HC Deb 26 January 1846 vol 83 cc188-223

Mr. Speaker, Her Majesty's Government have felt it to be their duty to avail themselves of the earliest opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the large number of railway plans which will probably be brought under its consideration; in order to take its opinion as to the best mode of dealing during the present Session with the great question of railway legislation. The attention of the Government has been directed to this subject for some time past, and they have collected together all the information which they think at all likely to be advantageous in its investigation; but they have at the same time felt it their duty, in a matter affecting so many private interests, rather to appeal to the authority of a Committee of the House of Commons than to submit any plan of our own for solving the railway difficulty which must ensue during the Session. As the organ of the Government, therefore, it is my duty to propose that a Select Committee he appointed to consider the mode in which the House shall deal with the Railway Bills proposed to be submitted to the House during the present Session. The Government have been making all the necessary inquiries, and are prepared to lay before that Committee all the information that shall enable it to come to a satisfactory judgment as to the course to be pursued. I wish in the first place to call the attention of the House to the number of Bills which have been passed dining the last two or three years, and the amount of capital authorized to be raised by them. In the year 1844, there were forty-eight Railway Bills authorizing the raising of capital to the amount of 14,780,000l. In 1845, that is, last year, 118 Railway Bills received the sanction of Parliament, giving powers to raise a capital of not less than 56,000,000l. It is generally computed that it requires three years for the completion of a railway. At least it is now a matter of experience, I believe, that the average time required for the formation of a railway in this part of the United Kingdom is three years. If that calculation be correct, we shall find that, for the completion of the railways which have already received the sanction of the Legislature, it will be necessary to levy a sum of nearly 70,000,000l., sterling on the capital of the country during the next three years; that is to say, in the year 1846 an amount of 23,500,000l. will be required to be drawn from that capital, which is now employed in the usual channels of commerce and trade for the completion of railways within that year. In the year 1847, there will be required a further sum of 23,500,000l. sterling; and in the year 1848 the sum of 18,000,000l. must be drawn from the money circulation of the country for the same purpose. In making this calculation, I of course deduct, in the last year, the Railway Bills which passed in the year 1844, as, with respect to those schemes, a portion of the capital proposed to be raised has been already expended—but, including the complement of capital required for the completion of the railways authorized during the last Session, and the years 1843 and 1844, the sum to be levied for the execution of railway projects already passed, during the next three years, is not a less sum than 70,000,000l. Now the sum of 23,500,000l., I think it will be allowed, is a very large sum to be diverted in one year from the ordinary circulation of the country; and that amount devoted to railway enterprise will occasion a large drain upon the available capital of the kingdom. Yet these are the sums which we may presume will have to be raised under enactments which have already received the sanction of the Legislature. We now approach the consideration of the number of railway schemes which we may expect will be brought under consideration during the present year. In whatever proportion, as compared with the total number deposited, those schemes may receive the sanction of Parliament, when they are in course of execution, there will be a still larger demand upon the capital of the country than I have stated. The number of railway plans for England, which were deposited at the Board of Trade by the time required by the Act of Parliament was 606. The number of railway plans for Scotland deposited at this time at the Board of Trade is 121, and the number of railway plans for Ireland deposited is 83. There have been therefore deposited at the Board of Trade not less than 815 different railway plans—the Bills for which will require the consideration and sanction of Parliament. I am aware that many of them are rival schemes for providing railway accommodation to the same district of country, more than one of which, for the same purpose, it is probable Parliament will not sanction; and in respect to several others, there is every reason to apprehend that from other causes they will not be proceeded with. It cannot, however, be disputed that there will be a great number of railway schemes brought under the consideration of Parliament in the ensuing Session—a number far exceeding that which has been brought forward at any former period. The railway schemes, the plans for which are at this moment deposited with the Board of Trade, involve the construction of not less than 20,687 miles of new railway; and so far as a judgment can be formed from the public advertisements of the various companies—and judging from the analogy of the expense of other new lines—the total amount of expense which is contemplated to be raised for the completion of these new railways is not less than 350,000,000l. sterling. Making all deductions for the failure of rival lines, it is impossible, I think, to contemplate the application of such an enormous amount of capital to these undertakings, without a material disarrangement of the general currency and trade of the country. I think it is most important, therefore, at the earliest period of the Session that the House of Commons should consider what principles ought to guide them in railway legislation. Now, no one can feel more strongly than I do the objections which there are to the interference either of the Government or the House, to stop legitimate speculation in railway or other private undertakings; call them speculations if you will: the feeling ought to be that private speculation and private enterprise should, as a general rule, be left undisturbed. And with regard to railways also, I for one feel most favourably disposed towards the application of British capital to legitimate enterprise rather than to foreign undertakings, calculated, as such enterprizes are, to promote the convenience of the public and the general welfare of the people. The question then is, whether there are good and sufficient reasons for interfering at all with the progress of railway speculation; and, if so, what should be the principles which guide and govern that interference? In the first place, then, I must say that I think there is great probability, after making every deduction from the total amount of railway plans deposited at the Board of Trade, namely, 815, and from the 20,000 miles of new railway which they comprise; after making every deduction for the number of mere rival schemes, and for the number which will not stand examination of the Board, or will not pass the ordeal of the House of Commons, or that will fail from other causes, I think there will certainly be such a number of plans left, as to make it almost totally impossible for the usual Committees of this House, bearing in mind the other important business that will have to be considered, to devote that proper attention to them which their extent and importance demand. We all know how great was the pressure upon hon. Members last year from this cause; and there can be no question that this year it will be still more severe. That alone, however, may not be a conclusive objection; and it may be said, if the House of Commons cannot dispose of this part of its business, it must consider whether it should appoint some other tribunal to which it should be referred; but I think it is a great and important question whether or no you will permit, or rather whether you will encourage the application of so large a capital to railway undertakings. Will it be consistent with the public advantage—will it conduce to the best interests of society, and the satisfactory carrying on of the railway system? I repeat I should be more willing to encourage the application of capital to British railway enterprises rather than to foreign undertakings: but the question is, is it for the advantage of sound railway enterprises, that such an enormous amount of capital should at once be absorbed by railways? I doubt it. I doubt whether it would not be discouraging, rather than holding out encouragement to legitimate railway schemes, for I think it is probable that in consequence of the severe competition which would be created by the great and extraordinary demand for labour, and the great rise of prices which the application of such an amount of capital would occasion, the progress of the railway system would be considerably retarded. I think too, that many of the estimates would be found from these causes, greatly inadequate for the completion of the undertakings, and some of them altogether delusive. If the railway schemes proposed, were about to be carried on under existing legislation, I admit there might be objections raised of the gravest kind against any interference; but the intervention of Parliament is called for: it has to decide whether it will suffer—not the absence of interference, because a law must pass giving the direct sanction and encouragement of the Legislature to each scheme, but—the whole number of schemes to be carried into effect. If there be 600 or 500, or treble the number of railway bills we had under consideration last year, I doubt whether it would be possible for the House satisfactorily to inquire into the merits of each; and I still more doubt whether it would be for the public benefit that so extraordinary a demand for railways should be encouraged, or that such an enormous application of capital to one branch of enterprise, diverting it from all others, should be sanctioned by Parliament. I say I doubt whether it would be for the public advantage to encourage it; but, as I said before, Her Majesty's Government have thought in such a matter they should not proceed without the sanction of Parliament; and for that purpose it is my intention to move that a Parliamentary Committee, composed of men whose opinions, from their authority, will be entitled to the highest respect, should be appointed—that they should have referred to them the information the Government have already collected on the subject, and consider of some plan by which our future proceedings, in regard to railway legislation, should be governed. Her Majesty's Government has caused a plan to be prepared, which will be given to the Committee, showing the extent and direction of all the railways existing and proposed. All the different schemes, the plans of which have been deposited, and which will come under consideration, have been classified under different heads, and the plans referring to existing lines have also been arranged in like manner; for instance, under one head is described those lines between the metropolis and a distant part of the country which are now incomplete, either from their being a void or from some part of them not yet being finished. Under another head are classed those railways which appear to give the greatest facilities of communication to those parts of the country which stand most in need of it—and another head embraces those railways connected with the internal defence of the country, that is, the coast lines. These different classifications have been already made, and the Committee will, on its appointment, thus be spared much labour which might have been necessary were there no previous preparation. I trust, therefore, that the House will approve of the proposal with which I shall conclude, namely, that a Select Committee be appointed, for the purpose of considering what course shall be taken with railways proposed to be submitted to the House during the present Session. I have abstained from mentioning many matters connected with this subject, as Standing Orders, &c.; but I trust that the Committee will make reports to this House from time to time of the result of their labours, and the conclusions which they shall have arrived at, by which the decisions of the House may be regulated. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving— That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the mode in which the House shall deal with the Railway Bills proposed to be submitted to the House during the present Session.

The Question having been put,


had listened with much attention to the speech of the right hon. Baronet, but he was sorry to say that he had not derived much information from it. It appeared to him that the intention of the right hon. Baronet was to throw on a Committee what last year was the duty of the Board of Trade, and that a certain number of these schemes should, on the authority of the Committee, be stopped in limine. The right hon. Gentleman had not informed them what grounds the Committee would have upon which to come to a decision whether they would hear the parties, or simply be guided by the infor- mation laid before them. Without intending any disrespect to the Members who might compose the Committee, he must say that he did not think their decisions would deserve more respect than those of the Board of Trade last year, simply because they would not have the information necessary for coming to a satisfactory decision. On one point he differed from the right hon. Baronet: he doubted whether the amount of money for the purposes of making railways next year would depend on the decision of the Committee. Even if the Legislature should pass all the schemes, he doubted whether it would make much difference in the amount of the capital applied. He believed the labour market and the money market would control the amount of capital, whatever the decision of the House might be. Fourteen or fifteen years ago a railway from Manchester to Sheffield was applied for. It was vehemently contested, and was opposed by the Bridgwater Canal Company. Parliament, after having heard evidence, came to the decision that the railway ought to be made; but the public thought differently, and though the Bill was passed the railway was never made. That showed that railways could only be made in proportion to the amount of capital which the country could spare. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman should have thought it necessary to interfere. He did not think the House could sanction the appointment of the Committee without having a more clear explanation of what were to be its functions, and of the questions to be submitted to its consideration. He had never heard so meagre an explanation for so large a demand as that made by the right hon. Gentleman. He could not conceive how the proposed Committee was to determine upon the merits of any branch lines that might be most advisable to have first examined into. It appeared to him also that while this Committee was sitting, the progress of every Railway Bill before Parliament would be retarded, and indeed all the operations of railway legislation suspended, until the Committee concluded its labours.


trusted that the information which this Committee would be enabled to collect and convey to the House from time, to time, in its reports, would be found most advantageous. He considered it better to avoid going into any more particular details on the present occasion, as it might be more expedient not to express any more decided opinion, which might be supposed to convey the judgment of the Committee.


hoped the Government would have some of its Members on the proposed Committee, as it was only proper that it should be represented on the proposed body, and the views of the Government known. The adoption of any principle upon which a selection was to be made, was, in his opinion, a most important function, and particularly with reference to such Bills, for which the time for going before the Standing Orders' Committee was now so limited. In respect of these Bills, he did not think the proposed Committee could act fairly, unless a greater amount of time were afforded them. There was one thing, however, which he hoped had not escaped the Government, and that was the consideration or adoption of the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Sheffield—namely, that it would be desirable, as far as possible, without touching the jurisdiction of Parliament, to carry on all inquiries as to matters of fact, traffic, local affairs, &c., before some tribunal out of that House. He would only remind the House of the length of time occupied during the past Session by the inquiry of the London and York Committee as a proof that some such course as that referred to would be most advisable and convenient. Beside, there were a great number of Irish and Scotch Railway Bills, the expenses of which would be considerably lightened by having some such tribunal, before which their witnesses might be examined, and thereby prevent the necessity which now existed of summoning them here before a Parliamentary Committee. All the work connected with such business would be, by the adoption of some such plan, not only done with greater convenience to the House, but greater advantage to the public.


said, it was morally and physically impossible for the House of Commons to attend to railway legislation alone, even if they had nothing else to occupy their attention, if the same system were to be pursued which was followed up last year. Under any circumstances they would, at least, have three times as much railway legislation during the present Session as they had during the last; and they might have six times as much if all the projects before Parliament were proceeded with. He agreed with the right hon. Member who spoke last, that it was quite possible to establish a tribunal to which matters of fact might be referred, and that such tribunal should be independent of both Houses of Parliament, and ambulatory. The appointment of such a tribunal would save the promoters of all railway bills nearly 3l. out of every 4l. which they now spend in procuring the testimony of witnesses. For his own part he had but to say, in conclusion, that he would be very glad if such a tribunal as that referred to were established, independent, not only of Parliament, but of the Government also.


said, he looked upon this matter as one of so great importance, that he would make no apology, even at this period of the evening, for addressing a few observations to the House upon the subject. He trusted that the question of the railway management would be brought under the consideration of the House at a period when a comprehensive plan for a more perfect system could be taken into consideration. It must be borne in mind that the appointment of railway tribunals out of the House was, in fact, transferring their powers to another body; and he hold that it was a proceeding of great importance, and that the House ought to look with the greatest deliberation at all the bearings of such an appointment, before they consented to part with any portion of their jurisdiction. He could not, at the same time, with every desire to preserve the jurisdiction of Parliament, come to any other conclusion than that the proposal of the two hon. Members who had preceded him might be adopted, though it would materially affect the authority of Parliament. The mode of forming election committees was a very different matter, and bore no analogy to this; but with regard to railway committees, he would say, that if the House were to give up its authority to the Government on the question, it would be depriving the people of England of their legitimate rights, and he, as a Member of that House, of his local authority. He recollected last Session that some of his constituents waited upon him, and as he did not trouble himself much in these matters—for, in fact, he took no trouble in any thing he could avoid—well, these gentlemen requested that he would interest himself in behalf of the Cornish Railway, which was about being made in the neighbourhood of Liskeard; but he told them, that he could not interest himself, as there was no chance of his having any thing to do with the matter, in consequence of his being Member for the town; as every question in which local interests were concerned, instead of being examined by the local representative were taken away by the present system, and transferred to a body of gentlemen who were quite strangers to the county, and who had little or nothing to do with its interests. When the House delegated a matter to a committee of its own body, they said, "We cannot make an inquiry into the circumstances of this cause; but you must do it and report to us." The House, however, was not bound by this report; but they took the suggestions it contained and weighed them well, and, if thought advisable, adopted them. The House would always pay great attention to the proceedings of any committee to whom they delegated their powers; and such a body would, no doubt, be very useful, in the way of giving information, and enlightening the minds of the Members of either House. Such a body were particularly able to take into consideration all questions of the expediency of the measures which must be considered before they were passed. There were many instances in which two inquiries had been instituted before Committees of the House of Lords, and of the Commons also. These were not different kinds of tribunals, but the same evidence twice repeated. This he considered preposterous. What was the effect last Session? The Commons' Committee upon the London and York Railway sat no less than eighty-four days, and when the matter went to the Lords, there was a prospect of its occupying eighty-four days more there; but the Bill was dropped from an absolute impossibility of the promoters being able to get it through before the conclusion of the Session. The present system of going over the same case before two committees was, he considered, a waste of time. A number of Gentlemen were put upon a committee, they went into the whole nature of railway matters, and in fact, learnt the A, B, C of them; they heard the speeches of counsel, the evidence of engineers and other information, as in the case of the London and York; and then, with their accumulated knowledge, the instant they had decided upon the matter they were turned loose upon society. Another and another committee had to be instructed in railway affairs; and much time was lost between the wrangling of counsel and their lengthened addresses, lasting for thirty or forty days, at fifteen guineas a day, which was a strong stimulant for the learned gentlemen to go on and instruct committee after committee, by stating the same facts and arguments for their respective guidance. Now, a tribunal sitting exclusively to examine railway schemes, would say to the counsel, when they were commencing their oft-told tale — "We don't want to hear that again; we have heard it before; and we have made up our minds upon the subject." Still this was necessary to be gone through by each different committee; and his opinion was, that so long as these committees went on, they would never be able to get through with the business; but if they had a permanent body, there would be no such trifling with time as there was at present. There was another topic which it would be just as well for the House to recollect; viz., that in all their inquiries it was above all things most desirable that the Members of that House ran no risk of being charged with partiality, or of having their motives misunderstood. Before the commencement of last Session, the House had a very considerable idea with regard to the railway business that was likely to come before them. That was, however, now taken away from them; and no inquiries had, it appeared, been made by the Board of Trade. It had been objected, that the inquiries by the Board of Trade had only reported upon one-third of the schemes which were brought before them; they had no power to hear objections, but could only form their judgment upon the engineers' report, and the quality of the lines proposed. It was quite clear, therefore, that the reports of that body could not be taken as authority by the House; he did not know whether or not this arose from any feeling that too much power ought not to be given to the Board of Trade in these cases; and herein he thought the great objection to the Board of Trade lay—in not having sufficient power delegated to them to discharge their duty. With regard to the question of a commission out of the House, it should be composed of gentlemen who possessed a practical knowledge of matters, who had got the habit of deciding quickly on them, who would possess such a mass of information which could never be got in the Houses of Parliament. He would give the handsomest salaries that could be given to any commissioner or public functionary whatever. If Parliament were to do so at the expense of the promoters of the various schemes that were to come before them, those promoters would take care to economise the public time, as they would thereby save themselves expense. It was the first business of a magistrate to administer justice cheaply but efficiently; this, in reference to railway matters, according to the present system, could not be done. He hoped that a commission would be appointed.


had a great distaste for what were called commissions; and he still retained that distaste for such enormous sums of the public money to be paid away for these commissions. His humble opinion was, that they were nothing more or less than Government jobs. It was evident, from the speech of the hon. Member who had just sat down, that he purposed paying by the job, and not by the day; so that after this commission had concluded its sittings, it would be necessary for another committee to be appointed to inquire how far the commission had usefully employed their time before they received one sixpence of the public money. Far be it from him to entertain any unfavourable feeling against any of the Gentlemen who had been proposed by the right hon. Baronet to form this Committee; but what he had done on a former occasion, he felt it to be his duty to do again. Individually, he cared nothing about it; but he stood there to represent a great body of the people, and on their behalf he claimed the right of demanding that neither of the members of the proposed Committee for the investigation of the important schemes to be brought before them, should be directly or indirectly interested in them. Parliament should not sanction measures which would tend to destroy industry. Some hon. Members talked of the public good; but they only meant one word for the public, and two for themselves; and he hoped they should not again see such measures discussed in a House of twelve or fifteen Members. He was a protectionist; and he believed the right hon. Baronet was not. He wished to protect our native industry; and he repeated that he hoped no hon. Gentleman who might be interested would be placed on the Committee, but that each Member of it should be called to the bar of the House, and made to declare that he had no interest in any railway whatever.


said: I am afraid I am not one of those very disinterested indi- viduals whom the hon. and gallant Colonel has described as the only proper persons to sit on the proposed Committee; but I feel it due to myself and the interest I represent to make a few observations on what has fallen from the right hon. Baronet. He proposes that a Committee shall be appointed to consider, and that immediately, what schemes ought to be submitted to Parliament and receive the sanction of the Legislature. I would suggest to the right hon. Baronet, that there are two ordeals through which those schemes ought to pass before that Committee enters upon the performance of its duties. We ought to know of the different schemes lodged at the Board of Trade, whether they are in a proper position to be carried out from a sufficient deposit of money; and, in the next place, whether they are able to pass through the Standing Orders' Committee, or not? Unless these points are attended to, the Committee might recommend many schemes which the promoters may not be in a position to carry out; in consequence of which, other schemes which may not be open to such an objection, and which, perhaps, on the whole would be as beneficial to the districts through which it is proposed they should pass, may be rejected, and such localities lose the benefit of them. And, therefore, I would suggest that, until the Bills are brought into the House, the deposit lodged, and some progress has been made before the Standing Orders' Committee, that the Committee proposed by the right hon. Baronet should not proceed to report to the House. I am not alarmed, as the right hon. Baronet seems to be, as to the amount of money which would be required for the execution of the works before the public. This money is not going out of the country. One-fifth of all railway projects, if executed, goes, in the first instance, into the pockets of the landowner, and very likely he invests it in undertakings that pass through his district; perhaps he pays off some mortgage, or perchance he embarks it in some other railway schemes. In the next place, it must be remembered that a very large proportion of the money goes to the iron-masters and others, who have to supply materials; and then the amount expended in labour must not be forgotten; and I may remark that perhaps the best way to alleviate the distress in Ireland is by affording employment in the execution of great public works. The right hon. Baronet proposes that the amount of money shall be limited; but who is to determine what the sum shall be? I will imagine a case: in fact I can cite one from my own district—a large district: I mean Yorkshire. A line has been projected, of which I happen to be the promoter, for 70 miles. The district is in great want of railway communication to get their produce to market; and it will be so more particularly, when the right hon. Baronet brings forward measures which the farmers and others will have to contend with; and why should you deny to those persons the execution of the proposed works, if the money and everything else is ready for the purpose? It seems giving to the proposed Committee a power which they ought not to possess. It is said that they are only to report to this House; but I have learned sufficient to know that the report of a Committee is very paramount, and it is of little use for any individual Member to contend against it. The great point to determine is, first, whether the proposed works are of national importance, and then whether they are laid out in such a manner as to secure advantages to the districts through which it is intended they should pass. If they present these recommendations, I doubt not that money will be found for the execution of all useful projects. Moreover, I have no doubt that long before they have passed through the Standing Orders of the House—long before the time has arrived for the money to be wanted, these schemes will be considerably cut down, and if they are spread over three years, they can be accomplished without any derangement of the monetary affairs of this country; if our money is not called out for other purposes—for South American bonds—and provided it does not go out to buy corn. I do not wonder that there should be some alarm at the derangement of the currency. If the prospect be that we shall have large importations of foreign grain, it will behove us to button up our pockets, and deal with the results; but the time has not arrived yet. I am, however, quite certain, that if the House will apply themselves fairly and carefully to the consideration of the different measures that will be submitted to them, this House is competent to deal with them in a manner satisfactory to the country. It is true there are defects in this tribunal, and I have myself, at times, been greatly aggrieved by some of the decisions which this House has come to; at the same time, I have, upon cool reflection, considered the decisions of the committees to be right; and I have always respected the decisions of this House; and although I am largely connected with measures that may come before Parliament, I am quite prepared to abide by the decisions of this tribunal. The principal reason for my rising, was to make the suggestions which I have thrown out; namely, that until parties were in a position to go on with their Bills in the manner in which I have pointed out, until they have deposited their plans and complied with all the Standing Orders—and it is well known that many of the plans are imperfect, and others mere duplicates—I say, until the House is satisfied of all this, it will be useless for the Committee to consider any such schemes with a view to report to the House those which are most eligible. I am, however, satisfied that the business may be got through with to the satisfaction of the public and the honour of the House.


had readily given way to the hon. Gentleman opposite; and although the House would not be able to command his services on committees, yet, from the speech which he had just delivered, the House would see that they had gained a valuable Member in the person of the hon. Gentleman, whose experience and advice on such matters would be most important. He believed that there never had been a more important committee than that which the right hon. Baronet had proposed, and he thought it should have been selected with great care, because the right hon. Gentleman himself would admit that questions of a vast deal greater importance were to be referred to the proposed Committee than ever had been referred to a committee before; and, in fact, of greater importance than ought to be submitted to a committee at all. The right hon. Baronet proposed to submit to a committee the decision of the amount of capital which should be limited for making railways. Now this, he thought, should have come in a direct way from the Government—from the Financial Minister of the Crown, and he thought it of the greatest importance that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should be placed in his official capacity on such an inquiry. He was of opinion that all portions of the Empire where railways were going on should be fairly and equally represented in that Committee. Now, he did not find that that part of the country to which he belonged was so fairly represented as it ought to be. This had, personally, no influence with him, as he had great confidence in the names generally on that Committee; but it would have great influence with the people resident in that country. He found that the only Member on the Committee from Scotland was the hon. Member for Dumfries—a Gentleman not a native of Scotland, and non-resident in that country; and therefore, whatever confidence the people of Scotland might have in that Gentleman, he was not so well qualified as others might be to represent that country. Had the Members for Glasgow, or Dundee, or Edinburgh, been on the Committee, it would have given it that confidence which it was in the highest degree desirable such a committee should possess. He concurred with the hon. Member for Devonport (Sir G. Grey) that a commission should have the power of entering upon inquiry into matters of fact, and of discharging a great part of its heavy business; a committee made up from both Houses of Parliament, with power to make a report, which should be final, so far as all evidence was concerned. With these observations, and trusting that if the Committee was to be named, the right hon. Baronet would name such a committee as would have the fullest confidence of the country, he would leave the matter in the hands of the House; but he thought it better to protest now, rather than afterwards, against the omission of a proper representation of the country from which he came.


did not anticipate, with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland, the evil effects from the proposed Committee which had resulted last year from the decisions of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade. As he understood the right hon. Baronet, there was no similarity at all in the line of investigation. It was the duty of the Board of Trade to investigate the merits of different lines, and although they devoted vast labour and ability to it, and although he was not one of those who imputed improper motives to them in the opinions which they gave, still he thought they had undertaken a task which it was impossible for men to encounter; and they could not arrive at safe and sound conclusions upon the matters under their consideration. The object of the Committee now proposed, as he understood it, was not to investigate the merits of any particular line, but to ascertain whether it were not possible to postpone some of the measures, and to consider whether some large general, just, and universal principle might not be devised, by which they should select a certain portion of the projected railways to proceed with. Such a duty he thought it was possible for them to execute with great justice to all parties, and great advantage to the country. In such an investigation, if a preference was to be given, he trusted it would be shown to the railways of Ireland—believing as he did, that the great evils of that country resulted not so much from religious dissension or political variance, as from the destitution of the people. It would be most useful, therefore, to give them employment, especially under their present circumstances, when they were threatened with so great a calamity. He thought, in fact, they were bound to distribute some of the superabundant British capital which would be applied to the formation of railways amongst that necessitous people. He, for one, would say to the Committee—postpone as long as you can many of the proposed railways, or spread them over as wide a space of time as may be practicable; and, above all, expose and discountenance every bubble scheme which may come under your consideration.


said, it seemed to him that some very important questions had been raised in this discussion. In the first place, there was the question raised by his right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Sir G. Grey), whether the same business which was now done by their Committees might not be done out of the House. That view had been supported by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller), who appeared to him to give the proposition a very strong support; but, at the same time, his hon. Friend said, he must say that it was a question which required much deliberation; and he thought that no measure could be beneficially adopted in conformity with it without taking further time for consideration. Then there was another question raised, on which the House had heard the opinion of two hon. Members, both very well qualified to give an opinion on this subject, the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. G. Hudson), and the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. C. Russell). The opinions of those hon. Members differed very widely. The hon. Member for Sunderland said, that it would be a very strong interference on the part of Parliament to limit the amount of capital to be laid out in railways. He thought the very same thing; and that when all the landlords owning land along a line were agreed to it, and the money was all ready, and everything prepared for Parliament to interfere and place a veto upon the construction of the railway, and declare the project should not be carried into effect, would be a very great interference with the disposition of capital. The hon. Member for Reading, however, said, that if so much money as would be necessary for the deposits were withdrawn from the circulation, a great derangement of the money market would take place, and much inconvenience in the labour market would be felt from making so many railways all at once; and he owned, that if that should be the case, the question became so grave a one, that he thought it ought not to be referred to this Committee in the first place, but that the First Lord of the Treasury or the Chancellor of the Exchequer should first come forward and say what were the inconveniences of this nature which they apprehended from this course, and what were the limits of it; and that then the question should be referred to this Committee. But the question, he must own, was too great, in his opinion, to be referred, in the first instance, to this Committee, consisting of a small number of Members; they ought not to be called upon to say what ought to be done, without some previous statement of this kind. Parliament did not interfere to prevent the application of capital in other directions: loans for the construction of public works in Germany, America, and other countries, were continually making by the capitalists of this country, and Parliament had not interfered. There might be some necessity for this; but he owned he thought that some strong case ought to be made before a question of such magnitude was referred to the decision of a Select Committee. If the right hon. Baronet thought that a Committee should be appointed in the first instance, he hoped at least that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be a member of the Committee, and then he could state to the Committee what measures he thought ought to be adopted, on which the Committee would report to the House. Really the question was of the greatest importance to the country.


concurred in thinking the question was one of the greatest importance to the country; but he did not look on the Committee as an executive committee, but simply as one appointed to receive information, and report to the House, and he should not have thought it necessary to address the House had it not been for the speech of the right hon. Baronet; for he felt that if the public understood that speech as he did, and as he believed the House did, great alarm was likely to arise. He understood that the right hon. Baronet proposed the Committee should, in the first place, divide the railways now before the public into certain classes, that a map should be formed, and that the railways marked red in the map should be passed, and the railways marked blue not passed. But it must be remembered that Parliament had said this to parties out of doors, "We have laid down certain conditions; we call on you to lay down a certain amount of deposits, and that having been done, you are to consider that Parliament will be prepared to consider your projects." This being the case, he said, that Parliament could not dispose of these projects, the promoters of which had acted on the faith of this declaration without giving in each individual case to the members of it an opportunity of making out a case for themselves. He would say, prescribe the greatest strictness to the Committee in the investigations they are to institute, and let the Standing Orders' Committee be not lax in allowing companies to pass the Standing Orders; but he was opposed to so wide a departure from the system at present in force. With regard to the difficulty of dealing with this great number of railway schemes in committee, he confessed he did not feel it, for he believed that it would be found that the number of lines coming out of the Standing Orders' Committee would not so greatly exceed those of last Session as many Members supposed. The House must remember that a much greater number of railway committees might have been formed last Session than were formed. There was one other subject on which he would say a word. They would in vain try to limit the expenditure of the money of the public by saying that only a certain number of railway projects should pass; for unless they prevented persons from embarking their money in foreign railways, and other such undertakings, the only effect of the new arrangement would be to prevent the sums thus driven abroad from fructifying in this country. Although these opinions might be contrary to those of the majority of the House, he was conscious that he represented and reechoed opinions which were widely extended out of doors.


could not wonder, after the experience of last year, at the apprehensions which some hon. Members entertained as to the possibility of getting through their business. Last year they had had a preliminary inquiry of that House, assisted by the Board of Trade, whose proceedings ran to such a length that the 20th of April arrived before a single line got into committee, and the consequence was, that, using all the despatch of which they were capable, it was impossible to get through the business. Immense as the business was which threatened them at present, he had no doubt, if they applied themselves with despatch to it, that they could get through it better than they did through the limited business of last year. He was anxious that no time should be lost, and that the right hon. Baronet should urge his Committee not to make a number of reports from time to time, but to come forth at once with their final report, that the parties before the House might know what the course of business was to be; and he must say that it was a little reflection on them as men of business, that at that time they should still be deciding upon what course they should have to take. As, however, they had not yet resolved upon a course, they must now decide what they should do; and they must remember that whatever they determined on this Session would be applicable to the Bills of next year; for they might depend upon it that next Session as many Bills would be presented for their consideration as would be brought before them this year. Were they not intersecting the country from the north to the south, and from the east to the west? The extent of turnpike roads in England and Wales was immense; and if those roads were to be replaced by railroads, it was quite clear that every succeeding Session of Parliament for a long period would bring before the House additional and necessary plans of railway lines of communication. They would require this railway communication instead of the communication by turnpike roads; and therefore he thought that they ought not to disparage this desire to provide lines of railway communication, but to hail it as a source of national wealth and power. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, that the House ought not to be deterred by figures; and for his part he thought the expenditure named by the right hon. Baronet would not meet the exigencies of the case. The addition to the disposable capital of the country was 50,000,000l.; and how much better would it be that the investment of that capital should be in our own country than that it should be directed to other countries. He doubted much as to whether the duties which would devolve on the Committee could be discharged in such a manner, and with so little delay or consumption of time, as the right hon. Baronet anticipated. He should approve of the appointment of the Committee, if he thought that it would lead to a greater facility of proceeding with railway business by the House; but he very much doubted whether that result would follow from its appointment. He hoped that, seeing the great necessity for speed, and the avoidance of delay, which existed as regarded railway matters, the right hon. Baronet would urge upon the Committee the necessity of facilitating that despatch as far as such was possible. The House would be further convinced of this fact, by recollecting that, on Monday next, there would be upwards of thirty Railway Bills before the Standing Orders' Committee.


expressed his regret that the 30th of November, the last day for depositing the plans, should have fallen on a Sunday. If it were in the power of the Board of Trade to have prolonged the time even for one day, they ought certainly to have done so, and thereby avoided those numerous violations of the Sabbath of which they were all aware.


regretted that none of the right hon. Gentlemen opposite had thought fit to answer the question of the noble Lord the Member for London. They (the Government) had said to many railway companies, "If you comply with the conditions which we propose, we will take care that your case shall be considered." Several companies had complied with those conditions, and it was now proposed to put those companies in the same position with those which had not complied with the conditions as they had been required. The right hon. Baronet had spoken of a map which he was to lay before the Committee; but the effect of that proposal on his mind would be, that if he (Mr: Ricardo) was concerned in a railway line, he should write to his engineer, telling him not to mind in the line which he projected tunnelling, or anything else of that nature, but to draw a straight line on the map, and the straightest line would be likely to be considered the best. The result of the course proposed would be to encourage companies to proceed, which, in other circumstances, would have no chance of proceeding, as those which had not complied with the necessary preliminaries might proceed, with the hope of being enabled to go before the House with better chance of success in the ensuing year. He looked upon the proposal as a clumsy contrivance, and he would remark, with respect to the amount of deposits and mode of requiring them, that it would have been a great deal better if, when every project was registered, a certain small deposit were required, as in that case the deposits would be paid by the projectors of the railway companies, whereas, in the present case, they are paid by the companies. The right hon. Baronet had come before the House at the eleventh hour—[laughter from the Ministerial Benches]—yes, at the eleventh hour. They had made certain special arrangements last year for the guidance of those proceedings, and when those who were concerned complied with all the conditions which were required, or were prepared to comply with them, the right hon. Baronet, at the eleventh hour, came down to the House of Commons, and told them they were to make new arrangements. He hoped the right hon. Baronet would not leave so much capital in suspense, or cause any unnecessary delay or inconvenience to those great national undertakings; for, however it might be the fashion to decry them, they were great national undertakings, and he hoped the right hon. Baronet would distinctly tell the House what he meant to do.


said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down, as well as the hon. Member for Nottingham (Mr. Gisborne), appeared to think that the Committee which his right hon. Friend had recommended was merely to perform the same duties as the Board of Trade had performed last year, with reference to the subject of railways. But such was not the case. With respect to the map, the hon. Member had stated that the effect of its introduction would be to induce the Committee to approve of the straightest line, without reference to other considerations. Now the object of the map was this, and the object he should remark was one which had been distinctly described by his right hon. Friend;—the map was to have three descriptions of lines traced upon it, and distinguished by three different colours: the lines in operation to be of one colour; the lines which had been sanctioned by Parliament, but were not as yet in operation, to be coloured differently; and the lines which were projected, but had not as yet received the sanction of Parliament, to be of a third colour, to distinguish them from the two former classes. With respect to the amount of capital to which the operations should be limited, the question did not rest with the Government, but it was to be brought before the Committee, and considered by them. But, in order that the fullest opportunity for coming to a proper decision might be afforded to the Committee, the Government were prepared to lay before them the conclusion to which they had arrived as to the amount of capital which ought to be named as the limit. The Government, he ought to add, would not only lay before the Committee their conclusion on that subject, but also upon other important questions connected with the matter, for their consideration. The hon. Member for Renfrewshire (Mr. P. M. Stewart), appeared to doubt the expediency of any restrictions to the amount of capital to be invested in those operations; but when they considered the number of projects—when they considered the number of Bills deposited in the Private Bill Office, he was sure that the majority of the House would agree with him in thinking that some limitation was necessary. The hon. Member appeared to think the sum of 23,000,000l. was insufficient. That subject would receive the consideration of the Committee; and he could only repeat, that looking at the number of projects, and recollecting the great sums which the outlay with reference to other interests would require, he thought there ought to be some limit agreed upon. Another subject which the Committee would have to consider was, as to the payment of deposits by the various companies, previously to their going before the Standing Orders' Committee; and he was sure that the Committee would dispose of it in the most satisfactory manner. He thought that these points ought very properly to be brought before the Committee. It was not the intention of the Government to throw those subjects loosely before the Committee. On the contrary, the Government would lay before the Committee the conclusions at which they had arrived with respect to them.


said, that irrespective of other questions, the Committee would be called on to decide no less a question than what was the maximum sum which the Legislature would allow to be invested in railways, in the ensuing Session of Parliament; and, he must say, that a graver question could not be presented to any assembly. That, he would say, was a question which ought not to be referred to any Committee, but which ought to be proposed by the Government to the House of Commons. It was a question upon which, if the Government had made up their minds, they ought, at the beginning of the Session, to come down, not for the proposal of a Committee, but to lay the subject directly before the House of Commons. If the Government acted in that manner, the House of Commons would be found to be the best tribunal to decide on what course to take. The right hon. Baronet opposite had done him (Mr. Labouchere) the honour of proposing him as a member of the Committee; but he would say, that, when he first heard of the appointment of the Committee, he thought that the Government would come forward with a matured scheme to facilitate the despatch of the great mass of railway business which was to come before the House in the ensuing Session. He was of opinion that, with the experience of last Session before them, they might have taken steps which would facilitate the progress of railway business in this Session. That was quite a different question from the one to which he alluded at the commencement; and he regretted very much that the question of what was to be the maximum of capital was to be brought before the Committee; for it was a question that peculiarly required to be brought by the Government before the House of Commons. The Government ought to make a proposal, and let the House of Commons judge of it. He agreed with the hon. Member for Liskeard in thinking that immense sums of money had been thrown away during the last Session of Parliament, in consequence of the want of arrangement; and that ought to form another reason for inducing them to avail themselves of the experience of last year, in order to frame a matured plan of arrangement for this Session of Parliament. There was one expression which had been used by the hon. Member, and which would lead to the idea that all the decisions come to last year were not free from suspicion out of doors. When he considered the manner in which the committees of last Session had discharged their onerous and invidious duties, he could not but hope that the impression out of doors was that they had discharged them with as clear a character as it was possible for the members of any assembly to possess. He should, indeed, be sorry if there was any impression out of doors that the Members of that House had lowered themselves, as, on questions affecting property, their decisions deserved to be looked on with jealousy; and he should regret, indeed, if Members of that House did not stand with all persons as high as their conduct had shown them to deserve. During the last Session they had to deal with questions in which the interests often of their friends or constituents were deeply concerned; and he should much regret if any party differed from him in thinking that they discharged their duties in a manner which could not be excelled by any other assembly. He should rejoice if the Committee about to be appointed would do any thing to facilitate the progress of railways in the present Session of Parliament; but if so great a question was to be involved as the discussion of the merits of particular lines, there could be little advantage or propriety in referring it to a committee.


thought that the House had a right to ask Her Majesty's Government what was the exact proposition which they were going to submit to the Committee. He did not mean to say that he expected the Government to explain the details of the proposition; but they ought to acquaint the House with its general nature. The hon. Member for London (Mr. Masterman) had said in a former debate, on Friday last, that great inconvenience would arise in consequence of the determination of the Government to adhere to the Standing Orders with regard to deposits. He had already felt great inconvenience himself from this source, not as a railway projector, but as an humble banker; and he was quite sure that the same inconvenience must have been felt elsewhere. He wished to know whether the country was to go on much longer in the same way, as he was satisfied that every day would add to the inconvenience which had already been suffered. He should feel it his humble duty to oppose the appointment of the Committee, unless he knew the exact object for which it was to be appointed. He was still of opinion that a commission out of the House would satisfy the public more than any of the railway committees consisting of Members of the House, which sat last year; although he was sure that those Gentlemen had done their duty to the best of their ability. A commission had already been appointed by the Government to determine the question of the gauges; and he did not see that a commission to determine the merit of the several railway projects would go much further. He hoped that if the Committee proposed by the right hon. Gentleman were appointed, they would report in a very short time, and before the time for paying in the deposits had expired. If that were done quickly, no great harm would arise; but if delay were permitted, much inconvenience must ensue.


expressed his satisfaction that the right hon. Gentleman had stated that no intention existed on the part of Her Majesty's Government to interfere with the progress of the different railway bodies, and that they would be permitted, after doing every thing in their power to comply with the Standing Orders, to proceed in the ordinary course. It would manifestly he a great act of injustice to prevent the promoters of such Bills from going before Committees of the House. Notwithstanding the very great number of plans and sections which had been deposited with the Board of Trade, he entertained no fear that those projects which would come before the Committee would be too much for the strength of the House; but of the eight hundred and odd railway schemes which had complied with this branch of the Standing Orders, he was sure that nothing like one hundred would eventually be proceeded with. When the House took into consideration the very late period of the Session when they began with the Railway Bills last year, having been obliged as they were to wait for the Report of the Board of Trade, and when they reflected that they could now begin business at a comparatively early period, he did not think there was any reason to apprehend that the House would be unequal to the task imposed upon it.


wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman proposed that his Committee should take evidence, in order to enable them to decide on the merits of different lines? If so, where would be the end of their labours? The Session of Parliament would be at an end before the Committee could finish what they had to do. What he would propose was, to allow the different railway schemes to proceed as before, and pay their deposits. They should also be allowed to go before the Standing Orders' Committee, and be thoroughly sifted and drafted through the ordeal there prepared for them. If they did that it would then be in the power of the House to deal with them as they thought fit. He would recommend that the Committee which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to appoint should have the power merely of grouping these railways. They could not go into the merits of each individual line, which must be decided by select committees of the House of Commons, or by a commission out of the House, which he (Colonel Anson) for one should prefer. He certainly had a very strong opinion himself on the question of interference with railways. The checks already imposed upon them would reduce the number so considerably that those which at last found themselves in a position to come before the committees would not be found too many to deal with. With respect to the railway committees themselves, he believed that the general opinion out of doors about them was, that they had performed their duties, not only with great patience, but with great ability.


said, that the question really was, whether any plan could be devised for the disposal of the private business in a satisfactory manner, or whether they were to leave a greater number of remanets at the end of this Session than at the termination of the last Session of Parliament. He believed that persons interested in the success of railway projects would be much better satisfied if the House would tell them to go home and save their money, when there was no reasonable prospect of the schemes being taken into consideration, than if they were to keep them dancing attendance till July or August at an enormous expense, and after all send them home with the uncertainty whether they would ever be allowed to appear again. The right hon. Gentleman had taken a very wise course in proposing the appointment of a Committee, and he trusted that he would have the fortitude to persevere. There would be a great advantage in the present year in appealing from the railway world drunk to the railway world sober. He was quite sure that a great number of persons who had embarked in these schemes would not be dissatisfied by their postponement for a time. His view of the matter was this—that parties had planned a great number of schemes, because they knew that if they did not, others would take the ground from them. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet the Member for Devonport, in thinking that a great deal might be done to simplify the proceedings before railway committees. His (Mr. Parker's) opinion was that a great part of the time occupied was wasted, as it was spent in proving what nobody cared anything at all about; namely, the amount of traffic on the projected line. He, for his own part, did not believe that any railway was backed because there was such traffic, or that any railway had been thrown out because the requisite amount of traffic had not been proved. It appeared to him that if the proposed Committee were to look narrowly into that branch of evidence which was now required to be proved before a railway committee, a great deal of time might be saved. He took it for granted that the first thing which the Committee would do would be to lay down some general rule for the guidance of the select committees, and he hoped that there would be some rule upon the subject of traffic. It ought not to be forgotten that the House did not sit there merely for railway purposes, as they did, in a manner, last Session. He had spent more time himself upon them than he ever meant to spend again. He did not think that there would be the smallest breach of faith committed by the House, if they did not attempt to do that which was impossible. Nemo tenetur ad impossibilia. Let the Committee do what was necessary to be done, and let them do it quickly.


expressed his concurrence in the views taken of this subject by the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. J. Parker); and, adverting to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller), thought it was well worthy of consideration whether it would not be advisable to supersede altogether Committees of that House as tribunals on Railway Bills, and to appoint a Government Commission for that purpose—a Commission to be composed of men who, from their experience, skill, and capacity, coupled with the position in which they would be placed, would be above all suspicion, and at the same time most competent to deal with the subject-matters which would be brought before them. He had himself been one of those patriots to whom allusion had been made, who had sacrificed eighty-four days of the last Session in a Committee on one group of Railway Bills; and hence he could fully appreciate the necessity which existed for some different arrangements. At present, if a line running to A, B, or C, stood referred to a committee, from the beginning to the end of the inquiry, all the parties who appeared before the committee addressed themselves to that body, with a view to confuse and confound the ideas of its members, and to make them incompetent to discriminate between the sound and false opinions which might be submitted to them by either side. If the same questions were submitted to a Government Commission, composed of practical and experienced persons, he had not the least hesitation in saying that such inquiries, instead of occupying eighty-four days, might be determined in a just, proper, and equitable manner in eight hours, especially if the traffic tables were deposed to by experienced and competent witnesses. Throughout the country, it was well known that the great object of the parties who appeared before railway committees was, to confuse the members. This was the practice both of promoters and opponents, and to it was to be attributed those delays which were extremely painful to all persons concerned. He, therefore, hoped that the Committee intended by the present Motion to be appointed would, amongst the other points referred to, consider the propriety of appointing a Government Commission to supersede the Parliamentary Committees, to whom the jurisdiction on Railway Bills was now, in some degree, delegated. And he would ask the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, in what way a Parliamentary Committee, consisting of five gentlemen, was superior on such subjects to other men to be found outside the walls of Parliament? On what ground could it be supposed that any committee could be superior to such a commission as could readily be constituted of men of talent and scientific experience in the country? It had been observed, that the decisions of the committees of last Session had been satisfactory to the country, and that they were above all suspicion; and the House had been reminded that, when a Member was called upon to serve upon such a committee, he was bound to declare that he was not interested in any one of the Bills which would stand referred to the committee on which he was about to serve. Still, he might be a shareholder in or a director of a railway company in another part of the kingdom, which might more or less be a rival to one of the lines upon which he was called to adjudicate; and therefore he thought that, if the committees on railways were to continue to exercise the functions vested in them, it would be but fair, in limine, to exclude from serving upon them any Member who was interested in any railway whatsoever. If so, he much doubted whether a sufficient number of Members could be found who would be competent to serve. On the whole, he wished to impress upon the House that the result of his experience during the last Session was, that a committee—from want of experience, of scientific knowledge, and practical skill — was a very incompetent tribunal, and for the continuance of the system no sufficient reason had yet been given.


said, that the principal complaint was, that if the whole of the capital which would be required was to be invested in the construction of railways which were projected, that then this Committee proposed by the Government would be wholly unnecessary; but that if only a certain amount of capital was to be so applied, it was said there would be no difficulty in the matter, and that the appointment of the Committee was superfluous. His hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Hudson), whom he rejoiced to see in the House, had stated that this country could well spare 70,000,000l. to be applied in the construction of railways, because the whole of that amount would be spent in the country. The argument much resembled that which had been advanced in the discussion of the Bank Charter, when it had been stated that the Bank of England could not issue too much bank paper, so long as it only discounted good bills. To that doctrine he could not assent. At present, they could not construct even the good lines projected without interfering with the application of the capital of the country to other purposes. There was too great a speculation existing as to railways, and the only way to meet the spirit of speculation which prevailed was, to bring down the profits of the capital so applied to an ordinary level; and this only could be effected by fixing a much lower rate of charges upon the different lines to be constructed. If this were done, there would be found no difficulty in dealing with the numerous lines which had been put forth to the public. The development of railway traffic during the past year would, he ventured to state, show that the railroads now constructed abroad conveyed the traffic at one-half less than the lowest scale of charges on any of the English lines. For instance, the fare from London to Dover was fifteen shillings; but cross to Ostend, and it would be found that from Ostend a distance equal to that between Dover and London could be travelled by railroad for a fare of seven shillings and sixpence. With respect to committees, he was of opinion that the information now furnished to them by the railway promoters themselves, ought to be supplied by independent persons. If a line was sought to be constructed from A to B, the committee ought to have nothing to do but to secure as much advantage to the public as was possible; whereas the practice now seemed to be, solely to protect the railway projectors; for the committee had not only to report upon the nature and extent of the traffic expected, upon the nature of the line, and on other points, but also that upon the capital to be expended there would be a dividend for the proprietors. Surely it ought to be left to the railway people themselves to take care of that. As well might it be proposed that a committee should be appointed to inquire whether or not the contractor for the building of the new Houses of Parliament had made a good bargain. Such a proposition would be absurd; and equally so, in his judgment, was the requirements from a railway committee to report as to whether a dividend would accrue to the shareholders on the capital subscribed. As to the amount of capital to be invested, he was of opinion that 20,000,000l. was quite as much as could be each year safely applied to such purposes. The money market last year would have fallen in consequence of these outlays, had it not been that it was a year of extraordinary profits. But if it should fall this year, from a bad harvest or any other cause—if the country should be overtaken with difficulties, in what situation would the railways be placed? They would be unable to borrow money to complete their works; and they might probably be obliged to suspend their operations for two or three years, until the money market again revived and came round. These were difficulties to which no wise Government would lend itself. One word as to the required deposit of 10 per cent. So long as that amount was paid up, plenty of engineers, solicitors, and others, would go to work, knowing that their bills would be paid; and hence it was that a vast number of Bills had been brought forward, which, under any other circumstances, would never have existed. He threw these points out as matter for grave consideration at present.


said, nothing which had passed in that debate had tended to shake his conviction, that Her Majesty's Government had pursued a proper course in availing themselves of the earliest opportunity of calling the attention of the House to the possible difficulties in which they might become involved, unless they took immediate notice of the immense amount of railway legislation which was now impending over them. He thought it was the clear duty of Government to submit the matter to the House, without, however, proposing any final plan upon the subject. They would remember that it was one of grave import—one which involved the privileges of Parliament, and one upon which Government could not, consistently with their sense of duty, submit any elaborate scheme, without referring the matter to the consideration of the House. He conceived that the duty of Government with reference to the matter was to suggest some course, by means of which the practicability of respective schemes could be discussed; and as that course could not be pursued with advantage in a Committee of the whole House, he proposed the formation of a Committee of those hon. Members whose attention had been directed to the subject, and who would be thus the most competent authority for discussing and reporting upon it. He was quite certain, that had he brought forward a scheme on the part of Government, objections would have been raised to the discussion by the whole House on its merits. He would have been told that he should rather have referred the matter to a Select Committee. He had anticipated this recommendation, at the same time he had thought it best not to prejudice the consideration of the Committee by stating the views of Government as to what ought to be its decision. Objections had been urged as to the appointment of such a tribunal. They had been told to wait—that they need not interfere—and that the crisis would pass away as it had arisen. But what were the facts of the case? It had been said, that no interference was necessary; for that not more than 100 or 200 Bills would be proceeded with. There were, however, 710 Bills deposited, involving capital to the amount of 300,000,000l. Of these it was possible that many would fail before the Committee on the Standing Orders. Others might fail in consequence of the necessary deposits not having been made; but he thought that, whatever might be the result of a little further delay, it was the duty of the House to apply itself early to the consideration of the subject, and not to wait, as last year was the case, until the end of the Session. The question now was, whether or not they should devolve this duty upon a Committee—and whether that Committee should at once enter upon its functions? He had been asked to postpone the labours of the Committee until it was ascertained whether or no the promoters of the schemes destined to go before them had complied with the Standing Orders. To this course he, for one, could not consent. True, it might be the feeling of the Committee to suspend its judgment upon schemes, until it was known whether or no they had successfully gone through the ordeal of the Standing Orders. But there were many points which the Committee could at once proceed to discuss. It would be in fact the master of its own proceedings, and would determine the points to be at once gone into, and the points to be postponed. He, therefore, saw no reason for any delay in the appointment of the Committee. On the contrary he saw every reason why its inquiries should be immediately commenced. It was true, that in some quarters and by some parties, all interference was blamed. But let them recollect how the matter stood. Last Session they had not passed the Bills before them; they had not been able to perform the functions they had undertaken. The companies had, in many cases, complied with the rules which the House had laid down; but such was the pressure of public business that Bills involving 11,000,000l. of capital were obliged to stand over, because no time was left for their discussion. That was one reason why they should take into early consideration the principles upon which they were to act during this Session. A cry was no doubt raised against interference with private enterprise—about the expediency of capital being allowed to be applied under the law as it at present stood. It was said, "Do not interfere with private enterprise." His reply was, "By no means; let every man apply his capital as he pleases." But the question was not as to the application of capital, but whether or not particular parties should have the right to take other persons' property on which to construct a railway, and upon it to raise a certain amount of toll. Why that was quite a different species of interference from that which would subject to its conditions the ordinary application of capital not seeking for any peculiar privileges. Supposing the case of 300 Bills, requiring a pledge for the subscription of capital to the amount of 150,000,000l. to be immediately laid out; he did think that it became a matter of grave consideration, whether the House should or should not refer these 300 Bills at once to distinct committees—who would not take a preliminary view of the question, a question of such immense importance—and who would not consider to what extent privileges so immense in their nature ought, with advantage to the community, to be conceded by the Legislature. For what was the species of inquiry they delegated to the ordinary committees of the House? Why, they referred each Bill to the consideration of five gentlemen. No reference was made by the tribunal so constituted to the general interests of the country. They merely considered the probable amount of traffic on the projected line—whether in all respects the expectations of its promoters would be probably realized, whether the estimates of expense would or would not be probably exceeded. They thus reviewed only the individual merits and prospects of each scheme. They might come to the conclusion that such and such a plan deserved encouragement—that its estimates were correct—its traffic moderately calculated—that the speculation, in short, was a good one—and that there could be no objection to it. Well, all this would, in each case, be submitted to the House of Commons; but then the time would come when they ought to consider whether, after all, these Bills, advantageous as individually they might be, ought to be allowed simultaneously to pass. Already a sum of 23,000,000l. must, under existing legislation, be applied within the next three years; and certainly it was now open to consideration whether, by limiting the number—by deferring the consideration of some of the schemes now pressing on them—they could not apply a limitation to the amount of that capital, which, in addition to the sum already needed, would shortly be applied for. He had, therefore, felt it to be his duty to direct the attention of the House to this subject; but for the reasons which he had already alluded to, he had abstained from propounding on the part of Government any particular plan. But seeing the enormous amount of capital required, un- certain to what extent the system might be carried, they had felt it to be their duty to lay the matter before the House, with a view to any alterations in the system which it might think fit to adopt. He hoped, however, that the House would not, in any case, part with its virtual jurisdiction. Whether it might be right to devolve some portion of the inquiry necessary in each case, on some particular impartial body, he would not stop to inquire; but he did renew the expression of his hope that the House would not part with its jurisdiction in the matter—that the interference of select committees would not be done away with. He believed that the conduct of the House last Session as to railway business was greatly in its honour, and showed that the determination was deeply felt—that however great might be the press of business, the House would not and did not neglect the functions which devolved upon it with respect to private legislation. And he believed that he might say too, that though its decisions were sometimes found fault with at first by those to whom they had been adverse, the public voice was generally in favour of the integrity and justice of its votes. He should be sorry, therefore, to see the House part with or delegate its railway jurisdiction, because he feared that should the House of Lords choose to take up the functions in respect to private legislation which the House of Commons chose to abandon, the dignity of the latter could not fail to be impaired, nor its authority to be weakened. Another word as to a suggestion which had been made—that of referring certain questions of detail respecting each scheme to a Commission to be formed of men of science and practical experience and skill, competent to decide upon such points of engineering or probable traffic as might arise. Now let them recollect the immense amount of business which such a tribunal would have to undertake. There were, say 700 Bills to adjudicate upon. To do them justice, instead of one commission, twenty or thirty would be requisite, while it would be found that they could hardly repose the same confidence in so many examining bodies as they could do in one, the satisfactory composition of which would be so much more under their control. But in saying this, he was not offering any objections to the suggestion, should it be found practicable for the establishment of some tribunal to lighten the labour of committees; these commit- tees, however, always to retain their independence, always to maintain their right to judge in a last resort, but referring to the auxiliary body the investigation of mere matters of detail. As to the general Committee, he repeated that, although there were many matters to come before it, which it might find convenient to postpone the conisderation of, yet there were many other important considerations which he trusted the body in question would be enabled immediately to proceed with.


inquired whether the Committee was to be an open one—whether it would be competent for hon. Members to attend without taking part in the Committee's deliberations?


was understood to reply, that the Committee would be a select and secret one.

Motion agreed to.

Committee appointed to consist of the following Members:—Lord G. Somerset, Sir G. Grey, Mr. Strutt, Mr. Labouchere, Mr. Estcourt, Mr. Greene, Mr. Ewart, Mr. Colquhoun, Mr. Hodgson Hinde, Mr. Pakington, Sir G. Clark, Mr. F. Baring, The O'Connor Don, Lord H. Vane, and Mr. Shaw.