HC Deb 09 March 1893 vol 9 cc1407-21
MR.PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I beg to move— That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the City and South London 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.' In bringing forward the Instructions which stand in my name, I have acted not merely on my own initiative, although I entirely agree with them, but on behalf and at the request of the London County Council. I am aware that hon. Gentlemen will probably endeavour to raise a prejudice against the proposal upon that very ground, but I feel sure the House will at least give a candid consideration to the proposals which emanate from the representatives of some four millions of people. What are the circumstances under which I bring forward these Instructions? There are now before the House a batch of London Electric Rail way Bills, by which it is proposed to provide London with a series of under ground railways traversing the Metropolis in various directions, and worked by electricity. And, Sir, all these projected lines are practically comprised within an area which is under the control of the London County Council. It is true a small portion of two of the lines penetrates the City of Loudon, but I think that that consideration may be disregarded in view of the fact that the Government has, happily, committed itself to the principle of the unification of the Metropolis. Therefore the case stands thus: that the London County Council is the local authority for the area which will be traversed by these Companies, and I ask the House to affirm the principle that it s right that the Loudon County Council, as the local authority, should be empowered to acquire these railway undertakings upon fair conditions after the expiration of a certain term of years. Now, Sir, it is only right and fair in two or three words that I should give the Parliamentary history of this question up to the present time. Several of these Bills were before the last Parliament, and then a Joint Committee of both Houses considered the whole question of Electric Railways for London. It is only fair that I should say that the London County Council presented before that Joint Committee the proposals which are embodied in my Instructions to-day. But, Sir, the Report of that Joint Committee made no reference to the question of purchase. The Report neither approved of purchase nor condemned purchase. It simply ignored purchase; therefore, so far as the Joint Committee is concerned, this question of purchase remained open. And now, Sir, comes the particular circumstance connected with the case with which I am dealing. In one very important respect these electric railway schemes differ from all other underground railways. What I mean is this: in other cases the companies have had to purchase the freehold of the land through which the lines run, but in the case of these Electric Railway Companies it is proposed to give to the companies the right to acquire way-leaves under the surface, instead of acquiring the freehold. Even so, Sir, whenever these lines pass under private property they will be subject to the Lands Clauses Act in respect of compensation, and in order to avoid the payment of such compensation the routes of these railways have been so marked out as to follow the line of the public thoroughfares; in fact, the lines twist and turn about in order to follow the line of the public streets, and in this way, Sir, a very considerable advantage will accrue to the Railway Companies by acquiring the power to tunnel under the public streets. Now, what are the rights of the public in the public streets? In some cases the public has vested in it absolutely the freehold of the soil in the streets, and when that is not in point of law the case, still it has been decided that the public has very large indeterminate rights in the sub-soil of a street to any depth which it may be necessary to use for any public purpose. Now, Sir, if the means of locomotion can be successfully provided at a depth of 60 feet or more below the surface, then I say this constitutes a public use of the sub-soil of the streets, and the public ought not to be required to part with its rights in this regard without obtaining some compensation, or some equivalent. On this point I know I shall be told that the Joint Committee of both Houses suggested a certain compensation — namely, that the Company should be put upon terms to provide an adequate supply of cheap trains. I am perfectly aware of that, but what I want to point out is this: that this obligation to provide a cheap train service is an obligation which this House now imposes upon all new lines with a suburban traffic which run into London. It is no satisfaction, therefore, of the particular claim which I now put forward against these Electric Railway Companies, in consideration of the fact that they are to be allowed to tunnel under the public streets, a privilege whereby the cost of constructing their lines will be very materially diminished; and I think, therefore, that this is emphatically a case in which compensation can most properly be given by providing that under certain conditions the community can acquire these undertakings. Sir, the principle of giving the right to the community or to the public to acquire railways is no new principle. I do not know whether it is necessary to remind the House that under the Act of 1844 the public has a right to acquire, under certain conditions, every railway in the country. Where a great trunk line is concerned of course the power of purchase cannot properly be given to any public authority short of the State itself. But here we are dealing not merely with local lines, but with what has been called, and I think very aptly, "municipal suburban tramways," limited to a certain area, and in this case I submit the local authority of the area properly represents the community. Now, Sir, I understand that, from a printed paper which has been issued by the promoters of the Bill, some objection will be taken to my Instruction upon the ground that it is in a mandatory form, and upon that issue I want to say just a word or two. All that I ask this House to affirm to-day is a principle, and I think it fairly falls within the province of this House to affirm a principle; whereas, upon the other hand, I leave the Committee to decide what I think properly falls within the province of a Committee—namely, to work out and to apply the principle. Sir, from the point of view of the promoters of these Bills the sting of this Instruction, if it has a sting, depends altogether upon the length of the term of years which is to be prescribed, at the end of which the right to purchase accrues; obviously so, for it is clear that you might fix a term of years so long that it is obvious no effect whatever could be produced upon the financial prospects of this company. For instance, if you fixed a term of 500 or 200 years, will anyone say that the financial position or financial prospects of these companies would be in any way affected? I think not, and therefore I say that the essence of the case depends upon the length of the term which you fix, and I am leaving it entirely to the Committee to determine what the length of the term should be. There is no desire in any part of this House, certainly not on my part or on the part of those with whom I am acting, to crush out legitimate commercial enterprise; but what we say is this: that the conditions of purchase must be adjusted, and may be adjusted in such a way as not to interfere at all with the development of these electric railways. And in the consideration of this question I think that the story of electric lighting is not uninstructive. By the original Act the term of years during which undertakers of electric lighting might enjoy the profits of their enterprise was fixed at 21, and undoubtedly under that Act, and it may be in consequence of that Act, electric lighting enterprise was checked. Well, what happened? It was said that Parliament had killed commercial enterprise in electric lighting. But what was done when that cry was raised? Did Parliament reject, in respect of electric lighting, the principle of public purchase altogether? Not at all Parliament took a very different course. Parliament re-considered the term during which the undertakers should enjoy the profits of their enterprise, and it extended that term from 21 years to 42 years, and under that Act electric lighting, which had received a check, has been stimulated and developed. That is instructive, and the moral is this: not to discard the principle of purchase by the community, but to be careful that in each case you fix a term of years which is suitable to the particular enterprise that is concerned. In this case we leave it to the Committee, after careful inquiry, to fix the term, and, therefore, I think any argument which can be drawn from the story of electric lighting tells rather in my favour than against me. As I know my friends on the other side will say that my proposals, if carried out, will kill these projects, I just desire in two words to point out the inconsistency of the promoters of these Bills. At one time the promoters draw the most glowing prospects and pictures of what can be done under these Bills. It was stated in the evidence produced before the Joint Committee that within seven years the number of passengers annually in London will be increased by no less a number than 400,000,000, if the means of getting about which these Bills offer are provided. In the case of one company —the Baker Street and Waterloo Company—it is estimated that it will carry 60,000,000 of passengers in the year, whereas the whole number of passengers carried by the District Railway over its whole system is only 36,000,000, and one witness seems to anticipate that these railways will have the effect of killing the omnibus and cab services in London, much in the same way as it is said the electric railways of New York have largely reduced the similar services in that city.

MR. PROVAND (Glasgow, Blackfriars)

They are overhead railways in New York.


That does not interfere with my argument. The statement is that the London cab service and the London omnibus service will be largely reduced by these railways. Then, finally, it is estimated by the proper authorities that the cost of construction of these railways will be only one-third of the cost of constructing the Metropolitan Railway; and it is further said that, having regard to the greater speed at which these trains will run, and the more frequent services, the expenses of management will be very much less than on the railways which now exist. I admire the enthusiasm of Mr. Greathead, the engineer, and other witnesses, and I think I am entitled to point out the inconsistency of the promoters, who in one breath extol the enormous economical advantages which those railways will possess over the underground railways which are at present in existence, and yet, in the same breath, tell us, "You will kill these projects if you fix any term in which the right of compulsory purchase may accrue." I think I am justified in pointing out that the promoters of these railways are blowing hot and cold at once in this matter. I have dealt with the particular objections which I understand are raised in this particular case, and it only remains that in one word I should sum up the broad grounds upon which I rest the Instruction which I desire to move to-day, and these grounds are these: that the public has a right to acquire upon reasonable conditions all the lines which are essential to the life of a great city, and which partake of the nature of monopolies, whether they are concerned with water, or with gas, or with locomotion. That is the simple proposition which I ask this House to affirm; all the rest I leave to the decision of the Committee, after taking evidence upon the question. I beg, Sir, to move the first Instruction which stands in my name.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the City and South London 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. Pichersgttl).

MR. BOULNOIS (Marylebone, E.)

As a member of the London County Council, and of that section of it which has some regard for the interests of the London ratepayers, I desire to say a word on the Motion of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green. He claims to speak on behalf of the London County Council in this matter. I should like to explain how that body deals with these questions, for I declare deliberately that they do not receive adequate consideration. There is no real discussion upon them; they are brought forward in the Reports of Committees, which are circulated by the last post on Saturday evenings, or by the early post on Monday mornings, and on Tuesday the Council is called upon to discuss them. Perhaps a quarter of an hour or 20 minutes is expended upon them, when some impetuous member, not caring to hear arguments which are against his views, moves the closure, which, easily as it appears to be exercised in this House, is still more freely used in the Loudon County Council. When, therefore, the hon. Member for Bethnal Green tells us that this is the deliberate opinion of the Council, I say it is not so; and in so saying I speak in the interests of the London ratepayers. We all know that the Loudon County Council, if it could, would get hold of the railways, and would pay wages much higher than the market rates, with the result that passengers would be carried at non-remunerative rates at the expense of the ratepayers. But they would not stop there. They recently gave notice of their intention to acquire a small section of tramways within the Metropolitan area. There was a good deal of glib talk by members as to the profits to be made; estimates were paraded, and then, when the company sent in its claim, it was found to be seven times as much as the Council's engineer had estimated the value of the undertaking at. The question has not been settled yet; it is still before the arbitrator, and I only quote it as showing how fallacious are the arguments of the Radical members of the London County Council. I venture to assert that if you carry such an Instruction as this it will operate in absolute restraint of all private enterprise. And when we consider what private enterprise has done, I think the House should pause before it fetters the proposed railway in this manner. I do not think it is at all necessary that a Municipality like the London County Council should thus step in between those who use the railways and those who own them. Locomotion in London is exceedingly cheap, and I am not aware that the public have given any mandate to the London County Council to acquire these undertakings. I question very much the proposition put forward to-day that the people of London have a right to the subsoil of the streets. I venture to think it belongs to the freeholder, but still that is a point which is open to argument, and which has not yet been settled. I am not prepared to affirm that the companies should pay nothing for the privileges which they undoubtedly enjoy. I think they might well pay something in the shape of rent or royalty; but I would remind the House that at Huddersfield— the only Municipality which has acquired and worked a tramway—the experiment has turned out a failure. I believe that the London County Councill will not stop at the proposition now put forward by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green; but that they will go on and seek to acquire not merely electric but all other railways, as well as tramways, omnibuses, and steamboats and docks. Therefore, I appeal to this House to restrain this octopus, with its greedy, grasping antenna?, and prevent its acquiring these railways, which, in my humble judgment, are best left in the hands of private enterprise, and placed under State control.


The House will have noticed that the Instruction put forward by my hon. Friend is mandatory, and directs the Committee, before which this Bill will go, to pursue a certain course. So far as I know, the Instruction is in Order; but at the same time it is most unusual, and ought to be very strongly justified. The hon. Mem- ber has asked this House to infer that the Joint Committee which sat on these Bills last year were in favour of this proposal. I rather think they came to the conclusion that it was not their duty to advise or direct future Committees. The Committee was, in fact, appointed to make suggestions for the general guidance of Committees, so far as they might be willing to accept them, on Bills of this character with the object of securing something like an approach to uniformity. I am not at all prepared to say what the opinions of individual Members of that Committee were. I think it is highly probable some were entirely opposed to the views of the hon. Member, but I may make this statement without fear of contradiction—namely, that we were all united in an unanimous conclusion against inserting any clause in the Report on this question on the ground that we could not undertake the responsibility of over-weighting the Bills and possibly preventing the initiation of works in the public interest. MR. WHITMORE (Chelsea): As a Member of the Joint Committee, perhaps I may be allowed to remind the House that the reason why the Committee did not insert a specific paragraph in their Report condemnatory of proposals of this nature was that the evidence put forward on behalf of the London County Council was so unconsidered that it was really not before us in such a form as would enable us to come to a definite conclusion. I appeal to hon. Members who were Members of that Committee whether the evidence, such as it was, did not convince us that any such proposition as this would be absolutely fatal to the carrying out of any new railway enterprise. The evidence was overwhelming that no single one of these railway undertakings would be able to obtain the requisite capital if it were hampered by any such restrictions as these. Even if the proposal had any weight, surely the proper way to proceed would be not in this piecemeal and accidental manner, but by a general Public Act, which would have every opportunity of being considered by this House. I do ask hon. Members, in the interest of new railway undertakings, not to disregard the evidence laid before the Joint Committee of last year, but to reject a prosal which would, in my judgment, be absolutely fatal to the most necessary railway projects.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

I do not on the present occasion speak as a member of the London County Council, but I venture as a plain citizen of London to give a few mechanical and industrial reasons why the Second Reading of this Bill should take place this day six months. The other night we discussed in this House the question of railway rates, and I refer to that subject for this reason — namely, that many on both sides of the House, traders and others, thought that our predecessors made a great mistake in not originally exercising the powers given them under a certain Act for the nationalisation of railways. I regret with many men that in 1864–5, when these powers were conferred, steps were not taken in the interest of the trade and commerce of this country to secure the nationalisation of the railways at the end of a given period, and no doubt those who may succeed us 10 years hence will curse our memories for having done nothing at this time in the same direction. My objections to this Bill are twofold. The first is a mechanical one. We find that the tunnels in this railway are to be 11 ft. 6 in. in diameter.


Order, order! We are not now discussing the Bill; but the question before the House is the proposed Instruction to the Committee, and the hon. Member must confine himself solely to the terms of that Instruction.


As a matter of Order, Sir, is it not possible for me to advert to faults in the proposed undertaking?


The Bill has been read a second time. Its principle has been affirmed, and it is only open now to the hon. Member to discuss the Instruction.


I only wanted to give reasons why some uniformity should be secured in the making of these railways. Here, as I say, the tunnel is to be 11 ft. 6 in. in diameter. On another railway the tunnels are 12 ft. in diameter, and on other railways the measurements vary. I want to point out that unless we have uniformity in the building of these tunnels, when the day comes for securing and amalgamating all the railways in the metropolitan district, we shall find that lack of uniformity practically fatal to the scheme.


Order, Order! The hon. Member is discussing the Bill, and not the Instruction.


Very well, Sir; I will drop that point. All I will add is that it seems to me that hon. Members wish to deny to London powers which they are prepared to give to other large cities and towns. I believe that if Birmingham, Glasgow, or Manchester were to apply for powers such as these, the House would agree that the request was perfectly reasonable, and would concede it at once. I hold that London should not be denied powers which other Municipalities enjoy. We have no desire to restrict private enterprise provided it is consistent with the homogeneous government of London from a physical point of view. I ask this House to reject this Bill, and, if possible, to prevent any such Bills coming before it until uniformity of system has been secured.

SIR JOHN LUBBOCK (London University)

I hardly think the House would be disposed to refuse to London what Glasgow, Manchester, or Birmingham already possess, but that is not now the question before us. The hon. Member for Marylebone scarcely did justice to the discussions which took place in the London County Council. In the first place, the Reports of Committees are sent out on Saturdays, and I believe that ample time is given both for their consideration and for the discussion of them. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green, who moved this Resolution, has told the House that he speaks for the London County Council in this matter. I should like to ask him, but, speaking from memory, I do not think the London County Council have passed any resolution at all upon this question during the present year. Of course, if he tells me that they have done so, I shall accept the assurance. I do not, however, understand that he is prepared to do so. No doubt it is perfectly true, and he is entitled to say so; that e were of opinion a year ago that some such powers as these ought to be introduced in Bills of this character. But since that time there has been sitting a Committee of this House which went into the matter carefully, and the Chairman of which has certainly given very strong reasons against a Resolution such as this. I do not think that the Loudon County Council have re-considered the matter since that Joint Committee sat and with that information before them, and, therefore, though they were, a year or so ago, in favour of such powers as are indicated in the Instruction, I do not think they have decided that they would wish to throw out the Bill. There is a great deal to he said for giving Local Authorities power to acquire railways, but I think, in view of the strong statements made, that the effect of this Resolution would he to discourage private enterprise, that it would in the interests of London be better to allow the Bill to go upstairs and be examined by a Select Committee unfettered by any such Instruction as that now proposed.


I am afraid that I also must oppose this proposition. It is a serious matter; even more serious, I think, than is supposed by many who have spoken against it, for it is an attempt to engraft a new principle upon private legislation. While I express no opinion as to the propriety of the purchase of railways by the State or by Local Authorities, I must say that if that is to be done it ought to be done by a Public Bill, and the ordinary procedure followed so that everyone interested may have full notice of the proposed change. I should like to add—and I do not say it at all offensively—that the present proceeding is a mode of evading the Standing Orders of the House; and, if it were assented to, it would be possible to engraft upon some small, and perhaps insignificant, Bill a great public change, which the House might wish to take some time to consider. A mandatory Instruction ought to be very carefully scanned before being adopted, because under it the hands of the Committee are tied, and the valuable jurisdiction they possess is practically nullified on matters of very considerable importance. Under these circumstances, I must oppose the Instruction.

MR. A. J. BALFOUR (Manchester, E.)

The House, no doubt, is obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means for the very able guidance he has given us in dealing with this important matter. He has shown conclusively that whatever may be the merits or demerits of the abstract proposals the hon. Member for Bethnal Green has laid before us, at all events we are asked to consider them in a shape which makes it absolutely impossible for us to come to a proper decision on them. He has shown that if we are to deal with these matters at all we should deal with them in a Public Bill, on which every proper opportunity should be given to Members to express an opinion upon them. For my own part, even apart from that which is more an objection of form, I have the strongest objection in point of substance to the proposals made. It appears to me there are two objections, each of which is conclusive. The first is, that the acceptance of such proposals would absolutely kill the investment of capital in the Metropolis, and would render it wholly absurd for capitalists to come forward and start projects of this sort, knowing that when they had started them the persons who would reap the fruit of them would be a Body which had bad nothing whatever to do with their original inception. Secondly, apart from that, I look with the gravest apprehension upon any scheme for enormously increasing the position of Municipal Bodies as direct employers of labour. We have seen in this House how much the ordinary course of Business is hampered by the fact that the country is itself a great employer of labour. Night after night is taken up by discussions arising out of that fundamental fact. We cannot expect that our great Municipalities, least of all the great County Council of London, will carry on the duty that Parliament has entrusted to them satisfactorily if it is augmented by all the responsibilities that must attach under proposals of this nature.


I would appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw the Motion. Not only is it important that these enterprises should go forward, but, as a matter of fact, this undertaking will go beyond the jurisdiction of the London County Council. I have made inquiries and I find that the County Council have taken no action in this matter, and have made no communication to the Board of Trade. This Bill is not on all fours with tramway enterprises which are purely of a local character, and which it is frequently desirable to place under one authority, so that a variety of lines may be consolidated into one system. I hope the hon. Member will withdraw his Motion.

MR. W. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I would point out that the observations of the right hon. Gentleman, the late Leader of the House (Mr. A. J. Balfour), afford conclusive proof that this is a question which ought to be decided by the House and not by a Committee upstairs. What are the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman? First, that this proposal would prevent the investment of capital. That is a great argument, and one not applicable only to this Bill, but to all Bills of a similar kind. His second objection is, that it is not desirable to increase the powers of the County Councils in the employment of working men. That is also a general question. The proper questions for a Committee upstairs are those which arise upon the particular facts of a particular Bill. This Instruction, however, raises a general question of policy, which it is not proper to refer to a Committee upstairs. It is a question with which hon. Members may differ in opinion, and, therefore, ought to be considered by the House.


I desire to put a question to the hon. Member who is responsible for this Motion. Did I understand him to say that he has the authority of the London County Council for moving this Instruction.




Will the hon. Member kindly explain how that authority was given, and when?


The Loudon County Council has presented Petitions against the Bill, and in each of those Petitions it has asked that clauses on the line indicated by my Instruction should be inserted.


Have those Petitions been subjects of consideration by the present London County Council?


Certainly; by the Parliamentary Committee, to whom authority is delegated by the London County Council. I suppose the noble Lord understands what delegated authority is.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 129; Noes 242.—(Division List, No. 24.)

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