HL Deb 26 March 1863 vol 169 cc1909-17

Adjourned Debate [March 12] on the Motion, That the said Bill be now read 2a, and the Amendment thereto, "That the said Hill be read a. Second Time on this day Six Months,"—(The Earl of Shaftesbury,)—resumed (according to Order).


said, the best speech he could make against this Bill would be to read section 17, page 6, of Colonel Yolland's Report on Metropolitan Railways. As their Lordships had doubtless read that Report, which recommended that all these schemes for railways through the metropolis should be postponed for further consideration, he would simply move that the Order of the Day for the second reading of this Bill be postponed. He had the authority of all their Lordships who had spoken on this subject, as well as of Colonel Yolland, to whom it had been specifically referred, in favour of the course he now proposed.


said, that Colonel Yolland was in favour of the postponement of the greater part of these schemes to another year. There was, however, a portion of the line to be authorized by this particular Bill—that portion which related to the North London line—which he believed might be proceeded with in the present Session. Before, however, their Lordships determined to postpone this Bill, it might be desirable to appoint a Select Committee of their Lordships to consider whether it was desirable that any of these Bills should be proceeded with, or whether all of them should be rejected for the present Session. The Committee might go further, and consider how the question of metropolitan railways should be dealt with in future.


said, he did not agree with the noble Earl (Earl Granville) that the subject could be effectually dealt with by a Select Committee. Colonel Yolland, in his Report, referred to the Report of the Royal Commission of 1846, which investigated the various projects for establishing railway termini in the metropolis. The Royal Commission stated, that if at any time it should be deemed advisable to admit railways into the metropolis within certain limits north of the Thames, it should be done in conformity with some uniform plan, and that under no circum- stances should the thoroughfares of the metropolis be surrendered to separate schemes brought forward at different times and without reference to each other. He regretted that this recommendation had been so little attended to. Fortunately, however, the evil had not yet gone very far, and he thought there was still time, if their Lordships acted firmly, to arrest its further progress. The inconvenience and mischief of allowing the metropolis to be carved out by public companies, who were subject only to such a check as could be put upon them by a Select Committee of either House of Parliament at the time when those companies applied for Parliamentary powers, were such that he was sure, if they continued to pursue such a course, they would in the end arrive at an inconvenient result. In his opinion, there was no scheme whatever, however apparently unobjectionable it might be, which Parliament could safely consent to, until the Legislature had determined upon some general plan of railway communication within the metropolis; and if they sanctioned the lines at present asked for, it might happen that in future years, when they were called on to discuss some general scheme, they would find that they were prevented by these very works from adopting a general system. What they really wanted was, that a plan of railway communication throughout the metropolis should be duly considered by the Government, and a general scheme adopted, which should have no reference whatever to any scheme brought forward by existing railway companies merely for the sake of advancing their own interests. In his view such a scheme should be proposed by an impartial body, who would look at the whole subject. Was it possible that a Committee of their Lordships would satisfactorily deal with such a question? There could be no doubt whatever that the drawing up of a general scheme of railway communication was a work which required a large amount of scientific knowledge and experience; certainly an amount which none of their Lordships could pretend to possess. For his own part, he should feel utterly helpless in the matter, and should not venture to express an opinion as to what would be the best course to pursue. There was another question, and a serious one—that was, whether any railways within the metropolis should be the property of any private company at all? Probably the right course would be to declare that whatever railways were admitted into London should be the property of some public body, like the Metropolitan Board of Works. In that case the working of those railways might be let to some of the existing companies in the manner most convenient to the public. It would be extremely inconvenient, and even dangerous, to create private property in railways within the metropolis. He thought the Government ought to take the responsibility upon themselves, and propose to Parliament the creation of some Commission authorized to take evidence and hear all parties, and then recommend to Parliament a measure which might hereafter be adopted on the advice of Her Majesty's Government. That, in his opinion, would be the best course to take with reference to this extremely important question. He did not think that in the face of Colonel Yolland's Report they ought to consent to the passing of any one of the metropolitan railway schemes brought before them this Session; and with reference to the particular Bill which his noble Friend had moved should be read a second time this day six months, there were so many insurmountable objections to it that they could not be wrong in postponing it— leaving the question afterwards to be decided what other coarse should be ultimately adopted.


said, that the plan suggested by the noble Earl (Earl Grey) did not meet the present difficulty. A Royal Commission had already reported on this subject; and they had had Royal Commissions on similar subjects before; and they all knew how jealous Parliament had shown itself of these Commissions. As soon as a plan came before the Legislature, which was founded on the Report of a Commission, it was usually overruled by a Committee of that or the other House of Parliament. It was stated by Colonel Yolland that the recommendations of the former Commission had been set aside; and yet the noble Earl proposed another Commission, and declared, moreover, that the Government ought to take up the whole question of metropolitan railway communication, and settle it by the report of persons appointed by the Government, and probably presided over by some Member of the Government. Such a body would labour, on entering into the consideration of such an important subject, under far greater disadvantage than a Committee of their Lordships' House. According to the noble Earl, the Government were not to make the railways; but the Government were to settle where the railways were to be made, and then the Government must make them. The meaning of that was, that the Government were to lay down a scheme for metropolitan railways, and then to come to Parliament for a grant of money to enable them to make these railways, or else to hand them over to the Metropolitan Board of Works to make them. Now, their Lordships knew something of the Board of Works. They were already engaged in a work of great magnitude—the construction of the main sewerage of the metropolis; and if they now attempted to carry out in addition a metropolitan system of railways, the public would have to wait a very long time before any of these metropolitan railways were brought into operation. If a Committee of their Lordships were to have the different companies before them, and to hear them with regard to the merits of their respective proposals, they would be able to point out to the House those which were decidedly objectionable, and those, on the other hand, to which they thought powers might be granted. It would do no good merely to throw out the various Bills this Session, because they would be reintroduced next year, when their Lordships would practically be in very much the same position. A Royal Commission could not settle the question. It was all very well for them to say "such and such lines ought to be made." The companies would very naturally say, "Then you must make them." The companies would only make those which accorded with their own interests. If a Royal Commission were appointed to determine upon, the construction of various lines, it would be necessary for Parliament to go a step further and to find the money requisite for that purpose. He thought that the best plan would be to appoint a Committee and lay before them the plans proposed, letting them hear the evidence brought forward by the companies.


said, that before saying anything with regard to the general question, he would call the attention of their Lordships to the fact that the question immediately under discussion was, what should be done with this particular Bill for the Extension of the Great Eastern Railway. It was five or six weeks since this Motion came first before the House, and he then took the liberty of stating to their Lordships the strong objections he entertained to the proposals contained in the Bill, which he thought sufficient to justify at that time its rejection. But then it was stated, not without reason, that their Lordships would only have an opportunity of hearing objections, and therefore it was only reasonable that time should be given for the companies to establish their case and refute his objections. For that purpose an adjournment was agreed upon, and a subsequent adjournment had since taken place; but during this whole five or six weeks, notwithstanding the question had been two or three times under discussion, not a single answer had been given to any of the arguments he then advanced. Not one of their Lordships had stood up to defend the line; and on the last occasion it was determined to lay the matter before the Board of Trade, for the purpose of its taking into consideration this line amongst others. Their Report was now before the House, and it virtually substantiated every one of the objections that he had urged. It stated distinctly that the main objection — independently of the grave objections that the line, in the greater part of its course, would run parallel to a line already sanctioned, and that it would occupy a very valuable open space in the City (an objection in itself almost sufficient to condemn the Bill) —was that in carrying out the plan proposed by the Bill they would absolutely put an insuperable obstacle to the construction of connecting lines of railway, by which the metropolis could be traversed from east to west and from north to south; and that inasmuch as there would be a difference in its level and that of the Metropolitan Railway of between thirty and forty feet, there would be an impossibility in adjusting the level of the various metropolitan lines. It was quite impossible that such a Bill could be sanctioned. Independently of any inquiry which might take place upon the general question, the discussions which had taken place in their Lordships' House, and the Report of the Board of Trade, put the Great Eastern line so completely out of court, that he should be surprised if the Motion for reading the Bill a second time that day six months were not adopted by their Lordships. The noble Duke who had just sat down (the Duke of Somerset) objected to the appointment of a Royal Commission to consider the general subject, because he said it could not decide the question; but between the former Royal Commission and any which might now be issued there was a substantial difference. The Commission of 1846 recommended that no lines should be allowed to approach within certain limits of the metropolis. That recommendation subsequent experience had shown to be one that it was not desirable to carry out; and that the relief of the streets and a variety of other considerations rendered it desirable, if it could be effected, that there should be a junction of all the railways, so as to establish a through traffic, without the necessity of changing carriages. The present Commission would not have to lay down any principle, the principle having been already established that it was expedient that a through communication should take place through the metropolis. It would start with the object of seeing whether all or any of the schemes now submitted, or any substitute for them, could achieve this great object, without entailing serious injury upon the metropolis. Functions such as these seemed to him peculiarly applicable to a Commission, and peculiarly inapplicable to a Parliamentary Committee. It would be quite impossible for their Lordships, with the information they were likely to obtain in the course of the present Session, to investigate the subject thoroughly, and to lay down general rules for the guidance of railways, as well as of their Lordships' House. Some of the Bills, moreover, it must not be forgotten, were not before them at all, but at that moment were in the other House of Parliament. The noble Duke contended, that if all the Bills were thrown out, and nothing done in the mean time, they would be introduced next Session, and their Lordships would find themselves in exactly the same position. Undoubtedly, such would be the case. But no human being proposed to adopt that course. The reasonable and sensible proposal of his noble Friend on the cross benches (Earl Grey) was to reject, for this Session, the lines proposing to traverse the metropolis—'and the noble Duke had almost admitted that the great bulk of them must be rejected—and to establish a Committee of scientific men, who would sit during the Session, and during the Parliamentary recess, and would be enabled to lay before them at the next meeting of Parliament a general systematic scheme of railway communication for the metropolis. The noble Duke said, that if Parliament indicated the lines, it was bound to find the means of carrying them out, or at least to be responsible for their formation. He dissented from that position. It was not at all necessary, that because a Government Commission indicated the line of a certain railway, Parliament must provide the means for carrying it out. The noble Duke was familiar with the continental system, which seemed peculiarly applicable to the circumstances of the metropolis. That system consisted in pointing out the lines which ought to be made, and offering to the various companies interested in the district who were willing to undertake the service certain concessions for so doing; the works were then executed upon the sole responsibility of those engaging in the enterprise. If a general plan of railway intercommunication were sanctioned for the metropolis, he did not believe there would be any difficulty in inducing existing or other companies to carry out the proposals. He believed they would find railway proprietors only too ready and happy to assist in promoting the views of Parliament. For these reasons, he did not think the course recommended by his noble Friend (Earl Grey)—the appointment of a Committee of that House—a desirable one. With regard to the Bill promoted by the Great Eastern Railway Company, he had not the slightest hesitation in saying that it ought not to pass. The fundamental objections to it were so great that it would be a waste of time and money to refer it to a Select Committee. The wisest, and to the promoters the kindest plan would be without further trouble, delay, or expense to reject it for the present Session, allowing it, if its details were susceptible of the requisite modifications, to form part of the general plan hereafter.


agreed with the noble Earl opposite that the Bill ought not to pass this Session, and that the kindest course to the promoters would be to reject it at once. In fact, there was scarcely one of the proposed measures which ought, to be adopted this year. It would be of great advantage that there should be some supervision over the construction of railways in the metropolis. There were serious and conclusive objections to the appointment of a Commission, but he thought that some good might be done by a Committee of that House to inquire into the different Bills that were now before the House—not into each particular Bill, nor to consider all the lines which were mentioned in Colonel Yolland's Report. It would be for them merely to consider whether there were among them any lines that might be permitted to go on this Session, such as the Midland line for instance; and then next year for the whole subject to be again, reported upon by the Board of Trade.


said, there was no Motion for a Committee and he thought it desirable that their Lordships should confine their attention to the subject before them. If the plan suggested by the noble Lord who had just sat down were carried out, the Committee would have to inquire into the merits of every Bill in the whole group.


congratulated their Lordships upon the valuable Report which they had obtained from the Board of Trade upon this subject. He should have been glad to have heard arguments in support of this Bill; but as none had been adduced, he should be prepared to support the Amendment. It would, in his opinion, be desirable to appoint a Committee to consider in what manner all these metropolitan lines should be carried out. Committees of the Houses of Parliament had great power over private Bills, and it was impossible that any public Department should undertake the superintendence of the construction of these railways. A great deal would depend upon the goodwill of the different companies running into the metropolis; and, upon the whole, he was disposed to think that the matter could be better dealt with by a Committee than in any other way. All the metropolitan railway Bills were now before their Lordships' House, and the course which he proposed to take with reference to them was this:—He should not oppose the rejection of this Bill, and unless strong reason was shown to the contrary, he should, immediately after the recess, move the appointment of a Committee to consider the whole question as to how these metropolitan railways should be dealt with.


said, that in many instances the Reports of Commissions and Committees had produced no results.


wanted to know whether the noble Earl proposed that all the Bills mentioned in Colonel Yolland's Report should be subject to the scrutiny of a Select Committee—because it appeared to him that in that way injustice might be done to some of the measures which it was desirable should be passed this Session.

On Question, that ("now") stand part of the Motion, Resolved in the Negative; and Bill to be read 2a on this Day Six Months.