HC Deb 23 May 1889 vol 336 cc797-801

Order for Second Reading, read.

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


I beg to move the Amendment that stands in my name. I do so, not with the object of preventing the construction of a railway that will take the public to a certain place, but on the ground that it is undesirable to allow the construction of railways which will go through a place that owes its charm to quiet seclusion and natural beauty. I and those who support me are raising this objection not, as has been said in the statement issued in support of the Bill, in the interests of the inhabitants of Freshwater, but in the interest of the public at large, and of all those who value the picturesque in this country and do not desire to see it interfered with by the building speculator or the contractor. The proposed railway is an extension of the Freshwater Railway to Totland Bay, which is only a mile and three-quarters from the Freshwater Railway Station. The railway would actually bisect the whole of a peninsula2½miles long by 1½ broad, and the result will be very seriously to impair the charm that makes the great attraction of this part of the Isle of Wight. I do not speak in the interest of the innkeepers and tradesmen of Freshwater; but, as a matter of fact, the inhabitants of Freshwater are strongly opposed to the Bill, and on one of the three petitions I have been asked to present against the measure the first signature is that of Lord Tennyson. It is said that those who have objections to the Bill should raise them before the Select Committee. I venture to submit that a Select Com- mittee is a tribunal before which objections raised by private individuals can fitly be heard, but it is not one before which an objection of a public character can be taken. The question on which we want the House to express an opinion is whether or not in the public interest it is well that a place like the Isle of Wight, the garden of England, should be unnecessarily cut up by railway. This line, I say, is altogether unnecessary. The promoters of the Bill say that Totland is a growing place. It may be, but it only has 200 inhabitants at the present time. There is no village there. There are a few houses and an hotel which does not pay, and I believe that the secret of the construction of the line is that the railway company intend to acquire the hotel, and I believe that the creation of a building estate is contemplated. If the House rejects the Bill and does so wrongly, the wrong can be set right next year, or the year afterwards; but if, on the other hand, this concession is granted to these building speculators or hotel proprietors, any injury that is done will be irrevocable. The promoters suggest that they can increase the traffic to and from the Isle of Wight by means of steamers from Bournemouth. I submit that that is absolutely ridiculous. At present the routes to the island are from Portsmouth to Ryde, and from Lymington to Yarmouth. Those who adopt the last named route have to cross the So-lent, to traverse several miles of sea, and to land at a very exposed place. It is only in the height of the season and in calm weather that that route is used at all. It may be that steamers taking cargoes of cheap trippers may go that way, but then I suggest that the point of debarcation is a wrong one, and that they only ought to go to Alum Bay and the Needles, which are the principal attractions of the cheap trippers. If this Bill be rejected and the railway should be shown in some subsequent year to be necessary, the development of the existing traffic will show whether the terminus of the line ought to be nearer Alum Bay or Totland Bay. I do not think a community of 200 persons, like that at Totland Bay, has a right to a railway which will spoil the whole country. It is true that there is a brick-field and a small pottery at Totland Bay, but they do not employ more than 100 persons, and when the line gets beyond them it will seriously impair the beauty and picturesqueness of the district. The history of this railway company has been one of continual changes of mind and procrastination. Their first Act was granted in 1880. In 1883 they got an extension of time and further powers. In 1887 they again got further powers, and at the present time, nine years after the first Act was obtained, the line is not opened for passenger traffic, and a portion of it has not been completed at all. I submit that it would be unwise to grant further powers to a company which has shown such uncertainty and changeableness with regard to its plans, before the present line is even open for traffic. For the reasons I have given, I ask the House to assent to my Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the question in order to add the words— Having regard to the character of the south-western corner of the Isle of Wight, and the railway accommodation at present authorized, it is undesirable to give any further powers to a Company which is only now opening for passenger traffic a line the construction of which was authorized in 1880."—(Mr. Richard Chamberlain.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


I admit that if ever there was a case for careful examination of a Bill by a Select Committee this is one. I do not, however, think the hon. Gentleman opposite can have spoken from personal knowledge of this line of railway, as he certainly made one or two curious statements with regard to the geographical position. The company have at present obtained powers for a line from Newport to Freshwater, and the question now is whether that line ought to be extended for about a mile and a half in the direction of Tot-land Bay. Knowing the country, I can say that it does not spoil any district or pass through any picturesque country. At the same time, I think the questions involved are subjects for determination by a Select Committee, before which those who are in favour of and those who are against the Bill can give evidence. The hon. Member has referred to the financial position of the company and to the delay which has taken place in completing its undertaking. It is, however, common knowledge that, with regard to railways in sparsely-populated districts, and certainly with respect to the Isle of Wight railways things are not made with such rapidity as they are where the population is larger. Certainly, if there has been undue procrastination, that will be a matter for the Committee to determine. In my constituency opinions seem to vary as to the merits or demerits of the scheme, but I think that in any case it would be premature to reject the Bill without referring it to a Select Committee.

MR. LABOUCHERE (Northampton)

I find myself on this occasion in the pleasurable position of agreeing entirely with the hon. and learned Attorney General. The hon. Member for Islington (Mr. R. Chamberlain) opposes the Bill on public grounds. The public grounds are that the Isle of Wight is the garden of England, and that it ought not to be cut up by railways.




Well, unnecessarily. That is the very question that ought to be referred to a Committee —whether this Bill is necessary or unnecessary. I have here a copy of a petition stating that a considerable number of the inhabitants of the island do not object to, but like, the scheme. I protest against the doctrine that certain parts of the country are to be called gardens of England, and ought, therefore, to be kept out of the civilization of England. As to the trippers, I am one myself. I want to go and see places, and I want to go as far as I can by rail. I have never yet discovered that a railway spoils the beauty of any district. After all, what is a railway? It is a road. We hear poets talking about the beauties of roads and about the smoke curling up from the cottages. In railways the smoke is always moving along. I myself think a railway is a beautiful object. When I see a railway in a district I know that I can get away from that district if I do not want to stop there long. A railway reminds me of London and of this House, and of lots of pleasant things. I must enter my protest against the principle that we ought not to refer a Railway Bill to a Select Committee because it is supposed that it will interfere with the beauty of a district.

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

I do not propose to discuss with so high an æsthetic authority as the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Labouchere) the question of the beauty of railroads. Some of us think that railroads are beautiful enough in their own places,but certainly they are not beautiful when they are out of their places. The hon. Member for Northampton regards this scheme as a proposal to extend the civilization of England to Totland Pier. The pier is a mile and a half beyond the present terminus, and the only difference the line will make will be that it will enable people to go from Freshwater to Totland Pier by railroad instead of in a fly. Many of those who object to the line on the ground of the injury it will inflict on the scenery will have no locus standi before a Select Committee, and a special instruction would be needed to enable the Committee to consider a question of that kind. I can say, from information supplied to me, that a large number of people in the Isle of Wight object to the Bill, and think that if carried the effect upon the scenery will be very prejudicial. Being unable to urge their objection in any other way, they are obliged to do so through the mouths of hon. Members of this House.

Question put, and agreed to.