HC Deb 09 June 1847 vol 93 cc256-60

being called upon,


rose to order. The resolutions about to be proposed by the right hon. Gentleman were really not pro- perly "private business," and ought not to take precedence as such.


was of opinion, that as the resolutions related to Railway Bills, and Railway Bills were Private Bills, this was a part of the private business.

Report of Railway Committee 7th of June read.


was sorry to interfere with the adjourned debate on the Hosiery Manufacture Bill, for which the hon. Member was naturally anxious, but it was so excessively desirable that all persons concerned in Railway Bills should know as early as possible what were the intentions of Parliament, that it would be most convenient that the resolutions agreed to by the Select Committee on Railway Bills should at once be brought under the consideration of the House. It would be remembered, that on the 14th of May the hon. Member for Mr. Montrose (Mr. Hume) brought before the House some resolutions affecting-certain proceedings of railway companies, and there was a general admission in the debate which then arose that some practices on the part of promoters of Railway Bills were, in fact, an evasion of the spirit, if not of the letter, of the Standing Orders. An opinion was also expressed by several hon. Members that it was desirable to impose some check upon the railroad pace at which railway undertakings were going on; and on the whole the Government thought it desirable that a Committee should be appointed to consider whether any measures should be adopted for suspending further proceedings in all or any of the Railroad Bills for this Session; and whether any further provisions in the Standing Orders relative to such Bills would be advisable. The Committee was appointed on the 18th of May, and the resolutions agreed to by that Committee were laid on the Table on Monday. Before moving that the House do agree to them, it might be well to state generally the course which the Committee adopted, that the House might be in possession of the general views of the Committee. Nothing was said in the debate on the former day implying that the construction of a railroad, generally speaking, was not most beneficial to trade and commerce, and for the convenience of the public; but there seemed to be a prevalent impression, that for the last year or two the House bad sanctioned the introduction of railroads at too speedy a rate, and that considerable inconvenience had been experienced of late in consequence of the abstraction of floating capital for investments which were not easily realized when the money was wanted for the purposes of trade. It was suggested that the House should interfere and compulsorily stop all Railway Bills for this Session. The Committee, however, unanimously decided not to adopt that course. They felt that at any rate there were several small branches, and links of communication, which it was exceedingly desirable to have completed as soon as possible; they were in many cases connected with other lines, completed or being completed, in the expectation of these Bills passing; and the postponement of them would lead to the discharge of many persons in the employment of various companies, and this would of course be extremely undesirable. It was then suggested that a selection might be made by the Committee of those Bills which should be allowed to go on; but, as it was desirable that an early decision should be come to, in order to stop unnecessary expense and let parties know upon what ground they really stood, the Committee felt it impossible to enter into a lengthened investigation of that description. Upon the whole, therefore, they determined not to impose any compulsory stoppage upon parties, but to give the promoters of a Railway Bill the power of suspending further proceedings, with the option of commencing in the next Session at the stage where a Bill might now be suspended, the deposits being meanwhile returned to the depositors. This was what the first and second resolutions proposed, and the conditions were taken nearly verbatim from those which were imposed upon parties whose Bills were suspended in the Session of 1845. The Committee were told that there were companies waging war for the occupation of a particular line of country, but not anxious to construct a railroad immediately, and both of them willing to rest upon their arms for a year or more; and there was reason to believe, in fact, that a considerable number of Bills would be thus postponed for the present. But there was another branch of the subject; the Committee, which was pretty nearly unanimous throughout, laid down certain rules as to the withholding in future some powers which of late years had been inserted in Railway Bills. The Committee proposed to themselves this limit— that they would recommend for a general rule nothing which they should not have felt it their duty to propose if they had been sitting upon a Railway Bill; and therefore no parties could complain, since they brought their Bills before Parliament subject to a revision before a Committee, and nothing was imposed upon them but what might have been imposed by a Committee—a chance to which all persons coming to Parliament for extraordinary powers must necessarily be subject. The resolutions, too, would merely bring back the practice of the House to what it was when railroad undertakings were brought forward as bonâ fide substantial transactions, and before the speculative mania gained such large hold not only upon the country, but, it was to be feared, upon the Committees of the House, as to induce them to depart from the safe and sound practice of former years, and pass Bills of a very doubtful character in the last two or three Sessions, when companies had in several cases been got up with no intention of ever constructing the line about which they applied, but only of selling the powers asked for. The third resolution provided that in Bills in the present and every future Session there be inserted a provision prohibiting the payment out of capital of any interest or dividend in respect of calls. The old Bills, the Committee were informed, contained no such powers; the great railroad companies were not possessed of them, and considered the practice referred to most objectionable. The next resolution referred to applications for powers to construct branches from, or extensions of, existing lines, and required a subscription contract for three-fourths of such additional capital, and prohibited the payment out of former capital of deposits on any new application to Parliament. In the case of one of the eastern lines, which had been already brought to the attention of the House, there had been a complete evasion of the Standing Orders in this respect, and in fact, a perfect fraud; and Committees on Bills did not think it their duty to take notice of things of this kind, but always said it was matter for the Standing Orders' Committee, and the only remedy was by making a Standing Order upon the subject. The next resolutions related to the powers of sale and lease, and were intended to check applications which were not preferred with a bonâ fide purpose of constructing the line. Nothing tended so much to force on the premature and precocious construction of railways as the prac- tice which had arisen in this respect. Small companies or independent parties got up a line, knowing that one or two great companies were anxious for the possession of that district of country; and the only intention was to put up the line to be bought by the best bidder of two or more companies, who must buy it, and who were thus forced prematurely to construct a railway, which in the end might be desirable, but which they would in due time have constructed as a branch of their own. A Bill had even been introduced in which a company was required, without an option, to grant a lease of the works in perpetuity, on their completion, to another company. The resolutions proposed to provide, in Bills in the present and future Sessions, that there should be no power of sale until the Railway Commissioners should be satisfied that half the capital authorized to be raised had been actually expended. Further, except for the execution of the original line, no company was to guarantee interest on additional capital, or dividend to another company, until the original line should be opened; a company coming to Parliament for its own existence ought not to have power to guarantee interest to another company, until there were profits which would make its guarantee to be some security. There were also one or two other restrictions, with a view to prevent the creation of capital improperly. There were general rules for the guidance of the House and of its Committees. He intended to propose the resolutions seriatim, and having stated their object he would conclude by moving the first resolution. The right hon. Gentleman moved accordingly— That the Promoters of all Railway Bills, in the present Session of Parliament, shall be empowered, on the Second Reading, or on the completion of any subsequent stage of any such Bill, to suspend any further proceeding in the present Session, with the option, under the following conditions, of proceeding with the same Bill in the next Session of Parliament, at the stage where the Bill shall be now suspended.

SIR H. HALFORD moved the adjournment of the debate, to allow the Hosiery Manufacture Bill to be proceeded with.

After some discussion, the debate was adjourned till next day at Twelve o'clock.

Back to