HC Deb 23 February 1866 vol 181 cc1014-27

, in rising to put a question relative to the Report of the Railway Commissioners, said, that since he put his notice on the paper he had been told it should have been addressed, not to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but to the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), the President of the Commission on the Railways of the United Kingdom. As he understood the evidence had been closed in the case of Irish railways, he would venture to ask, Whether the Commissioners intended to make a Report on that part of the subject, or to wait until they had concluded their inquiry into the condition of all the railways in the kingdom, those of Great Britain as well as those of Ireland. Great anxiety existed in Ireland as to what the Government intended to do in regard to the railways of that country. The subject was brought under the notice of the House last Session by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Limerick (Mr. Monsell), now a Member of the Government, but who was not at present in the House owing to the necessity for his reelection on accepting office, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that occasion spoke as favourably as could reasonably be expected in respect to Irish railways. In that country, as in this, many of the railway undertakings were fair and flourishing, but many others were in a bankrupt condition, and very unreasonable hopes had perhaps in some instances been entertained of the action of the Government. In the case of Government wishing to purchase, with one exception, the Great Southern and Western, it had the right to do so at twenty years purchase, on an average of the last years profits, and of these there were none. The shareholders could scarcely expect they should be indemnified for the failure of their undertaking, but still some arrangement might be made where necessity existed. A meeting of the shareholders in Irish railways had lately been held in Dublin, and much anxiety existed to know whether any negotiations were likely to take place between the Government and the Irish railways. The hon. and gallant Gentleman concluded by asking the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn, Whether the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the condition of Railways has concluded the inquiry with respect to Irish Railways; and, if such be the case, whether they will make a Report with regard to that kingdom at once, and without waiting to pursue the inquiry as to the Railways in Great Britain; and further, to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether, if that Report be made, he is prepared on the part of the Government to entertain the subject of Irish Railways?


My hon. and gallant Friend (General Dunne) has conferred more honour upon me than is my due in alluding to me as Chairman of the Commission now sitting to inquire into the Railways of the Kingdom. But I have the honour of a seat upon that Commission, and I shall be very glad, as far as it is in my power, to give him the explanation that he desires. The state of the case with regard to the Irish railways is this:—We have taken a large mass of information with regard to the Irish railway system in general. That evidence is at present, and has been for some time, in the hands of the Government, and, as far as we are concerned, there is not the slightest objection to its being made public. I believe we have obtained pretty nearly all the information that will be found material with regard to Irish railways; but we have not expressly decided on closing that branch of the inquiry, and if any communications are brought before us which we consider important we have not cut ourselves off from receiving them. The second part of my right hon. Friend's question was, "Do you intend to make a separate Report as regards Ireland without waiting for the result of the inquiry as regards Great Britain?" My answer to that is that we do not purpose at present to make any separate Report as regards Ireland. As to our reasons, I cannot, of course, undertake to speak for my colleagues on the Commission; but, speaking for myself, I think I can explain why that decision was come to. It would have been a very easy thing to make a separate Report on the Irish part of the Question, if that Report had been confined to a summary of facts, or even to recommendations dealing with local details. But the main questions referred to us are not questions of fact or of local detail. They are questions involving very large principles of administrative management. One, for instance, is a proposition which has been put forward in a very ingenious treatise, and which was discussed last year in this House—a proposition that the State should buy up all the property of the railway companies. Failing that, there is a proposition that the State should lend money on easy terms to embarrassed companies, or to all companies, with a view to induce them to reduce their rates. Failing that, again, there is a proposition that much larger powers should be given to the State, enabling the Board of Trade, or some other Department, to supervise the working of railway companies. Now, it seems to me impossible that these questions, looking at them from an administrative point of view, should be decided with respect to Ireland, unless the railway system of Great Britain be at the same time taken into account. If you were to deal with Ireland only, the matter would be within a very narrow compass. The whole Irish railway system is of very manageable extent. The total capital embarked in Irish railways does not much exceed £20,000,000, which is exactly the aggregate sum proposed to be expended on metropolitan lines within the present year by the Bills now before the House. But it would be a serious matter to pledge ourselves to recommend the adoption of any course with regard to Ireland, which, by a logical necessity, would involve the adoption of a similar course, not with reference merely to £20,000,000, but to the £400,000,000 invested in the railways of Great Britain. Of course, we can only look at this matter from the administrative point of view. There is no doubt a political point of view, but that is not one that comes within the scope of our Commission. We are not sitting to inquire into the general state of Ireland: we are not authorized to consider whether any special measures are desirable for the relief of Irish distress, for the conciliation of the Irish people, or for the subsidizing of Irish trades or interests:—these are very fair matters for the consideration of Ministers and of the House; but the Commission of which I am a member is simply, as I conceive, charged and empowered to report on those principles on which the railway system of the United Kingdom ought to be administered. And, looking at it from that point of view, and again stating that I am merely expressing my own opinion, and not wishing to pledge my colleagues, I do not see how we can draw any distinction between the case of Ireland and that of England. I think we are bound to consider this question and to report upon it as a whole.

Having answered the Question of my hon. and gallant Friend, as I shall not be able to speak again in the course of the present discussion, I hope I shall be allowed to call attention to a kindred subject, to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten) is shortly about to address himself. My hon. and gallant Friend has given notice that he will to-night call the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to the enormous number of metropolitan railway schemes brought before Parliament in the present year. That is a subject which, I venture to say, the Government ought at once seriously to consider. If all these Bills go in the usual way before Select Committees, they must be referred, not to one Committee, but to two or more. I have seen the list, and it is impossible that any single Committee could undertake the task of dealing with them. But if they be referred to two Committees, that unity of plan and purpose which it is so desirable to retain where the metropolis is concerned will be lost. I have already stated that the capital of these projected metropolitan lines amounts, in round numbers, to £20,000,000. Their number is nearly one-half again as great as it was in 1864, when the magnitude of the undertakings projected caused Parliament to deal with them in a special manner. I think we ought to do again what we did two years ago. If it is inconvenient to send these Bills to two or three separate Committees, and if it is impossible to send them to any one Committee, the only alternative is to institute a preliminary inquiry and to weed the list, so to speak—to select those which are really urgent and important, and to throw over the rest to another Session. That was done two years ago by means of a Joint Committee of the two Houses. It was an experiment at the time, and an experiment as to the success of which many persons doubted. But it was one which when tried answered perfectly; and I never heard the general result which was arrived at complained of by any of the parties concerned. I think the Government cannot do better than repeat now what was done before. But if they adopt that course, it must be without delay. And I may remind them that the matter is one which, through the immense disturbance both of property and traffic that is involved, materially affects the comfort of three millions of people.


said, he had given notice of a Motion for that evening on the subject of railway and other Bills affecting the metropolis, but after the admirable speech of his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) it would be needless for him to trouble the House with the observations he had intended to offer. He would content himself with adding a few words to what had been already so pointedly urged. The exact amount of capital comprised in the Railway Bills affecting the metropolis for this present Session was £19,149,000; and this was exclusive of other Bills to be submitted to Committees which affected the metropolis indirectly, involving a capital of over £27,000,000. He begged to add his strong recommendation to the President of the Board of Trade to take up this question at an early period, and see whether it could not be brought within moderate compass. In 1863 a Committee of the House of Lords recommended that every year the metropolitan railways should be taken in hand in a preliminary investigation, and the results submitted for the guidance of Parliament. In 1864 this was done; and the metropolitan schemes were submitted to a Joint Committee of both Houses, of which his noble Friend the Member for King's Lynn, the President of the Board of Trade, and himself, were Members. The Joint Committee came to the resolution that, with a view of securing the most speedy and efficient communication between the various parts of the metropolis, all measures should be eliminated from the list of Railway Bills before Parliament which did not tend to some general scheme of communication. Acting in the spirit of that resolution a great number of Bills were thrown out, and a scheme of railway communication throughout the metropolis was drawn up and recommended as the basis of any future legislation. Unfortunately, in the last Session of Parliament the idea put forward by the Joint Committee of the previous year was abandoned. Independent companies came forward with plans having no reference whatever to the scheme, and rather interfering with the general plan. What he now suggested to his right hon. Friend was that rather by means of a Joint Committee, if the cooperation of the other House could be secured, or by means of a Royal Commission, it should be seen how far the metropolitan Railway Bills now before Parliament carried out the original recommendations of the two Houses. If any were found which failed to carry out, or which in any way interfered with, those original Colonel Wilson Patten recommendations, it ought at once to be set aside. This metropolitan question he took up, not so much from any personal interest in its solution—for many hon. Members naturally were more directly concerned in any decision which might be arrived at—as from its bearing on the large amount of Private Business before the House. This was so extensive that the greatest difficulty would be experienced in dealing with it, and if it were all proceeded with, he really did not think it would be possible to find Members to sit on all the various Committees that would be called for. The recommendation of the Board of Trade was to the effect that the metropolitan railways, fifty in number, should be divided into two groups; and that one Committee should take the railways on the north side of the river and the other those upon the south side. He could assure his right hon. Friend that the sacrifice of time which would be required from any Member undertaking the investigation of the Railway Bills affecting the northern side of the Thames would be a tax too serious almost to be imposed upon anybody. If the matter were left to chance, or if Members through overwork became careless in their attendance, there was great risk that the uniform plan of railway communication in the metropolis would be spoiled. It was very desirable, therefore, to establish, if possible, some preliminary investigation. Whether his right hon. Friend would agree to that suggestion he did not know, but the whole subject was worthy of his attention, considering the difficulties they would have to deal with if all these railway schemes were sent to Committees of that House without some previous arrangement.


I was not aware before the meeting of the House of the precise proposal which my hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wilson Patten) was about to make with regard to metropolitan railways. I shall, of course, hesitate, without due consideration, to refuse to entertain any proposal of his on that subject, knowing the great experience my hon. and gallant Friend possesses on questions relative to the Private Business of the House, and to the difficulty encountered in forming Committees to transact it. I must, however, say that on looking into the Railway Bills for this year affecting the metropolis, the Board of Trade has not thought them of such a magnitude, or of so unusual a character, as to call upon it to recommend the adoption of any exceptional course in respect to them. It is true that in 1864 there was a Joint Committee of both Houses which took into consideration the railway projects of the year affecting the metropolis and that it eliminated many of them, postponing them for a future Session, and allowing only a certain number to proceed. But there was a reason for that course. There had been a Committee of the Lords in 1863; that Committee had laid down a comprehensive scheme for the metropolis; and, in consequence of that, a great number and variety of projects were submitted, all more or less to give effect to the recommendations made in the previous year by the Committee of the other House. Therefore it was necessary, on that as well as on other grounds, to consider all those projects and see which should be permitted to go on and which ought to be deferred. I do not think that is the case now. It is quite true there are at present a good many Railway Bills, but they are not all brought forward for the purpose of executing new works, nor are they all promoted by new companies. Many of them are, in fact, promoted by existing companies, to extend existing lines, and to form new junctions with those lines, thus rendering works already executed more useful. [Lord STANLEY: It was so in 1864.] Perhaps, so. Many of these metropolitan Bills also are unopposed—that is to say, there may be claims on the part of individuals for compensation for private property intended to be taken, but no opposition is offered to the schemes as a whole. In making these remarks I am not prepared, indeed, to say that it may not be necessary to have some kind of an inquiry; but I much doubt whether the case requires the same formal proceeding as took place in 1864. At the present moment, I believe that six of those Bill have been abandoned; and in reckoning up the capital proposed to be expended, all that has been done is to look at every Bill and count up the various schemes, without taking into consideration the fact that some of them may be competing schemes, both of which Parliament cannot, of course, sanction. The capital of all these competing schemes, however, goes to swell the grand total. Again, I must observe that if 3,000,000 of people be collected in a great city like London—if we are to have our enormous trade, both import and export—if we are to drive out a large body of the inhabitants to live in the suburbs, we must be prepared to have increased railway accommodation to bring those people to the great centres of business. Therefore, we must not be astonished if projectors come forward, not asking for the money of the State, but merely for permission to invest their own capital in what they believe to be a profitable way, and to meet the requirements of that great community. That appears to me to be a view of the subject which should be kept in mind; and although the magnitude of these undertakings may startle us for a moment, we must look at the magnitude of that great metropolis, the extent of its trade, and the urgent necessity there is for increased facilities for its traffic. Why, look at the state of the public streets at the present moment—at the thronging and inconvenience produced by the crowded condition of the thoroughfares! And it should be observed that many of these railway projects—some at least of those in the present year—are in precise accordance with the previous recommendations of Parliament—namely, under-ground railways, which, while the works are in progress, no doubt may cause some inconvenience, but when once they are finished, except as regards certain houses that are taken for an adequate compensation, leave everything above ground wholly unaffected. My hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Wilson Patten) says we cannot get Committees to do the work; and I will admit that it is rather a strong proposal to ask four hon. Gentlemen to attend to the entire group of Bills applicable to the north side of the Thames, while another Committee deals with the second group for the southern side. The labours of such a Committee will, no doubt, be very considerable. I do not, however, think they will be so great as my hon. and gallant Friend supposes. The six schemes which have been abandoned all related, I believe, to the northern side, and are precisely those which would have given rise to the greatest amount of labour and investigation; while, at the same time, they would have interfered most with the general plan previously laid down by Parliament. Many of the schemes for the north side are not opposed; they merely take ground for stations, or small extensions of existing works; and I believe the residue left to be disposed of by that Committee would not be so great as my hon. and gallant Friend imagines. Still, I am ready to join with my hon. and gallant Friend in going into a careful analysis of these projects, and to give my best consideration to the proposal which he has made that night. I think these matters will not be found to be so formidable; and I do hope that Members of Parliament will not shrink from the labour which devolves upon them in reference to these matters. It is a duty, and a most important one, which they have to perform for the public. They are sent to that House to perform such duties, and must not shrink from their discharge. If we can divide a great group into smaller groups in such a way that separate schemes not bearing on each other might be considered by a separate Committee, or adopt some other course of that kind, without incurring the risk of the uniformity of plan being destroyed, no doubt we should lessen the labours of particular Committees. The question is one with which the Government by itself can hardly deal properly, involving as it does duties and functions to be performed by the Members of that House, and especially those duties which are discharged so well by my hon. and gallant Friend, without whose assistance I should scarcely be able to come to a satisfactory conclusion on this subject. Therefore, if my hon. and gallant Friend will unite with me in considering these matters we need not despair of arriving at their solution; but I repeat that I do not think a case has been made out for so formal a proceeding in the present year as the appointment of a Joint Committee of both Houses.

I will next turn to a very different subject, with respect to which some Questions have been put to me earlier in the evening, but which the forms of the House, forbidding me to speak twice in this debate, precluded me from adverting to before. I now refer to the fisheries of the United Kingdom, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Cave) has called attention. My hon. Friend has alluded to the Report of the Commissioners who lately inquired into the sea fisheries, and asked me whether it is the intention of the Government to propose, during the present Session, to give effect to their recommendations by any legislation. I may be permitted to say that I think a more able Report than that which those Commissioners have laid before Parliament and the country was never made. It is perfectly evident that this inquiry has been most searching and complete, and con- ducted in a most diligent and judicious manner; and as far as the Government have been enabled to give its consideration to their Report, the inclination of our mind undoubtedly is, at the proper opportunity, to give effect, at any rate, to some of their recommendations. It is not probable that at so early a period measures should have been matured for carrying out those large recommendations by legislation; but, as far as concerns the French Convention, Her Majesty's Government have sent to the Government of France a copy of the Report, and have invited its attention to it with the view of ascertaining the extent to which the French Government would be prepared to go in revising the present Convention and in the repeal of those obstructions to free fishing which the Commission have recommended should be abolished. With respect to the propriety of terminating the French Convention by notice, no project of that kind has been entertained. The French Government has on former occasions shown a great willingness to entertain the question of that Fishery Convention, and I think when the Report of the English Commission has been considered by that Government, that Report will materially assist them in coming to a conclusion as to the principles upon which some revision of that Convention should be based. We have had also the benefit of very important inquiries which have been made in France; and I think the ground is now laid for putting our fishery laws upon a sound and satisfactory footing. I have also been asked whether the Government proposes to introduce a Bill empowering persons to appropriate portions of the foreshore for the purpose of cultivating oysters, in accordance with the recommendations of the Commission. The matter is well worthy of consideration; but it is obvious that a proposal to enable private persons, by going through certain forms, to appropriate portions of the foreshore to their exclusive use, demands very cautious consideration. I am glad, in conclusion, to be able to say that the Report of the Commissioners has entirely put an end to the apprehension that had been entertained in certain quarters, that the supply of fish for food is materially diminishing, for the Commissioners have clearly proved that the agency of man has hardly an appreciable influence in diminishing the supply of fish. On the contrary, with the exception of oysters, fish is as plentiful as it has ever been, and oysters, even in their opinion, had not fallen off from over fishing, but from causes over which man has no control. It is highly satisfactory that an inquiry undertaken in the spirit of a proposal to increase the restrictions upon fishing, should have resulted in showing that the supply of fish and the interests of fishermen would be best promoted by free and unrestricted fishing.


remarked, with reference to the statement of the President of the Board of Trade upon the subject of metropolitan railways, that, although he quite approved the spirit which induced the right hon. Gentleman to shrink from transferring the action of the Government upon the House or upon private legislation, yet he thought the feeling might be carried too far, because he could conceive of a state of things which would render it absolutely necessary for the right hon. Gentleman to interfere for the public good, and also for the purpose of ministering to the legitimate convenience of Members. The question of metropolitan railways was one of great interest and complexity. The present difficulty had arisen from the decision arrived at by the Joint Committee two years ago with respect to railways in the metropolis; for when the proposed restrictions had been once broken through Parliament was flooded with schemes. They were so numerous and so conflicting that there was great danger of confusion and delay, and in the meanwhile the injury to the inhabitants of London was enormous; houses were taken by thousands, and all the arrangements of business were seriously disturbed. He strongly urged that the whole of the schemes now before Parliament should be dealt with by one Committee of hon. Members, or, if possible, by a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. If the many schemes were dealt with, as before, by several Committees in their separate rooms, the result, he feared, would be similar to the results of the past. Contradictory conclusions would be arrived at by the several Committees, based upon the diverse evidence of separate sets of witnesses, and thus discredit would be thrown upon the labours of hon. Gentlemen. To avoid this some directing mind should be brought to bear upon the whole subject, and the suggestion he had made would permit this to be done. He would also remind the House that the Board looking after the drainage of the metropolis had to watch these schemes in the interests of the public, and the greater the number of Committees the greater the expense to the ratepayers. He hoped these reasons would weigh with the right hon. Gentleman, and induce him to overcome those scruples which prevented him acting in the matter.


expressed a like opinion. In a great question of this kind, involving the welfare of thousands, nay, millions of people, different Committees, with different facts before them, ought not to have power of giving decisions; but the whole of the metropolitan railway schemes should be considered by one Committee, or one Commission, with all the facts before them. Additional railway accommodation was undoubtedly required in the metropolis; but that accommodation should be afforded according to a well-devised general scheme, and not on the haphazard speculation of different and conflicting companies. The working classes, turned out of their dwellings by the destruction inevitably arising from the making of metropolitan railways, ought also to have a large share of attention. A Joint Committee of the two Houses would probably be the best machinery.


believed that the remedy to the evil complained of was not to be found in a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, but in carrying out this simple proposition—of taking railway as well as all other private business before another tribunal than the House of Commons. Two years ago he served on a Committee in which a proposition to the effect that the whole business of railway legislation ought not to be undertaken by that House was negatived only by a majority of one; and since then the country had been plunged into such a state in relation to railway construction that he believed we had to pay for new lines something like 15 per cent, while the outlay for similar purposes was only 5 per cent in France. Thus it came to pass that no man in his senses was disposed to invest a single shilling in railway shares, and that it was left to engineers, lawyers, and others to construct those great and useful works, as it were on their own terms. That was the result of their attempting to keep legislation with respect to railways within that House. The influence, he might add, which the great railway companies brought to bear on that House and its Committees was perfectly unprece- dented; and it was their interest to prevent the construction of independent lines, and to retain the powers they already possessed. He (Mr. Whalley) considered that competition ought to be encouraged, and that the same system should be adopted with respect to railways which had been found to answer in other cases—namely, the delegation of these matters of detail to a tribunal properly constituted. As an illustration of the extent to which it prevailed, he might mention that after a Resolution that no Private Bill relating to railways should be opposed on the ground that the proposed line would enter into competition with an existing line had been carried in the Committee of 1863, it had, owing to the influence to which he referred, been rescinded. Such was the unsatisfactory nature of the existing system that a leading counsel before Parliamentary Committees was heard to say that he never had a case so bad as to lead him to despair of success, nor one so good as to make him feel confident that he would not fail. The question was one of great national importance, and the Government ought, he thought, to take it up in the national interest.