HC Deb 15 March 1844 vol 73 cc1069-71
Mr. Wallace,

in accordance with the notice he had given, rose to inquire of the right hon. the President of the Board of Trade: 1. Whether the proceedings of the Committee on Railways will show the House, by evidence or calculation, the average cost per mile at which passengers, goods, live stock, &c., may be conveyed in future on new lines of Railway, with a reasonable profit to the Company and justice to the people. 2. Whether evidence will be taken to show the present cost of conveying Her Majesty's Mails by Railway: and the cost at which these might be carried, were the Postmaster-General to send the Mail bags as luggage or goods, along with a guard in charge of them. 3. Whether evidence will be taken to determine, if the Postmaster-General were to provide an establishment of engines for conveying the Mails along Railways, together with carriages for passengers, as has been recommended in the sixth Resolution in the first Report to this House on Railways, which was printed March 28, 1838, there would be any difficulties made, or obstructions thrown in the way by the Directors of the great Railway lines having their termini near London, to the Postmaster-General following out the aforesaid recommendation. 4. Whether evidence will be taken to show why a Clause should not be inserted in each Railway Bill now before Parliament, empowering the Postmaster-General to command that passenger carriages shall be attached to every special train which he may require for the public service, with a view to lessen the charge which special trains cost the Post-Office department, when sent without passen- gers. 5. Whether it is intended, with a view to economy and regularity in the conveyance of Her Majesty's Mails, to take evidence to show the detriment to the public service, and to the interest of the nation generally, which may arise from Railway Companies having the power longer continued, through by-laws or otherwise, to interrupt or altogether stop the traffic on Sundays. 6. Whether for the information of the public generally, and the Railway department of the Board of Trade especially, it has not become requisite to take evidence to show that all Railway Companies shall periodically in future, furnish to the Board of Trade a debtor and creditor account, drawn out on a simple but uniform plan, of their half yearly receipts and expenditure. His object was to obtain some information as to what was going on before the Committee up stairs.

Mr. Gladstone

was aware of the anxiety which existed upon the subject; but was sorry that the rules of the House, as well as the convenience of the Select Committee themselves, did not permit a disclosure of their proceedings, while those proceedings were still going on. He could only, therefore, answer the hon. Gentleman's questions generally. If, however, it was consistent with the rules of the House to refer to what was doing in the Committee, he did not think their proceedings were likely to supply any answer to the hon. Gentleman's inquiries. That Committee was appointed not to examine all particulars in respect to the management of Railways, but to consider what amendments might be made in the Standing Orders, and what general arrangements and rules might be adopted for the public convenience, as between the Parliament and the Railway Companies. Now, with regard to the first question of the hon. Gentleman, it was not possible for the Select Committee to give the average cost per mile at which passengers, goods, live stock, &c., might be conveyed on future lines of Railway with a profit to the Company, because there was no general standard upon which such an average could be fixed on new or old lines of railway. The cost per mile at which the Company could be fairly remunerated must depend upon the particular circumstances of the line. Then as to the second and third questions, which referred to the Post Office Department, those were rather matters for the consideration of a Committee on that department than for a Railway Committee. The Committee on Railways had received the representations of the departments of the public service interested in the question, so far as the Post Office was concerned, and it was not likely that they would go further than that department of the Government might urge upon them. The fifth question fell under the same category:—whether it was intended, with a view to economy and regularity in the conveyance of Her Majesty's mails, to take evidence as to the detriment to the public service and to the nation resulting from Railway Companies having the power to stop the Sunday traffic? He could not say that the Committee had any such intention, and, so far as his own opinion went, he should be sorry, where there was any disposition on the part of the Railway Companies to make such regulations, for the House to interfere to prevent them. Then the hon. Gentleman asked him if it was not desirable that Railway Companies should furnish periodically a debtor and creditor account to the Board of Trade of their expenditure and receipts made up half-yearly? His answer to that question was, that he did not think it had become desirable that any such regulation should be made. Parliament had not yet adopted, nor was it likely to adopt, the principle that any public supervision of the amount of profits which parties who had embarked capital on the faith of Acts of Parliament were realising; so far as public opinion went, he thought the system of publicity which was now given to all matters of railway account was sufficient, and gave general satisfaction.