HL Deb 07 May 1863 vol 170 cc1291-8

LORD REDESDALE moved to resolve— That the Principle of charging Entailed Estates for Railways involves Questions of too much Nicety and Importance to be sanctioned by Parliament otherwise than by public Legislation. The noble Lord said, that he thought that he need hardly adduce any other evidence in support of the Resolution he proposed than was contained in the Report of the Committee which had inquired into the matter; for anybody who read that Report could not doubt that the Committee were of opinion that the proper course to pursue was to proceed by public legislation. The Committee, however, had a Bill before them, and they resolved to allow the powers asked in that particular case. But if the House were to sanction the principle that private parties might proceed by particular legislation, not only would the prospect of a beneficial public measure be removed, but the result would be that there would be fifty Bills next year having in them clauses for this particular purpose, though perhaps embodied in different terms. If they refused to grant the power in any individual case, there was the strongest possible reason for believing that the Government would take up the matter. In reference to telegraphs, which was surrounded with much greater difficulties than the subject now under consideration, there was last year a strong opinion expressed that there should be public legislation upon it, and this year the Government had brought in a Bill upon the subject, and it had passed the House of Commons, and now lay upon their Lordships' table. The subject then under consideration was not nearly so difficult to deal with as that of telegraphs. Any person who would take up any of the Land Improvement Bills might more or less adapt its machinery to the present matter, and thus without any great difficulty frame a Bill upon it; and he had no doubt, that if his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack would devote that attention to it which he had already bestowed on other branches of law reform, he would readily produce a satisfactory measure. The real difficulty in the way of charging estates for railways had not been at all met by the Report of the Committee, which was of the most general character. It recommended that the rent-charge should not extend over more than twenty- five years; that the charge should not arise until the railway was finished; and that a charge should be created only when the Inclosure Commissioners were of opinion that the land would be improved by the railway to the extent of the charge upon it. There was much more difficulty in the way of charging land for railways than in charging it for drainage and other purposes for which the power of making a charge now existed. All these works were in the hands of the improver, and as soon as the works were completed the benefit accrued. Railways, however, would be in other hands, and the benefit would be remote. It was said that it would be the duty of the Inclosure Commissioners to take security that the railway should be finished in time; but anybody who knew anything of the matter knew that it was utterly impossible that any such security could really be obtained. It was of common occurrence that railways were not finished within the time specified. Usually, five years were granted for completing the work, and they might take it that seven years was about the time taken. Now, suppose the Inclosure Commissioners allowed a charge of £5,000 upon an estate, and that that sum was all raised before the expiration of the five years, but that two years more were taken to complete that line—there would then be two years' additional interest, for which there would be no security unless there were an additional charge created. This was one of the matters of nicety and importance which were involved in this subject. The difficulty, however, might possibly be met by creating a new kind of share to meet these charges upon land, upon which shares nothing should be paid until the line was opened. Such matters as this, however, could only be treated by general legislation upon the subject. The noble Viscount who had given notice of an Amendment (Viscount Eversley) alluded to provisions being inserted in each Bill, such as should satisfy the Committee. Now, in relation to all opposed points a Select Committee was, upon the whole, a very fair and good tribunal; but there was nobody to call the attention of the Members to points, often of vital importance, which were not opposed. On the contrary, parties were interested in urging only a one-sided view upon them, and therefore they were very unfit to deal with questions of the nature which he referred to. There was one omission from the Report of the Committee which was, to his mind, fatal to it. The Committee very prudently had not ventured to say that these charges should be first charges upon property, and yet, without recognising them as such, the whole scheme would prove valueless and inoperative. Neither had the noble Lord, in his Amendment, ventured to propose such a recommendation. He put it to their Lordships whether it was not unwise to come to a Resolution authorizing private legislation, and he pointed out that no attempt would be made seriously to press upon the House a principle of such importance as was embodied in the Amendment of which the noble Viscount (Viscount Eversley) had given notice. If their Lordships adopted the Amendment, it would prevent that public legislation which otherwise must be proposed.

Moved to resolve. That the Principle of charging Entailed Estates for Railways involves Questions of too much Nicety and Importance to be sanctioned by Parliament otherwise than by public Legislation.


expressed his entire concurrence in the principle laid down by the noble Chairman of Committees. The noble Viscount, to whose opinion on such a question as this great respect was due, was compelled in his Amendment to introduce the rules which lie thought ought to be observed. But what could be more inconvenient than thus, without full and mature consideration, to lay down a plan the adoption of which would tie up the hands of the House when they came to the consideration of a public measure?


said, that the Amendment of which he had given notice embodied the substance of the Report of the Committee which sat upon this subject. This Report, was in their Lordships' hands, and it would be unnecessary for him to do more than briefly to point out to their Lordships what had already been done by Parliament in analogous cases. There were already in existence companies which were authorized by Acts of Parliament to advance money by way of loan to landholders who wished to improve their estates; and under the provisions of these Acts tenants for life of settled estates were allowed to charge their estates for certain improvements—namely, drainage, the erection of farm buildings, the making of roads, and outfall drainage—it being provided for the protection of remaindermen that no work should be executed unless it had, after survey, been approved by the Inclosure Commissioners, and that no charge should be made until it had been proved to the satisfaction of those Commissioners that the work had been properly done. In the Acts, authorizing these charges, there were many provisions which needed amendment, and he should be glad to see passed a public Act which should render private Acts unnecessary, and be the foundation of future legislation on this subject. This course was recommended by a Committee of that House which sat in 1855, and by another Committee, of which he had the honor of being Chairman, in 1859; but not the slightest attention had been paid to their recommendations, and the country was as far ns ever from seeing a public measure. If the noble Chairman of Committees would undertake to bring in such a Bill upon this subject, he should be happy to withdraw his Amendment. His only object was to obtain legislation. Something ought to be done. There were parts of England where railway accommodation was very much needed, and where the directors of great companies would be glad to assist in the formation of them if they could get the support of the landowners, but the landowners were only tenants for life, and could not give that support. A landowner could charge his estate for drainage and a variety of other improvements, but he could not charge it for the greatest of all improvements, a railway passing through or near his property. There was little hope of pubic legislation on this subject; and if there was to be no private legislation, the landowner, who was a tenant for life, would remain powerless to effect improvements of this description. He thought it would be unjust to deprive the country of the advantage of railways, which could only be made by landowners having power to contribute to their formation. As to the merits or demerits of the Northumberland Central Railway, which was now before Parliament, he had nothing to say, but it certainly had boon useful in supplying their Lordships with a great deal of valuable information. The solicitor of the promoters had communicated with a great number of landowners and farmers, who had given evidence founded on their practical experience as to the improvements which must be caused in the value of farms by the making of railways; and other evidence had also been adduced before the Committee proving that there would be no difficulty in estimating the probable increase of value which would result from the construction of any particular line. Under these circumstances, he moved as an Amendment to the Motion of the noble Baron— To leave out from ("That") to the End of the Motion, for the Purpose of inserting: While this House is of opinion that the Question of empowering Landowners to charge Settled Estates for the Purpose of taking Shares in Railways contiguous to those Estates ought to be dealt with as soon as possible by a Public Act (which should also comprehend Provisions for charging Estates for Drainage, Building, and other Improvements), it is not prepared to withdraw from the Consideration of Committees on Railway Bills Clauses which may confer such Powers: Provided, That such Securities and Conditions be obtained as shall be satisfactory to the Committee, and that the Charge so imposed shall be in the Form of a Rentcharge for a Term not exceeding Twenty-five years: Provided also, That no such Charge shall be imposed unless it has been proved to the Satisfaction of the Inclosure Commissioners that the proposed Railway will confer a permanent Benefit to a greater annual Amount than the said Rent-charge on the Lands through or near to which it is intended to pass, nor until the said Railway has been completed and opened for Traffic under the Authority of the Board of Trade.


was strongly of opinion that this matter ought to be dealt with solely by public legislation, and therefore he should support the Motion of the noble Chairman of Committees.


thought that the necessary securities to owners of landed estates could not be satisfactory ascertained by a Committee, and that they could only be given by a public legislation. Under those circumstances, it was impossible that he could assent to the Amendment proposed by the noble Viscount. The very first proviso required that "such securities and conditions should be obtained as would be satisfactory to the Committee;" but there was the greatest doubt and difficulty in forming an accurate estimate of the cost of a railway on the one hand, and in calculating the amount of advantage to be derived from it on the other. Owners of property in the north had advanced money for making turnpike roads upon the security of the tolls; but railways had now absorbed nearly all the traffic, and the tolls scarcely reached to a fourth of their former amount. He did not venture to say that railways would be superseded by some other mode of conveyance, but still that was not more improbable than the use of railways at the time those roads were constructed. He was not disposed to think that the prospective advantages to be derived by estates from the construction of railways through them were always so great as some imagined. With regard to this particular railway, which ran for three miles through his estate, he was so benighted as not to give it his support. It was a bad line, and did not give the district the accommodation which it required. The noble Earl might say that they had better take what they could get, as there might not be any prospect of their having a better line; but he did not share in his apprehensions, as another railway, offering far more accommodation, had been surveyed, which he firmly believed would at no distant time be carried out. He therefore thought it would be better to postpone the making of a railroad, even for two or three years, rather than sanction the construction of one which would not be so beneficial to the public as it ought to be. He trusted that some Member of the Government would hold out the assurance that they would themselves take this important matter into consideration, and bring in a public Act to set these questions at rest. Railway legislation was now beset with much difficulty and complication; so much so, indeed, that some change was urgently demanded. That was especially necessary in regard to the mechanism by which Railway Bills were brought before Parliament. If something were not done to place that subject on a better footing, perhaps he should feel it his duty to call their Lordships' attention to it himself.


thought the House ought to stand by the Resolution moved by their Chairman of Committees, instead of accepting the Amendment of the noble Viscount. If they acceded to the Amendment, they would have no security whatever that the Committee, either of that or the other House, would agree to adopt the restriction which the noble Viscount suggested, unless it were made a Standing Order—a course which was open to objection. He could not assent to the Amendment, because he believed it would not be safe for the remainderman, who might be greatly injured by the tenants for life if they chose to impose heavy rent-charges on the estates. It provided no notice to the heir, to the mortgagee, or to the widow. No steps were taken for the security of any of these parties, because the charge was not made a prior charge; and it was difficult to see how the money was to be got. He thought that great injury had already been done to the remainderman under the building and drainage clauses of private Acts, and it was high time that Parliament should step in and put a stop to this species of legislation. If this subject was to be dealt with at all, he thought it should be treated in a public Bill introduced by the Government or the Chairman of Committees.


said, that the questions to be considered were two—first, whether to give these powers at all; and secondly, if so, whether they should be given by a public or private Act. Now, having read the evidence taken before the Committee, he had no hesitation in declaring that it was as strong as it possibly could be in favour of the great advantage to landed estates of railways coming near them—they benefited the land and greatly increased its value, both by giving facilities for bringing manure, and by giving access to the best markets. It likewise showed conclusively, that in many instances where railways might be of immense advantage to the estates through which they passed, they were not likely to give that high rate of interest which would tempt independent capitalists to invest their money in them. Such being the case, he was of opinion that it would be exceedingly injudicious to refuse, as regarded railways, powers which had already been given with respect to building, drainage, and other improvements not likely to be so permanently advantageous to a landed estate as a good line of railroad. At the present moment, indeed, an estate might be charged for a railway confined within its limits; and it was rather anomalous and illogical, to say the least, that the owner could not subscribe towards a line which passed beyond his property. In such a matter it would be well, no doubt, to lay down general principles in a public measure, but heretofore we had followed the opposite method of proceeding. Until 1845 there was no general Act on the subject of railways; and when a general Act was framed it simply, embodied provisions which had been introduced into a long succession of private Acts. Still, he undertook to say that the Board of Trade would consider the whole question, and he had no doubt they would succeed in preparing a satisfactory general measure. Meanwhile, however, there was no reason why the passing of private Acts should be suspended, especially since it was beyond his power to predict that any Bill brought forward by the Government would certainly be carried; and considering that it would be well not to do anything hastily, he would suggest that both the Motion and the Amendment should be withdrawn.


said, he could not consent to withdraw his Resolution. He objected to private legislation, and contended that there ought to be public legislation on a subject of such great importance. If the Government gave directions to the Board of Trade to prepare a Bill founded on the provisions of the Lands Improvement Act, they would have little difficulty in producing one, as they had ample machinery for the preparation of Bills. He must press his Resolution, and he believed that if their Lordships carried it, they would have public legislation on the subject; but if they failed to do so, they would not have such legislation.


said, it was very desirable to have a public Act, but it was rather hard in the mean time to postpone all proceedings in the matter.

On Question, Whether the Words proposed to be left out shall stand Part of the Motion? Resolved in the Affirmative: Then the original Motion was agreed to.

House adjourned at a quarter before Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock