HL Deb 12 March 1863 vol 169 cc1315-23

Adjourned Debate, on Motion, That the Bill be now read 2a, resumed (according to Order.)


—having presented several Petitions against the Bill from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of London, the London Institution, from Clergy and Parishioners of Bishopsgate and adjoining parishes, from the occupiers of houses in Finsbury Circus or residing in the neighbourhood, and from the Committee of Management, Medical Officers, and Subscribers of the Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital, in immediate proximity to which Institution the railway proposed to pass—said, the Petitioners stated that the hospital was the largest hospital for the treatment of diseases of the eye in this country; that it attended to 15,000 cases annually; that the railway was proposed to pass in its immediate contiguity, and that this would injuriously interfere with the successful treatment of patients, especially in the operation for cataract, which required a peculiar steadiness of hand; moreover, the Bill involved the destruction of Finsbury Circus and neighbourhood, and would deprive the patients of an admirable place for exercise during their period of convalescence, in a healthy area, covered with vegetation. This petition alone would justify their Lordships in rejecting the Bill. In the absence of the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) who was detained by illness, he (the Earl of Shaftesbury) should think it to be his duty—unless the Government were prepared to say that they were in possession of additional evidence, or to promise to take the whole subject of metropolitan railways into their consideration—to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. The arrangement of these lines ought not to be left to the desultory efforts of various companies, but must be made the subject of some comprehensive and comprehensible system. Since the subject was last under discussion by their Lordships he had spent several hours in the district which this line was to traverse, in order that he might make himself acquainted with its circumstances and with the effect which the construction of this railway would have upon it. Finsbury Circus itself was a large healthy garden surrounded by good and comfortable houses; but the neighbourhood was of a totally different character. It was encircled by courts, alloys, and culs de sac; the courts were nests of fever, in which fever was bred by want of air, and the inhabitants of which had no chance of obtaining fresh air except out of the Circus. It was true that the garden was not open to the public; but merely as a depository of fresh air, as a breathing place, and as a means of resisting contamination, it was of great value to the inhabitants of the neighbourhood. The legislation of both Houses had for many years been directed to the provision of open spaces for the recreation of the public. Deputations were constantly waiting on the Home Secretary, urging requests for public recreation grounds; and Finsbury itself had been calling out for a public park. Should they then permit an open space already in existence to be built up and covered by a railway station? If the Company wanted this line, let them erect their station upon some piece of ground which was now occupied by filthy courts. The occupants of the houses which were to be destroyed had received no notice that there was any intention to apply to Parliament for this Bill; and although they were generally only weekly tenants, they always expected that they would not be turned out of their houses, except for misconduct or non-payment of rent. In this matter their Lordships must remember that they were dealing, not merely with the convenience, but with the very lives of these people. The large proportion of them were tailors and shoemakers, who must live in the immediate neighbourhood of the persons who employed them. Many of them had to visit the premises of their employers six or seven times a day. If they had to leave the neighbourhood in which they now lived, they would have to find fresh em- ployment, and would no doubt have to endure many sufferings and privations before they could form new connections. The various Bills which were upon their Lordships' table proposed to take no less than 1,000 houses occupied by the labouring classes; and if those measures were sanctioned, no less than 12,500 persons would within a very small space be turned out of their homes. To agree to such a Bill as this would show the greatest inconsistency on the part of their Lordships. They had passed a measure for the protection of public gardens; and they were now asked to sanction the destruction of one of the few public gardens which existed within the City of London. He held in his hand a paper which showed that this railway had paid a dividend of only 1½ per cent for the last half-year, the last million of money raised by the company having been raised at the rate of 4½ per cent; while for money to be raised to carry out the objects in question 5 per cent was to be paid. The proprietors, he had, moreover, been informed, had held a meeting, at which the decision was arrived at that they would have nothing to do with the proposed extension. That decision, it appeared, was reversed by a subsequent meeting; but he had heard that another meeting of shareholders had since been held, at which it was determined to adhere to the first resolution. When such was the position of affairs, when the structural difficulties in the way of the scheme, the doubt as to whether it would be a public benefit, and the uncertainty whether it would be completed at all, were taken into account, he had no difficulty in asking their Lordships whether they ought not to refuse to the Bill under consideration their immediate sanction. Parliament was not, he contended, in a condition to pass it this year, whatever might be the case at some future period. Its operation would be to affect important interests, to inflict a great amount of suffering on a large mass of people, without affording any compensation for all the misery thus created. He did not, in making these obervations, wish to be supposed to stand in the way of metropolitan improvements. His sole desire was to prevent a great deal of inconvenience and hardship being brought upon a large number of the population, and with that view he felt justified in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and insert ("this Day Six Months.")


said, he rose to draw attention to the fact that there was another company—the Metropolitan, Hampstead, and Tottenham scheme—which proposed to occupy the whole north side of Euston Square with a station, and against the inconvenience to which they would thus be subjected he had been requested on the part of the inhabitants to protest. The railway to which he referred was not, like the Great Eastern, promoted by a large company, but was a speculation rather of a certain number of engineers and contractors. Having a station in the square, it was proposed that it should pass under a considerable extent of ground occupied by the houses of the poor—thus inflicting upon the inhabitants of the district all those evils which had been so graphically depicted by the noble Earl who had just spoken. Under those circumstances, he thought it would be well if the Government would consent to the postponement of the Bill for the construction of that railway, as well as of the other Bills by means of which it was proposed to effect similar objects, for a year. Now, that the metropolis seemed literally about to be taken by storm, the subject was one which demanded their serious attention. If it were necessary that we should have these railways through London, they should take care that it should be done with a minimum of evil.


was understood to argue that the property taken by these lines was, for the most part, of a very wretched description, and the construction of the railways had the advantage of opening the neighbourhood and introducing into it fresh air.


said, when the matter was last before the House, a desire was expressed that the Board of Trade should draw up a Report on the subject for the information of their Lordships. That Report was not yet complete, but would be so in about a week; and he thought it would, therefore, be desirable to postpone the Bill for a week, and not for six months. In making this suggestion he did not do so as a promoter or an opponent of the measure; but it was evident, from what they had already heard, that there were two sides to the question, and he hoped, therefore, that their Lordships would wait till they got the Report he had referred to before deciding on this and other similar Bills.


said, that if it were an ordinary case, it might be right to delay coming to a decision until the Report of the Board of Trade had been presented; but he had heard nothing to counterbalance the arguments of the noble Earl (the Earl of Shaftesbury), and he did not think they ought to accept the proposal of the Lord President. They were now entering upon a new stage of railway legislation, and they ought not to fall into the same errors which signalized the commencement of that legislation fifteen or sixteen years ago. He did not see why there should not be one consistent scheme of railway communication for the metropolis. They had arrived at a uniformity of system with regard to gas and water, and laying out streets, and he saw no reason why the same principle should not be made applicable to railways. It was impossible to succeed in effecting that object through the means of Select Committees, and almost, if not quite, as impossible to create another tribunal for the purpose. But it was perfectly possible for her Majesty's Government to deal with the question, and he earnestly entreated them to take it into their own hands, to treat of it as a whole, and, having adjourned every one of these schemes for this Session, to meet Parliament next year with some uniform and consistent scheme of legislation on the subject. For his own part, he was prepared to vote against every one of these metropolitan Bills, without regard to their special merits, for the purpose of inducing the Government to do what he conceived to be their duty.


rose to deprecate any decision on this or any other Railway Bill until they had the means in their hands for forming a just opinion upon it. He hoped the expected Report of the Board of Trade would furnish that information. It was not necessary that they should be entirely guided by the Board of Trade; but, at all events, he thought it would be premature to decide on rejecting the Bill at the present moment.


was perfectly prepared to vote against the second reading of the Bill, and on this principle—that railway companies were not justified, merely to save expense, in proposing to occupy the few open spaces of ground which existed in the metropolis. Hitherto all railway companies had chosen bad neighbourhoods to run their lines through, where it was rather an advantage than otherwise to pull down a few houses to let in air and light; but now, for the first time, because it was more economical to fix their stations in open spaces, they came forward with propositions to take possession of spaces like Finsbury Circus. If Parliament, by a formal decision, were to apprise these companies that they would not be permitted to occupy these vacant spaces, so important to the health of the metropolis, they would very soon, find other places. Any interference with the parks and gardens of private persons had always been considered legitimate ground of private opposition to a Bill; and any interference with open spaces of this kind was a fair ground of opposition on the part of the public. It was impossible that the question could be fairly tried by a Report of the Board of Trade. It ought to be referred to some tribunal competent in an engineering sense, and in every other sense, to try the question free from any bias for this or that line. They ought to consider, not which might be the best of certain competing schemes, but they ought to take the question into their consideration as a whole, to have before them what had already been done, and then to decide what would be the best mode of linking the existing lines together. If they merely had to deal with the railways which might be before the House, their Report might stand in the way of some scheme much more desirable than any which had yet been proposed.


said, he was disposed to agree that the Board of Trade would not be able to afford sufficient information in their Report; but their Lordships having called for a Report from that Board, he thought it would be unfair to reject the Bill until that Report had been received. Having this opinion, he hoped that the noble Earl would consent to postpone this debate for a fortnight. Having said this, he must add that he entirely agreed with the Chairman of Committees in thinking that no Report by the Board of Trade, in reference to a particular project, would enable their Lordships to legislate in a satisfactory manner on a subject so extremely difficult as that of providing railway communication for the metropolis. He was of opinion that railway communication through the metropolis, if judiciously made, would be extremely useful in relieving the traffic of the crowded streets; but he was persuaded that Parliament should not sanction any one individual plan dealing with a portion of the great subject without having an opportunity of considering what its bearing would be upon the whole scheme when it should have been fully considered. He thought that there should be a Commission appointed, which should be armed with the necessary powers of summoning witnesses; and that that Commission should avoid the mistake into which the Board of Trade formerly fell, of examining interested persons separately and in private. It was this false step which had deprived the Reports of the Board of Trade of all authority with Parliament.


said, that his impression of what took place about a fortnight ago, when his noble Friend who was now unfortunately absent from illness (the Earl of Derby) agreed to adjourn his Motion for the rejection of this Bill, was that the Government would cither produce additional evidence in favour of the Bill, or would undertake to lay down a general scheme for metropolitan railway communication. It was one of those alternatives which they were bound to adhere to that evening, and they had conformed to neither. But at the same time, as the noble Earl opposite (Earl Granville) had promised, or nearly promised, that within a short time a Report by the Board of Trade should be produced, which would embrace all the metropolitan railways at present laid down upon the map, he himself thought that it would be something like a breach of faith, upon the part of those on that side of the House who opposed the Bill, if they did not consent to the proposition of the Government, and again adjourn this debate until the Government, if they could do so in a reasonable time, should present the Report. He thought that that was the understanding of the noble Earl who was absent, who he believed would, if he had been present, have consented to an adjournment of the debate. He entirely concurred in thinking that it was utterly hopeless to expect any information in the Report useful for immediate progress; for if it were confined to the schemes which were now intended, he should consider it as entirely valueless in reference to the general subject. Nothing would be efficient for protecting the public interest and saving the metropolis from disfigurement, inconvenience, and partial destruction, ex- cept a well-considered scheme embracing the whole question; and he agreed in recommending a Commission for this purpose. The House had had ample warning in what took place in reference to our general railway system. Their Lordships would recollect what Lord Dalhousie recommended, and that his recommendation was unfortunately abandoned. This was the first country in which railways were laid down. We possessed the best engineers, and we were capable of raising the largest sums of money; and yet there was no country in which the railways were so ill-arranged, so ill-connected, so dear, and so enormously inconvenient to passengers; and with this tact before them it behoved them to be careful that they did not again produce the same network of confusion and the same squandering and waste of capital. If they once made a mistake in this direction, there was no remedying it. Surely a year was not much in the life of an empire; and he could not help hoping that their Lordships would reject all these individual schemes, be they bad or good, until there was laid down, with all the authority of Government, a general scheme which should be satisfactory.


believed that he was acting in accordance with the general feeling of the House in moving the adjournment of the debate until that day fortnight; not for the purpose of fettering their Lordships, but to prevent them from coming to a rash decision before they had received the information, for which they had asked. The Government desired that their Lordships should have the Report of the Board of Trade before them before they came to a decision; but the noble Earl was mistaken in saying that he had undertaken to furnish additional evidence in favour of this particular scheme. He knew nothing of this particular railway scheme, and had simply interfered to prevent the rejection of the Bill upon hearing one side only. What he agreed to do was to make inquiries and obtain information as to metropolitan lines in general. He must observe, that he could not imagine what kind of scheme the promoters would have to present to Parliament if they took all the advice that had been tendered to them in the course of this debate. Some noble Lords opposed the taking of open spaces for railway purposes, while others grounded their opposition on the proposal to take houses. He was of opinion that the Report of the Board of Trade would be valuable, and that their Lordships ought to wait for it; and he believed that a well-considered Report of a Committee of their Lordships, drawn up after all the available information on the subject had been laid before them, would have great influence on both Houses of Parliament. Certainly it would have very considerable weight on their Lordships' House. Under these circumstances, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate till this day fortnight.


wished to explain. He never said that the Government had undertaken to give them evidence to make out the case for a private Bill; what he intended to convey was, that Lord Derby stated, that if he received no evidence, and if the Government had down no plan, he should feel himself justified in opposing the second reading of this Bill. The Government had not done this, but had promised a Report, and he thought that the House should wait until they had seen that Report.


said, he could not conceive that any Report, however powerful, however ingenious, and however eloquent, could reconcile him to the seizure by railway companies of spots now reserved for the purposes of health. He would not press his Amendment now; but he should reserve to himself the right to move the rejection of the Bill when it again came under discussion. He would oppose every Bill that proposed to take, open spaces of the character to which he had just referred, or which, without due notice—for that was the point—proposed a devastation of the dwellings of the working classes.

Debate further adjourned to Thursday, the 26th instant.

House adjourned at half past Six o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.