HC Deb 19 March 1846 vol 84 cc1229-67

, in bringing forward the Motion of which he had given notice, respecting Railways, said that as he found there was to be no opposition offered to the proposition, he should probably best consult the wishes of the House by not entering upon the subject at such length as he might otherwise have been induced to do. At the same time he trusted he might be permitted to occupy a few moments in stating generally what were the leading objects of his Motion. He considered that the experience of the last year, not only in England, but the other countries of Europe, had been most important, as it had shown that the development of traffic had gone on in a way not to have been anticipated by the most sanguine; and he proposed to show by the committee he was about to move for, that the system of cheap fares had everywhere been most advantageous and profitable, and that in almost every case the Companies which had tried the experiment had not been injured but benefited by that system. He also proposed to inquire to what extent it was practicable, by some general regulations, to relieve the Railway Committees from the weight of business with which they were at present oppressed. Lastly, he proposed to bring before the Committee the important subject of the granting of leases of lines, instead of concessions in perpetuity. The railway system had been so recently introduced, and had extended itself with such rapidity, that there had been little time to give to the whole subject a calm consideration; but in the course of the past year it had been found, not only in this country but in others—in Belgium, France, and America—that there had been a remarkable increase of traffic, and to a certain degree a uniform increase. Our experience was yet inadequate to determine what the exact ratio of that increase was likely to be. That it must increase with the wealth and population of the country there could be no doubt; and to that must be added the progression or increase of business caused by the railways themselves; but looking to all the circumstances, the supposition might be risked that the traffic on the great lines, between towns of large population, would double itself in the next ten or fifteen years. Should such be the opinion of the House, it would probably think it necessary to reserve to itself the right of revising the fares at periods considerably under twenty years apart. One of the most important subjects which could engage the attention of the Committee would be the effect of the reduction of fares, as proved wherever the system had been attempted, in increasing the traffic, and in some, if not in most cases, improving instead of diminishing the revenue. The scale of charges which would be found most productive might vary to some extent with the circumstances of each particular case; but it appeared evident to him that the scale most advantageous to all parties was much lower than anything hitherto attempted in this country. He believed that the rates charged in Belgium would at no distant time be thought quite sufficient here. It was known that on the lines recently adjudicated in France, the fares fixed for passengers had been, for the first, second, and third class respectively, 10, 7½, and 5 centimes per kilometre, with an allowance of thirty kilogrammes, or 66lb. of luggage to each person, these rates being somewhat proportionate to 1¾d.,d., and 1d., including the 10 per cent additional tax to Government. Now these lines were known to stand at considerable premiums; and the Paris and Orleans Company, which was limited to the same rates, was highly prosperous, and its shares were at a very high premium indeed—a success which he had never been able to account for on any other ground than the lowness of the fares. Let it not be forgotten that France presented far fewer advantages than England in respect to railway enterprise. The population there was less per square mile than ours; the towns were neither so numerous nor so large; their manufactures were unimportant when compared to ours; and their foreign trade more limited; so that to supply the same number of people they were obliged to lay down a longer line of rail than we needed. Then, with respect to the conduct of railway business, he thought that hon. Members would acknowledge that the attempt of last year had been a failure. Had he gone fully into the subject, he might have endeavoured to show how strange and contradictory had been the different decisions arrived at by the Committees, and how various had been the rates fixed for passengers and goods, ranging from a penny to fourpence per mile. In one instance he had been told that with respect to so important an article as coal, the difference of charge for carriage between one line supplying Manchester, and another line, was 250 per cent. If such disparity as this prevailed, it must be injurious; and surely much advantage would be derived from such great variations being hereafter corrected by some general regulation. With respect to the subject of leases, it was a matter which rather concerned the House and the country than the railway companies. It would be for the House to consider whether the practice of granting leases for terminable periods, instead of in perpetuity, might not with great advantage be adopted in this country. Experience had shown that parties were quite willing to undertake the whole cost of constructing railways in France to be held for terminable periods. This was in fact mainly a matter of policy on the part of the State. Of course a sinking fund would have to be provided out of the profits, in order to reimburse the original expenditure at the expiration of the lease. And that was no real hardship to companies. The whole transaction resembled a loan to the State, made on the principle of terminable annuities, by which the lender agreed to receive an annual payment for a term of years, instead of in perpetuity, and calculated the amount of this annual payment according to the length of the term. It therefore appeared to him that there could not be two opinions upon the subject, and that if it were practicable to get our new railroads undertaken upon this principle, it was most desirable that no time should be lost in adopting it. No one could pretend to estimate to what extent the railway system might be carried in twenty or thirty years, or what might be the effect of improvements in cheapening the cost of locomotion during that interval. But it was manifestly desirable that the State should, as early as possible, obtain the control of those lines of public communication. If we adopted this system of leases, which had been so successfully introduced into France, every Railway Act that was passed would have the effect of a conversion of so much of our national debt into annuities terminable with the expiration of the leases, without the sacrifice of one shilling by the State. For as soon as the lease of a line expired, it would become the absolute property of the State, and might either be sold, and its value applied directly in reduction of the public debt; or worked or let for the benefit of the State, and the revenue derived from it applied in relief of the general taxation of the country. And it might safely be assumed that from the progressive increase of traffic, and improvement in our railway science, the productiveness and value of almost every line would be far greater at the termination of the lease than at present. He would never advise the House to give up the principle of competition, for it was a very valuable one; but competition was not enough. In the case of the Bank of England it had been admitted that competition was not enough; and he thought the right hon. Baronet, if he would devote a little attention to the subject, would acknowlenge that in the case of railways, as well as of banking, something more than competition was necessary. He had stated that the experience of the last year had been of infinite value as regarded railways. That of the next three years would be more so; and, indeed, the experience of every succeeding year would furnish additional evidence as to the extent to which the increase of traffic was likely to be carried. That there were the means of working railways in this country on terms more advantageous to the public than in France, could not be a matter of doubt, upon comparing the resources and relative amount of population of each. The hon. Member illustrated this position by reading the following statistical details:— Population of France in 1842, 34,213,929, and dividing this sum by the area of 203,736 square miles, the population for each square mile is 167,932. The population per square mile in England is at present 297,698; and of Great Britain, 210,476. The trade and mercantile marine of France are quite inconsiderable compared with those of Britain. In 1844, the total customs revenue of France amounted to 215,825,704 francs, or 8,633,628l.; whereas the total customs revenue of the United Kingdom, during the same year, amounted to 24,107,348l. In 1844, the customs revenue of Liverpool amounted to 4,487,664; while the customs revenue of Marseilles, which has the largest trade of any town in France, amounted during the same year to only 36,688,000 francs, or 1,467,520l. And, with the exception of Havre, the customs revenue of which in 1844 amounted to 1,085,040l., the customs revenue of no other town in France exceeds 500,000l.; whereas in this country the customs revenue of the Clyde amounted in 1843 to 938,514, that of Dublin to 977,890l., that of Leith to 628,008, and that of Hull to 525,418l. The proportion of the population living in towns in Britain is incomparably greater than in France. This is evident from comparing the present population of the ten principal towns in each.

Population, 1841:— Population, 1842:—
London 1,873,676 Paris 875,495
Manchester 296,183 Marseilles 147,191
Liverpool 286,487 Lyons 143,977
Glasgow 274,533 Bourdeaux 99,512
Birmingham 182,922 Rouen 90,580
Leeds 152,054 Toulouse 76,965
Edinburgh 138,182 Nantes 76,870
Bristol 122,296 Lille 63,063
Plymouth 80,059 Strasbourg 61,150
Sheffield 68,186 Amiens 44,405
3,474,578 1,679,208
The difference in the amount of shipping belonging to the principal English and French ports is equally remarkable, thus:—
Shipping exclusive of Steamers belonging to the ten principal English Ports in 1844. Shipping exclusive of Steamers belonging to the ten principal French Ports in 1844.
Vessels. Tonn. Vessels Tonn.
London 2,792 573,522 Havre 342 64,004
Liverpl. 1,287 342,142 Bourdeaux 365 61,501
Newcst. 1,236 273,953 Nantes 541 60,520
Sunderl. 813 165,697 Marseilles 630 54,896
Glasgow 393 96,610 St. Malo 217 27,831
Greenock 447 86,617 Dunkirk 192 17,820
Hull 453 67,227 Granville 231 15,069
Whiteh. 389 60,204 Rouen 81 12,688
Aberdeen 352 51,550 Nouvelle 218 12,032
Dundee 326 48,920 Dieppe 174 10,837
8,688 1,766,442 2,991 336,398
Total shipping belonging to ports in the United Kingdom:—
Number of Vessels. Tonnage.
22,297 2,848,149.
Total shipping belonging to ports in France:—
Vessels. Tonnage.
13,578 595,344.
The total tonnage of France being very little more than that of the single port of London. The hon. Member concluded by moving for— A Select Committee to inquire whether, without discouraging legitimate enterprise, conditions may not be embodied in Railway Acts better fitted than those hitherto inserted in them to promote and secure the interests of the public.


was inclined to think that much as the hon. Member had spoken of the importance of the subject he had brought under the consideration of the House, he had still underrated it. Great as was the importance of railways to the wealth and prosperity of the country, they were in fact only a branch and specimen of those many objects of public enterprise which, as the march of civilization advanced, must be provided for in this country. The subject embraced a wider scope than that avowed by the hon. Member, whose demand appeared to be, that the House should reconsider the whole system of policy, with respect to the prosecution of public works, the principle governing which had hitherto been, more than in any other country, to allow free play to individual enterprise, and to restrain the Executive Government from interference. The scope of the hon. Gentleman's Motion, if he understood it, was this—that the system hitherto prevailing in this country was altogether erroneous; that the system upon which other countries had conducted their public works was essentially right; and that great restrictions should be laid upon the system in this country of prosecuting public works. If he (Mr. Mangles) thought that the spirit of the hon. Gentleman's Motion was confined to railways only, he might regard it as right; but, viewed in connexion with other considerations of public policy, he thought it wrong. The average profits of railways in this country had not exceeded 5½ per cent; and in some lines, the capital not having been paid up, the companies had exercised the power of borrowing; and being able to borrow at a low rate of interest, had been in a condition to pay a higher dividend than if they had not borrowed. If the capital on all the railways had been paid up, he believed that the profits would not have averaged more than 3½ or 4 per cent. There was the Blackwall line, only three miles and a half long, which had been constructed at a cost of 3,000,000l.; in some years it had paid ¼ per cent, in other years nothing, and at present it was only paying 1¼ per cent. Yet that was a most useful line. In 1844 it had carried no less than 3,449,000 passengers, and it was a great object that such lines should be made, which they would not be unless there was a chance left for the projectors obtaining a prize. The hon. Member had alluded to the prosperous state of the railways in France, and the facilities given there for the investment of capital; but if there had been no large prizes drawn in England, French railways would probably never have been made at all. It was probable, too, that it had not been for the large advantages derived from English railways—the prizes, as he called them—Jamaica and our West India Colonies would never have received the benefit of the railway system. He conceived it would be narrow and shortsighted policy, because men were making large profits, to put a restriction upon their enterprise. Did the House believe that the men who drew the prizes stopped where they were? that the men who had made fortunes in the Birmingham or Grand Junction Railway, for example, had now no part of their capital invested in those and other lines? He believed that much of that capital, its holders being encouraged by the success they had met with, was now embarked in other works. Indeed he knew that individuals, who had been encouraged by the success they had met with in those early railways, had now largely invested capital in railways in Ireland, Jamaica, and other places; and the places of those persons were now occupied by those who were content with smaller or slower profits. Much of the money now invested in the Jamaica and Irish lines had been acquired by former successful enterprise in England, and thus had been sent forward and circulated in those more recent public works. The hon. Gentleman had dwelt upon the excellency of the French system, but seemed to have forgotten the intermediate steps by which they had arrived at their present stage, and that in 1842 the French Government had offered large advantages, such as undertaking half the expense of constructing the railways; while, as a proof that the success in this country had been a means of enabling the French to construct their railways, those advantages offered by the law of 1842 were insufficient to persuade parties to come forward and avail themselves of them. If he had not been misinformed, the hon. Member himself had been one of those who drew back because the advantages offered by the French Government were less than they were fairly entitled to. He did not pretend to say that the French system was not the best for France; but look at the practical results of the two systems. In England that system of private enterprise, with which the hon. Gentleman had found fault, had been adopted and encouraged; and he found by the Report of the Gauge Commissioners that the number of miles of railway completed in the United Kingdom was 2,264; that the number of miles sanctioned in 1844 was 787; that the number of miles comprised in Bills that had passed the Commons, and seemed likely to be sanctioned, was about 2,840—making a grand total of miles of railway made, sanctioned, or likely to be sanctioned, up to July, 1845, in round numbers, 5,891. That was the result of the system with which the hon. Gentleman found so much fault. Now what was the result in France of the system pursued there? He had endeavoured to get the most accurate information on the subject, and he believed that the French had only 376 miles of railway actually open. The hon. Member had dwelt much upon the advantages to be derived to the public from the cheap fares on the French railways; but had he made any accurate calculations on the subject? Did he suppose that one-tenth of those enormous lines now open in England would have been constructed if we had pursued the French system from the beginning? Towards the north there was now railway communication almost to Newcastle, and westward to Exeter. In another direction a line was opened to Chester, and soon would be to Holyhead; while southward there were lines to Brighton and Dover; and eastward there was railway communication with Norwich. Now, he asked the hon. Gentleman to estimate the difference in profits which had accrued to the merchants of Liverpool or the manufacturers of Manchester from the great lines of communication, as compared with the difficulties of transit to Marseilles, the great emporium of French commerce, endured by the merchants of France. Was not that a consideration of importance? It really seemed as if the very excellence and energy of the English system were brought as arguments against it, and its success adduced as a reason for preferring the French system, which, so far, had been a signal failure. According to their own system, the French had had to pay a handsome premium to English capitalists on the Rouen and Orleans railways. It was a fact about which there could be no dispute, that very many of the French lines had been constructed by the employment of English capital; and now that the French had taken them into their own hands, it would be necessary for them to pay a considerable premium to the English capitalist, which was, in point of fact, a reward, and a very just one, too, for his enterprise. His belief was, though he had not the documents there to prove it, that the present fares in England were very little higher than those sanctioned by the French Legislature. At any rate, he would venture to predict, that before the terms of the French leases were out, the English fares would be lower than the French tariff. As a step towards this result, he was authorized to state that in the Bill for amalgamating the London and Birmingham Railroad Company with other companies, those companies had voluntarily reduced their fares to the following maximum rates for all ordinary trains—namely, first class, 2d. per mile; second class, 1½d. per mile; third class, 1d. per mile (as fixed by Act of Parliament); and there would be a proportionate reduction on goods. In conclusion, he begged to observe, that he had not the slightest desire to oppose the Motion of the hon. Member for Inverness. He only hoped that the appointment of the Committee would be attended with results as beneficial as the hon. Member appeared to anticipate.


observed, that, notwithstanding he had given notice of another Motion in reference to railway legislation, rather more humble in its pretensions than the Motion under the consideration of the House, he had not the slightest intention of opposing the Resolution of the hon. Member for Inverness, nor of throwing the least impediment in its way. The course which he was about to take, in reference to this question, was forced upon him, not as a railway proprietor, but as the representative of a large mercantile community, whose interests were very much involved in the solution of this question, whether some precaution could not be devised, whereby the effects of the railway legislation now pending on the money and labour markets, might be provided against. At the commencement of the Session, a Committee had been appointed to take into consideration the question of railway legislation generally; and he was under the impression that one of the most important points to the consideration of which the Committee would have addressed itself was this, whether the expenditure of capital on railway enterprises had an injurious effect on the monetary system, and if so to what extent; but on referring to the Report, he was surprised to find that it contained no allusion whatever to the matter. He had procured from one of the officers of that House a statement of the progress of railway legislation up to the 17th of March; and, by a reference to this document, he found that the number of Bills which had gone through the Standing Orders Committee was 302, and that the number of petitions for Bills still under consideration, but which had not as yet undergone the purgatorial process, was 140. The hon. Member for Sunderland had, in the course of a noble speech which he made a short time since in that House, laid great stress on the cruel massacre of railway projects which was likely to take place when these projects came to be submitted to the test of the Standing Orders; but these anticipations of destruction had not been realized, for he found that of all the projects brought under the consideration of the Committee, only eleven had been thrown out for non-compliance with the Standing Orders; and in the case of two out of those eleven the Committee had reconsidered and reversed their decision. He did not mean to throw the slightest reflection on the Standing Orders Committee. He believed that they had discharged their duties with good sense and sound discretion; and he applauded the course they had pursued in eschewing that pedantic sort of caution which would dictate the throwing out of a Bill because of a mere clerical error; but he was sorry that precautions had not at an early period of the Session been taken by the House to provide against the injurious effects upon our monetary system of an extravagant and inordinate spirit of railway speculation. It would have been highly desirable if, at the commencement of the Session, some arrangement had been made, whether by means of a committee, or by a commission, to reduce the number of railway projects that were to be dealt with legislatively this Session to as small an amount as was consistent with the exigencies of the country; and to take care that projects of a secondary character, or such as were not of very pressing importance, should be reserved for another year. He would have had no objection that such projects should be advanced through the various stages of Committee this Session, and that the advantage of their position should be secured to them prospectively; but he feared that a serious derangement of the money and labour markets must inevitably result from the enormous number of enterprises which, under the present system, were likely to come into operation simultaneously. However, as this precaution had not been taken, the only course was to let railway legislation take its course this year; but, anomalous and unprecedented as the proceeding might be, it appeared to him that a due regard for the interests of the community would require them for the future to take care to introduce into Railway Bills some clause putting off the execution of these schemes, for six, twelve, or eighteen months, as might appear most advisable, so that the evil might be avoided which was likely to result from a universal call for advances and deposits all over the country at the same moment. Either this ought to be done, or a power ought to be given to the Treasury of requiring that its assent should be procured before any proceedings of the company should take place with a view to the execution of their scheme. He feared that this course was not likely to meet with much approval at either side of the House, and yet it was one which he was sure would be attended with beneficial results.


It was not my intention, Sir, to take any part in this debate unless an Amendment were moved to the Motion for the appointment of a Committee. Having found it to be the intention of Her Majesty's Government to grant the Committee, I should not, under ordinary circumstances, have thought it necessary to trouble the House with any observations or views of my own on this important question; but the hon. Member for Sheffield has referred to me in so pointed a manner, that I cannot refrain from giving some explanations with a view of setting him right. When I addressed the House on a former occasion, I observed that it had been stated by Her Majesty's Government, that 800 schemes had been deposited with the Board of Trade. I then stated, that I believed that a great number of those schemes would fail to make the deposits necessary to enable them to appear before Parliament; and I am happy to find myself now confirmed by the hon. Member himself, who has stated that out of 800 schemes only 440 have done what was requisite. So far it appears that I have been perfectly correct in my judgment. The next observation which I made had reference, not to the number of Bills likely to receive the sanction of Parliament, but to the amount of capital which would probably be required. On that point I stated that, in my opinion, not more than 100,000,000l. would be the actual amount; and I have no doubt that that calculation will prove to have been pretty nearly correct. If I recollect right, the amount of money actually deposited in the Bank of England was something like 10,000,000 or 11,000,0001., being at the rate of 10 per cent upon the railway projects. I have no doubt that before the close of the Session we shall find my prediction as to the amount of money required very nearly realized. Sir, I shall now apply myself to the speech which has been delivered by the hon. Member for Sheffield with reference to the absorption of so large a capital in one class of undertakings in the course of two or three years. Now, I admit that the sum is large; but, in considering that question, I shall go into a calculation of the actual amount that will be required to be taken from the surplus capital of this country, in order to be employed in the construction of these works. I stated on the occasion to which I have referred, that one-fifth of the entire amount raised for the construction of railways went from the hands of the shareholders into those of the landed proprietors. Of the 100,000,000l. already mentioned, probably 20,000,000l. will be paid to the landowners for land which it will be necessary to purchase. Sir, that is no tax upon the surplus capital of the country; it is a mere transfer from the capitalists to the landowners. The landowner, as I stated before, either employs the money he receives in paying off mortgages, or hands it to a company engaged in constructing a railway, or employs it in some other way for his own advantage. Since the former debate, I have consulted other parties on this subject, and, from information which I possess, have ascertained certain important particulars, showing that a still further sum may be deducted from the capital. I will state my view of the matter, which I believe to be correct. The original cost of the London and Birmingham Railway was, I believe, about 45,000l. per mile, and of that sum 9,000l. per mile was paid to landowners. The Midland Railway cost about 40,000l. a mile—I believe the amount was 37,000l. or 38,000l.—and 6,000l. or 7,000l. was paid for land. Generally speaking, I believe that hitherto one-fifth of the whole amount has been thus expended. For royalties, for ballast, for sleepers, and for other items connected with land, there must be allowed a further sum of 5,000,000l., which, like the money paid for the land itself, is not taken from the surplus capital of the country. Then I put the contractor's profit—it may be more or less, but I take the general estimate and fair average; and I hope the hon. Member for Inverness will not think the amount too large—I say I put the profit of the contractor at ten per cent. No person, I think, can say that that is too large a remuneration for the capital so employed. Well, then, I think it probable that we shall see a decrease of from 2,000,000l. to 3,000,000l. in the poor rates, arising from the ample employment which will be given to the poor by these railway projects. I also think it probable that from 7,000,000l. to 9,000,000?. will be paid to labourers who would otherwise be unprofitably employed. On the whole, therefore, of the 100,000,000l. which you may be about to grant the power of raising, I think that not more than 50,000,000l. can be properly regarded as a tax on the surplus capital of the country. I do not think that that is a large amount, considering that twenty or thirty years ago we were raising from 80,000,000l. to 90,000,000l. in taxation; and that now, when we are better able to bear the burden, we are raising only about 50,000,000l. In 1844, 14,000,000l. was the amount of money allowed to be expended in railways. I sincerely believe, and to a large extent I can declare from my own knowledge, that most of that money has been expended, and that the principal lines are open, and in active operation. The 14,000,000l., therefore, for which Bills were passed in 1844, I put out of the account altogether. The sum estimated by Sir R. Peel, with reference to the year 1845, was 50,000,000l.; and from the number of lines under my own direction, I am enabled to state, that from 200 to 300 miles of the railways, for which Bills were passed in 1845, will probably be opened some time during the autumn of next year. I wish to give the House all the information that I possess on this subject. I feel satisfied that there need be no alarm as to the employment of capital, provided it be well and profitably invested. I think it is far more important for Parliament to take care that they do not give power to construct lines which would be unproductive to the shareholders and useless to the public, than to place limits to the progress and enterprise of this great country. We ought to consider the large incomes which are now derived from railways, and which, generally speaking, are employed by many who have large surplus means, in the construction of other lines. Those who are called speculators, not being contented with making 4, 5, or 6 per cent, go out of old concerns to invest in new lines; while those lines which are paying a steady interest to that amount, are sought out by trustees and other parties who are seeking a fair interest, and do not choose to embark in speculation. I believe, therefore, most firmly, that there will be no serious inconvenience. Unless we have a momentary crisis, not arising from railways, but from any drain to which the country may be liable, I am satisfied that we need not be under any alarm as to the amount which we are about to sanction the employment of in these great public works. Let us consider what the country is now deriving from railways. I believe I may state theamountas7,000,000l. a year. I make this statement on the authority of the weekly returns published in the newspapers. According to those returns, the average amount derived from railways is 140,000l. a week; it is now about 120,000l., but this is a season at which a diminution may be expected. Any person who is acquainted with the subject will bear me out in saying, that when the new railways are opened, an amount at the rate of from 8,000,000l. to 9,000,000l. a year will be received from railways this year. There is thus an additional amount which may be applied in carrying out the new undertakings. Then, Sir, it must be recollected that, formerly, large sums were expended on canals, highways, and other works, which having become nearly useless, a less amount will be required for such purposes in future. I think, taking the whole of the circumstances into account, there is nothing alarming in the amount of money which we are about to expend. But there is a serious responsibility resting on Parliament to be careful that they sanction only such lines as will prove remunerative to the parties, and beneficial to the country. If I had thought that such a course would be attended with success, I should have moved an Amendment to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman for the appointment of a Committee. I believe that this House has in its possession full information to enable it to legislate, if it shall think proper to do so, on this great question; and I think that the hon. Member would have done himself more credit, and would have served the interests of the country better, if he had brought forward a Bill, the principle of which we might have discussed, embodying his views on this subject, than by moving for a Committee to spend some weeks in collecting and examining information that we already possess. Not two years ago, a Committee on the same subject sat for one-and-twenty days; and having examined six-and-twenty witnesses, they placed a large blue book on the Table, which I do not know whether the hon. Member ever read. They went further—they brought in a Bill. That Bill received the assent of the House, and the Government felt at that time that they had been met fairly by the railway world. Now, what is the meaning of the proposed limitations? I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is nothing which this country so much deprecates, and which commercial men feel to be so great an injury to legitimate enterprise, as this constant meddling and this perpetual legislation. We want to rest on some firm basis. We want to know on what principle we are to enter upon these great commercial undertakings. When only two years have elapsed since the passing of a Bill, surely the hon. Member might give us two more. What new information has burst upon him? He has stated nothing which he did not know the last time the House legislated on this subject; and he has not, in my opinion, adduced a single reason for calling on the House to go into Committee, and to consider whether we ought to legislate on a question which was amicably settled by an arrangement which, I think, ought to continue for the next seven years. We ought to have some security for our property, and some rest from the constant agitation of legislation. The hon. Member for Inverness (Mr. Morrison) has got an idea that railways are the most profitable speculations ever embarked in by private individuals. Why, Sir, if we only look at the history of canals, we shall find that railways have done nothing in comparison; and yet our forefathers never attempted to interfere with canal charges and canal property. Why not let railway property stand on as stable a foundation? Her Majesty's Government seem very much inclined to concede everything except what we on this side of the House ask them to do? But on this question I will refer to railway property. I find from the statement of the last half-yearly reports of the different companies, that the sum of 67,283,217l. has been expended already in railways. Now, what is the dividend, what is the amount of money—I was going to say, what is the amount of plunder—which gentlemen who are engaged in these undertakings have to revel in? I am sure I should be very glad to meet the hon. Member for Inverness, by placing a railway under his management. I sincerely recommend him to try what he can do, and to tell us next year what he has been able to accomplish. If he can obtain a larger dividend, through having small fares and charges than large ones, I am sure he will carry more weight with Her Majesty's Government. I would willingly negotiate for him the direction of a railway, the management of which should be conducted entirely on his own principles; and then he would be able to tell the House from experience what has been the effect of low fares and charges. If he can only convince the world that a halfpenny a mile is better for all parties than a penny, he will have done good service. But, Sir, I do protest against Gentlemen coming down to this House—after we have taken the initiatory and induced the people of England to invest their money—coming down, I say, to speculate upon property, the owners of which have had a fair understanding with Parliament. I cannot but feel that such a proceeding as the granting of this Committee will be something like a breach of the agreement to which we came when former Bills were passed. Sir, I was talking of the amount of income when I was led into this disgression. There are thirty-nine railways which have been constructed at a cost of 67,000,000l. Of those thirty-nine, twelve pay less than 5 per cent, and fourteen between 5 and 6 per cent. I am sure that even the hon. Gentleman will not think that too large an amount. How long these poor people remained altogether without a dividend, I am not able to state. But the hon. Member, no doubt, remembers the years 1836 as well as I do. I know that at that time he took a little interest in English railways. Very likely he suffered at that unfortunate period; at all events, I never saw him afterwards. His property went down in the market, and I never saw his smiling countenance afterwards; and I'll be bound to say, that if it had been left to him to promote railways, instead of having now 3,000 miles laid down, we should not have had 300. But, under such circumstances as these, does it become the hon. Member, let me ask, to come here and propose Motions which must have the effect of depreciating the property of men who had even more difficulties to contend with than the hon. Momber himself? [A laugh.] Yes, there's my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield opposite: no man has had greater difficulties to contend with than he has, though I hope to-day he has laid the foundation of a better state of things. But I was stating the dividends paid by railways. Six others than those I have named pay 8 per cent, the remaining seven from 9 to 10 per cent. This is surely no very rich field for enterprise; and therefore it is, I think, that instead of harassing us year after year with Motions — never allowing us, in point of fact, to feel our property secure when Parliament is sitting—you ought to do something to secure to us the privileges we are entitled to, and which you have held out to us a hope that we should obtain. I hope Her Majesty's Government will reconsider this question. I have voted so frequently against them this Session, that it would be quite an agreeable novelty to me to go into the same lobby with the Ministers; and I should be delighted to show the hon. Member that, until he has obtained some practical knowledge of the question, he would do well to leave Motions of this kind to abler hands. Such discussions can have no good result; and the railway interest is determined firmly to maintain their rights—rights which have been granted under successive Acts of Parliament, and which I boldly aver that it is your duty to secure.


said, that the question raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield was not necessarily connected with the subject brought forward by his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down seemed to think that no one who supported the Motion of his hon. Friend could view the railway business of the country, as regarded the public interests, in any other light than that the profits of the railway companies had been enormous, and, to use the language of the hon. Member for Guildford, were begrudged to them. This was a mistaken view of the case. He did not believe that, taking them altogether, the profits had been enormous; but still, admitting them to be large, he did not begrudge them those profits; and, notwithstanding the lugubrious tone of the hon. Member, he hoped that he might class him with those who had obtained a due share of that wealth to which they were entitled, and which had been acquired with so much intelligence and zeal. But admitting this, still, as a Member of that House, and as one of the public, he could not help feeling that there were certain things connected with the railway business of the country, which ought and must attract the attention of the Legislature. Hon. Gentlemen said, let capital take its own way, and that any interference with the mode in which it tended to be employed ought to be avoided. This much must be allowed, that capital should be employed without the interference of the Government, for such interference, as a general rule, could be attended with nothing but mischief; but was there nothing to be regarded in this question but the employment of capital? What were the facts of the case? The conviction was growing up in the mind of every man who had watched the present system of railroads in this country, that they were approaching a state of things in which the whole internal communication of the country, including the conveyance of passengers and general traffic, would be in the hands of three or four of the principal railway companies. Everyone knew what was passing in that House, as regarded the great number of amalgamations of smaller companies into the great companies. Such a state of things took this question out of the common range of questions of commercial policy. Let capital act as freely as possible, but in the present state of things with some control, which would prevent the establishment of a system which had never arisen before. He did not know why some check or some power should not be given to act on the railway companies in this country. The hon. Member for Sunderland had taunted his hon. Friend with not having brought in a Bill on this subject, instead of asking for inquiry. He thought that his hon. Friend had exercised a sound discretion in pursuing the course which he did, as the subject was one which required the greatest and the closest investigation. The hon. Member expressed a hope that there was no intention by the present Motion to break faith with the railway companies. There was nothing of the kind, for they must, under any circumstances, take care to keep faith; and he should think that they would do the greatest possible injury if they did not do so. But a Bill on this subject would be a weighty matter, even in the hands of the Government. He said such a proceeding would be a weighty matter in itself as regarded the Government, for the opposition of the railway interest would be felt; that interest was already powerful in tliat House; and as it was so rapidly extending itself it would soon be felt with a tenfold power. He knew what would be the difficulties of the Government in proceeding with such a measure, and he knew also that delaying the subject only increased the difficulties and aggravated the evil. He therefore said that for a private Member of Parliament, like his hon. Friend, to bring forward such a measure, would be most inexpedient and objectionable. To the Motion of his hon. Friend he would give his cordial support; and he trusted that the House and the Government would give its serious attention to the subject of this inquiry, and that every exertion would be used to lead them to a safe and satisfactory conclusion. They had been told that this would be a useless inquiry, and that they should leave the settlement of the subject to the railway companies alone. What had taken place in the House that night? His hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, connected with the London and Birmingham Railroad, rose to assure the House that he was authorized to state, when a proposition was before it to extend the traffic of that company, that they thought it reasonable to propose certain terms, and to establish a low rate of fares. This by no means induced him to acquiesce in the proposition of the hon. Member for Sunderland, who stated that he thought it was the duty of Members of that House to leave railway matters alone; that they should take no notice of the fares they charged, or the means of conveyance they provided. When he saw that merely the Motion of his hon. Friend produced such a result, he thought that the House ought not to hesitate a moment in adopting inquiry. He understood his hon. Friend to say that he was empowered by the railway company of which he was a member to say what low fares they would accept.


, in explanation, denied that he had said anything of the kind. He said that he was able to say that, in the Bill before the House to promote an amalgamation in connection with the Birmingham Railway Company, that company was prepared voluntarily to fix as a maximum the lowest scale of fares.


would say no more on that point. So much, then, with respect to the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness. He now wished to say a few words as to what fell from his hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Parker). The question involved in his hon. Friend's proposition was, whether in the railway business before the House it was advisable to adopt such proceedings as would check the amount of capital to be laid out in railway undertakings in the present year. This was a grave question. It was a question which was brought before the House some time ago by the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury. He was of opinion, that if any step of such an unusual character was deemed advisable, it should be taken on the recommendation of Her Majesty's Government, which could weigh all the consequences of adopting such a course, and that in proposing it they should state the reasons to the House which induced them to advise such a proceeding. On moving at the commencement of the Session for the appointment of the general Railway Committee, the right hon. Baronet and the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, by what they said, raised in the minds of many men an impression that it was the intention of the Government to propose to the Committee some line of proceeding of this description, and of course that it was prepared to lay before the House the grounds for adopting such a course. His hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield had expressed his surprise that no opinion had been given by the Committee with respect to this subject, which he had supposed, after what had taken place in that House, had been brought before them. After this, he felt bound to state to the House what had taken place in the Committee of which he was a member; and in what he was about to state he was sure that he could be confirmed by the right hon. Gentleman. It was true that the Government had laid before the Committee a classification of the Railway Bills brought into the House in the present Session, and in which they had been classed as to their relative degree of importance; and he must say for himself, that when he came to examine the classification, he felt that it would be difficult for any Committee to apply themselves to this list with any considerable advantage with a view to determine which was relatively important. Besides this, he was sure that he was justified in saying that the Government had not expressed any opinion on such a measure in the Committee; and he had again and again told the Members of the Government on this Committee that if they would bring forward a Motion on the subject, with a statement of the reasons on which it was founded, he was prepared to give his best attention to the matter; and he said that he did not think that it was becoming in a Committee of the House of Commons to originate such a measure, but that the task should devolve on the Government, which should take upon itself the responsibility of such a measure. Some time afterwards he again mentioned the subject to a Member of the Government, who informed him that the Government had no intention to interfere on the subject. He therefore did not think that the Committee could be said to have abandoned the duty imposed upon them by the House—a duty which, if imposed upon them at all, it was in the speech of the right hon. Baronet; for certainly nothing of the kind was to be found in the terms of the appointment of the Committee. He still must say that he saw no use in now appointing such a Committee, at the instance of the hon. Member for Sheffield, unless the Government said that the number of Railway Bills to be passed in the present Session must be limited. To throw such a large subject on a Committee of the House of Commons, to search for evidence and proof, would be a mere waste of time. His own opinion on the question would lead him to be very careful how he sanctioned a proposition for limiting the amount of capital to be employed in any particular direction. He thought that no beneficial object would be obtained by the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the subject, on the ground of the fear of capital flowing too rapidly into any particular branch of employment. He felt most strongly that it would not be expedient for a Committee of that House to say whether or not capital should be allowed to continue to flow in any particular direction. He saw no ground for apprehension as to the effect of such employment of capital in the money market, but he feared much more the effect that might be produced in the labour market. The question was one of such importance that he thought, if undertaken at all, it should be by the Government. If the Government had made a proposition on the subject, he should have given it a fair and impartial consideration; but as they had not done so, he did not think that it should originate in a Committee of the House of Commons.


agreed in the correctness of the description of the proceedings of the Committee appointed at the commencement of the Session on the subject of railways, just given by the right hon. Gentleman. When the Government first took up this important question, there were notices in the Board of Trade of upwards of 800 schemes of railways. He was not prepared to go as far as the right hon. Gentleman, in saying, that if they carried on all these schemes, the abstaining from limiting the amount of capital to be employed in this way for one year would not have any effect on the money market. If this enormous number of railway schemes had been proceeded with, the Government were prepared to take steps to limit the number carried forward in the present year. When, however, they came to consider the subject in Committee, they found that the number of railway schemes to be proceeded with, had been reduced to nearly one-half. They felt, that there did not then exist the same necessity for interference. This was a question of so much importance, as well as of so much nicety and delicacy, that nothing but a case of extreme necessity could justify interference. But they found that the number of railway schemes had been reduced one-half; and, as was stated by the hon. Member for Sheffield, on the authority of returns prepared by the officers of the House, the total number which would come under the notice of the House was reduced to 440; and that of these a great many Bills were merely for the purpose of amalgamation, and many more Bills had reference to the same schemes, so that a number of chances might be afforded of obtaining, if not the whole of a line, at least portions of it; and on these grounds the Select Committee did not consider it advisable to propose any limitation of the number of Bills to be submitted for the consideration of Parliament. The House would also observe in the last Report of the Committee on Railways, that the Committee said that they thought the whole of the Bills connected with England and Scotland might be proceeded with, and might be divided into sixty-one groups; and, he believed, now the number was comprised in fifty-six groups, so that the calculation of the Committee was not very far out. He thought it his duty to state in the Committee, that, under the altered circumstances of the case, the Government did not think themselves justified in making a proposition for the limited employment of capital in railway schemes for a time; and in the propriety of adopting such a course, he thought, the Committee was unanimous. If the hon. Member for Sheffield persevered in his Motion, he should feel it to be his duty to oppose it. He was prepared, however, to give his assent to the Committee of Inquiry moved for by the hon. Member for Inverness; but in doing so he begged distinctly to be understood that he did not intend to throw any insinuations as to the intentions of those who had successfully carried out so many important railway schemes, and had embarked such a large amount of capital in such important undertakings. He believed the statement of the hon. Member for Guildford was correct; and that, on an average, railway companies would not be found to realize more than 5¼ or 5½ per cent on their subscribed capital. He believed that there were not more than five railway companies that had dividends of 10 per cent on their subscribed capital, while there were a considerable number—he believed as many as ten—that were not able to pay even the dividend of 5 per cent. But at the same time it became the Legislature to consider whether they ought not to interpose at this moment; and while they secured all the advantages which the faith of Parliament was pledged to extend to railways, to see that every possible and proper advantage was procured for the public. This was a subject to which the Government had been at all times ready to give every careful consideration. In 1844, a Committee was appointed on this matter; which, after a laborious inquiry, made certain recommendations which, he believed, at first met with very general concurrence in that House; but it could not be forgotten that afterwards, when his right hon. Friend the then President of the Board of Trade brought in a Bill founded on these recommendations, having for its object the revising of the rates and charges after a period of twenty-one years, it met with very strenuous opposition in that House; and it was with the greatest difficulty that the Government could obtain the sanction of the Legislature to this proposition. Again, last year, the House introduced some farther changes; but the regulations then adopted were put in the shape of Sessional Orders, and were to be viewed rather in the light of experiments than as parts of a regular and permanent system. He thought it was therefore the more desirable that the House should now, when there were such a number of railway schemes before them, consider whether any and what further advantages may be secured to the public before these schemes were authorized. He did not now wish to go further into the other subjects touched upon by the hon. Member for Inverness. In fact, the hon. Member had himself declined entering fully into all his views, or into the details of his statement; but to several points he had merely alluded, and it was right that the hon. Member should have a full opportunity hereafter of bringing them forward in detail before the Committee. He could assure the hon. Member that he should have every opportunity afforded to him of doing so by some Members of the Government attending the Committee, in order that the fullest inquiry might take place with regard to the subject generally. The inquiry was, he thought, the more necessary, when by their rash legislation they had given almost unlimited powers to railway companies, and when they saw that almost every day further attempts were made to amalgamate competing lines, and thus to deprive the country of the benefit, such as it might be, of their competition. When they found companies that had been regarded as rivals attempting to consolidate into a smaller number of hands the extreme powers which had been entrusted to them, it did, he thought, become the duty of that House to look most minutely into all cases of amalgamation; so that, while they gave all due facilities to commerce by enabling the traffic of continuous lines to be conducted on one extensive system, they should also take care to secure the public, not only against excessive charges in future, but also such other advantages as might be provided for them. Under these circumstances, as the hon. Member (Mr. Morrison) had not felt it to be his duty to enter more into detail than he had done on this subject, he thought he would best consult the wishes of the House by also refraining from expressing more fully the views which he might entertain on the matter, more especially as he was willing to go with the hon. Member into the entire question in Committee, with an anxious desire to secure the public against the inconvenience that might arise from a great and extensive system of monopoly. He trusted, that either in consequence of the Motion brought forward by the hon. Member for Inverness or otherwise, a feeling would be created in the minds of the directors of existing railways, for extending generally to the public those advantages which the hon. Member for Guildford stated the directors of the Grand Junction Railway were prepared to offer. Though he would not now trespass farther on the attention of the House, in connexion with this subject, he begged to repeat, that he considered the question to be of the greatest possible importance to the future welfare of this country.


said, his hon. Friend the Member for Inverness had made out no case for the appointment of a Committee; and be very much regretted that the Government had, in the first instance, conceded it, because by so doing they had deprived the House of the opportunity of hearing the grounds on which it was sought to be obtained. He deprecated the incessant agitation of this matter. Whatever inquiries were made, whatever acts consequent upon such inquiries were passed, still it appeared that everything done was to be of but a temporary nature, and that in the following year a new Committee was to sit on the same subject, and another Bill to be introduced altering all that had been before apparently settled. Every security given was each year to be shaken, and parties interested could never know the real ground on which they were to rest. The Act brought in by the right hon. Gentleman the late President of the Board of Trade, giving power to revise the rates, and under certain circumstances to repurchase railways, was, it appeared, to be now thrown aside, and some other Bill to be introduced in its place, founded perhaps on some principle hitherto altogether unheard of. Now what were the grounds on which the hon. Member for Inverness supported his Motion? He said that the public were not sufficiently protected at present—that the railroad proprietors were making such enormous profits that some interference was necessary to keep them within bounds. [An Hon. MEMBEE: No!] That certainly was one of the grounds on which the Motion for the appointment of a Committee was attempted to be justified. But fortunately that matter had been fully investigated by a Committee to whose Report allusion had been already made; and he would take the liberty of quoting a few words from the Appendix to it. Before doing so, however, he would wish to refer to a great mistake which prevailed on this subject. The capital of a railway company consisted not of one, but of two portions. The first was the amount of subscriptions paid up on shares, and the other was that which was paid up in the way of loans. The enlarged dividends were paid only on the proportion of the capital paid up on shares, and not on the loan capital; and this was a matter which it were well should be borne in mind when considering the alleged prosperity of railway companies. In the Appendix of the Report to which he referred, he found that the total amount of subscribed capital paid upon railway shares at that time was 32,500,000l.; the loans 14,300,000l. The amount of receipts in 1842 was 4,400,000l., out of which there was expended in working the lines 1,900,000l., leaving the net profits 2,500,000l., which, after deducting 4½ per cent as the average interest on loans, would leave only 1,856,500l. applicable to be divided among the holders of shares, making the average dividends not more than 5¾. This, considering the risk incurred, and that a large proportion of the capital was unproductive for two or three years during the construction of the railway, must be looked upon as no very great return for the capital expended. Excess of profit, therefore, could afford no argument for the Committee sought to be obtained. But there was one point connected with this matter, by which the public were very materially benefited, but on which not one word had been said during that debate, namely, the taxation on railways, and which amounted to no less than five per cent on the gross receipts, This was a species of taxation not borne by any other property, and the amount received under it was of very considerable importance. He would take one railroad, with which he was more familiar than with any others, and he would ask the House for a moment to observe the enormous increase of taxation contributed by this railway alone for the benefit of the public. In 1839 the Great Western Railway paid 2,229l. in taxation to the State. In 1840, 5,440l.; in 1841, 10,966; in 1842, 21,814l.; in 1843, 25,804l.; and in 1844 the amount extended to no less a sum than 30,000l. Let it not therefore be said that the railway system in this country conferred no benefit on the country. But this was only half of the case. The amount paid by railroads to local taxation in the shape of poor rates, in the shape of county rates, and in the shape of all other rates of a local character, very nearly equalled that paid to the Government. They had, therefore, the fact of the Great Western Railway alone paying, at the end of four years after its completion, no less a sum than 60,000l. annually to the expenses of the public, one half of which being in direct taxation to the Government, and the other half being spread through the various local rates of the country, and which rates must be paid by other parties unless contributed by the railway. There was this peculiarity applying to railways throughout the entire country, namely, that they paid a taxation on their profits which no other bodies were required to pay. The hon. Member for Inverness wished to introduce the French railway system into this country, but he had carefully avoided mentioning the Belgian railways. In Belgium every railway was free from all taxation, either parochial or general. In France railways were not entirely free from taxation, but they were very nearly so; they were required to pay only an amount of rates equal to that which was paid by the land before the railway was constructed, while they paid no direct, or at any rate but a very small, tax to the Government. Let the House, therefore, compare the two system, and say which was the best for the public. In France railways were granted on leases for an average period of about thirty-seven years, at the end of which time they were to become the property of the State. Now, if the 30,000l. paid by the Great Western Railway to the State were laid out at 4 per cent interest, the amount at the end of thirty-seven years, would be 3,201,385l. Therefore the State would receive in thirty-seven years an amount equivalent to three millions and upwards from that railway alone, even supposing the present taxation not to increase, while the sum contributed to local taxes would amount to an equal sum, making the entire sum contributed nearly equal to six millions sterling. But then, what was done in the French system? Would such a railway in France, at the end of thirty-seven years, be worth six millions, or anything like such a sum? When his hon. Friend contrasted the two systems, and spoke of the enormous benefits derived by the State from the course adopted in France, he had carefully avoided all allusion to the taxation paid by the English railroads, though, had he entered into that point, he would have found that their own Government derived a larger profit from railways than accrued under the French plan. But there were great evils resulting from the practice of granting terminal leases, independently of this question of taxation. It was well known that short lines of railway in connection with main lines did not pay, and that it was only from advancing the traffic on the main line that they were enabled to be undertaken. But with a short terminable lease the interest of the company becomes less year by year, and they are thus less able and willing to develop the traffic of the country by constructing these lateral lines, which they would be induced to construct if they had a perpetual interest in the concern. In fact, if they contrasted the English and French systems in any light, they would find that the plan adopted by this country was the better, and the more advantageous of the two to the State. With these impressions, and for the reasons before stated, he expressed his great regret that the Government had been prevailed upon to concede the Committee which was now sought to be obtained.


said, it appeared to him that all the legislation of this country on such subjects had been hitherto founded on a wrong and fallacious basis. They had been in the habit of continually sanctioning gas works, water works, and railways under circumstances where, from the immense amount of the fixed capital embarked in the undertaking, and the small proportion of the working expenses, competition became afterwards absolutely impossible. The effect of competition in the first instance was to induce two capitalists to embark in an undertaking, when one would be sufficient to effect the object. The result was, that in all such cases an amalgamation took place in the course of time, and therefore where a monopoly was thus allowed by the Legislature, they were bound, in a due regard for the public interests, to see that proper conditions were enforced, and proper security given that the public should not ultimately suffer in the arrangement. The Reports of the Sanatory Commission, and of the Health of Towns Committee, showed the injurious tendency of the Private Bill legislation of that House in particular instances, and the absence of all wise and necessary foresight in adopting precautions against the waste and misapplication of capital, by laying down, as a preliminary step, a map of the country, as was done with respect to Ireland, in which the lines of railways that would confer the greatest amount of public advantage would be set forth, and afterwards left open to public competition. The speech of his hon. Friend who had just concluded, had failed in convincing him that the Government of this country had made better terms with the railway companies than had been adopted in France; but it had convinced him of one point, which was, that no time was to be lost in investigating the subject, and providing, as well as they could, for the future. His hon. Friend had entered into a calculation to show that the annual tax paid by the Great Western Railway Company would amount to a greater sum than the value of the line at the termination of thirty-seven years, if the reversion were in the hands of the Government; but his hon. Friend had forgotten altogether the advantage derived by the French Government by the gratuitous transmission of mails on all the railways. One of the reasons for the diminution of the Post-office revenue was the enormous charges made by the railway companies in this country for conveying the mails; and it should not be forgotten, that in the case of the turnpike roads, which had preceded them, the trustees were precluded from demanding any charge whatever for the passage of Her Majesty's mails. He had no doubt but that if the sum paid to one of the railway companies for conveying the mails were put out to interest for thirty-seven years, it would form a considerable set-off against the sum total to which his hon. Friend had alluded. But important as this subject was from its effects on the money market, it was, he thought, still more important from its effects on the labour market. Great masses of labourers were congregated together, and left in a state of demoralization which it was fearful to contemplate. As the subject was, however, to be brought forward on a future day, he would not allude farther to it at present, except to observe that if the amount of employment afforded by railways was employed sagaciously and economically, it might have a powerful effect in raising the condition of the labourers throughout the country. Great wages were certainly paid; but they were expended in a manner so as to take the maximum amount out of the pockets of the shareholders, and place the minimum sum in the pockets of the labourers. The noble Lord concluded by saying that the House and the country were much indebted to the hon. Member for bringing the subject forward.


thought, that although this discussion was interesting, it was rather premature, seeing that a Committee was to be appointed which would obtain much more information than could now be given upon the statistics and the economy of railways. He would not, therefore, detain the House by entering at length upon details. It appeared to him, that when the House granted monopolies with gigantic powers, care ought to be taken that they should be to the public and for the public. He hoped, on this account, the House would grant the Committee. "Every one must see that in a few years railways would be the only means of communication in the country," was the expression of the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Clerk); and another expression fell from him which deserved notice, namely, that more attention ought to be given than had been given hitherto to the interest and accommodation of the public. He concurred in these sentiments. It was a common saying that what was good for the public was also good for railway companies; but he thought there ought to be some controlling power over them, in order to effect this object. As to fares, without throwing blame upon any company, he was warranted in saying, there was a difference in liberality in this respect. Some companies exacted much too high fares; some reduced them to what was now considered an extremely fair rate. There could be no doubt that Parliament must interfere with the railway system; and he hoped the Committee would take it generally into their consideration, so that at a future period the House might be able to discuss the whole subject with advantage.


observed that much had been said in the progress of this discussion which was beside the question. He would not attempt to forestall the subjects for the iuvestigation of the Committee, but content himself with offering a suggestion that had pressed itself upon his own mind. He entertained a strong opinion that it was in consequence of the course of legislation adopted by the House that so many railway schemes had been multiplied, and so much wild speculation created. These were the results of a want of uniformity in the decisions of Committees of that House, of a want of some good sound principles to govern their decisions by which commercial and mercantile men might be able to guide their proceedings. He, therefore, suggested that the Committee to be appointed to consider the future course of legislation should turn their attention to the adoption of some means by which uniformity of decision upon fixed principles might be secured. He hoped the Committee would also enter upon the inquiry whether some preparatory tribunal, external to that House, could not be establishcd, in which railway schemes might undergo a preliminary investigation. The Board of Trade had failed in this respect, owing to the manner in which it was constituted being so little in accordance with the feelings of the English people, who required an open tribunal. He did not recommend that the House should part with its jurisdiction. The jurisdiction might be retained; but every scheme that was opposed should be accompanied by the granting of costs if the decision of the preliminary tribunal was confirmed by that of the House. He would conclude by asking whether such an external tribunal would be considered as beyond the powers of the Committee when it was appointed.


was glad the Government agreed to the appointment of the Committee, because much valuable information would be thereby gained. All railways intended to be established ought to be made productive of the greatest amount of benefit to the community. Hitherto, to a great degree, they had been intended for the benefit of the promoters. The money paid by the promoters to prevent opposition he considered was improperly given, inasmuch as the public were saddled with this additional expense. He hoped it would be considered whether the public ought not to have more protection than they had; and whether, even as far as the interests of the proprietors were concerned, a lower rate of fares would not be more profitable and advantageous. It had been given in evidence, that by the system adopted in France, the railways there would be made capable of paying a large portion of the national debt of that country; and if the railways of this country should amount to the value of 500 or 600 millions, as was anticipated by some—if a different system had been adopted here, and the public had been guarded by previous inquiry, we might have realized a sum equal to paying a large portion of the interest of our national debt. He regretted we had not availed ourselves of such a system. He would be the last man to break faith with the railway proprietors; but he did think the House was now in a condition to consider fairly whether something better for the interests of the community could not be done than had hitherto been the case. He gave his cordial support to the appointment of the Committee; and he hoped the inquiry would be conducted with fairness, without any desire to exclude whatever information might be offered.


had listened in vain to the speech of his hon. Friend (Mr. Morrison) for reasons for the appointment of a fresh Committee, at least this Session. The House could not be too cautious in exercising a watchful care over a vast interest like the railway interest; and he submitted that the present Motion ought to have emanated from the Government rather than from the hon. Member for Inverness. What was to be the object of the Committee? If he considered his hon. Friend's short speech to-night, and his ample pamphlet of the other day together, he arrived at the object of the hon. Member. In the first page of his pamphlet, he deprecated the great evils of speculation, and said that something should be devised to check it. Was the Committee then to enact something to prevent speculation in railways? His hon. Friend propounded two ways of effecting this object; but, in his pamphlet he contradicted himself on this subject over and over again, for he said that for the purpose of checking speculation, fares must be lowered. Then, in another part, he said, if fares were lowered profits would be increased. [Mr. MORRISON: Where great traffic exists.] Why, all England was a great traffic. He contended that railways were well and efficiently conducted; whilst the expense of travelling was much less than it ever was before. He himself could go to his constituents, 400 miles distant, for one-third less than he could ever go before railways were constructed. His hon. Friend spoke of the cheapness of French fares; but he was sure if his hon. Friend referred again to the subject, he would find that the average fare was more in France than in England. Let them look, for example, to the London and Birmingham Railway as compared with the Paris and Rouen line. On the London and Birmingham line—let them take from London to Rugby, a distance of 84 miles, the fare for first-class passengers was 14s. 6d.; for second-class 10s.; and for third-class 6s. From Paris to Rouen, a distance of 83 miles, the fares were—firstclass 16 francs, or 13s. 4d.; second-class 10s. 10d.; and third-class 8s. 4d.—giving a preference, as regarded cheapness of fares, to the English line, notwithstanding the immense expenses to which they were subject before Committees of that House; so great were those expenses, that he believed he was not beyond the mark when he said that the London and York Company, though they had not yet got their Bill, had expended half a million of money. He thought that his hon. Friend, if he reconsidered the subject, would be inclined to return to his first love—the English system. Let them adopt what was good in the French plan; but let them not adopt all that was vicious, whilst they neglected all that was desirable. He feared that his hon. Friend did not know his own mind upon the subject, but that he realized the old maxim of an old writer—Owen Felton—of always preferring his neighbour's situation, because he saw the sunny outside of his neighbour's, and the dark interior only of his own.


was hardly inclined to go so far as his hon. Friend (Mr. Morrison), though he certainly thought that the present system was susceptible of great improvement, and that much advantage would result from an inquiry into the whole subject. The Committees upon the merits this Session, had decided upon not entering into evidence upon the traffic. No doubt much time had been lost last year from the course which was pursued with regard to traffic; and no doubt, in many cases, the evidence of traffic had been very much exaggerated; nevertheless, he feared that if that consideration were excluded altogether, injustice in some cases might be done. He certainly could not for a moment think that there was any danger of too much money being expended at this time upon railways, for he knew that there were many difficulties in the way of their execution and practical working; for instance, he believed (and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland would contradict him if he were wrong) that no carriage builders would at present undertake to build a single carriage, except for an old-established company, so much were they at present occupied.


merely rose to express his opinion that the subject of amalgamation was one of the utmost importance. The attention of the Government had already been called to the subject; and it was admitted on all hands that there was the greatest hazard in permitting vast amalgamations, lest the object should be not so much the benefit of the public, as the establishment of enormous monopolies. He was of opinion that the Report which had been issued on the subject, should be laid before every Railway Committee of that House.


inferred from the speech of the hon. Gentleman, that the course which he, as Chairman of a Railway Committee, would take, would be in conformity with the general principles of the pamphlet which he had written—a pamphlet which exhibited great research, and which directed the attention of the public to many points of railway legislation perhaps but little noticed before. The hon. Gentleman was evidently under the impression that great errors had been committed in the railway legislation of this country, and he would probably direct the attention of his Committee to the two following considerations—1st, whether it might not be desirable to establish some tariff of prices for passengers and goods, to which all railways seeking the intervention of Parliament should hereafter conform; and, secondly, whether it might not be desirable to adopt the French system, and to give to each railway company hereafter to be established only a qualified and temporary interest in the possession of the railway. In order to illustrate those subjects, he would probably lay before the Committee much important information connected with foreign railways. That, however, would take a considerable time to collect and to consider, and what was to become of the Railway Bills now in progress? which appeared to him to be the first subject which should occupy the attention of the Committee. Supposing there had been errors in their legislation in past years, it was quite clear that they could now correct those errors, and apply new principles to new companies seeking the intervention of Parliament; and it was possible also, where existing companies might apply to unite with others, that the privileges which they might claim under the system of amalgamation would be so great, that Parliament would have power to apply new restrictions to companies in that position; but would they suspend the legislation of the present Session till the Report of the Committee could be received upon that subject? or would they let the Bills go on, inserting in each a clause subjecting the new companies to any regulations which Parliament might hereafter adopt in consequence of the Report of the proposed Committee? If so, the subject of fares would be very important; and another important subject would be with regard to the permanent interest of the company in their railway. Could they pass a Bill giving a company a permanent interest, and yet reserve to Parliament the power of interfering to limit that interest to any precise period? It certainly was of the last importance that Parliament should be advised as to the principle on which pending legislation was to be conducted, otherwise he feared that great difficulties would present themselves. At the same time he gave his consent to the appointment of the present Committee. One hon. Gentleman had objected that two years since they had passed a Bill which was usually looked upon as expressing the fixed opinion of Parliament with regard to railway legislation; but really railway matters had so changed, railways were making such progress, such new lights had been thrown upon the subject, and they had so much experience now from other countries, that no reflection could be thrown upon Parliament if they had two years since passed laws which were not now applicable to railway matters. Railway matters had taken so different a course from what was expected two years ago, that it was very important that Parliament, as the guardian of all Her Majesty's subjects, should have the fullest right to institute new inquiries, and to act upon the result of the information which would be thus obtained.


said, that when the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government made, at the commencement of the Session, a statement as to the number of Bills likely to come before Parliament, and the capital which would be required to carry out the projected lines, it was to have been expected that the Government would bring forward some plan or suggestion to meet that state of things; and he (Lord John Russell) rather wished that when the Committee for which the right hon. Gentleman was appointed, some plan or some proposition should be made for that purpose. It did not appear, however, that anything more had been done by the Government than giving a general direction to the Committee how to proceed with respect to the Bills, leaving out the question of the capital. It would have been, in his opinion, a great deal better if such matters had been then considered, than to have them now discussed. What the right hon. Gentleman had stated appeared to him to be rather in the nature of a suggestion, and he could not collect from it that the Government had any intention of bringing forward any general plan. He hoped, therefore, that when this Committee should be appointed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would state his views with regard to the general subject to the Committee, with a view to ascertaining the best course of legislation on the subject.


said, that the noble Lord had adverted to two subjects, which were in themselves very distinct. One was as to the effect which would be produced on the circulation of this country by the great amount of capital which would necessarily be required to carry out the projected lines of railway; and the other point was as to the proceedings of the Committee which had been appointed on the subject of railways. It ought to be recollected that when the Committee was appointed at the beginning of the Session, there were no less than 800 projects involving 779,000,000l. of capital, which were put before the public; and it would be admitted that if anything like that amount of capital was represented by the projects which were brought before the House of Commons, it would be the duty of that House to take some extraordinary measure in order to prevent any inconvenience arising to the public, and inconvenience to Parliament from dealing with such a mass of Bills. The number of those Bills had been reduced one-half, and when that reduced number came before Parliament it was found that many of them were competing lines, and thus a still greater reduction of the amount of capital to be required took place. The state of affairs, then, became essentially different from that which was presented before the appointment of the Committee at the commencement of the Session, and there was no longer apparent an urgent necessity for Parliamentary interference with private enterprise. Trusting, therefore, to the discretion of Parliament in selecting only the proper lines; and, as the immense sum which at first was named would be no longer wanted, it was thought better to adopt the general principle of not interfering with private enterprise in the outlay of capital, where such interference was not absolutely necessary. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should be prepared to attend the Committee, and lend his assistance in developing all the facts upon which the House could form its judgment. The hon. Member's plan appeared to be founded on his views of what the hon. Member thought to be the superior advantages of the French system; but there might be a great deal said on both sides of that question, and for his part he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) would go into the Committee with a desire to render every assistance in his power to the adoption of that course which might be best calculated to secure the public against the effects of monopoly, whilst it did justice to those who had embarked their capital in such speculations.


suggested that a very important inquiry might be made by the Committee immediately, whether some means might not be found of reducing the immense expense to which parties were put in proving the Standing Orders, and whether by a joint Committee of both Houses the necessity of proving the same facts twice might not be obviated.


observed, that the carrying out of amalgamations had been brought forward as a cause of the reduction of fares; but it had been shown to the House by one who was well acquainted with the subject, that so far from being an element in causing a reduction of fares, amalgamation had in some instances produced a contrary effect; and in some cases an increase of fares had been put forward as an inducement to an amalgamation. He had listened with great pleasure to the speech of the hon. Member for Renfrewshire; but that hon. Member had omitted some facts which bore very strongly on the question before them, and which were well worthy of consideration. One of the lines of railway in the south of Scotland (the Glasgow and Greenock) charged 1½d. per mile for the first class, 1d. for the second class, and ½d. for the third class, and went at the rate of twenty-six miles an hour; and this system of low rates and speedy transit proved highly remunerative to the proprietors. The desire of the public to travel quickly was strikingly exemplified in the case of this line; for although it had a formidable competition to meet in the steam-boats on the Clyde, and although they charged higher fares than were charged in the steamers, yet the number of passengers was double the number which went by the steamers. With respect to the question which arose as to the number of railway lines projected, and the difficulty of finding capital and labour to carry them out—there were fears on that subject so long ago as 1844, when the hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Sunderland, told a Committee that he had apprehension as to what might happen within the ensuing two years. The House, however, so far from taking any precaution on that occasion, encouraged what was then called railway enterprise to such an extent, that it reduced the amount of deposit which was required to be paid from 10 per cent to 5 per cent. It would be a great misfortune if a considerable number of lines should be left incomplete, from a deficiency of labour or money to carry them out, and it would prove a very serious grievance, above all, to the proprietors of land through whose estates railway lines might pass. If they took any course which led to such results, it was quite clear that they would do that which would be an injury not only to the public, but to individual proprietors through whose lands such unfinished lines might run.


said, there was an inequality which had not been noticed in respect to the competition of railways with canals. The railroad proprietors charged high rates for passengers and low rates for goods, in order to ruin the canals. This was an abuse; and if they did so with canals, might they not do the same with our coasting trade, which was the nursery of our seamen?


replied: The suggestion of the right hon. Baronet as to the adoption of a tariff, and with regard to the propriety of making certain exceptions in case an uniform tariff should be adopted, were well worthy of consideration, as well as the expediency of introducing the practice of leasing railways; and he would say, that it would have been of great public advantage if these suggestions had been considered by the House at an earlier period. What we had to complain of in this country was a want of system; and he was desirous to make an attempt to procure the adoption of a proper system. It was not his intention to reply to the observations of the hon. Members who had addressed the House on the subject of his Motion; but he felt it necessary to remark, with respect to the case of the Rouen Railroad mentioned by the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, that the Rouen tariff was established at a period when it was rather difficult for the Government to induce persons to undertake the construction of those works, and, therefore, the tariff was a very high one; whilst it was compared by the hon. Member with the Birmingham line, which was the lowest, or one of the lowest, in England. He had already said most distinctly that it was with regard to the new lines that he wished to introduce a new system. It was remarkable that the hon. Member for Sunderland, or, at any rate, some hon. Gentleman who had spoken during the debate, while approving of the principle of competition, at the same time recommended amalgamation; but if amalgamation were conceded by the House in the case of the many railway projects which were now under the consideration of Parliament, that concession would be fatal to competition. The subject had never been taken up properly either by individuals or the Government. It should be recollected that a railway was not a substitution of a better thing of the same class for a worse, as the substitution of a fast coach for a slow one, but the substitution of something entirely new for an old mode of conveyance. He had no regard for the French system because it was French, and he had referred to it simply because he had not the means of getting an example on so large a scale elsewhere of a low rate of fares.

Motion agreed to.

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