HL Deb 09 March 1863 vol 169 cc1214-20

rose to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire as to the expediency of extending the powers now possessed by landowners, to charge their estates with terminable annuities for the purposes of improvement, to the case of railways calculated to promote the value of their property. The noble Earl said, that he had no doubt he should be able to satisfy their Lordships of the propriety of the investigation for which he asked. Their Lordships were no doubt aware that some years ago, owing to the necessity for applying capital to the drainage of land, and the difficulty experienced by many owners of land in raising it, Parliament gave power to owners of land to borrow money for draining, building, and various other permanent improvements; and if it could be shown to the Inclosure Commissioners that the proposed improvements would add to the permanent value of the estate, to raise the money by way of rent-charge, which should be a first charge upon the estate. Very large sums of money had been raised under these powers, especially for drainage, and by these means a great addition had been made to the permanent wealth of the country, much employment had been found for the labouring classes, and great benefit had been conferred upon the landowners themselves. Nor had he heard that any abuses had arisen. The Inclosure Commissioners had, be believed, used the powers intrusted to them with so much judgment and discretion that no holders of reversionary interests or prior incumbrances had been exposed to loss or injury. That being the case, it had been proposed that this power should be extended, so as to enable landlords to raise money on similar conditions and subject to similar restrictions, for the purpose of constructing or promoting railways which might benefit their estates. He was induced to bring the subject forward in consequence of its connection with a railway in which he was not greatly personally interested, because it hardly touched any of his property, but which he believed would, if made, be of great advantage to his neighbours. The promoters of the Bill for that railway, which was now before their Lordships' House, had addressed queries to the owners and occupiers both of lands which would be affected by this line and of lands which derived benefit from existing railways. In all cases the answers bad been that railway communication added very largely to the value of land. It benefited the land both by bringing to it manure, lime, coals, and other heavy articles, and by taking the produce away to market. The amount of increased value which was in this way conferred upon the land varied greatly, according to local circumstances; but the questions to which he had referred had been addressed to a considerable number of practical farmers, who spoke from their own experience, and none of their answers put the advantage so gained by the land at less than half-a crown an acre for arable land, and 6d. or 1s. for pastures. In some cases the increase was very much larger, —in one instance as much as 10s. an acre; but in that case the occupier of the farm was largely engaged in the cultivation of potatoes, which were forwarded by railway to Newcastle and London. What was proposed, therefore, was, that the owners of land should be enabled to take shares in railways which would benefit their estates to the extent of the increased value which it could be shown that their property would receive from the construction of the line. To explain how this would operate, he would put an imaginary case. Suppose it was ascertained that the value of property would be increased by a railway to the extent of £100 a year; in that case it was proposed that an owner of land should be enabled by granting a rent-charge on his property for twenty-five years, at the rate of £100 a year, to raise a sum which at such a rate it was ascertained would amount to £1,500. The manner in which the scheme would operate would be, that while he would, on the one hand, have a rent-charge of £100 a year upon his property, he would, on the other, he in the receipt of a similar amount in consequence of its increased value. So far he would be neither a gainer nor a loser; but then whatever dividend the railway might be able to afford on the shares for £1,500 which he would have taken, would be so much clear profit; and beyond that, at the end of the twenty-five years, the owner himself, or his successors, would have the advantage of possessing his railway stock free from all charge and incumbrance. It was further proposed that no such rent-charge as he had described should be settled on the land, following the analogy of the case of drainage, until the railway had been absolutely completed. The scheme, in his opinion, was, so far as it went, a reasonable one, and would be found to be of great advantage to landowners. The great motive in favour of its adoption was, that it was found that there was a certain degree of discredit attaching to railway property, very much owing, he thought, to the course which Parliament had pursued with respect to it, and the unsatisfactory nature of the tribunals to which railway regulations were submitted; the consequence of which was great difficulty in raising the necessary capital to construct a line which was not intended to pass through a great town or was not promoted by a great existing company. It often happened, however, that lines which were proposed to run through agricultural districts would, if carried out, be of the utmost utility; but the circumstances of their case were such, that unless such powers as he had indicated were granted, it was almost impossible to get owners of property to take shares in them to the extent which was desirable. Now, it appeared to him that where a railway was sought to be constructed for local objects, it might well be entitled to the support of Parliament, although it might not be promoted by a speculative attorney or engineer. Nor did he wish to disguise from their Lordships the fact, that the general inquiry which he advocated, with the view of deciding upon the value of a certain general principle, had reference to a Private Bill which lay upon the table. He, however, sought to press the matter upon the attention of the House mainly because he was of opinion that a Private Bill submitted to Parliament, which involved a general principle capable of general application, ought not to be left altogether to the discretion of a special Committee, to be sanctioned or disapproved according to the views of its Members. If it was desirable that landowners should have the powers which he had pointed out conferred upon them, that ought, he thought, to be done nut by a particular measure, but by an Act of Parliament applicable to all cases. As the Motion which he was about to make had reference to a Private Bill for constructing a railway through Northumberland, which was now before the House, and of which he himself was one of the promoters, he should not propose that his own name should be included in the list of the Committee, if their Lord-! ships should think fit to grant it. The noble Earl concluded by moving— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire whether it is proper that the Power already given to Land Owners to charge their Estates with Terminable Annuities, in order to raise Money for the Improvement of their Land by draining and building, should be extended, so as to enable them to raise Money on similar Terms for the purpose of taking Shares in Railways calculated to increase the Value of their Property: And further to inquire under what Conditions and Limitations such Power ought to be granted, if given at all.


said, he should be the last person to seek to prevent the, House from instituting an inquiry with a view to obtaining knowledge on any subject of public or private legislation. The noble Earl, however, had argued that what he proposed was the same principle as that which authorized the borrowing of money upon land for drainage purposes, but in truth the principle was a very different one. Another circumstance was that this power, in reference to railways, had never been asked for down to the present Session, when such power was sought in one instance only. Every line, therefore, in the kingdom had been made without the existence of any such power. It seems to him certain that no man who held landed property in fee would be likely to be disposed to make a charge upon it in favour of railways; and if the owners in fee would not exercise the privilege, as he believed they would not, it seemed to him extremely imprudent to give power to the owners of settled estates to take up shares in railways. There was no kind of property upon which it was less desirable to give a power to make charges than settled estates, and especially since the imposition of the succession duty. In general, five years were allowed to railway companies to finish their works, and where the companies were not rich the period was often extended. The owners of settled estates during those five years would have to find the interest of the money without any chance of benefit; and if any one of them died in the first year, his successors would have that additional burden, besides having to meet the charge for succession duty. The case of railways was totally different from the case of drainage. Railways were very seldom made within the estimates; but the cost of drainage works could be accurately and easily ascertained. When the drainage was done, the return was immediate; and although tenants who had leases, knowing the exact advantage, would consent to pay an increased rent for drainage, he was confident they would not pay a single shilling more for the vague chance of benefiting by a railway being brought near their holdings. He thought that at all events the matter should be dealt with by a public Bill, and not by private legislation. If railways were promoted for mere speculative purposes, they ought to be rejected; but if they were sanctioned because of their public utility, the same privileges should be granted to all without any distinction. Some drainage companies had powers different from others, but he was not at all sure it would not be expedient to pass a public Act with regard to those works, placing every charge for drainage upon precisely the same footing. He should not oppose the appointment of a Committee; but in his opinion the proposal was mischievous and impracticable.


said, the speech of the noble Lord was not at all in favour of the principle contended for by the noble Earl who originated this discussion; but having heard diametrically opposite opinions expressed by the two noble Lords, he was induced to think it was a very proper subject for inquiry. He had not himself formed any opinion whether the proposition was desirable or not; but it seemed to him, that while it was most important to abstain from overburdening with charges the successors to settled estates, they ought, whenever it was possible, to do anything which would remove some of the disadvantages connected with settled property. It certainly was very desirable that that subject should be inquired into by a Select Committee of their Lordships. Whether the question was one for private legislation, or whether it ought to be dealt with in a general public Bill, was a point for the Select Committee; and if it admitted the principle contended for by the noble Earl, the mode of carrying it out might very properly be settled by the Committee. He must say, he thought it would be a great public disadvantage if the noble Earl (Earl Grey) abstained from serving on this Committee. The fact of his being interested in promoting a Railway Bill was an in adequate reason why the public should be deprived of his services.


also hoped that the noble Earl would consent to serve on the Committee. His principal object in rising, however, was to suggest the expediency of inquiring into a subject akin to this but of much larger scope—the power of trustees in dealing with monies vested in them. He would not undertake to say that the law on the subject required amendment, but it certainly required consideration.


said, that an Act of Parliament had been passed last Session, which gave large powers to trustees in dealing with trust monies. It was an often-quoted saying, that high interest meant bad security. The rate of interest obtained by vesting in the funds was the standard of good security. Some additional interest might be gained by investing in mortgages, but, generally speaking, he should very much deprecate giving extended powers of investment to trustees charged with the duty of providing for per-, sons who could exercise no judgment of their own. With regard to the inquiry desired by the noble Earl, there would be great difficulty in dealing with the speculative abstract question whether a railway, not actually passing through particular land, could be said to conduce to the value of that land. He would be sorry to see any such matter made the subject of inquiry before a Committee; and he could not even see his way clear to its being made the subject of judicial inquiry with any amount of security or satisfaction in the result. Still, he should be very glad if the proposed Committee were appointed. One evil often came before the courts which was of a very serious character. A landowner succeeded to an estate as tenant for life; he found the farm buildings in a state of great dilapidation, and yet he was unable to raise money to make the necessary repairs. He earnestly hoped that the result of the inquiry would be, not to allow the general principle of the law to be broken in upon by special powers granted to particular companies for the prosecution of a speculative scheme, but that it would gather together all the different powers which it was desirable landowners should possess, and embody them in some general public Act. At present the law was in a most lamentable state of confusion. Drainage Company A had one set of powers; Railway Company B had a different set—all granted by private legislation, and without the extent or application of those powers being brought in a proper manner under the consideration of Parliament.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed:— And the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

E. Devon. E. Stradbroke.
E. Hardwicke. V. Eversley.
E. Carnarvon. L. Wodehouse.
K. Romney. L. Stanley of Alderley.
E. Grey. L. Llanover.
E. Minto. L. Taunton.
E. Cathcart.