HC Deb 06 March 1891 vol 351 cc378-85

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

Bill read a second time, and committed.

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

I rise for the purpose of moving an Instruction to the Committee That, in order that the public shall derive some definite advantage in return for the right to tunnel under the public streets proposed to be conferred by the Bill, that they (the Committee) do insert clauses in the Bill providing either (1) for payment to the Local Authority of a royalty or share of earnings after interest on capital and working expenses; or (2) for specially reduced fares on certain trains between hours most convenient for the working classes and for clerks and others engaged in business, the Railway Company being required to run a specified number of such trains daily. I must apologise for again calling the attention of the House to the subject of the Tunnel Railways. In the discussion which took place in this House on the 11th of last month there appeared to be a general feeling that there are important interests connected with the making of these railways; and I do not think that I unduly trespassed upon the time of the House in calling attention to the rights of the public, so far as the subsoil of the roads in the Metropolis is concerned, seeing that private individuals are applying for Acts of Parliament empowering them to take that subsoil without compensation or charge. On that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees did me the honour to acknowledge the propriety of the course I took as a Metropolitan Member, and he suggested that as the discussion had practically answered the object I had in view in calling public attention to the matter, in all probability not only the promoters of the Bill, but the Committee to whom it was about to be referred, would seriously consider the large and important question I had raised. I gathered that the right hon. Gentleman thought some practical result might come from the discussion. I suggested two ways of compensating the public—either by giving a royalty to the Local Authorities or by devoting to the public a share of the earnings, after payment of interest on the capital and working expenses. The right hon. Gentleman suggested a third way in which the public rights might be recognised, and that was by establishing cheap fares, having special regard to the fact that the land was to be appropriated without payment, or that a free permanent way was proposed to be acquired under Parliamentary authority. In deference to the right hon. Gentleman, and being satisfied with the feeling which appeared to prevail in the House upon the question, I withdrew the Instruction, and I certainly had the impression that the subject would be considered by the Committee to which the Bill was referred. I attended the meeting of the Committee, under the able chairmanship of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury); but, to my surprise, the counsel for the promoters, for all practical purposes, ignored all that had taken place in this House. He did, in a few words, refer to the Motion I had brought forward, but only to treat the matter with indifference, and to insinuate—for he did not state so in distinct terms—that I had withdrawn the Instruction because it had been unfavourably received, and because I had no chance whatever of carrying it. Now, that was not the spirit in which the Resolution was either received, discussed, or withdrawn. There was an understanding that the matter should be considered, and I was much surprised to find that the promoters, through their counsel, dealt with the question in this way. The Chairman said that the Committee knew nothing about the Instruction, and that they could only take cognisance of the Bill as it was placed before them by the counsel who appeared in their legal capacity in the Committee Room. I also ascertained that the promoters did not intend to do anything in the way of conceding a royalty, or share earnings, or specially cheap fares. Of course, the company are bound to give the working class trains which ordinary Railway Companies are required to give, but I do not gather that they propose to give any special cheap trains as a consideration for the free permanent way they are to acquire under the Bill. I do not propose now to re-argue the claims of the public, because it is generally admitted that the public have a substantial interest in the matter; and although the landowners on each side may have some shadowy claim, that claim is of no practical value. The only substantial interest in the roadway rests in the public. I ask the House to look at the question from a larger point of view, namely, the right of the people of London to the land over which the public streets run. This is one of the earliest of those railways which, in the end, will inevitably run like a net-work underneath London—not only small railways for the conveyance of passengers, but tubular railways to connect great lines on either side for the carriage of goods traffic. It may be satisfactory to the House to know that the promoters of these Bills take a most sanguine view of their prospects. In fact, the syndicate promoting these Bills have assured the Committee that they are prepared to give a guarantee to find the whole of the capital—some £3,600,000 for one of the railways alone. I propose to discuss the three Bills which appear on the Paper at the same time, seeing that the decision upon one of them will settle the fate of all.

MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

There may be a little difficulty in reference to the third Bill.

SIR J. PULESTON (Devonport)

I am advised that the promoters of the third Bill are prepared to say that the matter shall be mentioned in the Committee, and that it needs no Instruction.


I was mentioning that the promoters take a most sanguine view of the prospects of these tunnel railways, and expect the undertaking to he enormously profitable. One of the companies proposes to provide facilities for carrying as many as 350,000 persons a day, and the railway which is already in operation from London Bridge to Stockwell, and which is admittedly not in a perfect condition, with unsatisfactory stations and approaches, has carried in a little over two months, 900,000 passengers. At a recent meeting the company owning that railway expressed the greatest satisfaction at the financial as well as the engineering results of the undertaking. Therefore, from actual experience in connection with the experiment of the South London Railway, there is conclusive evidence that the privilege asked for is one of enormous value. That being so, I think it is the duty of the House to take care that the public interests are very well looked after. The other night, in a discussion which occurred here, there was a general consensus of opinion as to the desirability of legislation in reference to providing cheap trains at convenient hours for the working classes. When the Railway Passenger Duty was partially remitted, in the interests of the public the House insisted on compensation being given in the shape of an increased number of workmen's trains, and now, when a far more valuable concession is about to be handed over to a Private Company, it is time to give practical effect to our opinions, and to extend a policy which has been recognised and affirmed over and over again. The people promoting these railways are a syndicate of financiers. I believe they call themselves "The Exploration Company, Limited," and they want to get a concession out of which they expect to make money.

An hon. MEMBER: That is not so.

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

The hon. Gentleman has somewhat exaggerated the facts in regard to the syndicate. The evidence before the Committee shows that some of these gentlemen are prepared to put in very large sums, and to retain their holdings.


That fact rather strengthens my case. The fact that the financiers who form the syndicate propose to retain their shares shows the value of the concession, and makes it more necessary that we should secure to the public full compensation the rights granted. I have no wish to throw cold water on the efforts of the promoters, and I move this Instruction without any hostility whatever to these railways. I have no interest in the matter except the public interest, and I have no wish to impose conditions which would prevent the railways from being made, or seriously embarrass the promoters. It is, however, such a good thing that I think they can well afford to give the public some substantial return for the large powers they are asking for. I beg to move the Instruction which I have placed on the Paper.

*(3.29.) MR. SPEAKER

The proper form would be to instruct the Committee to insert clauses to carry out the views of the hon. Member. The first part of the Instruction, which explains the reasons for submitting it, is unusual.


I shall be most happy to move the Instruction in the form suggested by you, Sir.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to insert clauses in the Bill providing either (1) for payment to the local authority of a royalty or share of earnings after interest on capital and working expenses; or (2) for specially reduced fares on certain trains between hours most convenient for the working classes and for clerks and others engaged in business, the Railway Company being required to run a specified number of such trains daily."—(Mr. Thomas Henry Bolton.)

*(3.30.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

I supported the hon. Member on the last occasion, and I very much regret that he did not carry the Motion to a Division. What has occurred since shows, I think, that it does not altogether answer to leave these matters to the chapter of accidents, and that it is better, as we cannot always trust a Committee to do what we wish, to give a definite Instruction. I agree that these railways will rapidly increase in the Metropolis, and that, therefore, the subject is one calling for serious consideration. For all practical purposes the roads are public property, and as these new companies are asking for important rights it is only fair that they should pay for them. One of the great difficulties of London is the ever-increasing burden of the rates. They are growing by leaps and bounds, and the proposal in the Instruction seems to me to be a reasonable way of getting some relief for the ratepayers by making the promoters of these lines pay a royalty, after a fair dividend is paid to shareholders, to the Local Authorities. I trust that the Instruction will be passed and that it will be understood, in future, that when these companies make use of the subsoil of the public streets they shall pay the locality some distinct and definite sum for the privilege.

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

I rise for the purpose of opposing the Instruction. I took the liberty of saying, when the subject was under discussion before, that I thought the raising of the question was not in the interest of the London County Council. I now understand that the Committee have decided that, although there may be value in the subsoil, that value belongs by law to the frontagers. The view I take of the matter is that there is no value at all in the subsoil at such a depth, and therefore that no payment is due to anybody. Whatever the traffic may be, either under or over the roadways, the public gets the full benefit of it. The principle that the travelling public should pay towards the taxation of London is, to my mind, an utterly wrong one. It would be better for the public interests that the Local Authorities should maintain all the highways in order that the people should be able to travel cheaply. We have lately been dealing with the question of market rights and tolls, whereby provisions brought in for the consumption of the community are made to pay taxes. That is a vicious and exploded fallacy, and certainly ought not to be applied to railways and subways. What we want is that the localities should take national undertakings of this kind into their own hands, make the subways, and derive all the profit that can be obtained from them. It is right that they should be maintained by the public money, but not as a legislative source of taxation. What was said by the Chairman of Committees on the last occasion possesses great weight and authority, namely, that in granting a monopoly the Committee should see that the fares were as low as possible, and that the public should receive some benefit when the railway was successful.


The Instruction only directs the Committee to make provision for cheap fares.


I have no doubt that without any Instruction at all the; Committee would do its duty and provide minimum fares for the working classes.


The hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Esslemont) speaks with some weight and authority, having been a member of the Committee which had this subject before them last year.


I have had the subject before me on three occasions.


Then still greater importance attaches to the remarks of the hon. Member. The first question before the Committee is whether it is desirable that additional means of locomotion shall be established under the sanction of this House. That principle being affirmed, it is necessary to provide such increased means of locomotion, without giving an undue advantage to anybody. This Instruction commands the Committee to insert these special clauses; but a Committee now sitting upstairs have already arrived at a different decision, with full knowledge of the discussion which occurred the other day. If the Instruction is passed, it becomes an absolute command.


Perhaps I may be allowed to explain that the difficulty of the Committee was in having no official knowledge of anything that had taken place in the House on the matter. That is why no attention has been devoted to it. But it is not too late to look into the question; and if the Instruction is forced upon us, we must consider the matter.


I think that without laying down a hard and fast line, the Committee might be able to take cognisance of this discussion. My hon. Friend the Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) supports the Instruction, and yet he knows that, in reference to cheap fares, it may be practically impossible to carry it out and to divide a penny into fractional parts. At the same time, he proposes to make it obligatory.


I merely said that I preferred one alternative to another.


The Instruction, if passed, will practically command the Committee upstairs to insert these provisions, and I am afraid the result would be to throttle an important enterprise.

(3.40.) MR. COURTNEY

The hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. T. H. Bolton) has expressed disappointment that more good has not resulted from the previous discussion of this subject. My difficulty is in knowing what the Committee have done in the matter.


The Committee have not practically reached this question yet. It can only come up upon the clauses of the Bill, and we have only just begun to consider them.


That is what I anticipated, and in view of that fact I consider the Instruction premature. I would advise the hon. and learned Gentleman to wait until the Committee have finished their labours, and then when the Bill comes again before the House, if no notice has been taken of his suggestion, he can once more raise the point. I certainly deprecate the interpretation which the hon. Member for North St. Pancras has put upon the remarks which fell from me the other day. I said that the subject was an important one, and that it deserved full consideration, but I do not think I anticipated in any degree what the result of that consideration would be. All I expressed was my own view that if it was desired to make a revenue out of the undertaking the proper thing would be to provide some sliding scale in respect of rates, so that the fares might be reduced as the profits of the undertaking increased. I had no intention of speaking of the working classes alone; I had everybody in view. As the matter is still before a Committee I should strongly deprecate the giving of a mandatory Instruction or doing anything that would interfere with the deliberation of the Committee.


I am afraid that I must take a Division upon the Instruction.

(3.45.) The House divided:—Ayes 71; Noes 111.—(Div. List, No. 78.)