HL Deb 01 March 1866 vol 181 cc1275-81

My Lords, I rise, in pursuance of notice, To inquire of Her Majesty's Government their intentions with regard to the various Bills affecting Railway Communication in the Metropolitan District now before Parliament. And I do so the more readily in consequence of an opinion intimated in another place a few nights ago, which opinion, I would hope, is not a fixed one on the part of the Government. The intimation to which I allude, my Lords, was to the effect that in respect of the Railway Bills for the metropolitan districts promoted in the present Session, there is no necessity for departing from the ordinary course of legislation. I hope that that conclusion is not final. It appears from the Report of the Board of Trade, which was laid on the table some days ago and circulated among your Lordships, that there are no less than thirty-six different Railway Bills affecting the metropolis at present before Parliament. I understand that these schemes involve capital to the amount of very nearly £20,000,000, and I find that these lines run in all directions and at various levels, some above ground, some under ground, some only partially covered, and some running on the level of the street. I may remind the House of the course adopted in 1863 with respect to this class of Bills. When an almost equally large number of railway schemes were launched, and a panic was created at the consequences which those schemes, if allowed to take their course, would involve, your Lordships will remember that a Committee was appointed to consider the whole question, and they agreed to various recommendations. The undoubted purport of these recommendations was to impress on Parliament the necessity of exercising the greatest care and discretion in dealing with railways in the metropolis—and above all, so to deal with them that there should be a uniformity in the system adopted. But, in order to make the matter more clear, the Committee made a special recommendation to the effect that all the Bills for railways in the metropolis before they went to the second reading should be subjected to a preliminary inquiry, and that after the second reading all such Bills having any connection with each other should be submitted to one and the same Committee. But in the following year, 1864, Parliament went beyond the recommendation of the Committee of 1863. A Joint Committee, consisting of five Members of this and five Members of the other House, were appointed, and they drew up a very valuable Report. They disallowed some Bills; they allowed others to follow the ordinary course of legislation; and as to the rest, they laid down certain principles which were not to be departed from, but which, I imagine, would be departed from if the present proposed Bills were allowed to pass as they now stand. I am very much surprised to see that a similar course has not been adopted in the present Session. But, on the contrary, the Board of Trade wind up a statement on the subject of the Metropolitan Bills by saying it is not necessary that the course taken last Session should be followed now, but those Bills may be dealt with in the usual manner. I confess, my Lords, I cannot see any reason for the conclusion at which the Board of Trade have arrived. It appears to me that, on their own showing, there is the most conclusive reason why Parliament should adopt a somewhat similar course to that taken last Session? If any noble Lord will look to the map attached to the Report of the Board, he will see coloured lines representing railways running here and there, and everywhere; different lines intercepting each other at all angles, and crossing each other at all points. I do not know whether those lines are properly marked; but assuming them to be so, one can see at a glance the necessity for great care in dealing with those schemes. The metropolitan schemes sanctioned by Parliament in 1864 included a mileage of forty-five miles, and involved a capital of £12,700,000. The metropolitan schemes now before Parliament, independent of those which have been abandoned, include a mileage of eighty-seven miles, and involve a Capital of £17,600,000 in round numbers. It would appear also, my Lords, that the powers claimed by the promoters of some of those Bills are of a very remarkable character—so remarkable that I venture to bring them under the notice of your Lordships. Power is asked in one case to underpin and strengthen any house within 100 yards of the line without the consent of the parties interested in the premises, which I take it is an application for power to bore under a man's house without giving him any compensation. There is another Bill which asks for compulsory powers to purchase vaults and cellars without being required to purchase the houses to which they are attached. To such an extent is it proposed that power shall extend, that the question of compensation is not to go before a jury, but is to be settled by an arbitrator, appointed by the Board of Trade. I have no doubt that such powers will not be conceded; but I merely mention the circumstance to show how important it is that Parliament should deal with the question as a whole. At the present moment London is in a most indescribably unsatisfactory state. Railway bridges have been thrown across the river just as and where railway companies took a fancy to place them, thereby spoiling past remedy one of the finest river fronts in Europe. Only two years ago, a scheme was proposed for disfiguring the approach to St. Paul's by carrying in the air a huge tubular bridge. Northumberland House and the Savoy Chapel have only escaped destruction recently by the Bill being thrown out in another place. And not only are these railway companies cutting and carving London in all directions, but great injustice is being done to the population as regard their health and comfort. In fact, we are suffering from two opposite causes—the absence of necessary legislation on the one hand, and an excess of legislation conducted in an indiscriminate and haphazard manner on the other. We suffer from an excess of legislation when we sanction conflicting schemes, and we suffer from the total absence of legislation when we allow the suburbs to extend in every direction without making proper and adequate provision for railway access between them and the metropolis. We must remember that every metropolitan railway scheme we sanction displaces a large number of the poorest class of the population. There is a Standing Order of this House which provides that whenever the construction of a railway involves the demolition of any of the lodgings of a given number of the labouring classes at least eight weeks' notice shall be given before the occupants are ejected. That is a very proper and considerate Order; it perhaps would be difficult to carry it much further, but clearly it is an Order which does not meet the full difficulty of the case. If the houses are taken it is exceedingly doubtful whether the tenants, even with eight weeks' notice, can find in the immediate neighbourhood new lodgings for themselves, and if they do succeed they do so only to discover that the price of lodgings has become enormously enhanced. In a calculation which I was observing some time since, and from which I saw no cause to differ, it was argued that taking the wages of a labouring man at thirty-five shillings per week—a very high figure—he had often to pay seven shilings a week for a couple of rooms, which is equivalent to a tax of 20 per cent upon his total earnings. If this be so it is a tax which is almost without parallel in weight. One railway company, of which a Member of your Lordships' House is chairman, has wisely built lodging-houses on land adjoining their railway for the labouring classes. I do not know that it would be wise, or indeed possible, to require all railways to adopt the same course; but these are points which deserve to be considered in connection with the great alterations which are proposed to be made in the metropolis in reference to railway communication, and though there are undoubtedly several modes of procedure, I think they can be best considered by a Joint Committee appointed by both Houses of Parliament. The Board of Trade say they see no reason for departing from the ordinary course of business, and I regret that they have come to that conclusion. But the Government ought not to put aside their duties even though the Board of Trade counsel them to do so. I think the Government ought to take the responsibility of dealing with the question as a whole upon themselves. In 1843 or 1844, when these railway cases first came before Parliament in considerable numbers, Lord Dalhousie, then President of the Board of Trade, drew up, as I have always heard, a scheme, in which he laid down certain broad lines of railway communication through the country. It is much to be regretted that scheme was not carried out. It would have saved a great amount of time, the expenditure of a large amount of capital, enormous litigation, and the misapplication of extensive railway funds; but as it is, time, labour, and money have all been squandered, leaving comparatively little to show for the outlay. No doubt I shall be told that the population of this great town is continually increasing, and that it requires accommodation in accordance with its growing wants. I do not deny that. If it is necessary to have five, ten, twenty, or thirty railroads in London, by all means have them; but let them be considered as a whole by some competent tribunal, which may be able to lay down a scheme complete both as to existing lines and in reference also to the future wants of the community. I shall be glad to hear from Her Majesty's Government what their intentions are with regard to these railway schemes.


The noble Earl is under a misapprehension with regard to some points, and especially in reference to the Board of Trade. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has had the question under consideration, and has decided upon introducing a measure into the other House of Parliament, which measure is now nearly prepared. The Bill, although it has not been considered solely with regard to the attainment of the particular objects adverted to by the noble Earl, will, I believe, afford considerable facilities for carrying out those objects. As to the Question of the noble Earl, it is, no doubt, the duty of the Government, and more especially of the Board of Trade, to give an important subject of this nature every consideration in their power. The noble Earl wishes to know whether it is proposed to adopt the plan carried out in 1864, when a great number of Railway Bills which had come before Parliament were referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament for consideration. But the Board of Trade after considering the matter are of opinion that the Bills presented this year are so few that there is no reason why they should not be dealt with in the usual manner—namely, by a Committee of each House in its turn. The number of Bills at the commencement of the Session, however, was larger than it has since become, because no less than ten of them have been withdrawn, and of those remaining not more than two are expected to cause any difficulty or occupy any large share of your Lordships' time. That being the case, I think my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade exercises a wise discretion in permitting them to be dealt with in the ordinary way. I think this is all I need say in answer to the Question of which the noble Earl has given notice. It will be observed that it deals simply with those Bills touching railway communication in the metropolis; but he has supplemented his observations on that point by others connected with metropolitan railways generally. He has made some remarks respecting the demolition of houses by railway companies, and thus started a very wide question. He has also spoken upon the subject of Private Bill legislation generally. These questions, however, are entirely beside that of which the noble Earl has given notice, and I am not at present prepared to express an opinion upon them. But, at the same time, I should be glad to listen to any suggestions the noble Earl has to throw out respecting these questions, and give them my best consideration.


said, that several of the Railway Bills proposed to be submitted to Parliament had already been withdrawn, and those which remained could well be considered by a single Committee to whom they had been referred; therefore, he did not think in that case any necessity existed for the appointment of a Joint Committee of both Houses to deal with them. But with regard to the question of railway legislation, and the manner in which railway schemes were promoted, it had become Be serious that he thought he should feel himself bound to call their Lordships' attention to the subject. It was a fact that at the present time no capital was fairly found for the promotion of schemes which came before Parliament; and that was, in his opinion, one of the reasons why so many of them broke down before they had passed through many stages, if they did not collapse altogether at the door of the House. The system had now reached such an excess of abuse that he felt Parliament was bound to interfere and say what should be done in the future.


I am glad to hear the observations which have fallen from the noble Lord. He is far more competent to bring forward such a question than I am, and I should be glad if he would do so.