HC Deb 24 June 1886 vol 307 cc229-43

Order for Third Beading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. Dodds.)

MR. R. CHAMBERLAIN (Islington, W.)

I rise for the purpose of moving the Amendment of which I have given Notice, and to ask the House to reject this Bill, because I believe that the railway it is proposed to construct is not required by any present, or possible, or probable traffic along the line, and because it will involve the unnecessary and wanton destruction of some of the natural beauty of the Isle of Wight, and, in particular, would destroy some Downs over which the public at the present moment enjoy, and from time immemorial have enjoyed, the right of wandering, and which right they still claim. In addition, the line itself will be inconvenient and dangerous in its plan and construction; and, further, it was promoted in the interests, not of the public, but of one or two land speculators, who, while benefiting themselves, confer no corresponding benefit upon the public. The principle upon which Parliament consents to confer privileges and grant compulsory powers upon a private Company is that the promoters of a Private Bill shall, in return, confer the greatest possible benefit upon the public, and injure the public in the smallest possible degree. Now, the present Bill is one which proposes to inflict upon the public the maximum of loss and the minimum of gain. Last Session Parliament granted powers for the construction of a line from Shanklin to Chale—a point about five miles from Shanklin—and now it is sought to ex- tend that line from Chale to Freshwater. But, while the promoters ask powers to extend the Shanklin and Chale line, that line does not exist at the present moment, because, so far, no advantage has been taken of the power to construct the line granted by Parliament last year. Such traffic as there is in the district along the least frequented sea board of the Island is taken by two coaches; and, in order to secure a sufficient amount of patronage, the proprietors of these coaches find it necessary to charge fares less than railway fares for the same distance would come to. I have visited the locality personally, as I felt it my duty to do so before taking the course I am about to take. I found that neither of the two coaches was paying, and that both wore running with lees than half-loads of passengers. Then, again, with regard to the other railways which the Isle of Wight possesses, I would ask what probability their history presents of a new line proving to be a profitable speculation? It is a very thinly populated Island, and yet there are at present five railways running in it. One of them—the Isle of Wight Railway— pays, I believe, a good dividend; but the Cowes and Newport pays neither dividend nor interest upon the capital expended; the Ryde and Newport Railway pays no dividend; the Newport Junction Railway from Newport to Sandown is in the hands of receivers appointed by the Court of Chancery, and the Newport and Freshwater Railway is an alternative line to Freshwater which has just been commenced. The Company obtained power to construct the line eight years ago; but it is only now that they have commenced to carry their powers out. There is, further, a Brading Harbour and Works Railway; but I have not been able to obtain any information whatever about it. With regard to the proposed line, I understand it is intended that the Isle of Wight Company shall work it. But does that make the case better? Not in the slightest degree, because, if it were likely to be a paying railway, calculated to confer benefit upon the promoters and contractors, the Isle of Wight Company would themselves have come to Parliament for powers to make the line. It is only because it is a scheme not worth their while as a Company to execute themselves that the Isle of Wight Company have taken it up in this way. With regard to the country through which the proposed line is to run, it will pass along the sea board, cutting through the tops of some of the most beautiful chines, and eventually it is to end by a steep incline at Freshwater, passing over Afton Downs, which shut in Freshwater Bay and form one of the most charming spots in the Island. The incline is not only dangerous from its steepness, but it turns round with a sharp and dangerous curve; and altogether the line will, if sanctioned, utterly and irretrievably ruin the scenery of this part of the Island. A question has been raised as to whether common rights do not exist in the Downs which it is proposed to intersect. The Company say that there are no common rights whatever, and that the Downs are the property of individual landlords. In their own statement they say that they put it down in the first instance as common-able land because there was so much difficulty in ascertaining whether there were common rights; but they say they have now ascertained that there are no common rights. From the inquiry which I made on the spot, I find that, although there are no common rights in regard to the cutting of turf or the grazing of cattle, yet that the public have from time immemorial had the privilege of straying over and enjoying these beautiful Downs. I myself wandered over them without let or hindrance, and I therefore ask the House not to decide any dispute which may exist as to common rights between ths public and the landowners. The matter is in dispute, and until the question can be legally decided I would ask the House not to take sides on a question of this kind. The promoters go on to say that the opposition to the scheme is simply the result of a sentimental objection. Well, I think there is something even in a sentimental objection, and I have heard of a Railway Bill being thrown out three times simply on account of a sentimental objection. There can be no doubt that if this line is sanctioned it will entirely destroy a very interesting and charming spot. I have said that this railway is a dangerous railway. It goes down an incline of one in 50 at one point, and then for a considerable distance down an incline of one in 40, and then it works round the Down at Freshwater by an extremely sharp curve—a curve of 10 chains which I am advised is exceedingly dangerous from an engineering point of view, and very likely to be objected to even by the Board of Trade. The reason why it is proposed to make the line in such a way is that in the interests of the promoters it may be made as cheaply as possible without regard to the advantage or safety of the public. As I have said, if such a line were wanted the Isle of Wight Company would have taken it up, and there would have been open competition for the construction of the line. But as it is simply a speculation the work of construction is to be given to a particular contractor. As a matter of fact, it is a line which has been got up by a syndicate of promoters; and I need not tell the House that it is not the interests of the general public which, as a rule, are attended to under such circumstances. Not a single shilling of money has been subscribed on behalf of the public, and if the railway receives the sanction of Parliament it will have to be financed, and eventually the public will come into possession of the line at something like double the cost of constructing a good and sound railway. The promoters in their statement say they have satisfied the objections of the Commons Preservation Society. I cannot help regarding that as a startling statement, because it is at the instance of the Commons Preservation Society that I have taken up this case. That, I think, is a sufficient answer to this portion of their statement. While on this subject, I may, perhaps, be allowed to say that I am altogether free from any kind of private interest. I have no personal interest in any railway on the Island, or in any landed property there, nor have I, to the best of my knowledge, any friend who has a pecuniary interest in property in the Isle of Wight. I have simply taken up the case at the request of the Commons Preservation Society, and having examined the locality myself I feel that I am justified in asking the House to reject the Bill. I have only one other word to say. From something I heard in the Lobby I am given to understand that the promoters consider themselves hardly used in this objection being made on the third reading of the Bill. No doubt it would have been more advisable to make it at an earlier stage of the measure. But when it was sought to oppose it in Committee the question of locus standi was raised, and the opponents were not allowed to be heard. The result has been that the promoters have not been put to any expense in promoting the Bill; there has been no examination of the details of the scheme in which the public have had an opportunity of taking part; and nothing whatever has been done to satisfy the objections which have been raised. We have, therefore, been forced to oppose the Bill upon the third reading. The proposed line is simply an alternative scheme. Eight years ago Parliament granted powers to construct a line running from Newport to Freshwater, and onto Yarmouth, through the centre of the Island; but it has not yet been constructed. I will not occupy the time of the House further. A good deal more might be said, but I think I have said enough about the merits of the line; and I appeal to the House not to grant powers and concessions of this kind, from which the public will derive no benefit, but from which, on the contrary, they will suffer serious injury.

MR. WESTLAKE (Essex, Romford)

I have much pleasure in seconding the Motion for the rejection of the Bill. I have no personal interest in the matter, but I am well acquainted with the locality, and I know that it is perfectly impossible for a line of railway to be carried out as proposed without inflicting serious damage upon one of the prettiest parts of the Isle of Wight. The contemplated injury would be avoided by making a cutting and turning the line round by the back of the Downs, and to do so would not be a very expensive undertaking. In the reasons which have been circulated by the promoters in support of the Bill some extraordinary statements are made. I know the place well, and I say that Freshwater Bay is not a so-called bay, but a real bay, and a very charming bay too; and it will be very seriously damaged by the cutting proposed to be made through Afton Downs. But the promoters appear to have let the cat out of the bag. They say that there are no commonable rights; but that question is in dispute. They say that the opposition is purely sentimental, and that the rejection of the Bill will deprive the landlords of the opportunity which ought to be afforded to them for the development of their property. Now, the last assertion is the real gist of the matter. They want to cover the Downs with buildings, and they want a railway in order to give access to them. If there are no commonable rights they could do that without an Act of Parliament, and would be absolute masters of the Downs, and they could do all they desire without corning here at all. The very essence of an application to Parliament is that Parliament should look to the interests of the public, and not assist a Railway Company in destroying one of the most beautiful spots in the Isle of Wight, or in determining a question which we are told is sub judice—namely, whether there exist commonable rights over these Downs or not. I beg to second the Amendment.

MR. LIONEL COHEN (Paddington, N.)

It has been said that a railway ought only to be made for one of two objects. First, to serve the interests of the inhabitants of the locality through which it is to pass, and, next, to serve the public generally. But I am afraid that in this case the great majority of the inhabitants of Freshwater are opposed to the Bill, and that they desire its rejection. And, so far as the public are concerned, there are certainly no necessities on their part which render it desirable that Downs of this nature should be crossed and intersected by a line of railway for the purpose of affording facilities which are really not required. There are other points which render it undesirable that this Bill should receive the sanction of the House. I do not see why, in regard to Private Business, the same principle should not be adopted as that which has been adopted in reference to public measures—namely, that all contentious Business shall be hung up for another Parliament. This agreement ought the more to be observed with respect to Private Bills, as they can be taken up in the new Parliament where they leave off in this. Therefore, I hope that the House will not consent to pass a Bill against the interests of the inhabitants, which is not required in the interests of the public, especially as the measure is one which would utterly destroy one of the most beautiful Downs which exist in the Isle of Wight.


If it were not for the fact that I happen to be well acquainted with the locality in which it is proposed to construct this railway, and that I take great interest in all questions which affect it, I should not desire to take part in this discussion. But I do not wish the House to be led away upon a wrong scent, and therefore I am anxious to explain why I give a cordial assent to the second reading of the Bill. I am able to say without the slightest hesitation that there do not exist in any shape or form any common rights over these Downs. No doubt the Commons Preservation Society is a very useful Body; but the value of its contributions to the maintenance of the ancient common land of the country has been, I am bound to say, very little indeed. The Commons Preservation Society, represented by the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. E. Chamberlain) in the first instance opposed the Bill because they were of opinion that it interfered with common rights, but finding that that was a mistake they withdrew their opposition to it. They are now, at the last moment, renewing their opposition upon entirely different grounds—grounds of a purely sentimental character. As the hon. Member for Islington has been induced to come forward and oppose the third reading of the Bill, I should like to refer to one or two of the objections which have been raised. The hon. Member has stated from some vague rumour that that is a question in dispute, and that in all probability more will be heard of it hereafter. Now, I tell the hon. Member, as a lawyer, that if this railway be laid down over common land, and Parliament finds hereafter that it has been induced to pass it through this representation, there cannot be the slightest doubt that the commoners would be reinstated in the rights they now possess. ["Oh!"] I believe I am stating what is absolutely true. Then it is said that it is not for the interest of the public that this railway should be made, and an hon. Member opposite (Mr. Lionel Cohen) has said that it was petitioned against. There has also been a Petition in favour of it, and I think it would be found on inquiry that the great mass of the people in Freshwater are strongly in favour of it. Some allusion has been made to the existing coach traffic, and to the fact that the two coaches which now carry on the traffic are not more than half filled. That may be so; but it is perfectly well known to everybody that the formation of a railway has the effect of developing traffic, and it is anticipated that if this line is constructed from Chale to Freshwater it will considerably develop the trade and traffic of the locality. The real reason for the opposition to the Bill is to be found in the exclusiveness of certain landed proprietors and resident gentlemen who desire not to be invaded by that dreadful thing—a railway. It is entirely from motives of that character that this opposition has been set up. ["No!"] Hon. Members say "No;" but although I have listened attentively to the discussion I have not heard a single sound objection raised to the Bill. It has been said that powers have already been obtained from Parliament for the construction of a line from Newport to Freshwater and Yarmouth, but that the undertaking has not been carried out. At the same time it must be remembered that the line from Newport to Freshwater will cost £l6,000 a-mile, whereas this line will only cost £6,000 a-mile. As we all know, the railway traffic in the Isle of Wight is limited to a particular season of the year; and, of course, it is impossible to construct an expensive line with any hope of making it remunerative. The Newport line has been abandoned, but this line can be made cheaply, and with the general consent, I believe, of the inhabitants. Therefore, as it is a line which does not in the slightest degree affect common rights, as it is for the interests of the inhabitants that it should be constructed, and as I believe the opposition to it is purely fictitious and in the interests of a few residential proprietors who are actuated by a spirit of exclusiveness, I feel bound to give a hearty support to the third reading.

MR. T. H. BOLTON (St. Pancras, N.)

There appears to be some doubt, Sir, whether the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. E. Chamberlain) moved that the Bill be read a third time on this day three months.


No Motion has yet been made to that effect.


Then I will supply the omission by moving that the Bill be read a third time on this day three months. I am surprised at the speech, which has just been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Atherley-Jones), who says that he is a friend of the preservation of commons, and yet wants to cast doubts as to the existence of common rights in connection with the beautiful Downs through which this railway is to go, and consents to the Downs themselves being destroyed by this Bill. My hon. and learned Friend also went on to argue in favour of the rights of the landowners as against the rights of the commoners. It seemed to me that the speech of my hon. and learned Friend was altogether an inconsequential speech, and I am certainly surprised that it should have been delivered by a gentleman of his logical acumen and general consistency. I should certainly like to hear what the hon. and learned Gentleman who represents the Isle of Wight (Sir Richard Webster) may have to say on the subject. I can scarcely suppose that he will be prepared to advocate this scheme, which will injure one of the most beautiful portions of the Island he represents. The scheme is promoted by interested persons—persons interested in it as the makers of the proposed railway, and as the owners of property in the locality. Their desire is to promote a speculative building scheme without regard to the beauty of the scenery or the interests of the inhabitants. I think that no satisfactory case has been made out for the passing of the Bill; and, therefore, I will adopt the usual course of moving that it be read a third time on this day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Mr. T. H. Bolton.)

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

MR. GILES (Southampton)

I gathered from the remarks of the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. R. Chamberlain) that there are two objections to this Bill—the first of which is from an engineering point of view. Now, this line was designed and planned by an engineer of great experience and ability who has been employed in the construction of many railways, and who is not likely to have undertaken to lay down a railway which would be difficult to work. The next objection has reference to the question of sentiment. Now, we have all heard of the sentiment of a certain noble Lord who lives on the Island, and who objects to the intrusion of any railway into his neighbourhood; but we must remember that the same sort of sentimental feeling was manifested in many directions when railways were first proposed for the Isle of Wight. It was said that it would spoil the Island to construct any railway in it at all. But the same sentiment was used in order to stop the water supply of Manchester being brought from Thirl-mere Lake; and if we were to listen to all the sentimental objections which are raised by a certain class of people we should never have any public works carried out at all. I certainly hope the House will think twice before it rejects a useful Bill of this nature on the ground of a sentimental objection of that kind. Another objection which has been urged against the construction of this line is that it will probably have no traffic. Now, I maintain that that is a question for the promoters—["Oh!"]—and I submit that when a railway is designed and is only to cost £6,000 per mile the very thinnest traffic would pay on that basis. The next objection is that a railway has already been sanctioned from Newport to Yarmouth, and because the powers conferred by that Bill have not been carried out, and the Bill is now practically dead—which is, however, by no means certain—that this measure ought to be refused. Now, the construction of that line would have cost £15,000 per mile; but as the Bill itself does not expire until August next it cannot be made use of as a ground of objection to this Bill. With regard to the present line, it will pass for eight and a-half miles out of ten and a-half along a military road with the consent of the War Office; and I think it ought to be a sufficient inducement to the House to grant a Bill that an important Department of the Government believe to be useful. The last reason I would urge in favour of the Bill is that those who are opposed to it have had an opportunity of showing their opposition to it by Petitions which might have been presented against it.

An hon. MEMBER

It has never been I considered by a Select Committee.


Nevertheless, all opponents have had a full opportunity of presenting Petitions against it.

MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I feel called upon to oppose the Bill, because I do not think that it will confer any public benefit or convenience. I have had the pleasure of walking over these beautiful Downs several times in the course of my life, and I very much doubt whether, in the first instance, a railway is wanted at all. There are very few people who travel in this district, and I doubt whether, if a railway were constructed, such as is proposed by the Bill now before the House, the number of people who visit that part of the Island would be greatly increased. I do not believe that the public convenience depends upon the construction of a railway in the Isle of Wight. On the contrary, I believe that the carrying of this undertaking would mutilate, if not entirely destroy, one of the most beautiful spots in the Island. Those who are acquainted with this part of the Island know perfectly well that the Downs affected by the Bill are Downs over which the public are free to roam without let or hindrance; and on the ground that the construction of this line would undoubtedly mutilate and destroy the character of that lovely part of the Island I shall certainly oppose the Bill. We have already had some practical experience in connection with railways in the Isle of Wight. I know of no district in which railway travelling is more expensive. Visitors, I am sorry to say, get the minimum of convenience for the maximum of charge. Only last week I desired to go from Shanklin to Ryde, and from Ryde to Brading; but, to my astonishment, I found that there was no train after 5 o'clock in the evening, and if you do manage to succeed in catching a train you have to pay five times the price you would have to pay in any other part of the United Kingdom. My experience of travelling by railway in the Isle of Wight is not at this moment by any means invigorating. I think, therefore, that the House of Commons ought to pause before it consents to grant new concessions either to the existing Companies, or to any others for the construction of railways under similar conditions. Nor do I believe that this particular railway, however cheaply it may be constructed, could by any possibility ever pay. No doubt it is a pure speculation, with full knowledge on the part of the promoters that when Parliament has sanctioned the construction of a railway there are always a number of people who believe it will pay, and who are ready to subscribe the capital. In the first instance, it appears to me that the line is promoted by a handful of men for purposes widely distinct from that of public convenience. I think that by the rejection of the Bill we should be really doing the public a service, and would prevent them from investing their money in an unprofitable speculation.


I think it is difficult to decide upon the merits of this Bill in the absence of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees. The Chairman of Committees is the only person who could have given us authoritative information as to the examination which the Bill has received upstairs. It seems, however, to be absolutely certain that, under some technicality or other, such as the Rules which regulate the question of locus standi, and which are extremely technical, the public have had no opportunity of bringing their case before the House of Commons, so that the grounds of their opposition to the scheme might be inquired into. It is quite obvious, from the statement which was made by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway opposite (Mr. R. Chamberlain), that the public have not had an opportunity of making their wishes known, and that a very strong feeling does exist with regard to the question. Therefore, as the Chairman of Committees is absent, and consequently unable to give his reasons why the House of Commons should finally depart from all control or check in this matter, I think the House will do well to refuse to proceed further with the Bill at this stage. After all, the promoters will not be much damaged. The expenses which they have already incurred have not been very large, and the Bill can be introduced again next year. It must be borne in mind that the Isle of Wight has been without this railway for hundreds and probably thousands of years; and therefore, if the people of that Island have to wait for another 12 months, they will possibly not be injured very materially. It certainly does appear, on the first blush of the case, that this is a case of promoters endeavouring to make a railway for speculative purposes on the so-called property of private individuals. It is not quite certain whether private individuals have full rights over the property through which the line is to run; but if we reject this Bill an opportunity will be afforded for deciding that question. Therefore, I hope the House will adopt the view of the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. T. H. Bolton), and postpone the Bill for another year, when it will be able to receive full examination. I trust that that proposition will receive the support of the hon. Gentleman opposite the Secretary to the Treasury.


I have no feeling in the matter one way or the other. I think there is great force in what the noble Lord has stated as to the absence of the Chairman of Committees. The Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington is to throw the Bill out; and if that Motion is adopted, of course the Bill will be gone for the whole of the year, and it will have to go through all its stages again. But if the House chooses to sanction the withdrawal of the Motion for the third reading, then it could stand over until the Autumn Session. It would be practically hung up until the new Parliament meets, and the House would then be in a position to re-commit it if it thought such a course desirable, and the whole question could then be fully gone into and fairly discussed. I wish, however, to express no feeling on the matter either one way or the other. I only wish to point out to the noble Lord and to the House that what he wants can be effected without absolutely throwing the Bill out.


I wish to say a word with regard to this Bill, because I think the House has forgotten one circumstance connected with it. We are told that the promoters last year obtained a Bill for the construction of a railway from Shanklin to Chale, which is to be worked in connection with the line proposed by the present Bill. Now, what have they done in order to carry out the powers which Parliament itself granted to them? Nothing at all. They do not appear to be in the slightest hurry to use the powers intrusted to them. As a matter of fact, they have no capital at all; it is a pure speculation altogether, and they want to improve their speculation by tacking another line on to it. The hon. Member for Southampton (Mr. Giles) spoke strongly in favour of the project; but the hon. Member did not inform the House that the engineer of the line was his own son.

MR. GILES (Southampton)

I beg the hon. Baronet's pardon. It is nothing of the sort. Mr. Cooper is the engineer of the line, and my son has nothing to do with it at all.


It is very well known that the hon. Member's son is connected with Mr. Cooper.


Not at all.


In any case, the promoters of the Bill have projected the line without having at their command any capital at all. In cases of this kind, Committees upstairs generally find that it is proposed to issue a large amount of Stock in excess of the actual cost of the line. This is a method adopted to pay promoters, and is one which ought not to be encouraged. It only enables promoters to make large profits and to realize a considerable bonus at the expense, and often without the knowledge, of the shareholders. I am certainly of opinion that this system of bringing forward schemes which are purely promoters' lines ought to be discouraged. If the Bill is thrown out this year there will be nothing lost, and I hope the Motion for the rejection of the Bill will be persevered in.

MR. MOLLOY (King's County, Birr)

I think the House ought to be satisfied with the cordial support which the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord Randolph Churchill) has given to his new hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Mr. R. Chamberlain). That seems to me to be the only interesting feature in the whole of the debate; but I should not object to the proposition of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury if it can be carried out, not to destroy the Bill altogether this Session, but to give it a chance of being recommitted next year, so that we may be able to come to some better understanding as to the real merits of the case. The absence of the Chairman of Committees, who might be able to guide us, is very unfortunate; but, still, I think that the course proposed by the Government is the fairest one, as it would give all parties a chance of being heard.


I only desire to say one word on the question whether the House should dispose of the matter now, or allow it to stand over until the new Parliament. I think it would be better to dispose of the matter at once. The objections which have been brought forward now are most of them objections which could not be taken in Committee. They are objections which have been taken on public grounds; but in Committee the public would have no locus standi. It would be difficult, even by a side wind, to bring up this case again, because there is no way of ascertaining whether the Bill would be more likely to be opposed in another Session than it has been in this. Moreover, the objections which have been urged are objections upon which the House is just as competent—indeed, more competent—to pronounce an opinion than any Committee would be; and, as the Bill cannot pass in the present Session, the best thing we can do is to put the promoters out of their pain at once by rejecting it.

Question put, and negatived.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Third Reading put off for three months.

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