HL Deb 15 April 1836 vol 32 cc1060-3

The Marquess of Lansdowne moved, that their Lordships take into consideration the Resolutions of the House of Commons on the subject of Railway Bills. He had already adverted to the line of inquiries which the House of Commons had pursued, and to the great extent of property now invested in Railways, and pointed out the necessity of an accurate preliminary inquiry, before their Lordships sanctioned by their approbation any of the numerous plans which had been brought before Parliament. He proposed to their Lordships to give their sanction to the resolutions which had been adopted by the other House which insisted on the necessity of a more particular inquiry into all the circumstances detailed in application for Railway Bills. If their Lordships adopted those resolutions, it would relieve the parties to such bills as were approved of by the House of Commons, of a serious expense. He proposed that their Lordships should enjoin their Committees to look into the Reports of the House of Commons to be satisfied that proof had been given of the matters required. Such a course of proceeding would save the parties from much expense; but many very important suggestions, in addition to those that were to be found in the report of the Select Committee of the House of Commons had been thrown out, which, as regarded future Bills, their Lordships might adopt. One of these was, that a proportion of the sum subscribed for these works should be paid into the Bank of England. Another suggestion, and one well worthy of consideration, was, whether any plan could he devised to secure the inquiry of an experienced engineer with reference to any proposed railway, either by the Government or by the parties interested, provided that the opinion given by him should have a perfectly impartial character. If that object could be obtained without incurring any enormous expense, he thought that it was one which it was most desirable to accomplish. It would have the effect of enabling parties to ascertain, before they adopted a line of road which possessed certain merits, whether there was not another line the merits of which were still greater. Such a survey, he feared, could only be carried on under the authority of Government or Parliament, but if it could be accomplished, it would be particularly serviceable in Ireland where few projects of this description were as yet set on foot. Another suggestion was, that-all those railways should ultimately become public property. To that proposition he could not agree, because it would have the effect of debarring individuals from proceeding with works of this nature. Such a plan could not be carried into effect unless Government took another step, and became parties to these undertakings. Such was the case in America, where the local governments were frequently shareholders. From the impetus which had been given to the construction of these great public works, arising from the wealth and intelligence of the country, an impetus which was hourly increasing, it became necessary for the Legislature to look with care and vigilance to the probable success of such undertakings. With that view he should move, "That this House agree in the principle of the Resolutions assented to by the House of Commons on the subject of the proceedings relative to Railway Bills: that Committees should be appointed to consider such Bills—to inquire into the practicability of carrying the plans into effect, as stated in the Resolutions of the House of Commons—and to require such further information as may be deemed necessary."

The Earl of Ripon

was not aware that any opposition could be raised against the motion. He was anxious that proper security should be extended to the private rights of those whose property was likely to be affected by Bills of this description in future. That point alone afforded sufficient reason, in a constitutional view, to induce that and the other House of Parliament to examine the details of these Bills with scrupulous vigilance. In one respect, and a very important one, a better system of regulation might be adopted. He spoke of the degree of notice that ought to be given to the proprietors of lands or houses through whose property it was intended that a railway should pass. As the resolutions stood at present, it was only necessary that the projectors should lodge in the office of the clerk of the peace a plan of the intended railway on or before the 30th of November. But the projectors were not required to give any notice whatever to the proprietors of lands or houses whose interests might be seriously affected by the work. The fact was, that in many instances grievous injustice, almost amounting to fraud, had been inflicted on parties who were incited to subscribe to undertakings of this description, before any understanding had been come to with individuals whose property was likely to be affected. With respect to the owners of land and houses, they were frequently placed in a very invidious situation. The projectors of a railway pledged themselves, in the first instance, without applying to the proprietors, to pursue a certain line, and the latter were compelled either to give their assent, however much against their will, or if they resisted the proposition, they were exposed to obloquy as the opponents of a work of public utility and convenience. He would, therefore, say, that a notice of six weeks or two months should be given to every landowner and householder before any plan by which their property was likely to be affected was proceeded with. It was proper that such fair notice should be given before the property of individuals was seized upon.

Lord Hatherton

regretted, that there was no code with respect to railroads, and thought it desirable that the House should direct its attention to the subject with a view of supplying the deficiency. With reference to what had fallen from his noble Friend as to the notice to be given to the clerk of the peace of each county he begged to remind him that it was also necessary that notice of the intention of the parties to apply for an Act of Parliament should he given in each county newspaper, describing the line of road, and mentioning the parishes through which it was to pass. He had no objection to further notice being required.

Lord Abinger

objected to the adoption of the resolutions at once. He did not think that it was expedient to depart from the ordinary course of examining witnesses on oath before a Committee of their Lordships. He did not think that it would be so satisfactory to rely upon the secondhand evidence obtained from the Commons to examine the witnesses.

The Duke of Wellington

concurred in the objections stated by his noble Friend (Lord Abinger) and most decidedly objected to any departure from the usual mode of carrying on the business of their Lordships' House.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

observed, that it was by no means his wish that the Committee should depart from the usual mode of taking evidence, and the resolution he had proposed, far from imposing upon them the adoption of such a course, merely imposed upon them a little additional duty. It merely gave them a power which he had no doubt they would exercise with that regard to justice which had ever characterized the proceedings of Committees appointed by their Lordships.

Lord Abinger

objected to its being understood that their Lordships would be satisfied with second-hand evidence taken before a Committee of the House of Commons.

Lord Hatherton

would suggest that the noble Marquess should postpone the consideration of the Resolution until Monday next.

Further consideration of the Resolutions adjourned.