HC Deb 06 April 1854 vol 132 cc585-605

, in rising to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of traffic on railways and canals, said, it will be in the recollection of the House that at the close of the year 1852, very extensive proposals were made for the amalgamation of the greater railway companies; and at the opening of the present Parliament that subject was brought under the notice of the Administration. The right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) who at that time filled the office responsible for that department of the Government, moved that the whole subject of amalgamation generally, and the principles upon which railway legislation should be conducted, should be referred to a Select Committee of this House. That question was an extremely important, and, at the same time, an extremely difficult question. When you reflect upon the mode in which railway companies have grown up to their present magnitude—that they grew up under a state of law which contemplated open roads, and the possession by every individual of his own mode of travelling along these roads—that they have grown up within a period of a quarter of a century, and may be said to have grown up at haphazard rather than upon any general system of well-devised legislation—I think no one will be surprised that the subject of railways was one of very great difficulty. Familiar as the House is with the subject of railways, I think it will, nevertheless, require from me some of the statistical information which will serve to show what is the magnitude of the subject. There have been 232 railway companies incorporated, the number of miles of railway projected by these companies is no less than 12,688 miles, and the length of railways open at the date of the last return was 7,686 miles. The total number of passengers carried in the year amounted to 95,000,000; the total number of persons employed in the transit of these passengers was not less than about 80,000. What amount of capital does this represent? The total amount of capital which has been authorised by Parliament amounts to no less than 356,000,000l., of which amount there has been actually raised 264,000,000l. In the last year for which I have a return the total amount received for traffic, which was divided in nearly equal proportions between passenger and goods traffic, amounted to 16,700,000l. Such, Sir, was the magnitude, such was the intricacy and difficulty of the subject with which we had to deal.

It would not be justifiable in me to occupy the time of the House by dwelling upon the benefits which have been conferred upon British commerce and upon society in this kingdom through all its ramifications by this great invention of modern genius. Those who remember, as many now living do, the time when a journey from Aberdeen to London usually occupied the whole week, and now see the same journey performed in a single day, need no expressions of opinion from me to convince them of the great benefits which have been derived from these undertakings. And as they are the offspring of great genius, so have they been conducted by men of great ability. I think it would be most unjust to prefer a Bill of indictment against the conductors of railways, or to ask this House to legislate on the ground that the lines were not in the hands of men of great ability and most competent to the duties they have to discharge. But, Sir, it must be equally manifest that these great interests under separate management do require the attention of this House, and I always thought that the step which was taken by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) in appointing that Committee was a just and proper step. Before the Committee met to enter upon the principal part of its duties, I became responsible to this House for the conduct of the department which had been under the direction of the right hon. Gentleman, and his very natural wish was, that I should take the Chair of the Committee which had been appointed. Sir, that Committee included in its Members no less than five persons who had filled the office of President of the Board of Trade, or Chief Commissioner of Railways, and had thus had an opportunity of acquiring experience upon this subject. It also included many eminent Members of this House, and if it did not include any Members who particularly represented the railway interest, that circumstance arose from a feeling on their part that it would be better for them to appear as witnesses before the Committee, and that the final decision of the Committee should not be prejudiced in the opinion of Parliament or of the country by any possibility of its being alleged that their interest had operated upon the decision. By the desire of the Committee I communicated with those chairmen of railway companies who are Members of this House. When the Committee met we found that we had questions of amalgamation to deal with of great magnitude and importance. The Report of the Committee stated:— That the Bills promoted in the present Session by one company (the London and North Western) have been stated to your Committee to involve the union, tinder one control, of a raised capital of 60,000,000l.—between one-fourth and one-fifth of the railway property of the kingdom—an annual revenue exceeding 4,000,000l., and an extent of railway communication of upwards of 1,200 miles, or more than one-sixth of the railways in the United Kingdom, forming, from the importance of the towns with which it is connected, a key to the principal communications of the country. In Scotland it was proposed to associate the railways between Edinburgh and Glasgow. In Ireland it was proposed— To unite the Grand Canal of Ireland with the Midland Great Western Railway, the proprietors of which, being already in possession of the Royal Canal, would have thus obtained the entire control of the communications, both by canal and railway, from the east coast of Ireland across to the navigable waters of the Shannon on the west. Such was the magnitude and the difficulty of the investigations upon which we entered. I think I may fairly say, on the part of the Committee, that they addressed themselves to that inquiry with the determination to do all in their power to bring it to a just and satisfactory conclusion. When we came to the Report there was great unanimity of opinion in the Committee. With regard to one point, namely, to what extent there should be direct executive administrative interference, there was some difference of opinion in the Committee, as those who turn to the Report will find; but when that had been disposed of, we agreed to an unanimous Report, setting out the objects which we thought ought to be borne in mind by Parliament in its future legislation upon the subject of railways. The principal objects were set forth in Resolutions appended to the Report. These Resolutions recommended that there should be a greater uniformity in the system of Parliamentary proceedings in respect of railways; and that, if possible, we should even now devise, foresee, and act upon some steady and consistent course, involving, as this subject does, not only the convenience and advantage of the public, but also all the capital the parti- culars of which I have stated to you. Upon the subject of amalgamation we came to the conclusion, seeing to how great an extent amalgamation had already been carried, that while that degree of combination of interest between companies which might enable them by mutual arrangements and other workings to subserve the public convenience ought to be permitted and encouraged, yet that the more complete fusion of different capitals in one hand ought for the present not to be sanctioned by Parliament. I need not, perhaps, at the present moment go into detail as to the reasons which influenced us in coming to that conclusion, because I dare say the Report and evidence have long been in the hands of hon. Members of this House. But our unanimous conclusion was, that amalgamations or fusions of capital ought not at present to be sanctioned; but that that combination of interest which is known under the name of a working arrangement ought to be sanctioned and encouraged, under such limitations and restrictions as might prevent its being used for any purpose hostile to the public. Another object which we had in view was, to provide a ready means for the arbitration of disputes arising between railway companies, who might not have a power of legally binding their companies by arbitration—a voluntary power resting with themselves. I am now speaking for the purpose of doing away with those cases of difference which, when they exist, are not only injurious to the shareholders of the railway, but are in their consequences also vexatious and injurious to the public. Another matter which we had in view was this:—It is well known to the House that when railways were originally made, the theory of the law was, and I think any one who reads the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act will say that the theory of the law now is, that a railway is open to any person who chooses to travel upon it with his engine and carriages, paying the toll which Parliament has sanctioned to be taken. But, Sir, in practice that power cannot usually be made use of; and Parliament has repeatedly sanctioned the opinion that, looking to the hazard and to the risk to public safety, of having on the same railway different classes of persons responsible for the locomotive power, it is undesirable that that power should continue to exist. Therefore it was that we came to the conclusion to discontinue in future those clauses, commonly called "running clauses," which gave to one railway company the use of the water-tanks and stations, and the other means which were necessary in order that they might avail themselves of their common-law right of using the railroad as a common highway, upon payment of tolls.

There was, Sir, another important step which, upon the recommendation of this Committee, Parliament was pleased to take in the course of last Session—that was to enact certain Standing Orders for the purpose of preventing lines being brought forward by persons who had no bonâ fide intention of either completing the lines or rendering them serviceable as new railway communications, but whose object was either, having obtained the Bill, to sell it to some company to whom it might be dangerous or formidable, or to serve some other selfish purpose and advantage, and not to promote the general good of the community. By these arrangements we thought that we had taken considerable steps for the security of property invested in railways. Other securities were, indeed, suggested; but when we came to examine what would be the difficulties of maintaining any pledge, if we advised Parliament to give it, and what objections there were to pledges, we were not enabled to arrive at any conclusions more decidedly beneficial to the safety of railway property than those I have already alluded to. But having done so much in the interest of the railway companies the House will naturally ask, "What did it occur to us to do for the general protection and for the benefit of the public?" The House will naturally say, "If you think that the common-law right of running over a highway on payment of toll ought not to be conceded, because practically, from the construction of railways, it is not possible to use it except with danger, did it not occur to you also that you ought to provide other remedies?" It certainly did. The Committee unanimously agreed to the following Resolution:— That every railway company should be compelled to afford to the public, in respect both of goods and of passengers, the full advantage of convenient interchange from one system to another; to afford to every class of traffic, including postal communication, just facilities; and to observe all statutory provisions, especially those requiring equal charges under the same circumstances; and that where complaint arises that any company has violated any of these obligations, provision should be made for the hearing and decision of such complaint in open court, with power to make use of the interference of the Railway Department, for the purpose of ascer- taining by what specific and detailed arrangements such complaints may be effectually redressed. At the close of last Session the subject was brought under the notice of the House by my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Committee on Standing Orders, who suggested the appointment of a Committee of such a nature that the several sub-Committees to whom groups of railways were referred might have constant intercourse with it, and with each other, so as to secure greater uniformity in the decisions of Parliament. That Committee met at the beginning of this Session, and proceeded to agree to certain general resolutions, which were, however, not considered by them as inflexibly binding on the sub-Committees. These resolutions referred to the working arrangements, the running clauses, and the forwarding clauses. Let the House consider the nature of the difficulty with which they had to deal.

If you look at the map of this country, you see it covered with railways, and your first impression is that there is a most easy and most uninterrupted transit from one extremity to the other. Examine more closely, and you will find that this is not a uniform system of railways, all under one management, and that in consequence it is divided into kingdoms, has its diplomacies and its alliances offensive and defensive, and is altogether a far more complicated affair than at first sight it appears. We had to find some mode by which the public interest could be guarded, and the interests of the shareholders not unduly interfered with; and we had to take a great deal of evidence on this subject of interchange of traffic. The Chairman of the North British Railway Company, formerly a Member of this House, came before us, and his statement was, that if you took your place at Aberdeen for London, having apparently the choice of two roads, you were, in fact, confined to one. You have not got out of Scotland before you have got to the junction of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway; of course you suppose that the company would be happy to have you for a customer. But the passenger would be surprised to be told what the Committee were told by the Chairman of the North British Railway:— Though we are a continuous line with the Glasgow line, we have no interchange of booking, and no interchange of carriages; and, though the companies to the north would be willing to book through, and send their carriages through, from Perth and those districts, by the east coast line to York, Newcastle, and London, they have no means of doing so, as they must run for about twenty miles on the Glasgow line, and the Glasgow Company will not consent to their booking through. The oppression, then, is this—that the possession of twenty miles of a continuous line of railway, extending in the whole from Aberdeen to London, enables the company to divert it to the western line to the prejudice of the eastern line?—It does.' Then take the case of Newcastle-on-Tyne. Upon testimony than which there is none higher—on the testimony of Mr. Stephenson, I shall tell you the effect on the commerce of Newcastle of this same state of affairs. The alkali manufacturers at Newcastle require salt from Cheshire, but they are not permitted to receive it direct by railway. The salt raised from the mine in Cheshire is carried round to Hull, and thence by shipment to Newcastle, because it serves the interest of an intermediate company to divert the traffic. Mr. Stephenson said that if it went to Newcastle by railway throughout it would go over only twenty-four miles of the line of an intermediate company, but by diverting it to Hull this company got a mileage of sixty miles. And so the trade of Newcastle has to pay for the cost of the shipment of the salt from Hull, in order to serve the interest of this railway company. So of the cotton from Manchester, wanted in Newcastle. It also, for the benefit of this railway, has to take this long route. That, Sir, is a state of things that, be the difficulty of remedying it ever so great, I confidently submit to you Parliament will not allow to continue. Let us travel as far as Leeds. My hon. Friend who sits opposite, the Chairman of the Great Northern Railway, said the town of Leeds had two communications by rail to the south, and one to the north; but let him time his trains as he liked, he could not fix them for such an hour that they would enable him to carry passengers to the south who had just arrived from the north. The hon. Gentleman further said:— Parties having railways north of the town of Leeds bring their trains into the town of Leeds, so as not to suit other trains going out. The public complain; Members of Parliament and others have complained to me over and over again, saying, 'I see a train going out of Leeds just two minutes before I get in.' There is no power to control the parties to whom either railway belongs, or to compel them to make such arrangements as will accommodate the public. Now, one of the effects of a board would be, to compel directors so to regulate their trains that the public can travel from one end of the kingdom to the other without inconvenience, and that they should not be compelled by the caprice of directors to stay two hours and wait for another train. Then look at Ambergate and Nottingham. Notice was given the other day for the purpose of striking out from the Ambergate Bill the clauses the general Committee had proposed. The promoters of that Bill, however, did me the honour of calling upon me to say they did not want the Committee's clauses struck out; that they sanctioned the policy of those clauses, and were willing to give a proof of their sincerity by accepting them in their Bill. They said, "Nothing can be more important than the transit of corn to the east from the Midland districts, and the transit of coal from the Midland counties to the rural districts in the east. We are desirous of facilitating that communication, but there are insuperable difficulties in our way, and we wish to see a remedy analogous to that which you have recommended." Mr. Seymour Clarke, the manager of the Great Northern Railway, in his evidence before the Committee, said that, in consequence of a dispute with another company, The Ambergate Company is at this moment working horses and carts between Colwick and Nottingham, because they have difficulties in running over the Midland line. The Mayor of Ipswich told the Committee that that was the complaint of the inhabitants of that town. There was a continuous railway, but such was the want of agreement between the companies that their articles were obliged to be brought by other modes of conveyance. The Mayor of Salisbury also appeared before the Committee. He said, "We have a railway to Salisbury, and there is a railway to Warminster. Parliament has sanctioned a line between, but it does not suit the interest of either company that it should be constructed. It might be remunerative; but what would be its fate, closed hermetically by one hostile company at Warminster, by another at Salisbury?" That happens; and what becomes of this little company then? I ask the House, do you mean to leave the law in this state? There are other interests affected in this question—the great commercial interests. We examined a man of great eminence from Durham, Mr. Nicholas Wood; his complaint was that he could not get his coals to London; and he did make it clear to the Committee that unless he would sell them for less than their price he could not get them brought. The statement he made was—that his coal at the market price was worth 9s. 6d.; the coal the company carried was worth 8s. 6d. They would not take it unless they had it for 8s. 6d. In short, we examined a great number of witnesses, all whose evidence tended to show that what was really wanted was, that Parliament should devise a means by which you might have the same facilities in travelling from one end of the kingdom to another, that you have in travelling over a system of lines that belong to a single administration. I do not mean to say that the solution of this question is an easy one; the principle on which, according to the Committee, it is to be solved, is that by distinct statutory enactments you should break down these barriers and enable the Superior Courts to deal with the railways in such matters. Hitherto, the tribunals have tried to carry into effect the law; but the agency by which they are to do it breaks in their hands, because it is scarcely possible to frame a decree which human ingenuity cannot avoid, or to which it cannot give merely a colourable compliance; and I do not think it fair to find fault with individuals in these cases fur employing the means they have to increase the dividends of the shareholders; for so long as you leave the law in this state, the railway director must take advantage of it, or the persons who look to him for a dividend will be dissatisfied. To overcome these difficulties, you must have a general law, in which you must reconcile the interests of the shareholders and the public. The same applies equally with regard to canals. A water communication was purchased by a particular railway company, and it no longer became their interest to have their little portion of canal worked efficiently, but they adopted such measures as compelled the traffic to run over their longer mileage of railroad.

The Bill which I have the honour to submit to you, will consist of three parts. In the first place, it will give powers to railway companies, which they do not now possess at all, for entering into combinations and working agreements with one another for the purpose of bringing the whole system into harmony. Secondly, it will contain terms for arbitration, to be conducted under the responsibility of the department in which I have the honour to serve. And I name that, because it is necessary the public interests should be consulted as well as the interests of the companies, lest in those agreements and arbitrations the public interests should unfortunately be forgotten. Thirdly, the Bill will provide a machinery for securing to the public that practical enjoyment of that free transit along the lines of railway and from one line to another, to which by the theory of the law they are entitled. By enactment you will establish the right. By decree of a court of justice, the violation of that right will be adjudicated. By arbitration the mode will be determined, in which complete effect can be given to the decision of that tribunal. Thus, when your enactment is not carried into effect, appeal will be given to one of the Superior Courts, and in order to enable the Superior Court to give effect to its decree, we propose, in strict analogy with the Act introduced in 1852 for reforming the Court of Chancery, by which Act Parliament gave to the Court of Chancery the power of consulting an engineer, an actuary, or a merchant, in those technical matters which appear to the Court to fall particularly within their province, to give power to the Court to call for the report of an engineer or other competent persons, so that eventually the judgment of the Court may proceed in some degree on the report of that engineer or other competent persons. The Bill will give, either to the department in which I have the honour to serve, or to the persons appointed by the Courts, power to report to the Court the precise sort of order and arrangement to carry into effect the statutory enactment which Parliament will have agreed to. This arrangement purposes to give to an arbitrator, or to a department, that which is necessarily executive and administrative; that which is enacting we ask you to sanction and enact. That interpretation of the Act of Parliament leaves to the recognised tribunals and courts of law to see justice administered; and in strict analogy with the Act of Chancery Reform passed in 1852, proposes to enable the courts of law to avail themselves of administrative or executive assistance. Is that an unreasonable demand to make on a great interest at a time like this? Is competition prevented? My opinion is, we have tried competition far enough. The railway companies told us that competition was an ineffectual remedy, and in our Report we have ratified the opinion of Captain Huish to that effect. I cannot forbear quoting, for its terseness and probable truth, the dictum of Mr. Stephenson—"where combination is possible, competition is impossible." Captain Huish, in his evidence before the Committee, illustrated that point by saying:— In Lancashire and Yorkshire, a district not the least sensitive to the advantages of free competition, no such freedom is practically enjoyed as regards communication by railways; but that, on the contrary, between Liverpool and Manchester, where five different modes of transit, more or less competing with each other in their inception, have been established—namely, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway—the railways by Bolton, Bury, and Wigan, in the hands of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company—and the East Lancashire Railways—the Bridgewater Canal—the Old River Trust—all five have, more or less, a common understanding with each other, and no rivalry exists bearing any analogy to the keen competition of private individuals contending in the same trade. Then, Sir, if the evil does exist, if we think a just remedy should be found, if competition is not that remedy, is there any remedy? I think I have a right to say that the Committee agreed in thinking, and agreed with the testimony of the most eminent railway witnesses, that arbitration is the remedy. I hold in my hand extracts from the evidence of the most eminent persons interested in the management of railways—Mr. Lang, Mr. Swift, Mr. Stephenson, Captain Huish, my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Locke), my hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. B. Denison), Sir William Cubitt, Mr. Bagshaw, Mr. Hanshaw, the hon. Member for Sandwich (Mr. James Macgregor). In all cases I think we find a concurrence of opinion, that the most available means of accomplishing the object is by a system of arbitration. The question is, whether that arbitration shall be a simple arbitration, or whether under the management of a particular branch of Government. It had occurred to me that there was a mode by which we might accomplish that arbitration with great convenience and advantage, at the same time showing confidence in the railway body, without whose cordial co-operation, after all, it will be difficult for Parliament to work out any scheme on which in your wisdom you may decide. In the clearing-house is a system of entire combination and arrangement, which I believe works admirably well. The analogy of that was brought under our attention in the evidence of Captain Huish. It occurred to me in preparing this Bill whether it might not be possible to create out of the machinery existing at the clearing-house some system—taking care of course to protect the public interest by some arrangement for that purpose—whether by that means a system of general arbitration might be accomplished. But on inquiry I found the clearing-house contained only a portion of the railway companies, that it was an entirely voluntary association; and I had reason to doubt whether interference with their arrangements would be generally acceptable to the railway body. Therefore, as it appeared to me the object was to enlist their confidence and co-operation, seeing it was doubtful whether that would be agreeable to themselves, I took the arbitration, pure and simple, and put it so in the Bill, and so it stands. The object is, while we protect the public interest and secure to the public, in respect to goods and passengers, uninterrupted transit throughout the kingdom, and from one railway system to another, to preserve general harmony among the railway body. While there are considerable public interests involved, we must not forget those who embarked their capital in promoting these vast undertakings for the benefit of the public. Perhaps, before I pass away entirely from the provisions of the Bill, I may state, I believe an impression has been excited that it is intended to take power in this Bill for varying or altering the tariffs or charges of the companies. I hope that those who labour under that apprehension will carefully read the clauses of the Bill, because if the clauses are not found to carry into effect the intentions I am about to mention, I shall be most happy to revise them, to make them carry out that intention. This case was pointed out as requiring especial care in the matter of arbitration between different companies, and obtained great consideration in the case of the Altringham Railway last year. It was said, "Take care when you are compelling a railway company to take up and carry forward the traffic of another company running into it, that you do not perpetrate this injustice:—The company is required to carry the traffic forward over a short portion of very expensive railway, having its terminus in the heart of the town, and you give power to a cheap company, in a cheap part of the country, to run its traffic into the terminal station of that company, rendering to it very small return, and virtually carrying on its traffic at the terminal charges of other people." That undoubtedly, though not a general case, is one which it is impossible to overlook, and therefore you will find in the Bill a clause, not for the purpose of varying the charges against the public—no such power is intended to be taken—but giving a power to say this, "If you require one company to carry forward at the request of another company the traffic of that other company, and it be referred to arbitration how that shall be accomplished, the arbitrator shall have it in his power to consider whether any such special circumstances as those to which I have referred really render it an unfairness on the receiving company to be compelled at ordinary charges to forward the traffic of the other company." That case arises continually at the clearing-house, and is solved by the gentlemen at the clearing-house without difficulty; but when you are dealing by Statute with parties who have not expressed their readiness to come into agreement with others, there are difficulties to contend with, which, however, does not affect the question in the Bill. I believe it is thought that the Committee were generally for inserting clauses of a nature never heard of before. That I think is a complete mistake. I do not suppose these identical clauses have been inserted before, but the practice has been to insert clauses compelling companies to carry forward traffic on such terms as the Committee thought proper to impose, and that led to clauses being imposed on the South-Eastern Railway by the East Kent Railway Act, declaring that the rates of charges, the nature, extent, and mode of discharging such services, and all matters, should be settled at the cost of the company by the Board of Trade, or an arbitration. That arrangement was carried into effect by Parliament last year, and is now upon the Statute-book. The objects, then, of the Bill are, first, a distinct statutory enactment of the duty of railway companies; second, provision for determining that Statute by the superior courts of law; third, the mode of aiding the courts by giving them the assistance of competent administrative arbitration, with appeal to the superior, in case that arbitration should not be properly or legitimately carried into effect. Parliament will enact, and the courts will execute, if you please to give your sanction to this system. In conclusion, let me ask, will the system be beneficial or injurious to the shareholders? I regret much that it is in the year 1854 we are asked for the first time to carry into effect a reformed system of railway arrangement. We had better have done it in 1844, and I, though a young Member of Parliament, supported my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the measure he introduced about that period. But even in 1854, if we adopt a uniform and prudent system, and if we make all the traffic of the country flow in the channels the public desire it should flow in, passengers travelling by the route which they prefer to travel by, and the goods by the route by which they can most conveniently and economically be carried, I do not believe the day is gone by when the prosperity of the railway interests may be restored. The energy and elasticity of the resources of the country are beyond the belief even of those most familiar with statistics. What would you imagine would be the effect on the Grand Junction Canal, of opening the London and North-Western on one side, and on the other the Great Western Railway. Would you have expected to find an increase or diminution of traffic? Probably you will tell me you expect a decrease of traffic. It was proved in evidence before us that in the year the London and North-Western received the sanction of Parliament, the Grand Junction Canal carried 708,000 tons of traffic, and in 1852, after being exposed to the full competition of the North-Western and Great Western Companies, it had risen, not indeed to double the amount, but from 708,000 to 1,144,000 tons of goods. Let, then, the railway interest see the wisdom of impressing Parliament and the country with the idea that no partial interests will be suffered to interfere with the general good of the country. Let the disposition to create new and unnecessary rival and competing lines be by that conviction checked, and what results may not flow from that continual growth of the ever-expanding resources and wealth of this country? We ought to pursue, in some respects, the policy which has been pursued in other countries with regard to railways. On the Continent there is a greater control with respect to railway matters than with our institutions could ever be expected to be carried into effect. A most interesting Report was quoted by us in our Report of last year, which had been brought across the Atlantic—a Report dealing with the same difficulties and coming to the same conclusion. After speaking of the great benefits the railway companies had conferred on the country, the American Report said:— It would appear, therefore, that the principle of competition cannot, as a general rule, apply to railroad corporations, and that the interests of the community should not be left to its operation, as in ordinary business enterprises; that they must, from their peculiar elements, be, in a greater or less degree, monopolies, and necessarily liable to the evils of monopoly. These evils are not, probably, as great at this time as they may be hereafter, when the system becomes more perfectly developed, and placed under the management of persons less disposed to show deference to public sentiment; nor are they as yet very perceptible to the public, from the fact that they are not apparent in any direct loss to the community, for railroads under any system must be a great benefit, but consist rather in depriving it of the additional advantages it would otherwise obtain. It is, nevertheless, due to the community that the tendency to these evils should be checked, and, if the above views are correct, it is incumbent upon the State to place the whole system under such control and supervision as may be deemed necessary to secure the greatest amount of public benefit, compatible with a due regard to the pecuniary interests involved in the operations of railroads. Such were the objects of the general Committee which met, in pursuance of the arrangement, this year, to give uniformity of arrangement and to carry out the law, in order that railways may come to be what the common roads were called, the Queen's highway—that there may be no alliance, defensive or offensive, no policy, no diplomacy—but that we may see all the companies ranged under the ægis of the law, giving their full benefits to the public, with regard to the traffic of passengers and goods, from one end of the kingdom to the other. Such was the desire of the Committee last year. Such, I hope, will be the ratification by this House of that decision. It is as Chairman of that Committee that I have the honour of proposing your ratification of these decisions in the Bill I ask leave to introduce. I have occupied you longer than I expected. I felt it my duty to lay before you some portion of the evidence upon which we proceeded in coming to our conclusions, and I trust we shall be able to carry along with us, not merely the general feeling of the travelling public, but also the feeling of those without whose co-operation this system can never be rendered harmonious and effective—I mean those able men in whose hands have been carried on the great railway undertakings of the kingdom. I believe it is for their interest, as well as for the general permanent good of the country, that you should carry into effect the intentions of the Committee of last year; and it is with these feelings I ask leave to introduce a Bill such as I have stated.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of the traffic on Railways and Canals.


said, he did not rise to offer any objection to the introduction of the Bill, as he concurred in many of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, but he thought that the right hon. Gentleman had not sufficiently shown to the House that he had paid that regard to the capital employed in the construction of railways which he had stated it was his intention to do. What he desired to impress upon the right hon. Gentleman was, the necessity, in the further progress of the Bill, to make a provision with regard to future railway legislation. It was impossible that such great interests could go on from year to year without making occasional applications to Parliament for an extension of their powers; and what he would request was, that some provision should be made to obviate those enormous expenses to which railway companies were now liable in going before the Committees of that House. More facilities should be afforded to the companies in their dealings with Parliament. The public, in regard to the construction of new works, were quite as much, if not more, interested than the railway companies themselves. He was sure the unanimous feeling of the House would be to treat the measure of the right hon. Gentleman with the greatest consideration. It was almost too pitiable a fact to state to the House, but still the truth should be told:—Taking the capital invested in forty of the principal railways of the country, which stood without any guarantee, it appeared that it amounted to the sum of 112,000,000l., the value of which property in the market at the present moment was less than 75,000,000l. Looking across the Channel, it appeared that the increase of value on the capital invested was not less than 50 per cent, and the travelling on their lines was cheaper. This vast difference was entirely owing to the legislation of that House. The number of miles of railway constructed on the forty railways, up to 1844, was 2,240, which number had been increased, during the last ten years, to 7,512 miles, and the number of passengers conveyed from 30,363 to 95,000. The amount of capital invested in the same forty railways, up to 1844, was 20,363,000l., which, in 1853, had been increased to 95,000,000l. He therefore appealed to the House to consider carefully the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman had laid before them, and endeavour to rectify that of which the great railway interests of the country had reason to complain.


said he must dispute the dogma that where combination was possible, competition was impossible, for he believed the great evil of our railway system had been that each company had expended large sums of money in Parliamentary contests under the delusion that they were in possession of a monopoly which it was their duty to maintain.


said, he was sure the railway company with which he was connected would give to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman a fair and candid consideration, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would on his part be disposed to reciprocate that feeling, and give a fair and candid consideration to the unfortunate position in which the railway interests of this country were now placed, and actually so placed by the system of legislation pursued in that House. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that in his opinion the system and principle of competition had been carried quite far enough, and that he was now disposed to proceed on a different principle. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman and the House would remember that the principle of competition had been carried out to a very great extent, and that its evils, such as they were, had, in point of fact, already been inflicted. Those who were connected with railways were most desirous that the principle of a well-regulated monopoly should be adopted, if practicable, because they believed it to be a proper principle; but it was one thing to introduce such a principle before competition was tried, and quite another thing to superadd that system upon all the evils of competition to which railways were now subjected. He did not wish to make any observations in a captious spirit, but it appeared to him that railways were now subjected to all the evils of competition, and what he contended for was that they should have the right and power to defend themselves as they best could against competition. But the principle which the right hon. Gentleman wished to introduce was this—after having subjected railways to competition he now proposed to tie up the hands of all railways, and objected to give to one class of competitors the same advantages which another class possessed; in short, the right hon. Gentleman would superadd regulation to competition. He did not think that railway capital at the present moment was paying more than between 2½ and 3 per cent. Such a great interest, being in that position, ought not to be dealt with in an unfriendly or harsh spirit. It was admitted that the railway interest conferred great advantages upon the country, and he hoped the House and the Government would bear that in mind when legislating in reference to that interest.


said, the very clear and explicit statement of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that it was not his intention to interfere with the existing tolls of railways, had removed the objections which he had anticipated he should feel it his duty to urge; looking at the clauses which had been laid upon the table of the House, and which had been inserted in several Railway Bills. He congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on his statement. He thought the manner he proposed to effect an interchange of traffic from one line to another was one which the railway companies could themselves very well carry out. But the Bill did not meet all the objects which it was desirable a measure of this kind should provide for. There were other questions, besides the question of interchange of traffic, that were well worthy the consideration of the House. The great expenditure caused to railways by legislation had been spoken of; but one chief item of that large expenditure would not be lessened by this Bill. The most important question was the question of gauge. They had had a contest going on before that House last year, and the year before, and for six or eight years preceding that, between the broad gauge and the narrow, and founded upon that they had had a mixed gauge. Two companies, contesting this question of gauge, in reference to a line between London and Exeter, had spent no less a sum of money than would have paid for the construction of the railway. Considering that a Commission which had been appointed in the year 1846, to inquire into the question of gauge, had reported in favour of its final settlement, and of putting an end to the disputes which have arisen out of it, and that a Bill had been brought in founded on the Report of that Commission, he did think it was scarcely creditable to our legislation to be considering at this moment that very question, involving that very expense which every one of them was desirous to see an end to. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman would have done himself more credit, although he by no means wished to detract from the credit to which he was entitled, if he had taken up this question of gauge, and settled it upon a basis which the world could understand. He considered it a disgrace to this country that it was the only one which had not adopted uniformity of gauge. The want of such uniformity would complicate the system far more than the evils which it was the object of this measure to redress. They would never get rid of the heavy expenses which they deprecated, put an end to contests, or extinguish competition, unless they defined some distinct—unless they laid down an iron rule not only as to charges and as to the mode in which the traffic should be carried—but as to the limits within which each company should be confined, and beyond which it should not be allowed to pass.


said, the statement of the right hon. President of the Board of Trade had been made to the general satisfaction of the House, and he congratulated the right hon. Gentleman for adopting the suggestion from that side of the House to bring in a general measure, and not to attempt to do that by particular clauses, which could only be accomplished in the way proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to the general question, he would say that he had been professionally engaged with the hon. and learned Solicitor General in fighting the battle of the gauges, and his impression was, that by these contests railway companies were destroying each other, and that a great benefit would be conferred on the public and the railway interest by putting an end to these unseemly contests. It must have very much surprised the House to hear that the 112,000,600l. spent on forty of the leading lines were not worth more in the market than 75,000,000l. The fault was not in the paucity of the traffic, for the traffic was abundant beyond expectation, but in the defect of the system. And he feared Government was answerable for much of the mischief that existed. He could point to the conduct of the London and North-Western Railway with the Shrewsbury lines, where that company ran trains at losing fares, in order to impede the traffic of the other company. These things ought to be put an end to, and Government ought to take effectual steps to protect railway companies from themselves and the mode of carrying on competition with each other.


said, in reference to the Committee of 1844, had the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was Chairman, been able to give the railways security against competition, they would have been able to enter into a compact with him. But as the right hon. Gentleman could not give railways security against competition, satisfactory arrangements could not be entered into at the time. With regard to the spread of the railway system, he would just ask that, at a time when there was a premium of 30,000,000l. on the subscribed capital, who could say that particular districts would not have a railway? This led to competing lines, and to unprofitable branches, which had sapped the profits of the trunk lines. It was impossible for Parliament to say, then, that a particular district should not have railways; and as capitalists were ready to come forward, the lines were freely, and in some cases unwisely, granted. With respect to foreign railways, they had been constructed mainly with English capital, and they also had the advantage of Government guarantee without the disadvantage of unlimited competition, which might be considered the basis of the English system. With reference to the gauge, no one who had travelled upon an Irish railway, which was constructed on the intermediate gauge, could doubt but that gauge was the best gauge to adopt; but it was too late now to apply the intermediate gauge to the English railway system, for the expense would be too enormous, and the difficulties to overcome too serious for the present depressed period of the railway interest. Railway undertakings were in their nature of a speculative character, and it was impossible in many cases to guard shareholders against loss. But the enormous Parliamentary expenses was one great grievance of the system, and till they were moderated no effectual good could be attained. He believed that few Railway Bills had passed without having produced benefit to the public.


said, he believed that the public would gain very materially by a measure such as that which had been traced out by the right hon. Gentleman, if it passed into law, and, he was glad to add, the shareholders also. It would give a solidity to railway property, which would induce many timid persons to invest in it who had formerly been unwilling to do so; and it would also remove much of the irritability at present prevailing among the directors of rival lines. He should, therefore, have the greatest pleasure in affording every assistance in his power to the passing of a measure such as that shadowed out to-night by the right hon. Gentleman.


said, he wished to know whether, in the event of a railway company being permitted by its Act to charge a toll of 2d., it would be obliged to reduce that toll to 1d. if another company wished to pass its transit business on at the latter rate? If that should be the case, he feared the right hon. Gentleman's Bill would prove to be an abortion.


said, he believed the Bill would not be an abortion. The object of the measure was to secure equality of toll, and to prevent railway companies from charging one sum to one person and another sum to another.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Cardwell and Mr. Solicitor General.

Bill read 1°.

The House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock.