HC Deb 04 May 1854 vol 132 cc1229-50

Order for Committee read; Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair:"—Debate arising; Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned:"—The House divided; Ayes 40, Noes 261; Majority 221.


said, that he should take that opportunity of bringing under the notice of the House and of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade one or two considerations which he thought of some importance. It was not his purpose to object to the principle of this Bill, but he wished to invite the attention of the Government to the state of railway legislation generally at the present moment, and to the position in which the Committees of that House would have to stand to the House itself. The House would remember that last year some Bills of unusual importance had been introduced, which contained proposals for the amalgamation of very large railway companies. The House, however, considered that question to be so important, that they decided that it was impossible to submit it to Committees on mere separate and individual groups of railways, whose decisions might be of a conflicting character, and that it was a point upon which the opinion of the House itself ought to be taken and given to the public. A Committee was therefore appointed for the purpose, and by them the question of railway amalgamation had been considered throughout the remainder of last Session. A great deal of evidence had been taken, and a Report had been made to the House by the President of the Board of Trade. In the first Bill which his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade had introduced to the House, he had proposed to deal with that question of amalgamation. In the present Bill, however, all mention of amalgamation was withdrawn, so that, in the event a any two great companies proposing a measure of amalgamation in the next Session, the House would be in this very peculiar and anomalous position—that it had declared that such a question ought not to be decided by private and separate groups, while at the same time it had not undertaken to express any opinion upon it itself. That was, according to his view, one very important omission in the present Bill; but there were other great questions of principle to which a corresponding remark would apply—such, for example, as the question of running clauses, the width of gauge, and other matters—which ought to have been disposed of in some manner by that House. Almost all the railway companies had appeared before the Committee which had sat last Session, and he must say, in justice to those companies, that they had appeared before it in a spirit of great candour and fairness. In general terms the railway companies bad said, "The legislation of the House up to this time has been various, contradictory, and, in many respects, highly injurious to the railway interest. We are perfectly prepared to concede to the Government considerable powers of control, if, upon the other hand, the Government will grant to us some protection for our property already existing, and some guarantee for improved legislation for the future." This appeared to him to have been a reasonable request on the part of the railway companies; and he believed, if that opportunity had been taken to accede to their proposition, that no very great difficulty would have existed in making the necessary arrangements. Instead of that, however, the Government had taken a certain degree of control over the railways, but he could not say that they had given what had been asked in return—a fair share of improved legislation. The improved legislation proposed, consisted of the appointment of a Committee of forty members, the chairman of whom was always to be the Chairman of Ways and Means; and this was done, this extra amount of business was thrown upon the Chairman of Ways and Means, at the moment when an hon. Gentleman had just retired from that office on account of its too laborious nature. It had been found necessary to rescind the Standing Order upon the subject; and that very day it had been discovered that the number of forty was too small for the purpose of the Committee, and it was proposed that sixteen new Members should be added to it, having, of course, taken no part in the early discussions on the matter, and knowing nothing of the principles which had been laid down by the Committee in their previous sittings. And this was offered to the railway community as an improved system of legislation, which was to be some return to them for the restrictions which it was proposed to place upon them! The good management of railways, their fair and reasonable success, was a matter of interest to all parties—equally to those who travelled by railways as to those who had shares in them. He had a few shares in one railway, but he generally travelled by a line which competed with it, and he felt a greater interest in the railway to which he trusted his neck than in that to which he trusted his money. He would not now enter into the principle of the present Bill, which was indeed narrowed down to nothing, and from which several of the great points to which he had referred were excluded; but he would invite the President of the Board of Trade to state the course he proposed to pursue with regard to future railway legislation—a subject of extreme importance to the whole country. Matters had now reached such a shape that it was impossible not to see that the present Bill would satisfy neither the requirements of the railway companies nor of the public. He thought it right to make these observations before his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made his statement, and he would take the liberty of asking the noble Lord, the leader of the House, whether he did not think that railway legislation had become so involved and so difficult that it demanded the early attention of Her Majesty's Government.


said, he was one of those who joined the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in stopping the proposal of amalgamation, and in appointing the Committee to frame one general law. His desire was not to interfere with private property, but to secure to the public, with regard to railways, that protection both to person and property to which they were justly entitled. When a railway company offered an obstruction to traffic, this Bill provided an appeal to a court of law. Why, they had that before. The public had for years been prevented from using the Dundee, Arbroath, and Montrose Railway as a direct route, and they were obliged, by a combination of the companies, to go twenty or thirty miles round, and they had no redress. He thought the control ought to be in the Board of Trade. This Bill consisted of five clauses. The first was an interpretation clause. The second said that facilities should be given by the different companies for the conveyance of passengers and goods from place to place. That was perfectly right; but then the third clause, which was to provide for carrying out the second, would be found ineffective, for it provided that they should go to the courts at Westminster; or if in Scotland, to the Court of Session; but what individual would enter on such a contest with a great railway company, say the Great Northern, or the London and North Western? The next clause was most objectionable. He was on the Committee that considered what regulations should be adopted with regard to railways, and they laid on the table of the House regulations which, if they had been carried out, would, he believed, have saved 200,000,000l. of capital. A department of the Government was appointed—the railway department—which was continued for a certain time, and was then amalgamated with the Board of Trade. Well, now, instead of that body being appointed under this Bill, it having had experience for ten years, to frame the regulations, would the House believe that the clause provided that nine Judges should frame the regulations! What could these learned Judges be supposed to know of railway matters, and why were they not left to the staff attached to the Board of Trade, that had for so many years attended to them? On this ground he objected to the present Bill, and he desired that the former clauses which had been struck out of the Bill should be restored, and, without further legislation on this subject, he should feel satisfied to leave the matter in the hands of the Board of Trade.


said, that he generally approved the provisions of the original Bill. The quarrels of the railway companies had been going on for some years, a great inconvenience had been suffered, and a large amount of money spent, and all at the public expense; and it was hoped that means would have been provided which would have prevented the recurrence of such a state of things, but he was afraid that all who had entertained such hopes would be disappointed by the present Bill. There were three great points in which this Bill differed from the original one—by the latter, power was given to the Board of Trade to act on the complaints of parties. [Mr. CARDWELL: "No, no!"] He understood that by the 8th clause of the original Bill such a power was intended to be given to the Board of Trade. The present Bill did not, like the former one, give the Board of Trade the power of altering or of making a discriminating rate of tolls; and thirdly, by the former Bill the Board of Trade could call upon the companies to make proper arrangements for the forwarding of persons and goods. This was a most material point; and there was no one who travelled but was aware of the inconvenience passengers were put to on arriving at a hostile railway terminus, by finding the train they should have proceeded by had started five minutes before their arrival. He had a practical illustration of it himself the other day, when he was obliged to post five or six miles from Stamford, in order to catch one of the Great Northern trains; and these things were of everyday occurrence. The companies said that Parliament was interfering with them, but what was the object of the companies? Did not each preamble of a Bill state that the railway was to be a great public advantage? Great allowances and advantages had been granted to the railway companies, and he thought the public were entitled to all due consideration at their hands. He trusted the statement of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade would tend to obviate the difficulties to which he had alluded, otherwise he should venture in Committee to move Amendments to the Bill, with a view of remedying that of which he had complained.


said, he wished before the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade made his statement to the House to offer a few observations in reply to the remaks which had fallen from some of the previous speakers. An opinion prevailed, both in and out of that House, that great advantages had been given to the railway companies in which the public had not adequately participated. Now, the fact was, that the railway shareholders had themselves been the main sufferers, and that the public, on the other hand, had derived more benefits from the railway system than the people of any other country in the civilised world. The demand now made upon the Railway Companies, was not reasonable in the very nature of things. It would be recollected that, so long ago as 1845, those Gentlemen who in that House and in the country took an active interest in railway matters, declared their opinion that the principle of competition was not applicable to railways, and that, if it were acted upon, it would be ruinous to the parties engaged in those enterprises, while it would not eventually be so beneficial to the public as was supposed. It would also be recollected that Lord Dalhousie, who was then at the head of the Board of Trade, proposed a scheme by which the country was partitioned out among the great companies, and that the House, acting under the advice of the late Sir Robert Peel, deliberately rejected that plan, and resolved that the principle of competition should be adopted, and that the railways should be permitted, and even excited, to act upon that principle. The country, therefore, had all along enjoyed the advantages of competition in railways, and what he ventured to say was, that the public at all events had no reason to complain of the result. But a demand was now made to have the system of regulation and control superadded to that of competition. The former system had been in full operation in a neighbouring country for years, and what had been the consequence? While in France even the great arterial lines had not been formed—while a traveller could not go on a continuous railroad from Paris to Marseilles, or from Paris to Bordeaux—while there was not an unbroken line of communication between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean—in England, where the opposite system of competition had been acted upon, there was not a single town of any note in the kingdom which was not approachable by rail- way, while all the principal towns had two or three separate means of communication with the metropolis; and in every part of the country the great necessaries of life had been considerably reduced in price in consequence of the introduction of the railway system. The country having thus reaped the benefit of the principle of competition, it was not fair to come forward now and complain of the natural results of that principle, and to demand that the principle of regulation and control should be added to it. He admitted that railways should be regulated in a reasonable manner; but at the same time he thought there was something extremely unreasonable in the complaints which were now made. It was not possible in the nature of things that the railways of England, conducted on the principle of competition, could be managed in the same way as the railways in France, where large tracts of the country were allotted to different companies, and where the Government exercised a constant and vigilant supervision. If we decided that two lines should run from London to York, we could not expect the same results, in the way of regulation and control, as if there was only one railway. We could not, at one and the same time, have the full advantages of competition and the full advantages of regulation. But, as he had already stated, the public had no reason to complain of the principle of competition, from which they had derived great benefits. Here was an instance taken from the report of the general manager of the cattle traffic on the London and North-Western Railway for 1853— This shows the result of the competition of the companies upon the business of the district, which may be thus summed up:—In 1849, for the conveyance of 140,000 animals, the company received 8,880l. In l852, for 172,900 animals, only 6,670l., showing an increase of 32,900 animals, and a decrease on the receipts of 2,200l. In 1853, for the conveyance of 205,000 animals, the receipts amounted to 8,896l., being an increase over the first-mentioned year of 74,000 animals, and only 13l. in the receipts. This was a statement well worthy of the attention of the House. On the other hand, what advantages had the railway companies—those great offenders who were spoken of as if they were the enemies of the public—derived from the principle of competition? Why, with the exception of one or two companies, the average return derived from railway property was not, he believed, so much as 3½ per cent, and he believed that the Lancaster and Carlisle was almost the only railway company which at the present moment gave its shareholders more than 5 per cent. It might be said that the companies had no right to fight with each other, and to squander away their capital in lawsuits, and that they had themselves to blame for what had occurred. But what had that House done? It had laid down the principle that the companies should compete with each other, and then, when they had done so, at great cost to themselves, it turned round upon them and said that their losses were entirely their own fault, and that they ought not to have spent their money in the way they had done. As if that were not enough, it was now proposed to super add to competition the principle of regulation and control—a principle which might do very well in a country like France, where competition was almost unknown, but which could never succeed in England so long as the present system was allowed to continue. Put the railway companies in the position in which they stood in 1845—do away with the principle of competition—and then the House might regulate them as it pleased. Regulation and control would probably make the railways of England as valuable as those of France. In that country there was not a railway which did not at the present moment pay 10 per cent. A reference had been made to the low fares on the French lines, and to the advantages accruing to the public therefrom; but it seemed to be forgotten that the Government had paid large sums to the railway companies, which were taken from the public in the shape of taxes. He believed that no less a sum than between 4,000,000l. and 5,000,000l. had been advanced by the Government to the Paris and Strasburg Railway Company alone, and for that vast sum of money not one farthing of interest was received. He trusted the House would not countenance the proposal which had been made to hand over the railways to the tender mercies of the Board of Trade, no matter how excellent its staff of officers might be, but would listen to the fair and reasonable representations of the companies, who had a decided preference to have their property adjudicated upon by the Judges of the land, rather than by any Government department whatever. He believed that great misapprehension existed as to the relative position of the public and the railway companies. He thought it was beyond doubt that in no country in the world had the people derived such advantages from the railway system as they had done in England; and it was an indisputable fact that in no other country had the enormous capital laid out upon railway property yielded so small a return to its owners.


said, he thought that the reason why railway property had been so unprofitable was, not because the companies had been obliged to compete with each other, but because they had struggled to maintain a monopoly which the system of competition was intended to check. If they had not spent such vast sums of money in endeavouring to ward off the competition of rival lines, and in fighting against each other in Parliament, he believed they would have reaped those benefits which railways had produced in other countries. The last speaker had endeavoured to show that the country must be satisfied either with regulation and control or with competition. But regulation was not inconsistent with competition, and there was no good reason why the public should not have the benefit of both. He confessed, for his own part, that he would have been better satisfied with the former Bill; but at the same time, with the exception of the points which had been referred to by the hon. Member for Malton (Mr. E. Denison); he thought the clauses as they now stood remedied many of the grievances of which the public complained. He believed that they gave private individuals the power of applying to the Board of Trade; and although he had been requested by some of his constituents to oppose the Bill, he would give it his cordial support, convinced that it could not fail to promote the interests of the public as well as those of the railway companies themselves.


said, it appeared to him that the object of the Bill was to afford what the right hon. Gentleman termed "reasonable" facilities to the public to obtain a redress of railway grievances by appealing to a court of law. But when he came to consider its provisions, his firm belief was that the result of this measure would be that if any unfortunate man was weak enough to believe that this Act of Parliament had done something for him, and in consequence he would be induced to rush into a court of law against a great railway company, he would find himself, after a protracted struggle, in this position, that he had got nothing, and that he had to pay the costs of the suit. He believed that the subject was beset with great difficulties, and that it was impossible for legislation to do much. No doubt in gross cases, where the Lord Advocate in Scotland, or the Attorney General in England, was set in motion by the public, a conviction would ensue, but it was not clear to him that a conviction might not be obtained without the help of this Bill, because the court would be guided by the provisions of the original Acts of Parliament. Whether relief would be obtained by this measure was very problematical, but he had no doubt he could find many hon. Gentlemen in that House who would undertake to drive a coach and six through it. Then with regard to penalties, the wording of the Bill appeared very obscure to him. It appeared to him rather extraordinary that the Board of Trade was the party that was to be satisfied whether and to what extent an injunction or interdict had been obeyed by any company. This made it the duty of the Board of Trade to ascertain the amount of malfeasance committed, and he must say he thought the provision a somewhat extraordinary one. He willingly admitted that railways were one of the greatest blessings that had ever been conferred on the country, and so far front blaming Sir Robert Peel, he thought he deserved great credit for having stimulated and spurred them on. Now that the country was covered with a network of railways, it was lamentable that they did not get the amount of accommodation they required. He did not believe the public stood in a more or less advantageous position by the introduction of this measure, and he regretted to observe that some provisions were not made in the Bill for the settlement of disputes by arbitration.


said, as one of the general public, he had heard no objection stated against this Bill further than it did not remedy every possible existing abuse or grievance. He had heard nothing to show that so far as it went it was not a boon and a benefit to the public. The principal object of the Bill was simply to facilitate arrangements of one company with another, and that circumstance appeared to him to dispose of a great deal of the criticism he had heard upon the pleasure that night. He considered that such a Bill was peculiarly needed in Ireland, where the companies seemed to do as much to inconvenience each other as they possibly could. The communication be- tween Dublin and London seemed to be getting worse every year. Now it took five hours to cross from Holyhead, whereas he had made the trip years ago in three and a half. Perhaps the Board of Trade would form a better tribunal than the Judges of the land, but upon the whole it was a good Bill. No doubt it might be susceptible of improvement, but to introduce any alterations, it would be necessary to go into Committee, and he should, therefore, vote for Mr. Speaker's leaving the Chair.


said, that the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Wilkinson), when speaking on this question, although sensitively alive to the interest of the public, seemed entirely to forget the many and the great losses which railway proprietors had suffered, and the risks to which they were subject. The proprietors of railways had received less benefit than any other class by that enterprise which they had exhibited, and they might be deemed a most depressed interest. They had met with the most fearful losses, and many of them had been utterly ruined—a result which in a great degree was to be ascribed to the action of Parliament. In 1844, a Bill was passed, which enacted that when any railway company paid a dividend of more than ten per cent, the property of that company might be purchased by the Government, and taken from the proprietors. Such a measure tended to delude the public, for it gave them an impression that railway property was secure, and that good dividends were to be derived from it, and that persons might with safety invest in it. And then came the measure of Lord Dalhousie, based upon the principle of competition, which had thrown railway property into a state of depression which it was impossible to appreciate, except from personal experience. The losses which railway proprietors had sustained were immense and scarcely to be calculated. The estimates for the construction of railways were found often totally inadequate—1,500,000l. voted, and 4,000,000l. or 5,000,000l. expended on a single line. An hon. Member had alluded to the great increase of railways, but he might also have alluded to the immense expenditure of capital which had gone on for the public advantage, with an entire uncertainty whether the proprietors of railways would derive any benefit from the outlay. The railway companies really might appear in formâ pauperis. They were a depressed and distressed interest; and it would be well for Parliament to beware lest by new legislation they made bad worse. Railway property was at present divided into a great multitude of interests; and in the midst of all this entanglement the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade proposed to legislate for it as if it were one continuous whole—one entire system. It would have been better to adopt means by which the difficulties of railway property might be removed, which could only be by the principle of amalgamation. It was fallacious to deal with railways as with one uniform interest, whereas it was the reverse. The right hon. Gentleman would take from the proprietors whatever advantage they might derive from the principle of competition, and secure them no equivalent in return. Justice to the 100,000 persons who had invested their property in railways would dictate a different course; and a capital of 300,000,000l. invested in great undertakings, from which the public had derived the greatest advantage, ought not to be left in a state of uncertainty as to its privileges and its rights. Under the system of legislation pursued by that House, the value of this property must depend upon accident. If the system were to continue and if money were to fall, as it had before, to a low rate of interest—two or two and a-half per cent—for any long time, railways would be so multiplied that the present railway property would be destroyed. He considered that the result of the evidence adduced before the Committee of last year was different from that at which the Committee had arrived, and that amalgamation was recommended by the principal witnesses examined. Those persons who had most reason to be careful of the interest and acquainted with the operation of the railway system had strongly recommended the adoption of amalgamation wherever it could be judiciously effected; but, instead of attending to such recommendation from authorities so capable and experienced, the Committee turned a deaf ear to it; whereas, if they had only given it the attention and encouragement it deserved, the whole railway interest of England might now have been united, and then this Bill or a similar one might have been brought in, and might have effected some good. In all these matters the railway proprietors should be thought of as well as the public; and, although it might sound very well to talk of one continuous line being carried out, yet, even in the consideration of so great a boon as this was said to be, the interest of those who had expended so much of their capital, incurred such losses, and were subject to such risks, should not be hastily or intemperately disposed of. The powers of the present Bill were potent enough; as, for instance, the power of arbitratory arrangements between the companies, which would have been just if the companies had formed one system, instead of being split up into sections. As it was, the Bill would be of no benefit to the proprietors. Yet they had met the Government in the fairest spirit, and with the greatest desire to assist the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cardwell) in his railway legislation. He implored the House to consider of some measure by which the present conflicting state of things could be put an end to; that those who had capital embarked in railways might know how far it would be depreciated, and what dividends they might expect; instead of which, as matters now stood, he knew instances in which it was uncertain whether present dividends might not be diminished to the extent of one-half. When the question was dealt with in this spirit it would be dealt with fairly; but until it was so he should consider legislation such as was now proposed one-sided and unjust, entirely for the benefit of the public, and not at all for the shareholders in railway companies. He should approve generally of the Bill if it had introduced the principle of amalgamation, but as it had not done so, it would be no bar to a complete destruction of railway property, and the right hon. Gentleman in doing everything for the public would have done nothing for the companies.


said, he only desired to draw attention to one omission in the measure, the absence of the additional provisions for redress of injuries arising from railway accidents, to which he had called the attention of the Government in the early part of the session. The right hon. Gentleman had then promised that a measure for that object would be introduced.


A separate measure is intended to be introduced.


This session?




then had nothing more to say at the present stage of the Bill.


said, it appeared to him that while no constitutional principle was violated by this Bill, no private rights invaded, and no injury was done to railway property, the public would be greatly benefited by it, whether as travellers or in sending goods. He thought justice had hardly been done to his right hon. Friend (Mr. Cardwell), in dwelling upon the assumed short-comings of his measure. To understand it aright, it was necessary to inquire what was the present state of the law with regard to these subjects. Nothing could be more unfair than the operation of the present laws with respect to railways and their government; and it was an admitted fact, that railway companies could, if they pleased, so conduct their business, and still be within the letter of their Act, that they could give to the public the very minimum of the advantages under their Act, and take to themselves the maximum of such advantages. Suppose an individual were to suffer the very common annoyance which the hon. Member for North Cheshire (Mr. T. Egerton) had described, he would have no remedy at all, not even the miserable one of an action for damages. But this Bill for the first time provided a remedy; for suppose an individual to be a company, he would be able to have a summary proceeding without action or pleading. Suppose he were not in London, he went be entitled to make affidavit, which would be laid before a judge at chambers, or in court, and if the facts were incontrovertible, as in most cases they were, the judge would have power, not only to award compensation for the injury sustained, but he would have the still more important power of making regulations and injunctions which would prevent such a case from again occurring, except under penalties which no one in his senses would incur. So with regard to an individual having received an injury, he would have the same cheap remedy, and the judge would have power to issue regulations to prevent such injuries in future. The Bill further gave power to the judges, if they thought fit, to take the advice and assistance of engineers, barristers, or such other persons as they might find necessary to assist them. He certainly had objections to the Bill as it originally stood, which entrusted these large powers to the Board of Trade; but those objections were obviated, when he found them entrusted to the judges of the land. He had said enough, he thought, to show that this Bill was a step in the right direction—that it would provide an easy, simple, and economical means of redress—and that it would be no bar to further legislation, if it should be deemed necessary; and as such he gave it his hearty support.


said, it was rather curious that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who so often advocated the principle that self-interest was the most certain and efficient mode of regulating human action, should imagine that railway companies would act systematically so much against their interests as to be continually neglecting the interest of the public. Assuming, however, that this was the case, surely the reasonable course to pursue would be to provide a remedy for them. The hon. and learned Member who had spoken last appeared quite enamoured of the Bill, which he said, would provide an easy, simple, and economical means of redress. Now, he (Mr. Whiteside) defied the Board of Trade to devise a system more favourable to litigation and the legal profession. Not only on the complaint of any party aggrieved, but on the certificate of the Board of Trade to the Attorney General, there might be an application to a single judge, who was to exercise the powers conferred by this measure, without provision for any appeal, and who might by injunction destroy the rights of railway companies, without any means of revising and reversing his decision. If the judge thought fit, and he would be sure to do so, he might depute it to some other persons, to save him the trouble of forming an opinion, and to arrive at a decision which he could not arrive at himself. The judge might refer it to engineers or lawyers to prosecute any inquiries he might think proper—it was a cheap, easy, simple, and speedy procedure. Then the judge might issue his injunction, or direct damages to be paid, either to the party complaining, which would be rational, or to the Crown, which would be irrational, and all this "without prejudice to any other proceeding in any court of law," a provision for which, he was certain, the lawyers would be grateful. The judges would doubtless also be grateful for the duty which was delegated to them of framing rules by which to work this novel and questionable measure. This was what the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade called the least costly and most efficient mode of enforcing the provisions of the Bill that could be devised.


said, that, after what had fallen from various hon. Members in the course of the debate, and especially from the hon. and learned Gentle- man who had just sat down, the House must readily agree with him, that whoever undertook to try to settle the claims of the general public against the railway companies, with proper respect to the interest of a body of persons who had invested large capital in public works, in many cases without obtaining a very adequate return, and to do justice to all parties, amid the complicated and not very consistent legislation of the last twenty years, would find that he had undertaken a very difficult task. The question was, whether those who had undertaken the task had addressed themselves to it in a painstaking spirit, and with an anxious desire to unravel its difficulties and find a remedy for them. So far as the Committee of last year was concerned, he could appeal with confidence to the evidence taken before it, and the Report it had made, for an answer. Some surprise had been expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Mahon (Mr. Evelyn Denison) that several of the principal matters referred to that Committee had not been touched on by this Bill. His answer to this was, that this Bill professed to furnish a remedy for one part—and a great part—of those matters. Other parts had been dealt with already by Standing Orders, and by changes in the mode of procedure with regard to private Bills. His hon. Friend had also asked, why the question of amalgamation had not been dealt with? So far as this Bill was concerned, he (Mr. Cardwell) had been perfectly ready to deal with that subject, and, as the Bill was originally drawn, clauses had been inserted for the purpose of enabling the Board of Trade to deal from time to time with the questions of working arrangements as they should arise, and so to save companies the trouble and expense of continual applications for, and contests upon, private Bills. But the subject was one which could only be dealt with in that way, or by such applications continuing to be made. It could not be settled once for all in any public Act. Nothing could be accomplished with regard to it in that way, and, even if they were to pass a law on the subject, the first private Bill which was passed by a Committee dissenting from such an Act, would repeal it altogether. They had, however, dealt with it by Resolutions, which he thought was the most efficient mode. So, too, with regard to running powers. He did not propose to enact by this Bill that running powers were never to be granted, because the first Committee which passed a Bill with a clause in it giving running powers over any line would repeal such an enactment, and, therefore, it was thought better also to deal with that subject by Resolutions. Further than this they had no power or no claim to go. Then his hon. Friend said, you have provided no improved system of legislation for the future. Now, how was it possible, by Act of Parliament, to provide for the future legislation of that House upon private Bills? But they had laid down the principle on which Parliamentary legislation ought to proceed, and they had proposed certain alterations in the composition of committees, for the purpose of obtaining unity and regularity in their Reports. His hon. Friend was not so sanguine of the result as he was, but his (Mr. Cardwell's) belief was, that with the intercommunication that would go on among the Members of Railway Committees, particularly of Chairmen, there would be an important tendency to preserve unity and consistency of regulation which did not take place under the former system. He had no wish to claim for these Resolutions any particular amount of ingenuity or any other virtue; the Committee had dealt with the subjects referred to them to the best of their ability, and it seemed impossible to embody their recommendations in any other form. On the question of the principle of the Bill, he believed he now met with the same degree of encouragement which every one of his predecessors who had dealt with this subject had encountered—that was to say, the attacks upon it had come from all quarters of the heavens, and the most opposite views were taken of it. Some hon. Gentlemen looked on it as a Bill for the public, doing nothing for the railway companies; others, again, said it was all for the railway interest, and did nothing for the public. Perhaps the best way of answering all these various attacks would be simply to state what the Bill really was, as it stood at present. The first clause of the Bill, then, did two things,—first, it enacted, in language which he believed to be clear and legal, a definition of what were the duties which companies owed to the public in respect of the services to be rendered upon their own lines. With regard to this part of the clause, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) had spoken of the use made in it of the word "reasonable," the value of which he appeared either to doubt or to misapply. Now, the object of this part of the Bill was to apply the old law of common carriers, as it used to be upon the old roads, to the altered state of things upon the railways of the country. That law imposed a peremptory obligation on the common carrier, and the word "reasonable" was the legal word always adopted to define the measure of obligation. The word, he believed, was to be found in the law books of the country from the earliest period of black letter. The second part of the clause was a statutory obligation upon the railway companies not merely to adjust their traffic with regard to the convenience of the public, but also—and this, it must be remarked, was an obligation entirely new, and now for the first time imposed—reciprocally and mutually to consult each other, in order that their arrangements should be so made that the public might have the benefit of one continuous and corresponding system of railways, and might pass from one line to another with as much case and convenience as along each separate railway. And here he must remark, that he was greatly surprised to hear any one, and especially one of the sagacity of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire, express an opinion that a statutory enactment such as this was a matter of light importance in the railway legislation of this country. The next question was how these statutory enactments were to be enforced; and on this part of the subject two opinions had been stated. There were those of high authority who thought that there ought to be a responsible department of the Executive Government, somewhat in the form of a Board of Control, to regulate these matters on behalf of the public; others, again, thinking that public facilities of this kind would involve many conditions likely to affect the financial position and prospects of the railway companies, were of opinion that it would be unconstitutional to hand over questions involving such points to the arbitrary decision of a public department. This was a subject which deserved to be well weighed and considered, and accordingly it had been well weighed and considered by the Select Committee, and this was the opinion which they had given with respect to it. In their Report, they said— Since, however, this control, when actually applied, must be arbitrary in its nature and free from all technical fetters, and since the exercise of it will always affect the pecuniary interest of the company against which it is directed, your Committee feel that the occasion on which it should be exerted must be carefully defined. The constitution of the Executive Government, affording no means of inquiry in presence of the board and the public, is unfavourable for the determination of such questions, and your Committee recommend that the fact of wrong having been done by the company should first be substantiated before a public tribunal, and the aid of the Executive Government be afforded to the tribunal in framing its decisions with a view to their practical effect. This course of proceeding will be the more convenient inasmuch as the process of the Court will in any case be requisite to enforce any decision at which a department of the Government might arrive. In the Bill, as at first drawn, and as it now stood, there was no attempt to run counter to this declaration; there was no proposal to place any company, against which no legal act of wrongdoing had been legally established, at the disposal of a department of the Executive Government. What was proposed was, that when it had been declared by statutory enactment that certain facilities should be afforded, and when it had been shown by full and legal investigation that a particular railway company had failed to supply those facilities, then the Executive Government should give its assistance to the appointed tribunal in remedying the mischief done. The companies considered the Bill as it stood with that proposition embodied in it, and in an interview which he had with the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Beckett Denison) and other gentlemen representing the great railway companies, they said:—"We are ready to concur with you in endeavouring to secure to the public all reasonable facilities, not only upon the separate lines, but all reasonable intercommunication between the whole system, so as to remove all obstructions, and to increase the public accommodation." But they added:—"We prefer that you should alter your machinery, that the application should be first to a court of law, and that the tribunal should have power to refer the matter to competent persons; and then, upon finding that the company has actually been doing wrong by the public, we will facilitate your obtaining salutary and stringent remedies to enforce the public rights." It appeared to him that he would have been acting most unreasonably if he had abstained from considering a proposal emanating from such a quarter. He had considered it, and he had felt that the public object which he had in view would be as effectually contained in the Bill, and as distinctly enacted in the mode in which the companies had expressed their willingness to receive it, as in any other form of language. The hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) said with regard to the remedy that it was one for which lawyers ought to be obliged to him. He held a different opinion. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) had asked him why he had not inserted something in the Bill with regard to amicable and voluntary arbitration. His answer to that was, that so far as voluntary arbitration was concerned no enactment was necessary. The Board of Trade was in the almost daily habit of forwarding to different railway companies complaints made with respect to their arrangements, accompanied by recommendations relating to them; but every one in that House, or at least every one who had been connected with the Government, must know from experience that these voluntary arbitrations were of no effect when people's pecuniary interests were at issue, and that some more stringent mode of proceeding, accompanied by compulsory power, was therefore required, and it was provided in the Bill. It was next asked by what proceeding it was proposed to carry out the objects of the Bill. This was provided by the third clause, which said that if any person was aggrieved, and if the Attorney General was instructed on the part of the Crown of any violation or contravention of the Act, he might apply, without great cost, for a remedy to the Superior Courts. There was no complicated form; a form the simplest and the most summary was provided. If the facts were not disputed, an immediate decision would be given; if the facts were disputed, a power was reserved of referring the matter to a barrister, or engineer, or some other competent person. At the same time, if more simple and effectual remedies could be suggested, he should be ready to consider them in Committee. These, then, were the main provisions of the Bill, namely—a statutory enactment that every company should afford to the public all reasonable facilities not only in regard to its own line, but also in regard to all those other lines with which it intercommunicated, in order to give to the public the full advantage of a continuous system of railway communication spreading its network from one end of the country to another; and, secondly, the establishment of a mode of enforcing this enactment the most expeditious and the least costly which had occurred to them. If the House went into Committee, he thought that those who had attacked the Bill, with a disposition to sneer at some of the difficulties with which it attempted to deal, would find that the case was not quite so easy to dispose of as they might fancy. It was one thing to find fault with the provisions of the measure, and a totally different thing to find a simpler and better mode of procedure. The House should remember the various steps which had already been taken with regard to this important subject. The first plan suggested limiting the dividend, that proved inoperative; then there was the scheme of Lord Dalhousie, which was unsuccessful in that House; and next came the plans of Sir Robert Peel's Cabinet, which also had no result. In 1846 the important step was taken of setting up a tribunal to which these matters were to be referred. That tribunal consisted of most able men. There was one ex-chief justice to give advice on legal points, and there was an engineer of the highest character to guide them in scientific matters. Parliament voted the money for it; and what happened? why their first act was to draw up a Bill asking Parliament to furnish them with the Powers necessary for the discharge of their duties. That Bill was never passed, and the consequence was that in 1847 the Commission was partially re-united to the Board of Trade, and in 1851 it ceased altogether to exist as a separate department. He thought this short summary would justify him in saying that they ought first to define the duties to be discharged before creating a new tribunal. The hon. Member for Sandwich (Mr. James M'Gregor) thought the Bill should have contained some provision with respect to the question of amalgamation; but the conclusion of the Government was this, that it would be wise of Parliament first to secure some control over the railway companies before it attempted to deal with the question of amalgamation. If they gave the companies the power of amalgamation, it might be more difficult to obtain a control over them afterwards. The hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Beckett Denison), when questioned by the Committee on this point, answered— If you allow a very large amalgamation to take place, I do not know what sort of political feeling might arise, which might be felt in the House of Commons. That is an argument against amalgamation. The House was now asked to lay down a statutory enactment, and to furnish a tribunal to enforce that enactment, and by so doing he believed that they would be establishing permanent peace between the travelling public on the one side and the railway proprietors and shareholders on the other, which could not fail to be of great benefit to both. He had not the least hesitation in saying that he had been met by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Chandos), and other hon. Members representing the railway interest, with the fairest declaration on their part, that they were desirous of seeing these obligations imposed by general statutory enactment upon the companies, and that they were willing to assist the Government in devising the most complete and efficient machinery for enforcing them by adequate penalties. He thought the House would feel that the operation of a harmonious arrangement between the public and the railway companies and between the railway companies themselves, so far from being an impeachment of the good sense and judicious nature of the measure, ought to be an additional argument to recommend it for adoption. It was his belief that the Bill would be quite as efficient in promoting what was sought for in behalf of the public as in its former shape; and he was sincere in his belief, also, that, if passed, it would confirm the value of railway property, and obtain more efficient means of affording reasonable accommodation to the public.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

The House went into Committee pro formâ.

House resumed; Committee report progress to sit again to-morrow.