HC Deb 08 March 1889 vol 333 cc1249-59

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

MR. SEAGER HUNT (Marylebone, W.)

I rise for the purpose of moving that this Bill be read a second time on this day six months. It is a Bill which contains provisions of an exceedingly novel character. The line itself goes from nowhere and leads to nowhere; it is an experiment in the shape of construction, and it is to run right through some of the best streets of London—from St. James's Street to Shaftesbury Avenue, and then on to Holborn Circus. It will disturb people who have only recently been enabled to settle down in the locality; it will produce a great hindrance to trade; and, in addition, the Company will not be compelled to take the whole of the property their projected line will interfere with, because by one of the provisions of the Bill they can take what portion of a particular property they choose—that is to say, they can take the underground portion of a shop without being compelled to take that which is above ground. It runs through a street which is now one of the leading lines of communication between the North and South of London, and the competition which will necessarily spring up between the omnibuses and the railway for the traffic of the district will, in the end, be ruinous to both. So far as the capital is concerned, it is to consist of 74,950 ordinary shares of £10 each, and 500 deferred shares of £1 each, and the management and control of the undertaking will be virtually in the hands of the deferred shareholders. This is certainly one of the most novel features we have yet seen in connection with railway enterprize. There is another curious feature—namely, power to sell the railway to the London County Council, and when we come to look at the amount of capital proposed to be spent, the means of communication which already exist, and have regard to the fact that the undertaking is to be carried on solely by five gentlemen acting as directors, I think the House will agree with me that it is not a Bill that ought to be passed.

* MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE (Finsbury, Holborn)

I beg to second the Amendment, and I regret that in addressing the House for the first time. I should have to ask the House to do what it is ordinarily very reluctant to do—namely, reject a Private Bill on the Second Reading. I hope, however, to be able to place before the House reasons why the Bill should be rejected. It is a scheme for carrying a railway from the top of St. James's Street to Holborn Circus three sections—(No. 1) from St. James's Street to (No. 2) the south west corner of Shaftesbury Avenue; from Shaftesbury Avenue to Oxford Street, and (No. 3) from Oxford Street to Holborn Circus. The line, when constructed, will not be in communication with any other line of railway. The promoters may say that it is the beginning of a new system, and that it is capable of indefinite extension; but when we consider the enormous inconvenience and interference with traffic which must result from the carrying out of extensive works in great thoroughfares of London, I think hon. Members will concur with me that it ought not to be left to private individuals to lay down a line a mile and a-half in length between any points that caprice may determine in the centre of London, leaving it to chance or accident to determine whether hereafter the scheme is capable of such development as to form a connecting link between distant parts of the Metropolis. In my opinion the public have suffered in times past from the too great readiness of Parliament to sanction partially developed railway schemes. Already London is cut up by railways; and the public, although they have suffered the maximum of inconvenience, have as yet derived only the minimum of accommodation. The line, when constructed, is to be worked by electricity. Professors of science, who also claim to be prophets, tell us that electricity is destined to supersede steam as the locomotive power; I am not concerned to doubt their prophecy, but all I say is that the time has not yet arrived. With the exception of the toy railway at Brighton, I am not aware that at present there is a single line which is worked by electricity, and it has not yet been determined that electricity can be used with such regularity and certainty as is necessary for business purposes. I think some stress ought to be laid on the humidity of the climate with which the electricians will have to cope. The undertaking is put forward as an experi- ment, but I wish the hon. Members for Stoke-upon-Trent (Mr. W. L. Bright) and Wolverhampton (Sir W. Plowden), whose names are on the back of the Bill, had, in the first instance, tried it in their own districts before attempting to carry it out in the Metropolis. I maintain that not only is the scheme in itself impracticable, but that the means by which it is proposed to carry it out are indicative of the unsoundness of the proposals in the Bill. The promoters seem to have ransacked every Parliamentary precedent in order to take advantage of every clause at any time sanctioned granting special favours to promoters of companies, so that the Company ask for the maximum of privilege and the public are deprived of nearly all the protection which the Land Clauses Act was intended to provide. For the first time in the history of legislation the promoters have introduced the principle of founders' shares. In comparatively recent times founders' shares have been introduced in Limited Liability Companies, founded on contract. It may be right, when a number of persons are brought together, to carry out a proposal that a founder should be remunerated somehow or other, but a proposal to pay a founder 900 per cent of the funds of the Company is very novel indeed, and involves a principle which I think the House will be very jealous to sanction. It may be right where the shareholders come in by agreement upon particular terms to pay 900 per cent. but this House cannot by Act of Parliament turn £500 into £5,000, and yet that is what this Bill does. Having regard to the fact that the Bill is an experiment, and taking into account also the mode by which it is proposed to carry it out, I think the House will do well to reject it.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Seager Hunt.)

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

MR. W. L. BRIGHT (Stoke-upon-Trent)

There seems to be a great deal of misapprehension in regard to this Bill. The hon. Member for West Marylebone (Mr. Seager Hunt) began by saying that it is proposed to take underground property and leave that which is overhead. If he will take the trouble to examine the Bill, he will find that it is not true. Then he said that in certain streets omnibuses are careering to and fro from morning till night. That is exactly what we say—namely, that the street traffic is so great that it is necessary to divert some of it. As to the founders' shares, they are simply deferred shares, and they are provided for the simple purpose of paying the expenses of those who will have to construct the railway. The interest upon them will, however, be deferred until 5 per cent on the ordinary capital has been paid to the ordinary shareholders of the Company. I submit that if the Metropolitan and District Railways had been made upon this principle anyone who embarked his capital at the commencement of those schemes would, up to the present moment, never have realized a single sixpence out of them. So far as the clause in the Bill relating to the voting power of the deferred shareholders is concerned, we abandon the provision altogether, and agree that the ordinary shareholders shall have full control of the Company, and that the qualification of directors shall also be decided by the shareholders. The clause entitling the London County Council to buy the railway is a usual one, and simply entitles the Council to find money or take shares. Hon. Members will be aware that the City of London subscribed £300,000 to the Metropolitan Railway. These, however, are all of them questions of detail, and I submit that they can only be discussed properly in a Committee upstairs. The shopkeepers of Holborn oppose the Bill, and I find that a gentleman named Wallace has taken the chair at one or two meetings which have been called in opposition to the Bill. Mr. Wallace is a large shopkeeper in Holborn, and he is very indignant at this scheme; but I find that in 1884 this very gentleman stated that some thousands of persons were daily resorting to his premises from all parts of the Metropolis and the suburbs, and that any scheme that would give facilities of access cheaply, expeditiously, and comfortably, would be a boon. In the face of this declaration, can the House consider that the opposition of this gentleman is worth much? It is said that the omnibus fare is only one penny. Well, we are only going to charge a penny. But I submit that all the difficulties which have been raised are difficulties which ought to be settled in Committee; we are perfectly ready to face the Committee. We believe that we have sufficient evidence to prove our case; and we ask this House to read the Bill a second time.

* SIR R. N. FOWLER (London)

I have presented a petition, Sir, very numerously signed, from my constituency against this Bill. It seems to me to involve a new movement as regards underground railways, and that we are hardly in a position to deal with the question piecemeal until this House has investigated the whole subject. Nearly 30 years ago, a very influential Committee of this House, presided over by the present Earl of Derby, inquired into the railway system of London. I think that the Metropolis owes a great deal to the labours of that Committee; and before we enter into the question again, I think it is desirable that we should appoint a strong Committee to inquire into the whole subject.

MR. ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

I wish to enter my most emphatic protest against a Member of Parliament using the machinery of this House for the purpose of promoting public Companies in order to foist shares upon a misguided and gulled public. In this case we have an hon. Member, who represents Stoke-upon-Trent, coming here to teach the Metropolitan Members what is necessary for the benefit of London. We, the Metropolitan Members, are rather a numerous body, and we fancy that we know quite as much about London as an hon. Member who represents a constituency like Stoke-upon-Trent. And what is it that the hon. Member wishes the House to do? He asks us to sanction an additional expenditure of a million of money upon an underground railway, when many millions have already been expended on similar undertakings, and up to the present day the unfortunate shareholders have not received sixpence in the shape of dividends. I do not think that the machinery of the House of Commons ought to be employed in order to foist such schemes upon the public.

MR. COGHILL (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I cannot help regarding this scheme as one of the most foolish propositions ever submitted to this House. It is a Bill introduced in the interests of the Metropolis yet the name of no Metropolitan Member is on the back of it; the only names which appear are those of the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. I think that if those hon. Members would devote a little more of their time to their own constituents instead of to the Metropolis their services would be of considerably more value than they are at present. Of all the streets of which we ought to be proud in London, St. James's Street is one of them. It is one of the finest streets in this capital or in any capital in Europe, and yet it is proposed to run an underground railway from the top end of it to Holborn Circus. I think it is most undesirable that such a railway should be allowed to run through the heart of London, and I can only characterize the circular sent to Members of this House this morning by the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent as an outrage upon good taste.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

The hon. Member who has just sat down commenced by saying that this is a Bill which concerns the Metropolitan Members alone; therefore, as representing Newcastle-under-Lyme, he gives us his views on the subject. The hon. Member attacked the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent, and he says that a circular has been sent round by which my hon. Friend is an outrage upon the House. I do not think it necessary to make any further reply than this—that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is an Unionist. Then, again, there was the hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. Isaacson). I never heard such arguments addressed to this House. If the hon. Member would bring forward a proposal that no Member of this House should be a Director of a Company, that would be a matter for discussion, but to say that he will oppose a Bill because of the Members whose names are on the back of it is going a little too far.


What I said was, that this was a Bill proposed by Members of Parliament who have no connection with the locality which it affects.


The hon. Gentleman protested against the use of the machinery of Parliament for the purpose of carrying Railway Bills. But how can a railway be made without the consent of Parliament? I came, as I always do, with a very open mind to the consideration of this measure. If my mind was closed at all, it was to a certain extent closed against the Bill, because I thought it contained an improper clause—namely, the clause which threw the voting power into the hands of a few individuals. That clause, however, has been entirely given up by the promoters of the Bill, and I find it is an entire mistake to suppose that there is any intention on the part of the promoters to take portions of houses. The proposal is simply this: to be allowed to take any portion of a cellar running under the roadway without being obliged to take the rest of the house. In the event of a dispute, the matter, by the Bill, is to be referred to a jury, so that full and ample compensation may be given to the owner of the house for any injury he may sustain. I do not, therefore, think that that is a point which ought to prevent us from referring the Bill to a Committee. It is said that the Bill will involve a disturbance of the streets and a hindrance to the traffic; but that is an argument against any improvement in the Metropolis. No doubt the construction of this Railway will disturb the streets, but I find that the Bill provides that a large subway shall be made by the Company to carry all the gas and water pipes, and I apprehend that when that subway is made the disturbance of the streets will be much less than it is at present, for we know by painful experience that at the present moment the streets are being taken up every day by some gas or water company. There will be a disturbance for once and all, and it will then, to a great extent, cease. We are told that we ought not to pass this Bill because it is likely to injure the omnibus traffic; but that is similar to the argument that was used against the institution of railways—namely, that they would injure the stage coaches. I, as an inhabitant of London, and one of the public, think that this line will be of great advantage to the public, and for that reason I shall vote in favour of it. I have no personal interest in it except as one of the public. The Member for the City of London (Sir E. Fowler) tells us that we ought to appoint a Committee to investigate the railway system in London. We have already had a Committee, and it gave us the Underground Bail way system that already exists in London, and this Bill simply proposes to add to it. The real question is this, whether primâ facie this is a system which ought to be submitted to a Select Committee, and I think it is.

* MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

No doubt this is a scheme which involves many proposals of considerable novelty. It proposes to run under a very important part of London, commencing from the top of St. James' Street, and it proposes to use a power of locomotion which as yet has been practically untried. There may be some practical difficulty in carrying out the scheme, and the line may prove to be unworkable, but I think the case presented by the promoters is one which is entitled to reasonable examination. It will be backed up by guarantees of the usual character, and all doubtful questions, whether engineering or financial, or the relations between the Company and the Metropolitan authorities, will be closely examined by a Committee, to which alone we can look for a solution of such questions. I do not think that the hon. Member for Holborn (Mr. Gainsford Bruce), who spoke with great ability against the Bill, adduced a single argument which might not be brought against any scheme, or which ought to prevent us from referring the Bill to a Select Committee in the usual form. There was one provision in the Bill which was of a character that I think no Committee would pass, and if it were accepted by a Committee I do not think it would be sanctioned by the House itself—namely, the proposal that the founders' shares should be able to outvote or to nullify any vote of the ordinary shareholders. It was a provision rashly inserted in the Bill, and I am glad to hear from the hon. Member for Stoke-upon-Trent that it has been entirely abandoned. The mere creation of founders' shares is an item of novelty, but it does not appear to be one that ought not to be investigated with perfect fulness. There may be no reason for believing that founders' shares, properly controlled, may not be a judicious way of meeting the preliminary expenses of schemes of this nature. I would suggest to the House that we should act upon the ordinary principles which guide us in regard to Private Bills, and refer this measure to a Select Committee, who will have full power to consider all the points which have been raised.

* MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

As a Metropolitan Member and one who has been in London all his life, I think the great object we ought to have at heart is the provision of facilities for moving readily and cheaply from one part of the Metropolis to the other. Now, the only argument I have heard against this railway is that it is an experiment. If the House of Commons had thrown out every railway scheme which was an experiment, I am afraid that we should have been in a state of barbarism as regards travelling at this moment. I have no doubt that if this scheme can be successfully carried out it will be of immense value. The idea that it will ruin the omnibus traffic is a very old, fashioned notion. The Underground Railway, so far from ruining the omnibuses as was originally predicted, has greatly added to their traffic.


What I said, or meant to say, was that the omnibus fares at this moment are very low, and that the construction of this railway is likely to bring about a competition between the omnibuses and the railway which will reduce the fares and make the traffic ruinous to both parties.


That is the argument which was used when the omnibus fares were much higher than they are now, but the London General Omnibus Company manage to pay a dividend of 10 per cent. I trust that the Bill will, as is usual in such cases, be referred to a Select Committee, and that the scheme will prove to be a useful addition to the system of underground railways.


It is very rarely that I take part in the discussion of a Private Bill, but I think that we should be adopting a strong course if we were to refuse to refer this or any other Railway Bill to a Select Committee. There are, no doubt, questions of great importance involved in this proposal, but they will receive full consideration at the hands of a Committee, and the House must recollect that in reading the Bill a second time it will not be parting with its jurisdiction in the matter, because if, after the investigation upstairs, the House is dissatisfied with the proposals contained in the Bill, it will always have the power of throwing it out upon the Third Reading. I quite agree with the hon. Member for Islington (Mr. Bartley) that it is of the utmost importance to provide all classes of society, and especially the humbler classes, with facilities for cheap travelling. To throw out a Bill of this kind on the Second Reading would, I think, be an unusual and an unwise course, and therefore, although I do not often vote upon a Private Bill, I shall vote in favour of this.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

I am not going to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but I propose to reserve to myself the right to oppose it upon the Third Reading if I think it necessary. I came down to the House determined to vote against the Second Reading, but the promoters have now withdrawn some of the most objectionable clauses. I think the Bill is one which might be carefully investigated by a Select Committee.

Question "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee.

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