HC Deb 21 June 1847 vol 93 cc762-87

MR. STRUTT moved the Order of the Day for the Second Reading of the Railways Bill. He rejoiced that the time had come when he was enabled to state the contents of the measure, because so much misconception had prevailed on the subject, so much misrepresentation had been circulated in various forms, that he was anxious to state what the Bill really did contain, and what it did not, and what was the effect of the provisions the Government proposed. Prom the time he introduced this measure at the beginning of the Session, he had always been ready to receive any suggestion from those great interests so deeply concerned in this question; he had been ready and anxious to receive any suggestions founded on experience, and in several particulars he had made alterations in the measure since he proposed it. In two points those alterations had been material; he only mentioned this circumstance in order to show there was no indisposition on the part of the Government to listen to suggestions from the parties interested in the Bill. If it should be shown that any of the provisions and clauses of the Bill acted injuriously to the railway interest, without any corresponding benefit to the public, he should be the first to wish those provisions amended, or rejected altogether. But, before he went into the general purport of the Bill, he was anxious to say a few words with respect to the preliminary objections that had been raised against introducing such a Bill at all. It had been said that this Bill would be a positive breach of the contract entered into at the time of the passing of the Act commonly called Gladstone's Act. It was certainly true that, in the Session of 1844, a Bill was brought into Parliament which met with a strong opposition from railway companies, as in this instance, and that, after a good deal of discussion, an arrangement was come to between the Government and the parties interested in railway undertakings by which a concession was made on both sides, after which the Bill was allowed to pass into a law. But that the Bill was therefore a kind of binding compact on the Government by which all further legislation on the subject was precluded, was, he was bound to say, having looked to all the transactions of the period, an opinion without any foundation. If such an understanding had existed, he (Mr. Strutt) would have been the last man in the world to propose any infraction of the agreement. Not only, however, had he traced no foundation for the allegation, but he had perceived directly the reverse; he found that since the Bill had passed into a law most important amendments and alterations had been introduced, and that they had been agreed to without any reference having been made to any previous arrangement. That Bill passed into a law in 1844; in the very next Session—in May, 1845. Before any further Railway Bills whatever had passed that Session of Parliament, an important debate took place in that House on a clause which had been proposed to be added to all Railway Bills by a nobleman then a Member of that House—Lord Wharncliffe. It would be well to pay attention to that fact, because it was alone sufficient to refute any of those allegations to which he had referred on this point. The clause was— And be it further enacted, that nothing herein contained shall be deemed or construed to exempt the railways by this or the said recited Acts authorized to be made from the provisions of any general Act relating to such Bills, or of any general Act relating to railways which may hereafter pass during the present or any future Session of Parliament. To this Motion, made by Lord Wharncliffe, an Amendment, by way of addition, was moved by another Member of that House, and who also had since become a Member of the House of Lords—Lord Grey. It was— That nothing contained in any Railway Act should preclude the House from any future revision, or prevent any alteration to be made by authority of Parliament in Railway Acts regarding the rates, fares, and charges made under such Acts. Many objections were taken to this proposition: there was a debate on the subject, and so important was the question considered, that that debate was adjourned. Seven days after, when the adjourned dis- cussion was renewed, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth, then the First Minister of the Crown, came down to that House and declared his concurrence in those clauses. And these clauses, with hardly a dissentient voice, were agreed to be added to all Railway Bills. From that to the present time those clauses had been inserted in all Railway Bills; and all railway companies which obtained powers to construct their lines obtained those powers, on the understanding that they would always be subject to the provisions of any general Act, and that their fares and charges would always be liable to revision. It would, perhaps, be urged that the matter had been of so little consequence as to have escaped the attention of the promoters of Railway Bills; but this could not well have been the case. The clauses were passed in May, when the parties and their agents were in London, and when they would be fully alive and sensitive to the value of any clause which would necessarily be inserted in their Bills; and not only had they been cognizant of the intention of Parliament, but, since that time, those very persons who now objected to any legislation on the subject had, without remonstrance or complaint, introduced those clauses into their Acts in fulfilment of the resolutions of the House. He did not, however, mean to rest the justification of this Bill on those clauses. He merely wished to show that they had operated as ample notice to all the parties who now complained of this Bill as a violation of the understanding then entered into; and it was to him a matter of the greatest astonishment how such an argument could have ever been brought forward. He would now proceed to state what had taken place since the period when those clauses were passed. In the last Session a Committee was appointed both by Lords and Commons specially for the purpose of inquiring into the railway system, with a view to the introduction of such enactments as might seem to be required. Those Committees sat for a very considerable time. The Committee of the House of Commons made a report in which they recommended a number of regulations, most of which had been embodied in this Bill now before the House, and in which also they recommended that a distinct department of the Government should be instituted for the supervision of the management of railway companies. A resolution of a similar kind was agreed to by the House of Lords. In consequence of that report, Her Majesty's Government, in that Session, proposed to bring in a Bill to institute such a department of Government, in compliance with the recommendations of the Committee. That Bill passed through both Houses almost without opposition, on the distinct understanding, as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that it was for the purpose of instituting a new Board, and that early in the next Session of Parliament Her Majesty's Government would he prepared with another Bill to carry out the main recommendations of the Committees, and of imposing on the new Board those duties and of entrusting it with those powers which might be deemed by the Government to be necessary. That was the original Bill which he had had the honour of proposing to the House early in the present Session, and which stood for a second reading that night. He thought, from what he had said, that he had established two points: first, if they were to place any faith in the conduct of Parliament, that the Act known as Gladstone's Act was not regarded by that House as a final compact with railway companies, or as a bar to future legislation on the subject; and, secondly, that it had clearly been the intention in the last Session that this Session further legislation should take place in regard to railways. Having said thus much as to the early part of the Bill, he would now explain the other portions. One part related to the practice before the introduction of Railway Bills, and to the reports which might be made to the House in reference to such Bills; and the other concerned the regulations of those railways which were already formed, and in operation. Almost all the proposals he made in the present Bill as to the preliminary proceedings, had been founded on the report made to the two Houses of Parliament. The first suggestion related to the difficulties which had been encountered with respect to companies entering on lands for the purpose of making surveys. It had long been a subject of complaint with railway companies that they were required to make deposit of certain plans and sections, and that yet they had no legal authority whatever for going on to the lands in the neighbourhood of the contemplated line for that purpose; that, in fact, one Act of Parliament required them to do that which was a violation of law. On the other hand, in many instances, landowners had resisted such proceedings; and, in consequence, disputes and disturbances had arisen, which for every reason it was most desirable to avoid. This was one of the matters which stood most in need of regulation; and the Commissioners now proposed a measure in accordance with the recommendations made by the Committee last Session. The recommendation was to this effect—that the companies should have power to go on the lands on a warrant of the Commissioners, after due notice to the proprietor, and after having provided a certain sum to be applied for the reparation of any damage that might be done. That, it seemed to him (Mr. Strutt), would be a very fair proceeding; if they gave, on the one hand, power not in conformity with the ordinary course of law, it was only just, on the other hand, to grant the landowner redress by a summary process, and by compensating him for any injury he might suffer in consequence of the authority thus given. The next point in the preliminary proceedings respected the local inquiry which was proposed to take place on the spot. There had been a good deal of apprehension on this subject, and he therefore thought it right to explain to the House that this inquiry would not, as had been supposed by some persons, hear any similitude to the local inquiries before officers appointed by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests or by the Admiralty. There would not be, as in those cases, any evidence taken; there would be no counsel or agents employed; the investigation would have reference merely to simple subjects; would entail no expense whatever on the public, or on the parties in question, and would, as he believed, have the effect of preventing a future serious expenditure of time and money in the Parliamentary Committee, and in the after stages of the Bill. The object was this: It had hitherto been a very common complaint made by parties appearing before Committees, that no opportunity was given to the landowners of suggesting that another line should be taken different in its direction from that proposed by the promoters of the Bill. The company was required to give in the plans and sections on a certain day. The landowner knew nothing of the line until those plans were deposited. If he went to the engineer and said, "You are going to take a line injurious to me; I am prepared to suggest another equally advantageous to you, and not so ruinous to me," the only answer would be, "We are sorry for it; but you are too late; our plans are deposited, we cannot alter them; we cannot comply with your request;" and the only course then left open to the landowner was to appear before the Committee, and to oppose the Bill altogether. The Committee then experienced this difficulty—they had to reject the Bill altogether, or, in approving it, to do a very great injustice to the landowner. The way in which he would meet the object was this—he proposed, that on the complaint of a landowner, an officer should be sent down to the spot by the Commissioners; that the officer should hear the engineer and the complaining parties; and that he should go over the line. If the landowner suggested another, and if the company were prepared to adopt that line, then the Commissioners under this Bill would give authority so to do. If the company declined to adopt the suggested line, and the landowner persisted, power, in that case, would be granted him to send in plans and sections, and to bring his proposal before the Committee, the Committee being left to decide which plan should be approved of. This mode of proceeding would entail comparatively little expense and trouble; and it would undoubtedly have a very important and beneficial effect on the existing system of railway legislation. The next question for consideration was the proposed hearing of parties before the Commission. It should be borne in mind that one of the recommendations of the Railway Committee had been, that before parties went into the Committee on the Bill, they should be heard by the Commission. It was proposed that, having heard the parties interested in the Bill, the Commissioners should report their opinion on the various points to the Committees of both Houses; and that, more especially, they should direct attention to the engineering detail. Considerable objection had been taken to this part of the Bill by Parliamentary counsel and agents. He was not at all surprised at that: he meant no disrespect to those persons, and did not wish to attribute more than that natural bias dependent on position possessed by all mankind; but he really did think they were not the individuals to whose opinions the House should look when attempting to amend the system of private legislation. It was easy to understand there was a strong feeling on this subject in those quarters, inasmuch as it was not intended that counsel should be heard before the Commissioners. His conviction was, that if they added another in- quiry, assisted by counsel, to that which took place before the Committee, they would be merely annexing one evil to another, extending the present vicious system, and creating an enormously enhanced expense without producing any adequate advantage to any party. He believed there were many points connected with every Railway Bill which might very well be disposed of without the assistance of counsel. He would take, for instance, the question of engineering—the one particularly referred to, and one on which it was proposed that the opinions of the Commissioners should be binding. A Commissioner, having entered into an examination of the plans, would be enabled to call upon two engineers to hear the separate evidence, and, in the event of any dispute arising as to a matter of fact, to send down a person to the spot to make the necessary inquiry; and it was his opinion that the Commissioners so qualified would arrive at a full knowledge of the facts much sooner, and at a far less expense, than would be the case if the investigation were conducted by a Committee of the House. He, therefore, anticipated that they would do much to simplify the system of railway legislation, and that, in providing the Committee with a report of this kind by an impartial engineer, they would greatly limit the expenses, and curtail the time involved in the present mode of proceeding. He now came to another point—that with regard to fares and tolls. It had been observed, that it was a fault in the Bill that it called for a report, not only as to the fares inserted in the particular Railway Bill before the Commissioner, but also as to the fares which were empowered to be levied by previous Bills, and as to the maximum of tolls actually levied by the same company under former Acts. On reflection, he did not think that there would appear to be any injustice done by such a proceeding. He considered it would be found, eventually, that there was a direct necessity for Committees having such reports before them. It frequently happened that railway companies themselves, in coming for a new Act to Parliament, by way of inducement to pass the now Bill, held out the promise that a reduction should take place in the tolls and fares authorized by preceding Acts. This was true as regarded the North-Western Company when applying to Parliament for powers to construct branch lines; and in the case of the Great Western Company many tempting statements had been made as to the advantages the public would derive from a reduction in the fares along the whole line. Now, so long as railway companies themselves called attention to these points as proper objects for consideration, and held out these inducements, it was only reasonable that when Committees had to decide on the amount of fares, they should have before them the opinion of the Commissioners, not only as to the Bill proposed to Parliament, but also as to the mode in which the railway company had exercised the powers in this respect formerly granted to them. Hon. Gentlemen who had served on Committees had over and over again dwelt upon this defect. They said, "We are appointed by this House to decide what fares are fitting under a particular Bill, but no information is given to us as to the fares in that part of the country to which such a Bill applies, as to the effect of such fares on the interests of the railway company or of the public; and, therefore, we are called upon to decide without being furnished with any of the requisite data." It was now proposed by this Bill, to obviate this difficulty, that there should be an annual report to Parliament on the fares and tolls companies were authorized to levy, and on the tolls which they actually did levy throughout the country. He did not see how it was possible for Committees to perform the heavy duties imposed on them in a satisfactory manner, unless they were provided with reports of this character, and unless, in a word, they had at hand sufficient data to guide them in their decisions. With respect to these preliminary proceedings, he would not detain the House any longer. It had been urged as an objection, that this Bill would have the effect of causing delay, and greatly extending the period at present required for all such merely preliminary proceedings. He could not admit, supposing such an extension of time took place, that it would operate as an evil. He thought that the hasty manner in which the engineer was compelled to prepare the plans and sections, and the limited time allowed for the deposit of those plans and sections, had produced an evil which they were now called on to remedy, If so short a time were taken for the preparation of the scheme, he did not see how they could have the certainty that the best line had been chosen, or how any guarantee could be given that the interests of the landowners along the line had been properly considered; and, therefore, although by some months they did extend the period of the preliminary inquiry, they, in so doing, inflicted no injury on the companies, and conferred a very important benefit on the landowner. Then there was another question for deliberation. These preliminary measures would, he trusted, have the effect of shortening the passage of the Bill through Parliament, and so enabling it sooner to become law. Parties might, under this Bill, originate proceedings at a much earlier moment than at present, and they would have the opportunity of concluding at such a period as to place it in their power to commence their works in the succeeding summer. It was well known that that was not now the case; a Railway Bill seldom reached a third reading before July or August, and it was then obviously too late to take any steps to go on with the works that summer. Under this Bill all the preliminary proceedings would take place in the autumn; parties could go at once into Committee on the opening of the Session. It followed that, if the proceedings in Committee were, as they would be, shortened, the promoters would obtain their Bill much sooner than had hitherto been found practicable; and in this way they would have been compensated for any delay that might have been entailed on them in the earlier stages. He next came to those portions of the Bill which referred to the regulations by the existing law; he would first call attention to the minor amendments proposed in the existing law, and he would then proceed to those clauses which would be regarded as new enactments. With respect to various amendments of the existing law, the Bill related to matters such as the by-laws, and as were merely of a verbal nature, the law remaining practically in the same state as at present. There was a very important question on which they proposed an amendment on the existing law—the appointment of police during the construction of a railway. Under the present system there was no power vested in a magistrate to appoint police, and to require the company to pay the expenses of such police, in England, except in cases where actual outrage had occurred. In Scotland it was different. The magistrates had the power, while a railway work was in course of construction, drawing a large number of persons tog-ether, of calling on the railway company to pay the expenses of the police. He had reason to believe that the system had been attended with the greatest advantages; and it was highly desirable that the law in England should be assimilated as nearly as possible to this state of things, in order that the magistrate should not have to wait for an outbreak of violence before he called in the police. It was, no doubt, indispensable that this power should not he altogether discretionary, because the magistrates, in some instances, might be interested parties. The appointment of police, would therefore, only be permitted on the application of two justices to the Commissioners; and the Commissioners would be bound to hear whatever objections the railway company might have to offer. There was another subject of great importance, which had reference to cheap trains. It would be recollected that by a former Act companies were required to carry the lower classes of society, who had not the means of paying the higher fares, in carriages that would be protected from the weather—that they should have seats—and that they should be carried not less than twelve miles an hour, at not more than a penny per mile. That regulation had given universal satisfaction, and had proved beneficial to the poorer classess; and, so far from being injurious, companies admitted the advantage of conveying passengers in that way. Complaints, however, had been made by passengers conveyed in this manner. Those complaints were made by persons in inferior station, who did not find it so easy as others did to make their voices heard in that House, but who were not on that account the less entitled to be heard; for if any class were entitled to the attention of a board like the Railway Board, it was the persons of an inferior class, who had not the means of protecting themselves. One of the complaints that was made on the subject was with respect to the overcrowding of the passengers in these carriages. It was complained that those carriages were intended only to hold a certain number of persons, but that people were crowded into these carriages in such a manner as to subject the passengers to great inconvenience. That was inconsistent with the intentions of the Act, for under such circumstances it would be impossible for persons in feeble health to avail themselves of the advantages conferred on them by the Legislature. It was said they must apply the same law in this case as existed with regard to stage coaches—that was to limit the number of passengers, and lay a penalty beyond it; but he thought that any such proceeding would be unjust to railway companies themselves, for it would be scarcely possible in many cases to prevent a greater number of persons from crowding those carriages than could be accommodated in them, and therefore they would be subject to a penalty from which he should like to protect them by an enactment in this Bill; and the mode in which they proposed to afford redress in this case was this: it was proposed that on the complaint of any passenger in such carriage, that there was more than the authorized number in that carriage, that then the officer of the company be required to remove them, and in case of refusing to do so, he was to be liable to a penalty. It was also desirable that there should be lights in those carriages, as in the case of other carriages. With regard to unnecessary stoppages, and to the representations that were made that those carriages which were to carry passengers twelve miles an hour were compelled to remain a long time at certain stations, that had been met by a clause in this Bill. He would now call attention to a question between the railway companies and the public, or between the railway companies and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He referred to the conveyance of the mails. Every person who was aware of the regulations on the subject at present, must admit that the law was in an unsatisfactory state. In case of a disagreement between the Post Office and the railway company, as to the rate at which the company was to convey the mails, the rule was that arbitrators should be appointed, one by each party, and in case they did not agree, that an umpire should be appointed. No principle was laid down to regulate or judge their decision on the subject. If the two gentlemen appointed arbitrators did not agree, they chose an umpire; and he took, perhaps, an intermediate course between the two. He did not object to the mode of arranging proceedings by arbitration; but there should be some rule to regulate the proceedings of the arbitrators; and it was now proposed that the company should be paid for the whole of the extra expense incurred by them, and in addition to that should receive a profit in the shape of a per centage upon the amount of such additional expense. He would next refer to the regulation which it was proposed to make for the conveyance of military and police. By the Act formerly passed, it was thought proper to convey the military force of the country at a somewhat lower rate than ordinary passengers, and the fares charged under that Act to the military were lower than the fares charged to ordinary passengers; hut since that time the fares had varied, and therefore, he believed, in some cases at present the prices which they had a right to demand for the conveyance of the military were higher than the charges for ordinary passengers. What was proposed now was, that instead of making the fares for the conveyance of the military a fixed sum, it should be a proportionate sum as compared to that which was charged to other passengers. Then as to the conveyance of the Commissioners of Railways and inspecting officers, he would state the nature of the proposal which he had to submit. It appeared to him that, supposing the railway companies were to be at any extra expense for the conveyance of those persons, they should be at liberty to charge that expense to the public; but where such conveyance did not lay any extra expense upon the companies, it did not seem fair that the public should be subjected to any charge. He believed that a good deal had been said in the way of objection to these now enactments, as if they improperly interfered with the railway companies in the management of their con-corns. Now he would give it as his decided opinion that nothing could be more injurious than that any public board, appointed for the supervision of railways, should take upon itself even the appearance of interfering in the management of railways. He believed that such interference would be injurious to all parties; and, therefore, if it was any satisfaction to the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hudson), he was fully prepared to go with him upon that point, and to state that nothing was further from the intentions of the Government in promoting this Bill than to sanction any interference with the management of the railway companies. There was one exception to what he had said, and that related to the case of what was called terminus railway companies—viz., two or more railways, having one terminus in common, or making use of the same station. It was of great importance in cases of dispute between railways in these circumstances that the Commissioners should have the right to interfere. By the present law it was provided that where two or more railways had a common terminus, and were unable to agree upon points affecting the public safety, it was lawful for the Committee of Council on Trade, on the application of either party, to decide the question so far as the same should relate to the safety of the public. In the Committee that sat on this subject last Session, however, a complaint was made that this was not sufficient. Mr. Hawkshaw, in his examination before that Committee, was asked, in reference to the appointment of Commissioners, "Do you consider that they might act beneficially in cases of disputes?" Mr. Hawkshaw answered, "Yes, in many cases, because one company does not always understand what may be the arrangements of another. There were many links in a chain; one might fail and render the whole worthless; and in such a case the interference of the Board might be most useful." Mr. Glynn also recommended the interference of the Board in such cases of dispute; and he thought, after the evidence of these gentlemen, a case was made out for the intervention of the Board, not however limiting it to the cases only where the public safety was concerned, but extending it to cases which concerned the public convenience. He was not aware that there would be any other interference with the management of railways. With respect even to the proposed interference, he should be disposed even to dispense with that if it could be shown that it could be done with safety to the public. The object of the enactment was not interference, but to carry out that which had been suggested by numerous Committees, namely, that the proper course for a railway board of this kind was not to interfere directly in the management of railways, but by its suggestions be enabled to obtain for the public information on all those points in which the public interests were directly involved: in the first place, that the Commissioners should have power to call for returns, and, in case of necessity, testing those returns by reference to the books of the company. This had been objected to more than almost any other provision of the measure. If it was the opinion of the Legislature that there should be a Board for the supervision of railways, it was of the utmost importance that they should get the fullest information to lay before the public. There had been two objections raised against this. The first was, that these powers might be vexatiously employed. Now, he did not believe that, with the responsibility of the Railway Board to that House of Parliament, a power of annoying any railway company could be exercised. Indeed, he felt that it was too ridiculous to be seriously put forth. Since he had been in office, applications had often been made for returns relative to railways, and he had several times refused to assent to the request, as he knew that they could not he furnished by the railway companies without considerable trouble. He thought, when the House came to consider the subject, it would be satisfied that it was not very likely that it could find any railway board of this kind indulging in the vexatious employment of the powers intrusted to it against any particular railway company. The second objection was, that by the production of the books of the company, private and confidential information as to its affairs might be disclosed. He did not know what was the nature of this private information so obtained, which it would be detrimental to the company to have made public. He had already shown in a previous part of his speech, that such information relative to these companies would be advantageous to the public; and he regretted that the companies should object to such a provision. Indeed he was not aware what matters there were in these great companies which could be properly called matters of private and confidential information. One of the witnesses examined before the Committee of last year was a gentleman connected with the French railways, and he stated that the French companies were obliged to keep their books in duplicate, one set of which was always sent to the Government. He did not propose anything of the kind; but this gentleman connected with the French railways said, that not the slightest inconvenience resulted from the system, and the companies in France saw no objection to it. The question really was, whether it was an improper inquiry in insisting on returns as to the salaries of the officers of the company, and the wages of the engineers and guards. He thought that occasionally it would be found very great utility would result from inquiries of this kind. He had been told that the strongest objections were entertained on the part of some of the companies to disclose the salaries and wages paid to the persons they employed; but he felt most strongly, that in many instances it was of the highest importance for the public interest that such information should be furnished. He would take an instance in illustration: Suppose on a certain railway a great many accidents had occurred, which had produced great excitement and alarm in the public mind, and on this railway it did not appear that there were any exceptions to be taken to the regulations of the company, and that these had been steadily adhered to and obeyed, it might then appear that the fault arose from the circumstance occurring of persons being employed by the company at insufficient salaries, and who were not competent to the proper discharge of the duties required of them. He did not allude to any particular case; but it was obvious such cases might arise on the part of companies anxious to cut down the expense of working their lines. In cases like this, such returns would furnish important information. For this reason, and seeing no other objection to the disclosing the amount of salaries and wages paid, he certainly was not inclined to yield to the proposal not to require such returns. If it could be shown that it would prove injurious to produce such private information, let an Amendment be proposed in Committee on the Bill. Then with respect to the register which was to be kept at certain stations, at the suggestion of the Commissioners, as to the arrivals of the trains, great misapprehension had arisen on this point. He had seen a pamphlet and papers which had gone forth, and which strongly condemned this provision in the Bill, because it would entail great inconvenience on certain companies. There was no ground for the objections raised against the clause in the Bill; but if any one chose to draw up a clause of his own, essentially different from that proposed to be enacted, of course it would be easy enough to start all sorts of objections. It was provided by the Bill that registers should be kept at such stations—and at such stations only—as the Commissioners should direct, and that these registers should be transmitted to the Commissioners either weekly, or as often as they should direct; so that instead of a register being required to be taken at every station, it might not be asked for at more than one in twenty; and instead of being called for weekly by the Commissioners, it might not be asked for more than once in several weeks. This register would give little additional trouble to railway companies. He believed such register-tables were kept at present on some lines; but he wished to secure the right to require some official returns as to the punctuality of trains. He thought this question of punctuality had an important bearing as regarded the safety and manner in which the companies discharged their duties to the public. They had been told that to secure punctuality, the trains would often be run at an inconvenient speed; and, therefore, it would be attended with danger. Now, he believed that the want of punctuality was most injurious, and had been productive of great danger to the passengers, for it would be found in most instances that it arose from a want of an effective working stock on the part of the company. At any rate, by means of this clause the degree of punctuality on any line might be ascertained; and he could not see what inconvenience could arise from it. On the contrary, he believed that the register-table would have a beneficial effect on both the officers and the companies. There was another point which he conceived it would be hardly necessary for him to vindicate, namely, that there should be a table of fares and time placed up in each station. It was only just that a person should see that he was not called upon to pay more than his proper fare. Another minor point was, that the companies should give notice to the Commissioners of any repairs and alterations being made by railways. He thought, as these companies had the monopoly of the highways, and of the conveyance of the country—and of which he did not complain, for, on the whole, it might be advantageous—he thought that it was only just and proper that they should give public notice of any alterations proposed to be made by them in their rates and tolls. It was highly improper that a person should go down to a railway station with sufficient money in his hand to go to a certain distance—and he knew a case of the kind had occurred—and then be told that the rates had been suddenly raised, so that he was prevented going. It was not only desirable that notice should be given to the public of those alterations, but to the Commissioners also, as one of those points which ought to form the substance of their annual report to Parliament, the grounds for furnishing which he had already stated to the House. He hoped he had kept his word, and proved to the House that all the new enactments of the Bill were founded entirely on the principle of obtaining information for Parliament, and on the principle of giving notice to the public on all those points in which the public required it. Upon another point there had been great misrepresentation—he meant the question of penalties. It had been asserted that these were only traps for railway companies at every step. It had also been stated that the penalties could be enforced at the instigation of common informers, and in a manner which must prove most injurious to the interests of the companies. Of course, if certain things were enacted, it was necessary to take steps to see that they were really carried out; and, therefore, penalties must exist so as to enforce the observance of the law. With respect to the penalties proposed under this Bill, there was not once case in which a railway company was liable to a summary conviction before a magistrate for any offence under this Bill; nor was any penalty imposed by this Bill to he levied by information, except in one case, against railway officers; but there was no single instance, from one end of the Bill to the other, in which railway companies were liable to penalties by information; in all cases the penalties were recoverable at the suit of the Crown—and at the suit of the Crown only—by action at law in the superior courts. He was anxious that this part of the Bill should be fully understood, because he had heard that the supposed hardships to which railway companies would be exposed in this respect had been made the ground of resistance to the Bill. He felt bound at this point to state, that ever since he had been in office he had found that, so far from the railway companies wishing to resist the Commissioners in the law, they were most ready and willing to yield to any suggestion made to them, and to give every information: he should, therefore, feel sorry if it were supposed that he wished to subject them to penalties to be enforced at the instigation of common informers. He had now gone through all the grounds on which this Bill rested. He had stated, he believed, fairly the intentions of those who had prepared it; and he now wished shortly to state the intentions of the Government with regard to this measure. In obedience to the expressed instructions of the House last Session, this Bill had been prepared during the recess, and it was brought forward at an early period of the Session; hut in consequence of the pressure of important business which would admit of no delay, and more especially with respect to those measures respecting Ireland, its progress was necessarily postponed until a late period of the Session, when the Government was still anxious to proceed with it. The Government, however, had received notice from parties opposed to the Bill, that they were determined by every means in their power to oppose its progress, and to delay it by every means which the forms of the House admitted of. He thought from this that it was pretty clear, at that period of the Session, that such a Bill could not be carried in a satisfactory manner, unless with very great delay, which would be most inconvenient at that period of the Session. Under these circumstances, the Government thought that they would not act wisely to enter upon any discussion of a measure of this kind, which might end fruitlessly and with no practical result; they had, therefore, come to the conclusion that it would be the best course to adopt to withdraw the Bill for the present Session. It was, however, the intention of the Government, early in the next Session of Parliament, to introduce another Bill, founded on similar principles to the present measure. In conclusion, he was obliged to the House for the attention and kindness with which they had listend to him; and he should beg to move that the Order of the Day for the second reading of this Bill be discharged.


said, he had never in his life known such vacillation on the part of a Government. Was it fair that the House should be thus trifled with by a Government, which was, if possible, worse than the last? They had been brought down to the House, and sat listening for two hours to a speech of the right hon. Gentleman, which had ended in nothing. For shame! Was it fair to hon. Members to be brought down to the House, and thus treated with contempt? When he heard the right hon. Gentleman's concluding declaration, he suspected—and he believed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland (Mr. Hudson) must have had the same impression too, for he was too honourable a man to be intriguing with Government—he might suspect, and he did suspect, that there had been gross underhand business connected with the management, or rather the mismanagement of this Bill, when they saw the Government daring to insult the people of this country in such a manner. He thought the House would agree with him that it was insulting to the country, and trifling with the country, for the right hon. Gentleman to bring hon. Members down to the House to listen to a two hours' speech, and then subject them to this unworthy treatment. Talk of bringing in the Bill next Session: they dared not do it; they would shrink from it. He reserved to himself the right, and he gave notice of his intention, to call the attention of the House, on the first Committee of Supply, and to bring before the public the mass of evidence of gross misconduct connected with these monopolizing schemes. The House must take steps before it was too late to secure the public against the effects of this misconduct. He asserted that the public were not aware of one-twentieth part of what had occurred with regard to railroads. He knew that the gentlemen who conducted the public press did, as was their duty, give publicity to what was going forward; but in spite of their attention, and assiduity, and fidelity, and accuracy, they were not aware of many facts of which he possessed a knowledge. The next Parliament, he expected, would be a railroad Parliament; and the Government would say there was such an opposition to the measure that they feared to be left in a minority, and thereby lose their situations; and they would, as they had done now, truckle to the railway interest, as they often did to parties on their own side. Oh, what a melancholy state of things was this for the country! If that great man, Mr. Pitt—to whose memory he had a few days before, with others, done honour—were in the House, he might truly exclaim, "Oh, save my country!" He hardly believed such conduct had been exhibited by any Government. He did not believe it was the intention of the Government to attempt to introduce this Bill next Session; but if he were returned to the next Parliament he would take up the question of railroads, which he had been prevented from doing now by the pusillanimity of the present Government. He could not sit down without expressing, not his regret, but his satisfaction, at having had an opportunity of witnessing their pusillanimity—so worthy of the Government.


said, a more undignified way of disposing of a measure by a Government he had never seen. He found upon the Paper a notice that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was to move the second reading of the Railways (No. 2) Bill, before the other orders; and he had come down with other Members, expecting that the Government, as they had solemnly declared, were to go on with the Bill; and he found, on a sudden, that the Bill was to be withdrawn. They had thus lost a day, and great part of another day, and had had to listen unnecessarily to a two hours' speech. He thought that something must have happened since the Votes were printed. The House had missed one Railways Bill; there was another, the Railways (Ireland) (No. 2) Bill. He was anxious to know whether the noble Lord would at once give up the Railways (Ireland) Bill? He wished to pay every deference to the noble Lord, as to the mode in which he proposed proceeding with his own measures; but he must at the same time observe, that that was a measure which could not pass without considerable discussion; he, therefore, wished to know whether the noble Lord intended to press it during the present Session?


said, he wished to ex-press his acknowledgments to the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Railway Board for the withdrawal of the Bill under the notice of the House. It appeared to him, that the right hon. Gentleman had acted very wisely in not pressing its adoption. For his part, he should be quite ready to rest his disapproval of the measure on the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman that evening. He should not then enter into the general merits of the question; but he wished to take that opportunity of expressing his belief that, as the managers of railways had, according to the admission of the right hon. Gentleman himself, always shown their readiness to attend to the suggestions of the Commissioners, there could be no necessity for that Bill. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he would bring forward a similar measure next Session; and he could assure the right hon. Gentleman that in that case he should meet with an opposition similar to that he had met in his attempt to pass the Bill then before the House. He denied that the representatives of the railway interest had offered to the Bill a factious opposition. [Mr. STRUTT: I did not say they had.] The representatives of the railway interest were convinced that, after a full discussion, it would he impossible that that Bill could be passed; but they were ready to accede to any proposal which they believed could confer any real benefit on the public. He could assure Her Majesty's Government that nothing could be productive of so much inconvenience as a constant tampering with property, which, at present, amounted to nearly 200,000,000l. Within the last few years the managers of railway companies had reduced their rates and charges fully 40 per cent, without any interference on the part of the Government; and the public wore at present enjoying the advantage of that reduction. He thought that under such circumstances it would be wise and prudent for the Government to leave well alone, and not to attempt any new legislation in a matter in which legislation was not called for. There was no report from any Committee to justify many clauses of that Bill; and he believed that the measure, as a whole, would have been found altogether impracticable. Let it be remembered that railway companies were liable to great competition. During the last Session, Bills for lines which would cost 92,000,000l. had been passed; and of the 92,000,000l. upwards of 67,000,000l. would be expended in the construction of lines independent of the old companies. He was convinced that it would be better to give railway companies a fair trial, and to treat them with generous confidence, than to attempt to interfere with a system which had already been attended with such great success and such great advantage to the public. It should be borne in mind, that the promoters of railways did not derive from them any exorbitant profits. He found that out of 115,000,000l. of railway capital, there were only 16,056,000l. paying an interest of 10 per cent; only 1,250,000l. paying an interest of 9 per cent; only 5,370,000l. paying an interest of 8 per cent; only 14,624,400l. paying an interest of 7 per cent; only 6,573,466l. paying an interest of 5 per cent; so that the whole of the railway capital paying more than 5 per cent was only 43,873,866l. In conclusion, he begged leave again to express his gratification at the withdrawal of the Bill.


said, that, before the noble Lord at the head of the Government proceeded to answer the question of the hon. and learned Member for Bath, he wished to say a few words on the Railways (Ireland) Bill. He believed that if that Bill were postponed, and if the promoters of Irish railways did not obtain the money which had been already voted by that House, and promised by the Government, the greatest possible evil would accrue to Ireland. The managers of railway undertakings in that country had hitherto employed great numbers of labourers on the faith of those assurances of assistance held out to them by the Government; and if that assistance were withheld, the most prejudicial consequences would follow. Under these circumstances, he earnestly hoped that Her Majesty's Government would not consent to postpone the Railways (Ireland) Bill.


said, that with respect to the Railways Bill, he certainly was not disposed to say much, after his right hon. Friend had intimated to the House that it was to be withdrawn. He did not think that the measure would involve a vexatious interference with railway property, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sunderland seemed to imagine that it would; and that certainly was not the object of the measure. The object of it was rather to improve our railway system, without any unnecessary interference with railway property. He had on more than one occasion spoken in that House in favour of the general railway system of this country; and he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that it was better that our railways should be in the hands of private companies, than in the hands of the Government. There were, however, certain rules established with regard to railways, and those rules ought, he thought, to be made as perfect as legislation could make them. After that was done, he hoped there would not be any necessity for any further interference with our railway system. He trusted that by further explanations between the managers of the leading railway companies and the Government, the Bill that might be brought in next year would meet with more general support than the present measure. The Government had understood that the principle of the Bill was likely to be discussed at very great length on the second reading; and that afterwards in the Committee the 110 clauses of which it consisted would be the subject of frequent amendments and protracted discussion. Under these circumstances, it appeared to him that the better course was, that they should postpone the Bill till another Session. But his right hon. Friend felt very naturally that as the Bill had been the subject of very exaggerated misstatements in many pamphlets and other writings circulated among the public, and calculated to alarm railway shareholders, it was right that he should enter into an explanation that might tend to dispel unfounded misapprehensions. He was ready to admit that the Government had come to their determination upon the subject rather late, and with some inconvenience to themselves, because they were unable, in consequence of not having given the necessary notice, to proceed with any other business that evening. He believed that although the hon. and learned Member for Bath had found some fault with the course pursued by the Government in that matter, it was not an unusual course to bring measures before the House, to allow them to be debated, and then, on finding the state of opinion in the House and the country, to withdraw at a certain period of the Session such of these measures as might lead to very protracted discussion. There was one circumstance on which no Government could calculate, and that was, the length to which certain debates might be prolonged. There had been of late two or three questions before the House, each of which, although he had thought it would occupy but one night, had, in reality, occupied three or four nights, and had interfered with the progress of other business. The hon. and learned Member for Bath had asked him what the Government meant to do with the Railways (Ireland) Bill. His right hon. Friend had already stated, in the early part of the evening, that the Government proposed to proceed with that Bill on Monday next. They should take it on that day; and he should observe, that the Bill was one on the general principles of which the House had already pronounced a decision. His opinion with regard to that Bill was entirely different from the opinion of the hon. and learned Member for Bath. His opinion shortly was, that having had during the present year to contend with the very great and sudden calamity of a failure of the principal food of the people of Ireland, what was most urgent and most necessary was, that some immediate remedy should be applied to that calamitous state of things; and that the utmost that could have been expected of the Legislature and of the Government was, that they should have applied a temporary remedy to that very great evil. They had done that with more success than he could have expected, although they had done it at the cost of a vast expenditure of the public money. He was happy to find that deaths from starvation, of which they had some time since heard so much, had of late been very few in Ireland, and that great quantities of food had been imported into that country, and had reduced prices there much below prices on the Continent. But after they had applied a temporary remedy to the temporary evil, there remained for them a still more serious and a more difficult task to perform. It was that of endeavouring, by various measures, which, on the one hand, must not be so extensive as to be impracticable, and, on the other hand, must not be so trifling as to be inefficient, to lay the foundation of a better state of things in Ireland, and to ensure to the people henceforward a subsistence of which a small portion only could consist of the potato. He believed that encouragement from time to time to public works in Ireland would be most useful for the attainment of that object; and he knew no more useful public works that those railways which had been recommended by the Commissioners appointed ten years ago. That was the general view which he took of the subject. The Government were prepared to press forward this Session the Railways Bill. It remained to be seen whether or not the hon. and learned Member for Bath, who spoke with some asperity on the subject, would press his opposition to the measure.


wished only to warn people that they were not to take for gospel all that had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Railway Board as to the harmlessness of the Bill which they were to have discussed. He thought that it was an interference with the interests of railway companies which was quite unwarrantable, and not to be endured; and when the noble Lord the Prime Minister said that it was not unusual for a Government to withdraw a Bill after debate, he begged to remind the House, that the only debate which they had heard was the two hours' speech of the right hon. Gentleman. He, however, rejoiced to hear that that speech had convinced the noble Lord, as it had convinced the hon. Member for Sunderland, that the Bill ought to be abandoned. As to the Irish Railways Bill, it should have his cordial support. His only displeasure with it was, that it did not go far enough—that it did not include all the other railways which were in a condition to offer good security; and when the Bill was brought forward he should draw the attention of the House to the claims of the Midland and Great Western Railway of Ireland, which sought a share in the Government loan, and was in a condition to offer security for interest amounting to 15,000l. a year, which by the end of the month would be increased to 52,000l. By this time the noble Lord must have discovered that a much more advantageous way of employing the people would have been that which he had recommended at an early period of the Session; for it had been admitted that before the year was out nearly ten millions would have been spent in feeding the people of Ireland, without the smallest expectation of permanent benefit; and although, when his measure was under discussion, it had been denied that its effects would be to give employment to Irish labourers, the report of Mr. Walker had now set that question at rest; and now it could not be denied by any Member of Her Majesty's Government, or any other hon. Gentleman, with any show of reason, that the railways of Ireland, if they had been constructed, would have been constructed almost exclusively by Irish labourers; and that the sum which he had proposed should be expended upon those works would have employed at least the number of persons which he had named; and he thought that that sum of money so expended would have saved the country a large portion of the ten millions admitted by the Government to have been unprofitably expended. With respect to the other Orders of the Day, he had no objection to make to any except the Bill for the suspension of the Navigation Laws, as to which he might defy the noble Lord to show any good that had accrued there from to this country, so far as the importation of corn was concerned. To the third reading of the Bill for the suspension of the Corn Law, he could not consistently have any objection, because under the sliding-scale, which he had so often defended, all manner of grain would have been admitted at a nominal duty for many months back; therefore, consistently with his adhesion to the sliding-scale, he could not resist the suspension of the present Corn Law.


wished to observe, in no unfriendly spirit, that it was absolutely necessary there should be an harmonious co-operation between the Government and the managers of these great railway undertakings. Last Session a Bill was introduced by the Government respecting railways; but, being opposed by the directors of railways, it was withdrawn. This Bill had been, under similar circumstances, withdrawn. Now, he understood the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Strutt) to say, that in the next Session the same Bill would be brought forward again. Would it be persevered in? There ought to be principle observed in railway legislation. If there were great abuses in the railway management, which could not be remedied without the interposition of Government and of le- gislation, then that legislation ought to be prosecuted effectually. But where the authority of the directors alone was sufficient, then the inevitable result of legislation must be to disturb that harmonious cooperation which hitherto existed, and which ought to exist, between the railway companies and the Government. By attempting to force an authority which was not necessary, the public confidence would be shaken in the superintending power of the Government; and that control which they wished to exercise, and which, within certain limits, might be salutarily exercised over the railways of this country, they would fail to obtain. If it were necessary to legislate, they should do so with energy and effect; but, if possible, they should carry on their legislation with the co-operation of these great interests; and, above all, there should be few measures introduced by the Government resisted by the companies, and then withdrawn.

Order of the Day discharged.

Railways Bill withdrawn.