HC Deb 03 December 1847 vol 95 cc597-604

On the Order of the Day for going into Committee on the Railways Bill being read,


considered that it was rather late in the day for such interference as would be effected by this Bill; but men might learn wisdom from experience, and he thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer had now found out what he anticipated long ago—that railway speculation had had a very considerable effect in producing the commercial distress which at present existed in this country. He had always anticipated that great evils must arise from the hasty and unconcocted measures of railway extension. He was most anxious to lend his aid to forward any measures which would tend to promote the welfare of the country; but he had always apprehended that great evils would arise from those dangerous and delusive schemes which interfered very materially with the interests of private property, and which placed persons who, by their industry, had accumulated a little property, at the mercy of irresponsible and tyrannical bodies of men. The most extensive powers had been granted to these irresponsible companies, which consisted of men of all classes—of some men great in substance—and of some who had capital, and others who were mere shadows—of some without a shilling in their pockets, mere gamblers, and who hoped to get rich by the loss and ruin of other individuals. He had seen in that House, after twelve o'clock at night, when there were only fifteen Members present, some yawning, and some half asleep, measures of the greatest importance with reference to railways agreed to. He wanted to know what Parliament was now going to do with regard to this subject. There were some gentlemen connected with railways for whom he entertained the highest respect; but "evil communications corrupt good manners," and it often happened that a man who sat down at a gaming table without the slightest intention of playing, took up the dice or cards, and became particeps criminis with the rest of the company. The Chancellor of the Exchequer now proposed to extend the time allowed for the completion of railway works for two years beyond the time originally allowed; but he wished the right hon. Baronet would tell the House whether he might not afterwards allow a still further extension—whether he might not give two years more, and two years to that— Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis; at ille Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum. He saw that the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Strutt) had given notice of a clause to provide that, in awarding compensation to the owners or occupiers of land taken or used for the purposes of railways, the persons by whom such compensation was awarded should, in estimating its amount, have regard to, and make compensation for, the additional damage, if any, sustained by reason of the extension of time for the completion of the works. But he thought the House ought to be told to what extent compensation was to be given, and, above all, when it was to be given. Some of his property had been taken possession of by a railway company; but he had been unable to obtain payment for it. He was not, however, actuated by any selfish motives in complaining of the conduct of the companies; but he did say that the measure now proposed by the Government was still more unsatisfactory than the original Railway Acts. The clause of which the right hon. Member for Derby had given notice, applied solely to the owners or occupiers of land; and no compensation could be claimed or obtained by a person who had a small cottage, without any land, which might be required for the purposes of a railway company. He must say he considered that this Bill was most imperfect, and was of a doubtful and suspicious character. This Bill ought to be carefully watched; it looked like a measure brought in by a Government relying on its own strength rather than on the justice of the case. The Committee on the Bill might properly be postponed a little; the House was anxious to resume the adjourned debate, and the Bill was shovelled forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to pass almost sub silentio.

House in Committee.

Clauses to the 6th inclusive agreed to.

On Clause 7, providing for compensation to landowners aggrieved by the delay,


proposed to omit this and the next clause, and substitute one in a new form, providing that when compensation should be assessed for the land required for the railroad, regard should be had to the additional damage (if any) caused by the extension of time granted by the Railway Board.


objected that this would allow no compensation for the extension of time where the landowner and the company had already agreed upon terms, where the bargain was "a fact accomplished," where the company had got possession, and would expose the landowner to all the nuisance of a public thoroughfare.


felt convinced that some railway proprietor had had a hand in the preparation of this clause which was proposed to be submitted.


would not deny that he was one of the parties who suggested this alteration; but it would not affect any undertaking with which he was connected. If he had any interest, it was in throwing obstacles in the way of companies that might claim the advantage of this Bill; but he advocated the proposed clause be- cause he thought it was fair and right. Nearly the whole expense would have to be paid by the companies, and if the Bill were to stand in a different shape, attorneys would be requiring a jury to assess compensation for the delay in reference to small pieces of land, and there would be such a harvest for the lawyers as the Legislature never before gave. The object was said to be to ease the money market by extending the time for the construction of works; for his own part, he thought that railways would have been better left to themselves, and many bad companies would have fallen through; he believed the Bill would do harm rather than good; but he must admit that the public feeling was against him. At any rate, however, the Bill would make a greater concession to the landowners than was ever made before. He never found he could get possession of any land without paying for it; and most probably in the case of the gallant Colonel (Colonel Sibthorp) some difficulty had arisen on his part; and if he would look into the Court of Chancery, he would find his money there. If a company had made a contract to pay a certain sum on a certain day, this Bill would not release them from it; and justice was due not only to the landowner, but to those who had invested their capital in these undertakings, and to the public, who were to have the advantage of them. The companies ought not to be harassed, nor their money frittered away in law.


said, there was no alteration made in the nature of the clause; that was to say, no claim for compensation was given in the substituted clause to parties who were not already entitled to it. All that was intended to be enacted was, that any one who should have to decide upon any claim arising out of the Railway Act, should take into consideration any claim that might arise out of this Act, and award additional compensation. The object of the substituted clause was to comprise the two clauses (seven and eight) into one clause, and to put it more neatly, so to speak.


observed, that railway legislation had hitherto failed of accomplishing all the good that the public were entitled to expect in return for the many privileges that were conceded to the beneficiaries of those great undertakings. The utility of railways could not for a moment be disputed; but he was sorry to think that the directors were far from being actuated by a liberal spirit as regarded the accommodation they were willing to afford to the humbler portion of the community. Great efforts had been made to secure a third-class train of carriages for the special use of the labouring population; but, although such carriages were, in the strict meaning of the word, provided, yet they were subjected to so many inconveniences, both as regarded the hours of starting and the stoppages, that the benefit was almost neutralised. As regarded Sunday travelling, that in many instances was totally denied to the humbler classes. He would not mention any particular railway; but it was well known that in many instances it had occurred, that where property had been purchased by railway companies, under the assurance that stations should be established, and where parties had disposed of their property on the faith of those assurances, and had given up the accommodation of travelling which they already enjoyed, the railway directors had no sooner obtained possession than they abandoned their original undertaking, and left the parties without any railway accommodation at all. He could mention an instance in the case of a railway not very far from London. He meant the Brighton Railway, and the position was where the road diverged to Godston, from the Brighton Railway. Forty coaches used to run on that road, and a railway station was established there, and existed for five years. Property was purchased in the neighbourhood upon the faith that that station would remain; but what had happened? Within the last month the whole of the neighbourhood had been deprived of that accommodation.


thought that, instead of discussing the construction of the clause, it would be far better for the Committee to settle the principle upon which the clause should be framed. There appeared to be three classes of landowners whose interests were to be considered. The first were those who had made agreements and had received their money, but had not given up their land. These clearly could not be entitled to compensation. The next class were those landowners who had made their agreements, but who were to receive their money when the land was delivered up; and the third class were those landowners with whom agreements would be made after passing this Act. Now, it was for the Committee to determine whether the compensation was to apply to all three classes, or to the last two, or to the last class only. He conceived it would be better to determine that question before they entered into a discussion upon the construction of the clause,


thought it would have been much better if the Government had framed the clause in such a manner as not to have left the Committee in doubt whether they intended to compensate all three classes of landowners enumerated by the Attorney General, or only two or one of those classes. It appeared to him that those parties who had already entered into their agreements were entitled to claim damages for the injury they would sustain by reason of the delay in the completion of their contracts.


observed, that much injury might be sustained by a party in this way—suppose a portion of land in the neighbourhood of a factory had been purchased by a company, and notice already served on the party to give up the land, in consequence of which it had been found necessary to erect new buildings, and the necessary contracts were entered into for that purpose; then suppose that, under this Act, the railway company delayed taking that land for two years, would not the party be thereby prevented carrying out his new works? In such a case, the party would be unquestionably entitled to compensation.


clearly understood, that where the company had given notice of their intention to take the land, they must go on with the work notwithstanding this Act. Having given such notice, this Bill did not give the company a power to extend the time for taking the land.


remarked, that one of the Members who had not addressed the House on the present occasion was the right hon. Member for Derby, whose name was printed on the back of the Bill as one of its authors. It was not unreasonable to expect that the right hon. Gentleman should explain the meaning of the two clauses to which the attention of the Committee was directed, and that he would so far improve upon the statement of the Attorney General as to declare which of the three courses referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Government would adopt.


said, he understood that it was intended by the amended clause to convey the meaning of the original clause in an improved form. He could assure the Committee that the clause had not been altered in order to suit the views of the right hon. Member for Sunderland.


thought that the best course which could be taken would be for the Committee to agree as to the principle which should be acted upon, and leave the Government to embody it in a fresh clause. It was desirable that all the three classes of landholders should have the benefit of compensation; and he was sure that if the principle of compensation should be adopted, no damage would be done, because, if the railway companies should suspend their works, they would erect proper fences to guard against trespassers. He advised the Government to withdraw both clauses, and to bring up a new one embodying the principle of compensation in the report.


understood the principle of the original clause to be this, that no landowner not in the situation of a person who would receive notice to offer opposition to a Private Bill for an extension of time, should be entitled to compensation under the present Bill. If the Committee were of opinion that the amended clause did not carry out that principle, he had no objection to frame another clause in which it should be more precisely embodied.


approved of the course suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.


said, that there were many cases in which landholders might be entitled to compensation; for instance, a person might have sold his land on condition that a station should be made upon it within a certain time. He was inclined to support the proposition to give compensation to every person who should have a locus standi before a Committee on a Private Bill for an extension of time.


had no objection to limit the compensation to every person who would have a locus standi before a Committee on a Private Bill.


said, he would accede to the hon. Member for Oxford's proposal.


informed the right hon. Gentleman, that by adopting the principle which had been enunciated, he would endanger the Bill. No railway company would apply for an extension of time, if that application would involve the reopening of the whole litigation with the landlords. All the attorneys in the country would be busy in getting up actions for compensation; and if the damages in any case were laid at only 5l., directors would gladly give 100l. to avoid going before a jury, or a reference to arbitrators. The whole railway interest would now oppose the Bill, and the Government would find they had raised a monster which they could not easily lay.

Bill went through Committee.

The House resumed. Report to be received.

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