HC Deb 18 August 1846 vol 88 cc845-9

rose to move that the House do confirm the Resolutions reported from the Select Committee on Railways. The necessity for adopting these Resolutions arose from the fact that railways were monopolies, and that the Government should have some control over them. All plans for railways ought to be laid before the Government, and receive its sanction before the lines were formed. He presumed that there would be no objection to the recommendations contained in the Report of the Committee. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the first of the Resolutions:— That it is the opinion of this House, that it is expedient that a Department of the Executive Government, so constituted as to obtain Public confidence, be established for the Superintendence of Railway business.


said, that the Resolutions adopted by the Select Committee were absolutely necessary for the protection of the public, and he highly approved of them.


Having been upon the Committee which adopted the Resolutions referred to by the hon. Gentleman, the House might expect that he should give some opinion upon the subject. With regard to the first Resolution which had just been moved by his hon. Friend, he could not offer the slightest objection to that, inasmuch as it embodied the opinion of three Committees of this House, and of one Committee of the House of Lords. But with regard to the specific duties to be imposed on the department to be hereafter created, he thought it would be inexpedient to fetter the House at this time with any particular recommendations. He would suggest that the best course would be to adopt the first Resolution, and perhaps the ninth Resolution also; and if these two met with the sanction of the House, then it might be desirable that a Bill should be prepared upon the subject. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had given his attention to the question, and it was intended by him to present such a Bill to the House before it rose for the Session; and his right hon. Friend would state the nature of the duties which he proposed that the board to be constituted should have to perform.


said, that to ask the House of Commons to pass resolutions of this sort, which would have the effect of altering the whole system of railways, was rather a strong measure to introduce at this late period of the Session; though he approved of the constitution of a separate and distinct railway department.


said, there was a very general concurrence upon one point, and that was, that it would be exceedingly desirable, without loss of time, to constitute a railway department, and to transfer to that department the powers and functions which were at present exercised by the Board of Trade. He was glad to find that the noble Lord (Lord G. Somerset) also concurred in that view. The Report of the Committee of the House of Lords stated that that was their view; the Amalgamation Committee of this House had done the same; and the evidence given before both these Committees had been reported, and was before each House of Parliament. They had now the Report of the Select Committee of this House on Railways before them, and their first Resolution was to the same effect—viz., that a Government Board should be constituted for the purpose of taking this subject under their control. But he apprehended that it would be difficult to do more in the present Session than merely to constitute that department. What the Government would be ready to do, therefore, with the concurrence of the House, was to introduce a very short Bill for the purpose of constituting that department, transferring to it such powers as were possessed by the Board of Trade, and, perhaps, some few powers in addition. He quite agreed that to render the board of the slightest utility it must be constituted so as to command the public confidence; it must be in communication with the Executive Government; some members of it must be permanent in order to carry on a permanent system; and he thought there should belong to it one Member of each House of Parliament, to answer any questions that might be put in either House respecting its proceedings. This proposition had been entertained by Her Majesty's Government; but, unfortunately, in consequence of the dangerous illness of the Secretary to the Board of Trade, some delay had occurred in preparing a Bill for carrying the contemplated arrangement into effect. He proposed to bring in a very short Bill for carrying out this object, and this object only; and if it met with the concurrence of the two Houses of Parliament, he should be glad to see that Bill passed through in the present Session, because he thought that during the recess a board so constituted would be able to put into shape those regulations which it might be necessary to embody in an Act of Parliament in the next Session. With that view he should be prepared to agree to the first Resolution now proposed, and also to the second, which transferred the powers now possessed by the Railway Department of the Board of Trade to the new Board. And he trusted early next Session to be able to submit to Parliament such a scheme as would prove of great advantage to the public.


doubted the necessity or the wisdom of passing even the first Resolution. If it was the intention of Government to introduce a Bill constituting a railway board, it appeared to him to be unnecessary to pass resolutions which, to a certain extent, might prejudice the discussion that might ensue on the introduction of the Bill. He saw no objection to assert the general opinion of the House that a distinct railway department would be desirable; but he could not discover the utility of introducing a Bill at this late period of the Session. If there there were no department of Government on whom these preliminary inquiries respecting railways devolved, then he should say that it would be desirable to constitute a board at once, in order to be prepared to legislate on the subject next Session; but, as he understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the intention of the Government was to constitute a railway board, upon whom no functions were to devolve by the Bill to be now introduced; that such board was to be occupied during the recess in merely considering what functions they should have bestowed upon them; and that then, at the commencement of next Session, Government would be prepared to legislate. Although he admitted that the Railway Department of the Board of Trade had not operated so effectively as could have been desired, at the same time it must be remembered that there was there not only a fund of information, but a staff of persons who must be more competent to inform the Government of what was requisite upon the subject, than any new department that might be constituted. For his part he could not see any particular utility in bringing in any Bill now for constituting a new department of the Executive Government.


explained. He was anxious that the first Resolution should pass; but he should abstain from introducing any measure upon the subject unless he was fortified by a Resolution of the Houses of Parliament. If the House of Lords and the House of Commons concurred in opinion, then he conceived that he should be justified in introducing a Bill even at this late period of the Session. What he held was, that to the board proposed to be constituted should be transferred in the first instance all the duties which were now performed by the Railway Department of the Board of Trade; and that it should include the greater portion of the existing staff of that department; that the board should see that the railway companies complied with the provisions of their Acts of Parliament; and that, in short, it should do all that was now done by the Board of Trade, in reference to railways. He thought also that, in addition to these duties, the board might consolidate and reduce to some order, the many conflicting recommendations which had been made to the Committee.

The Resolution agreed to. The remainder of the Resolutions were withdrawn.

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