§ Mr. Wallace
, in bringing forward the Motion of which he had given notice, said he had no personal reflections to cast on the Board of Trade. He had always been received with courtesy by the late President, and the present noble Lord who presided over that Board, and they had afforded him every information which he desired. He felt that the subject to which he was now about to call the attention of the House, was more important even than the matters which would be referred to in the financial statement on Friday. The question was, whether the people of this country, being subjected to a network of railways, would admit of a most dangerous monopoly in the management of them. He should establish by statistics, as far as he could, the truth of the statements which he submitted. He first maintained that by means of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, that Board had arrogated to itself an enormous amount of business which properly belonged to that House. In fact, the Board of Trade was not qualified for the superintendence of railways: its more legitimate duties were to watch over and protect our commercial intercourse with foreign states, and to see that our commercial and trading relations with them were duly carried out. He had voted last year for the Railway Bill, but he had done so in the hope of being able, at some future day, to open up the whole question, and to do away, as far as practicable, with the monopolies under which the public suffered. He believed that nineteen-twentieths of the people of this country would say that they ought to be relieved from the oppression, loss of health, and destruction of property which resulted from the effect of the present system of railroad management. An important document had been given him by the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade. That document contained a list of all the companies which had given notice to the 247 Board of Trade of their intention to come before the House. It came down to the 8th of February, 1845, and from that it appeared that the applications for new lines, extensions, branches, &c., amounted altogether to 248. Of these eighty-two were new lines, extension lines fifty, branch lines sixty-eight, and junction forty-eight. Now, one ground of his objection to the system of the Board was, that it discouraged many projects of branch extension and new lines, which if allowed to be carried out would be productive of great benefit to the public. But the Railway Board had gone in a contrary direction to what the interests of the country required. They were not sanctioning new lines of railway, as would be seen from the Papers to be laid on the Table of the House. Though he could not speak to the reasons, the fact was that they were discouraging competition, and thus depriving the people of this country of a free trade in railway conveyance, without which they must virtually become the slaves of the railway directors of Great Britain and Ireland. It was objected that competition was an extremely difficult thing to secure as to railways. He had gone through the Reports of the various Railway Committees of that House. The first Committee was appointed in November, 1837, on a Motion of his own, in which he was supported by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, from which time to the present a Committee on railways had been appointed every year. In 1837, only two persons were nominated as Members who had any interest in railways — a director and shareholder. In 1840 the number of persons interested in railways belonging to the Committee was increased to three. But in the year 1844 the right hon. Gentleman then President of the Board of Trade, proposed to the House a list containing no less than twelve persons, who were either directors or shareholders in railways. The House, as well as the country, would, of course, judge whether that Committee was what he (Mr. Wallace) termed it at the time, a one-sided Committee, or a fair and just Committee, fitted to take into consideration and deal with such vast and important interests. He termed it at the time, a one-sided Committee; he did so now. He maintained that the resolutions and proceedings of that Committee were utterly unworthy of the respect which had been paid them. From that time forward he believed the most perfect distrust had been felt by the country at large in the Reports 248 of that Committee. There were in the third Report extremely good principles laid down; most excellent facts were alleged as to the dangers of monopoly, and of the evils of extending the powers of railway companies, so as to enable them to override and overthrow the privileges of the people. But these all disappeared when the fifth Report was published. The fifth Report recommended not that the Railway Board should form part of the Board of Trade, but should be an addition to it. If the Report were looked into, the House would find in it a premeditated scheme for conveying to the Board of Trade the right of deciding on railway schemes. One of its most mischievous recommendations, in his opinion, was that suggesting the publication of the decisions of the Board. It was entirely owing to these being published in the Gazette that all the conflicting injustice, speculation, and gambling in shares had taken place. He blamed those who had instructed the Board of Trade to take that course, and not that body itself. It was of great importance to the people that they should know at what rate passengers and goods could be conveyed on railways. He begged to submit a statement on those points, which he hoped would have great influence in inducing hon. Members to give him their support in repealing the law passed last Session, and thus doing justice to the people of England. It was a table of rates of speed and fares charged on the railway between the city of Edinburgh and the town of Glasgow. From this it appeared that passengers were conveyed over the intermediate distance of forty-six miles, by the first-class carriages, at a rate of twenty-seven miles an hour, in one hour and fifty-minutes, for 8s., or about 2d. a mile; by the second-class carriages, at the same rate of speed, for 6s., or 1½d. a mile; by the third-class, No. 1, at the same rate, for 4s., or 1d. a mile; by the third-class, No. 2, at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, in two hours and forty-five minutes for 2s. 6d., or two-thirds of a penny per mile; by the fourth-class carriages, at the same speed, for 1s. 6d., or four-fifths of a penny per mile. The arrangements for the conveyance of passengers were of the most complete and satisfactory kind, and the carriages were excellently fitted up. He begged the House would not suppose that he thought his countrymen had any greater humanity or good feeling towards the poorer classes than was to be found in England; they did not care one straw about 249 them when their own pockets were concerned. Money was the object in both cases, and when the railway directors could, they did precisely as the First Lord of the Treasury did—screw out if their passengers all they could. On the railway from Glasgow to Greenock, passengers were conveyed by the first-class trains, a distance of twenty-three miles, at a rate of nearly thirty miles an hour—in fifty minutes—for 2s. 6d., or 4¼d. a mile; by the second-class trains, at the same speed, for 1s. 6d., or ¾d. a mile; by the third-class trains, at the same speed, for 1s., or ½d. a mile; by the fourth-class trains, at seventeen miles an hour, for 6d., or ¼d. a mile. Thus working men were enabled to go between these towns in fifty minutes for 1s., and when they had leisure, for less money. He hoped the House would perceive from these instances, that railway traffic might be carried on at a cheap rate with perfect security and comfort, for on these railways the carriages were superior to those on most of the English lines. From Edinburgh on the east coast of Scotland, to Greenock on the west coast, between the German Ocean and the Atlantic, a distance of sixty-nine miles, first-class passengers were conveyed for 10s. 6d, second-class passengers for 7s. 6d., third-class passengers for 5s., third. No. 2, passengers for 3s. 6d., fourth-class passengers for 2s. So that sailors or any other working men, travelling in search of employment, might pass from one side of Scotland to the other at the cost of only 2s. for sixty-nine miles, or about one farthing and a half per mile, at a rate of sixteen miles an hour; and if Her Majesty should be pleased to visit Scotland next summer, she would be enabled to travel from sea to sea in two hours and fifty minutes for 10s. 6d. He would just state to the House the difference that existed in the fares between Edinburgh and Greenock, and those between Bristol and Exeter. By the Edinburgh line the first-class fare was 10s. 6d., but on the Exeter line it was 17s. The second-class on the Edinburgh line was 7s. 6d., and on the Exeter line 11s. 9d. By the third-class in Scotland the charge was 5s., and on the Exeter line it was 5s. 9d., but upon this line they had no third class, No. 2, or any fourth class at all Besides the penny a mile in England only occurred in one train a-day, and he would make a statement which he believed could be verified, though he would be glad if any hon. Gentleman could contradict him, that the third-class carriages were attached only to such trains as started at the most inconvenient 250 periods for the working classes: he believed that it was impossible for them to leave London by the trains at 1d. per mile and to return the same day, so that they were often forced to go by second-class carriages, that they might return the same day; in fact, part of the plan was, if the passengers had any money at all, to drive them from the third and fourth classes into the first and second, owing to the inconvenient hours at which the trains started. This was a grave charge to make, but he believed it to be perfectly true, knowing the fact that they so arranged the trains that the work-people could not go and return the same day. It seemed the decided aim of the directors and shareholders to inflict all the evils they could on the public. In the Railway Times of the 16th December, 1843, it was expressly stated that link was being added to link till the whole of the railroads would form five or six arteries, and that nothing could injure the capital invested in existing railways except competition. The proprietors were therefore urged to combine together to give their property that fixed and stationary value which so large an investment of capital demanded, to do which they had only to act on one principle of railway conservatism. This competition, of which the Railway Proprietors were so much afraid, was the only mode left to the people of this country for having a proper power of travelling from one part of the country to the other. He begged to suggest that this competition might be obtained in more ways than one. In the first place, one railway might be run in the same direction as another; and, for himself, he begged to intimate distinctly that he would invariably give his support to railways which were new lines and which were competing lines. He preferred new lines to those which were only a continuance of old Acts, and an extension of the present monopoly. He was not unaware that companies might agree amongst themselves, and so upset any competition, as they had frequently done already; but if the House would set about it he had no doubt they would soon put an end to the amalgamation and joining of railway directors, whether within the city of London or elsewhere. The House had only to provide that the railways should have no power of amalgamation without the sanction of Parliament. Another way of producing competition was open to the House at that moment. There were several railways proposing to go in the same direction; let these be obliged to offer tenders 251 of accommodation, and say which would carry the people at the greatest speed, and at the lowest rate of fares. If this were not done, the people might be squeezed by the iron grasp of the railway directors. In the two counties with which he was connected, the counties of Ayr and Renfrew, there was a railroad connecting Glasgow, the town of Ayr, and the seaport towns of Troon and Ardrossan. The directors charged a greater sum for goods going to the port of which the Earl of Eglintoun was owner, than to the port of which Lord Portman was owner. The Earl of Eglintoun, with great good sense and much tact, having discovered that he could make a railroad to his own harbour for the conveyance of minerals, independently of the existing company, employed agents to buy the land necessary for that purpose, and then he and Lord Glasgow gave notice to the directors that they would make a railroad alongside the other railway; they got their flags and were in readiness to proceed, and then the railroad directors came to their senses and said, "We will do what you please; say what you want, and down shall come the fares." So that there were three ways by which competition could be obtained; and if no one voted against him except those not interested in railways, he was sure to carry his Motion. In the Notice he had given he had alluded to the evidence given before the Committee last year as to the small charge at which passengers could be conveyed by railroads, and now he would refer to the estimates given in a pamphlet entitled Railway Reform, published without the name of the author; but that Gentleman, whose name was Galt, had called upon him, and had made the following calculations from the Reports of the different railway directors to their constituents of what was sufficient for the conveyance of passengers. The rate of speed he took at the average of eighteen or twenty miles an hour, and he calculated that first-class passengers might be conveyed twenty-five miles for 3d., second-class passengers for 2d., and third-class for 1d. Now, Mr. Laing, of the Board of Trade, stated in a Report given by him to the Board, taking the same basis of calculation, that passengers could be conveyed 100 miles for 1s. 7d. each; this included the whole expenses of management for all classes; but, dividing them, he calculated that a first-class passenger could be conveyed 100 miles for 2s. 8d., a second-class for 1s. 3d., and a third-class for 10d. Had there been any contradiction 252 given to that statement? He had seen none; hon. Members might disbelieve it, but had it been contradicted? He believed that the Board of Trade would have done well if they had occupied themselves in a very different manner than in making these Reports. When the Resolutions were passed last year he had believed that a different course would have been taken by them; he had thought that they would not have decided upon railroads, and he now hoped that there would be more independence in the House than to bow implicitly to their decisions. Among other matters, the Board of Trade would have been well occupied if they had considered whether minerals should be carried on the same line of railway as passengers; in his opinion the carriage of minerals and of passengers should be separated; at any rate, they should not be carried on a line near such a town as London, and where the population was large. Nothing could induce Railroad Companies to incur so much danger, except the pursuit of the one object of turning a penny, common to all Railway Companies. Large masses of minerals were at present conveyed over some lines, and this, he thought, was extremely objectionable, because it made railway travelling inconvenient, and not unfrequently endangered the lives of passengers. Now, he thought railways running through populous districts, or coming to such places as London, ought to be excluded from carrying goods of a heavy description. He did not object to the carriage of light goods or luggage; but it was exceedingly unwise and inconvenient that coals or other produce of mines should be suffered to pass over the same line as immense numbers of passengers. Again, he should have thought the Board of Trade would have been well employed in considering whether the railways should not be carried into the towns they now approached. As it was, they stopped just where the heavy expense began, to the great inconvenience of the public. Indeed, he believed the common-place talk of the directors, when fault was found, was, "We are only the servants of the railroad proprietors; we can do nothing ourselves to help the public; if the people are smashed, we cannot help it, we can only act for the shareholders." He had always looked upon railways as public property; but the companies with which he was acquainted had conducted them merely as private speculations. Now, a railway was most certainly public property, and public property, too, of an important character, 253 and ought to command the increased attention and vigilance of the Legislature. No sooner, however, did a company obtain its Bill, than the comfort or convenience of the public was neglected, and nothing thought of but what was termed "turning a penny." Now this, every body must admit, ought to be well looked after by the Legislature; for companies would then not be suffered to take an undue advantage of the public when they found out there was no other means of conveyance but their particular railway. He would say that, in justice and common sense, the country ought to insist on that competition which they had a right to demand, and which they might have had at first. He stated boldly, that the companies had allowed no opportunity to pass of overreaching the public; they had overreached him, and he was not ashamed to say so, although he was sorry for it. The volume which he held in his hand contained the Report of the Committee of last Session, and other important matters relating to railways; and as there were 248 railway projects coming before the House, that book would be exceedingly useful, and he was very glad to see that it had been printed. Competition was not altogether new in railways. It had been tried, and with every success, by running the same trains and engines on different lines. Perhaps it might not be known to many Members of that House that the Grand Junction and the Birmingham Railway Companies had agreed to allow each other's carriages to run over both lines. No inconvenience had arisen from this arrangement, either to the companies or the public. The House had an example by which the public could be greatly benefited. That proposal was not new to the House of Commons. He held in his hand a Bill which was brought in on the 13th of June, 1836, by the hon. Member for Inverness. This was for a revision of the tolls, and it was received with great favour in the House. A promise was given that the attention of the Government would be directed to the subject; but since then it had been put off from time to time upon various pretexts. In the year 1837, a Committee was appointed to inquire into the subject, and in consequence of its recommendation a Bill was brought in by persons who were then in as high places as those were who introduced the Bill of last year. He believed that Bill was brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton. There was a clause in that Bill of very material moment, and had 254 the Government not abandoned their own proposal, they would have a different state of things at that moment. What it proposed was, that an experimental set of railway carriages should be constructed and placed under the management of the Post Office, so that it might be ascertained with certainty what was the cost, the rate of rapidity of the carriages, and the best mode of conveying goods and passengers, an allowance proportioned to the number of carriages being made to the Railway Proprietors. What had been done by the Act of last Session? That Act bound them to protect for twenty-one years all the monopolies which already existed, making no allowance for the increase of population, which could not in that period be much less than seven or eight millions. Nothing could be more absurd than to allow railway companies to go on upon the present system for so long a time. He held in his hand letters from various people, which he had received since he gave notice of his Motion. All of them complained of the first-class carriages, though, if possible, still more of the second. He could not but think the neglect of the House to make some provision with respect to second-class carriages had been a very serious omission. He insisted that they had a perfect right to see that no causes should be allowed to operate which could be injurious to the health and safety of the people. He asserted, without hesitation, that there were no class of carriages so injurious to the health of the people as the second-class carriages, as they were now fitted up. He believed that more diseases and more illness had been created by the defects of these carriages than by those of all the other modes of conveyance. He had, however, letters from various quarters complaining also of the inefficiency of third-class carriages. It was alleged that the provisons of the Act had not yet been fulfilled, and that even if they were, though the effect might be beneficial in winter, such carriages would be intolerable in summer. Another complaint was, that they had only provided one train each day at 1d. per mile. One of the letters he had received was dated yesterday, from Birmingham, and it was signed "Thomas Johnson." The writer stated, that on the 5th of January, he travelled in one of the third-class carriages on the London and Birmingham line. They were covered in, and he found them comfortable. On the 23rd of January, he left London in a second-class carriage on the Great Western, which he found open at the side, and inferior 255 in comfort to the third-class upon the London and Birmingham line; the next day he took his place in a second-class carriage, which he found similar to the third-class, and miserably cold. The Grand Junction third-class carriages were most uncomfortable, the top being supported by iron stancheons, and, no divisions being made in the carnages, people were half frozen in them, in consequence of their exposure to the cold air. Another gentleman, writing from London, and signing his name "R. Kirkman Lane," made similar representations, and recommended that third-class carriages should be attached to trains at least twice a-day, morning and evening, so as to enable the poor man, whose time was his only property, to make his journey and back the same day, and in the same time, as the second-class passenger. The hon. Member then presented two petitions, one of them was from the inhabitants of Hastings, and the other from a very numerous and neglected body of the working classes throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland — the Chartists—who, in a distinct and well-arranged petition, represented that their time, health, and safety ought not to be sacrificed for the purpose of putting money into the pockets of the railway proprietors. The hon. Member concluded by thanking the House for their indulgence, and by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the Act of last Session, 7th and 8th of Vic, c. 85, commonly called the Railway Act.
§ Mr. Ewart
felt the importance of every subject connected with the railway system, but he could not agree to the Motion of his hon. Friend. His hon. Friend began by referring to the constitution of the Board of Trade respecting railways. He had, from the foundation of that Board, objected to the principle of it. His hon. Friend, in the course of his observations, had alluded to the possibility of adopting the foreign system of taking tenders from different companies for the formation of railways; but that was a system which, although it might do very well in France, he did not believe would succeed in this country. He had always entertained the conviction, since the establishment of the Railway Committee, that recourse should not be had in the first instance to any branch of the Government; if a Board was to be formed at all, it ought to be subsequent, and not anterior to the Committee in Parliament. The first point to accomplish was, to reform the Parliamentary Committees. Let them be constituted of a 256 small number of Members,—five had been named last Session,—and let those Members be impartial and independent, and if any question arose requiring the solution of scientific men, let them be called in to assist, but not to interfere. If any question arose involving the necessity of postponing the Bill before them to the next Session, let the Committee defer it, but in no case let the Government be called in, for its interference was at variance with the principle of legislation adopted in this country. His hon. Friend had alluded to the possibility of competition, first by railways, and secondly upon railways: that was, the running of carriages upon the same railway by different companies; and he had referred, as a case in point, to the Grand Junction, and Liverpool and Manchester Companies. The hon. Member must recollect, however, that the trains to which he referred were run in conjunction, for which purpose the two companies had an agreement; and therefore his statement did not establish the fact of its being possible for competing trains to run upon the same line. Such a position, indeed, was completely fallacious; there was no authority for it, and in practice it would be found utterly impossible. The only trains belonging to different companies which now ran upon the same line were run, not in competition, but in concurrence. A third point to which his hon. Friend had alluded, was the policy of reducing the fares by railway; and he believed that all the evidence before the House confirmed the conclusions of his hon. Friend upon this subject. The last Report of the Grand Junction Company exhibited a similar conclusion; for in it the directors stated that whilst they had lost something in first-class passengers by a reduction of fares, and also upon the second-class, they had greatly profited upon the third class; and he firmly believed that the greatest advantages would be gained by consulting the interests and convenience of the largest mass of consumers. On this point he was clearly of opinion with his hon. Friend, but he himself last year, when his right hon. Friend the then President of the Board of Trade introduced his Railway Bill, felt the most ominous forebodings with regard to the Board then constituted for the regulation of railways. It was an observation made when the Board was formed, that it would be ridiculous to suppose that any good could be procured by it, that the last thing requiring regulation was trade, and now he 257 ventured to say, that the last thing requiring regulation by a Government Board, was traffic. He ventured to predict, that the Railway Board would not stand. It was impossible. If any board was to be constituted it should be a board of reference, rather than one of government, a board of consultation rather than of interference.
§ Viscount Howick
I rise, Sir, with no intention of supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal the measure of last Session; on the contrary, I think the Bill, as far as it goes, is, upon the whole, a good one; but, at the same time, I do concur with him in his opinion that it is of the deepest importance to this country that we should take measures to secure to the public the advantages of greater cheapness of railway travelling; and I believe, with him, that hitherto our measures have been defective for that purpose; that the public does not derive that benefit from this invention which it ought to obtain; and I also feel that this present Session is an opportunity which cannot be lost for looking into this subject without very great inconvenience. A multitude of Bills are about to be brought before us; and before those Bills are disposed of—before we create new vested interests and new rights, we ought to consider seriously what are the measures it is in our power to adopt in order to secure to the public the greatest amount of accommodation from those railways. The hon. Member for Dumfries has stated that all that is required is to improve the constitution of the Parliamentary Committees to which Railway Bills are referred. No doubt this is one of the great points to be attended to; and the noble Lord opposite (Lord G. Somerset) has already this evening moved for the appointment of a Committe to consider how that object may be attained. But while I admit that it is of great importance to improve the constitution of the Committees to which these Bills are referred; at the same time, I own I am not sanguine as to the possibility of providing, by any reform of these tribunals, a satisfactory mode of disposing of the immense mass of business of this description which is to come before Parliament in the present Session, unless some greater change is adopted than has been hitherto suggested. It appears to me that the evil is this, that whether it is the Board of Trade or a Parliamentary Committee that is to decide on these questions, they here to dispose of interests of too 258 enormous an amount. Whilst the competition of conflicting railway companies is so excessive, and the gain or loss by passing one Bill, or rejecting another, so enormous, my conviction is that no tribunal you can establish can deal satisfactorily with questions of that magnitude. Consider what it is you have to do. You have to determine not merely what is the best line of communication for the public, but you are also to determine which of two or three or more conflicting companies is to have the benefit of constructing this line. We know perfectly well that to be allowed to make a railway is an immense advantage; that the mere fact of any particular line having the sanction of Parliament will lead to large premiums being given. 20l. or 25l. shares, on which 30s. or 2l. have been paid up, have been sold at a premium of 16l. or 18l., or even for greater amounts; that is, the parties are ready to pay two-thirds of the whole amount of capital proposed for the railway, in addition to what is required for the execution of the work, for the mere right of executing it. Now, I do not think it is possible, when the decision of a Parliamentary Committee is, in point of fact, to give an immense sum of money to the favoured company, that that decision should be come to in a manner to give satisfaction to the public; for, remember the point to be adjudicated upon: it is not a question of fact, or of law, or of right, in which any certain opinion can be arrived at; but it is a question of mere public convenience in which different and conflicting advantages and reasons are to be weighed against each other; so that in all probability no two Committees could arrive at the same conclusion with regard to any considerable number of the competing lines. When such a question as that has to be disposed of, I believe it is impossible to create any authority to dispose of it, on which there will not be brought to bear influence, favour, money, or money's worth. This will happen, or it will be thought to have happened; because we all know in Parliamentary Committees to what an extent canvassing is carried. I firmly believe that that is an inconvenience which it is impossible to avoid, so long as the two questions are united, "What is the best line of railway?" and "Who are the parties to execute it?" Therefore, it appears to me, that something is to be gained in this matter by looking at the example of a 259 neighbouring country. In France, in such a case, the first point determined on is, "what is to be the line of railway," without considering the claims of any particular company. Their attention is directed to the sober and dispassionate consideration of the best line for the public. When that is determined on, the next step is to call on capitalists to send in their tenders to say on what terms they propose to execute that line. Now, why should not we adopt a similar line of conduct? I would trust either the Board of Trade, or a Parliamentary Committee of five or six impartial Gentlemen, or, perhaps better still, professional persons, going to the locality, and examining the ground on the spot, to determine as to the line. I would trust implicitly any impartial authority of this description to lay out the line of railway, provided their decision did not confer the right to make that line on parties to be benefited by it. If the question be merely to decide "which is to be the line?" having none of these great pecuniary interests involved in the decision, then I believe you might trust that question to impartial and scientific authority. Having got your line laid out in this manner, the next step would be to call on rival companies to send in their proposals. As to the mode of making the lines, and the shape in which proposals should be called in, I agree with the hon. Member for Greenock that the principle of tender might be acted on; that is, if a company were interested to make a particular line, they should state what rates of fare they would charge, at what speed they would travel, how many trains they would send each day along the line, and, in short, the extent of accommodation they would afford to the public, and at what cost? Having got these tenders, nothing could be more reasonable than to give the construction of the line to the company which offered to make it on the best terms for the public. It appears, that by adopting some such scheme as this, two great advantages would be obtained; in the first place, it would get rid of the main difficulty of disposing satisfactorily of disputed railway lines. I am persuaded, as I have said before, that if you were only considering which is the best line through the country, without having any enormous pecuniary interests involved in the consideration, that this question might be dispassionately and impartially considered; and, in the next place, I think there would be the further advantage, that you would secure to the public 260 very much cheaper railway accommodation than they could obtain by any other means. As an illustration of my argument, let me point out to you how such a system would work, as compared with what is now doing on some of the great lines that are projected. The House is aware that three different lines are projected from London to the north, terminating at York. Three different proposals of that kind are now before the public; and it is understood that which ever of these companies shall obtain the preference, and shall get its Bill through Parliament, the moment the Bill shall be passed, the shares will sell at some 20l. to 25l. premium. That is the very lowest. That is to say, that the decision in favour of any one of these companies puts into the pockets of one set of men or another, a sum varying between 1,000,000l. and 2,000,000l. sterling. Now, is it possible, when there is a gratuitous boon to companies to this extent, that any parties should be trusted to grant it? or that the authority, be it what it may, which has such a gigantic boon to dispose of, will not be blockaded on all sides by applications and influence? In the mean time, too, you have all the immense disadvantages of gambling in shares going on throughout the country. I am told that this gambling is now going on, not only in London, but in the great towns of Manchester and Liverpool, to an extent that is absolutely frightful, and which is demoralizing to the country. And if a Bill passed through Parliament in favour of any one of these companies, after all this inconvenience the public is left at the mercy of the company, which may charge such a rate of fares and make such regulations as it finds best calculated to promote its own interests. Now, suppose you take another course, and say, "We will not decide in favour of one or another company, but will decide in favour of some line to York." Having chosen your line, suppose you call for public tenders from competing companies for the execution of the line. The various companies will bring in their tenders, stating the rates of charge at which they are prepared to carry passengers and goods, the number of trains, the rate of speed, and the description of accommodation which they are prepared to afford. These tenders are opened in the face of day, and before the public, and the best offer is accepted. There is no room for jobbing; and that spirit of competition which now finds a field for its display in the share market and in gambling, 261 would find its exercise in the bidding of rival companies over each other as to the amount of fares they would charge to the public. It is perfectly clear, from the premiums offered for shares in these great undertakings, that companies could afford to make these lines of railway, and to carry the public at much cheaper rates than they now do: for what are the facts? I will suppose a Bill passed for constructing a line to York. The capital required would be somewhere about 5,000,000l. or 6,000,000l. sterling. Now these shares, we know, will immediately rise in value from 40 to 50 per cent.; that is to say, the new shareholders would be willing to pay down—taking the capital required to be 5,000,000l.—7,500,000l. Of course, therefore, they calculate, that though the work will only cost 5,000,000l., yet they may, at the rates of charge they contemplate imposing, derive so large an income as to pay the average and fair profit on 7,500,000l. But if that is the case, it follows that they could afford a large reduction of fares, if they only required to get a fair profit on the amount of capital actually invested in executing the work. If no premium is to be paid—if they have only to get a profit on the expenditure of 5,000,000l. — in that case they can afford a considerable reduction of fares; and that reduction, in my opinion, will be very large; because we know that the actual cost of the conveyance of passengers on railways is infinitely smaller than the fares which are charged; and we know that a considerable reduction of fares often makes scarcely any reduction, sometimes no reduction, in the profits of the companies, because of the increase in the number of passengers. Therefore, if a company calculated the lowest fares it could charge in order to get the construction of a line of railway, there can be no doubt that a very large reduction in the rate of fares might be accomplished. There is also this further observation to be made,—if we were to apply this principle in the present Session of Parliament to the new lines of railway about to be constructed, we should not only cause them to carry passengers very much cheaper than otherwise they would do, and induce them to give much greater accommodation to the public than otherwise we could expect, but we should, in the most legitimate manner, apply to existing companies a compulsion against which they would have no means of struggling, and which would force them to reduce their fares in the same ratio; 262 because it is perfectly obvious—from the network of railways which exists, that they are all more or less competing lines; and if the large number of new lines which we shall probably authorize during the Session are constructed at very low rates of fares, their competition will in a very short time bring down the rates of fares on the old railway lines. I think this a much more legitimate way of bringing down the rates of fares, than that enacted by the Bill of last year, and that it will be much more effective. I know it will be said that I advise the House to adopt a system which is adopted in France; and it will be asked, "How can you give advice like that, when, as compared with the progress of railways in this country, France has fallen far behind; whilst, on the other hand, what has been accomplished in England, in a few years, in railways, is absolutely marvellous?" This is no doubt true; and I have no doubt in the early stages of railway enterprize, such a system as the one I propose would not have been proper. When railways were regarded as speculations of great hazard and of doubtful result, it was necessary to give a greater amount of return to stimulate enterprise than can be afforded by such a system as I propose, in order to make the construction of railways advance with the necessary facility. But circumstances are now greatly changed. Now, instead of stimulating the eagerness of enterprise, on the contrary, it is desirable to moderate it. Parties are only too eager, and in too great a hurry to rush blindfolded into these speculations. A sort of mania has seized the public, which it is of importance to the national interests that we should endeavour to moderate and check. I believe, by the course I propose, you would so moderate it; and if you were to deal with railway companies in the manner I have now suggested, you would have a means which you cannot have by any other course of proceeding of satisfactorily disposing of the railway business before you in the present Session. I know that this is not an occasion to enter into a subject so large and important as that before us; but it is my conviction that it is not only one of importance, but of extreme urgency—one on which we have not a moment to lose in thoroughly looking into and investigating. We must determine what course to take before these Railway Bills go much further. There is another observation I wish to make. In the first place, I wish to notice one or two difficulties. 263 It will be said, in the first place, that it is unjust to particular parties, who have displayed their ingenuity in laying out a line, that the execution of that line of railway should be taken out of their hands. It would be most unjust if they were not properly remunerated for what they had done; but at present they have no claim whatever. These infant companies, not yet created by Acts of Parliament, have no rights or claims whatever upon us. We are perfectly at liberty to create them or not, and it is perfectly open to us to say, "The line shall be made, but we do not determine that you shall be the makers of it. You shall be well paid for laying out the line: we adopt your plan, you shall be well paid for what you have hitherto done, but you have no right to be intrusted with the making of it. Impartial authorities shall consider the amount of expense incurred in laying out the line; that charge being ascertained any company that takes the line to make, that charge shall be the first thing they have to pay before they commence the construction of the line." In this manner justice will be done to the projectors who may bring these various schemes before Parliament, and they might be rewarded without abandoning the scheme I propose. Another difficulty which will be urged is this: it will be said, that though the plan I have suggested might be adopted where lines are proposed to be carried by new companies through parts of counties hitherto deprived of that convenience, you could not act on this principle when the proposals on which you have to judge are feeders, or branch lines of existing companies; where a struggle is going on between existing railways to carry their branches into tracts of country not yet connected with either. I am aware you cannot exactly apply the principle to these cases, which would rather apply to the entirely new lines of railroad; but, at the same time, to some extent, you might apply the principle to these branch lines or feeders. I would do it in this way, — by calling on existing companies, when they bring in their proposals, to insert in their Bill clauses naming the rates of fare they propose to charge. This course was adopted in one of those Select Committees last year on competing lines of railroad on which I had the honour to be a member. I was almost compelled to serve last Session on one of those small Committees to decide between two conflicting projects of lines of railway. When we proceeded to 264 consider their acts, we felt extreme difficulty on a point on which we were called on to judge; and all the members of the Committee unanimously agreed that one main thing for us to consider was which of the two companies offered the best terms to the public; and I was instructed by the Committee, as its chairman, to make an intimation to the counsel on both sides, that we wished to know whether there were any objection to put in the specific tables of fares they proposed to charge. The counsel on neither side made any objection: they both put in their table of fares. One company proposed a very much lower table of fares than the other; and I do not hesitate to state that it mainly influenced the decision of the Committee. But having got at the table of fares, we took care to make the clause enforcing it considerably stricter and more binding than the company had done. I cannot help thinking that a similar principle might be carried out with existing companies coming with competing lines before the House, and asking to bring a section of the country into the one or other existing lines of railroad. I would rather adopt this plan, because, I believe with the late President of the Board of Trade, that the public cannot really obtain the benefits of competition by creating two lines of railway. The competing lines will probably carry on a ruinous competition for a certain time, and then come to some mutual understanding injurious to the public. The time for competition is before we pass the Bill. That is the principle on which the House ought to act. I hope and trust that this Session we shall pass no Bill without strictly looking into the table of fares; it is extraordinary to me how long we have omitted to do so. In every Railway Bill the Standing Orders require the rates of toll to be mentioned. These orders were passed when it was supposed that there might be a competition on each line, and that parties other than the company might carry and ply on it. That is found to be impossible, and these clauses as to the rate of toll are so much waste paper. But the object Parliament had in view in imposing these limits as to the rates of toll was a good object, and one which we ought to find some other means of carrying out, now that that plan has failed in effecting it. The only substitute which I believe it is in our power to provide is a strict limitation, not only of the rates of tolls, but also of fares, at which each of the 265 companies authorized by Act of Parliament shall carry on the traffic of the lines. I hope that the suggestions I have made will meet with some consideration from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, because I am persuaded that the attention of the House and of the public is not yet sufficiently drawn to the importance of the subject, and the extreme difficulties with which we shall have to contend during the present Session, if we persevere in merely following the beaten track. How we shall be able to deal with the 248 Railway Bills of which the hon. Member talked, unless something of the kind I have suggested should be adopted, it passes my comprehension to conceive. On the one hand, it seems to me impossible—and I am glad to find that the Government concurs with me in the idea—that the Reports of the Board of Trade should be accepted as conclusive; and if not accepting them as conclusive, I inquire, on the other hand, how is Parliament to constitute Committees which shall deal satisfactorily with all these projects, when such immense pecuniary interests are concerned? As a number of Committees would be required, where are the impartial Members to be found, and how are counsel to find time for the proper discussion of all these railway projects, both in this House, and in the House of Lords? And, let it be observed, it will not do to put the matter off It is of importance that the really good measures should not be deferred beyond the present Session. I know that some Gentlemen have said that the difficulty is so great that the only thing they can suggest is to postpone all railway legislation for a Session. I deprecate such a course of proceeding, than which there could be no greater misfortune to the country. What would be the result if such a course were adopted? An immense amount of capital has been set apart for the execution of these works, and what an inconvenience it would be to the country if this capital should remain locked up, or, if parties having their patience worn out, and not choosing to wait for the tardy proceedings in Parliament, should, as I fear would be the case, employ the capital on speculations of another kind, embark in wild schemes, and probably take their capital altogether out of the country. Therefore, we cannot defer legislation with respect to railway projects until after this Session; whatever the difficulties connected with the subject may be, and I admit that they are almost overwhelming, we must deal with them; and it is from this consideration 266 that I have thought it right to take the opportunity afforded by the present Motion to throw out my opinions for whatever they may be worth. They may possibly suggest something to other Members, and thus, perhaps, a proper course may be struck out amongst us. It is with this view that I have ventured to make these observations to the House; and I do most earnestly recommend this subject to its most serious consideration.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
said that it was seldom his good fortune to agree with the noble Lord who had just addressed the House; but on this occasion he highly approved of what had fallen from him. Still he wished to ask the noble Lord why he had delayed these suggestions and recommendations to the eleventh hour? Would it not have been better if they had been introduced at an earlier period, when the railroad mania first commenced? He had agreed with the noble Lord that there would be extreme difficulty in finding impartial Members to compose the Committees on these railway schemes. He should be glad to find these questions capable of being brought before impartial men. Doubting the possibility of this, he the other night asked how far the five gentlemen who constituted the Subcommittee of the Board of Trade—with their clausis foribus, and deciding on ex parte statements—could be considered impartial, what knowledge did the House possess as to the connexion of those gentlemen with railway schemes? Nay, he would ask whether the noble Lord himself (Lord Howick) was totally free from any connexion with railways? As far as he (Colonel Sibthorp) was concerned, be could assure the noble Lord and the House that he was a totally disinterested party. He had no share, nor would he have a share in any railway. He had many reasons for this, but one reason above all was, that he might be able to act as an impartial juror if called upon by the House to give a decision upon any question connected with railways. If, however, he recollected rightly, certain letters had passed between the noble Lord and a Mr. Hudson, respecting certain railway transactions. Mr. Hudson was a gentleman who had made a great deal of money by railways, and he believed was likely to make a great deal more. If he (Colonel Sibthorp) mistook not, a correspondence had passed between that gentleman and the noble Lord, in consequence of some objection against a particular railroad going a little too near to Howick Hall. This was not an uncommon case. He remembered 267 in 1836 being very much pressed by certain parties to oppose a Railway Bill, on the ground that it came too near to their property. And yet these were the very men who were the first and foremost to recommend another measure of the same kind; and why? Because it did not touch their property. But he (Colonel Sibthorp) did not suffer himself to be influenced by any of these appeals; he gave his vote from one feeling alone, namely, upon what he thought to be the best for the country, and especially for the county which he had the honour to represent.
§ Mr. Gisborne
said, that although in the last Session of Parliament he was opposed to the Railways Bill which was then passed, yet he could not now go the length of his hon. Friend (Mr. Wallace) who brought forward this Motion. That Bill was very much impeded in its progress, and strongly contested, and it was at last passed by a sort of compromise. He believed, that although it might not have produced all the good which was expected from it, yet at the same time he thought it had done very little harm; and it would now be impracticable to interfere with the Bill. He had listened with great attention to the able statement made by his noble Friend (Lord Howick), who had given a very vivid description of the difficulties in which the House was involved in deciding between questions affecting concerns in which immense sums and large interests were at stake. But, however great the question and vivid the description, it afforded no index whatever as to the means for facilitating and devising a remedy. There were three railway schemes for lines between London and York. Suppose the noble Lord's suggestion should be adopted, and one of those lines only should be sanctioned, what compensation did the noble Lord propose to make to those who devised the chosen line? and what was to become of the two other schemes? The noble Lord would take advantage of all the expense which the parties had been at before the plan had been submitted to the Board of Trade, and then, perhaps, abandon the line altogether. But suppose none of the three projects should be adopted by Parliament, and that Parliament should decide upon a more direct line than any of those projected, how would the parties whose money had been expended be treated then? One word about the deciding upon a proper line by the Board of Trade. The House might depend upon it that it was most difficult for any body of men to come to a 268 decision between line and line, where the merits rested solely on local circumstances, which none but persons locally acquainted with the lines could properly judge of or point out. That he really thought was an objection which the noble Lord could hardly get over. If it could be conquered, then he was inclined to think that there would be a great attraction given, as far as the public was concerned, to the scheme of the noble Lord, of offering the formation of railways to the highest and best bidder. The remarks which the noble Lord made had not altered his opinion, that any scheme must prove abortive which would take the management of railways from individuals and place them in the hands of Government. It was impossible that either Government or Parliament could make provivision for all the contingencies that must necessarily arise in the formation, management, and carrying on of the various railways that already existed, and would, necessarily hereafter be established in this country. He thought that the effect of the principle of competition in the long-run would produce the same benefit to the public as that which the noble Lord anticipated from a Governmental management. He believed that the general reduction of fares had been attended with a general increase of profits. The Grand Junction Railway promised that it would give the utmost possible accommodation to the public, and that whenever their profits came above a certain amount they would give the advantage of it to the public by a reduction of the fares. This the Company had strictly fulfilled; and the House might depend upon it the same principle would actuate all companies if the competitive system were allowed to have free operation. His hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) had said that the Bill of last year gave to the Board of Trade no powers whatever. The first powers which were given to the Board of Trade with respect to railway legislation were by an Act of 3 and 4 Victoria, chapter 95. These powers were extended by the 5th and 6th of Victoria, chapter 87, and a later Act directed that these two Acts should be construed together. In the first place these Acts directed that no railway should be opened until a month's notice was given; and it then empowered the Board to suspend the opening from month to month. It empowered the Board to appoint inspectors to examine the railways, to enact by-laws, and direct prosecutions to enforce the provisions of the law, to revive expired powers in case 269 of the public safety requiring it, and so on. By the Act of last year, the Board of Trade in respect of the penny-a-mile trains, was empowered to regulate the hours of starting, and further extensions were given to their powers as to the appointment of inspectors, and the originating prosecutions, for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of the Act. These were the whole of the powers of the Board, and these powers had been given them by Act of Parliament. In the last Session the House certainly adopted Resolutions which imposed duties and gave new powers to the Board of Trade. In the first place, the House reolved:—That, in the case of Railway Bills, if any Report made under the authority of the Board of Trade upon any Bill, or the objects thereof, be laid before the House, such Report shall be referred to the Committee on the Bill.There was nothing in this Resolution to prevent any Bill coming before the Committee becoming law, whether the Board of Trade authorised it or not. The House then took away from the Committee the power given by the 11th section of the Standing Order, No. 87, to report speciallyWhether any and what competing lines of Railway there were existing, and whether any and what were in progress or contemplation, and to state, so far as circumstances would permit, in what respects the proposed line was superior or inferior to the other lines; but that no line of Railway should be deemed a competing line in contemplation, unless the plan, section, and book of reference for the same should have been deposited as required by the Standing Orders.The House then resolved:—That, in the case of a Railway Bill, the Committee report especially, whether any Report from the Board of Trade in regard to the Bill, or the objects thereby proposed to be authorised, has been referred by the House to the Committee, and if so, whether any and what recommendations contained in such Report have been adopted by the Committee, and whether any and what recommendations contained in such Report have been rejected: and, in case the line or lines be stated in such Report to be a competing line or competing lines, the reasons which have induced the Committee to recommend the adoption or rejection of such competing lines, or either of them.The next Resolution was:—That in the case of Railway Bills, a copy of all plans, sections, and book of reference, required by the Orders of the House to be deposited 270 in the office of any Clerk of the Peace or Sheriff Clerk, on or before the 30th day of November immediately preceding the Session of Parliament in which application for the Bill shall be made, shall, on or before the same day, be deposited in the office of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade.The last Resolution was:—That, in the case of Railway Bills, a copy of every Bill annexed to a petition be deposited in the office of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, on or before the day of presentation of the Petition to the House.This was all that was determined by legislation, or by Resolutions of the House, as to the powers to be exercised by the Board of Trade. Then came the Minutes of the Board of Trade, which were not pretended to be founded upon any Act of Parliament, or upon any Resolutions of the House, but they were based upon the authority of certain Resolutions which were passed in a Select Committee of the House last year, but which were not adopted by the House itself to any greater extent than that which he had just read from the votes of the 19th of July, 1844. The Board of Trade took for their authority the third section of the fifth Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Railways (1844), which ran thus:—In recommending, therefore, that Railway Bills be submitted to the Board of Trade previously to their coming under the notice of Parliament, the Committee conceives that that Board (or such other public department as may be entrusted with the care of railway matters), might advantageously examine these Bills, and also these schemes themselves before they had assumed the form of Bills, with regard mainly to the following subjects—
- "1. All questions of public safety
- "2. All departures from the ordinary usage of railway legislation, on points where such usage has been sufficiently established.
- "3. All provisions of magnitude which may be novel in their principle, or may involve extended consideration of public policy. For example; amalgamations and agreements between separate companies; extension of capital; powers enabling Railway Companies to pursue purposes different in kind from those for which they were incorporated; modifications of the general law.
- "4. Branch and extension lines in cases where, upon the first aspect of the plan, a presumption is raised that the object of the scheme is to throw difficulties in the way of new, and probably legitimate enterprises.
- "5. New schemes, where the line taken presents a strong appearance of being such as to raise the presumption that it does not afford
271 the best mode of communication between the termini, and of accommodating the local traffic.
- "6. Cases where a Bill of inferior merits may be brought before Parliament, and where a preferable scheme is in bonâ fide contemplation, although not sufficiently forward to come simultaneously under the judgment of Parliament, according to its Standing Orders.
- "7. Any proposed arrangements with subsisting companies which may appear as objectors to new lines.The adequate and satisfactory discharge of their duties would entail upon the Board of Trade a great additional amount of labour and responsibility: and it is the opinion of the Committee, that if the recommendations of this and of its other Reports should be adopted, it would be necessary to enlarge the Railway Department of that Board, and to improve its organization. Upon these grounds, and with these intentions, the Committee have come to the following resolution: 'That it is expedient that all Railway Bills should henceforward be submitted to the Board of Trade previously to their introduction into Parliament; and that the various documents and other requisite information connected with each project, and, if necessary, copies of the plans and sections of the line, shall be lodged at the office of the Board of Trade, at such period as may afford sufficient opportunity for their examination.'These were the recommendations of the Committee, and these were adopted by the Board of Trade. It was remarkable that, in reading these recommendations, the Board of Trade omitted to read a passage which stood exactly in the middle of them. No person could have expected that the Board of Trade would have put foward such curt and imperative Reports as they had done. [Sir Robert Peel: It is merely a Minute, and not a Report.] Well, it might be a Minute. The Committee of the Board were directed, by the Lords of the Committee of Council, to prepare a Minute, and publish it in the Gazette. Now, he (Mr. Gisborne) did not find in any of these documents, either in the Acts of Parliament, or in the Resolutions of the House of Commons, anything that authorised the Board of Trade to put a Minute in the Gazette, stating that they would report in favour of such a Railway or against such a Railway. He thought this a most extraordinary power to be exercised by three Lords Commissioners of the Board of Trade. The Report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons stated—It is the opinion of the Committee that such Reports should on no account be regarded in any other light than as intended to afford to Parliament, firstly, additional aid in the 272 elucidation of the facts by the testimony of witnesses competent by knowledge, habit, and opportunity, and officially responsible; and, secondly, recommendations founded upon such elucidation; that their purport should be, not in any case to give the absolute advice that a given Railway should be made, but to state whether or not there were public reasons which ought, in the opinion of the Department, to be decisive against it, or whether it ought tube postponed until its merits could be examined in connexion with those of some other scheme, or which of the two or more contending schemes appeared preferable, in the event that only one should appear likely to receive the sanction of Parliament. And in particular it is the judgment of the Committee that no such Report should be held to prejudice the claims of private persons, the examination of which should be altogether reserved to the Houses of the Legislature.The Lords of the Council then proceeded to appoint a Sub-committee of the Board of Trade, to whom all Railway Bills were to be submitted previous to their introduction into Parliament. The Minute of these proceedings of the Lords of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade, were not laid on the Table of the House until the 7th of August, when most hon. Members were gone home, or were anxious to go home. This Sub-committee of the Board of Trade being constituted, they proceeded to execute their duties in conformity with the directions given to them. He must say that great injury and great injustice had arisen to the public in consequence of the way and manner in which this Sub-committee of the Board of Trade had been directed to proceed. With hon. Gentlemen sitting in the House of Commons, the Minutes published by that Sub-committee might not have much weight; but when those Minutes came before the public at large, with all the authoritative circumstance of an official publication in the Gazette, setting forth that the Committee of the Board of Trade had determined to report in favour of one certain railway, and against another certain railway, he might venture to say without exaggeration that 99 out of 100 out of the House supposed that the Government as a Government would support the decision of its own Board. If he had been asked the question he should have felt it extremely difficult to have said that the Government would not have felt bound to support a decision of its own Board. It was true that on the very first night of the Session the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) dissolved that notion, and stated, as he had 273 done before, that the Government would abstain from taking any part in the matter; and he had no doubt that that statement would restore confidence to the country. But unfortunately these Reports or Minutes of the Sub-committee of the Board of Trade had produced very ill effects in the country before the salutary statement of the right hon. Gentleman went forth. Men who had paid up 2l. and 5l. a share, preferred making a sacrifice of every shilling rather than adhere to a scheme against which the Sub-committee had made its Report, the effect of which was to reduce the shares to a discount; while, on the other hand, persons had been induced to take shares in other companies by reason of the Sub-committee having intimated their intention to report favourably of such schemes. The way in which the Subcommittee had been directed to make their Reports in the Gazette, had caused more gambling than anything he ever recollected in his life. Coming forth, as those Reports did, in the Gazette, was like the coming off of a great race; but with this difference, that everybody knew what was the result of the race, whereas, in the case of the railways, only a certain few knew anything about it. They were told, indeed, that the Committee were bound to secrecy; but it was known that where nine or ten people had a knowledge of any particular fact, it was impossible to keep it a secret, Some people told their wives everything; others often lost their memorandum books; while some men would talk in their sleep. There were a hundred ways by which such facts became known. Extraordinary coincidences would always cause extreme suspicion. For his own part, he was free from any imputations of the kind, for he had never either bought a share or sold one; but certainly he had heard of circumstances which threw a suspicion upon a Government Board, which he was sorry to see. Unless, therefore, some very great advantages were expected to arise from the present system pursued by the Sub-committee of the Board of Trade, he did not think it was worth while to subject a public Board to such suspicions. There were immense opportunities and great temptations, and under these circumstances it was extremely difficult indeed to convince the public that there had not been from some cause or other false dealing. But the greatest imputations were thrown upon the Board of Trade in consequence of the Reports which had been published in the 274 Gazette. He was very doubtful as to the advantages which were to be derived from the publication of these Reports. As far as the Committee of the Board of Trade gave reasons for their recommendations, he should treat them with respect; but he did not think that with the very limited means they had at their disposal, they could form any accurate judgment upon the merits of the 248 railways in England, Scotland, and Ireland, which was about the number it was said would come before them; or that their opinion would be entitled to much consideration. At all events he did not think they were able to form an opinion of sufficient value to induce the House to tolerate the very great evils which accompanied the mode of proceeding which, without any Parliamentary authority, they had adopted. In his opinion, these Reports of the Board of Trade were more objectionable when they reported in favour of any railway than when they reported against any line. He could understand why the Board, for want of accurate information, and from that cautionary spirit which ought to regulate their conduct, might report against a certain line of railway, but that after hearing only an ex parte case they should report in favour of a given railway, was, in his opinion, a great hardship on private parties, and on all concerned in that particular scheme. A Report either way was objectionable, but certainly he considered a Report in favour of any line more objectionable than if it were against it. He hoped that the Government would take into consideration whether the advantages attending the existence of such a Board, making Reports in the way they had hitherto done, would compensate for the very great disadvantage, and injustice, and sacrifice of property, it had entailed on the country. He should be glad to hear that some other less objectionable course was adopted, and mainly to correct this unwarrantable assumption of power of the Committee of the Board of Trade, which, he was convinced, had never been intended by the Legislature. It had been productive of unlimited and unmixed mischief. He should be happy if the noble Lord (Lord G. Somerset) could discover some mode of relieving Railway Committees, who certainly would endeavour to shift the onus of decision upon some other party; and this very circumstance would tend to give additionable weight to the Reports of the Committee of the Board of Trade. If those Reports were found to decrease the 275 attention to railway schemes by Committees of this House, that of itself would be an evil of considerable magnitude. He regretted that he could not support the Motion of his hon. Friend.
Mr. S. Wortley
understood the hon. Member who had just sat down to complain of the effect of the publication of the Reports of the Committee of the Board of Trade upon speculation in railway shares; and he doubted whether in that respect the regulations were not disadvantageous; he doubted whether it was expedient to publish the result of the inquiry before the Report was made to Parliament. Looking at the immense number of speculations, he had thought that some such inquiry by an official tribunal would have promoted public confidence, and assisted the House in its decision; but publishing their determinations was necessarily productive of the evils stated by the hon. Member for Nottingham. It was to be borne in mind, however, that this mischief was already done—that the consequences could not now be avoided; but as to the other part of the question, it was impossible not to feel that it pressed extremely on the attention of Parliament. He alluded to the mode in which the House should deal with the mass of projects to be brought before it. That was a matter of the utmost urgency. The noble Viscount (Viscount Howick) had made a speech on the best mode of securing the public interests; but he feared that his plan was liable to one objection, which alone rendered it inapplicable to the present occasion, viz., that it was so entire a change in the whole system, that it would require much more extensive organization than the House at present could give to it. The hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Gisborne) had said that where there were competing lines it was necessary that Government should first ascertain which was the best, and then require tenders for the completion of it; but, in truth, a great deal more must be done. Government might determine which of two lines was the better; but that which seemed the better of the two might not really be the best—a third line might be found better than either, or that third line might be compounded of parts of the two former. The scheme of the noble Lord might present some great advantages; but he had himself admitted that it was by no means desirable that such a vast mass of speculation should be deferred until another year. Yet, if the noble 276 Viscount's plan were adopted, it must necessarily be deferred. But then arose the question, what it was possible for Parliament to do? It was in immediate expectation of having a great quantity of business of the kind, and it was very ill furnished with means for the emergency. The best thing the House could do was to consider well the mode of constituting Committees, and of facilitating business before those Committees. That was the utmost it could hope to accomplish in the present Session, and a Committee to consider the subject had already been appointed. He would willingly see some better machinery provided for the purpose, but he was not at present aware of any means of doing so on this occasion, which would be preferable to those adopted by the House.
§ Mr. Warburton
expressed his concurrence in what had been said by the noble Viscount, respecting the danger of sending capital out of the Kingdom, to be employed upon railway schemes less advantageous than many of those promised to be. It was material, therefore, not to discourage enterprises in this country which seemed to offer a beneficial investment. He had listened to the project opened by the noble Member for Sunderland, and the fault of it seemed to be that it would be impracticable. First, engineers were to survey the country; they were to reject the disadvantageous, and to select the advantageous line; then the line was to be laid before Parliament, after which Parliament was to take the matter into its own hands, and to constitute a Company to carry out its own plan. Another part of the proposal of the noble Viscount was this—that after the line had been decided upon, the Company was to go before some other body, and tenders for the execution of the work having been made, the cheapest was to be adopted. This course would occasion some sort of a moral obligation to give to the Company a monopoly for a term of years, and that monopoly would prevent the adoption of those improvements which must constantly he made, until we had arrived at the utmost perfection of railway construction and travelling. He was opposed to any such power being given to Government; and he was persuaded that if railway communication had been left to Government only to this day, we should not have had a single line in operation. After having beaten down the Company to the lowest, a term of years must necessarily be conceded to them; and yet it might turn out 277 before long that another line ought to have been taken, and that the public convenience required a different line. If a different line were sanctioned, would not the Company come forward and complain of a breach of contract and of injury to their rights? There ought, in fact, to be no rule but the rule of competition. Circumstances might arise, requiring the establishment of a new Company, and yet upon the plan proposed by the noble Viscount, the Legislature would have tied its hands, and no other but the old bad line could be adopted. Whatever might be the course pursued in foreign countries there could be no doubt that combinations and amalgamations would take place in this Kingdom; but in due time new companies would start up to abate the evils of the old. Competition, therefore, after all, was the best remedy, and the opinion of no Committee ought to go for more than it was worth. There was a danger of making the Committees too limited, and if they were they would often not carry with them the majority of the House; for the opinion of a limited Committee would generally be disputed by Members interested in various directions. Whatever was done, he hoped that no attempt would be made to give a monopoly to any party, but that full liberty would be given to any rival Company to open a new line, if it seemed required by the public advantage.
§ Mr. G. Bankes
agreed with the hon. Member who had just spoken, that the only principle upon which in this country we could hope to receive the full benefit of railroads, was the principle of competition. It was unfortunate that that Committee of the Board of Trade, which was established undoubtedly for the very best purposes, should have had the effect of checking that principle; and with reference to the county which he represented, he was certainly able to give an illustration of the mischief of it. They had had there propositions of several railways under different and powerful bodies, and he believed he might say that the proportion of the inhabitants of the county was as twenty to one in favour of the lines proposed by the South-Western Company, one of those being in the highest degree important, as it went through a part of the county where the roads were by no means so good at present as might be wished, and where there was some of the richest land, without any ready facilities of transit, either by water or land; but with reference to the new 278 line proposed by the Great Western, the roads there were very good, and there was every facility of transit; the other plan had also this benefit,—that in the course of time it would restore that great traffic which they had lost by means of the Great Western Railway, namely, the traffic from Loudon to Exeter, and could save a distance of from thirty to forty miles between those two places. It was perfectly clear that if that line had been adopted, it would have been supported by the public, and the people of the county which he represented would have the benefit they lost at present from their isolated position. Again, the two competing lines of the South-Western and Great Western both proposed coasting lines; but the line proposed by the South-Western was preferable to that of the Great Western, as from Dorchester to London it saved nearly 20 miles, which in a distance of 150 miles was considerable. It was, however, not with surprise that he heard of the South-Western line being rejected, because, long before the Report was published, it was generally understood that the Board of Trade would decide, as it did, in favour of the Great Western: and it was also understood that that decision would be accompanied with a recommendation that the two Companies should combine and arrange matters between them; and that it was said had been effected—so that the consequence was, that the county he represented would get the worst coasting line, and would lose the other line entirely, because it was understood to be part of the arrangement that the South-Western were never to proceed to Exeter by any line. He could not venture to state that compromise as a fact; he could only state that which was generally understood to be the result, and that they should lose the benefit of a railway which was so many miles shorter, more direct, and had so many advantages as that proposed by the South-Western. That might be taken as an illustration of the disadvantage of the present mode of proceeding of the Commissioners. He was far from charging for a moment any person composing that Commission with having given any intelligence, or of any improper conduct whatever, and he had no doubt that such a charge if any person made it, was without foundation; and if he did not suspect persons in the higher classes he was unwilling to suspect persons in an inferior class; but, looking to the mode in which notice of their decisions was given, it 279 must be recollected that printers would have to be employed, that some little time would be required to arrange the Papers for publication, that they must pass through a great many hands, and in some cases there was great reason to suppose that they had come to the knowledge of the public before publication, — at least, the suspicion was so strong as to be productive of injury and prejudice. But he ventured to hope, as to the county he represented, that the better line which had been suggested and abandoned, under the authority of the decision of the Committee, would be reviewed, and that they would have the prospect not only of a line, but of the best line, and one that would restore to them a benefit of which for some years they had been deprived.
§ Sir R. Peel
I trust that this debate will not lead to a discussion of the merits of competing lines of railway, which the House is at present utterly incompetent to enter into. No doubt many persons are disappointed with the decisions of the Board of Trade; it may be that they have good grounds for that disappointment; but this House, upon the present occasion, is utterly incompetent to form any opinion upon the subject. Having listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Dorsetshire with great attention, I will only say, that if my hon. Friend ventures to assure the House that the Board of Trade has come to an impolitic decision, and can convince the House that there is a better line than that which the Board of Trade has recommended, and if the promoters of that better line will only goon and form their company and present their Petition to this House, I am certain their proposition will undergo full and fair consideration, because it is perfectly understood that the decisions of the Board of Trade are not to be considered conclusive on the judgment of the House. My firm belief is, that the value of the Reports of the Board of Trade will depend upon the statements and arguments by which they are accompanied; and if my hon. Friend can show that any particular statement is unfair, or any argument fallacious, with respect to the lines alluded to by him, I think that his rival plan will stand a fair chance of being adopted. I cannot but think, however, that we are undertaking to condemn rather precipitately the proceedings of the Board of Trade. That Board was appointed at the close of the last Session, with the entire sanction of 280 the House; and before we receive any Report from that Board, there seems a disposition, which I cannot think a wise one, to condemn its proceedings, and to advise the abolition of that Board. The Board is censured for having published its Reports in the Gazette; but I think it acted most wisely in so doing. After the Board had come to a decision, I think it was its duty to notify to the public, as early as possible, what that decision was. If the Board had kept the decisions entirely secret, or attempted to do so, for two or three months, whilst other railways were still under examination, there would, in my opinion, be a much greater chance of the impressions of the Board gaining publicity, of their getting into circulation, and of their leading to unfair play and undue speculation, than by the course which the Board adopted, namely, that of determining to notify to the public, at the earliest opportunity, the decisions at which it had arrived, while it reserved to itself the opportunity of stating hereafter what were the grounds upon which it had formed those decisions. I think that the members, having to take into their consideration 240 railway schemes, and having perhaps made up their minds with respect to 100 or 150 of those schemes, they would, by endeavouring to keep their decisions secret, have been much more likely to have given an unfair advantage to some individuals over others, than by the course which they have actually pursued. In the course of two or three days, we shall, I understand, have before us the Report of the Commitee of the Board of Trade with respect to a certain class of railways. That Report will, I believe, be accompanied with a general statement of the principles upon which the decisions were founded; and we shall then have an opportunity of judging of the reasons, and of forming some notion whether or not it is likely that those reasons will meet with general concurrence and adoption. But it is infinitely better to postpone our judgment until we are in possession of that Report, which is expected so early, than now to discuss the subject. I do hope that the House will not come to any decision to abandon the general principle which has regulated our proceedings in respect to railways, until we are convinced by experience that that principle is not good. Do not let us decide on abandoning our present system until we know the ful extent 281 of the existing evil. We hear of 240 Railway Bills to be considered; but I very much doubt whether, after a little discussion and consideration, that number will not be considerably reduced. Nevertheless, with that prospect before us, the wisest course for us to adopt is to appoint immediately a Select Committee. I assume that there will be a pressure of railway business in the present Session, even if the number of Bills now spoken of is reduced by 100. Let us suppose the possibility of having such a special case—that we shall have an immense number of Railway Bills—it is right to make some provision to meet that pressure. My noble Friend has already obtained the assent of the House to the appointment of a Committee, which will consist of those Gentlemen most conversant with private business, and whose opinions will entitle them to the confidence of the House. Now, I hope that such Committee will, in the first place, apply themselves to Railway Bills; they will have to deal with 150 or 100 Bills; and the Committee will, it is to be hoped, from its formation and impartiality, secure confidence in its decisions. There is a great impression, I observe, that it will be impossible to proceed upon the principles which have hitherto been followed in respect to railways; and I dare say, that the General Committee will adopt some new rule upon the subject. It may be found desirable, from the peculiar pressure of the present Session, to limit each Committee to five or seven Members; and I cannot help thinking, that if the Members of these Committees will give their constant attention,—whether they confirm the Reports of the Board of Trade or dissent from them, assigning their reasons for such dissent—the Report of those Committees will carry with them very great weight, and will have a great influence with the House. That will tend much to diminish the pressure, and thus the evil will not be found of such magnitude, that we should despair altogether of successfully dealing with it. And let us afterwards take measures to meet the evil when we have ascertained its magnitude. I think it is the duty of this House to deal with it; and suppose that we should find that we have 200 Bills brought before us, why should we not sacrifice some time by applying ourselves to it, to meet and overcome the difficulty? We should greatly recommend ourselves to the country by saying that 282 these are the evils we have to deal with and we will deal with them in such a manner as to show that we are not unworthy of the confidence reposed in us. For, after all, appoint as many tribunals as you will, depend upon it you will ultimately come in the last resort to this House for a final decision. My opinion is, that you will get a great many Members who will give their voluntary attendance on those Committees; but suppose that we could not get that voluntary attendance, why should we not adopt the principle we apply to election Committees, and impose upon the Members the necessity of giving their attendance in order to come to a decision? Suppose we do that, and appoint Committees of not more than seven Members, we may find it necessary, considering the number of competing Bills, and that according to our own principle local influence must be excluded, to give to the Committees a power of selecting Members, and adopting that plan, the business may I think be despatched. At least, I do not despair of this House being able to deal with the difficulty, and it will be much better for us to determine and meet it than to contemplate the transference of our authority to any other tribunal. I have found that it is not very politic to pronounce an opinion on a plan presented for the first time. Now, the plan of the noble Lord I never heard of before to-night. If I had, I would have undertaken to give it my consideration; but for the Government to promise to give a plan full consideration, that plan being nothing more nor less than a total revolution of the whole system, would, I am afraid, produce great confusion through every part of the country. The noble Lord is afraid of a great portion of capital being sent into foreign countries, and invested in securities of much less value than railways in this country, and therefore the noble Lord says, an immediate decision is necessary; but it is perfectly certain that it is impossible to adopt the noble Lord's proposed plan. That plan, as I understand, is that the Government should undertake now a new survey of all the different railway schemes in England, Scotland, and Ireland; but it would take a long time to complete that survey, and the noble Lord's plan is therefore impracticable in a day, a week, or a month, Are we to-morrow to announce, on the part of the Government, that all the 283 present railway schemes must be suspended—that we must constitute a Board and send engineers to determine on the propriety of all those plans? Take the case of the Waterford and Kilkenny Railway: are we to say that a company which has been going on under our sanction for the last twelve or fourteen months, involving the interests of private individuals—that where a branch railroad from another passing near a town has been proposed, and a second scheme has also been proposed, and discussion has been going on for the last month, and has finally ended in an amicable compromise between the two — that this whole scheme must be suspended until a new survey can be taken by the Government engineers? That may be a very good plan, but it must inevitably lead to a further suspension of all railway schemes. If that course were adopted before any plan could be maturely considered and carried into execution, this Session would have been brought to a close. If this were a res integra—if railways were now to be commenced ab initio, the plan of the noble Lord might be adopted, and the Government might derive a great revenue from railways by undertaking to make them. I do no know what effect it might have had on the Constitution if every one of these railways had been in the hands of the Government, and they had appointed all the officers connected with them; but I very much doubt whether at the present moment, if the Government had undertaken them, even with the benefit of this survey for making railroads direct from one place to another, the country would have been provided with a single railroad. I am sure that the country would not have been as well supplied with railway accommodation as at present. I never can overlook the effects produced by competition; nor do I now know how Government would set about determining in any case which line is the best; that must depend on local knowledge. Two towns might say, "Let us have a railroad between these places — let us consider what is the best line—what interests are affected by it." How can we appreciate these interests? All depends upon local knowledge. Under the present system the result is satisfactory to the parties concerned: they embark their money in the speculation, and the railway is made. If we had a Government board, and Government 284 engineers, I do not know how we should set about determining the course to be pursued. The Government must depend upon local suggestions, and these suggestions would invariably be influenced by considerations of local advantage, and perhaps of personal profit. In considering this subject, we must not merely look to the enormous profits made by some Railway Companies, but we must also bear in mind the losses sustained by others. It is to the balance of profits and of losses that we must look, in considering the question. When we find railways at a premium of 20 or 30 per cent., may we not say with justice that that fact suggests that we have a right to attach certain conditions to those railways? We say "We will not interfere with your speculation. We gave you a preference; but the enormous premium now upon the price of your shares entitles us to stipulate on behalf of the public, and, in particular, of the poorer classes, for certain privileges, and that we can do without any disturbance of the ordinary course of proceeding." On the other hand, shall we say, after allowing them to proceed in their course for some time, that we are going to appoint a new Government Board, suddenly stop all their proceedings, and render null and void all that has been done by the existing Board? I think we ought not. We allow to all these speculations a free competition, and with all respect for the noble Lord, of whose plan I shall say no more, as he is not present to hear my remarks, I must say it is my deliberate conviction that if we were to adopt that plan and to stop the functions of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, the result would be that we should not have a single Railway Bill passed this Session. My advice, therefore, is that we should address ourselves, through a Select Committee, to the consideration of what will be the best mode of constituting our Committees for the consideration of Railway Bills. I think we should wait until we see the Reports of the Board of Trade, to learn from them the general principles which guided the proceedings, and then—reserving to ourselves full power, if we are overwhelmed with the pressure of these duties, of devising some remedy—that we should at present determine not to depart from the course which we have hitherto adopted, but immediately apply ourselves 285 to consider the best mode of constituting Committees upon these Bills. If you appoint a Government tribunal to determine between rival lines of railway, I ask whether it will not be subject to the same suspicions and objections as the Railway Committee of the Board of Trade? Suppose they were called on to decide between the three lines from London to York, who can doubt that discontent would follow their decision, whatever it might be? The direction of the line between London and York will materially affect the prosperity of that part of the country through which it passes; and when the decision of that tribunal should come to be made, I am certain that the shareholders of the two rejected lines would be disappointed, and their representatives, like my hon. Friend, the Member for Dorsetshire, would be making speeches in this House to show that a better line might have been adopted. There would be vain surmises that undue influence had been used; and that such a tribunal would be subject to the same imputations, although without a shadow of reason, as the Board of Trade has been subjected to, I have not the least doubt. I hope, therefore, that the House will follow my advice, and let us apply ourselves immediately to the consideration of the best mode of constituting Committees on these Bills, without at the same time consenting to disturb the ordinary course of our proceedings.
§ Mr. Bankes
wished to say, in explanation, that he was not the representative of any of the proposed lines of railway, and merely spoke in reference to the interests of the county he represented. He had not a share in any railway company.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, he did not at all mean to suggest that his hon. Friend had, or that he represented a railway company in that House; but what his hon. Friend now said was just the reason which contained his objection, viz., that the representative of the county would come to that House and express himself dissatisfied with a certain decision, as injurious in its consequences to the local interests of that county.
§ Mr. Wakley
The right hon. Gentleman has made a very useful and practical speech; but the great difficulty which he alluded to on a former occasion he has passed over in silence—what is to be done with the barristers? The Members of the House will be completely victimized if they 286 are to be disposed of in fives and sevens, and left to the interminable addresses of barristers. The right hon. Gentleman said on a former occasion that there would be great difficulty in controlling them. How are the chairmen to be selected? and who are they to be?—because it appears that barristers will yield no submission, unless to Members of their own profession. That, is their own declaration. In addressing themselves to the law of the case, they constantly express their regret that they are not addressing gentlemen who are learned in the law. Although those gentlemen profess to be sitting in the Committee-room as makers of the law, still will barristers express their regret before them that they cannot comprehend a legal argument. I shall read to the House a few remarks upon the subject from the Morning Chronicle, a paper of considerable note, and which expresses in a great decree public opinion in reference to it. The subject is one which must not be overlooked, because it is notorious that the time of the Committees is outrageously wasted by the manner in which we allow their business to be conducted. Committees are adjourned again and again for the purpose of allowing barristers of extensive practice to resume their place as leaders. What is the opinion of the public respecting the tribunals which are formed from this House, as expressed today in the Morning Chronicle? That newspaper says,—It may be that counsel do in these Railroad Committees make gold out of iron, with 'express train' haste—peradventure, also, the fees are out of all proportion to the amount, intricacy, or difficulty of the business done; but, then, it is not for doing the business eminent, eloquent, and able men are retained, but for overmastering the committee.That is a very candid declaration, but it is perfectly true. The object of the counsel is to overmaster the Committee, to control the Committee, and to cause it to decide not in accordance with truth and justice, but in accordance with what is contrary to truth and justice. Counsel are employed for that purpose, and it is admitted. What is the remedy proposed? The same journal says,—"Elevate your Parliamentary tribunal to the intellectual stature of your Parliamentary bar;" or, in other words, you must provide out of this House in fives and sevens, gentlemen whose vigorous intellects and capacity of 287 mind, will enable them to contend with the higher grade of barristers who plead on those occasions. That is not a very complimentary remedy, although I do not mean to say it is wholly uncalled for.Elevate your Parliamentary tribunal to the intellectual stature of your Parliamentary bar, and the remedy for proxility, diffuseness, the introduction of extraneous matter, and such shocking bad law that it can only be called 'crowner's quest law,' is near at hand.They should not speak of "crowner's quest law," so disrespectfully, because it was made by lawyers before medical men got into office, who brought it into such disrepute that it now required the aid of the medical profession to redeem it, and extricate the lawyers from the difficulty.On matters of fact, the writer continued, allow your Committees the jurors' province of decision, but in matters of law aid them by a competent legal assessor, having judicial responsibility, and, of course, assuming judicial power. It is not from any vulgar greediness of gain, as is coarsely and ignorantly imputed, that counsel now waste the time of committees in frivolous speeches and driftless examinations and cross-examinations, but it is because they level themselves down—with all respect be it said—to the intelligence of a Parliamentary tribunal, high in mere worldly, but low, very low, in judicial intelligence. Placing no reliance at all on the judicial discrimination of their judges, Parliamentary counsel do undoubtedly often address to Committees the most preposterous propositions in law, and, finding such absurdities tolerated, contend for victory, and sometimes obtain it, often in the teeth of law, of fact, and common justice.I do not think your proposal will render those proceedings of a less dubious character. Public opinion is adverse to the occupation of the time of this House in the consideration of railways. It is believed out of doors that there are too many here who have a deep personal interest in those speculations to decide honestly and fairly for the public good; and nothing can be more unfortunate for the character of the Legislature than that such an opinion should generally prevail. It is already prevalent, and I do not believe that any proposition submitted to this House will have the effect of mitigating the evil. So long as such a tribunal is resorted to, so long will this House and its decisions be attacked, as regards those speculations and undertakings in which it is known that a large number of Members actually have a personal interest. The Railway Board was presumed to have been constituted 288 of men of such high reputation as to lead to the supposition that it would have been free from every reproach or imputation. But is it so? Allusion has already been made to the nature of that Committee, but in no invidious manner, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dorsetshire, and there is no doubt that their decisions in reference to the railways for the west of England have given great dissatisfaction in that county. If then a Board constituted, as that Board is said to have been, with so much care, cannot be free from insinuations, and from statements of the kind I hold in my hand, is it likely that Committees of this House, formed of five or seven Members, as proposed by the right hon. Baronet, will be more fortunate in escaping imputations, not only as regards their character, but as regards the object for which they are to be appointed? I hold in my hand a publication called the Economist, from which I shall read a short extract respecting railway speculations; for it really is a circumstance which ought to be known and duly considered before any Committee is appointed, or anything done in reference to an evil of which so many complain. The writer is making some comments upon the speech of the late President of the Board of Trade, and proceeds:—Now, this is no doubt all true; nor have we have any reason for believing that any one connected with the Board is interested in railways; and the care which Mr. Gladstone appears to have exercised to secure the Board against any suspicion is highly creditable. But there are many other facts which are notoriously true, and to which we would not even allude, did we not know them to be so; and which, we think, are in themselves quite sufficient to excite the strongest feelings of disapprobation at the constitution and power of the Board. It appears, that shortly after the appointment of Sir James Graham's private Secretary as a Member of this Board, his brother was engaged by the South-Eastern Railway Company, at a large salary as manager of that line, in which position he still continues.Here I must observe, that I do not see why the name of the right hon. Baronet opposite should be introduced, for I am sure that he has not in the slightest degree exercised the slightest influence in the appointment of that gentleman. The article goes on to say,—The Standing Rules of the House require that Railway Companies intending to apply for an Act in the ensuing Session of Parliament 289 should deposit plans of the lines with the Clerk of the Peace in the county, and at the Board of Trade, on or before the 30th of November. After that day, however, it was known that this order had not been complied with by the South-Eastern line, and, in consequence, that it was thought impossible for them to go to Parliament in the next Session for their several new lines. The consequence was a considerable fall in their shares. Notwithstanding this, however, towards the end of December, it was known, that among others in the confidence of the Directors, Mr. W. O'Brien had been a buyer of several hundred shares of that company; and, to the surprise of many, on the 17th of January, the Report of the Board of Trade came out in favour of nearly all its proposed undertakings, and against nearly all its opponents, although the line was considered entirely out of Court by its omission of Standing Orders; and on the next day the following notice was posted in the Stock Exchange in the usual course of business:—'If 100 new Dover shares, bought in the name of William O'Brien at 8½ P.M., are not delivered on Wednesday, 22nd instant, they will be bought in by J. W. Scott, Jan. 18th, 1845;' these shares at that time being worth 22l. premium. It was, moreover, stated that this was only a part of much larger transactions.I would ask the right hon. Baronet or any person whether it is possible that a statement of that kind can go forth to the public without being thoroughly investigated and refuted, and not inflict the greatest possible injury on the utility of the Board? If the Board be not cleared from the imputations which have been cast upon it by reports of this description, I am confident, unless its proceedings be henceforth thrown open, and all its transactions conducted in the face of the public, that every decision to which it comes will be questioned. It is next to impossible, under the difficulties in which we are placed, to hope to make any proposition that will receive the general concurrence of this House or the country. The whole subject is one of difficulty. The interests concerned are of great extent—diffused over the entire surface of the land. Everybody, in fact, seems engaged one way or other, in railways. [An hon. Member on the Treasury Bench: Is there to be no tribunal?] The right hon. Gentleman wants to know whether there is to be a tribunal? That is the difficulty to be solved. See what the barristers do in Committees of this House; see the difficulty of controlling them. I do believe that you must propose to place them in an 290 office of station and responsibility. I positively conceive it to be your duty, as you are determined to maintain the power of this House and uphold its decisions, to make legal gentlemen, of known capacity, chairmen or assessors, and that unless you do no—unless you place gentlemen of high legal reputation and attainments in such situations, it will be impossible for you to get through the railway business of the country. The right hon. Gentleman is unwilling to confer such offices upon them; but how are you to get out of the difficulty without doing so? You are here told that the nature of the office in which the barristers are at present engaged is "mastering the Committees," in consequence of the Parliamentary intellect not being up to the high standard of the intellect of the bar. If the bar cannot pay common respect to the judgment of Members of this House, and if they have the power of overruling or protracting by their talk the decisions of this House, is it right that those who come here to obtain useful institutions and add to public benefits should be plundered as they are by the necessity thereby created of incurring a useless and extravagant expense? Is it not monstrous to think that the procuring of one Railway Bill should cost more than 100,000l., or that50,000l. and 60,000l. should be the ordinary expense attending such a proceeding? How can such a fact be mentioned without reflecting upon the character of this House? It may be said that Sir H. Halford and other eminent men of the profession to which I belong, are making large incomes through the public, as well as barristers. But no one complains of that. There is besides no analogy in the two cases, for in the one of which I complain, what do I find? A number of agents employed to do what? To spend other people's money in procuring the success of a measure before this House. I am told by Members of the House that gentlemen are frequently engaged as leading counsel in four or five Committees at a time. ["More."] Some hon. Member says "more." I ask, then, is that fair to the public? Cannot that system be controlled? Is there no means of preventing it? It has been stated, too, that those gentlemen are paid, not for the performance or finishing of the work in hand, but by the day. If I were paid to speak by the day, I do not know when I should stop. And so it is with others. Give a man a wig, and pay him 291 by the day, and there is no knowing when he will stop It is really a serious question, and I think the right hon. Baronet will find it so before the end of the Session, if something be not done in time. If it be notorious that barristers treat with contempt, and almost with scorn, the judgment and opinions of the gentlemen whom they address, is it not right—does not common sense demand—that you should place some person upon the tribunal who would have some control over them, and be able to keep their speeches within the pale of reason? Unless you do, certain I am that the public will suffer the greatest possible injury.
§ Sir James Graham
said: It is perhaps scarcely necessary for me to say that, after the speech of my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, nothing was further from my intention than to address one word to the House upon this subject. I certainly was not prepared, however, for the introduction of my name in this discussion, inasmuch as I thought, if the hon. Gentleman had intended to introduce it, he would at least have had the courtesy to inform me that such was his intention; but I do not complain in the least that, without any notice, he has introduced my name on the present occasion in a manner so direct and so intelligible. I have heard before something like an allusion to the subject which forms the topic of the article that the hon. Gentleman has read; and my name now being mentioned in direct terms, I am sure that the House will feel—though it is always painful in a public assembly to speak of oneself—I am sure that the House will feel that this discussion is forced upon me. I will state, having held a seat in this House for now nearly thirty years, having seen the first commencement of railway speculation, having had a seat in this House in 1825, when so much speculation was on foot, and having taken an active part in the private business of this House, that I never in my life thought it consistent with the discharge of my duty either to hold a share in, or to form any connexion, directly, or indirectly, with any railway company or speculation whatever. So much for myself. Now, with regard to the two relatives of mine to whom also the hon. Gentleman referred—the Messrs. O'Brien. Those two gentlemen were educated professionally for the army, and they have served in different branches of that service. Having to make their way in life, they did not think it incompatible with 292 their station or their honour to apply the scientific information which they had derived professionally to aid in the execution and superintendence of railroads. The office of private secretary to myself being vacant, I, relying on the honour and intelligence of one of those gentlemen, removed him from the occupation in which he was then engaged in connexion with the railroad, and made him my private secretary. My expectations with regard to his integrity, honour, and intelligence, have not been disappointed. He served me faithfully: I was most anxious to retain his services. No application, either directly or indirectly, was made by me in his favour to obtain the situation which he now holds in connexion with the Board of Trade; it was a great loss to me when he was taken from me; I regret it extremely, and I had nothing whatever to do with his selection for his office, which he now holds in the Board of Trade. My right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) thought that he was a gentleman well fitted for the situation to which he was appointed, and which he now holds. Upon his appointment, it was made a condition with Mr. O'Brien, as that right hon. Gentleman stated the other evening, that any connexion which he might then have with any railway speculation should immediately cease, and that any railroad shares of which he might be possessed should be sold. I am informed by Mr. O'Brien that with these injunctions he immediately complied. He was connected with two railways, and he sold the shares that he had in them, I think in October, when his appointment took place. From some regulation with which I am not conversant, the shares in speculations which are pending, and which have not yet received the sanction of Parliament, are represented by what is called "scrip," and in order that that scrip may be saleable, the party in whose favour it is issued must sign some document, where it will appear even after he has parted with the scrip, — consequently Mr. O'Brien's name does appear in one or more schemes with respect to railways about to be brought before Parliament; but I am assured that the sale took place in the month of October, and that his name only appears as a matter of form. Some wrong conclusion might have been come to by the writer in the Economist with regard to the Mr. O'Brien connected with the Dover Railway, on account of the identity of the name; and he might have supposed that the gentleman to whom he refers, and 293 the one who has now a seat at the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, are one and the same person. That is not so. There are two brothers. The one alluded to by the Economist was also educated for the military service, and he has been in the employment of a railroad company in the north of England. For a short time, on the appointment of the gentleman now connected with the Railroad Department of the Board of Trade, I took the brother as my private secretary who is now the object of comment in the Economist. An appointment, one of large emolument I believe, was offered to him by some railway company. I could not stand in the way of his advancement, and with great reluctance I parted from him. I can assure the House that neither directly nor indirectly has there been any communication between the gentleman filling the responsible situation at the Board of Trade, and the gentle man mentioned in the Economist as to speculating in shares. Amidst all the great advantages of railway speculations there are some disadvantages, and none greater could befal the State, than that the character of public men should be implicated in many transactions of this description. I hope the House will not think, then, that I have acted improperly in at once, upon a natural impulse, stating to the House the whole truth. With regard to myself, I can only say, that I have no connexion, direct or indirect, with any railroad speculation. With respect to others, if any doubt remain, and I can hardly believe there should—if there be any doubt as to the accuracy of the statement that I have made respecting the conduct of those two gentlemen—one being a public servant, and the other being immediately connected with him,—if there be, I say, any suspicion on the part of any Member of this House, let an inquiry be instituted. It would be a most proper matter for an inquiry, and by the result of that inquiry let those gentlemen stand or fall. Every one, I am sure, would be ashamed to entertain an unjust suspicion of another against whom no imputation could be sustained, and who at the same time challenged an inquiry. Do not let us, then, without proof whisper away the character of two honourable men who have served their country in various capacities, though they are not powerful or men of high station. To return to the subject more immediately under discussion. The hon. Member for Finsbury will excuse me if I say, that I cannot return him the compliment which he 294 paid to my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, on having made "a practical speech." The hon. Member for Finsbury began by unscrupulously condemning the constitution of Railroad Committees appointed by the House; and he said that a Committee of five or seven Members could not be competent to rise to the heights of law and justice without having a lawyer to preside over them, and moreover, that suspicion was apt to be excited as to the purity of their motives. Then where will the hon. Gentleman find his competent tribunal? The Board of Trade is already an object of the hon. Gentleman's suspicion. The Railway Department consists of men of honourable professions, presided over by a Peer of the realm, against whom, amid all this jealousy, no allegation has been made. There is General Pasley, a most distinguished general officer; Mr. O'Brien, who has served in the army with the purest reputation; and the other gentlemen are most useful and honourable men—one of whom in this House was always viewed as an authority—I allude to Mr. Porter. Yet with a tribunal so constituted, the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied. If you cannot trust a Commission appointed by official men—if a tribunal constituted as the one I have just described be not worthy of your confidence—if a Committee of the House of Commons be not trustworthy, practically, then, where are you to find your tribunal? Can it be believed that a Committee of this House carefully selected and acting under strict relations, acting in the face of the public, under the full pressure of public opinion—have you arrived at the day, I say, when the purity of such men's motives is to be doubted? Anything more degrading to this House cannot be imagined, and nothing, as I am persuaded, can be less true than the whisperings of impure motives that have been referred to. I quite agree with what has fallen from my right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, and I am convinced that if his advice be taken, and if we apply ourselves honestly to the task of appointing Committees in such a manner as that we shall bring public opinion to bear on every part of the conduct of the Members of those Committees, this difficulty will be overcome, and this duty will be satisfactorily performed. The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Roebuck) has entered the House since the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury, and I see behind him the hon. Member for Durham, also a member of 295 the learned profession. I believe that the liberties of this country are so much indebted to gentlemen of the long robe, and I know so well that amongst its distinguished members are to be found so many advocates of the freedom and defenders of the rights of people, that I am ashamed, in the presence of the members of that learned profession, to say one word in its behalf; but I must say, that my experience, even before Committees of this House, leads me to come to the conclusion, that though there there may have been sometimes abuses in the needless consumption of time, yet that without the aid of an intelligent Bar, it would be impossible for the duties of Committees to be properly performed. As to the fact that three or four leaders may sometimes be engaged in ten or twelve Committees at the same time, I would ask what would the people of England say if they were not allowed the choice of their own advocate? What will your constituents say if you attempt to bind them down, and to dictate to them in such a matter? They are entitled to have the aid of the ablest men, men of their own choice, so that their case may be represented and their interests preserved in the most effective manner. And I say, that it is our duty to our constituents, and to the people of this country, to leave them perfectly free in the choice of their counsel. I do not say that it is the duty of this House not to restrain any undue license on the part of the Bar, if they seem disposed to abuse the liberties which they possess; but I must say, that when serving on Committees, I have never seen even the slightest intimation to legal gentlemen unheeded by them, if it were conveyed in such a manner as a gentleman ought to receive and to respect. Now, I do not wish to prolong this discussion, and it would be vain for me to say more after what has been said by my right hon. Friend. I entirely concur in the advice which he gave to this House, and I believe that the moral effect of these discussions will be good. In personal matters, I am always sorry to intrude myself upon the notice of the House; yet, from the position that I occupy, anything affecting me as a public man does in some degree touch upon public interests, and I hope, therefore, that the House will pardon me.
§ Mr. Wakley
, in explanation, said, that the paper from which he had read had been put into his hands since he had entered the House, or he should certainly have intimated to the right hon. Baronet 296 that he was going to mention his name. He had not, however, in fact, the paper ten minutes before he rose to speak, and what would the right hon. Baronet have said, if his name being in a document from which he quoted, he had omitted to read it?
§ Mr. Brotherton
thought that there was much greater reason to complain of the length of the speeches and proceedings of Members of that House in the private Committees, than of the addresses of the Bar. He was a Member of the Committee on the Railway Bill which had been so particularly alluded to by the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland. That Committee had sat for sixty-one days, and he had voted in not less than 101 divisions during the progress of the Bill before it. The reason of this was, that a certain number of Members of the Committee were determined that the Bill should not pass, and they divided on the most frivolous objections. The barristers engaged against the Bill were encouraged to raise points, and to make objections to its progress which they otherwise would not have thought of doing. With regard to the frequent adjournments of Committees on Private Bills, he had had considerable experience on this subject; and he was satisfied that a vast number more such adjournments took place for the convenience of Members of that House who wished to be present, than at the request of barristers. In consequence of his observations he had always been in favour of having a Private Committee constituted of either five or seven Members; and he was satisfied that if this were done, many of the grounds of complaint which now existed would be removed, and amongst other things, the speeches of counsel would be shortened. But, whatever tribunal was formed, to which the decision on these questions was referred, it would be found that some objections would be raised. He thought, however, that a Committee composed of a few Members would be the best tribunal, and there would be a pretty good certainty of regularity of attendance on their parts.
§ Mr. Darby
wished that the hon. Member for Finsbury had attended Private Committees as often as he had done, and the hon. Member would not have said that the Committees were overridden by the Bar. As for the assertion that the Bar 297 wasted the time of the Committee, his experience did not warrant such a statement. The hon. Member had stated the "Crowner's Quest Law" would not have fallen into such disrepute formerly, had it not been that it had been administered by lawyers instead of medical men; did the hon. Member then mean to suggest that medical men should be appointed to act as assessors on these Railway Committees? He thought that it would be most improper to interfere to prevent the fullest discussions before these Committees, for it would lead parties that were disappointed in obtaining their object to assert that their cases had not been heard by the Committee. The hon. Member also complained of certain leading counsel obtaining so much of the business before Committees on Private Bills, and that in consequence many Committees were kept waiting day after day until it suited the convenience of such counsel to attend. He (Mr. Darby) did not believe that it often happened that Committees had to wait for the attendance of the leading counsel; at any rate he was sure that it was not the case as regarded the Private Committees on which he had served.
§ Mr. Wallace
, in reply, said that he was gratified with the tone of the discussion throughout; and after what had taken place he should not think it necessary to divide the House. If he should happen to be Chairman of any Committee on a Private Bill, he should propose that they should not be compelled to break up their sitting immediately it was announced that the Speaker had taken the Chair, but that they should be enabled to go on until they had finished the point before them; for as it was, the agents often, for the mere purpose of delay, impeded the progress of a Committee until the Speaker took the Chair. If this suggestion was not adopted, he should take care to adopt the proceeding followed by the Chairman of the Private Committees in the House of Lords, whenever an attempt was made to prolong the proceedings unnecessarily—to appoint the meeting at a very early hour the next day. He would always commence with assuring the counsel or agent, if an attempt was made to break up a Committee of which he was a Member, by announcing that the Speaker was in the Chair, that he should adjourn it to next morning at nine o'clock. This would soon put an end to any such attempts at delay. He could not conceive on what principle the 298 railway companies were allowed to keep up their high charges, so as to enable them to divide 8 or 10 per cent. profits, while the average rate of interest was between 2 and 3 per cent. He was so far satisfied with the discussion of that evening as to feel assured that it would attract further notice to the subject, and, above all, as he considered that the suggestions of the First Lord of the Treasury were most valuable, and as under these circumstances he did not conceive that he should have much support, he should not divide the House, but would withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion withdrawn.