HL Deb 23 May 1845 vol 80 cc787-97
Lord Brougham

desired to present a petition immediately connected with the important subject of the Motion of which the noble Earl behind him (Earl Fitzwilliam) had given notice for that night. It was a petition from William Henry Fox Talbot, of Lacock Abbey, in the county of Wilts. The petitioner represented that he and his family before him had been in possession for upwards of three centuries of the mansion, pleasure ground, and estate of Lacock Abbey, in the county of Wilts. He stated that a railway was proposed to be made, called "The Wiltshire, Somerset and Weymouth Railway," which would go for three miles through the romantic valley in which the estate was situated; and that thereby the whole beauty and comfort of the property would be destroyed. Upwards of ninety other proprietors would all be injured in the same manner, though not, perhaps, to a similar extent. Of these ninety, only nine had given their assent to the proposed line of railway. From this might well be inferred the utter mockery of any Standing Order requiring the assent of proprietors to projected railway schemes. The assents were imputed for righteousness to those who gave them; while the dissents were treated with contempt, and in many instances disregarded. Indeed, parties interested in property were led to understand, that those who dissented would be worse treated than those who had the grace to say nothing. He knew not how long proprietors were to be withheld from dissenting to some purpose against taking away their property for the sake of others—namely, railway proprietors; for it was, after all, a question between one set of proprietors and another. It was clear, in the case alluded to in the petition, that a much shorter, a more convenient, and a more eligible line might have been taken. The line projected was twenty-two miles long, when ten miles would have sufficed; but the company had adopted the twenty-two mile line, as suiting them better.

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, that after listening to the particular case brought before them by his noble and learned Friend, with the forte which characterized everything which he did, their Lordships would, he was afraid, listen to him with very little feeling, so far as the measure was concerned, in which he would be able to bring forward the subject of which he had given notice. He presented himself to them, not as the advocate, however, of one individual—he presented himself to solicit their Lordships to listen to what he conceived to be the case of the whole landed interests of this Empire. If any of their Lordships imagined that, in seeing him rise on that occasion, they saw before them a person who was desirous of obstructing the progress of railways, they greatly erred. He desired, on the contrary, to see these railways extended and systematized, so that the whole of this island might be, if he might so say, intersected; and if any one chose to consider that word a bad omen, he would say, provided with a complete system of railway communication. He desired to see every market town in the kingdom with its railway approaching it. If there were any individuals in that House who were not desirous of such an extension of our railway system, he would beg not to be included in their number. It was his wish to do everything in his power to facilitate the progress of railways, and to take away those just objections to their extension which he had no doubt many of their Lordships entertained when they heard of cases like that just cited by his noble and learned Friend, and many others of as aggravating a character. It was impossible entirely to justify the conduct of persons engaged in railway projects, notwithstanding the desire which he entertained to see railroads extended and systematized. He thought that it might afford their Lordships some little information as to the manner in which railway schemes were got up, if he were to read over one or two passages from a newspaper which, perhaps, all their Lordships did not receive; and he thought that the English nation was a very gullible nation, if it was to be seduced by such schemes as those to which he would draw their Lordships' attention. The noble Lord then read from the Railway Times of last week a certain passage from the prospectus of the proposed Great Eastern and Western Railway, from which it appeared that its proprietors were very sanguine of its success; indulging, however, as he conceived, in the most illusive hopes. The railway was to begin at Great Yarmouth, and to end at Swansea; and the advantages held out in the prospectus were not such as could possibly be ever realized by a line of railway passing from the one point named to the other. He would now show their Lordships what were the consequences of this. He held in his hand the Report of a Committee, which probably might be looked upon as one of the ablest of the Committees of the other House of Parliament, sitting during the course of the present Session. His noble Friend the late Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, sat as Chairman of that Committee; and it was not likely that any Committee could be more ably conducted than one over which that noble Lord presided. The Report was on the Ely and Huntingdon Railway. The Report stated, that there was not one person connected with that part of the country who was a subscriber to the railway. That was, in his estimation, a very great compliment to the good sense of his friends and neighbours, who resided in that part of the country. Where did those reside who were subscribers? They resided at various places in London, in Threadneedle - street, &c., in Liverpool, Warrington, Manchester, Wakefield, and in various other places in the north of England. These were the gentlemen who were seduced by the Huntingdon and Ely scheme; those who lived at a distance, and were unacquainted with the wants and circumstances of the district through which the projected line was proposed to run, in the same way as others were seduced and made to subscribe by the concoctors of the scheme for the construction of a railway from Great Yarmouth to Swansea. Between Ely and St. Ives a railway might answer; but nobody resident in and acquainted with that district, could entertain the opinion that a railway from Ely all the way to Huntingdon, would answer expectations. The case was made out by stating that a great transport of cattle would take place between Huntingdon and St. Ives. He would venture to say that out of the 180,000 sheep which were said to pass from Huntingdon to St. Ives in the year, not one in ten of those beasts would get upon the railway. It would not be worth while to put them upon the railway, to convey them a distance which, although it was stated by the railway company to be six miles in length, he believed was not more than four; but he was confident did not exceed five. He thought it behoved their Lordships to remove as much as possible the reasonable objections that might be entertained against the present system. One of those reasonable objections was, he would not say the inadequate price, but the inequality of the price, given for land to be purchased for railways. Their Lordships, he was sure, must desire to remove from themselves the imputation of conniving at a system which enabled them and Members of the other House of Parliament, to obtain a greater price for their lands than the smaller and unconnected proprietors of land adjoining. He knew that there were a great variety of cases in which it was impossible to lay down rules à priori to govern the bodies who were to adjudicate between railway companies and the proprietors of lands which they proposed to take; but also, though there were some cases so circumstanced that they could not be regulated à priori, that was no reason why their Lordships should not regulate the price in cases which might be determined à priori. There were various principles upon which the price at which land was to be purchased might be determined. One mode in which that might be accomplished was, by having reference to the previous value of the land, and laying it down as the rule, that the price to be paid should be so many multiples of that value. At that result they might arrive by valuation. Another mode of fixing the price was, to estimate what would be the value of the land, not to the proprietor who was to be deprived of it, but to the company who were to obtain it. He was stating this as an element of the price that ought to be set on the land. Their Lordships were aware that, by the regulations of Parliament, railway companies were bound to lay before Parliament estimates of their probable revenue. On these estimates, their Lordships could compute the profit to be derived from each portion of the land. If for a given railway 500 or 1,000 acres of land were taken, and if a given revenue was to be derived from it, their Lordships might form an estimate what amount the company ought fairly to be called upon to pay to the proprietors of each portion of the land. The best way to illustrate this was to suppose that the railway company, instead of being purchasers of the land, were to become the renters at a long term—900 years, or some other lease, which might be considered interminable. In that case, the rent to be paid to the proprietor of the land might be determined pretty much upon the principle upon which the rent paid by renters of collieries and mines to the owners was regulated. This was a matter which could merely be thus stated generally, and upon which it was impossible to go into detail; but there were two processes which appeared to him to afford a practical mode of arriving at the price which ought to be paid. Their Lordships would observe that he had not here dealt with the question of severance. He thought it would be extremely difficult to lay down à priori any principle for the guidance of arbitrators; but what appeared to him to be wanting was, some principle for the guidance of those tribunals. There might be a railway extending to 200 miles in length, like that from Swansea to Great Yarmouth. There might be a railway which would pass through twenty different counties; and the jurors in every two adjoining parishes on the route, or even in the same parishes, might differ as to the principle upon which compensation should be awarded. The same remarks applied to the arbitrators; and he thought their Lordships ought to endeavour at least, even if they could do no more than endeavour, to lay down some principle of compensation for the guidance of the arbitrators, in order that a man moving in the highest circles should not get more than the individual who did not move in the same sphere. He had come to the conclusion—although it might appear a startling principle to announce—that it was desirable to prevent bargains for land being made beforehand; but he knew that such bargains would lead to an undue preference of those who would make a pertinacious opposition to the Bill when it came before Parliament, over persons who would not do so. He thought the way to prevent such improper arrangements would be to take care, after the Bill should have come before the House, that the railway company should be compelled to make adequate compensation to the persons whose lands they had taken. If there was to be a previous valuation, it ought to be made by somebody who was above suspicion; and it appeared to him that it would be extremely desirable if a Board could be constituted, in connexion with the Government, to whom the valuation of lands for these purposes should be entrusted. He had nothing to add to the observations he had made; and he should now only move the appointment of a Select Committee to take into consideration the most equitable mode of making compensation to the owners of real property whose lands, &c., may be compulsorily taken for the construction of public railways. The noble Earl also made it part of his Motion, that the Committee should take into consideration the question of severance.

A Noble Lord

, who stated himself to be intimately connected with Huntingdon, protested against the remark applied by the noble Earl to Huntingdon, as an insignificant town, and unworthy of the advantage of a railway. He thought Huntingdon very ill treated, and was convinced that the evidence wonld prove that it was fully entitled to the benefit of railway communication.

Earl Fitzwilliam

said, he should be exceedingly glad of any advantage coming to Huntingdon. All he meant to say was, that he thought the railway in question was not likely to be of much advantage to the projectors.

Lord Stanley

said, he did not see how the House could well interfere for the protection of speculators in Liverpool or Manchester, who embarked in speculations which might be profitable in time, although they might not be advantageous to those who originally projected them. His noble Friend opposite would find on examination that whatever might be the desire of the House, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to apply one and the same scheme of arrangements to cases which were altogether diverse and different in their circumstances. If his noble Friend thought that by any ingenuity of his he could, with the aid of a Committee, bring forward any scheme by which he could meet the existing difficulties, he (Lord Stanley) should be sorry to interpose any obstacle to his wishes; but in consenting to the proposition on the part of the Government, he was bound to say that he had no sanguine hopes of its leading to any successful result. His noble Friend had sketched two modes of regulating these matters for the high and the low, the speculative and the timid, the tenacious and the yielding. His noble Friend's desire was to put all these upon the same footing, and to give them an equal benefit in the way of compensation. One of the two modes suggested by his noble Friend for accomplishing this object, varied little from the existing law, and involved the same uncertainty—a necessary uncertainty as it appeared to him—of compensation. To the other mode he had the greatest possible objection, and it seemed to him to be founded on no principle whatever. His noble Friend proposed to continue to railway companies the compulsory power to take land, but would have the land afterwards valued. What his noble Friend proposed was to take a certain multiple of an uncertain quantity. You might give a term of twenty-five or thirty years; but that must be always uncertain, if you left it undetermined what the amount was that you were to multiply in that proportion. His noble Friend omitted the question of severance. Now he (Lord Stanley) must observe that the value of land for farming purposes was an inconsiderable item of the loss sustained by the proprietor; and it was the severance of the property, the destruction, perhaps, of old family mansions, which created the difficulty of railway companies and proprietors of land coming to terms. It would be impossible for the Committee to lay down a fixed term of any number of years' purchase to be awarded in each case for the amount of injury done. Then his noble Friend said the previous estimates of traffic and profit which the Company expected should be taken, and a per centage granted to the proprietor. Could anything be so unreasonable—his noble Friend would excuse him—as to apply to the value of the land taken, that estimated profit? It was not from the land over which the railway passed that the Company derived its profits, but from the points at each end; and he should be glad to know why the proprietors of a line like the Manchester and Liverpool, which passed for the most part over a soil of bog and morass, should pay the owners along the line the same per centage as should be paid by a poorly remunerated line for much richer and more valuable land. This was a principle which he thought his noble Friend would find it impossible to reduce to practice. These were the two propositions which his noble Friend made; the one he thought he had shown to be unreasonable, and the other only evaded the real difficulties of the case. However, if his noble Friend thought he could accomplish any good object by the Committee, he repeated that he (Lord Stanley) should be sorry to offer any obstruction to it.

Lord Brougham

said he agreed in much that had been said by his noble Friend who had just spoken; but he should be glad of the appointment of the Committee, although it was not in the direction pointed out by his noble Friend who moved it that he expected any benefit to arise from it. He did not think the value of the land was any criterion at all of the amount of compensation which the owner should receive. In his opinion it was vain to hope to lay down any general rule by the Government of bargaining between individuals and railway companies. Each case must depend upon its peculiar circumstances; and if he might venture to advance a doctrine so unfashionable in the present day, the inclination or the disinclination of the owner to part with his property upon any terms, ought to enter into the consideration. He should move that the Standing Orders which he had brought before the House be referred to this Committee for examination, to which he should add another Standing Order, to the effect that a certain number of assents, not upon a whole railway, but for every village along the line, should be indispensable before a Bill could be brought into the House. He was very much in favour of railways, and almost went the length with his noble Friend, of wishing that every market town in the kingdom had such communications; but then he thought they ought, if possible, to be constructed with the consent of the proprietors of the land over which they were to be carried; and if it were said that it was better that the public should have railway roads than that the proprietors should be gratified in their whims—attachment to the residence which had been occupied by one's ancestors for centuries being, however, in his judgment, a commendable and praiseworthy feeling instead of a whim; but if it were found that locomotion was the only right which was worthy of being protected, that the sedentary person was to be disregarded, and the moving person the only one to be regarded, then he said, at least, that these overgrown estates ought to be a little equalized, and that the possessor of 70,000l. a year should not derive more advantage in proportion than he who starved upon 70l. or 80l. No man could be wild or insane enough to propose that the property of either of these parties should be openly taken from them; but yet Parliament, under the name of Railway Bills, did confiscate the property of Mr. Fox Talbot and Lady Georgiana Fane, and drove them from their residences. These were such infractions of the sacred rights of private properly that he hoped he should find their Lordships, as the hereditary guardians of proprietary rights, put a stop to them. In the meantime, as he thought the Committee would be productive of advantage, he trusted their Lordships would sanction the proposition of his noble Friend.

The Earl of Wicklow

expressed his regret that his noble Friend (Lord Stanley) had consented to the appointment of a Committee from which he himself avowed he expected no benefit. He was glad to have heard his noble and learned Friend say, that he intended to refer his Standing Orders to the Committee; but he hoped his noble and learned Friend would declare that he did not intend them to apply to any existing railways.

Lord Brougham

said, that it was clearly his intention that they should not apply to any existing railways. Nothing could be more unjust than that would be to all parties. He had omitted one point which demanded immediate consideration — namely, the necessity of giving notice that no Bills could be proceeded with this Session which did not come up before a certain day; for the House was reduced to this dilemma, that they should not have the first of the pending Bills before ten days, and the time for getting through one Bill could not be less than a fortnight. They ought to adopt some means of saving parties interested in those matters from very considerable expense in some particulars, which they incurred under the present system, and which ought to be avoided if possible.

Lord Hatherton

said, they were all aware of the great loss which small proprietors often suffered from the interference of railways with their property. But the loss was not confined to proprietors alone; for small farmers and cottagers suffered in a still greater degree in many instances, and were bandied about from agent to agent when they sought for redress for injuries done to their crops. There ought to be some body locally constituted by whom these claims for compensation might be decided. If in every railway district of twenty or thirty miles, two or three land agents, or some persons properly qualified, were formed into a body for that purpose, it would be of the greatest possible advantage to those persons whose property was affected by railway lines.

The Marquess of Londonderry

felt great satisfaction at perceiving that the Government had not opposed the Motion of the noble Earl for a Committee; a Motion which was calculated, by its probable results, to afford very great relief to many persons, particularly those interested, like himself, in mining property. He believed the Act which had already passed on the subject of railway clauses was imperfect in many respects, and those imperfections might be remedied. Persons holding property in mines were peculiarly injured by the interference of railway lines with the working of the mines. The property in mines was in many cases held under leases for Ecclesiastical bodies, which leases were for a comparatively short period; and if the holder of such property was prevented from working a mine by a railway company, it was only fair that the company should compensate him for his loss. Property of that description was, by the present state of the law, put under the surveillance of railway companies altogether, and that was a system which ought to be altered.

After a few words from Earl Fitzwilliam,

Motion agreed to and Committee nominated.

House adjourned.