HC Deb 06 June 1890 vol 345 cc141-8

Order for Consideration read.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now considered."

(3.5.) MR. BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)

I beg to move that the Bill be considered upon this day six months. The route of the proposed railway passes through a considerable portion of the district I represent, which extends from the Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. There is the strongest possible objection to the scheme on the part of the shopkeepers in Oxford Street, who, I see, are very slightingly spoken of in a statement which has been circulated by the promoters. They say that the very unusual course of endeavouring to throw out the Bill on consideration of the Report has been adopted at the instance of Oxford Street tradesmen, who took part in the opposition before the Committee. I do not know that the Oxford Street tradesmen are very much to blame. If they consider that their interests and their property are likely to be seriously damaged by this railway, it is only natural that they should oppose it in every possible way that they can. They are not so selfish or so foolish as to say that if it could be shown that there is an absolute demand for such a railway they would still oppose it, but they do object, very strongly, that an experiment such as this—for it is purely an experiment— should be made in so important a thoroughfare as Oxford Street. If their object holds good regarding- such a thoroughfare, what can be said of the remaining line of route, which continues along Holborn, Cheapside, Newgate Street, and King William Street? They object to such a route as this being handed over to a body of speculators who have not the slightest knowledge of the scheme which they propose to introduce. I say that advisedly, because it is to be an electric rail way, and there is no experience, in this country, at all events, of the success of such a scheme. There seems really to be no necessity for this railway at all, and, on that ground, I ask the House to reject the scheme. This line would not relieve in any way the difficulties of the traffic. It only proposes to deal with passengers, and it would not relieve in any way the cross traffic from the north to the south, which everybody knows is a source of so much danger and delay. It is, moreover, not a railway which would facilitate in any way the inter-communication of passengers by different railways, such as the Metropolitan, the District, or the main railways which run north and south, because this electric railway is on a totally different level to other railways being, as sunk in some places, at a depth of 70 feet. It is also worked on a totally different principle to any railway that has ever been constructed in this country. In 1863, or thereabouts, a Joint Committee of the Lords and Common sat to consider what convenience Londoners required in the way of railway communication, and, with the increased population since then, and the increased tendency to travel on the part of the public, I think that such a Committee might well be re-appointed, in order that the whole question of the traffic of the Metropolis might be very carefully considered and gone into. I do not wish to detain the House and will, therefore, conclude by saying this—that the Committee sitting upstairs evidently had very great doubts as to the scheme, because they inserted a clause which prevents the promoters from issuing a prospectus, or raising capital, until throe months' experience of the Southwark Subway, as it is called, should have been gained. When there is a doubt of that kind I think it would be a wise thing to throw out the Bill and let the promoters come to Parliament when they can show that there is an undoubted success as to the working of an electric railway in this country. I beg to move that the Report be considered this day six months.

MR. GAINSFORD BRUCE (Finsbury, Holborn)

I beg to second the Motion for the rejection of the Bill. I have no desire to prevent increased facilities being supplied for locomotion in London. I think that every Representative of a Metropolitan constituency would gladly welcome any scheme which would afford increased facilities for transit; but the question the House has to consider is whether this scheme would afford increased facilities. It is a railway to be worked by electricity, and I submit that electricity, as a motive power in this country, is altogether untried. The present scheme is a mere experiment, and my constituents in Holborn venture to think that Holborn is not the place where an experiment of this kind should be made. It must not be forgotten that some years ago a somewhat similar experiment was tried in the construction of a pneumatic railway, and that, after a fair trial, it was found to be impracticable, and was ultimately abandoned. We are now asked to commence a new work in London by laying down a new system, and endeavouring to ascertain how far electricity can be utilised as a motive power. The inconvenience to the people of London is certain; the advantages are altogether uncertain. I know that this House is always reluctant to interfere with the conclusions arrived at by a Select Committee; but in this case the Committee itself has been in doubt, it has not been able to make up its own mind. A provision of an extraordinary character has been inserted in the Bill providing that the company shall not issue any prospectus or raise any portion of their capital until the Southwark Subway shall have been completed, and shall have been open for the conveyance of passengers for three months. I cannot understand why that clause was inserted, unless the members of the Committee themselves were in doubt as to whether the scheme is a practicable one. There fore, in asking the House to reject the Bill we are only seeking to give effect to the doubts of the Committee expressed on the face of the Bill.

Amendment moved, to leave out the word "now" in order to add at the end of the Question "on this day six months." —(Air. Boulnois.)

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

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

I am disposed to support the Bill, but I should like to have some information as to how far the rights of the public have been considered in regard to the permanent way, and whether the company are going to pay anything to the Public Authorities by way of compensation or royalty for being permitted to drive a tunnel under the main roads. If there is no provision of that kind in the Bill, I think it would be well to adjourn the Debate, so that the London County Council and the Metropolitan Parliamentary Representatives might consider the matter.

(3.30.) SIR C. LEWIS (Antrim, N)

I must say that I have not heard any sufficient reason given why the House should depart from the usual practice, and reject a Bill which has been passed by a competent Committee, after most careful consideration. There may be private objections to the Bill, but only strong public grounds should induce the House to take the course suggested by the hon. Member for Marylebone (Mr. Boulnois).

(3.32.) MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)

Nothing has been heard from the opponents of the Bill that adds to the information possessed by the Committee when they arrived at their decision. I, therefore, hope that the House will waste no more time about the matter, but will support the Committee. I may add, as a matter of fact, that the recent Vestry Elections in connection with this locality turned entirely upon this Bill, and that the majority of the Members who were returned were pledged to support the scheme. Only yesterday the Vestry of Marylebone arrived at the conclusion that they would withdraw their opposition to the Bill.

(3.33.) SIR H. SELWIN IBBETSON (Essex, Epping)

I do not think the proposition to consider the Bill this day six months is justified by any such great weight of evidence as is usually expected when the House is asked to reverse the decision of a Select Committee. I must remind the House also that the particular Committee by which the Bill was considered, sat for 13 days, and gave the fullest consideration to the questions which were raised before it. The proposed railway would tend to diminish the present congestion of traffic in our streets, and it almost appears as if some of those who raised objections to the Central London Railway have at heart the interests of existing vehicular traffic, and not those of the public. Similar railways to this have been established in America with success.

(3.35.) SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)

I must say that I never heard a weaker case submitted for upsetting the deliberate judgment of a Committee, which sat for a long period, and gave the closest attention to the evidence. The question of electric railways is by no means in an experimental stage in the United States. I have been on many such lines, and I believe that accidents upon them are not more frequent than upon ordinary lines.

(3.36.) MR. W. H. JAMES (Gateshead)

Having presided over the Committee which considered this Bill, I should like to point out that the Local Authorities who have to keep the roads in repair are likely to be gainers if the railway is constructed, because the traffic will be decreased, and the wearing of the road way consequently lessened. It is evident that something must shortly be done to relieve the great congestion of traffic in the Metropolis. There are three courses open— traffic can be conveyed either upon, over, or under the surface. I do not believe that an overhead railway is likely ever to be constructed in London, while if the surface traffic continues to increase in its present proportions an absolute deadlock may shortly be expected in some of our thoroughfares. No doubt electric traction is to some extent an experiment, but it is one of the functions of Parliament to sanction experiments made by scientific men, who believe that they will confer benefits on the public. The opposition of the shopkeepers is rather in the interests of their own trade, as they would derive advantage from congested traffic, but they are not the only persons to be considered. I hope that the proposed line will do something to alleviate the great evils which now attend metropolitan traffic. Among the opponents were the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's, who entertain a fear that the proposed railway may interfere with the safety of the cathedral, but the Committee received ample evidence to convince them that no danger of the kind is to be feared.

(3.45.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)

I do not object to the principle of electric railways, but my fear is that the construction of a tunnel so near St. Paul's might tend to endanger the foundations of that building. Mr. Penrose and Mr. Ewan Christian, architects to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and to the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's, are decidedly of opinion that the fabric of the cathedral may be endangered if the Bill is allowed to pass, and Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the present structure, has left on record a full description of the nature of the soil upon which the cathedral is built, and a warning to those who should come after, that no tunnelling in the neighbourhood should be allowed.

(3.46.) SIR J. PULESTON (Devonport)

A good many things have happenedsince the days of Sir Christopher Wren, and we are assured by such experienced engineers as Sir John Fowler, Sir Benjamin Baker, and Mr. Great head, that there can be no possible risk to St. Paul's in sanctioning the construction of the proposed Railway. Perhaps I may be allowed to remind the House that the Underground Railway was allowed to approach Westminster Abbey within 70 feet and Westminster Hospital within 23 feet, and there the subsoil is sand, and no inconvenience whatever has happened to either building, whereas the proposed line will not come within 300 feet of St. Paul's, where the subsoil is clay. I think the convenience of the line will far outweigh the anxiety of my hon. Friend.

(3.50.) SIR E. WATKIN (Hythe)

I may be thought an opponent of this measure; and certainly I could answer much that has been said—for instance, the comparison between Westminster Abbey and the District Railway, and St. Paul's and the subway proposed. But that is not the question. I have been a good while in Parliament, but I have always sat my face against this House without evidence vetoing the decisions of Committees who have had evidence before them; and I hope the House will pass this Bill in justice to a painstaking Committee, and as matter of fairness to the promoters.

(3.51.) SIR E. GREY (Northumberland, Berwick)

As one of the Committee, I wish to say that the Bill was passed at the instance of quite substantial promoters, and after the most careful investigation. If the House postpones the consideration of the Bill now a great public advantage will be denied to the congested districts of London. The apprehensions which have arisen as to the effect of the Bill are, in the opinion of the Committee, based upon altogether insufficient grounds.

(3.52.) MR. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I would submit that the House should pause before it makes a present to private individuals of the right to go under the streets of the Metropolis, a right which may some day be of as much value as the right to conduct traffic along the surface of the ground.

(3.55.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)

I quite agree as to the desirability of railways becoming public property, but I approve of the Bill before the House, and cannot help thinking that the opposition to it emanates only from a small knot of selfish tradesmen, who object to any form of locomotion which does not give passengers full facilities for stopping at their shops.

(4.0.) MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

I am bound to say that I approve the Bill generally, but I think that in future such a measure should only be sanctioned on the understanding that the company promoting it should pay something in the way of royalty for the privileges accorded.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered; to be read the third time.