HC Deb 28 July 1851 vol 118 cc1627-35

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


said, he objected to this clause, which repealed the 11th section of the 7th &c 8th of Victoria, c. 85. The effect of the Bill was to allow any post-office officer to stop at any place upon a railway, and drop or take up bags, on consideration that he should pay the same sum that any other passenger did; but there was this difference in the case's, that no passenger was allowed to put down or take up luggage at any station except the one he himself stopped at without additional payment. The Railway Companies complained that new charges were put down in the Bill, that, in short, greater services were required than before. He considered that the Post Office ought not to be allowed to fix its own terms, but that the rate of remuneration shall be left to arbitration. He objected, therefore, to this clause.


said, he could not admit that the demand of the Government was at all unreasonable. The Bill, in truth, would not make any substantial difference to the different Railway Companies. Its only object was to define more clearly a Clause in the 7th and 8th Victoria, which this Bill proposed to repeal. The sole point at issue was, whether the messenger of the Post Office should have a right to come on the platform to deliver and take away his mail bags. No dispute in that point had occurred in England, and, therefore, to the English Railway Companies the Bill would not make the smallest difference; but in Ireland and Scotland the question had arisen. In Ire- land, Lord Chief Justice Blackburne had decided, with very great hesitation, in favour of the Railway Companies; but he had recommended, in the present doubtful state of the law, that it should be amended. In Scotland, on the other hand, it had been decided in favour of the Post Office. The object of the Bill, then, was simply to remove the existing doubts, and to reconcile these varying decisions.


thought the law should remain as it was till the dispute was fairly settled. No question had arisen upon the point in England.


said, the Railway Companies objected to the Bill, because it was unjust for the Government to exact the maximum of service for the minimum of remuneration. There was a very general complaint in the north of Scotland respecting the delay of the mails.


said, that it was clear that this Bill imposed an obligation on Railways to which they were not liable at present; and as the Bill had been brought in at a very late period of the Session, he thought it ought not to be persevered with.


said, that all that the Government proposed to do was, when they found a train going, to send a servant of the Post Office with a bag of letters, and that was all. They did not propose to alter the times of starting, or the places for stopping, and they would put the railways to no expense whatever. They would pay for the man who went with the bags, and this arrangement would enable the Post Office to afford accommodation to many small towns in England, which must be withheld if it could not be given at this cheap rate. He was well aware that there had been conflicting decisions on the subject in Ireland and Scotland; and he thought that instead of censure, the Government deserved praise for an attempt to place the law on an intelligible and uniform footing.


admitted that letters were sent by the ordinary trains of the Great Northern Railway from Leeds to Peterborough; but they were sent as a parcel, and without a guard. The effect of the proposal made by the Government was, that the guard should get out at every station where the train halted, delivering one bag of letters, and taking in another. This would occasion great inconvenience to the passengers.


opposed the Clause. The Railways throughout the kingdom only paid, on the average, 2 per cent to the proprietary, and the public had no right to a cheaper rate of conveyance for letters than a fair arbitration would give them.


said, he should certainly support the Amendment of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. B. Denison). The Railway Companies based their position on the Bill of 1844, and all they asked for was a fair remuneration under that Act, and to that they were justly and reasonably entitled.


said, they had the Irish and the Scotch Courts of Law coining to conclusions on this point precisely at variance. It was, therefore, highly necessary that the law should be made more intelligible. He denied that the Bill had anything like confiscation for its object. The Government were obliged to come to that House and ask for an interpretation of the law, which would be equally just towards the public and the Railway Companies. Finding that the law was obscure, the Government could not do less than ask that House to confirm the decision which had been given by the Courts of Law in Scotland, which, in the opinion of the Government, and of the Law Officers of the Crown, had put the right construction upon the Act of Parliament.


said, if it appeared, on investigation, that the intention of the law was conceived in a spirit of unfairness, either towards the Railway Companies or the public, he did not see why that House should not set the matter right. Under the provisions of the Bill, considerable delay would take place by the trains stopping at all the small stations for the purposes of the Post Office. That would be a great inconvenience to the Railway Companies, for which, in fairness, they were entitled to compensation; and he thought the person to determine that compensation was an arbitrator, and not the authorities at the Post Office.


was under the necessity of maintaining the right of the Legislature, within reasonable bounds, to control the proceedings of the Railway Companies where the interest of the public was concerned. The railways were the creatures of the Legislature, to an extent which authorised this claim; and there was no want of parallel cases, where the Legislature assumed and exercised a sim- ilar power. The instance which first occurred to him, was that of quartering troops upon the keepers of houses of entertainment. He should not have been so earnest on this subject, if it had not been within his knowledge, that in the part of the country with which he was connected, the interests of the public in the conveyance of their letters were set at defiance by the unreasonable use made of their present powers by the Railway Companies.


said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) had stated that his object was to give a clear construction to the Act of 1844. If the Government had been charged with an attempt to aggress on the Railways on this occasion, it was partly owing to the form of the Bill which they had introduced. There could be no doubt as the right of the Legislature to interfere with railways, but in the exercise of that right Parliament was generally governed by the wishes of the Railway Proprietors themselves. If this Bill were intended as a new enactment, he should say it was founded on a principle which was not tenable, the only ground on which it would be justified was its being only a construction of the existing law. He did not think the Bill could be sustain-as a Declaratory Act, because the Bill of 1844 (which he himself introduced) simply authorised the carrying of mail-bags as luggage, and enacted that the servants of the Post Office should be charged for as passengers. The question of the convenience or the inconvenience of the Railway Companies at stations, never entered into the views of the Government in their communications with the Companies on this subject. The Government had not in their view the question of transactions at stations. It was clear that no passenger had a right to deal with his luggage as he liked on a journey, or to get in and out at the intermediate stations. He was ready to admit that a guard with his letter bags was a very troublesome kind of passenger, so much so that few people would be found that would like to travel in the same carriage with him; and he thought this was a case in which the Railway Companies had a fair claim to compensation.


said, he must protest against the case alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer being drawn into a precedent; he was himself chiefly instrumental in that arrangement being carried out, and it was simply this, the conveyance by the Great Northern Railway of a bag daily from Leeds and Wakefield to Peterborough, and for this service a certain remuneration was to be given; but had it been required, as in this Bill, that a guard with the letter bags should accompany each train, with liberty to leave and take up bags at every station where the train stopped, then, of course, a larger remuneration would have been required; and he (Mr. Sandars) could see no better way of deciding what that should be than as at present existed, namely, leaving it to be settled by arbitration. He considered the object of the proposed clause unjust toward Railway Companies, and it should have his decided opposition.


said, the Committee seemed to have lost sight of the principle on which these railways were founded. They were all founded on Acts of Parliament, which were based on the principle that private rights were to be over-ridden in consideration of the railways being for public purposes. He thought, then, that in principle railways should be required to perform this service. It was admitted that as the law now stood, they were liable to perform this duty, and it was said they were willing to perform it; but then it was said, "give us a fair remuneration." It was said the amount of compensation required would be but small, but on that subject he must confess he had his doubts. The main question seemed to be, not whether the guard was to go as a passenger, not whether he might not get out and amuse himself on the platform, but whether the guard was to pay for every bag that he took up as a fresh parcel. Now he thought it was very arbitrary that every passenger should be made to pay for every parcel he took in without exceeding the weight that was allowed him. Really he did not see why the public should be compelled to conform to that regulation, provided, as was provided by this Bill, that the railway should not be put to additional expense by carrying additional weight. This Bill did not impose any obligation with regard to stoppages or delay, or with regard to additional weight. It simply provided that they should perform a public service for a certain remuneration.


thought the argument that the Railway Companies were put to no more expense unsound and dangerous. The great outlay of capital for a railway was required in the first instance, and then the remuneration for that outlay was ob- tained from the traffic, in which was aggregated a vast number of minute accounts. When the express train was very full, the actual cost of taking a passenger from London to Birmingham might not be more than 1s.; but did the noble Lord suppose that all the rest of the fare was profit? Why were they to take a guard in any other way than as a passenger? and no passenger was allowed to get out and take in new parcels, arbitrary as the restriction appeared to be in the eyes of the noble Lord. It was absurd to suppose it was intended that passengers having 100 lbs. of luggage were to be permitted to get out at each station and change their 100 lbs. of luggage-for another 100 lbs. of luggage. Had these conditions been attempted to be imposed by Government before railways were made, no one would have ventured their capital in them, and the public would have been without the benefit of railways. The fact was, Government were determined to get the maximum of advantages and facilities from railways, for the minimum of remuneration. This clause, if carried, would be most injurious to the Railway Companies.


would ask what had been the object of introducing into the Bill of 1844 the clause referred to? Clearly, to give some advantage or other to the Post Office guards. But if it was only to enable those officers to take parcels not exceeding a certain weight from London to Edinburgh, they had that right already in common with other passengers, and the clause was wholly superfluous.


said, the impression at the time the Clause was introduced was, that a guard had not the power of carrying the Post Office bags as common luggage. The concession was made by Railway Companies, but it never was anticipated that letters were to be carried as luggage in the way contemplated by the clause. As for the decision of the Scotch law courts, he was surprised how a Judge could come to such a decision.


said, if this Clause were carried, it would have a very serious effect on railway property. There was no knowing where Post Office exactions would stop if this Clause were carried.


said, Railway Companies did not object to do what was asked of them, but they required to be paid for the service.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 53; Noes 56: Majority 3.

House resumed.