HC Deb 30 May 1892 vol 5 cc178-86
*(3.10.) MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I rise to move the first of the series of Resolutions iden tical in terms of which I have given notice, at the instance of the London County Council, relating to a batch of Electric Railway Bills for the Metropolis now before Parliament. I ask the House to declare that these are cases to which the principle is applicable that the right should be reserved to the London County Council to purchase these undertakings after a limited period. The railways proposed by these Bills will traverse the Metropolis in various directions, being laid at considerable depth below the surface of the streets; and in order to save the expense of paying compensation to private owners, which would have to be paid should these railways pass under buildings, the lines are designed to follow the line of the public streets by tunnelling through the sub-soil. As an illustration of the expense which will thus be saved to promoters of these railways, I need only mention that the undertakers of the existing electric railway on the south side of London had to pay £3,000 compensation for the right to pass under one building to reach their terminus—namely, Hibernia Buildings. Therefore, it would seem that the community under whose streets a railway passes have a reasonable claim for compensation in some shape, in view of the expenditure thus saved to the promoters. These electric railways are more akin to tramways than to railways in the ordinary sense; they are, to adopt the language of the Joint Committee, required to relieve the overcrowding of traffic along the chief thoroughfares of London, and so we find the undertakers of these railways resisting the obligation imposed on other railways, such as the conveyance of goods, cattle, and minerals. Now, I do not propose to rest my case upon the analogy, or the suggested analogy, between the case of tramways and the case of these railways, although I think the analogy is much closer than it is assumed to be. For instance, tramways involve an easement over the surface of the streets, and these railways involve an easement through the sub-soil. Although it is true the Local Authority has not a freehold in the streets, yet it has been decided again and again that the Local Authority has very large, I may say undefined, easements in the sub-soil; and in the well-known case of "Coverdale v. Charlton" it was decided that the sub-soil is vested in the Local Authority for the purpose of doing what is usually done under the streets. It may be asserted that this case had relation to what was done within a few feet of the surface, although I think that can hardly be so with regard to the main drainage system of London. At all events, if it is found that means of conveyance can be successfully constructed at fifty or a hundred feet below the surface, on the same principle it may be maintained control over such tunnelling is vested in the Local Authority. If it is said that tram lines interfere with the beneficial enjoyment of the surface of the streets by that portion of the public which rides in ordinary vehicles, then I say that the construction of a railway under the streets practically precludes the Public Authority for all time from making use of the sub-soil for a similar purpose. Apart, however, from the suggested analogy between these lines and the ordinary tramway, I prefer to rest my case on the broad principle that the community should not part with the right to supply anything which is in effect necessary for that community, whether it be locomotion, light, or water, such for the time being a monopoly. The precedents of tram lines and electric lighting go to show that the right to purchase does not kill private enterprise. I may be told that, as regards the Electric Lighting Act of 1882, it did have that tendency, but since 1888 electric lighting has been greatly stimulated; and the Act of 1888, equally with the Act of 1882, maintained the principle of purchase by the public, so that the only lesson which can be drawn from the electric lighting case is this: that you must take care that your limited period is sufficiently long to give the undertakers a fair opportunity of recouping themselves for their initial outlay. I admit that the initial expenditure in the case of these railways is very much greater than in the case of tramways; but this does not involve any difference of principle in the treatment of the two cases; it only means that, in order to give to the undertakers a fair opportunity to recoup themselves, you should extend the time during which the undertakers may enjoy the benefit of the undertaking—the time during which the public will be kept out of its inheritance. The period has been fixed in the case of tramways at twenty-one years, and electric lighting undertakings originally fixed at twenty-one years have been extended to forty-two years. The London County Council, recognising the larger initial outlay in these cases, have suggested, and merely suggested, that the time to elapse before there should be any exercise of the power of purchase should be, say, sixty years. The time is opportune for taking such action as this I propose. For many years we have not had so many Bills of this character before the House, which are of vital importance to the Metropolis. The existing City and South London Electric Railway may now be regarded as an assured success, and I think we may say that such undertakings have passed the experimental and speculative stage, and it is high time that steps should be taken to secure the rights of the community in relation thereto. These Bills have been referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses, and that Committee have reported, but there is only one paragraph which in any way comes within measurable distance of my proposal for compensation for the powers acquired to tunnel under the streets. In the fifteenth paragraph of their Report the Committee say that, in consideration of the promoters having this power, they should be under the obligation of running cheap and convenient trains. But that cannot be in anyway suggested as an alternative to purchase, because it has been the policy of Parliament to impose this obligation upon all railways. In fact, the Joint Committee have deliberately given the go-by to the specific issue I now raise. They have ignored it, not, perhaps, wishing to undertake the responsibility of declaring a principle, having, in fact, invited the House to express an opinion upon it. I ask the House to declare the principle embodied in my Resolution—namely, the principle that it is right that the public should have an opportunity of pur chasing these railways after a certain period and under certain conditions, and I only ask the House to declare the principle, referring to the Committee the crucial question, after taking all the elements of the case into consideration, to determine at its discretion what the period shall be during which the undertakers shall enjoy all profits, and thus secure recoupment for their outlay.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Great Northern and City Railway Bill that they do insert a clause reserving to the London County Council a power to purchase the undertaking after the expiration of a limited period on terms similar to those provided in Section 43 of 'The Tramways Act, 1870.'"—(Mr. Pickersgill.)

*(3.21.) MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea)

As a Member of the Joint Committee, I desire to briefly say why I hope the House will not adopt this Resolution. The London County Council did very fully set out the reasons in favour of such a principle as the hon. Member has embodied in his Motion; and we considered it very carefully, and came unanimously to the conclusion that to accept it would be almost certain to endanger the success of these schemes. I may point out that the first Bill on the list of those to which the hon. Member proposes to direct his Motion—the Great Northern and City Bill—is different in character to those that follow. The hon. Member, I think, justifies his contention on the ground that these are local lines; and the other lines, undoubtedly, are merely local and metropolitan in their character. But, as a matter of fact, the Great Northern and City Line is not in any sense a local line; it seeks to connect the Great Northern line with a new terminus at Finsbury Place, and without doubt it will be a great relief to the traffic over the Great Northern line, but I do not think the hon. Member will suggest that the London County Council should undertake at any time the management of a portion of a great main line. In any case, this particular line is outside the category of the other lines with which the hon. Member wishes the House to deal by his Resolution. With regard to the proposal as it came before the Com mittee, I may shortly say that it was conclusively shown that if such a clause were incorporated in these Bills there would be but little hope of the necessary capital being raised for the construction of any of the lines. If hon. Members will look over the history of proposals for railways in London during the past twenty years they will see that London is, as it were, strewn with abortive projects, line after line having successfully passed the ordeal of Parliament, but having had to be abandoned because of the stringency of the terms imposed upon the promoters. The Committee, looking at these projected lines as a whole, and at the great public convenience they would supply, came to the conclusion that the electric system was an adequate system, that the routes proposed were adequate, that the carrying out of the projects would be of material advantage to London and Londoners, but they also saw that if such a clause as this were imposed the necessary capital would never be subscribed. The Joint Committee, therefore, rejected the suggestion of the London County Council, as I hope the House will now.

*SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

I think this very large proposition must have taken most Members of the House a good deal by surprise. Most of us, I think, did not see the Motion until we turned over our papers this morning. At any rate, the principle is so very wide, so very large, that all new railways constructed within the district of the London County Council shall, under certain conditions, ultimately become the property of the London County Council, that I think we must hesitate before accepting it. Now, while I am quite prepared in many ways to add to the responsibilities and usefulness of municipal institutions, I do think this is a case in which "vaulting ambition o'erleaps" itself. The County Council has a full load to carry, almost equal to its capacity. It has to deal with many subjects—the water supply, the question of "betterment" as applied to improvements, the acquisition of tramways, and other matters. Now, tramways offer no analogy to these railways; they occupy the surface of the streets, they interfere with the ordinary traffic, and have to be regulated with other traffic; but to give the County Council power at one swoop to take the management of underground railways in London is a proposal far too large to be adopted on a Motion on a Private Bill at a time when the minds of Members are occupied with other matters. I certainly think the Motion should be postponed until we have far more information on the subject and can give more consideration to the subject than is now possible.

(3.31.) MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)

I think, after the decision of the Joint Committee on the ground stated by my hon. Friend, we cannot accept such a Motion as this. No doubt all of us who live in London are more or less jealous of the user of rights of public thoroughfares, and it would be well if the London County Council showed some of the jealousy they are now displaying when tramway questions are sometimes before Parliament. No doubt at present these railways will be of a local character; but have we not often found that railways have been extended from the centre and have become main arterial lines? How is it possible for the Council to undertake the management of the London sections of our great main lines? How can they claim anything of the kind simply because the lines happen to run over or under the public thoroughfares? Really, the Council display such a busy, grasping policy that we are continually, in a state of wonder as to what form their next demand will take. Possibly some day they may ask for the power of appointment of officers to the Metropolitan Volunteer Corps. By their endeavour to introduce the betterment principle they have checked all private enterprise in London in the direction of public improvements; and now, to carry out fads of their own, they would interpose and prevent the subscription of capital for the carrying out of these railway projects for the convenience of Londoners and the employment of a large number of the working classes. The London County Council is a sort of municipal cuckoo. Instituting no great works of its own it interferes with the enterprises of others with its Americanised ideas and Socialistic schemes. This is a most unworkable proposal to introduce at the fag end of a Session, and I hope the House will reject it.

MR. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)

Such a speech should not pass unanswered. It is not the fault of the London County Council that they have to come to Parliament so often for powers; that is the fault of Her Majesty's Government, who did not confer on London by their Act powers enjoyed by other Municipalities. Now, I would like to see the whole of our railway system under the control of the State, but the present limited proposal is that the local London railways shall at some future time be under local public control, and I support such a proposal, believing that it will result in great advantage to the inhabitants of London. As to what the hon. Member has said about the betterment principle having stopped improvements in London, I have only to say if that is so it will be no disadvantage to the people of London, who will, I hope, ultimately have the benefit of the application of the principle that those who benefit most from an improvement shall contribute justly towards the cost of that improvement. I support the proposal of my hon. Friend, and believe it is a step that must ultimately be taken.

MR. KIMBER (Wandsworth)

These railways are designed to be connecting links between the great London termini. Parliament has never considered the question of State control of railways, and surely we are not prepared at this short notice to delegate such powers of control to the London County Council. I recognise in this proposal another of the attempts made by the Council to get control of the employment of labour in London, by which they hope to command the suffrages which will give them power in Spring Gardens, and afterwards in this House. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has referred to the restricted powers of the London County Council; but I am not aware that any Provincial Council has any such power as this, though I do not see how such power could be refused to any Council in the Kingdom if granted to London.

(3.40.) MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

I think we may approach this subject without the introduction of jealousy with regard to the London County Council. My vote will be given on the ground that this proposal has already been discussed by the Joint Committee to which these electric railway proposals have been referred. The decision of the Committee was that it was undesirable to introduce the clause, and that its introduction would probably lead to the failure of the schemes. Satisfied with that decision, arrived at after full consideration, I shall vote against the present proposal.


As a Member of the Committee, I may say that in rejecting the proposal which was put before us by the County Council we felt that the Council were not consistent with the view they themselves expressed that these local lines should communicate with the open country. Control over the London section of the lines implied control over the outside section, and such control, in our view, should not be in the hands of a local, but of a Central, Authority.


I may be allowed to explain that, recognising the distinction my hon. Friend (Mr. Whitmore) has pointed out between the first Bill on the list and the subsequent Bills, I will, with the permission of the House, withdraw the present Motion, and move it in regard to the second of the Bills mentioned.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.