HL Deb 08 May 1845 vol 80 cc277-84
Lord Brougham

presented a petition from George Sowerby, Esq., of Kettle Hall, in the county of Rutland, complaining of the encroachment of the railway from Syston to Peterborough upon his grounds, upon which he had expended a considerable sum of money, and which would, by this intrusion, be rendered valueless to him.

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, that the case of the petitioner was one of considerable hardship; but the railway in question was calculated to confer great advantages upon that part of the country through which it ran.

Lord Redesdale

said, that the only way in which the evil could be prevented was by the intervention of Parliament. If they threw out two or three Bills which were calculated to cause injury to private property, or undue interference with private rights, it would have the effect of going far towards preventing the infliction of many of those evils.

Lord Campbell

said, there was no difficulty in the present instance, because the railway was cut through the petitioner's ground, and he would receive compensation not only for the ground taken, but also for all the consequential damage which might be done to his estate. And juries, he knew from experience, always felt inclined to give most ample damages in such cases ["No, no!"] It was a great hardship when a railroad did not touch the property of an individual, but only came close upon it. There no remedy whatever could be obtained.

Lord Brougham

read an extract from a letter of the petitioner, in which he stated that the line "raked his ground from one end to the other." That was a very expressive phrase—one describing a very destructive operation. His noble and learned Friend was never more mistaken, if he supposed that juries were now inclined to give proper compensation to parties whose land was taken for a railway. At one time they were inclined to give even extravagant compensation, but the tide had now set quite the other way. He was sorry to see a bad spirit prevailing among railway projectors, as if they were set up as an interest contrary to the landed interest. He had lately seen the Railway Gazette, and in the account of railway proceedings there was a constant carping against what they called "the land;" any compensation obtained from them was called "another job of the land." He agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) that the postponement of any Railway Bill that presented cases of very injurious cutting up of property would be likely to provide a remedy for it. He wished, on every account, that Parliament was prorogued; he did so on private and personal and on public grounds. He hoped the business of the Session would be brought to a close as soon as possible, and that the prorogation would not be delayed a single hour on account of the Railway Bills pending. If it was delayed on that account they might sit all the autumn; but if they rose, during the vacation the railway gambling fever would subside.

The Marquess of Salisbury

said, with respect to the jury whose duty it would be to assess damages, that almost every one was more or less concerned in railways, so that it was nearly impossible to bring together a jury to assess reparation, some members of which were not interested in them.

Earl Fitzwilliam

would throw out for their Lordships' consideration the question, whether there ought not to be established some principle on which the land used by railway companies should be purchased by those companies? There were, he was willing to admit, great difficulties in the case; but they were difficulties which, in his opinion, might be got over. It was impossible that a large number of persons living along an extensive projected line of railway, could all receive the same amount of remuneration, without some principle to regulate the amount of remuneration. There ought to be a principle laid down to guide a person who would be so affected, in the price which he should demand from the company for the land which they were desirous to purchase, and also to guide the arbitrators or jury who were to assess the amount of reparation which such a person ought to receive. There was a very great disparity between the positions of different persons whose property might be affected by railway lines. Thus, one man might be a rich man, or a man of influence, who could do a great deal to protect his own interests, and another might be a poor man also affected by a projected railway line; but the poor man would not be in a condition to protect himself, or defend his interests against the encroachments of such a railway. One man might be well informed, and, from his station in society, perfectly acquainted with the mode of defending his interests—with the rules of their Lordships' House, for instance—and might possess such a station in the country as would enable him to defend himself against any loss or inconvenience from the encroachments of a railway company; but another man affected in his property by a railway, might possess neither the information nor the influence of the former, and consequently, could not so successfully protect his interests. He thought, therefore, that something ought to be done in order to place those men on an equality, so far as regarded their power to defend themselves and protect their own interests.

The Duke of Wellington

said, he thought the House and the public were under the greatest obligation for the suggestion which had been made by the noble Lord near him (Lord Redesdale). He had been long of opinion that landed proprietors, and particularly small proprietors, who could not well come before Parliament to defend their interests, were placed in the hardest situation possible in the case of the interference with their property on the part of railway companies. When they considered that those undertakers of railroads possessed a great monopoly in the transport of goods and persons, and when they considered the enormous profits which they made originally by gambling in railway property, and next by the ordinary traffic of the railroads, he believed they would admit that some principle ought to be adopted by Parliament, in order to secure a fair, at least, if not a liberal compensation for those proprietors through whose property railroads went.

The Duke of Grafton

said, that generally speaking, arrangements were made between owners of property and railway Companies by mutual agreement; and when this was not the case, a jury was appealed to. This appeared to him to be the constitutional mode of proceeding, and he did not think that it could be altered for the better.

The Earl of Winchilsea

thought that great injustice was inflicted by the mode in which persons were permitted to defend their interests. He thought that when compensation was given to a rich man of a greater comparative amount than that which was given to a poor man, because the rich man was in a better condition to defend his interests, nothing could be more calculated to set the middle classes of this country against the higher classes. He knew of one case in which, as he was assured by a friend of his, a landed proprietor got a bond which secured him the payment of a sum of 10,000l. in case a certain railway went through his property. The line of the railway was made to go through his property; but, in consequence of the existence of the bond, the Railway Company applied to Parliament for leave to construct a new line by another route, which went through the property of a gentleman in the neighbourhood, who did not all expect such an interference with his property, and who scarcely received any notice at all of such an encroachment. In the case which the noble and learned Lord (Lord Brougham) had on this occasion brought before them, he had been informed that the slightest deviation from the line by the railway company would obviate all the inconvenience which was complained of; but the railway company refused to undergo the expense. If the Bill for this railway came before the House he would divide against it, for he was opposed to permitting this cutting up of property and injury to private feelings, where it could be prevented.

Lord Beaumont

felt rather suprised that this discussion, and the speech of the noble Duke, had taken place after the discussions on the Railway Clauses Consolidation Bill, and the Land Clauses Consolidation Bill, instead of occurring previously to, or forming part of, those discussions. Those Bills were diametrically opposite to the just and fair principles laid down in the speech of the noble Duke opposite. The noble Duke said they ought to adopt a principle which would secure a fair compensation to those whose property was affected by a railway line; and he perfectly agreed with the noble Duke in that view, for he thought there was a very great difference between the position of various parties who might be affected by railway lines: one might be a poor man, and totally unable to defend himself, whilst another might be a rich man, and comparatively capable of protecting his own interests. The Bills to which he had already alluded, the Land Clauses Consolidation Bill and the Railway Clauses Consolidation Bill, might be made to affect those cases, but they were totally opposed to the principle laid down on that evening. Those Bills had been hurried and forced through the House by the Government; but he hoped that when they came up from the other House clauses would be introduced into them that would have the effect of carrying out, as far as such was possible, the principle laid down by the noble Duke.

Lord Stanley

said, that the noble Lord was under a mistake, in supposing that those Bills were to be again before their Lordships, as they had already received the Royal Assent. The object of those Bills was to affect Railway Acts generally, and not to affect single cases of interference with property, which could be met by the existing law on the subject. He denied that the Government had forced the Bills hrough the House, for they had been fully discussed in their various stages, both as regarded the principles and the details. They were certainly not passed through the House with an unusual or unjustifiable degree of haste. He thought that however desirable it might be to effect the object, they could not lay down a general principle with respect to compensation for properly that was interfered with by railways. They might lay down a rule that twenty-five or thirty years' purchase would be a sufficient price for land, but that would not meet all the difficulties which would be caused by the severance of land, or a nuisance created by a railway line. The circumstances might vary in each individual case of the interference of railways with private property, and there would consequently be a great difficulty in laying down a general principle which would apply to all those cases. They should recollect, with reference to such a principle, that the inconvenience which resulted to an individual through whose property a railway ran was not to be measured by money alone or any pecuniary calculation, as it might principally affect his comfort or convenience. The Bills to which the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont) alluded, had done as much towards making a just and equitable arrangement as was possible. They empowered a person through whose property a projected railway was to pass, to refer his claim to a jury if he were not satisfied with the amount of compensation offered to him by a railway company; and if the sum claimed were below a limited amount, he was permitted to bring it before two justices, thus affording him an easy and inexpensive means of redress. If the party claiming compensation brought his claim before a jury, and they awarded him a larger sum than the railway company originally offered to him, they were bound to pay the award of the jury and the whole costs of the proceeding. But if the award of the jury were for a smaller sum than that which the railway company offered to the claimant for compensation, and if there were a presumption that the person so claiming had made an exorbitant demand, then there was no reciprocal justice done, for the person claiming compensa- tion was not bound to pay the costs of the proceeding before the jury, and he was only called on to pay his own expenses, the railway company being obliged to pay theirs. In his opinion Parliament had not failed to do its duty, for it had provided the claimants to compensation with a cheap and impartial tribunal. If cases of individual hardship were brought forward, Parliament had it in its power to deal with them, and prevent injustice under the sanction of law, by rejecting a Railway Bill altogether; but he had the strongest doubts as to the practicability of establishing a principle which would apply to all cases.

Lord Beaumont

said, that if he had been in error as regarded the fact of the Bills being again before their Lordships, it appeared he had not been in error as regarded the haste with which they had been passed, as he was not aware, until the noble Lord had stated it, that the Bills had received the Royal Assent. He denied that the poor man had protection under the law which their Lordships had given their assent to so recently; and his accusation against the Government was, that they had not legislated in a full and extensive way, in order to meet the hardship which was produced in the case of a rich man and a poor man being equally injured by a railway, when the rich man obtained an amount of compensation greater in amount than that which was given to the poor man. The rich man could afford to fee counsel to protect his interests, but the poor man could not, and was likely to suffer in consequence. There ought to be some Parliamentary protection for petitioners; and as an office had been already appointed to inquire into the extent to which public rights or privileges were interfered with by railway companies, he thought a similar office might be appointed to inquire into private and personal injuries.

The Earl of Dalhousie

stated that the measure with respect to railways, to which the noble Lord had alluded, had been repeatedly debated by their Lordships in its different stages. So far as the Parliament had it in its power, it had adopted means for the protection of parties through whose property railways were to pass, and in order to place the rich man and the poor man on an equal footing. It was true that the poor man could not have the advantage of paid counsel to defend his interests against the proceedings of a railway com- pany; but he would suffer the same evil in case he went into a court of justice, and he feared that all the ingenuity of the noble Lord or of the Parliament would be insufficient to prevent the evils that would affect a poor man as compared with a rich man. The Parliament had done as much as lay in its power, and had provided an easy and accessible tribunal for the poor man.

The Earl of Belhaven

was confident that if every railway company was obliged to form an arrangement with the landed proprietors before they came to Parliament, much of the injustice now committed upon the poor landed proprietors would be avoided.

Lord Vivian

concurred in the opinion, that at present the rights of the poor man as against the railway companies, were most inadequately protected.

Lord Brougham

said that one of the Standing Orders which he had laid on the Table, and which he should bring under the consideration of their Lordships immediately after the recess, would go to give the poor man greater facilities for defending himself from injustice and spoliation.

The Marquess of Londonderry

said, that in the case of the coal districts, the railway companies only gave compensation for the land which they actually passed over, whereas their works might do much injury beyond what the compensation provided for.

Lord Dalhousie

said, that there was a series of clauses introduced in the Bill just passed through Parliament, which provided especially for the case of mines, providing not merely for compensation for the surface of land occupied, but for valuable property which might lie beneath.

House adjourned to Friday, the 16th inst.

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