HC Deb 06 May 1879 vol 245 cc1806-15

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the fact that this and various other Bills now before the House involved the question of the use of steam or other mechnical power upon tramways. It would be within the knowledge of the House that two Committees had been appointed to consider that subject—one last Session, and one during the Session which preceded that. One of them was presided over by his hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), and the one which sat last year by the hon. Member for Warwick (Mr. A. Peel).Both of those Committees reported to the House at some length, and recommended that extensive powers should be given to the Board of Trade for the purpose of regulating the use of steam or mechanical power on tramways. The Bills introduced into the House of Commons last year, containing provisions authorizing the use of steam or mechanical power on tramways, passed through that House on condition that certain Amendments should be inserted to give effect to the recommendations of the Committee, but were stopped by the action of the other House of Parliament, who appointed a Committee to consider the question. He had felt it his duty to arrest the progress of the present and other Bills raising the same question, until the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords was in the possession not only of Members of the other House of Parliament, but also of hon. Members in that House(the House of Commons). The Report of the Lords' Committee was published immediately after the Easter Holidays, and the House of Lords consented to communicate that Report to the House of Commons. Since that time, the Board of Trade had been engaged in drawing up clauses to carry out the recommendations of that Report, which it was proposed to refer to the consideration of the Committees appointed to inquire into the Bills now before the House, and he had had the opportunity of conferring with the Board of Trade upon the subject more than once. It appeared to him that the clauses which the Board of Trade proposed to insert in these Bills were such as would carry out the recommendations of the Committee of the House of Lords, and also there commendations of the two Committees which sat in the House of Commons during the last and the previous Session. He was bound, however, to say that those recommendations, in his opinion, fell short of what was really required in regard to the question. He felt it his duty to point out to the House that they were only at the beginning of legislation in reference to this description of locomotion, and that, in future, steam tramways would be likely to become popular and to spread very widely over the whole of the country. The comparative restriction of the extension of the ordinary tramways had been mainly due to the expense of working them by horses; and as soon as steam, or other mechanical power, was duly authorized, they might expect to see a great many of the public roads used as tramway roads. That would be an important change in the system of locomotion generally, and he hoped that any Committee before whom the Bills would go would carefully consider the matter. It could not be denied that at the present moment the tramway companies had an opportunity of establishing tramway lines upon a basis which was very easy when compared with the expense and obligations imposed upon railway companies. Bail way companies had to acquire property at immense expense before they could construct their lines; but it was proposed in these Tramway Bills to authorize the construction of a sort of railway on property which belonged to the public, and for which nothing whatever was paid by the promoters of the Bills. That, of course, demanded very great consideration; and he wished that the Board of Trade, or one of the Committees which had inquired into the question, had recommended the insertion of a clause requiring that the whole expense of maintaining a road upon which as team tramway was authorized should, be borne by the tramway company. He thought that that was not only a reasonable, but a desirable object; although, of course, he might be told that the local authorities, who were interested in the matter, were the persons to move in it. But he wished he could believe that they were always ready to take the initiative in the interests of the public. There might be reasons why the local authorities should abstain from raising the question; and he should, therefore, be glad if the Committee before whom these Bills would go would consider it their duty to impose on the tramway companies, without reference to the local authorities, the whole expense of maintaining the road over which the tramway ran. There was another point to which he also desired to call the attention of the House and of the Committee—namely, whether it was not desirable to fix some hard-and-fast line as the minimum width of a road over which a tramway should be allowed to travel. It was frequently the case that for five or six miles the tramway would pass along a road of tolerable width, and then there would come a short portion of the road, sometimes in the middle of it, which was extremely narrow. The local authority, for some reason best known to themselves, might authorize or sanction the construction of a tramway under such circumstances without taking steps to enforce the widening of the road; and he had never heard of a Bill or a Provisional Order being refused in consequence of the tramway passing through a small portion of a road of less width than in the public interests generally it was necessary to secure. It was desirable, therefore, that some rule should be fixed as to the width of the road, which neither the Board of Trade nor the local authority should have the power of dispensing with; and a general regulation should be laid down that no tramway should be authorized, any portion of which was proposed to be constructed in a road narrower than a certain fixed limit. If a company promoting a Bill desired to make a tramway in a road, any portion of which was narrower than this limit, it should be necessary for them to acquire space on both sides of the road for the enlargement of the roadway before being allowed to apply to Parliament. He did not wish to detain the House further upon the Bill in its present stage, because he was aware that it must now go before Committees of both Houses, and the Report of the Lords' Committee had made the matter ripe for the consideration of the Committee upstairs. He had, however, thought it right to call the attention of the House to the matter, because a very important principle was involved. Of course, there were other points arising out of the question, which must hereafter engage the attention of the House. One of them was the locus standi to be allowed to railway companies, where competition was proved to exist between their lines and those which were proposed to be laid down by tramway companies. It appeared to him that the existing rule which had been established in regard to the locus standi of a railway company could not longer be maintained where tramways were to be worked by steam. When they were so worked, they would practically become railroads, and he should venture, towards the end of the Session, when the Standing Orders in regard to Private Bills came under revision, to call attention to the subject; and he should feel much indebted to any hon. Member of the House who would make any suggestion to him in this direction, with the view of giving a locus standi to all railway companies whose interests were likely to be affected by the construction of a steam tramway. He did not think there was anything further that he need add on the present occasion. He had arrested, as he had already said, the progress of these Tramway Bills up to the present time, with the view of obtaining the latest information as to the wishes of Parliament on the subject; but now that the recommendations of the Lords' Committee were in the hands of hon. Members, it was not desirable to arrest their progress further. He therefore hoped the House would allow the present Bill to be read a second time; and, as he had just intimated, he should be grateful for any suggestion which might be made by any Member of the House with the view of securing for these Bills that they should be made as perfect and valuable as possible.


said, he was not aware that this Bill was down on the Paper for consideration on that day, and he felt that the House would be indisposed at present to enter upon many of the subjects which his hon. Friend (Mr. Raikes) had alluded to, and upon many points connected with the question of tramways upon which a debate might easily be raised. He (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) simply wished now to call the attention of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to some of the observations which had just fallen from his hon. Friend. In respect to the additional charge proposed to be laid upon tramway companies, the suggestion that tramway companies should be made responsible for the maintenance of the roads over which their lines passed, and the proposal to give the railway companies a locus standi to oppose competing tramway lines, were questions of very considerable importance, which were not to be decided at once and off-hand. His hon. Friend had called attention to the fact that the permission to use steam on tramways would popularize them to a certain extent, and had pointed out the condition in which they now stood in regard to railways—the fact being that in the one case the railway company bought the property and made and maintained its own road, while in the other the tramway company had no property of their own at all, but simply made use of roads practically made for them by other people. He wished to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer the extreme importance of the question, and the bearing it had upon another question—namely, the imposition of the passenger duty. He was not there to advocate the imposition of any fresh tax upon locomotion; but he was anxious to point out to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that if they were to sanction the use of steam or other mechanical power upon tramways, it would be a stronger ground than ever for the removal of this most unjust tax, which now operated to the great prejudice of the railway companies and of the travelling public.


did not entirely recognize the parallel which had been drawn by the right hon. Member for Sandwich (Mr. Knatchbull-Hugessen) between the position of steam tramways and railroads in reference to the passenger tax; but, at the same time, he thought there was a great deal to be said in favour of considering the propriety of applying the tax now levied upon railways to tramways. Indeed, he was at present in communication with his noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Viscount Sandon) upon the subject. It was a matter which had aroused a good deal of attention, and he hoped that some arrangement might be arrived at.


remarked that in drawing a comparison between the tramway companies and the railway companies it should be recollected that, in the latter case, the concessions to the railway companies were perpetual; while, in the former, under the General Tramways Act, the powers of the tramway companies were limited for a period of 30 years, after which the local authorities had power to purchase the tramways, paying for them only their actual value. This would, of course, give the local authorities an opportunity of making fresh terms, if necessary, with the tramway companies for a reduction of fares, or otherwise. Further, if a tramway was found to be a nuisance to a neighbourhood, it might be done away with altogether. In that respect, they differed very essentially from railway companies; and in considering the terms to be imposed upon tramway companies, it appeared to him that this essential difference should be borne in mind.


said, he was not going to oppose the second reading of the Bill; but he wished cordially to endorse the suggestions which had been made by the Chairman of Ways and Means. Those suggestions were well worth the consideration of the House. He (Mr. Bristowe) had had an opportunity of seeing a good deal in connection with these matters, having sat as one of the Referees upstairs, when the questions which the Chairman of Ways and Means called attention to had been brought prominently before him. Over and over again he had felt it a hardship that a railway company should be excluded by the Rules of the House from having a locus standi to oppose what was on the face of it a competing Bill, running over the same ground that was already occupied by a railway company. To his mind, that was a very serious matter. He had some experience of it, and between the present time and a later period of the Session he hoped he should have some information to give to his hon. Friend upon the question, which he believed would be of some use. Another point which had been alluded to was well worthy of consideration—namely, the position of the local authority in cases of this kind. No doubt, the Standing Orders of the House provided, at present, that the local authority should be the only portion of the public who should be at liberty to enter a practical protest against these schemes; but the local authority was very often unwilling to enter upon a contest upstairs, which they knew was generally a very expensive affair. They were naturally unwilling to enter into a contest which would inevitably raise the rates; and, therefore, he should like to see an alteration which would have the effect of insuring that the interests of the frontagers and of the general public should be properly considered. He would not oppose the second reading of the present Bill, and he was very glad that his hon. Friend the Chairman of Ways and Means had taken up the question.


said, he was not going to prolong the debate. He only wished to say that this was a question of a most important character, and should not be lightly dealt with. He hoped his noble Friend at the head of the Board of Trade (Viscount Sandon) would find some way of introducing into the Tramways Act some modification of the existing provisions of that Act with regard to the use of steam upon tramways. Nothing was more important than that the public should be protected against the use of steam upon very narrow roads, and the remarks of his hon. Friend the Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) upon this subject were most pertinent. He had no doubt, when the Committee upstairs came to the consideration of the question, they would arrive at the conclusion that the expense of maintaining the roads on which these steam tramways were to be placed should mainly be borne by the tramway companies, and that a general law to that effect should be enacted. He was decidedly of opinion that some regulation as to the use of steam on tramways should be laid down in a general Act of Parliament. They wanted something to show that these tramway companies were not to ride rough-shod over everybody, and to make what use they pleased of the roads; and with that view, he trusted the attention of his noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade would be called to the subject, so that he might consider what amendment of the Tramways Act was necessary.


thought it was important that they should consider the advantage derived by the public from the increased facilities afforded for locomotion. For his own part, he always rejoiced when he heard a proposition brought before the House for giving greater facilities to the public. It was necessary, he thought, that the House should take a very wide view of the question, and he had simply risen to say that he heard with regret—he would not say with alarm—an intimation, which he hoped he had misunderstood, from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that there was some idea of considering whether the tramway passengers might not be taxed as well as the railway passengers were. As to levelling up or levelling down in regard to taxation upon locomotion, it should not be forgotten that a Select Committee of the House had already condemned as objectionable this idea of taxing locomotion. It would be of no assistance to the railway companies, which bore the burden alone just now, to level the taxation up by bringing the tramways to the same obnoxious level, and by perpetuating the injustice now confined to railways. He trusted that, after communicating with the Board of Trade on the subject, Her Majesty's Government would come to the conclusion that it would be most objectionable to impose the passenger duty upon tramways, and that neither in the present, nor in the next Session, would such a proposition be submitted to Parliament.


said, he was all for levelling up, and not for levelling down, and he thought it would be of advantage to tax the passengers by tramways as well as those by railways. He was surprised to hear the hon. Member for Reading (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) refer to the concession to tramway companies as only being for a limited period, as if that was a reason why the concession should be made to them for nothing. The right to travel over the public roads for a limited period ought not to give them that right for nothing whatever, at the expense of the ratepayers. In point of fact, the Legislature had hitherto acted upon the principle of giving away other people's property, and he, for one, decidedly protested against it. He was certainly not so much alarmed as his hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), at the prospect of steam on tramways; but he certainly was alarmed to some extent as to the position which tramways might occupy in very narrow roads. It was a point to which attention had already been called by the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, who, in what he had stated, had thoroughly exhausted the subject. He only wished to reiterate the view of his hon. Friend, that some minimum width of road should be fixed by Parliament as the narrowest road over which tramways would be allowed to run. He trusted that something would be done in this direction now that the subject had been brought under the notice of the Board of Trade and of Her Majesty's Government.


said, it was suggested that some special instructions should be given to the Committee to impose the charge for the maintenance of the roads upon the companies seeking to construct tramways, and that provisions to that effect should be inserted in the Tramway Bills. He wished to submit to the consideration of the House whether it would be a wise or a proper obligation to impose upon the tramway companies. If such an arrangement were come to, a difference of opinion might constantly arise as to the state of repair in which a road should be kept, and the interest of the tramway companies in keeping the roads in sufficient repair would be different from that of the rest of the public who required to use them. He would ask if it would not be better that a certain amount should be fixed as the user of the road, or that a certain sum should be paid to the local authority for the right to use it? It appeared to him that an arrangement of that kind would work much more satisfactorily than any arrangement to bind the tramway companies to keep the roads in repair. He suggested that the point was one which, at any rate, was worth consideration.


hoped that no unnecessary delay would take place in passing the Bill now before the House. The construction of a steam tramway in this particular locality would, he thought, be a matter of very great convenience. He did not believe there were any Petitions against it which would carry any very great weight with the Committee, and he thought the suggestion of the Chairman of Ways and Means was a fair one, that all the questions which had been raised should be discussed and threshed out in Committee in a manner which was impossible on that occasion. He therefore hoped that the discussion would now cease, and that the Bill would be read a second time.

Bill read a second time, and committed.

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