HL Deb 18 April 1836 vol 32 cc1116-9

The Marquess of Lansdowne moved that the House should proceed to the further consideration of the Report made by the select Committee of the House of Commons, "to inquire into the best modes by which information can be afforded to the House on the different Railway Bills, and the resolutions founded thereupon." The noble Marquess, after a few prefatory observations, proposed that their Lordships should agree to the Resolutions of the House of Commons, to which he would add two other Resolutions — namely, "that the above Resolutions be not understood to dispense with the standing orders heretofore observed by their Lordship's House;" and, "that where no parties shall appear in support of a petition against a Railway Bill, their Lordships shall exercise their discretion to inquire into the facts."

The Marquess of Londonderry

could not avoid saying, that their Lordships were called on rather hastily to adopt those resolutions. He understood, on the former evening, that the resolutions were to be printed, that noble Lords might thus have the liberty of consulting them. But such was not the fact. Early in the Session he had stated his general view of the railway question. In his opinion, a very great distinction ought to be made between those railways that were constructed with a view to great public utility, great commercial advantages, the connecting large manufacturing towns with other manufacturing towns, and that species of railways which were got up under the auspices of individuals, as mere matters of speculation, particularly in great mining counties. These latter ought not to be encouraged. He could not but disapprove of the manner in which some of those Bills had been supported elsewhere. There were in the county with which he was connected, two railways, one of which was, he believed, in consequence of the want of funds, and the loans which it was necessary to procure, actually in possession of the Government at that moment. He hoped that the noble Marquess would afford him an opportunity to offer some suggestions on the subject of railways. At the same time, he knew that it was a little disagreeable for any individual to bring forward resolutions when Government had charged itself with any particular measure. He wished, however, that this subject had been taken up by the noble Earl (Malmesbury) below him. His knowledge and experience would enable him to develope the effect which the railway system, if not vigilantly attended to, was likely to produce in different parts of the country.

The Earl of Malmesbury

had no objection to avail himself of any information which might be derived from the proceedings of the Committee of the other House; but their Lordships were bound, with reference to such an important measure as this, to take it into their most serious consideration, and to discuss it fully. He thought, however, that the best way would be to refer the subject to a Select Committee, particularly as the landed interest might be seriously affected by these sort of railway speculations into which it was their Lordships' duty to look with great strictness.

The Earl of Wicklow

had already expressed sentiments similar to those of the noble Earl who had just sat down. He concurred in the Resolutions of the House of Commons; and he believed that it was incumbent upon their Lordships to take more than ordinary care in the consideration of this important subject. Their Lordships were well aware of the difficulty in coming to a decision upon railways; and there could be no doubt that if carried to the full extent to which there was reason to believe they might be, their Lordships would have much business of this nature before them. There were no less than fifty or sixty Railroad Bills in the other House, shortly to come before their Lordships; and as the guardians of the property and rights of his Majesty's subjects, it was their duty to devise means consistent with the forms and orders of their House, for promoting measures which were likely to tend to the future prosperity of the country. He saw no better mode than the one suggested by his noble Friend (the Earl of Malmesbury), the appointment of a Select Committee, to take into consideration the means which can be devised for the purpose of facilitating the passage of such Bills through the House.

Lord Abinger

saw no objections to the resolution, provided the Committee on each Bill was at liberty to go into the inquiry in all cases in which it might deem inquiry necessary.

Lord Ashburton

was anxious that their Lordships should adopt the proper means to prevent serious injury resulting from the present mania, but at the same time they should do it temperately. The dispensing power of the Committee, proposed by the last resolutions of the noble Marquess, hardly gave sufficient latitude, because there might be an opposition to a Bill for only five minutes, and in that case, the Committee would be obliged to go into all the proofs already given before the other House. It was highly necessary that some means should be adopted to prevent such a public scandal as the expenditure of 40,000l., 50,000l., or 60,000l., in order to procure the passing of a private Bill.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

had not heard any objection to the resolutions, except the qualified one of his noble Friend who had just sat down. He concurred with his noble Friend, that a trifling alteration in the fifth resolution would give more latitude to the powers of the Committee, in dispensing with the necessity of entering upon the examination of evidence a second time; and he would, therefore, make such an alteration.

The Marquess of Londonderry

begged to mention one or two of the hardships which had been already sustained through projects of this description. By the prospectus of the Clarence Railway scheme, it appeared that the capital required was 200,000l., but that amount being subscribed, it was declared, that there was no prospect of the undertaking succeeding with that sum, upon which the Company borrowed Exchequer-bills, at different periods, to the amount of 20,000l., 50,000l., and of 11,000l. The whole sum borrowed amounted to no less than 111,000l., and the whole expense had been 380,000l., for a work which yielded no more than 2,500l. a-year. He was, therefore, induced to hope the noble Marquess would follow the suggestion of the noble Earl (the Earl of Malmesbury), and appoint a Select Committee to consider of the matter previous to the adoption of the resolutions.

The Resolutions were agreed to.