scheme which the right hon. Gentleman had at first proposed. It was after having considered the whole question, listening attentively to the important evidence brought before them, that they had substituted for the scheme of the Government the scheme embodied in the Bill before the House. He was told that this Report having only been laid on the Table and before the public for three weeks, it was not fit that they should now take it into consideration. It was also said, that the Railway Companies themselves had not had time to consider it. Now, he held in his hand a paper emanating from the Railway Companies, and representing, he believed, twenty-nine of the principal of those bodies, and he found that the gentlemen connected with those Railway Companies had had time to consider the Bill quite sufficiently to pronounce the most unqualified condemnation of almost every 477 one of its principles and details. If this were the case, how could he vote for any delay, or for further consideration, in the hope of reconciling these Companies to the provisions which he held to be advantageous? He hoped that what he had said would at least show to the House that it was fitting they should go into the consideration of this question. He believed, that the fair consideration and discussion of the Bill would remove from the minds of Gentlemen much of the prejudice, exaggeration, and misrepresentation which had been circulated on the subject. He was especially anxious, as a Member of the Committee, that this measure, which had been stigmatised as unjust and unequitable, should be thoroughly considered by the House. He did not agree with his hon. Friend, the Member for Greenock, in supposing that there could be two parties, the Railway Companies and the public, whose interests were separate and distinct. He held that anything that would be unjust to the Railway Companies would not be for the real interest of the public. He thought it would be easy to show that there was nothing in the Bill now under consideration that was not for the well understood interests of those Companies, as well as for the advantage of the public, or that was not consistent with the public faith and the principles of equity and justice. One observation made by his hon. Friend, the Member for Lambeth, he had heard with some surprise; his hon. Friend said that one reason why he wished the House not to enter on the consideration of this Bill was, that when the Committee was proposed by Government it was stated that they did not mean that anything in the Bill which was contemplated should apply to existing railways. Now he remembered the discussion in question, and so far from that being the case, he had complained to the President of the Board of Trade of the narrow terms in which he proposed to frame his reference; and that while his speech plainly pointed to interference with the existing Railway Companies, the reference clearly did not. The right hon. Gentleman then remarked that if that were so, it would be easy to alter it by an instruction to the Committee. That was accordingly done, and so early as the 19th of February it was moved as an Instruction to the Committee:—That the Committee have power to consider any regulations advantageous to the public with respect to existing Railway Companies 478 generally, to which, in the opinion of the Committee, Parliament might justly give its sanction.To say, therefore, that it was understood that the Committee was not to recommend any interference whatever with existing Companies, appeared a very extraordinary assertion. He hoped the House would now proceed to the discussion of the Bill in the usual way. He saw no reason for the course which was proposed by his hon. Friend; and if the Motion were pressed to a division, he must vote against it.
§ Sir R. Peel
would answer the appeal made to him by his hon. Friend. There was an impression prevailing, that the railway interest was exceedingly strong—that the monopoly was a very powerful one—and that it was extremely difficult to propose any measure for controlling them. He was inclined to think that they were going too far, and that their monopoly might be very great, but he would advise them to husband their strength. It was most unreasonable to propose to prevent the Executive Government from stating its views to the House of Commons on the subject of railways, or to refuse to hear their sentiments on a matter of such high importance to the public interest. "Strike, but hear," was thought at one time to be a moderate request; but the proposal of the hon. Gentleman was not only to strike but refuse even to hear. It looked like an indication of apprehension and of a desire not to permit even a statement to be made. It seemed to say that they would not trust themselves to vote on the merits of the question, that they would not even hear a statement, that they would not permit a previous and erroneous impression to be removed by a speech from the President of the Board of Trade; but they would have resort to the course of moving the other Orders, that the President of the Board of Trade, on the part of the Executive Government, might not have an opportunity of explaining a public measure which had been brought in to protect public interests. What other motive could the Government have in offending a powerful interest but a desire to consult the public convenience, and provide for the public welfare. For what reason did his right hon. Friend propose to take any course with respect to railways? Did he come forward in the month of July on the part of Her Majesty's Government to propose some remedial measure? No, at the very earliest period of the Session he had 479 moved for a Committee on the subject of railways. That Committee made a deliberate report, and the Government would have abandoned its duty if it had not embodied the suggestions of the Committee in a Bill, if it had not prepared the discussion of the measure on the second reading, and then devolved on the House the responsibility of rejecting the Bill on any future stage if they thought fit to do so. He most sincerely hoped, therefore, that his right hon. Friend would press the second reading to a division, and that he woul do all he could to give effect to such provisions of the Bill as should meet with the consent of Parliament. Under what circumstances were they now speaking? There seemed to be a renewed stimulus of life in the railway undertakings of this country. There had been sixty new applications for Railway Bills during the present Session, and next Session there would probably be an equal number. Now was the moment for the House to determine whether there should be legislation on this subject, or whether they would permit this time to elapse, this monopoly to be fortified, and next year leave no opportunity for Parliament to consider whether even in the new railways precautions should be taken against excessive exactions from the public. Great complaints had been made with respect to the system of canvassing on private Bills. Public opinion had succeeded in putting down that species of canvass, but it continued in full force, and was even spreading more extensively with regard to public measures, and though the House might not be able to control it, it was proper that public opinion should be brought to bear upon it. He had a letter from a correspondent, which said—The Directors of a Railway have addressed a circular to me, expressing a hope that I would see all the Members of Parliament that I could, and use every exertion in my power to defeat the Government measure.This was from a grocer at Deptford, who happened to be a shareholder in one of those Companies, and he went on to say, that he answered,—I have confidence that the Government are legislating for the benefit of the community; if I had a vote, I should give it in favour of the measure. I have not had an opportunity of talking with many Members of Parliament, but probably after this, the Directors would not much wish it.What could the motives of the Govern- 480 ment be but to secure the convenience of the public, and particularly that class which had benefited least by the railways? Whether the House of Commons would come to a vote which would prevent the Government, influenced by no other motive whatever than to promote the public interests, from being heard, which would deprive his right hon. Friend, as the organ of the Government, of an opportunity of explaining, for their better consideration and decision, what this measure was, founded on the Report of the Committee, and in concurrence with the views which the Government thought should be adopted, he did not know; but till that Motion was affirmed, he never would believe of the House of Commons that the power of monopoly was so strong. He would not say that they would not defeat the Government, but that that power was so strong as absolutely to deprive Government of the power of explaining a measure intended for the public interests, he would not believe until the result of the division should be stated at the Table by the four gentlemen, whose duty it would be to take the numbers.
§ Mr. Gisborne
seeing that the majority of the House desired to have a discussion of the measure, and hear the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, he would not persist in his Motion.
§ Amendment withdrawn. Order of the Day for the second reading of the Bill read.
was glad the time had at length arrived when the statements of the promoters and opponents of this Bill respectively might be compared in equal debate on the floor of that House. He confessed, so far as the contest had hitherto gone, it had been an unequal one. This was not a question of party, on which the Government could appeal to the sympathy of its supporters. It was not a question of that direct popular interest in which the passions of persons out of doors were likely to be largely interested. Government had stood on the ground of these measures alone, such as they might be, while every interest that the most assiduous and manifest solicitation could bring to bear against them had been employed in organizing opposition to this Bill. As regarded the amount of solicitation addressed to parties to oppose this Bill, that was a small matter. What he complained of was, that the statements by which this Bill had been opposed were, in their main particulars, entirely at 481 variance with its real nature. They had during the present Session some remarkable instances of Bills misrepresented and misunderstood; but he would venture to say that no bill coming before Parliament had ever been more grossly misstated in the appeals made to the public to raise opposition against it, with respect to its particular provisions, than the Bill now before the House. It was most material that they should look to the circumstances under which this Bill came before them. It was not the Bill of the Government—it had originated with the Committee. He would ask, in the first place, of any Gentleman connected with railways, in what spirit the Railway Department of the Board of Trade had hitherto been administered. He would ask whether, as administered by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that Department was actuated by a spirit of hostility, or a disposition to intermeddle with the concerns of railways. He would not dwell on this part of the case which was more remote, but he would remind the House that at the time when he proposed this Committee, so anxious was he to secure to Railway Companies of every description a full and fair representation, that in the list he prepared there were the names of four gentlemen actively engaged as Railway Directors in different parts of the country, and the feelings of the House were so distinctly expressed that the composition of the Committee was marked by undue favour and partiality towards railways, that he had felt it his duty to withdraw two valuable names from the Committee, in order that it might not lie from the outset under public suspicion. Complaints were made both in and out of the House of the undue favour shown to that interest, and the hon. Member for Bath had taunted him with having a packed Committee, one from which no good for the public, and no evil for the Companies, was to be expected. Such was the composition of the Committee, and he held it material to establish, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that those Gentlemen out of whose deliberate examination this Bill had arisen were men of whom no one would venture to assert that they were otherwise than favourable. He did not mean that they were men who had adopted the narrow view that there was always to be an opposition between the interests of the Companies and the public; they were men sensible of the services which those Companies had conferred upon the country, as well as of the 482 necessity of maintaining entire and inviolate the public faith towards those bodies, and desirous of going the greatest length to secure their co-operation in whatever might be proposed. No one had found fault with the names placed on the Committee; indeed, with the exception of his hon. Friends the Members for Inverness (Mr. Morrison) and Kendal (Mr. Warburton), and of the two Directors he was obliged to exclude, his hon. Friends the Members for Clitheroe (Mr. Cardwell) and Renfrewshire (Mr. P. M. Stewart), the list comprised the names of almost all who, whether in a private or official capacity, were most conversant with the affairs of railways. The next proposition he should maintain was, that with the exception of his hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Russell), the Committee were essentially unanimous in favour, not of the precise Bill which had been laid on the Table, not in compliance with the opinion of the majority, but in favour of an interference, on the part of Government, at least as extensive. The hon. Gentleman had truly remarked that there was a question in the Committee as to whether the power taken over future Railway Companies should be a power of purchase only, or a power of purchase, combined with a power of revision. The Committee divided on this question, and the numbers were six to four. The hon. Gentleman had advocated in the Committee a power of purchase, and his hon. Friend had also done so, objecting to the language of the Bill, as not going far enough. He believed that both thought at least as great an extent of interference as was now proposed to be absolutely necessary; and that, with the exception of his hon. Friend the Member for Reading, who, from the first day when the Committee was proposed, had expressed in the most candid manner the strongest opposition, there was not a single Member of the Committee who did not believe that some measure analogous to the main provisions of the Bill, if not those very provisions, was absolutely necessary. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gisborne) proposed a plan by which a power of purchase would have been taken on behalf of the State, with respect not only to future railways, but to all railways. The present Bill, with respect to the power of purchase, had reference only to future railways, so that he was borne out in saying that the objection to this plan then made was not that it went too far, but that it did not go 483 far enough. What did the petitions—he would not say of the Companies, for these petitions were not framed by the Companies—allege with respect to the evidence? That it was ex parte. He could not see how such a term could be applied to it, without depriving words of all meaning. If it were ex parte at all, it was so because it bore much more strongly in favour of the Railway Companies than against them. There were twelve witnesses who gave evidence on the general question; one an officer of the Board of Trade, Mr. Laing, of whom it would be a new view of the subject to say that he was a party man. Then there was Mr. Galt, who certainly was a man of strong preconceived opinions; the other ten out of the twelve were Railway Directors. There was Mr. Glyn, the Chairman of the London and Birmingham Railway; Mr. Hudson, who was a very considerable railway proprietor in the north; Mr. Baxendale, one of the largest railway proprietors, and Chairman of the South Eastern; Mr. Swift, agent of the Grand Junction, and one of the cleverest men connected with railways; Mr. Saunders, of whom he might remark that he was worthy to contest the palm of cleverness with him; Mr. Lawes, the active and able manager of the Manchester and Leeds Railway; the hon. Member for Clitheroe, Mr. Wilkinson, the Chairman of the Croydon Railway Company; Mr. Rowland Hill, who was so well known for his labours on another subject, and who was connected with the Brighton railway; Mr. Harding, a director of the Glasgow and Greenock Railway. Now, was there any meaning in words if such evidence could be called ex parte against railways? His hon. Friend said, the Companies should have been allowed to call witnesses, but to that proposition he must know it was impossible the Committee could have agreed. Had they done so, they would have overstepped the limits of their duty, and done what was contrary to the express orders of the House. His hon. Friend was in the Committee as a representative of railway interests; he did not mean to say deputed as such, but an active, vigilant, and able supporter of his views on the subject of railways. There was also the hon. Baronet the Member for Leicester, who had taken a prominent part as a representative of the railway interest. Did they offer a single witness to the Committee who was refused? There was also the hon. Member for Nottingham. Why did they not say that the evidence was ex 484 parte? He was sure he might claim the hon. Member's assent when he said that the assertion was not only unfounded, but ridiculous and absurd. With respect to the details of the Bill, his hon. Friend complained that there was a power of inspecting the accounts—an extreme power; but as the Railway Companies were in the habit of publishing their receipts weekly, and their expenditure half-yearly, and both were to be found in the Railway Journals, he did not apprehend there could be any great hardship in this. The words giving the power might, perhaps, not have been considered with sufficient precision, but he wondered his hon. Friend did not see that this was a question for the Committee, and not for the second reading. Of the forty Clauses of the Bill, twenty-four related to the provisions respecting purchase; those from the twenty-fifth to the twenty-eighth related to third-class passengers. He must say that he felt strongly that the case of the third-class passengers by those trains was becoming a national question of great importance, and though averse to any general interference by Government with the management of these Companies, he did think it was wise to make a provision while it could be done without any breach of public faith, whereby those persons—being, as they were frequently, the least able to bear exposure to the cold, and obliged to remove frequently in search of bread, from one part of the country to the other—might be able to transfer themselves at the charge of 1d. a mile, without such exposure to the severity of the weather as amounted in many cases to severe personal suffering. It was on that ground they had introduced Clauses which certainly, so far as they went, were of the nature of interference. There were other Clauses regarding the public service, access of the public to the station and yards, conduct of inspectors, the prosecution of Railway Companies who exceeded the powers for which they were incorporated, contracts with Government, loan notes, and other matters so trivial that he need not mention them. But the most important question respected the power of purchase. If they could agree about that, they were not likely to quarrel about the rest; and if they differed about that, it would be a new question, on which he had not yet made up his mind, whether the rest of the Bill ought to be passed or postponed. Here he must complain of the gross misstatements made with respect to the nature of this Bill. The statement published to 485 the world was, that the effect of the Bill was to enable the Executive to purchase or revise the tolls of future railways, on certain terms, if it should think fit to do so. It was assumed that the intention of the Bill was to determine whether it should be open to the State to do so. He saw hon. Gentlemen, Railway Directors, who were under that delusion. He would prove to them that the Bill was for no such purpose, and would have no such effect, and he was very glad the discussion had given him an opportunity of doing so. If the Bill gave the Executive the power to purchase the railways, or any one railway, at its discretion, he would vote against it, but that would be foreclosing a question which the whole object of this Bill was to open, and not to close. Government would have no absolute power of purchasing any line under this Bill; the Companies had power to make an agreement with the Government which should bind them, but Government had no right or power to make an agreement that should bind the State. Government could not take a step to buy any one railway existing, or to be in future constructed, without a resort to Parliament. An opinion might be entertained that even that course was not desirable. But the proposition he meant to contend for was, that Parliament ought to have that discretion—that, with respect to existing railways, Parliament was precluded from the power; and that, with respect to future railways, it was the bounden duty of Parliament to reserve to itself that power. Were there any Gentlemen within these walls under the impression that it was in the power of the Executive Government to purchase any, or to receive the tolls of any railway, under this Bill, without resorting to Parliament, because, if there were, he felt confident that they were wrong; but if they had read the Bill, and the effect of it was to convey such an intention, or such a meaning, he would join with them in amending the Bill, so that no such meaning should be conveyed. But it might be said, that although the Bill did not give this power to determine the question, whether it would be politic for the State to sanction the purchase or reversion, yet when the time arrived that that point should be submitted to Parliament, the question, although the mere mechanical and formal parts had been reserved, would be looked upon as settled. Had Gentlemen read the reports of the Committee, ["No, no."] Well, the most important of the Reports, as regarded the 486 present Bill, was comprised in six pages, and had been on the Table of the House for more than three months, and if Gentlemen would read that Report, they would find that the ground taken by the Committee was this—that even if it were considered politic to purchase or revise, we were not in a condition to do so with respect to existing railways; we were barred from entertaining that question. So that the question of policy with respect to existing railroads was not open, and if the Government thought the public interest required, that existing railways should be purchased, or their tolls revised, the predicament they would be in was, that they must do so upon such terms as the Company might choose to dictate. The course taken by the Committee was, that having the most scrupulous regard to public faith, they would not attempt to retrieve the position of the State, with respect to existing railroads; but, with respect to future railways, they reserved those powers which would enable the State at a future time, if they thought fit, to resume those powers; and they reserved the question of the policy, also, to be considered at a future time. What, then, became of the argument with respect to the Government taking this power into their own hands? The point might be proper to be considered when it was actually proposed that the State should take these powers, but now it was beside the question. With railways the Legislature were dealing with a new system producing new results, and likely to produce unforeseen effects. Was it not wise, then, to make provision for the future? Was it wise to trust themselves to all changes which the next ten or fifteen years might produce with regard to public communication by railway, without a thought for providing for the difficulties that might arise. Was it wise to place themselves in a position in which, whatever might be the exigency, they would be debarred from any interference, because now, before these new companies had obtained their powers, it had been neglected to obtain proper powers to enable the question to be entertained. With respect to the purchase of railways, at the present moment, Gentlemen of great experience and intelligence had recommended that it should be so. He did not think the Committee had been prepared to concur in that view. He apprehended that if a resolution had been proposed to that Committee which inferred that it would be desirable now that the State should purchase railroads upon 487 any fixed terms, the view of the Committee would have been that such a resolution was altogether premature. And he did not hesitate to say, that he would at the present moment vote against a plan for the purchase of railroads. He would do so, because in the present state of the system there were not grounds for coming to that conclusion. But it was a very different question whether he should reserve a free agency for either the purchase or revision at any future time, in case such a measure should appear advisable. He could not see that that was determining the point whether that purchase at, a future time would be politic. He was anxious that the truth should be understood, because the construction that had been put upon the Bill tended to impress the public mind with the idea that the purchase of railroads was the object aimed at by the Government, and that the judgment of Parliament was to be left less free and unfettered than Government wished it to be. The third Report of the Committee adverted in two places to this part of the question, and he would read to the House these passages. What he desired to show was this, that the whole foundation of the complaints against the Bill as to the option of purchase was swept away, for nothing was to be done except renewing a discretion—and the distinction he meant to draw was not a mere technical one, but a real bonâ fide one—to enable the State, after a term of years, to purchase railroads, if, in the judgment of the Legislature it should be such as to render such a measure politic and expedient. The intention of the Bill was, to remove the preliminary bar which existed on the ground of public faith, to leave the question entirely free and open, and unfettered by the numerous and complicated considerations which now beset it. An hon. Member referred him to Clause 7, but was it not obvious that that merely placed the Bill in the form that would be requisite for the purpose if Parliament should determine upon granting the power? The Government could not purchase railroads without money. And Government could not get money without coming to Parliament. And Government could not come to Parliament for such a purpose without strong grounds of policy on which to justify the demand for money. He was unwilling to go into details, but he greatly desired to make those points clear which he deemed to be essential to the proper understanding of the Bill, because his complaint was, that the opposition to 488 the Bill was founded upon an assumption altogether false; but if which assumption were true he should be inclined to join in the opposition. He had shown that the Bill did not enable the Executive to purchase or revise, because it could not do so without the money. But it had been said that the measure fettered and tied up the judgment of Parliament. Then, he said, invent any declaration, however authoritative, that should leave the judgment of Parliament obviously free, and he would join in it. It had been alleged that the purchase of railways by the State would cheapen the means of communication. Let the House listen to what the Committee said in the third page of the third Report:—It is a question which the Committee are far from thinking themselves able at present to determine, whether it would or would not be advisable that the Government should at a future period endeavour to effect a material reduction of this charge; and although, on the one hand, it would be premature and most unwise in any degree to prejudge this question, yet in the opinion of the Committee it is desirable to reserve to public authority the means of forming a judgment upon it when a proper time shall have arrived, at least in all those cases with regard to which the Legislature does not stand committed, by proceedings already taken, to a different course.That was the view of the Committee, and that was the authoritative interpretation of the present Bill, and the ground upon which it supported it; but if the Bill could be shown not to admit of this interpretation, he was willing to amend it. There was another passage much stronger:—But although the efforts of earlier projectors have reduced to comparative certainty, for the benefit of their successors, much of what was to themselves doubtful and hazardous, it still remains in a high degree problematical what results of the railway system, at present unforeseen, may be developed during the next fifteen or twenty years. In this state of things the Committee would deem it unwise to enter into any engagements which should tend to restrain the free action of the Legislature or the Government in future times, as it is impossible to judge what amount of inconvenience might thereby be entailed; but they would propose that such powers only should be taken as, even though they may fall short of the full extent of the occasion when it arrives, may be either exercised for some substantial advantage, or at the worst, left in abeyance without detriment.That was a proof that the Bill did not give the power to the executive, that it 489 did not prejudge the question, and tie up the hands of Parliament, but that it left the question of the policy of purchase or revision open at a future date, and removed that preliminary bar on the score of vested interests and public faith, which, whatever might be now the opinion of the Legislature, prevents it for the present from approaching the question. He asked hon. Gentlemen to consider whether the allegations he now made were true, because if they were, there was not a petition presented by any Railway Company the allegation of which had anything to do with the question. It appeared by the Reports that the Committee were of opinion that they (the Legislature) had nothing to do with the question of purchase or revision, but that a state of things was arising which suggested the probability that in fifteen or twenty years hence it might be highly necessary that the State should resume control over the railroads. There was another difficulty which arose before the Committee, namely, the case of the carriers, acknowledged to be one of difficulty and grievance. They had parties coming before them, showing in detail the relation in which they were placed with existing Railroad Companies. The Railroad had gone among individual traders very much like a triton among the minnows, and the effect had been, in many cases, highly inconvenient to them. They had shown that their arrangements for communication, not merely upon the lines of Railway, but off them, were affected and deliberately controlled by the Companies. Now, without saying that the case was one ripe for decision, or that it was a national grievance, there appeared to be considerable hardship attending it, and the Committee felt that there were difficulties, of which they could not attempt the solution, between Railroad Companies and private traders carrying-on their business along the line; but as the country became covered with a closer network of railroads, then difficulties and hardships would be increased, and the Legislature might be obliged to say to these private traders—Your case is one of great hardship, but we cannot help you, as we must assume a general power of interference with respect to carrying, in order to secure justice to these private traders. A proposition had been indeed made, that the Government should assume a general power of interference as regarded 490 carriers—a proposition which would certainly cure the evil as regarded those carriers, but which was open to the objection that it did entail a great degree of interference on the part of the Government. But the Committee showed that there was a grievance for which they were unable to point out a remedy, and they showed that as grievances of this kind became more numerous and weighty it would be material that the judgment of Parliament should be exercised concerning them. Then the question arose as to economising the means of conveyance. That was an extremely large question. The payment made by the public to the Companies for conveyance was between five and six millions yearly, and it would not be considered exaggeration to say that some fifteen or twenty years hence the payment made for conveyance would amount to not less than fifteen millions. Now, when the subject was upon such a scale as that, it became a Government question of national policy; and if it were true — which he did not assume it to be—that the experiment of a large reduction of fares might, under certain circumstances, be carried into effect with immediate relief to the public, and with but a small loss upon the aggregate net receipts upon railways, that was a question which made it most important to vote, not that you should purchase the railways, but that the means of doing so without breach of public faith should be given. Such a system of economising could not be expected to proceed from the railroads generally. Foreign railways—those in Belgium for example—were cheaper than ours. He did not say they were so good, but they were certainly cheaper—the charges were perhaps not much more than one-third of the charges here. It might be said that this was a richer country; but that seemed no reason why the public should pay for their railway communication more than was necessary. But the experiment of cheapening railway communication could never be made under the present system. The hon. Member opposite mentioned the Greenwich line. It might have been tried there, or by that enterprising company of which the hon. Member was chairman, or upon the line between London and Dover, but it had not been tried upon such a scale as really to develope its effects upon the country. To be properly tested it 491 must be tried upon a most extensive scale, although he would not say the whole country. The experiment could not be expected to be tried under the present system, because they had to deal with an almost indefinite number of independent Companies, some of them fixed to what was called the high-fare system, by which it was supposed something more was produced, and they did not look at comprehensive purposes and national objects. But under the present system, if nine out of ten companies were in favour of the experiment of cheap communication, it would probably be in the power of the tenth to baffle the effort. That was a reason which made it wise and politic to retain in their hands for use at a future period, if it should be deemed politic, and not to be used at that period if it did not seem politic, a power which should enable them to deal with the case as a question of policy, and not to be embarrassed at the very threshold of the subject, with the charge that they were guilty of a breach of the public faith. He therefore called upon Parliament to preserve its own free agency. He contended it was impossible for the Executive Government either to purchase or to revise, without reverting to Parliament, and the Reports of the Committee and the declaration of the Government showed that there was no intention to foreclose the question, but to open it and to place Parliament in a position which would enable it to entertain and decide the question. The hon. Member for South Lancashire had said, "Take the option for all or nothing," but he objected to do that, on the very ground of not foreclosing the judgment of Parliament on the question. He might be asked why were not the Government content with a simple reservation of the right to Parliament. An Act of that kind would have remained brutum fulmen, like the Resolution of 1839, or it would have so operated as to give a shock to railroad property. Did hon. Members mean to say that this Bill gave a shock to railroad property? He would come to that point by-and-by. But if Parliament had been asked to enact simply that it should be lawful to purchase railroads hereafter, the first questions that would have been put to the Government would have been, "Tell us when, and tell us upon what terms?" It would be impossible, he contended, to make a naked simple Resolu- 492 tion of that kind. Either it would be fruitless, or if interpreted arbitrarily, it would have given a shock to railroad property. The Government thought, then, they were bound, in reserving this power, to tell those parties who were now going to invest large sums in national improvement, what were the terms and the limits within which, if Parliament thought fit to purchase or revise, it should so purchase or revise. The next question was this—how it happened that the old railways were the objectors to this Bill, affecting only the new railways? Those parties, with respect to whom it was proposed to exercise the discretion of the right of purchase, were not in general opponents of the Bill, but the parties who raised the opposition were the old Railroad Companies, with respect to whose rights a most scrupulous regard had been had, and over whom the power of the Bill declined to take that right, because they thought it would impose upon them the imputation of a disregard of public faith and vested interests. The ground these old Companies took was this, as contained in the paper they had chosen to call their reason—that they alleged they should virtually be included within the scope of the anangement—that they would be driven into it — that the Government would force them to come in on their conditions, however ruinous and oppressive. That was the doctrine taken up by the old railways. Was that the fact? He had shown that the Government could do nothing, and he called upon the parties to alter the paper they called their reasons, and to substitute the words Parliament or Legislature for the word Government, for the Government could do nothing in the way of forcing the old Companies to come in; and when those parties said they should be compelled to come in upon ruinous and oppressive terms, they impugned the judgment of Parliament, and not of the Government. After the specimen of the opposition to the Bill which had been seen in that House, was it likely the parties would be in a position to be compelled to come in upon terms that would be ruinous and oppressive? These Companies were really too modest — he recommended them to have a little more self-confidence. But if anything could weaken them, it would be the course they had taken, and the tone of high and exagger- 493 ated pretension they had adopted. He apprehended he was at that moment addressing a majority of railway proprietors. His own family were as extensively interested in railway property as any in this country. There was no one, perhaps, more interested. The mass of property invested in railways was not less than 50 or 60,000,000l., and their Parliamentary strength was evinced in the nature and manner of the opposition given to this Bill, and he repeated, in regard to the high and exaggerated tone of their pretensions, that nothing could weaken them but an undue use of their property. Had Parliament shown a want of inclination to appreciate the obligations of public faith? Had the spirit of any executive Government been against them? Had there been a disposition to coincide with the clamour out of doors? No; the contrary of all this had been the case. Many weaker interests than that of railways reposed, in security, and railway interest was, perhaps, the strongest in regard to direct influence upon votes of Members. What colour was there for the assertion that they were likely to be dealt with contrary to the maxims of public faith? It was quite untrue to say, that the Government were calling upon the Railway Companies to place confidence in the Executive. He did not ask them to give to the Executive a power of dealing with these Companies; what he was asking them to do was, to give that power to Parliament, but these companies said—"Do not do it this Session, postpone it to the next." Now, it really did seem odd to him, that if they had no confidence in the judgment of the present Parliament, they should have any confidence in the judgment of any future Parliament. Nothing was more futile, nothing more ridiculous, than the apprehensions on the part of these great and powerful combinations and associations of parties, that if any unjust and oppressive measures in regard to Railways were hereafter proposed, Parliament would be found ready to adopt them, and that those companies would have no power to resist and prevent them. Again, it had been said, that under the optional power proposed to be given, the Government might purchase some poor railway, and make use of it for the purpose of running down a rich one. His answer to that was twofold. Government could only do that by applying to Parliament to supply the means, 494 and whenever any proposition of that kind was made, it would be competent for these companies to show that it would be a most unjust and unworthy policy on the part of Parliament to supply the Government with a large purse to ruin parties who had done a great good to the public. That would be as good an objection then, as the objection which was now made was unsound. But if the objection he was now replying to was good for anything, it was an objection which might be made to the existing power of the Government, for Government could do the same thing now. No doubt there was some cheap Railways existing now, and if Government were inclined to buy them, to run down more prosperous concerns, what was there to prevent them from doing so. What security was there against it? Nothing but this, that Parliament would not sanction such a purchase. But those who made this objection knew that this Bill was not proposed with any such motive or object, and even if it were, the parties would be secure against any such adoption on account of its injustice, and their own strength would be employed in showing that it was not founded in equity. He thought the two main and principal objections upon which this Bill was opposed, were first, the supposition that it was a Bil which went substantially to enact that railways should be purchased by the Government, and secondly, as to the time of its being brought forward. He was not aware that any argument had been urged against the Bill that did not resolve itself into one or other of these two objections. With respect to the first objection, he had gone sufficiently into that already, he would now, therefore, address himself to the objection made as to time. He would admit that if Parliament were now called upon to sanction any specific purchase by the Government, or to adopt any revision of existing Railways, the objection as to time would be a strong one. But these were not now the questions. It was not a measure of definitive legislation as to any purchase or revision; though he was aware that the Bill did enact certain details—such as giving a power of inspecting accounts, of referring matters to arbitration, and so on. But these were details which they were not now discussing. What they were discussing was this, whether they would take certain precautions to secure to Parliament certain powers, those 495 powers to be exercised in relation to all Bills which had not been proposed, at or previous to the time this Bill was brought forward? Reference had been made to the Blue Book containing the evidence before the Committee, and it was said that that book had only been three weeks on the Table. Granted; but that book had relation more especially to matters which were not now before the House. The Bill rested upon the Report of the Committee, and more especially upon the third Report, and he did not consider that either that or the other Reports of the Committee stood greatly in need of evidence. It was originally the object of the Government and of the Committee to make an arrangement for the future governance of Railways, to which there should be given the assent of every Railway Company in the kingdom. For a purpose of that sort he admitted that it would have been necessary that the House should have had more time to consider in detail the views of all parties connected with Railways; but it was soon found that this universal arrangement was impossible; therefore they retrenched their measure, and determined to propose nothing on the score of revision or purchase but what appeared to them might be defended as a measure of public policy, irrespective of any Committee or of any evidence whatsoever, The reserving to Parliament a discretionary power was a matter of principle so grave, and involving so many considerations, that even if all the Reports of the Committee, and all the evidence taken by them were lost, he would not have scrupled on grounds, accessible to all men, to recommend it to Parliament. Therefore, he denied that the House not having had the evidence before it for a longer period, was any objection to their proceeding with this Bill. How stood the truth of the case with regard to this question of time? The proposition they were now discussing was respecting the option to purchase and the power of revision; and he begged to ask who had raised the question as to time? Did the House recollect how long the proposition for reserving to the Government an optional power to purchase had been before the public? The third Report of the Committee was agreed to on the 30th of March, and it was printed and laid before the House on the 3rd of April. More than three months, therefore had elapsed since this main recommendation 496 had been in the hands of Members and under their consideration. Now, he conceived that he himself, and those who were the friends of the Bill, were the parties who really had a right to say that they had been taken by surprise. The hon. Gentleman had been, he believed, an opponent of the Bill but the third Report of the Committee referred wholly to the principle of option to purchase, and the power of revision such as was recommended in the Bill itself. Now, that Report was laid on the Table on the 3rd of April. One hour's inspection of that Report would have enabled the hon. Gentleman to have discussed the question of national policy which the proposition contained. He, therefore, and his friends had a right to say that they had been taken by surprise. It was not that this Report was published so long ago as the 3rd of April, but the fact was that few documents had ever issued from the press under the orders of the House of Commons which had been the object of a greater degree of attention. It was true that there prevailed perfect quietude on the subject, but why? Because no voice was heard but that of universal approbation. There were two descriptions of the newspaper press — the railway newspapers and the political news, papers. This third Report of the Committee was printed in all the railway newspapers, and in all the London newspapers, and was made the subject of detailed comments by all of them: and the whole press joined in expressing their admiration of the moderate views and cautious tone of this Report. These were facts. There were no views in opposition to that Report. Did those who now opposed the Bill not know this? All the Railway Companies were three months ago perfectly aware of what had been done. They knew that the utmost degree of public attention had been drawn to the subject; and that nothing but universal assent, concord and praise was to be heard respecting it. One hon. Gentleman opposite had said, that the third Report of the Committee would make a noise in the country. Now, this Bill was founded mainly on that third Report; and that Report had been three months before the world, and discussed more than any such document ever was before; and until another document came in view it was received with universal admiration. Upon these points he would challenge contra- 497 diction. Some Gentlemen had said tonight that there was a universal alarm at these proposals. He should presently dispute that proposition; but, with respect to the time when the plan was first published and discussed upon its own merits, there was no alarm whatever and there was nothing shown but a disposition to adopt the plain, wise, and moderate views taken by the Committee. He had to complain of the misrepresentations which had been made on this subject in the petition of the London and Birmingham Railway Company. In their petition that company stated, "that the Select Committee, upon whose Report the Railway Bill was founded, had been sitting during the greater part of the present Session." That was true. The petition then went on to say, "that although the Committee made short reports from time to time, yet the last and most important document was only laid on the Table on the 24th of May last, and that the printed evidence, which was very voluminous, was not presented to the House till a fortnight afterwards." Now that he (Mr. Gladstone) complained of as a misrepresentation. For what was the real meaning of that paragraph? It was that it should be understood that although there had been minor reports relating to minor matters before the 24th of May last, yet that the Report on which the Bill was founded only came before the House on the 24th of May. Now what was the fact? The Report of the 24th of May related chiefly to minor details, with which the Bill scarcely had anything to do; whereas the great object of the Bill—that of reserving to Parliament the option of purchase, and the power of revision—was wholly dealt with in one of those short Reports, and which was laid on the Table of the House on the 3rd of April. This was a misrepresentation. He did not, however, mean to impute it to the directors of the company although it bore their seal; but he imputed to some of their officers whose motives and meaning he might have occasion to allude to by and by. While the London and Birmingham Company was petitioning on the score of time, he would give an extract from the evidence of the Chairman of that Company. It was said, by Gentlemen opposite, "put off this Bill till next year." But the great and anxious wish of that Gentleman (Mr. Glyn) was, that the Bill should be proceeded with as fast as possible. That gentleman was asked, 498Are you of opinion that the present time is a convenient time for entering into the consideration of a general arrangement of that kind, or do you think that if they were postponed for another Session of Parliament, Parliament on the one hand, and the Railway Companies on the other, would stand in a better pesition for such an arrangement?—I cannot see that any good could arise from the delay; and I conceive that you have the advantage of legislating for a great many Railway Companies.This question was also put to him—Assuming that no measures are taken by Parliament for systematising railway regulation upon some general principles, what do you think in the course of the next few years would be the result?—I am afraid that the property of many of the existing railways must become very seriously depreciated.That was a question with respect to time. You say, "put this Bill off till next year." If the House were called upon to discuss a measure full of executive details, that might be a very proper suggestion, but as applicable to a precautionary measure, mainly to reserve discretion to the Legislature over new railways, it was a suggestion totally void of foundation. He wished to show that the plea of "time" was the most naked and empty plea that could be advanced. The parties knew that the Bill was coming. There was ample time to consider the question it involved. At the top of page 2, in the Third Report, it was stated—It appears, therefore, to your Committee, that the present moment, while Parliament still retains in its own hands an entire and unimpaired discretion with regard both to the incorporation of new Companies, and to the enlargement of the powers of old ones, affords an opportunity more favourable than any that can be expected hereafter to recur, for attaching beforehand to the Legislative sanction, which is sought by these parties on their own behalf, the condition which may be deemed necessary for the public good, and which may realize and apply such conclusions as our experience of the railway system up to the present time may be deemed to have sufficiently established.The Companies, therefore, could not say that they had been taken by surprise by the introduction of this measure, because he had shown that the Committee so early as the 3rd of April, pointed out that the present moment was the moment at which Parliament ought to legislate, and that the consequence of delay could only be to increase the disadvantages that now existed. What would be the result if 499 the Bill were postponed to the next Session? At the beginning of the next Session it would be impossible to attract the attention of the House to any proposition for general railway legislation. Other questions involving inferior interests would overthrow it; and it would be late before they could arrive at the discussion of the details, and that discussion would be taken under great disadvantage. Those powerful Companies that were now somewhat strong in impeding the legislative power of Parliament, would become stronger by delay. If they were now strong in their opposition to this Bill, they would increase in strength in a future Parliament. He therefore warned the House how they let slip the present opportunity for adopting a proposition which he thought would be effectual for the execution of those powers it was deemed wise and salutary to establish. If this were done, it should not be his fault. If the House allowed this opportunity to pass by, on them be the responsibility. Did the House think that when they should have to confront twice the power they now had to contend with, increased as that power would be by the success of their efforts now, over a Committee of the House of Commons, and over the Executive Government—did they think that their opponents would be more moderate then than now? Considering that, even now, they would not allow Parliament to reserve a legislative power over future railways, how much greater would be their opposition after they had shown their strength, and the House had shown its weakness by truckling to that power. To the postponement of this measure, therefore, as truckling to that power, he would be no party. This was a curious and instructive part of the case. One portion of the opponents of this Bill were Directors and officers, and parties connected with railways, who adopted the very high line against the interference of Parliament altogether. The Chairman of the Great Western Railway Company, the hon. Member for Reading, was the chieftain among that class. He, with others, adopted what was called the high line; that hon. Gentleman was opposed to proceedings to legislate upon any general principles, and he seemed to think that he was supported by all the Railway Proprietors in the doctrines which he endeavoured to enforce; but that was a great mistake. He (Mr. Gladstone) knew se- 500 veral very large Proprietors of railway shares, who did not join in that opposition to Parliamentary interference. There were no public meetings held on the subject. He would undertake to say that of the Grand Junction Railway Company, there would be no public meeting to oppose the present Bill. A majority of the Directors might petition Parliament, but there would be no public meeting of the Company called. No doubt some of the Directors might say, as some of the Directors of other Companies did, that all Parliamentary interference was inexpedient; that things ought to be left as they were; that the Legislature ought to trust to the effects of competition; that the system which now existed, had given the country a great many very fine railways; that the public were now carried faster and at a cheaper rate than they had ever been. It was said, let matters, therefore, be allowed to go on as at present, and let the country trust to the effects of competition. Now, for his part, he would rather give his confidence to a Gracchus, when speaking on the subject of sedition, than give his confidence to a Railway Director, when speaking to the public of the effects of competition. Those who took the high line, as he said, told the world, that the effect of the proposed plan would be to chill all competition, and if hon. Members did not shut their eyes, they must see sufficient of competition to form a sound judgment on the present measure. But now he came to the notable quarrel which had subsisted for a time between the London and Birmingham Company on the one hand, and the Grand Junction on the other, and in which those two Companies were at deadly odds; and so far as Railway Companies could be said to be capable of ferocity, they might be described as ferocious. It was said, that one result of this quarrel would be most flourishing prospects for the public; there were to be several new lines of railways; the Chester and Birmingham was to be carried on to Birkenstead, then there was to be one from Shrewsbury to Chester, and thence to Liverpool. For the public advantage all this was to be done. But the Grand Junction Company were determined to show as much public spirit, and so they projected a line from Stafford to Bedford, completing the line the whole way to London, independently of the London and Birmingham line. 501 This was the nature of the dispute between the two Companies. But these Railway Companies were singularly philanthropic among themselves. Their quarrels were like lovers' quarrels, and they reminded him of a quotation once felicitously made use of by Mr. Fox—Breves inimicitiæ, amicitiæ sempiturnæThe two Companies met together and made up their quarrel; but the line from Birmingham to Chester, and from Stafford to Bedford, were gone to the land where all things were forgotten. He would show to what extent the doctrine of this high school of non-interference on the subject of railways went, by referring to the evidence of Mr. Saunders who belonged to that school. That gentleman was asked:—Do you not think that as matters now stand, if another Railway Company is ready to come forward, and offers to carry the public at a lower rate than the London and Birmingham now carry them, that is a reason for Parliament to say, we will have the public carried cheaper, and therefore will sanction the line?" The answer was—"Most unquestionably not." "The London and Birmingham charging 30s. for a first-class, and 20s. for a second-class passenger, I understand you to say that if a body of persons, competent in point of capital, were to come forward and say, 'We are ready to make a Railway, and to give all the accommodation the existing Railway gives, and to carry at 20s. and 15s.' Parliament ought not to sanction those parties going forward with their project?"—Answer: "Most undoubtedly I do say that.The fear which Mr. Saunders and others entertained was that the effect of the proposed interference by Parliament would be, that a panic would prevail amongst all Railway Proprietors, and no one would again apply his capital to such purposes; and this he (Mr. Gladstone) would say, that if the present Bill were defeated, that defeat would be mainly owing to Mr. Saunders. But, all this time, it was not unimportant to remind the House, that out of doors there prevailed a great deal of ignorance with respect to the provisions of the present Bill. Exception was taken to it on the ground that it would enable the Executive Government to purchase railways whenever any Company came to Parliament for an extension of powers—that, in fact, in such a case such Companies would be liable to purchase or to revision. Now, the whole of that was 502 untrue. Both the one and the other of these statements were untrue, for in such circumstances Companies would only be liable to new regulations affecting third-class passengers. But there was a deeper power in the opposition, and he might as well use plain language, and that power was that of Parliamentary agents and solicitors. They were the great opponents of this Bill. With them an effective opposition rested. Why was their third Report suffered to remain a dead letter? Why did it remain still-born with regard to all opposition? Because it made no allusion to railway agency. Did he speak without ground for what he asserted? They were the parties who knew how to get up an opposition in this House; they could talk aloud of the public interest, and draw up Petitions, in which, whilst they steered clear of direct untruth, yet made statements which were wide of the fact. He granted that this Bill would have a great tendency to curtail the proceedings in obtaining Bills, and consequently their profits. The subject was under consideration of the Committee of proposing a Model Bill, which would get rid of some portion of the trouble and delay which now existed. But he had shown by dates that that was not proposed by the Report which was laid before the public so early as the 3rd of April. No opposition, therefore, was made to it, although it contained the whole plan proposed in this Bill. But when they came to the fifth Report, it was then that this opposition arose. The London and Birmingham Petition described it as the largest and most important Report. It was in that Report that the Committee, at considerable length, stated their reasons for thinking that some fundamental change in the present system of railway legislation was required. Could there be any dispute upon that point? Could any man, looking at the enormous cost of passing Railway Bills, say that the House ought to stand still upon the subject? One part of the proposed system of party legislation was, that it was considered time to lay the axe at all events to the root of that tree. The Committee had, therefore recommended that all schemes for future Bills should be examined by an impartial authority, and it had been suggested that that authority should be the railway department of the Board of Trade. To some such authority this reference must be made, for it could 503 not be under the immediate control of the House of Commons. He should have been very glad if it could have been so; but as the House sat only for six months in the year, and as those Bills were generally prepared during the other six months, it was impossible that the House could appoint officers to make the preliminary examinations, by which the Bills might be prepared and sifted for the judgment of Parliament. He need not tell the House the enormous expense which attended the passing of Railway Bills by means of Parliamentary agents; thousands of pounds were paid, benefitting nobody but these persons, who were extremely well in their own way, but had no claim on the public. Do not let the House suppose that he who being at the commencement of the Session the most determined advocate for railways, but who now he feared had lost his character in that respect, and was considered by his former friends as being the most deadly opponent of railways—do not let the House suppose that this was a Motion of his or of the Committee. It was a question of Parliamentary reference to the Board of Trade, which had been advocated very strenuously by many of the witnesses examined before the Committee by Captain Lawes, Mr. Glyn, Mr. Swift, Mr. Cardwell, and others were all exceedingly strong upon the question of reference to the Board of Trade. When they come to the fifth Report they found these observations:—The Committee entertain the opinion that the announcement of an intention on the part of Parliament to sift with care the particulars of railway schemes, to associate them with the public interest (in the cases of all future schemes, and of all subsisting Companies which may voluntary accede to such an arrangement), by the option which they have recommended to be taken to facilitate the elucidation of the facts by Reports from competent and responsible Officers of Government, and, at the same time, to relax, wherever it can be done with safety, the restraints heretofore imposed by the Standing Orders of Parliament upon railway enterprise, will produce very beneficial effects in deterring parties from the attempt to entrap the public by dishonest projects, in securing railway property against the shocks to which, in periods of great commercial excitement, it must otherwise be liable from such causes, and in assuring to the projectors of new enterprises, qualified to bear examination upon their merits, the means of establishing their case, and of confronting illegitimate opposition with a degree of facility 504 much greater than any which they have heretofore enjoyed.This, Sir, continued the right hon. Gentleman, is the recommendation of the fifth Report. The fifth Report does not contain the present Bill. It only relates to secondary points. The third Report contains the present Bill, and I will show you that the third Report was assailed by no disapprobation for two months. The fifth Report was presented on the 26th of May, and was delivered on the 8th of June: and on the 11th of June—two days after it was sent out—a circular was sent out, signed "Hunt and Co." addressed to railway agents and solicitors calling upon them to consider what measures should be taken in consequence of the proceedings of the Committee. I have written to ask their authority to petition against the Bill, and whether they were authorised by the Companies. They say they were, because the meeting was called by circular, inviting the parties to come together and consider the provisions of the Bill. Now this is wonderful, because the article was written on the 11th of June, and the Bill was not presented until the 20th of June, and was not printed and published until the 24th of June. I have shown you that it was not when the Committee recommended the enactment of this power of revision or purchase that the Petition arose. It was not then that any shock was given to the Proprietors of Railways, and was not then that the secretaries and others became alarmed, and the lobbies became crowded with parties immediately employed by the Railway Companies to solicit Members for their votes—it was not then this plan came out. No, Sir; it was when we advised that the Bills should be referred to the Board of Trade, and when the Committee intimated an opinion that that reference would cheapen the proceedings before Parliamentary Committees. This is the powerful element of the opposition and of all that has taken place to render the Bill unpopular. I have pointed out the secret source from which this movement has arisen. The hon. Member for Reading and other hon. Members will understand that I do not speak of them. They have been the opponents of the Bill from the first. I speak of those from whom the movement derives its organisation; and I say, that those Gentlemen who came here on a misrepresentation of the nature of 505 the Bill, to oppose it, are made the unconscious instruments of maintaining a lavish, and extravagant, and discreditable system of private-bill legislation before this House. I am sorry I have been obliged to detain the House so long, but there is one other subject on which I wish to make a few remarks, and it is the last topic on which I shall trouble the House. The Bill is represented as an attack upon railway property, and the hon. Member for Sheffield intimated that it had given a great shock to that property. It is really a farce to make use of such an expression, for there has been no shock to railway property. Even at this moment there has been no shock to railway property, and there has not been even as much as a dull day in the railway market. This Bill proceeds from the united recommendation of a Committee and the Government, and am I to be told that if a Bill so recommended, and involving such mischievous enactments, is recommended to the House of Commons, that there will be no reaction upon the railway share market? It is there that the real opinions of the proprietors are to be seen, and not in the petitions which have been got up against the Bill by parliamentary agents. That Committee did not consist of one party in the House, but comprised men of all parties. Will any man tell me that if such a Bill had really been an attack upon railway property that the share market would not at once have shown what the real character of the Bill was? But I have double evidence on this subject. In the first place, the shares have been rising since this mischievous Report was produced. I need not trouble you with many details. On the 13th of April the price of the shares of the Great Western Railway Company was 110, but on the 29th of June the price was 123. Two months after this mischievous Report, this attack on railway property, this unequivocal measure had been recommended by the Committee, a Committee sitting under the countenance of the Government, the Great Western shares rose from 110 to 123. Other railway shares have risen in about the same proportion, some more and some less according to circumstances, but upon the whole there has been a considerable improvement in railway property since that time. The shares in the Great Western have actually risen since the unfavourable issue of the Railway Deputation 506 which waited on my right hon. Friend. On Monday last a most lugubrious body of men, composed of those classes whom I have described, waited on my right hon. Friend. In the front were many Railway Directors, and in the rear great multitude of Railway Solicitors. These parties requested my right hon. Friend to postpone the Bill, but they received a very distinct intimation that the Government felt it their duty to press it upon the adoption of Parliament, as they now press it upon the adoption of Parliament. On their return they published a most doleful article. They had a meeting, and came to resolutions protesting against cruelty, injustice, impolicy, and I know not what, but the shares of the Great Western are 5l. higher now than they were then. Perhaps you will say the Great Western was an old railway, and the only objection is, that it will stop all new railways, but it has not had that effect. The Report of the Committee containing the Ministerial scheme was published on the 3rd of April, and since that time a multitude of new Railway Companies have been formed, as well as I can make out not less than fifteen new Railway Companies have been established, involving an expenditure of about 20,000,000l., since the Committee appointed by the House of Commons, on the recommendation of the Government, advised that the power of revision and the option of purchase should take place. Is it not a farce, then, to talk of the Bill being an attack upon railways? In the money article of the Times this morning, it is stated that on Saturday there was a very healthy and buoyant share market; but at the tail of the paragraph it was stated that the measure was exceedingly dangerous to railway property. So that while these representatives of railways, as we are invited to believe—these ill-judging friends of railways, in my opinion—state that the proceedings of the Government tend to weaken the faith and the security of capitalists in these undertakings, and to induce them to embark their property in foreign speculations, the capitalist is of a different mind—he is busied in buying up railway shares, and the railway market is rising. The Railway Committee had every claim to a favourable reception on the part of Railway Companies, and I am surprised at the reception which has been given to their recommendations. Even the Rail- 507 way Companies on the one hand, or the Government and the Committee on the other, have committed a gross error in the course they have taken. Which of the two parties may be in error time will show. The responsibility of the consequences is with those who are in the wrong. We come forward openly. We do not attempt to win your favour by joining in the popular clamour against railway management. We do not resort to language calculated to attract public favour—to language of a delusive description. We do not hold out wonderful and magic results. We are content, on the contrary, in the main, with making a mere provision for the limitation in future; the whole effect of which provision is, that instead of Parliament having its hands tied and fettered as they are now, they shall be free to deal with these matters for the public good; and we have done that under such provisions as ought to disarm all opposition on the part of the shareholders, and put down anything like alarm. But what have they done? They have come forward and joined in the opposition even to any discussion. They have endeavoured to stifle discussion, and my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Colquhoun), although he very kindly and fairly advised the House to go to a second reading, yet ascribed such monstrous features to the Bill that if his observations have foundation, it must be quite unworthy the consideration of Parliament. The Committee have done nothing calculated to discourage railway speculation, and especially have they done nothing to shake the property of the old railways. I say they have shown the greatest care for the property of the old railways. They have wisely recognised the principle that the only way of encouraging people to undertake new enterprises is to respect the rights of those who have already embarked their property therein. They have not gone into the general doctrine of encouraging indiscriminate competition. They wish each case to be considered on its own merits, for the benefit of the public; and believing the propositions of the Committee to be thus moderate, I have become more convinced of the necessity for the Bill since the present opposition has arisen. Three weeks or a month ago I might have been tempted to think it would be inconvenient and mischievous not to postpone the Bill, and that it was not a vital question. But after 508 what we have seen—after the dates and facts which I have given you—after the history of the opposition which I have laid before you—after the misrepresentations which have been made of the nature of the Bill, I trust no one will be deluded into a postponement of the Bill. I know the House of Commons better than to believe that will be the case. If there be a majority who deem the Bill to be a bad one, let them reject it, but do not let them be deluded by that most miserable and shallow profession, that before next Session we shall have time to get the Report by heart, and be in a better situation to inquire, not into a measure of complex detail, but whether you shall reserve a power and discretion in the case of future railways. That is what you are invited to do. I have been taunted to-night with having said that I thought the consent of Railway Companies an essential condition to a satisfactory arrangement. I believe I have gone nearly that length. But I have the strongest impression that if the relations of Parliament and Railway Companies are to be satisfactorily carried out, they must be founded upon the discretion and moderation of both parties. I shrunk from a contest with Railway Companies. I would have foregone any measure founded upon popularity, if the justice and necessity and policy of it had been capable of a doubt. I knew the power of Railway Companies in the House, and was satisfied, with justice on their side, they would be perfectly resistless; but being persuaded that justice is not with them, but against them—being persuaded that they have misjudged the interests of those on whose behalf they are appointed to act—being persuaded that the clamour which has been got up within the last three months against the plan which three months ago was published, and which of everybody approved is misplaced—being satisfied that it is requisite we should reserve the power which it is now proposed to reserve, I do not shrink from the contest. I contend that this measure, so far from being a measure of violence, of an extreme or doubtful character, is a measure of the utmost importance, and that the option of revision and purchase is characterised by the utmost temperance and moderation; and feeling that we have right and justice on our side, I say that although the Railway Companies are powerful, I do not think they have mounted so high, or that Par- 509 liament has yet sunk so low, as that at their bidding you shall refuse your sanction to this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman concluded, amidst loud cheering, by moving that the Bill be now read a second time.
was aware of the disadvantage under which he must labour in following the able and excellent speech which had been just delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and he should, therefore, throw himself on the indulgence of the House whilst he attempted, not to answer the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but to state the reasons which had induced him to take the liberty of urging the matter on his consideration. Having been requested by a number of Gentlemen to explain the ground on which their opposition to the measure was founded, he would endeavour so to do, first, however, stating his own views upon the subject. It had been stated on a former occasion that this measure should not be forced on the attention of Parliament, but that some period should be allowed to the Railway Directors to turn their attention to the subject. That was considered very fair, and he did not think they were claiming too much when they attempted to force that on the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman complained of some misrepresentations which had taken place on the subject. Surely that alone was a proof to some extent that the merits of the question were neither understood by Railway Companies nor the country. If they were unable to appreciate the merits of the Bill, because they were unable rightly to understand its provisions, it was quite impossible for them to anticipate the effect it might have upon their property, and they ought to have further time to consider it. The right hon. Gentleman had laid great stress upon the third Report. All he (Mr. Entwistle) could say with reference to that Report was, that it did not excite the apprehension of the Railway Directors to the extent it would have done under other circumstances, and for this very good reason. He was one of a deputation, before he had the honour of a seat in the House, which waited on the Government prior to the formation of the Select Committee, to express their views, and afford such information as might enable them to frame a measure calculated to meet the approbation of the Railway Companies. On that occasion one phrase was used, on which great stress was laid, and it was considered of 510 peculiar significance by all the Gentlemen who attended—it was a declaration on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, that whatever interference was contemplated by the Government with respect to the existing railways, it would be placed on a fair principle. With a firm reliance on his intention to carry out that determination whenever the Bill should make its appearance, they did not suppose any measure like the present would be founded upon the third Report. Before entering upon the details on which that Report was founded, he would address himself to the principal part of the Bill—the right of purchase, which the right hon. Gentleman claimed on the part of the Government at a future time, with respect to all Railway Companies which should take their date from this Session of Parliament, He would at once declare that he did not defend the rights of any future Company, or of any Companies formed during the present Session, because the House had a right to impose whatever conditions it thought proper on their formation; and if the parties did not like those conditions, they might refuse to form themselves into a company. It was said, with regard to the revision and the right of purchase, that this Bill dealt only with future Companies. But what he complained of was, that the power of interference with the existing railways was one which would be as complete over the existing railways as over future railways. Did they protest against any negotiation on the part of the Government with respect to Companies to be formed? By no means. The principle which they protested against was this—that after many years had elapsed from the original formation of Railway Companies, and a great mass of property had been embarked in these speculations, the Government should obtain a power which might make them competitors with the existing Companies. He trusted he should be able to show that the Bill would give them such power. The right hon. Gentleman said it was a mistake on the part of the House to consider that the Government was, by this Bill, assuming any power over future railways. He naturally thought that the right hon. Gentleman had mistaken future for existing railways. [Mr. Gladstone made an observation to the hon. Gentleman, which was not heard in the gallery.] He understood, then, that it was not the power, but merely the option to Parliament to exercise that power, which was meant, but in either case the power 511 was complete as against railways. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the circumstances of the country were such that there would be a net-work of railways in every direction. It was perfectly evident, then, that a great number of railways had yet to be made, and that they would be subject to the provisions of this Bill, and that a power would be given to the Government to enter the field, and to purchase such lines as appeared most desirable. Was it not equally evident that a number of the existing railways, which at present did not pay any large rate of dividend, would consent to come under the provisions of the Bill, in the hope that they might become part of a system, which might be worked with greater advantage by the Government than by private companies. The consequence would be the exclusion from the system of those lines which now remunerated capitalists; and he begged to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he could not deal with railroads separately. He hoped the House would recollect that those railroads which had been most successful might after all be the only means which the capitalist had of remunerating himself for money lost on other speculations of the kind. It was of this power of the Government to single out particular railways that he complained, a power which would enable them to form such a system as would exclude the great line companies. Such a result would inevitably ensue if the plan of the Government were adopted, and if a great reduction of the fares were to take place. The Government could not undertake to lower the tolls without entering into a contest with private capitalists, a contest in which if they should prove victorious, their antagonists would be completely crushed; while if the Government should be beaten, they would be forced to fall back upon the public resources of the country for support. They had heard it stated with regard to certain Belgian lines which had not paid 2½ per cent., although the money spent in their construction had been borrowed at 4½ per cent., and they had consequently been forced to fall back on the taxation of the Company. Such, he feared, might be the case in this country, and it was in consequence of this that he made the representation which he had to the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. Notwithstanding what had been said as to the extensive and dangerous power possessed by Railway Companies, he must say 512 that he believed it to be necessary for the efficient management of a railway that the power should be extensive. It might be that such a power ought not to be entrusted to any hands except those of Government or a responsible Company, but he would maintain that any Bill upon the principle contained in the present ought to apply equally to bad as to good railways. He would not oppose a measure which, while establishing a general control, would leave each Railroad Company at liberty to exercise its own internal energy. He believed that such a control, among other effects, would relieve the capitalists from that clamour which was now directed against them. But although he would not object to such a control being granted to Government, he must protest against their being allowed to enter into competition with private companies. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade asked what right they had to suppose that Government would interfere in a manner to ruin private capitalists. He would beg to recall the right hon. Gentleman's reccollection to what occurred at the first interview which the deputation from the different Railway Companies had with him in the beginning of February last, and to the principles then laid down with regard to the concessions to be made on the part of the old Railway Companies and to the concessions to be made by Government. Notwithstanding what then took place, there were contained in this Bill provisions not only with reference to future, but also with regard to existing railways. He alluded most particularly to the provisions regarding the cheap train, which was to be placed entirely under the management of the Board of Trade, with respect to the time of starting and other arrangements. Had any hon. Gentlemen considered what the result would be of placing the cheap train under the control of the Government? When railroads were first established, power was granted them to impose certain fares, but they were not compelled to carry even second-class passengers. Men had risked their capital in these undertakings—in many cases they had been successful, but in none of them were they compelled to carry even second-class passengers, and it was thought a great evasion of the principles upon which railroads were first established when the practice of carrying third-class passengers was adopted. Many of the companies had not as yet adopted a third-class train; but he 513 thought they might do so in many cases with advantage to themselves and with benefit to the public. At present, third-class passengers were carried at the rate of 1⅛d. or 1¼d per mile, the Government tax being 1d. per head. It was now proposed that third-class passengers should be carried in a particular train to be subjected to the control of Government, and in a superior description of carriages, at the rate of 1d. a mile. To many companies this proposition would cause a serious diminution in the number of second-class passengers, because their third-class carriages would be second - class carriages with third - class prices. The rate of travelling would be at the rate of only twelve miles an hour, but as the time of the poor man was not of much importance—[Ironical cheers.]—If hon. Members had allowed him to finish his sentence, they would not have seen any cause to cheer. He was about to say, that, the time of the poor man was but of small importance to him compared with the money which he would save by travelling in a train which was a little longer on the road. He was sorry that any hon. Member had thought it worth while to interrupt him, but he hoped they were now satisfied. It was quite obvious that many of those who now travel in the second class would go in the third; and, looking to the difference between 3d. and 1d. a mile, he thought many even of those who now travelled by the first would in future go by the third class. Now, he would like to know what equivalent Government proposed for this alteration? The expected equivalent had entirely disappeared, and all that Government proposed to do was to take off one half of the tax of one-fourth to a penny per mile. He was inclined of think that it was generally understood by the Railway Companies that the principle of the third Report was to be applied to all railways in existence, and he thought that he was confirmed in this opinion by what had occurred with regard to the Joint-Stock Companies Regulation Bill, because a clause in that Bill proposed to vest in the Board of Trade an absolute power to prevent the formation of any new company until it had conformed to the provisions of that measure. Supposing that the Dover and the Brighton Railway Companies wished to construct a new branch, and that the one consented to come under the provisions of the Bill, while the other refused, was it not quite competent for the Board of Trade to step in and refuse the Com- 514 pany rejecting the provisions of the Bill the necessary power to make a new line, and thereby giving the power to their opponents? Before any existing company could construct a new line, they would be obliged to come under the provisions of this Bill, and there was, therefore, no existing railroad which might not be affected by it. He wished to say a few words with reference to the clamour raised out of doors against railways, for he could not help thinking that that clamour arose in a great degree from this measure of the Government. He believed that the outcry had been also raised by many hon. Gentlemen who pressed the Government to interfere, in the hope that they would interfere, in the hope that they would be able to travel more rapidly, and at a cheaper rate than now. Many hon. Gentlemen laid great stress on the necessity of accommodating the poorer classes, but many of them were no doubt desirous of travelling by the cheap train proposed to be established. It was by no means improbable that those who clamoured so for the poor might avail themselves of that train. He had seen many respectable and well-dressed passengers in the third-class carriages without that accommodation which it was now proposed they should have. Hon. Gentlemen ought to recollect that the expenditure of capitalists on railroads had been often double, sometimes treble the amount originally contemplated, and it was only in consequence of the traffic having also exceeded the original estimate that the speculation had been at all profitable. It surely never would be contended that because a Railway Company paid more than a certain rate per cent., that that was a proof that it did not afford proper accommodation to passengers. But suppose the contemplated reductions were made, there might nevertheless be a considerable increase in the gross receipts of a Railway Company; and if there was any truth in the allegation, that the realization of a certain per-centage was a proof that there was not sufficient accommodation for passengers, they would in such a case be bound to go back to the old rate of charges. He protested against such a power being given to the Government as would enable them, through the medium of a future grant from Parliament, to enter the field against private capitalists. He believed that Railway Companies would have no objection to see such a control vested in the state as would secure the public against any abuse of the extensive powers which 515 those Companies possessed. But that to which they objected was, the daily interference with the management of that property for which they had paid very dearly, which would be sanctioned by many provisions of the Bill. The Government ought to allow time to the railway public to make known their sentiments upon the subject, and they ought to satisfy themselves that the measure would not inflict a great injury upon an important interest, before they refused to postpone its further consideration. In his opinion, the Bill was fraught with great danger, and injury to railway property; and he should therefore conclude by moving that it be read a second time on that day six months.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said, that he was prepared to support the Bill, although it was well known in that House that he did not always approve of the measures propounded by the Government. He felt it to be his duty, as an humble, but independent Member of that House, to give to the Ministry of the present day his general support. He had not, however, felt altogether partial to the measures of the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, and it was well known that he had formerly designated the President of that Board of Trade as the President of a Board of Free Trade. But he should tender his most hearty thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for his introduction of the Bill then before the House. The only fault which he found with the measure was, that it did not apply to existing railways as well as to future railways. He was an advocate for fair play to all. The Railway Companies might, no doubt, say, that they were at all times anxious to consult the public interest; but it was his belief that they were more anxious to put 10 or 15 per cent. in their own pockets. He never travelled by railroad, he hated the very name of a railroad—he hated it as he hated the devil. There was at present a railway in contemplation between the City of London and the city which he had the honour to represent; and if he thought that such a Railway would benefit that City, or the county with which he was connected, or the line of country through which it was to pass, there was no Member of that House who would be more ready to contribute to aid in the undertaking by his labour or by his money. He had a brother who had embarked in the speculation, but who had 516 withdrawn his name from it within the last few days—second thoughts were always best. For his part, he believed—although he might differ upon that point from some excellent friends, of his—that the undertaking would not be for the benefit of the city or of the county with which he was connected; and he would never be ashamed to stand up in that House as an honest man, and state the opinions which he entertained. It was his belief, that railroads were dangerous and delusive speculations. Such schemes were dangerous, delusive, unsatisfactory, and above all, unknown to the constitution of this country. They interfered with the rights of the poor, and attacked private property. He had opposed these railroads upon principle, and upon principle only. He knew that the Bill before the House was unsavoury to the owners and speculators in shares. But why was it so? It was because it would show them up to the public, and would correct them in their evil habits. He called upon them to pass the Bill, and not to postpone it. Delays were dangerous. He was convinced that if the public knew everything connected with railway schemes—movers, speculators, engineers, and solicitors—they would unanimously inveigh against them. After these few humble observations, he should conclude by expressing his cordial support of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. Labouchere
was happy to be able to inform the House that he should, on that occasion, detain them but a very short time. Indeed, he felt that the reasons which had induced the Committee which had sat upon that subject to recommend such a measure as that before the House had been so fully and so ably stated by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and had been so well expressed in the Report of the Committee itself, that under ordinary circumstances he should have contented himself with giving a silent vote in support of the Bill. He was, however, induced to offer a few observations to the House, in consequence of those indications which had lately appeared in the House as well as out of it, of a formidable opposition to a principle which he should have thought so fair and moderate that it would meet with general acquiescence. Now, if he supported that Bill, he should say that he did so with very 517 different views and feelings with regard to the railway interest from those expressed by the hon. and gallant Member who had just sat down. He was persuaded that those Gentlemen who had done him the honour of attending to anything he had said while he had held an official station, or since that period, would acquit him of having ever joined in what he had always thought a cry equally unwise and unworthy against our great railway interest. Although he was wholly unconnected with that interest by any personal considerations, yet as an Englishman and as a Member of that House, he felt obliged to those who had taken on themselves the management of our great Railway Companies, for the admirable manner in which, for the most part, the business of those Companies had been conducted. The Directors of those Companies were among the most respectable and intelligent mercantile men in this country; and he believed that the manner in which those great national works had been conducted reflected honour not only on the Companies, but on the country itself. He therefore trusted that he approached the question rather with feelings for, than prejudice against the railway interest. It was impossible however to conceal the fact, that the anomalous and dangerous position in which the Legislature and the people of this country were placed in reference to railways had become more apparent in each succeeding year. It was in vain to think of applying the common principle of competition to them. It was quite true that when Parliament first legislated in reference to railways, it was expected that they would be like the other means of communication in the country; but anybody who had paid the slightest attention to the case must be aware that this expectation had been entirely frustrated, inasmuch as the railways had virtually and necessarily obtained the monopoly of transit. This they had not certainly by law, but in point of fact they had succeeded in establishing a complete monopoly of the traffic of the country. Now he apprehended there was no man who would not pronounce this a state of things which it became the Legislature to watch with great jealousy. In fact, if he entertained any doubts as to the principle involved in the Bill, it was as to whether it ought not to have been introduced sooner. Suppose they could put themselves in the situation in which they were when these Companies were first established, would any one pretend to say 518 that this complete monopoly of traffic would be granted in the unqualified way in which it at present subsisted? He apprehended no one would venture to mention such an argument; no one would contend that the House would not, under such circumstances, be justified in checking such undoubted evils as at present existed, and preventing those greater mischiefs in prospective, if they could do so with justice. The right hon. President of the Board of Trade had truly stated that the only point; to be decided in voting for the second reading was, whether or no they should place the Legislature in that unfettered position with regard to Companies still in their power, which had applied for Bills during the present Session, or might apply in future Sessions, in which they would desire to be if they could retrace their steps. There were many very important details in the Bill requiring consideration, but to these he would not now advert, deeming the Committee on the Bill a more fitting opportunity to discuss them. It was undoubtedly of great importance, whilst endeavouring to retain this power for the future of reviewing the railway system, not unduly to discourage railway speculation. He should seriously regret being a party to any measure which would have the effect of discouraging the extension of the railway system; but he contended that no such consequences were to be apprehended from this Bill, in which great care was taken in restricting the power conferred by proper guards and limitations. What was the fact? The Legislature would have no power to purchase railways or to revise their tolls unless for three years, he believed, their visible profits had amounted to 10 per cent. ["No, no."] He spoke of the power to revise. It had been said, and with truth, that the people of this country were inclined to view with jealousy their Government undertaking the management of railways. He was fully aware of the weight of that objection. It was, no doubt, very difficult to say, what course might be advisable fifteen years hence, nor did he think it advisable to enter upon the speculation; but he was perfectly ready to admit that it required a strong case to justify the Legislature and the Government in undertaking the purchase and practical management of railways. The whole question was beset with difficulties, and unless they were prepared to stand by with folded arms to see the present state of things become 519 more and more difficult, he asked hon. Members who objected to the Bill, whether they could suggest any other plan less liable to objection? He freely owned that, as far as he could foresee, he regarded this scheme as chiefly valuable on account of the power which it conferred to prevent particular railways from making very great profits by keeping up very high fares, a state of things which their experience might teach them was by no means unlikely to occur. In his opinion the power of revision was more likely to come into operation than that of purchase, although he thought it decidedly necessary to maintain the power of purchase, and for this reason; with the power of revision alone, it would be in the power of Railway Companies, as it would be their interest, to keep down the average of profits during the three years specified by Parliament. The alternative of purchase, however, cut the other way; for Government would be enabled, in the event of their returning small profits, to purchase the railway at a low rate. He was fully aware of the objections against Government undertaking speculations of this kind; but he thought that the evils apprehended from patronage might be done away with by Government leasing the railroads to private persons. Some hon. Gentlemen seemed to apprehend danger from these powers of the Government and the Legislature being exercised unfairly and tyrannically against railway proprietors. All he could say, was, that his own experience had led him to a totally opposite conclusion. He well knew how dangerous it was to meddle with powerful interests; how dangerous it was to meddle with the West-India interests; and how dangerous it was to meddle with the agricultural interests; but of all interests with which any Government would be least likely to deal unfairly the railway interest was the most prominent. Judging from experience, he should be more inclined to apprehend a difficulty in obtaining justice for the public from the preponderance of that interest. He would now say a few words in reference to the opinion expressed as to the propriety of postponing the consideration of the question until next Session, an opinion resting mainly on the volume which was now in the hands of hon. Members. It was, undoubtedly, a very bulky book, and contained a great mass of evidence; but the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, had answered the argument in a very satisfactory manner. 520 The inquiry of the Railway Committee was mainly directed to a very different proposal from that before the House—namely, to a sort of bargain between Parliament and the Railway Companies, to make concessions on receiving equivalents. The question before the House at the present moment rested on the general principles and details with which every one who had paid the slightest attention to railway matters must be perfectly conversant. He should despair of the House being in a condition to take a clearer view of the question next Session; and he would, therefore, give his most cordial assent to the Bill.
§ Viscount Sandon
had come down to the House strongly disposed to coincide with the views of those who urged the postponement of the Bill. He certainly had been influenced in this feeling not a little by the short time which had elapsed since the Report had been in the hands of hon. Members, as well as by the provisions of the seventh Clause, which did certainly convey the same impression to his mind as it had to the minds of many others; and he could not help thinking those hon. Members deserving of a little more respect than had been shown them by the right hon. President of the Board of Trade, who, although he was perfectly able at any time to dispose of any argument in five minutes, had found it necessary to devote two hours to this, and ought, therefore, to have found some excuse for those who from simply reading the Bill had arrived at a different conclusion from the right hon. Gentleman. He knew it was asserted that the Bill only reserved a power to Parliament to take these speculations into their hands if they should at any time think fit. It was, in fact, merely entering an effectual caveat on the part of the Government to the parties about to construct railways. Without expressing any opinion as to the expediency of such a policy as taking railways under their control, he must say, that it was quite unexampled that a Government should propose a whole machinery of eighteen Clauses to carry out a plan on the principles of which the opinion of Parliament, it appeared, was not really asked. What it seemed the right hon. Gentlemen did intend, was, that nothing in any Bill, for authorizing the construction of any railroad should prevent Parliament from hereafter making 521 arrangements, if they thought fit, for the management being taken into their own hands—no opinion being expressed on the policy of such a course; the right hon. Gentleman adding, that if he had merely reserved the power, the uncertainty would have been worse than the actual realization, as, no doubt, might be the case. Still, the reflection occurred that, if this were all that was meant, it was difficult to see what these eighteen Clauses were for. At the same time he felt the difficulty of dealing with the question in any other way than in reading the Bill a second time, understanding that thereby the question was to be considered as wholly untouched whether Parliament should take these concerns into their own hands; at present he thought they ought not. At this time, however, when we were constructing a great many railways, it was important that the power should be reserved; and, in the moral impression as to the absence of any intention on the part of Parliament to purchase was the main thing, probably the declaration of the President of the Board of Trade, and the Report of the Committee, both disavowing that intention, would be sufficient to prevent its being supposed to exist.
§ Mr. M. Philips
could not join the noble Viscount who had just sat down in supporting the second reading. He also was one of those who had put the construction on the 7th Clause, with respect to the proposed interference of Parliament, which had been adopted by so many out of doors. He did not see the propriety of anticipating what might be the course to be adopted by Parliament hereafter; and nothing could induce him to support a measure containing a Clause which created a power placing Parliament in a position to assume these railroads as public property. He could conceive no greater interference with commercial regulations which it had been the boast of this country, to avoid. He could conceive no more fruitful source of jobbing, nor anything more opposite to the spirit and principle by which commercial principle had hitherto been regulated in this country. He regretted that his sense of duty compelled him to oppose this Bill, which contained Clauses which he should be most happy to support; one in particular, a most valuable Clause, which he had taken the liberty of suggesting early in the Session. He must assert his independence of all undue in- 522 fluence on this question. He had received not one single deputation on the subject, nor did he possess any railway property, save of such small amount as he hoped would never serve to bias any vote which he might have to give in that House. He had always made it a rule never to become a shareholder in any railway respecting which he might have to give a vote. What might be the operation of the 7th Clause? The Government of the day might consider it a matter of great importance that a certain railway should become public property, and accordingly ask for the necessary purchase money in the Estimates. The House might refuse its acquiescence, perhaps justly, and the Government might resolve to view their refusal in the light of a vote of want of confidence. The Government had already sufficient power of interference in the Post Office arrangements, and from the disgraceful state in which these were suffered to remain in his district he should feel but little disposed to extend their power. Under these circumstances he felt it his duty to oppose the Bill; for he would no more sanction such interference in these undertakings than he would in the case of any other large mercantile speculation in the country. There was plenty of capital, enterprise, skill, and experience to ensure efficient provision for the public wants.
§ Mr. Parker
objected to the rapidity with which this Bill was hurried forward. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gladstone) had argued, in point of fact, that no transactions or purchases in railways could in future take place without, the consent of Government; but he contended that practically a bargain might be made before the Chancellor of the Exchequer came into the House, there would then be a Treasury whip, and the money would be voted. The right hon. Gentleman had described the Belgian railroads as much better, so far as fares were concerned, than those of this country. Every person, of course, knew that the fares by the railroads in Belgium were very low, for this simple reason, that the Belgian public paid for the roads. The state of things here were however very dissimilar, as they had no occasion to look to the public Exchequer for funds to carry on these great undertakings; there were always plenty of great capitalists ready to come forward with their money. The effect of this Bill 523 would be this—if Railway Companies did not lower their fares, and do as the Government chose, the Government would buy their roads. With respect to the Clause which gave the Government the power of revision, he did not see why they should seek to revise railways in particular. Why should they not, upon the same principle, revise canals and other similar undertakings? He considered that there were great difficulties in this matter, which required serious and mature consideration. The application for postponement he did not, therefore, think at all unreasonable, as the pressing forward such a Bill as this might appear to some to look like a stifling of discussion. He should certainly vote for the Amendment.
§ Mr. Sheil
asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade whether it was intended that the Cashel Railway was to be included in this Bill, as it had already been passed through the House? [Mr. Gladstone: Yes.] The shareholders of the Cashel Railway had had no notice of the Bill—their money was invested without any cognisance of the intention of the Board of Trade, without any cognizance of the intentions of the Legislature. Money had been invested in Ireland in railways without notice that this Bill was to be carried. One of his reasons for objecting to this Bill was, that you would check the spirit of enterprise—the spirit of legitimate speculation—one of the great sources of advantage in this great mercantile and industrial country, and which it was of the utmost importance you should extend to Ireland. He had not the slightest doubt that, if the Bill should pass, you would put a check on railway speculation in Ireland. And see what anomalies you would produce. Every railway in Ireland, except the Dublin Railway, which was only five miles in length, would fall within the operation of this Bill. In this country you had got 2,000 miles of railway that would not fall within the operation of the Bill—2,000 miles of railway falling within the Bill, and the whole of the sister island falling within the Bill! Did it apply to any existing railway? No, it did not. If it did not, you would have the country covered with anomalies. It was a monstrous anomaly—there was to be a vast line of railway passing from the metropolis to Liverpool and Carlisle, which should not fall within the Board of Trade, and 524 that every new railway was to fall under the masterdom with which the Board of Trade was to be invested. The main reason after all was this—you increased the power of the Government—you increased the patronage of the Government; that could not be questioned. You would say that patronage would be well applied. The evils of monopoly were great. There were difficulties in obtaining redress for evils from Companies. Were there no difficulties in obtaining redress from departments of the Government? He had no objection to this Bill as far as the powers of supervision and superintendence were conferred on the Government; he had an objection to an inquisitorial power into the amount of the fiscal resources of every railway. He had no objection to your power of limiting the rate, and above all, of providing for the comfort of the lower orders, which was now neglected; but all these things, wise and munificent in themselves, were compatible with a measure utterly distinct from the present. Why was it you wished to establish a principle founded upon Continental practice and Continental acts? Why did you want to introduce what you must admit was an innovation, and unsustained by precedent or example of any kind? Where was there any example in the whole of the mercantile institutions of this country corresponding in the slightest degree, bearing the slightest similitude, touching in any one point of aualogy the Bill introduced by the President of the Board of Trade? He was afraid of augmenting patronage. The Board of Trade was very near the Treasury. The hon. Member for Cavan might convey a significant whisper to the right hon. Baronet. But this matter ought not to be treated with levity. It was obvious the patronage of the Crown would be increased, and that he thought a substantial reason for opposing the second reading.
§ Mr. Cardwell
was desirous of stating to the House some of the reasons which influenced him in supporting the Bill and would do so as shortly and plainly as he could. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sheil) had asked a single question, and he would give him two answers, either of which would be perfectly satisfactory. The right hon. Gentleman had asked, with a view of founding upon it an argument against the Bill, whether it would apply to the Dublin and Cashel 525 Railway. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman was interested in that railway. He (Mr. Cardwell) was, and he had felt great pleasure, upon public grounds, in putting his hand to a deed which he considered to be a great first step towards the internal and social improvement of Ireland. But the promoters of the Cashel Railway had not yet succeeded in getting that measure through Parliament and if they did not like the terms imposed by Parliament, it was open to them at any moment to retire. They were, therefore, the last people in the world who could reasonably complain of the provisions of this Bill. But he had another and an equally conclusive answer, The right hon. Gentleman, who had no interest in that measure, and he supposed had not looked very closely into its prospects, had said the promoters might be disappointed by this Bill in their anticipations of a profit of 15 or 20 per cent. If the right hon. Gentleman had looked at their advertisement in the newspapers he would have seen that the inducement offered to the public was a prospect of 9 per cent. So that while the right hon. Gentleman was complaining of a limitation of 10 per cent. as a clog and check upon enterprise, the adventurers themselves were holding out the possibility of only 9 per cent. as a temptation to the world to speculate. He could not help observing that the opposition to this measure had been very much diminished when they came fairly to grapple with its principles; the phalanx was stronger in numbers in the early part of the evening than it had shown itself at a later period in reason and in argument. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had expressed his doubts whether Railway Companies had souls; and a great master of language had once said, "public companies have no bodies to be kicked in this world," and had gone on to intimate that they had no souls to be subject in the next to a process which it might not, perhaps, be perfectly Parliamentary to mention. But without referring to this extreme penalty he might be permitted to adopt the language of a great lawyer, who in writing a Digest of the Law and in distinguishing of a Corporation, what might, and what might not be done, had said, "Nor can it be excommunicated, for it has no conscience." But, notwithstanding these high authorities, he begged to assure the 526 right hon, Gentleman that Railway Company after all had souls, and that precisely the soul which lay buried in the tomb of Pedro Garcia was the soul which every Railway Company possessed. Now, he referred to these matters not merely by way of passing amusement, but as an individual interested in these great undertakings, he believed them to be important on public grounds, and he felt assured that if they sustained any detriment from this Bill or from these discussions, it would be occasioned by their presenting themselves to the public in the selfish attitude of rash and indiscriminate opposition. The hon. Member for Manchester objected to the introduction of a new principle; and wished that what was done with other interests of British enterprise should be done with railways, that they should be left to their own strength and to their own resources, without protection and without control. Now all this sounded extremely well; they left trade to its own resources, and they did so wisely, but why? Because they had in the natural proportions of supply and demand, a better security than any they could devise by legislation against practical mischiefs. If all the shoemakers in London should combine it would be open to any trader from Northampton to enter the field, by offering the public fairer terms, he would secure their favour to himself, and the power of the combination would be broken. And if the combination embraced him, the same course was open to another, and so toties quoties. Under circumstances like these combination was impossible, and trade, like water, being unlimited, would always find its own level. Competition then was the ultima ratio to which, in dealing with questions of trade, the appeal was always made. But were these the circumstances of railways? Did the ultima ratio of competition apply to them? No sooner was a new railway made, competing with an old one, than the two lines combined. If he were justified in trespassing on the attention of the House, he could adduce many remarkable and even ludicrous instances of combination between rival railways. If that was so, was it possible to break down the combination by the successive formation of new lines? And if that were impossible, was the pub-lie to have no protection? He stood, in that House, to the extent to which he was interested in railways, by nature and by 527 necessity a monopolist; and he was deeply impressed with the conviction that the public of this country would watch with vigilance and jealousy everything that savoured of monopoly. The danger in these days was, lest these feelings on the part of the public should be excited to an undue extent; lest in the general dislike of monopolies the claims which a particular interest might prefer upon public grounds should not be regarded with due indulgence. If the railways were rash enough to plunge into a conflict with the British public, they might succeed at first; they would organize a strong opposition like that which had exhibited itself to-night; but in the long run the the public would assuredly prevail; and as the Companies began by asking more than justice, they would end by getting less. But let the House observe what had been already done. What was their protection now? No man thought of making a law to regulate the price of shoes. But they did regulate by law the price of railway fares. No Railway Bill had passed the House without containing the limit of 3d. per mile as the maximum of charge. They had admitted the principle, and now when it was endeavoured to adapt its application to the ever varying circumstances of the case, they turned round and assailed the principle. All railways were made, if they ought to be made at all, and one important object of this Bill was to discourage speculative schemes, in the expectation that they would pay upon the existing traffic, Now it was well known that traffic very greatly increased with lapse of time, while the expenses of working the line did not increase. There would be, therefore, if the original tariff were maintained, an increasing and very soon a disproportionate profit. And here the public claimed, and rightly claimed, to share. The public was not disposed to deal hardly with the Railway Companies. They remembered the time when the late Mr. Harrison was proving to a Committee of that House that locomotive engines could not possibly be made to travel more than four miles in the hour against a high wind or a heavy storm of rain. The public knew the risks that had been run, and appreciated the exertions that had been made. They were willing to deal generously with the Companies, who ought to be satisfied and thankful to close with liberal terms when liberal terms were offered. Nearly all 528 the opposition came from the old railways to which the Bill did not apply; and the reasons they gave was, that if it passed they would be obliged to come in to its arrangements. And why? Because if it worked well they would find it to their interest to come in. All that the Government asked by this Bill was a reasonable concession to a part of our fellow subjects, for whose comfort and well-being the House was bound to feel the utmost consideration and regard. The Bill gave to the railways in return a substantial and a great advantage. The tendency of the Bill was to give to railway property far greater stability in the market, because it would discourage his over speculation in competing lines. Let any one look back upon the last six months. At any time during that period it wanted only a scheming engineer, a speculating attorney, and a map of England, to get up a competing railway. The new line was advertized, and the original property to the amount, perhaps, of six or seven millions, was immediately depreciated in the market. The Bill would prevent gambling and put down reckless speculation, and the right hon. Gentleman who brought it forward would hereafter reflect with satisfaction that he had taken timely measures for combining the successful employment of private capital in domestic enterprise with salutary provision for the Government and the Legislature and for that interest which the Government and the Legislature represented in this matter, the welfare of the community at large.
§ Mr. F. T. Baring
said, after the language used by right hon. Gentlemen on the other side relative to the postponement of the Bill till another Session, he felt bound to say that he had no connection with any railway, and he had not been canvassed by any one, therefore, the opinion he had formed was from the Bill itself. Although it had been called a shallow and miserable proposition, still he was of opinion that a measure of so much importance ought not to have been brought in so late, and ought not so to be pressed in the present Session, and might very fairly be postponed. It was a Bill of the utmost importance—it would regulate railway matters for years, and time had not been given for a full consideration of the immense mass of evidence which the Committee had reported. The right hon. Gentleman had said the Bill was founded upon 529 the third Report of the Railway Committee which had been in the hands of Members for three months. Now, if that were so, why was not the Bill introduced before? if that were so, it was not fair to complain of those who found fault with the measure being pressed so late in the Session. In former times if he had brought in anything, even a proposition in a Customs Bill to alter the regulations respecting muscles about the middle of July, he should have been met with the strongest protest, and have met with the strongest complaints for having delayed so important a proposition to so late a period of the Session. But what was the principle of the Bill—it looked forward to the regulation of railways for fifteen years, or the purchase of them when they paid 10 per cent. Now these were called the principles of common sense, but he was not prepared to agree in them without having an opportunity of considering the evidence. He would have preferred leaving all railways to be worked by the respective companies under the control of the Government, but he strongly objected to making the Government monopolist railway proprietors. He acknowledged the power of the Legislature over all railways, both old and new, but their legislation respecting them ought to be confined to what was necessary for the public wants; he could not understand legislating for futurity, nor did he like to agree to an Act of Parliament to come into operation in fifteen years. How did they propose to carry their scheme into operation? The right hon. Gentleman said, it was an experiment for the purpose of reducing railway rates, but in order to carry it out, they must become the proprietors of a whole nest of railways. Should they buy up ten railways, and in any one of those districts there should happen to be an old railway, they would have no power of interfering with it, and it would prevent them from carrying out their experiment. The right hon. Gentleman alluded to the expense of travelling by railway, but there was nothing in this Bill to remedy it. All the great practical grievances of railways were left untouched by this Bill. He did not see anything in the Bill which now or hereafter could do any practical good. He admitted that there were many grievances connected with railways, but they should show that the remedy they proposed would cure the evil; and he had 530 heard nothing from Gentlemen on the other side, except simple assertion, that there was anything in this Bill which would remedy the grievances under which the people were suffering, or supposed they were suffering. He therefore wished that it should be postponed, and thought that at this late period of the Session it ought not to have been introduced. If he should be compelled at the present moment to vote upon it, he should certainly vote against it.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 53; Noes 173: Majority 120.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Howard, hn. C. W. G.|
|Baring, rt. hn. F. T.||Mangles, R. D.|
|Barnard, E. G.||Martin, J.|
|Berkeley, hon. Capt.||Morris, D.|
|Berkeley, hon. H. F.||Muntz, G. F.|
|Bernal, R.||Ogle, S. C. H.|
|Bouverie, hon. E. P.||Parker, J.|
|Bright, J.||Pechell, Capt.|
|Clive, E. B.||Plumridge, Capt.|
|Colebrooke, Sir T. E.||Ponsonby, hn. C. F. A. C|
|Divett, E.||Protheroe, E.|
|Duncan, Visct.||Pulsford, R.|
|Duncan, G.||Ross, D. R.|
|Dundas, hon. J. C.||Russell, C.|
|Dundas, D.||Scott, R.|
|Easthope, Sir J.||Seale, Sir J. H.|
|Ebrington, Visct.||Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.|
|Ellis, W.||Smith, J. A.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.||Thornely, T.|
|Evans, W.||Tuffnell, H.|
|Gibson, T. M.||Ward, H. G.|
|Gill, T.||Wawn, J. T.|
|Hastie, A.||Williams, W.|
|Hawes, B.||Wilshere, W.|
|Hayter, W. G.||Yorke, H. R.|
|Hill, Lord M.||TELLERS.|
|Hindley, C.||Gisborne, T.|
|Holland, R.||Brotherton, J.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Ackers, J.||Bellew, R. M.|
|Acland, T. D.||Blackburne, J. I.|
|A'Court, Capt.||Boldero, H. G.|
|Adderley, C. B.||Botfield, B.|
|Ainsworth, P.||Bowes, J.|
|Aldam, W.||Bowles, Adm.|
|Allix, J. P.||Broadley, H.|
|Archbold, R.||Browne, hon. W.|
|Arkwright, G.||Bruce, Lord E.|
|Astell, W.||Buck, L. W.|
|Bailey, J.,||Bunbury, T.|
|Baillie, Col.||Burroughes, H. N.|
|Bannerman, A.||Cardwell, E.|
|Barclay, D.||Cavendish, hn. G. H.|
|Baring, hon. W. B.||Chapman, B.|
|Barrington, Visct.||Chute, W. L. W.|
|Clerk, Sir G.||Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.|
|Clive, Visct.||Knight, H. G.|
|Clive, hon. R. H.||Layard, Capt.|
|Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.||Lefroy, A.|
|Colborne, hn. W. N. R.||Lemon, Sir C.|
|Cole, hon. H. A.||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Collett, J.||Lincoln, Earl of|
|Corry, rt. hon. H.||Lockhart, W.|
|Courtenay, Lord||Lowther, hon. Col.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Lygon, hon. Gen.|
|Cripps, W.||M'Geachy, F. A.|
|Damer, hon. Col.||M'Neill, D.|
|Denison, W. J.||March, Earl of|
|Denison, J. E.||Marshall, W.|
|Denison, E. B.||Marsham, Visct.|
|Dickinson, F. H.||Martin, C. W.|
|Douglas, Sir C. E.||Masterman, J.|
|Dowdeswell, W.||Mildmay, H. St. J.|
|Duncombe, hon. O.||Mitcalfe, H.|
|Egerton, W. T.||Mitchell, T. A.|
|Eliot, Lord||Mordaunt, Sir J.|
|Entwisle, W.||Morgan, O.|
|Escott, B.||Morison, Gen.|
|Estcourt, T. G. B.||Mundy, E.|
|Feilden, W.||Neeld, J.|
|Ferguson, Col.||Nicholl, rt. hon. J.|
|Fitzroy, hon. H.||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Flower, Sir J.||O'Conor, Don|
|Forbes, W.||Packe, C. W.|
|Forman, T. S.||Patten, J. W.|
|Forster, M.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Fox, C. R.||Peel, J.|
|Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T.||Phillips, G. R.|
|Fuller, A. E.||Philips, M.|
|Gardner, J. D.||Powell, Col.|
|Gaskell, J. Milnes||Power, J.|
|Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E.||Pringle, A.|
|Gladstone, Capt.||Pusey, P.|
|Godson, R.||Rice, E. R.|
|Gordon, hon. Capt.||Rolleston, Col.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Round, C. G.|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Round, J.|
|Greene, T.||Rous, hon. Capt.|
|Grogan, E.||Rushbrooke, Col.|
|Hayes, Sir E.||Sandon, Visct.|
|Heathcoat, J.||Seymour, Lord|
|Henley, J. W.||Seymour, Sir H. B.|
|Henniker, Lord||Shaw, rt. hon. F.|
|Hepburn, Sir T. B.||Sibthorp, Col.|
|Herbert, hon. S.||Smith, rt. hon. R. V.|
|Hinde, J. H.||Somerset, Lord G.|
|Hodgson, R.||Somerville, Sir W. M.|
|Holmes, hn. W. A. C.||Stanley, Lord|
|Hope, hon. C.||Stuart, W. V.|
|Hope, A.||Stuart, H.|
|Hope, G. W.||Strutt, E.|
|Hornby, J.||Sturt, H. C.|
|Horsman, E.||Suttos, hon. H. M.|
|Howard, hon. J. K.||Talbot, C. R. M.|
|Howard, hn. E. G. G.||Thesiger, Sir F.|
|Howard, P. H.||Thompson, Mr. Ald.|
|Ingestre, Visct.||Trench, Sir F. W.|
|Jermyn, Earl||Trollope, Sir J.|
|Jocelyn, Visct.||Trotter, J.|
|Johnstone, Sir J.||Vane, Lord H.|
|Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.||Verner, Col.|
|Jones, Capt.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Vivian, J. E.||Wortley, hn. J. S.|
|Waddington, H. S.||Wortley, hn. J. S.|
|Wallace, R.||Young, J.|
|Warburton, H.||Baring, E.|
§ Question again put.
Mr. C. Bindley
contended, that it was impossible at this late period of the Session to give a Bill of such importance the consideration which it deserved.
§ Sir R. Peel
was exceedingly sorry that hon. Gentlemen had not deferred to the sense of the very large majority who had pronounced against the adjournment of the debate. The opinion of the House as to the propriety of closing the debate tonight had been expressed by a majority of 173 to 53. He knew it was in the power of hon. Gentlemen, if they chose to exercise that power, to prevent the House coming to a decision to-night; but, he thought it was a very bad practice, and a practice that was quite indefensible upon this occasion. There appeared to be no desire whatever at an early period of the evening to continue the debate, and the House by a large majority had shown an indisposition to adjourn it. However, if a minority were determined to persevere in Motions for adjournment, he knew perfectly well what must be the result. His earnest wish was, that the House should come to a decision to-night, but he could not undertake to sit here contesting Motions for adjournment.
§ Debate adjourned to Thursday.
§ House adjourned at half-past one o'clock.