HC Deb 12 March 1852 vol 119 cc961-7

Order for Second Reading read; Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he rose to oppose the Motion. He did so because he believed the extraordinary powers sought by the company were such as ought not to be granted, and because they were perfectly unprecedented. It was matter for observation that the hon. Gentleman who had the charge of the Bill did not venture to say one word in its favour, although it had been intimated to him that it would be opposed. The principal allegation put forth in support of the Bill was, that the "Old Electric Telegraph Company" possessed a monopoly, and that it was desirable to destroy that monopoly; but he would venture to state that no company had ever encountered greater competition than that company had done for the last two years, and he could also state that no public company had ever given greater satisfaction. It should be remembered that the British Electric Telegraph Company was already in operation and had been competing with the old company, and they were now asking Parliament to assist them in that competition by conferring on them powers which no other company ever possessed. They asked to be invested with powers of entering compulsorily upon any railway or canal in the United Kingdom, in order to lay down telegraphs and apparatus for their own private benefit; and to remove, either permanently or temporarily, as their occasion or convenience might require in respect of their works, all obstructions or impediments which existed, or might exist, in railways or canals, or the lands and premises adjoining, and belonging thereto. This was asking for powers over railways such as no other Electric Telegraph Company enjoyed. He I would not dwell upon the danger to which the public might be exposed in consequence of such an extraordinary interference being allowed with the railways; but he begged to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to a new principle which was at tempted to be laid down by this Bill. Heretofore it had always been understood, that when one man or one company invaded the premises of another—as in the case of a railway company running a railway through a gentleman's demesne, it was on terms of mutuality that such a proceeding was permitted—the gentleman whoso premises were invaded being known to be entitled to an equitable compensation; but in the present instance there was no such reciprocity. The premises of the; railway company were to be at any moment liable to invasion by the British Electric Telegraph Company, whenever they wanted to lay down their pipes, tubes, and: wires; but no reciprocal advantage was insured to the railway company. If the principle of this Bill were now to receive the sanction of the House, they should eventually have to extend the same principle to Bills for the regulation, not of electric telegraphs only, but also of gas works and water works. What he desired was, that the House would not give to the British Electric Telegraph Company advantages which other companies did not possess. He begged to move that the; Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Motion.

Amendment proposed, "To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"


said, he was not astonished that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. L. Ricardo) should object to the Bill, which was opposed to the interests of his own; company; but he was astonished that he I should object to allowing their proposal to go before a Committee of the House. The objections which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. L. Ricardo) had urged were rather those which ought to be adduced before a Select Committee. The real ground of objection to the Bill was, that it interfered with a monopoly. The hon. Gentleman says that the company he has been connected with has been working satisfactorily for two years, and that he does not object to fair competition; well, then, if that be so, let him prove his case in a Committee, and if the powers asked for are so extraordinary that they ought not to be granted, a Committee would curb and restrain them, refusing all that would be injurious to the safe working of railways. It had been said that great pecuniary loss might arise to the public by the House sanctioning these projects; but was it likely that a commercial trading company would incur a great risk, and a heavy expense, by attempting to lay down a line of telegraphic communication on a railway where the demand for its employment would be so little as to preclude the least prospect of a profitable return? While he considered the objections of the hon. Gentleman to the Bill to be wholly unfounded, he begged to remind the House that there existed out of doors a very strong desire to have the Bill at least submitted to a Select Committee, where its merits might be determined on. He hoped the House would adopt the course usually taken, and allow the Bill to be read a second time, that it might be sent to a Committee upstairs.


said, the House seemed to assume that the opponents of the Bill were desirous of retaining a monopoly; now this was not the case; the British Electric Telegraph Company had already got their Bill, they were already established, and the present Bill was only one to amend the former; it, however, sought such arbitrary and enormous powers, that he considered it his duty to oppose it. The principle of this Bill went further than that of any other similar measure. They desire compulsory powers to construct their particular machinery upon any railway they please. Unless, therefore, it was to be understood that all other telegraph companies were to have like powers, he should certainly oppose the Motion for reading the Bill a second time.


would not go into the merits of this Bill, because that was a subject for the Committee. But he would say that there was a strong desire in the great towns of the north of England for some improvement in the present system of conveying intelligence. The merchants and manufacturers complained that the intelligence transmitted by electric agency was very unsatisfactorily performed. He thought that not only the old company, but this company, should receive powers to enable them to do all that they professed. He could assure the House that in the great northern towns there was a most earnest desire that this Bill should go into a Committee. The Bill involved the convenience and interests of all who were engaged in the commercial transactions of the country.


said, that he possessed a list of some of the most respectable manufacturers, merchants, and traders in the country, who were anxious that the Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, as it had an important bearing upon the best interests of the country.


said, he had not the slightest personal interest to serve in the matter; but he had listened with great alarm to the objections made against the Bill, lest the House, in ignorance of its object, should be induced to throw it out. The promoters of the Bill, besides their own private interests, which were always implied in commercial speculations, sought to confer an immense advantage on the public by asking to be allowed to avail themselves of the facilities which the railways afforded for establishing telegraph lines, by which a general communication might be carried out through all parts of the kingdom. Surely that could not be an objectionable principle. It was said that they sought for compulsory powers; of course they did. Unless they possessed such powers, they would be, as hitherto they had been, entirely at the mercy of the railway body, who, in a majority of cases, had refused to allow the establishing of telegraphic communication on their lines. It was said, again, that the powers now asked were such as would interfere with the private rights of railway companies. Surely that was an objection which came with a very bad grace from the directors of railways, whose very existence depended on the powers they possessed of interfering with private property. But all that he would at present urge was, that the Bill was one of too important a character to justify its being rejected on the second reading.


said, that there already existed telegraphic communications on the principal lines of railway, and he had yet to learn that the employment of a double amount of capital for effecting one and the same object was the readiest means of bringing about a reduction of charges to the public. Was it not well known whenever two companies obtained similar rights over the same district of country, that instead of encountering each other on the competitive principle, they in a short time combined for their mutual protection and advantage? It was, therefore, a mistaken idea that a reduction of charge would be effected by introducing two electric telegraphic companies in the same line of district, instead of one. But he claimed of the House some little consideration on the part of the railway companies. This Bill would introduce a principle hitherto deemed wholly objectionable. It was proposed to confer on the British Electric Telegraph Company a forcible and compulsory power of entering on the property of railway companies for the purpose of carrying out their own objects. Should such a principle be introduced, it would henceforth he impossible for the directors of railways to be responsible for the proper management of the lines under their control, or to undertake to be answerable for the public safety. The principle of public safety was paramount to any other considerations that had yet been urged on the attention of the House, and he hoped it would be of sufficient weight to induce the House to support the Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


said, he understood the object of the Bill to be to do away with a monopoly. His hon. Friend (Mr. J. L. Ricardo) who moved the Amendment had said that the Bill was based upon a novel principle. He (Mr. Roebuck) admitted it. But the whole thing was itself a novelty. Railways were novelties. Railway companies, represented by his hon. Friend (Mr. Glyn), were creatures of the law. The Legislature had made them, and had given them special powers for certain public purposes. It was not dealing with them as private individuals, or with their property as private property. What was asked by this Bill was, to do away with a monopoly. The first telegraph company, having been incoporated by Act of Parliament, had made certain agreements with the railway companies. Now, if by virtue of those agreements a power was possessed, either by the railway companies, or by the Telegraph Company, at any point of a railway between Lon- don and its terminus, to prevent any other person or company from entering upon it, the consequence might be that all communications from that point to other parts of the country might be entirely cut off. He would state, in the hearing of his hon. Friend (Mr. Glyn), that a railway company had entered into an agreement with the old Electric Telegraph Company, one of the terms of which was that the railway company should not allow any other person to go on their line for the purpose of making telegraphic communications. The consequence was that London was cut off from a large portion of the country by means of that agreement.


I only have to say that the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield has entirely misconceived me, if he understands me as having said that the London and North-Western Railway Company, and the Electric Telegraph Company, of which I am chairman, have ever entered into any understanding to cut off the telegraphic communication between London and any other place. I never said so.


had never said that the hon. Gentleman had made any such statement. He said that such things might occur; and he was disposed to find fault with the hon. Member rather for concelaing than divulging them. He (Mr. Roebuck) would be quite prepared, supposing this Bill should pass, to give his hon. Friend (Mr. J. L. Ricardo) exactly the same powers for the company of which he was chairman, as the Bill would confer on the British Electric Telegraph Company; but he certainly was not prepared to take the extraordinary step of preventing the second reading of a Private Bill upon such grounds as had now been urged. If the powers sought were considered improper to be given, a Select Committee was the best tribunal to determine that point. By rejecting the Bill on the second reading, they would at the same time perpetuate a monopoly and inflict injustice; but by referring the Bill to a Select Committee, they would act with safety towards the promoters of the measure, while the rights of the public would be protected. It was a well-known fact that the telegraphs in England were not employed to one-tenth the extent they might be; and why? Because they existed under a system of monopoly. He wished to see this country possess the same advantages from electric telegraphs as were enjoyed by their brethren in the United States of America. The everyday transactions of life were there communicated from the northern to the southernmost point of that vast continent. That was a benefit which the people of England did not enjoy. By allowing the Bill to be read a second time they would do no injury to any human being, nor would they infringe upon any private property whatever, for, as he had already said, railways were not private property, but they would be giving the people of this country the chance of enjoying the benefits of the greatest discovery of modern times.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 210; Noes 60: Majority 150.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°.

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