§ Order for the Second Reading read.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
, having presented Petitions against the Bill of Owners, Lessees, and Occupiers of Property in Finsbury Circus, and particularly one from Mr. Jackson, on behalf of a very important body of gentlemen, the subscribers to the London Institution for the Advancement of Literature and Useful Knowledge, proceeded to say that the facts of the case were nearly the same as stated in all the Petitions; but he wished to draw attention more particularly to that which had been instrusted to him by the Institution which he had just mentioned. For the information of those among their Lordships who were not conversant with its site, he might observe that Finsbury Circus was situated in the heart of the City, adjoining a very poor and densely populated part of the town. The houses in the Circus and Square were occupied chiefly by medical men, clergymen, gentlemen 624 holding appointments in the Bank of England; in short, by members of the higher middle class, whose occupations rendered it necessary that they should live in London, and who chose the site as one of the quietest they could procure. On one side of the square was the London Institution for the Advancement of Literature and Useful Knowledge, which was a very handsome building, and which had been erected at considerable cost. The Institution contained a valuable library, in the selection of which great care and judgment had been exercised. He had heard it stated that the library was second only to the library of the British Museum, and was particularly rich in works on International Law, to which reference was constantly being made; and it would be impossible for the subscribers to find a site in the neighbourhood for the re-constructing of the building. Finsbury Circus was the great resort of the poorer classes on fine days. It was extremely well laid out, and was the only place where, within a moderate distance, the people could obtain healthy exercise and a free circulation of air. There was, in addition, this peculiarity about it:—It was stated by Mr. Jackson in his Petition that an Act passed in the 52d year of the reign of George III. which, while empowering the Mayor and Commonalty of the City of London to grant building leases in Moorfields, provided that certain parts should be left open for the free circulation of air, and that for more than fifty years the owners and occupiers of property in the neighbourhood had enjoyed the use of the Circus thus reserved to them under the provisions of an Act of Parliament which the proposed Bill of the railway company would in effect repeal. Upon a former occasion, when the extension of railways through the most populous parts of the metropolis was discussed, the great complaint that they interfered with the lowest and poorest classes and their dwellings was met by the answer, that whatever inconvenience should be inflicted, it would be more than compensated by the benefit conferred on the City at large by the creation of open spaces where there had been previously densely-crowded neighbourhoods, and by carrying into those localities a freer circulation of air. But now the attempt was made in the opposite direction, for in this case the property proposed to be taken was property occupied by the most respectable persons, and available to an immense mass of other persons living 625 in the neighbourhood. It was an open space of more than three and a half acres in extent. He thought that their Lordships would be astonished if it were proposed to take Grosvenor Square, or Berkeley Square, or St. James's Square for a railway station, and to take every house for that purpose. Yet those squares were infinitely of less importance than Finsbury Circus to the densely crowded population of the City of London. It was proposed, two years ago, that Finsbury Circus should be taken for a great central station; but, in consequence of the resistance with which the proposal was met, the scheme was dropped. It was hard, however, upon private individuals that they should be called upon year after year to defend their rights; and unless Parliament gave some protection, they must ultimately succumb before the capital of these great companies. The arguments against this Bill were—First, that it would be injurious to the London Institution; next, that it would be injurious to a respectable class of persons who had taken and occupied houses in Finsbury Circus under the provisions of an Act which secured it as an open space; and, thirdly, that it would greatly inconvenience the poorest of the population in the neighbourhood, who would have no other place for recreation and exercise. He begged his noble Friend the President of the Council to look at the map while he explained to the House the various lines of railways which were planned to run into Finsbury Circus. In the first place, it appeared that there were thirty railways to be introduced into London itself, occupying a space of 132 miles. They were all supposed to be introduced in the present Session, and were all under the consideration of Parliament. The particular railway to which he wished to direct attention was the Great Eastern (New Metropolitan Station). The North London ran almost from due east to due west. There was a loop from it at right angles, which was a line sanctioned and in progress, and which ran to the immediate neighbourhood of the Circus. Tins Metropolitan Station line of the Great Eastern came away from I the main line at Edmonton, crossed the North London at right angles, and ran side by side with the line already sanctioned to a terminus in Finsbury Circus, within 200 yards of the terminus of the other railway. Now, the rule upon which Parliament had always acted hitherto with regard to the metropolitan railways, was 626 to secure the greatest possible amount of accommodation, at the least possible sacrifice of space; and their Lordships would hesitate to sanction a line which passed through a crowded part of the City, side by side with another line; but it was most important that these railways should be so constructed as to secure intercommunication, without the necessity of encumbering the streets with cabs and heavy waggons, carrying goods and passengers from one terminus to another. How was that object secured by this railway? Last year Parliament sanctioned the Metropolitan Finsbury-Pavement Terminus, which was only separated by about 63 feet from the proposed Great Eastern Terminus. That line was capable of being so connected with other lines as to give complete communication from north to south. Yet, while the level of the Metropolitan was 18 feet below the surface, the level of the Great Eastern was 19 feet above the surface, and their terminus was only at a distance of about 60 feet from the terminus of the Metropolitan. This Great Eastern scheme was resisted by all the inhabitants of the neighbourhood; it was opposed, for sound reasons, as impolitic; it held out no prospect of immediate advantages; it ran side by side with another railway already sanctioned, and it did not appear to possess any such merits as would induce their Lordships to give it a very favourable consideration. The House of Commons had taken the question of these metropolitan railways into serious consideration, and he understood that by an alteration of their Standing Orders the Metropolitan Board of Works were to be allowed for the first time to appear on behalf of the public before the different Committees; the object being that all the lines might be brought into harmony with one another, for the public benefit. He was not aware whether a similar power would be given by their Lordships. Of the thirty Bills, thirteen were to be first introduced here, and seventeen in the House of Commons. He was not aware how they were grouped; but it seemed to him that as one-half would be before their Lordships, and the other half before the House of Commons, it would be impossible to enter into the merits of the whole as one great scheme for intermetropolitan communication. It was quite true that the Board of Trade reported on all these railways, but only on them individually, and not on their merits as a means of through communication. 627 He wished to know whether it might not be possible so to group the different railways as to put before the same Committee, either in this or in the other House of Parliament, all those which were properly connected together, so that, having the Bills en masse, the Committee might judge better of the general merits of the scheme than they could if they were looking only to the merits of a single Bill. He felt very strongly inclined to move their Lordships to reject this Bill on the second reading. He should be glad to hear what could be said in favour of the project. He had not heard a word in its favour, but he was overwhelmed with applications to bring forward the cases of parties who alleged they would suffer by it. If their Lordships thought he had stated sufficient to reject the Bill for the present Session, with a view to ascertain in what manner general intercommunication could be established, he should be prepared to take the sense of the House upon it. If that were thought too strong a measure, the least which could be done was to postpone the second reading for a week or ten days, and in the mean time get a report from the Board of Trade upon the whole of the railways, not in the interests of the companies, but of the public.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
observed, that the inconvenience complained of by the noble Earl was certainly no greater than that sustained by other parties who were affected by land being taken for railway purposes. [The Earl of DERBY: In other cases the preservation of the property and open spaces were not secured by Act of Parliament.] He agreed with the noble Earl that it would be very desirable for their Lordships to follow the example of the House of Commons, and adopt a Standing Order which would give the Metropolitan Board of Works a locus standi before Committees on these Bills, and he believed it would be a great advantage if some communication took place between the two Houses for the assimilation of their Standing Orders. The metropolitan railways, no doubt, would be a great public advantage, and the large number of schemes now before Parliament showed what extensive use the public had made of those already in existence. Though it was no part of his business to defend this particular Bill, even if he had possessed the capacity, he could not admit that it would be a fair thing to reject it on the second reading, as was suggested by the noble 628 Earl—who acknowledged, by the way, that he himself had only seen the arguments against the Bill, and knew nothing of what was to be said in its favour. But the second reading might be postponed for some little time, until noble Lords had had an opportunity of making themselves acquainted with its merits; and he could not conceive that there could be any objection to this course. He quite agreed with the noble Earl that it would be desirable to adopt a Standing Order, which would give the Board of Works a locus standi before Committees on such Bills; and also that the Board of Trade should be called on for a general report on the subject.
§ EARL GREY
thought, with his no bl Friend the Lord President that it would be taking an extreme step to reject the Bill summarily on the second reading, and preferred that it should be postponed for a short time. The question raised by the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) was one of extreme importance. He thought, with the noble Earl (Earl Granville), that Metropolitan Railways were likely to be of immense advantage to the public, but all schemes for the purpose ought to be considered together and settled as a whole. He could not consent to submit Railway Bills in groups to a Select Committee of either House, formed as they were at present. Last year he acted as Chairman of a Committee on a group of Railway Bills; and though he gave all his attention to the question, he could not master the business in a manner satisfactory to himself. Therefore his experience in that capacity had convinced him that it was quite impossible for their Lordships adequately to discharge the duties imposed on them in those Committees. The interests of railway companies were becoming so complicated, and the questions raised by competing lines were so difficult and so important, that persons called upon to decide upon them with no more previous experience or knowledge than any of their Lordships could possess were placed in a very unsatisfactory position. The Committee over which he had presided had taken the greatest possible pains to investigate the matters laid before them, but even to the last he was not at all confident that their decision was a correct one. The present system of deciding these questions was most unsatisfactory. It was most important that the policy pursued by Parliament on these matters should be 629 consistent; but how was it possible at present? A group of Railway Bills was submitted one year to one Select Committee, and the next Session the very same questions, in a slightly different form, were brought before a totally different Committee. The result was that the decisions of Committees were notoriously a mere matter of hazard, and companies and all persons interested in railway property were exposed to great hardships. It was said that the London and North Western Railway Company this year was compelled to watch 180 Bills, and the Great Northern 41, and the consequence would be an immense waste of money and a number of unsatisfactory decisions. These things had been much better managed in France, where the Government came to a general decision as to what lines it was desirable to construct, and they were constructed without any of that enormous competition the cost of which was always paid in the long run by the public. The interests of the railway companies themselves could not be a matter of indifference to their Lordships, for at the present moment their receipts amounted to between £26,000,000 and £27,000,000 a year. He could not agree that it would be satisfactory to refer the general subject of Metropolitan Railways to the Board of Trade. The reports made by that Board to Parliament on private Bills had been found to be practically useless, for Committees refused to be guided by reports drawn up in secret by a Department which did not hear the parties. Nothing would ever do but the creation of some competent, well-constituted tribunal which would sit in public, hear the witnesses and counsel, which would pursue a regular settled policy, and would sit all the year round, so that the railway business might not be hurried through in a few weeks. On the advice of such a tribunal Parliament might legislate for railways, just as it now legislated for Inclosures, under the advice of the Inclosure Commissioners. By some such arrangements as this, matters would be put upon a much more satisfactory footing than at present. It was clear, from the number of Bills before Parliament, that a great extension of Railway Bills was most probable, and it was to be hoped that Parliament would not now repeat the mistakes of 1845 and 1846. Owners of property had certainly some right to ask Parliament for protection against the oppression to which they might now be subjected by 630 companies bringing the same schemes year after year before Committees on the chance at last of getting a favourable decision; and such a tribunal as he had suggested might have power to give costs against companies which persisted in putting private proprietors to renewed expenses after a project had once been inquired into and finally decided. The time of Parliament was not likely to be much occupied with other important business this Session, and he therefore thought it would be advisable for their Lordships to take this matter into their serious consideration, with the view of adopting some remedy for the evils which he had attempted to describe.
§ LORD REDESDALE
reminded their Lordships that he had for years been urging on the House the necessity of a properly constituted Railway Board. It was his opinion that neither the interests of the public nor those of railway companies themselves could be properly attended to without the constitution of such a tribunal; and he believed that railway companies, which had formerly shown themselves hostile to such a proposition, were now disposed to view it with favour. To be of any good, such a Board must have great powers. If not, it would not be respected and would not be attended to; and, whatever powers were given to it, must, in the main, be supported by Parliament. He was convinced that both railway companies and the public would be saved a great deal of expense by the action of such a Board; and, as regarded the general interests of the public in respect to railway schemes, there was no part of the kingdom in which they presented a stronger case than in the metropolis, particularly at the present time, when schemes for connecting all the lines coming into London were in progress, either as plans to be laid before Parliament, or as works in actual construction. He held that such a connection could not be carried out in a proper manner by means of a number of different systems carried out by different companies. It could best be accomplished by one general plan. It was possible to have too many lines running through the metropolis. What they wanted was the greatest amount of railway accommodation with the smallest number of lines. With regard to the Metropolitan Railway, which had been so great a success, it struck him that it might hereafter be- 631 come an insuperable difficulty in matters of sewerage and other such undertakings if underground lines through the metropolis were not carried out on some general plan; and he did not think that their Lordships had sufficient information on those underground schemes at present to enable them to legislate on them in a satisfactory manner. The scheme now under consideration was not one for an underground railway; but, however convenient it might prove for the company which was promoting it and for certain other companies, it was not clear to him that as a metropolitan line it possessed very great advantages, seeing that it would run nearly parallel with a line for which a Parliamentary sanction was obtained last year. That, however, was a question on which their Lordships were scarcely in a position to give a final decision at that moment. But there was another consideration. It was proposed to take Finsbury Circus and make use of it for railway purposes. Were their Lordships prepared to sanction a proposal to do away with the only open space in a crowded part of the metropolis at a time when the State was almost giving premiums to procure places of public recreation? There was the less necessity for this, inasmuch as the railway company could procure a site within 200 yards of the Circus itself, which would answer the purposes to which it was proposed to apply that open space. The Metropolitan Board of Works wanted to come forward in defence of the public interests; but its appearance by counsel before a Committee would add to the expenses of all parties. If their Lordships should arrive at the conclusion that Finsbury Circus ought not to be occupied, the kindest thing they could do, even for the promoters, was to throw out the Bill on the second reading. He did not ask them to do so at once; but, in order to give time for further consideration, he should move that the debate be adjourned for a fortnight.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
was of opinion that the Underground Railway should be cherished by the inhabitants of the metropolis. It had many advantages that were possessed by no other line in the kingdom—it had both the broad and the narrow gauges; it had spacious stations, and it was covered in from the effects of climate. His own opinion was that all the railways which 632 it was proposed to run through the metropolis should be compelled to keep underground. The question, then, under consideration by their Lordships was one of great moment, for much future inconvenience was sure to be caused to the public if some general plan applicable to all the connecting railways were not adopted. If, in the first instance, the great trunk lines of the kingdom had been marked out in accordance with a uniform plan, much better lines than those which existed might have been constructed; but the character of this country was, if he might use the term, so republican that it was thought every company should do as it liked, and that Parliament should judge of each scheme as it came before it. As to the Board proposed by his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale), he feared it would entail a great deal of expense on the public; and he did not see why the functions which were sketched out for it might not be performed by a branch of the Board of Trade. He had great confidence that this debate would lead to some general measure of great importance to the metropolis.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, he was not disposed to press for the absolute rejection of this Bill, and was quite willing to acquiesce in the suggestion that the consideration of the question should be postponed for a fortnight, and that meanwhile the Board of Trade should be requested to prepare such a Report as would enable their Lordships to form a better opinion upon the merits of the case. It should be understood, however, that the Board would report, not merely upon the merits of this particular line, but of this line taken in connection with those schemes generally. He hoped, also, that the Government would consider whether some tribunal might not be constituted in order to check the variety of projects now brought before Parliament, interposing their deliberate judgment in the introduction of these schemes, and thereby giving to Parliament some more effectual guide and assistance than was now afforded.
§ EARL GREY
suggested that there was great difficulty in calling upon the Board of Trade at such short notice for a Report upon a question of such magnitude. He did not think that the Board of Trade possessed the machinery or the means of coming in so short a time to a sound conclusion upon a matter of such importance; and, in his opinion, the wisest course would 633 be, as had been suggested, to postpone all those schemes for a year, meanwhile appointing a Commission with powers to hear counsel, to examine parties upon oath, to consider the various schemes brought forward, and to submit to Parliament in their Report some definite plan on the subject.
§ LORD REDESDALE
agreed with the noble Earl in thinking that the Board of Trade could not consider so large a question in a fortnight.
Further Debate upon the said Motion adjourned to Monday the 9th of March next.