§ Mr. Morrison
rose to move the Resolutions respecting Railways, of which he had given notice. No one, he observed, who had at all attended to what was at present passing upon this subject, both within and without the House, could fail of being satisfied that the railway system had taken deep root in this country, with a probability at no distant period of 1213 becoming universal. Indeed, considering the advantages which railway locomotion possessed over other means of conveyance, it would soon become, not merely desirable, but absolutely a necessity. It was not necessary for him to enter into the great advantages offered to the community by the railway system. Indeed, in a country like this, in a high stage of civilization, railroads were almost as necessary to our social, as air and water were to our physical existence. And what had as yet been done was but small in comparison to what might still be effected, when men of science devoted themselves to the improvement and development of the means of locomotion now coming into use. He need not dwell upon the advantages railroad travelling opened up to the man of fortune travelling for his pleasure. To the manufacturer it was of the last importance, as giving him the opportunity of communicating rapidly with the persons who purchased from him, and of transmitting the articles he produced at a comparatively small cost. Indeed to him the system was equivalent to the application of some new improvement in machinery, diminishing to a great extent the cost of production. Again, there was, perhaps, no class who would probably reap greater benefit from railway conveyance than farmers. One of the great reasons why agriculture was so backward in some districts, compared to its condition in others, would be found in the want of opportunity enjoyed by the farmer of personal observation in those more improved districts, from whence he might draw a useful lesson to guide his operations at home. He hoped that the farmers of the West of England would soon be enabled, at a small cost, to make excursions to Norfolk and Lincolnshire, to observe and profit by the superior methods of cultivation in use in these counties. It was obvious that the labourer could hardly be expected to reap great advantages from railroads unless the fares were regulated on an exceedingly moderate scale. He trusted, however, that the means of communication would become so cheap and easy that the labourer would be enabled to leave parts of the country where wages were low, and proceed to those where wages were either permanently higher, or where a greater temporary demand existed for labour. The means of transport, too, offered by railways for articles of general consumption, was an important point in the case. As an instance of the manner 1214 in which the facilities offered by a railway increased traffic of this kind, he would read a statement relative to the employment of railway carriage for the conveyance of fish for the consumption of Manchester. He found it stated that—
"Until recently very little fish has been used in Manchester by any of the labouring classes except the Catholics; the more regular consumption was limited to the higher and the middle classes; the quantity was small, and the price was high. It was observed by Captain Laws, R.N., the manager of the Leeds railway, that the fishery on the east coast was languishing, from the low state of demand for their fish, though their 'catch' was good. The railway directors had followed the example of all carriers, and deeming fish a luxury which must be taken, had charged high prices for the transit. The captain, however, succeeded in getting them to reduce their charges; he got the fishermen on the coast to sell all the fish they took at one regular fixed price, whether the catch was great or small; he got a stand opened at Manchester, at which the best cod fish was retailed at from 1½d. to 2d. per lb. The general price had been previously from 8d. to 1s. per lb; on occasions of great plenty it was sold at 4d., its lowest price. It never then got beyond the middle classes, and was not used by them very frequently. At 1½d. and 2d. per lb. it got to artizans and persons of the labouring class. The reduction brought the commodity within the means and inclination of so large a class of customers as to raise a demand that has kept a head of the supply. Before the arrangement was made, the quantity of fish sent from the east coast by railway was only three tons and a half per week; but within the last year it has risen to eighty tons per week. The whole answered extremely well as a commercial speculation to the fishermen on the coast, to the railway directors, and the salesmen; and it has led to the habitual use of fish by large numbers of persons who rarely tasted it before. The example has brought in increased and cheap supplies from other quarters, and made a market from whence they have been distributed into the adjacent districts."
The landed interest, however, would be benefited more, perhaps, than any other by the universality and cheapness of railroads. Not only would coal and lime, and other heavy articles, be easily transported from place to place, but agriculture would have a new means of improvement opened up to it, in the obtainment of cheap and expeditious means for the conveyance from place to place, not only of manures, but of those particular components of soils, the admixture of which would fertilise and improve the condition and the heart of land. The application of steam as a means 1215 of locomotion was rapidly absorbing all other systems of communication. Coaches and waggons had not only been superseded, but canals would probably also share the same fate. Already some canals had been deprived of almost all their traffic; and it seemed probable that the whole system of canals would soon only be employed as auxiliary to that of railroads. It would be observed, too, that the cost of forming railways was greatly diminished now, in comparison to what at an earlier period of the system it had been; and, instead of meeting with the general opposition of the landowners, as was once the case in its earlier days, the system had now their general support. This was important. The cost, too, of working, as well as the cost of construction, had much diminished. The expense of attending to and keeping in repair the banks, &c. of a railroad, was in a like manner undergoing a gradual diminution. For example, they were told by the Board of Trade that in the west of England railroads could now be made at an expense of from 10,000l. to 12,000l. per mile, whereas the construction of the Great Western line was known to have involved an expense exceeding 50,000l. a mile. The cost of working locomotive power appeared, from the Board of Trade Report to be about 1s. 4½d. per mile; and he had reason to believe that the whole cost of running a train did not exceed 2s. per mile. But not only had the cost of constructing and working railways diminished, but the probable income arising from them, as well as the probable expenses, could be calculated with much more certainty than formerly. Indeed, he could state that, as a mercantile speculation, nothing was more certain than a railway. Its results could be counted on with far greater security than could those of a speculation in banking, or indeed in almost any other branch of commerce. It was always the case, that in dealing with great numbers—with high figures—a safe average could be readily struck. Under all these circumstances he thought that the time was coming when the entire question of railway communication, and the restrictions which it was desirable to place upon it, should be opened up; and he wished specially to call the attention of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government to the question. It was not a subject which, treated as a mere matter of detail, should be left to inferior Boards, but which should be viewed as 1216 a great matter of State policy. Considering the position of this country—its great wealth its dense population—its varied interest all blended together—considering also the cost of iron and the perfection of machinery, it would appear that we ought to have not only the best but the cheapest railways; whereas, in fact—and were nothing more effectual to be done in the matter than had yet been accomplished—we had and would continue to have, the very dearest. Let them look to continental lines, and see the rate of charges enforced there. He would not take the Belgian lines, because the Government was concerned in working them. They conveyed passengers at the rate of ½d., ¾d., and 1d. per mile per head, and yielded a fair profit — a profit indeed which he believed could be still further increased were Government not to make the working of the lines a matter of patronage. Looking, however, to this country, taking its population and its wealth, he believed that for railway purposes it was the most densely populated country in the world. That was, there were more of the population out of a given number who had the means and the inclination for travelling by railroad than in any other country. Such being the case, they had certainly every reason for insisting that the fares in England should be as cheap, or nearly so, as upon any continental line. Let them then take the case of the Orleans railway. The French had taken advantage of our experience, and also of our blunders, and he thought that we might very advantageously take some hints in return from them. The Orleans railway was established after the line to Rouen; but it was generally understood that its tariff of charges would be the model upon which the rates payable to future French railways would be estimated. The fares upon that line were calculated at the rate of ¾d., 1d., and 1½d. per head per mile. Now he thought at the very highest estimate 1d., 1½d. and 2d., would afford fair remunerating profits upon lines in this country. The system upon which they had hitherto acted in fixing railway tolls had been found quite impracticable. When the railway system was first introduced, it was an experiment of which the public generally had little knowledge, and of which the results were very doubtful. So little, indeed, was the system understood in its origin, that the original rates of toll were fixed upon the supposition that railway proprietors would be proprietors of the road 1217 only, and that persons using it would pay merely for the means of transit, as upon canals. It was well known now that that had not been the case. Railway proprietors were almost universally not only the owners of the line, but the carriers upon it. Still, strange as it might seem, the Legislature had continued, in every railway Bill, down to the last Bill of the last Session, to repeat these lists of tolls, although in no single instance were they enforced. Some hon. Gentleman, too, three or four years ago, moved that railroads should be obliged to stick up at every station a table of these tolls. The Motion was carried, and he believed that the table in question was regularly exhibited, although it was well known that the rates of tolls it showed were practically completely inoperative. The right hon. Gentleman the late President of the Board of Trade appeared to have felt strongly last year that it was necessary that something should be done in this respect; but he had unfortunately entered into his Committee apparently with the vain hope of being able to bring about some arrangement with the old companies before beginning to legislate for the new. It was, however, evident that the success of such an attempt was impossible in the then existing range of prices of old line shares. It was obvious that no board of directors would have consented to such terms (and if they had, no proprietary body would have sanctioned them in it) as those which the right hon. Gentleman, having the interests of the public in view, could feel himself justified in offering to them. He fully appreciated, however, the advantages which had been effected by last year's Bill, particularly that of causing companies to run cheap third-class trains at 1d. per mile, and he was happy to observe that by this means, not only were the number of passengers augmented, but the revenues of the companies were increased. By the report of the Grand Junction Company, it appeared that upon their line, the increase of passengers had been 308 per cent., and of revenue 76 per cent. It was deserving of notice, too, that producing these results, the new arrangement had not had the effect which was anticipated would arise from it, of decreasing the number of second-class passengers, their number having, indeed, a little increased, and the only falling off having been a trifling diminution in the number of first-class passengers. While upon this part of the subject, he might be permitted to remark, that he could see no 1218 reason why—extending the principle which had been sanctioned last Session—railway companies should not be compelled to run two cheap trains up and down their lines per day, and these two ordinary trains, with other description of carriages, not especially slow trains. He did not approve of the system which kept poor passengers upon the road for fifteen hours, when the journey could be performed in five. By the present system the Companies were put to the expense of separate trains, and the third-class passengers to the inconvenience of a much greater loss of time upon the railroad than was necessary. With respect to the power of revision granted by the Act of last Session, its operation was rendered quite nugatory by the insertion of what was called the 10 per cent. Clause which had been introduced into it. That the right hon. Gentleman the late President of the Board of Trade should have suffered that clause to be introduced, really surprised him, knowing as he did from ample experience that it would be quite unable to attain the object it aimed at accomplishing. Let the House recollect the multitude of ways which existed of eluding this clause. A company might spend a vast deal of money in unnecessary repairs or in expenses of management; or the intentions of Government might be set at defiance, and the surplus divided among the proprietors in the shape of new shares. The clause was indeed a perfect bounty upon bad management. He now came to the question of amalgamation. They had seen to what an extent it had been already carried. Now, whether this was a bad or a good thing, it was clear that it was one which could not be prevented. He was disposed to think that its advantages outweighed its disadvantages; but it, at the same time, had furnished the strongest possible reasons for the necessity of limitations and restrictions more stringent than have yet been applied being enforced with respect to new railways, otherwise the whole country would be in the hands of a few railway proprietors, and at their mercy. Indeed, by the amalgamation of lines it seemed not improbable that railway directors would come to be invested with patronage and power greater than was enjoyed by almost any other body of individuals. Their ramifications would extend to every town in England, and they would command there, for political or other purposes, the services of many of the most active of the inhabitants. The plan he 1219 proposed would, in some measure, tend to check the growth of these evils. It might be said, however, that his Resolution came too late—that all the principal lines had been already finished. This, however, was not the case. A great number of most important trunk lines had yet to be constructed. The Eastern Counties were still unprovided with a trunk line. There was no trunk line to Dover; for the railroad running there could hardly be called a Kentish line. There was no trunk line to Exeter; true, the Great Western furnished a trunk line to Bristol, but no further. The Report of the Board of Trade upon the Western Railways stated that a trunk line from London to Exeter would diminish the distance by railroad between it and London by upwards of twenty miles. This was an important point, as the comparative shortness of a competing line was now considered a great element in its favour. Then, again, there was no trunk line to Manchester, placing London in direct communication with the great northern manufacturing districts. It would be seen, therefore, that several of the most important lines of railroad still remained to be executed. Now the Resolutions which he intended to propose to the House, would, he believed, have the effect of checking, if not of absolutely preventing, some of the evils which he had alluded to. It was on all hands admitted that some limitation was necessary. He proposed that in all instances the Railway Committee to sit upon the scheme, should determine the rate of tariff according to the particular circumstances of each case. All the evidence relating to the cost of construction and of working — the estimates of traffic and of expense, would be in their hands, and with all these sources of information open to them, he believed that they would be able to form a very accurate judgment of what would constitute a remunerating rate of fares and charges. In many, if not in most cases, a scale ranging from one-half to two-thirds of the presently charged rates would, he contended, be amply sufficient. Not that he meant to complain of the too high scale of the fares charged by the old lines; when they were constructed the whole system was an experiment. It was now reduced almost to a matter of certainty; and a means of speculation as safe, if not more so, than any other commercial venture for making money. He saw no reason why a profit of 10 per cent., as allowed by 1220 the Act of last year, should be required to encourage people to lay out their money upon railroads. He did not see why a dividend of 7 per cent. should not have been considered amply sufficient. Let them look to what was doing upon the Continent. There, their rates of profit were still further limited; but no difficulty in raising money was experienced—indeed English capital was flowing abundantly abroad; and surely the same persons who invested their money in Foreign railroads, where the tariff of charges was fixed so low, would not hesitate about laying it out in railroad schemes at home. One of the pernicious consequences of the last year's Railway Bill had been the great excitement and reckless speculation which it had undoubtedly caused in the share market. People were apt to consider the 10 per cent. clause as a sort of guarantee for their deriving profit to that amount. The gambling and speculation in question, however, the Resolutions which he would propose would tend to repress. The policy chalked out in them would secure to the public also the important advantage of participating as soon as possible in the benefit of any improvement which might be effected in railway locomotion. At present the cost of constructing, working, and keeping in repair lines might be indefinitely lessened without the public gaining anything by the improvement. Whether railways were constructed at the expense of 20,000l., 30,000l., or 50,000l. per mile, much the same scale of fares was adopted. Now it was obvious that the rate at which fares became remunerative depended upon the original cost and ordinary outlay. In every other way in which capital was laid out, a decrease in the necessary expenses of a scheme produced an immediate beneficial result to parties consuming the produce of the speculation. An improvement of a process in the iron, or of the machinery in the cotton trade, was productive of an immediate beneficial effect to the public. Why should not similar causes produce similar effects with reference to railroads? Every opportunity should be taken of reducing the fares, consistently, of course, with the legitimate interests of the proprietors. The old lines of railway, indeed, would find—although they possessed at present undisturbed possession of their traffic—that the only way of permanently securing their monopoly was the reduction of their charges to so low a degree as to 1221 make it not worth while for any Company to start an opposition to them. That was the true commercial priciple to go upon, and it was what they must come to at last. It was most important, however, that they should embrace the present opportunity of doing something to hasten this consummation, as if they let it pass, the rapid construction of new lines would very much narrow the field of operation hereafter. The subject of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade would come on for consideration by and by; but he could not help remarking upon one or two points apparent in their Reports. In the first place they seemed to entertain an extraordinary and unnecessary dread of insolvent companies. This notion seemed perfectly to have haunted the minds of the Board, and somehow or other they always appeared to mix up insolvency with cheapness; for of the cheap lines they had an especial dread. Under these impressions they generally recommended that new lines should be entrusted to old companies, because, as it was alleged, the prior existence of these companies was a guarantee for the execution of the lines. He could not agree with this line of argument. A certain portion of the capital of projected lines was obliged to be paid up, and only a certain time was given to their projectors to complete them; and this was done in order to give the public security that the works would be carried duly out as projected. If the system had not been found to work satisfactorily, why not modify it? If the amount required to be paid up was too small, why not increase it? If the time allowed was too long, why not shorten it? Looking to the enormous railway system which he saw growing up around him, he did feel most strongly the necessity of reasonable restrictions upon the power of companies. He felt, if nothing were done in the matter, that they were creating a power over which they had not that control which such a power demanded. Hon. Members should bear in mind, that the railroad superseded all old means of conveyance. Every one of these, while they existed, was under strict control; but this, which was to absorb all, was placed under no control. The safeguard of competition was here in a great measure lost. And this consideration opened up another view of the matter, not without its importance. They had been lately 1222 struggling against monopolies; ever since he had come into Parliament, and, indeed, long before—the question of monopoly had been the subject of the most keen discussion — the most powerful attack. At the present moment it seemed generally to be admitted that, at all events, monopolies should not be allowed to increase. Their evils had been made manifest—their impolicy exposed. Yet what was the House doing now? While combating old monopolies they were rearing a new monopoly — a monopoly which would be more formidable, more injurious than any of its predecessors. No matter how inveterate might appear the hostility of contending companies—no matter how fiercely they might combat with each other before Committees or in that House—yet, where there existed a common interest, there would soon be found a common understanding, and that understanding would of course alone regard the interests of the parties privy to it. Their own gain was, of course, their great object; and the consequences likely to arise to the public and the country from their being allowed to carry out unchecked all their objects—to establish unhindered the whole fabric of their power—were such as to make it most advisable that some measures of restraint should be adopted. The hon. Gentleman concluded by proposing the following Resolutions:—
- 1. "That it is the duty of Parliament, in giving its sanction to the establishment of new Railways, to render them the means of affording to the public the best and safest communication, and the greatest possible amount of accommodation at the lowest possible rates:
- 2. "That the clauses heretofore introduced into Railway Bills to limit the amount of tolls to be demanded for the use of the Railway, having proved practically inoperative, it is expedient to make more effectual provision against the undue enhancement of the cost of travelling and transportation in every future Railway Bill, by fixing the highest rates which the Railway Company shall be allowed to charge for the conveyance of passengers and goods:
- "3. That for this purpose every Committee on a Railway Bill, introduced in the present or any future Session of Parliament, shall report a Table of Fees and Charges, the lowest which they shall judge to be consistent, under the circumstances of each case, with a fair and reasonable return for the capital to be invested:
- "4. And that every Committee to which two or more competing projects for new Railways may be referred, shall require the promoters of each to put in statements as to the
1223 rates of charge for the conveyance of passengers and goods to which they are content to be limited, and the amount of accommodation which they will bind themselves to provide for the public at those rates; and that, in determining on the comparative merits of competing schemes, regard shall be had to the extent and nature of the advantages which can be thus reserved to the public from each."
§ Mr. Warburton
said, that perceiving the then state of the House, he was not disposed to address it at any length in seconding the Resolutions of his hon. Friend. He had chiefly been induced to do so in consequence of having looked over some of the Reports of the Board of Trade on certain railway speculations. Formerly he was much disposed to consider that it would be most for the public interest to let them look to a fair competition between parties wishing to establish railways; but since he had read the Reports from the Railway Department of the Board of Trade, he could not conceal from himself that which could not but give satisfaction to the established railway companies. It was notorious that it was a matter of general satisfaction to the old railway companies, that these Reports were founded on what were termed Conservative principles, and it was well known that this expression was current among the directors and proprietors of the old railroads. In the case of the London and York line they had an illustration of what he had alluded to. That was a line which had received the support of nearly all the landed proprietors along it, and its projectors were men of undoubted capital; and the Board of Trade, to his perfect horror, had given an opinion and divided upon a question as to whether or not capitalists were going to lay out their money profitably. Was anything of the kind ever heard of before? Did they ever interpose in cases of turnpike roads when started against each other? For instance, there were turnpike roads on each bank of the Avon for ten miles, between Bath and Bristol; but no one ever objected, before, gentlemen having invested their capital in forming a turnpike road on one side, that others had come forward to make a road parallel to it on the opposite side of the river, and that on the ground that they were making an unprofitable investment of capital. Then who were the Members of this Department of the Board of Trade? At the head of it was a noble Lord holding office under the 1224 Government; and any opinion coming from such a quarter carried more authority than was fitting or reasonable for their Reports to bear. He did not know on what principle this Department was founded; but from reading the Reports which had come out from time to time, it was clear that there was a decided tendency on the part of the Gentlemen constituting that Board to throw the extension of railroads completely into the hands of the existing companies. On this ground he feared that a railroad monopoly was likely to be created; and this not merely by means of the Reports, but also by the strong disposition which had been manifested by the railroad companies—to adopt the expression of his hon. Friend—to amalgamate with each other. He believed that nearly all the line from Newcastle to Bristol was about to be leased to the same party. It was therefore essential that Parliament should come forward and interpose some check for the security of the public. Why had they not the same security as regards the public interests in the railroads of this country as existed in foreign countries? Even on turnpike roads, when they granted an Act for its formation, they always enacted the maximum tolls; but there was no such protection for the public in the case of these railroad companies. He believed that it would make little or no difference in the value of the shares in these companies, if the Legislature gave them only a lease for a term of years—even for ninety-nine years, if they pleased, instead of a right in perpetuity. It was a matter of apprehension to him, if the railroads fell into the possession of a few hands, that the Government might engross them as a matter of revenue. If the Government were to engross the conveyance of all the passengers and goods throughout the country, that they would take only as a matter of revenue, and, as in the case of the Post Office, impose on it a profit of 1,200 per cent. The fewer the hands into which these railroads fell the more probable was it that some future Government, in its distress for money, would convert these railroads into a source of public revenue.
§ Lord G. Somerset
said, it was not his intention to go at any length into the various topics which the hon. Member had touched upon in the present discussion. He had mentioned a great variety of facts, and had called their attention to a vast variety of considerations; few of which 1225 were connected with the subject then before the House. The Resolutions in no way affected the consideration of railroad companies as to the manner in which they should employ their capital; nor did they in any way lay the ground for deviating from the general principle which had influenced the House in the consideration of these matters. He was not prepared to deny that hitherto they had proceeded upon somewhat erroneous principles as regarded the laying down charges upon railroads. It was notorious that when they first laid down the maximum of the toll to be charged upon railroads, Parliament was under the belief that in so doing they were protecting the interests of the public. He was far from denying that the result of that might have been to a certain extent to induce the Companies on certain railroads to impose higher rates for the conveyance of goods and passengers than was actually requisite to ensure them a fair return for their capital. On the other hand, he could not help suspecting that for the future those charges would be very much regulated upon the same general principle as all charges made by public and private individuals pretending to furnish the public with what they required. It appeared also to him that the greater the number of railroads constructed the greater would be the competition. It did not follow that the only lines which could be considered competing were those which started and ended at the same termini. There were many persons, a great portion, in fact, of the public, who thought much more of cheapness than rapidity; there were many who would be willing to go round a considerable distance to save money; and, therefore, in fact, lines which did not altogether compete would have a great influence upon those on which high charges were made. He would take as an illustration the railways to Worcester. There there would be a direct competition by two railways which were diametrically opposed to each other in all matters of that sort—namely, the London and Birmingham and the Great Western lines; and the charges upon the conveyance of goods and passengers would be very much regulated on each line from London to Worcester by the charges which would be made for the conveyance of goods and passengers on the other line. With regard to the propositions of the hon. Member, he was not prepared to say that they suggested any great advantage over the present system. By the Consolidation Bills which had passed the 1226 House there was to be a table of the charges included in the Bill; but he confessed he did not see his way by fixing a maximum toll to effect any positive check upon high charges upon these lines. He feared, on the contrary, that if they compelled the companies to lay down a maximum charge, that that would be a high one, and that thus there would be an encouragement to the new lines of railway to keep up their prices. He still maintained that the only chance of relieving the public from too high a scale of charges would be the interest of the companies themselves. If they once adopted the plan of accepting the offers and biddings of these companies, and regulating the decisions of the House by their respective charges and the cheapness with which they proposed to convey the public, he very much feared that not only would the accommodation be much worse, but that there would be a great liability of danger to the public. With regard to the form of the hon. Gentleman's Motion, the House must consider how far the present Standing Orders of the House would enable him to effect the object in view. They must, in order to accomplish the hon. Gentleman's views, abolish the existing and introduce new Standing Orders; and supposing they passed these Resolutions as they at present stood, they would be of no effect to-morrow. The Committee would not be bound by them, and would pay no regard to them unless there was some arrangement to compel them to attend to these Resolutions. It was admitted on all hands that their early legislation on the subject had been ineffectual, partly from the difficulty of understanding the subject, and the want of specific information; and they were not in all cases even then able to come to a proper estimate of what the charges ought to be. In the first place, the cost of construction of the line had nothing whatever to do with the charges which ought to be imposed, which were regulated in a greater measure by the permanent charges on the line. The cost of the construction would be an ingredient in the minds of capitalists in deciding whether they would subscribe; but it was a different question what charges should be imposed upon the public. They were to consider how many hundreds of thousands of passengers, and how many tons of goods, and what quantity of produce was to pass along the line. Now, he presumed the proposition of the hon. Member was, that these companies should not be allowed to charge more than would 1227 be a fair remuneration for their capital. But even if they obtained that return they would not be much further advanced, as the amount of the probable traffic varied very much, and was sometimes twice the amount of the original calculation. The evidence given, therefore, before a Committee would not be a fair criterion of the traffic. Railroads which carried many hundreds or many thousands of passengers would, of course, be able to carry them much cheaper than those which carried a smaller number of passengers, supposing the gradients to be the same. No doubt there were various other circumstances, such as the cost of fuel, which would vary the charges. He was not hostile to the proposition of the hon. Member; but he much feared that it would be only giving an illusory protection to the public by saying that such should be the maximum charge for the conveyance of passengers and goods. Now, with regard to the carrying out of the hon. Gentleman's proposition, he believed he might say that all the Railroad Bills of the present Session would contain clauses in accordance with the propositions of the hon. Gentleman. Whether that would be useful or not remained yet to be seen; but they proposed to carry out the principle of laying down what should be the maximum toll for the conveyance of goods and passengers, including the charge for locomotives and all other charges whatever. No doubt if these clauses were introduced it would effect the object of the hon. Gentleman. With regard to the leasing of railroads it was true that the power of leasing from one company to another had been given and had received the sanction of the House; and he certainly did not think that the power of leasing by one company to another operated injuriously or detrimentally to the interests of the public. It enabled companies to obtain the management of railroads which otherwise would never have been contracted. Was it not much better that the line between London and Exeter should be under one management than that they should have one company running to Bristol, another to Exeter, and a third to Plymouth? People were now able to travel in five hours from London to Exeter, having a fair time allowed for stopping on the way. If that line had been under the management of two companies it would have been impossible to have effected that object. By that means the public had been materially benefited. He would suggest, therefore, to the hon. 1228 Member to withdraw his Resolutions, and he would give him every assistance he could in forwarding his views by framing a Standing Order to carry them into effect.
§ Viscount Howick
said, it was evident that if the noble Lord was not prepared to concur in the adoption of these Resolutions, he agreed substantially with the hon. Member for Inverness as to the importance of the objects he sought to accomplish. If it were really believed that these Resolutions would not effect those objects, at least to a considerable extent, it would be proper to withdraw them; but he hoped, that if they were withdrawn, the Government would give the subject their earliest consideration, and would, before the Railway Bills of the present Session went into Committee, lay down authoritatively some general rules for the guidance of the Committees. He considered that the necessity for such general rules was clearly demonstrable. The noble Lord concurred with his hon. Friend in the opinion that the existing rules as to the maximum of tolls were altogether nugatory, and he admitted also that the rate of charge ought to be limited. The noble Lord doubted, however — and he agreed with the noble Lord on that point—whether such limitation would accomplish all that was desired. During the last few years they had gained considerable experience as to the working of railways, and they knew that both passengers and goods could be conveyed at infinitely lower charges than had hitherto been adopted by any companies. They knew, also, that without the interference of Parliament, railway companies would not afford the public the benefit of that cheapness with which locomotion could be effected; for, though a reduction of fares was always followed by a great increase in the number of passengers, and a proportionate reduction of the expenses of conveyance, it often happened that such a step, at least in the first instance, produced some small diminution in the receipts of companies; and the consequence was, that directors and general meetings of proprietors did not regard with much favour propositions for an extensive reduction of fares. The great railway lines had now been in operation for many years; and some of the companies — the Great Western and the London and Birmingham, for instance—charged fares altogether unreasonable, considering the circumstances in which they were placed. Judging from past experience, 1229 therefore, they could not calculate on a just and proper reduction of fares without legislative interference. If in the new Railway Bills they imposed a low table of fares, he believed that of necessity they would bring down at no distant period the fares of the existing companies; for the new lines, even when they appeared to diverge very widely from existing lines, were to a certain extent in competition with them. If a new line to York was granted, the table of fares being limited, the London and Birmingham and Midland Counties Companies would be compelled to adopt a somewhat analogous rate of charges. He had no doubt that if the rate of fares was limited, the companies would in many cases even go below the limitation imposed by Parliament; for in France, where a low table of fares was established by law, the companies had frequently adopted a scale of fares below the limited amount. It was found by experience that if you had not a rather high rate of fares, so as to make a small number of passengers remunerative, the best policy was to adopt very low fares, calculating upon very extensive traffic. There was one point in the Resolutions before the House, to which great importance was justly attached, as regarded the legislation of the present year. It was proposed by the last of those Resolutions, that Committees to which competing projects were referred should require the parties interested in those projects to deliver to them statements of their proposed tables of fares and charges, and of the nature of the accommodation they would bind themselves to provide at such charges, and that in deciding on the comparative merits of competing schemes, regard should be had to the advantages thus offered to the public. The noble Lord had truly said, that it would be most injudicious to put railways up to public auction, and to knock them down unreservedly to those parties who offered to adopt the lowest rate of fares; but it appeared to him that the Resolutions of his hon. Friend would not sanction such a course. That hon. Gentleman did not recommend that they should give the lines to companies proposing the lowest rate of fares, but that such propositions should form an essential element in influencing the decisions of Committees; and hetrusted that before the railway schemes now projected were sent before Committees, the right hon. Baronet would adopt some regula- 1230 tion on this subject. As it seemed probable that the House would not come to any positive determination on this question to-night, he would not attempt to discuss the subject; but he regretted that some effectual measures had not been adopted earlier to secure the objects pointed out in these Resolutions. He could not help thinking that they had made a great mistake, which would be attended with serious consequences to the country, although no party in that House was fairly responsible for it, because when railways were originally projected, it was impossible to foresee the extent to which the system would be carried. He considered that one point mentioned by his hon. Friend, deserved their serious attention. In France it was provided, that after the lapse of a given time, the whole property in the railway lines should revert to the State. The inducements to construct railways would, in his opinion, be much the same whether the property was vested in the companies for ever or for a term of ninety-nine years; and it certainly would be an immense advantage to the public if, at the expiration of a given time (and he mentioned the ordinary periods of a building lease), the full and entire property in these lines was to revert to the public. Posterity had been charged with an immense burden in the shape of debt; and it would be some setoff if it was provided that after the lapse of a certain time, property of this valuable description should revert to the State. Whether or not it was now too late to adopt that principle, he was not prepared to say; but he was convinced that in the first instance it might have been adopted with perfect ease and fairness. It might seem hard that new railway companies should be constituted on less favourable terms than their predecessors; but he much doubted whether that consideration should prevent them from introducing a condition so much to the public advantage. They had now arrived at a great crisis of railway legislation; an important duty now devolved upon the House and on the Government; and before the Bills for projected railways were committed, he thought the Government ought to take some means—he would not venture to prescribe what they should be—to secure more important advantages to the public.
§ Sir R. Peel
said, this was a subject which the more it was considered was seen 1231 to be surrounded with the greater difficulties. On the one hand, it was imposble not to feel that competition in the case of railways did not give that perfect security as to charges which was afforded by competition generally in other undertakings. In the case of stage coaches and of post horses, an effectual check was given to high charges by competition; for, if one innkeeper charged 2s. a mile for a pair of horses, and another 1s. 6d., the latter would be most likely to secure the patronage of the public. But, in the case of railways, a long period must elapse before any check in the form of competition could be brought into operation; for, if a railway company now established, and having a monopoly, adopted exorbitant charges, a long preparatory system of concert and consideration was necessary before a competitor could enter the lists. A company must be formed; subscriptions must be obtained; then there was great uncertainty as to the grant of a Bill by Parliament; and before a Bill could be passed, the monopolizing company might have reduced its charges, and the necessity of competition would consequently be materially diminished. He agreed with the noble Lord the Member for Sunderland, that it was difficult to overrate the importance of this subject. There was no doubt that it was of great advantage to increase the facilities of communication, and diminish the charges of locomotion. He did not look merely at the pecuniary saving to be effected, but he could not conceive a greater political advantage—anything more likely to improve the social character and habits of the people, than the extension of the means of intercourse between different parts of the country. He would make no reference to any individual railway schemes; but he thought they ought to look forward to the result of mechanical improvements as applied to those schemes, and they might depend upon it—speakingof ultimate results—that the shortest lines would be preferred. The tendency of the improvements which were almost daily introduced, was decidedly in favour of the shortest lines. He had expressed this opinion in the year 1839. They had chosen to establish a railroad between Liverpool, Manchester, and London, and it was thought desirable that the line should go round by Birmingham. It was said, "Include Birmingham by all means in your line 1232 between Liverpool and London; it is useless to take a shorter line through a country much less productive." He then ventured to predict that the people of Liverpool and of Manchester would not be sent round ten or twelve miles out of the direct line in their journey to the metropolis. The House acted upon a different principle; and 175,000l. was spent in promoting and contesting a Bill which was to go ten miles round; while now, in 1845, we have found that the shortest line is the best. Birmingham is quite content to have it so; and Liverpool and Manchester, after an enormous capital has been spent for absolutely nothing, or worse than thrown away—for though he would not wish to undervalue the legal profession, he thought to spend 150,000l. in defeating a Bill which was to be carried five years afterwards, was money worse than thrown away. Now, in order to save a distance of nine miles between Liverpool and Manchester, this new line, making a cut from Rugby to Stafford, was about to be established with universal consent. This ought, in his opinion, to be a lesson to the House. He did not wish to refer to any particular line of railway; but speaking generally, and contemplating ultimate results, he was certain that when they were establishing communications between different parts of this country, and between Scotland and Ireland and this metropolis, whatever course they might now take, many years would not elapse before the shortest lines would be preferred. It must be understood, however, that he did not mean the shortest line merely in respect of distance. He thought there was too great a tendency to adopt the shortest lines, without reference to gradients. Though, in recent instances, unfavourable gradients had been overcome by the construction of new engines, he doubted whether there was not an unprofitable expenditure of power in such cases—whether the mechanical power of locomotive engines was not materially interfered with by unfavourable gradients; and whether the exertions made to diminish the gradients, and to run as nearly as possible upon a level, would not be amply repaid. He was alluding, not to the shortest lines merely with regard to distance, but to the shortest lines in point of time. Though the question of controlling the charges of railway companies was one of great importance, it was encompassed 1233 with numerous difficulties. Suppose that two companies undertook competing lines, and that one of them said, "We will afford the public most ample accommodation; our carriages for every class of passengers shall be most convenient; and our third-class carriages shall be constructed with a view to the health and comfort of the poor who travel by them; but in order to do this we must make certain charges." Then suppose another company said, "We will undertake the line at a lower rate of charges;" surely it was not fair to assume that a decided preference should be given to the latter? They ought not to disregard altogether the advantages held out by the former. But all the check that was to be imposed was a pecuniary check. How were they to provide against imperfect vigilance, ill-conducted establishments, inconvenient carriages, and disregard of the public comfort and accommodation? He did not see how this check could be made perfectly effective in these respects. It was difficult to say what was the proper check; and to reconcile the difficulties by which the question was encompassed. It must be remembered, that it was necessary to hold out inducements which would lead men of capital to embark in such undertakings as railway schemes. It was very well to say, "Look at the profits of the London and Birmingham, and Great Western Railway Companies—are they not extravagant?" Hon. Gentlemen must recollect the risk of those persons who invested money in these speculations; they must remember how uncertain was the return upon the millions invested in the London and Birmingham Railway, and what must have been the consequences to the shareholders had that undertaking proved a failure. Mr. M'Culloch, writing in 1834, said,—It is true that the railway between Liverpool and Manchester has answered; but the circumstances of that railway are so peculiar, that it is no criterion of the probable success of other railways.That eminent man, writing only ten years ago, expressed his belief that profitable lines of railway communication could not be established to any great extent. Yet the proprietors of the railways he had mentioned, when the result of the speculation was so uncertain, committed themselves to the extent of 6,000,000l.; and was it to be said now, when railroads 1234 could be conducted at so mush less expense, that 4 per cent. was enough to remunerate them for their enterprise; while, had the capital they embarked been lost, the country would have made them no compensation? The noble Lord (Lord Howick) seemed to think that if a maximum rate of charge were prescribed in the case of new railways, the old companies would be induced to adopt a similar scale of fares; but of that he was by no means certain. It might happen, that on a railway where only ten trains were now run daily, it might become necessary in a year or two to run twenty; and, while the public called for this increased accommodation, would they provide by an inflexible rule that, under no circumstances, should the company charge more than a certain amount of fares? He wished that the influence and authority of the Government could be clearly exerted for the purpose of insuring a good principle of action; but the more he considered the subject the more was he convinced of its difficultie. In order to achieve a temporary object — in order to reduce the extravagant charges—it was now proposed to act upon a principle with regard to railways which hon. Gentlemen who suggested it would hesitate to apply to ordinary commercial legislation. They did not say to the dealer in ordinary commodities, "Such is the maximum charge you ought to make for your goods." The present case might be rather special; but he doubted whether it was so special as to justify them in departing from the rule applied in other cases. He thought that it would not be desirable to lay down any general rule for the conduct of the Committees; but he trusted, as their number was limited, that each would feel that it had a public duty to discharge, and that each would do its best to further the public interest. He did not know how the Government could interfere, except by the expression of a hope that the Committees would do all in their power for the benefit of the community. He did not wish to notice the Resolutions in detail; but he trusted that the hon. Gentleman opposite, after the discussion that had taken place, would consent either that the previous question should be moved, or to withdraw his Motion. In the first place, he thought it was very unwise for the House to agree hastily to any Resolution laying down what it was "the duty" 1235 of Parliament to do. Then, as to the "maximum charge," he had already stated his reasons for not hurrying on to a conclusion as regarded that paragraph of the Resolution; at any rate, he was sure that before the House sanctioned the principle of establishing a maximum of charge, the subject ought to undergo a much fuller consideration than it had received in the course of that discussion.
§ Mr. J. E. Denison
said, that the right hon. Baronet in an early part of the Session had stated that the Reports of the Board of Trade were by no means intended to be final. He was of opinion that when a Report was issued by the Board, the grounds upon which it was founded should be discussed in that House before such Report was sent to the Committees, as a guide to them in the decision they should come to.
Mr. Stuart Wortley
did not exactly see how the suggestion of his hon. Friend who had just sat down—though he agreed that great inconvenience had arisen from the present arrangement — could be carried out. He did trust, however, that the Committee would not consider the decisions of the Board of Trade final; though an opinion, he believed, had gone abroad, amounting almost to a belief, that their decisions were to be regarded in that light. He was ready to concede to the Board of Trade every credit for the manner in which they had conducted the business which had been intrusted to them; but, not-withstanding, he should be very sorry to have it assumed that their Reports were final decisions, when they were, in fact, merely preliminary inquiries entered into with the view of assisting the Committees; and he did hope that the Committees appointed by that House would be sensible that with themselves still rested the responsibility of sifting the merits of every scheme brought before them; and that they would express their opinions freely and independently, both as to the merits of the schemes, and of the suggestions of the Board of Trade. With regard to limiting the charges on railways, he must admit that that part of the question was full of difficulties; but that was no reason for abandoning all attempts to overcome it. Originally he believed that Parliament had intended to have applied some limitation of the description proposed; and though it had failed hitherto, he did not know but that the principle would be 1236 consistent with the practice of Parliament, and advantageous to the public. He hoped if his noble Friend (Lord G. Somerset) could see any means of meeting the proposition, that he would not fail to act upon it.
§ Sir G. Grey
was of opinion that the best plan that could be adopted was that which the House had acted upon lately—viz., to establish as competent a tribunal as possible for the examination of the details of a Bill, and to discourage as much as possible any appeal from that tribunal to that House; but there were certain principles which must come before Committees in the course of the Session, in the consideration of Railway Bills, which, though it was difficult to determine how they should be disposed of, were, he thought, worthy of the consideration of the House. It would be extremely unadvisable, and it would be a blot in our railway legislation, if there were to be a great want of uniformity in the Bills and in the decisions of the Committees. Let them look at some of the principles which the Committees would have to decide upon. First, there was that great and important principle which had occupied a prominent place in the Reports of the Board of Trade—the principle of "competition," to which also the right hon. Gentleman had referred. Were the Railway Committees to act upon the principle that competition was undesirable, or were they to trust to competition for the purpose of securing to the public the benefits which might be supposed to arise from it? Then, again, there was the subject of "gradients," which had been also referred to by the right hon. Baronet. Let the House look at the Report of the Board of Trade upon the West Yorkshire Railway. They entered there very fully into the subject, and took exactly an opposite view to that which the right hon. Baronet had taken of it. They justified their preference of a line which had worse gradients than another that was before them, by saying that the improved power of locomotive engines now was such, that it was not worth the while of Companies to incur a great expense in looking for good gradients and good curves. That Report would go before a Committee of five Gentlemen, and would naturally have a great influence with them. These were subjects which he thought it was desirable that the House should determine on. With reference to the principle which had been in- 1237 treduced in the Resolution of his hon. Friend, he would say, that Parliament had from the first proposed to limit the charges on railways; but that it had been attempted in a way that was perfectly illusory. He repeated, that Parliament having originally felt that monopolies might be created by railway companies, did attempt to guard against them, but that in that attempt Parliament had utterly failed. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that the country was greatly indebted to those companies and gentlemen who had originally risked their capital upon railway schemes, and who had brought the railway system to its present state: but, looking at the great number of Bills to be brought in this Session, and considering that in a short time railways would supersede every other mode of travelling, he did think that the Government ought seriously to turn its attention to the question whether some more effective method might not be adopted with the view of preventing the evils which had been referred to in the course of the debate, and to the existence of which it was impossible that they could shut their eyes. He had risen, however, principally to state his opinion that there should be some uniformity in the decisions of the Committees, to insure which he thought that matters of principle should be discussed in that House.
§ Mr. Parker
had no doubt that every one was desirous, or that it was the duty of the House to see that the public should be carried at as low a rate as possible upon railways: but if the House laid down any plan for limiting the charges, founded upon the supposition that, acting upon that plan, every railway company would receive a fair and just remuneration for their enterprise, and the outlay of their capital, it might commit a grievous injustice. Had the House not also a corresponding duty to perform on the part of the companies? Should not the House in such a case guarantee to the companies an amount of remuneration somewhat approaching that which their enterprise merited?
§ Motion withdrawn.