HC Deb 13 March 1845 vol 78 cc776-83

House in Committee for the further consideration of the Railway Clauses Consolidation Bill.

On Clause 70, giving power to the company to vary the tolls either upon the whole or upon any particular portions of the railway,

Mr. Rice

proposed an Amendment, the effect of which would be to equalize the tolls over the whole of the line.

Mr. Tatton Egerton

opposed the Amendment. He knew that in many cases railway companies were exceedingly anxious to carry third-class passengers at a very cheap rate; but, he believed, if they were obliged to equalize their tolls over the whole of the line, that they could not act so liberally towards the third-class passengers as they would wish to do.

Lord G. Somerset

said, this was by no means a novel proposal. The matter had been considered very anxiously in several railway committees. It had been felt always to be a case of considerable difficulty, and it was thought to be one which could be better argued on a general, than on a particular case. The object of the clause was, if possible, to equalize the charge with the expense, so that more might be charged where the cost of maintenance was very heavy than on a part where the cost was very light. He had certainly received a great many communications upon this subject from gentlemen connected with the Medway Navigation, and he must say that he thought the opposition to this clause had originated with that company. He trusted, however, that the Committee would support the clause.

Mr. Brotherton

thought it very desirable that there should be a uniformity of charge upon the whole of any line. See how the contrary would act; suppose that thirty miles from some large town through which the railway passed there was a colliery, and that ten miles further off there was another colliery; the company might purchase the nearer one, or might make the tolls upon the first thirty miles exceedingly low; but in order to prevent the coals from the other colliery coming into competition, they might place an exceedingly heavy toll upon that ten miles between the two collieries. Such a thing would be manifestly unjust; but he believed that something of the sort was practised now to a very great extent.

Mr. Darby

must oppose the Amendment, for he believed that if acceded to it would have the effect of enabling the railway companies generally throughout the country to raise their tolls.

Mr. Pakington

supported the Amendment, and begged to direct the attention of the Committee to the injurious effect which the clause as it stood would have upon canal companies. In answer to the argument of his noble Friend, that some portions of the line cost more to maintain than others, and that consequently on those parts higher rates should be charged than on the other parts, he should say, let the railway companies ascertain the cost of working the whole of their line, and then apportion it equally, so as to secure themselves, whilst they extended the charge over the whole of the line.

Mr. Entwisle

said, that the whole of the arguments which had been urged against the clause seemed to be based upon the supposition that the railway companies acted in some other capacity than that of mere railway owners; either that they owned collieries or were opposed to some canal; without those admissions it appeared to him that the arguments in support of the Amendment would be quite untenable.

Mr. Horsman

supported the Amendment. The companies in making their different tolls were actuated, not so much, he believed, by a regard to the cost of maintaining particular parts of the line, but that they acted rather in relation to the amount of competition that they had to deal with. If a canal competed for ten or twelve miles, or more, with a railway, on that distance the tolls would be exceedingly low; so as to enable the company to carry goods cheaper than the canal; but to make up for that, they would place a higher rate upon that part of the line where there was little or no competition.

Lord G. Somerset

said, the suggestion seemed to be that the railway companies charged only according to the amount of competition with which they had to contend—that they charged as high as they could where there was no competition, and as little as possible where there was competition. That might be so; but he believed that if Parliament attempted to equalize the charge upon the whole of the line, the company would take good care to charge sufficiently high, so that on the whole the charges would probably be higher than they were at present. He trusted that the Committee would not accede to the Amendment. He should indeed prefer to strike the clause out altogether.

Mr. Gladstone

should certainly be much surprised if the Committee should come to a very satisfactory conclusion upon this point, for he knew what a variety of conflicting opinions there were with regard to it. He believed that the proposed clause gave no more power to new railway companies than existing companies already possessed; and he felt quite confident, if the Committee carried any Amendment which should have the effect of charging equal rates upon the whole line, that hon. Gentlemen would not even then gain their object. This Bill would be delayed, and the clause would infallibly be expunged in the Private Committees. Look at a very common case upon railways. On the whole, a line might bear, comparatively speaking, a high rate of charge; and at the same time it might be necessary for the convenience of the public that there should be on a particular portion of the same line a very low rate of charge. Take for instance the Manchester and Birmingham Company; between Manchester and Stockport there was of course an immense intercourse, and it was of great consequence that the persons generally travelling there should be subject almost to a nominal rate of charge. Would Parliament interfere and say to that Company, "But you shan't charge at that low rate between Manchester and Stockport, unless you adopt the same rate on the whole of the line from beginning to end?" That was the case of a short distance on a long line. He would next take the case of a long distance. We should soon have a complete chain of railways from London to Edinburgh, Dundee, and on to Aberdeen: now, he thought it desirable that such railways should be enabled to compete with the steam-boats that plied to those places; but that could not be done unless they charged on the "through traffic" a lower rate than they did upon that of some intermediate parts of the line. To refer to the case of canals, he would say, that he knew railway companies possessed some advantages which canals did not. A railway company had the power of being carriers, and of varying their rates. The canals had neither. The question was, should they raise canals to the level of railways, or should they depress railways to the level of canals? He should think that to that question no one would hesitate to say, "Raise the canals to a level with the railways." He (Mr. Gladstone) saw nothing injurious in this power; and if the canals wished to possess it, he did not see how their claims could possibly be resisted. He had himself brought in a Bill for that purpose; and he was happy to say that the House had given its assent to the principle of that Bill without opposition. If the clause were not approved of, he would rather see it struck out altogether than have the Amendment pass. Companies would then have to do what they could before the Private Committees; and the result would be that in every case they would have inserted in their Bills the clause which the Committee had refused to insert in the General Bill.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 19; Noes 21: Majority 2.

List of the AYES.
Baring, rt. hn. W. B. Horsman, E.
Burges, W. H. L. Jermyn, Earl
Burroughes, H. N. Lawson, A.
Darby, G. Rushbrooke, Col.
Duncan, G. Smollett, A.
Entwisle, W. Somerset, Lord G.
French, F. Towneley, J.
Fuller, A. E. Trelawny, J. S.
Gill, T. Wawn, J. T.
Greenall, P. TELLERS.
Hawes, B. Hayter, W. G.
Hepburn, Sir T. B. Mackinnon, W. A.
List of the NOES.
Aldam, W. Morrison, J.
Arkwright, G. Mundy, E. M.
Brotherton, J. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Childers, J. W. Pakington, J. S.
Deedes, W. Plumptre, J. P.
Douglas, J. D. S. Sibthorp, Col.
Dugdale, W. S. Stansfield W. R. C.
Farnham, E. B. Wood, Col.
Forbes, W. TELLERS.
Halford, Sir H. Martin, C. W.
Marsham, Visct. Rice, E. R.

Clause agreed to; as were the following clauses to the 81st.

On Clause 81, toll-collector to be personally liable to the company for the damage arising from the vexatious detention of any goods or luggage, upon application to a justice,

Colonel Sibthorp

said, he should like to know what protection would be afforded to the public by such a clause as that. He had heard an old proverb, "Sue a beggar, and catch a louse," and he really thought that that case would be very strictly analogous to suing a toll-collector for damage occasioned to a gentleman by the detention of his property. He wanted to know why there should not be a distress against the goods of the company?

Lord G. Somerset

said, that his hon. and gallant Friend had mistaken the meaning of the clause, which was simply intended to punish the guilty person. By the preceding clause the public had a remedy against the company, and this clause then came in to give the company a remedy against their servant.

Clause agreed to.

On Clause 90, which gives power to the company, subject to the provisions in the Special Act, to regulate the use of the railway,

Colonel Sibthorp

said, he believed there was an Act of Parliament somewhere compelling carriers speedily to deliver up goods intrusted to them to carry. He wanted to know why there was not a similar clause here?

Mr. Hayter

said, if there were an Act regulating carriers, he should imagine that the same law would relate to one carrier as to another.

Mr. Mackinnon

wished to call the attention of the noble Lord to a subject which appeared to him to be of great importance, and with regard to which he had consulted some very eminent engineers — he alluded to the necessity for having some correct and certain standard of time. One degree of longitude made a difference of about four minutes in time, and Dublin time was about fourteen minutes later than London time, and when lines of railway should be carried far into the West of Ireland, there would be a difference of about twenty-five minutes in the time. He did not mean to propose any Resolution; but he thought it right to allude to the subject, because the inconvenience that must result, unless something were done, must be very great, especially in cases where there were many branches running into the main line.

Mr. Hayter

thought that the difficulty might very easily be obviated, by having two hands on the station clocks; one denoting the time at Greenwich, and the other denoting the time at another place.

Lord G. Somerset

thought it would be better to leave the matter entirely to the railway companies themselves. With the very great responsibilities that they possesed, it would be very hard if power were not given to companies to manage in a great measure their own affairs after their own fashion.

Mr. Plumptre

referred to the practice of excursion trips on Sundays. Hundreds and thousands of persons were upon the Sabbath frequently carried into towns and suburban districts, to an extent which it was fearful to contemplate in a Christian country. He would suggest, humbly but forcibly, that this travelling on the Lord's day should be put an end to.

Colonel Sibthorp

said, if they stopped travelling by railways on Sunday, they should also extend the principle to omnibuses.

Mr. Spooner

earnestly joined in the recommendation of his hon. Friend the Member for East Kent (Mr. Plumptre). It frequently happened that an immense train of persons entered into a quiet country place just as divine service was about to commence, much to the annoyance of all well-disposed persons. Such a desecration of the Sabbath was a disgrace to a Christian country, and he called upon the noble Lord, as a Christian legislator, to do something which should stop such a practice, fraught, as it must be with evil to the morals of the country.

Mr. Muntz

said, no doubt the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken were quite sincere in their pious professions; but he knew that there were persons who could not afford themselves any relaxation or fresh air except upon a Sunday, and he looked upon it as a great advantage that those persons now had an opportunity of getting into the country at a cheap rate upon a Sunday. If they stopped this practice, they should not allow any gentleman's carriages to travel the streets on a Sunday, otherwise there would be one law for the rich and another for the poor. He submitted to the noble Lord that this was not a matter for the Committee to interfere in.

Mr. Spooner

said, his chief object was to put a stop to those "pleasure trains," as they were called, or to take care that they should not arrive at or depart from a place just at the time of divine service.

Lord G. Somerset

really did not think that this was a matter which it became them to discuss. It would be quite an era in legislation, and should be originated in a full House. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friends would excuse him if he declined entering into the matter further than to say that he could not insert anything with regard to Sunday travelling in this Bill.

House resumed. Committee to sit again.

House adjourned till five o'clock, and met again at that hour.

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