§ Mr. Cobden
said, in rising to bring forward a Motion of which he had given notice, for the purpose of issuing a Commission to inquire into the propriety of establishing a uniformity of gauge for all railways, it was not his intention to go into any theoretical views, for the present, as to the comparative merits of the broad or narrow gauges. He referred briefly to various petitions which he had received on this subject from different parts of the country, and read a few extracts from the same, pointing out the evils and inconveniences 1183 arising from the circumstance of railroads running into, or having communication with, each other, being constructed of gauges of different dimensions. It appeared to him to be a matter which would produce much public advantage, if a commission of engineers was appointed to inquire into and report to the Legislature as to which description of gauge it would be most advisable to adopt generally; or to recommend the drawing of a line of demarcation through the different districts of the country where railroads were already established, in order to point out what gauge was to be used in those districts respectively, taking into consideration the gauges more prevalent in each. And it might be also most advisable to ascertain, through the medium of the same Commission, if possible, whether it might or might not be expedient and feasible to introduce uniformity of gauge throughout the kingdom, when the most desirable one should have been discovered. The hon. Member concluded by moving the following Resolution:—That, it having been represented to this House by petitions from various public bodies, as well as from merchants, manufacturers, and others, that serious impediments to the internal traffic of the country are likely to arise from the 'breaks' that will occur in railway communications from the want of a uniform gauge; and these representations not having been fully inquired into by any of the Committees of this House upon Private Bills, and it being desirable that the subject should be further investigated, an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to be graciously pleased to issue a Commission to inquire whether in future Private Acts for the construction of railways, provision ought to be made for securing a uniform gauge; and whether it would be expedient and practicable to take measures to bring the railways already constructed, or in progress of construction, in Great Britain, into uniformity of gauge; and to inquire whether any other mode of obviating or mitigating the apprehended evil could be adopted, and to report the same to this House.
§ Sir G. Clerk
did not wish to offer any opposition to the Motion of the hon. Member for Stockport, because the question of which it treated was one which had assumed so much importance as to render it very desirable that it should be examined into by a proper tribunal, whose decision might carry weight with it in the opinion of that House. But, at the same time, he would throw out a sugges- 1184 tion for the consideration of the hon. Member opposite, whether it would not be more desirable to omit the latter portion of his Motion, or to modify it, where reference was made to the probability of securing uniformity of gauge on all railroads; as such a subject of inquiry might create no small alarm amongst those interested in railroads already in existence, who had a large amount of capital already sunk in these undertakings, and upon whom any change in the respect alluded to would entail very considerable injury. He certainly agreed in the necessity of taking into consideration the description of gauge to be used in different districts where there were the ramifications of so many railroads in connexion with others already established, and of deciding which was the best one to be adopted by the new projects. As he had observed at first, he had no objection to the Motion before the House; but he would recommend the hon. Member to omit or modify that portion of it to which he had alluded.
Mr. J. S. Wortley
expressed his satisfaction at the introduction of such a Motion, as well as the manner in which it had been received by the Government, for the time had arrived when it became necessary to take some steps in this matter; but as it was only a subject for inquiry into all bearings of the question, he did not conceive the hon. Member for Stockport (as he was understood) ought to omit the part of his Motion which was suggested.
§ Mr. F. T. Baring
would be sorry if the Government objected to the fullest possible investigation into all the merits of a subject which was so important, and upon which it was so expedient to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion.
§ Mr. Ricardo
also advocated the necessity of instituting a full inquiry into the subject of the best gauge to be established, as well as for the purpose of obviating the acknowledged inconvenience of different gauges on railways in communication with each other.
§ Lord G. Somerset
was understood to concur generally in the view taken of the subject under discussion by Sir G. Clerk.
§ Mr. Ward
highly approved of the proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Stockport; but at the same time he confessed, he feared it would be impossible to obtain a uniformity of gauge now throughout the country. His suggestion, however, for drawing certain lines of demarcation through the various districts of the king- 1185 dom, and determining on the gauge to be adopted by new railroads on those, taking into consideration the description of gauge most used on them at present, was a very useful and legitimate subject for inquiry by such a Commission as that proposed.
§ Mr. Shaw
also concurred in the necessity of establishing such an inquiry as that recommended by the hon. Member for Stockport; but considered it very essential for the public benefit that no time should be lost, if it were once commenced, in coming to a decision on this important subject. It was of great moment that as little delay as possible should take place in conducting it to a termination.
§ Motion carried nem. con.