HC Deb 28 April 1891 vol 352 cc1588-95

Order for Second Reading read.

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

(2.15.) DR. CLARK (Caithness)

I beg to move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time on this day six months. I oppose the Bill on two grounds — first, because I think the North British Railway Company can get all they want better and cheaper in another manner; and, secondly, because they propose to take away a portion of the Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh, and to make the line in that particular locality more odious than it is at present. I think that the company ought not to be permitted to take any further portion of the gardens so long as there is plenty of other land belonging to private individuals in the immediate neighbourhood to which they may go for the extension of their line. Edinburgh occupies a singular position, and in opposing the Bill I am animated not only by a sentimental feeling against the destruction of one of the prettiest streets in Europe, and probably in the world, but by a firm opinion that the passing of the Bill will have a very detrimental effect upon the City of Edinburgh itself. Lord Moncreiff, who was long a Member of this House, and is now a Judge upon the Scottish Bench, in a speech delivered in 1875, said— The City of Edinburgh, of which we are all so proud, and of which Scotland and Britain has good reason to be proud, if it has not the wealth, nor the manufactories, nor the commerce, that are the boast and glory of other cities in this country, has at least one quality in which it stands unrivalled. That is its wonderful beauty—its natural beauty, from the position in which it stands, and the many objects of interest by which it is surrounded. I can only say for myself, that although I have not been a great traveller in my day, I have seen something of other lands and cities, but I have never anywhere seen anything equal to the beauty of ' mine own romantic town.' That is not mere sentiment. The truth is, the beauty of Edinburgh is one of its most important material advantages. It attracts strangers; it delights our eyes every day that we walk its streets, and anything which destroys or mars it, is not only a sentimental, but a practical evil or grievance. This Bill will do much to destroy the beauty of Princes Street, and if we give the Railway Company these powers they will ask for more, until the whole of Princes Street Gardens will be in their hands, and will become nothing but a big railway station. Lord Cockburn expressed similiar views to those of Lord Moncreiff as to the ruin which the encroachments of the Railway Company may inflict upon the amenities of Edinburgh. He said— A scheme is now afloat, which, if carried into effect, will very greatly injure the west half of the North Lock, and worse than ruin the east half. It is proposed to bring the Glasgow Railway along the whole valley, tunnelling under the Mound, and joining other railways under the North Bridge, The result will, in time, practically be, that the whole of that beautiful ground will be given up to railways, with their yards, depots, counting houses, and other abominations, at least on the east side, which will ruin the peculiarity of the valley between the .old and new towns, and by rendering the preservation of the open space less important, will possibly lead to building on the south side of Princes Street. Could a Judge agitate, I should raise the very stones against this project. There is a danger of the words of Lord Cockburn coming true, that the company will, bit by bit, get the whole of the Princes Street Gardens into their hands, unless some determined effort is made to stop the encroachments. Section 12 of the Act of 1884 prohibits the use of the East Princes Street ground as a depot for materials of any kind or for unloaded waggons not in use on the railway; but that section is not observed, and the line is constantly crowded with unloaded carriages and waggons. Bit by bit, as Lord Cockburn predicted, the beauty of the gardens is being destroyed. I believe that there is plenty of room at the present moment for the traffic or for any extension that may be required in the next 20 years, if the whole of the station were used for the accommodation of passengers. I am told that the company are, even at this moment, feuing some of the land to the east, and that shops are being built upon it; and let. It would thus seem that they are selling land for their own purposes, and are, nevertheless, seeking to encroach upon the public land. Statistics have been drawn up by the opponents of the Bill, comparing the Waverley Station with the great stations in London, and they show that the Company have 12,000 feet of space for passenger platform accommodation in connection with 455 trains in and out daily; whereas at King's Cross Station there are 3,550 feet for the accommodation of 664 trains; Charing Cross 2,350 feet for 413 trains; Cannon Street 4,475 feet for 468 trains; and at London Bridge 4,100 for 496 trains. This demand for an extension of the station has arisen since the opening of the Forth Bridge; but a shrewd man— Mr. Mortimer—wrote a letter to the Times in August, pointing out that the mismanagement of the traffic which occurred last year had some connection with the promotion of the present Bill, because he said the station was perfectly sufficient for all the traffic, were the station management not thoroughly faulty, and he added— It almost looks as if the management had a purpose in view in the disgraceful block which at present prevails. On the 23rd of August the editor of the Scotsman, who as a rule supports the North British Railway Company, wrote as follows:— We shall he faced with the parrot cry, Oh, the two lines cannot and do not carry the traffic between Hay market and Waverley! It is not too much to say that two lines can easily carry all the trains which are now passing out and in, or, indeed, a larger number, with perfect punctuality. There must be upwards of a hundred places where at least twice the traffic is worked perfectly over two lines. There are only about 83 trains from Hay market to Waverley between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. in this the busiest month. Why, then, the great delays? Simply because the lines have to be constantly used for shunting owing to the passenger traffic being squeezed into an absurd narrow strip along the north side, causing the platforms to stick out almost to the tunnel. A train or engine can hardly leave or enter or shunt even in the smallest degree without blocking both lines, so that nothing else can enter or leave or shunt at the same time; and, in addition, there is the utter inadequacy of platforms, both as to the number and size, so that trains have to wait till they are cleared. It is the station that is inadequate, not the two lines. All that is necessary is for the company to get rid of the mixture of passenger and goods traffic, by which means they will be able to get all they want, without spending £2,000,000 more. I therefore think that the shareholders ought to be very much obliged to those who oppose the Bill. For my part, I wish I could get rid of the North British altogether from Princes Street Gardens, and have back the Nor' Loch, getting the Caledonian and the North British to combine in building a joint station in Lothian Road; by that means the amenity of Edinburgh, instead of being threatened with injury, would be enhanced and improved

MR. WEBB (Waterford, W.)

seconded the Amendment.

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

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

(2.25.) MR. BAIRD (Glasgow, Central)

Notwithstanding the arguments used by the hon. Member in moving the rejection of the Bill I wish to point out that Edinburgh, which is the place most interested in the question, possesses four Members, no one of whom I see in his place, and the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) in his extremity has had to go to Ireland in order to get a Member to second the Amendment. So far as the merits of the question are concerned I would appeal to hon. Members who have had occasion to travel to Scotland within the last year, as to the congested state of the Waverley Station. For many years that station has been barely sufficient for the traffic, and since the opening of the Forth Bridge, which has brought a large accession of traffic, it has been most inadequate. The Waverley Station may be compared to a bottle with two necks, and it has been found necessary to increase the number of lines passing through the Mound in one direction, and in the direction of Abbey Hill in 'he other, from two lines to four. This point has been conceded by the Corporation of Edinburgh, and the only remaining question is the appropriation of a portion of East Princes Street Gardens which is absolutely necessary, to provide room for marshalling and shunting trains. Trains from Ab3rdeen and Dundee have to be broken up, and it is essential that the space available for the service of these trains should be increased. So far as the piece of ground which it is proposed to take is concerned it will be covered over and raised upon a level with the lower portion of Princes Street Gardens, so that persons walking along Princes Street will really see less of the line of railway than they do now. The hon. Member for Caithness says that the Railway Company can get all they want in a much better manner. If the Bill is referred to a Select Committeee he can go before the Committee to explain how that is to be done. With reference to the hon. Member's statistics about the great London termini, he forgets that the Waverley Station is not a terminus at all, but a wayside station, and besides it is a terminus in two directions, and therefore more platform accommodation is necessary than in the case of the London termini. I ask the House to follow the usual practice, namely, to read the Bill a second time, and send it upstairs.

(2.33.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

I trust that the House will not take upon itself the duties of a Committee. It is very difficult for the House to form an opinion as to whether the new works proposed by the North British Railway in Edinburgh are required or not. If there is one station more than another in the United Kingdom which requires alteration and addition it is the station in Edinburgh. I think there is but one opinion that it is impossible to work the regular traffic through Edinburgh at present, without additional facilities. There is hardly a train which leaves Sunderland, Newcastle, or Middlesbrough for the North which is not more or less impeded by the state of things at Edinburgh Station; they are all kept waiting because the express trains have not been punctual at Edinburgh. The Directors of the North British Railway say, "This is the best plan we can devise to remedy the evil," and why should we refuse them the opportunity of having their case heard before a Select Committee? A Paper which has been circulated this morning says that there is another and a better plan, but the only tribunal to decide that is a Committee of this House, and not the House itself. The land taken by the railway is to be covered over, and there will be no injury to the gardens, and no detriment to the view from Edinburgh. The hon. Member for Caithness has spoken as if it were a kind of sacrilege to bring a railway near Edinburgh. All I have to say is that Princes Street, Edinburgh, lives out of the railways and the tourists they bring. I trust that the House will consent to read the Bill a second time. It has already passed through the House of Lords.

(2.38.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)

I rise for the purpose of entering a protest against the practice of discussing the merits of a Bill of this kind upon the Second Reading, when it is impossible to enter into the details. If ever there was a case in which a Private Bill ought to go before a Committee it is this, because, not only has it been brought in in the usual way, but in another place its merits have been already discussed. I certainly entertain no extreme rever- ence for the House of Lords, but as long as it forms part of the Parliamentary Constitution, I think it would be scarcely respectful on our part to say that the objections to this Bill are so great that we will not even submit the measure to a Committee to Report upon.

(2.40.) MR. MARJORIBANKS (Berwickshire)

I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness will not put the House to the trouble of a Division. He must see that the whole feeling of the House is in favour of the Second Reading of the Bill. His main argument why the measure should not be referred to a Committee is, that to give effect to the present proposal will be to destroy the amenities of Edinburgh, and more particularly of the Princes Street Gardens. Now, what are the facts of the case? We have an important traffic which ought to go over four lines being carried over two, and all that is asked is that the rails shall be doubled. The traffic being the same, what difference can it make to Edinburgh whether it is sent over four sets of rails instead of two? The' amenities of Princes Street Gardens will not be injured in the least; as a matter of fact the citizens will see less of the traffic than they do now. I hope my hon. Friend will not press the Amendment to a Division, but will allow the Bill, without further discussion, to be referred to a Select Committee.

(2.43.) MR. WEBB

Edinburgh occupies a different position from any other city in the United Kingdom. In a literary sense, it belongs to all of us. It contains many features of historic and national interest, and knowing that on one occasion a Private Bill was allowed to pass which inflicted great injury upon the City of Dublin, I oppose this Bill on the ground that it will impair the beauty of Edinburgh by an unnecessary encroachment.

(2.45.) SIR G. CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)

No one has more strongly objected than myself to the practice of this House taking upon itself the functions of a Select Committee. At the same time I am glad that attention has been called to this Bill, which, I understand, involves a great principle, namely, whether, when a Railway Company has to take additional land for its own purposes, it should be permitted to take public land, because it can get it cheaper, than private land. To the east of this station there is land which is an eyesore to the city. It is occupied by gas works and manufactories of that kind, but it would suit the purposes of the company just as well as the land they propose to take, except for the fact that they would have to pay more dearly for it. Therefore, they propose to take a large slice of this beautiful land in the centre of Edinburgh. If the Bill goes to a Committee I hope that the Committee will scrutinise its provisions very narrowly, and take care not to sacrifice the principle that a Railway Company should be required to take private land in preference to public land.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.

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