HL Deb 10 February 1870 vol 199 cc114-8

rose to call the attention of the House and of the Government to the various Bills lodged in this House for introduction in the present Session for the construction of Street Tramways. Everybody was now, he believed, of opinion that if, at the first introduction of railways, there had been some Government inquiry into the whole subject, and some definite principles laid down as to the manner in which the lines were to be made, and the schemes introduced, a great public advantage would have been secured, and much expenditure and many useless Parliamentary contests would have been avoided, It was because, at the present moment, a new system of street tramways was on the point of being introduced, and that it was desirable the same mistakes should be guarded against, that he felt it to be his duty to call the attention of the House and of the Government to it. In 1867, a Bill was passed respecting street tramways in Liverpool. In 1868, there was no Bill on the subject. In the last Session there were three Bills relating to metropolitan tramways; in the present one there were twenty-four, or a tenth part of the whole number of the Private Bills, of which notice had been given. According to the Report of the Board of Trade, the share capital of these twenty-four schemes was over £3,000,000, and in addition there were borrowing powers to the amount of £800,000. The seven schemes proposed for the metropolis proposed the construction of 145 miles of tramways; the capital was more than £1,100,000, and the borrowing powers exceeded £400,000. It was to be remembered that the promoters of these schemes proposed to appropriate to their own profitable use in a certain manner that which was already public property—namely, the streets and highways. They were to go to no expense in the purchase of land. They only covenanted to keep in repair that portion of the streets which they occupied; and, though that would be some saving to the public, it was obviously necessary for the success of the schemes, and was not proposed out of any consideration for the public. In effect, the promoters desired to take a great deal from the public, and to give nothing in return, except the accommodation to be provided by the tramways. The schemes were various in character. The guage proposed, in some cases, was 5ft. 3 in., in others 4 ft. 8½in., 5 ft. 1 in. and 6 ft. 3 in. Hitherto, no regulations had been made as to uniformity of guage, or as to the size or shape of the carriages. The details were wholly in confusion. He understood, indeed, that some of the inconsistencies in the schemes were only apparent, the measurements given being sometimes the outside, and sometimes the inside measurements; but, it was certain that, after all the explanations had been given, some of the various schemes did conflict in important points. For the se reasons, a comprehensive inquiry was necessary. In regard to the Bills already passed respecting tramways, it was well known that their provisions were of an experimental character; indeed, a stipulation had been inserted in these Bills that if, at any time, within a space of three years after the passing of the Act, the authorities should complain of the tramways as dangerous or inconvenient to the public traffic, they should be removed, the power of appeal being allowed to the Board of Trade, who would appoint an arbitrator between the parties. The experimental character of the legislation was thus clearly proved. He was in-informed that, of the tramways sanctioned last year, some, or parts of some of them, would be opened in the course of next month. Before the projects received further extension, he maintained that steps should be taken to place them all on an intelligible and a comprehensive basis; and, among the points for consideration were, what regulations should be made respecting the extent and appropriation of the profits of the tramways, and what degree of accommodation should be insisted on, what should be the width of the tramways and carriages, and whether, in laying down the lines, the promoters should not be called upon, when necessary, to widen narrow streets, whether municipal authorities should be allowed to undertake these works, or what control they should exercise over them, and other like points. He understood that only passenger traffic was to be carried on these tramways, with the exception perhaps of a very small amount of passengers' luggage. In the Bills of last Session there were no restrictions whatever on the width of the tramways; and the consequence was that when there were two of them in a short street a large proportion of the space would certainly be occupied. When he told their Lordships that one scheme proposed the construction of a tramway along the whole length of Oxford Street—one of the principal thoroughfares of the metropolis—and that lines were projected over Blackfriars, Westminster, Lambeth, and Vauxhall Bridges, the serious public importance of the question became apparent. No one could be more unwilling than he was to interfere in any way with persons who brought forward schemes for public improvements, but he the ought there ought to be some suspension of the se schemes until further experience respecting them had been acquired; and if this necessitated the postponement of legislation to next Session, he should certainly propose that all the Parliamentary expenses incurred by the promoters should be returned to them, and that all the plans and estimates should be available for next Session. With such limitations, he could not see that the delay of a year could do any harm. He made this proposal both in the interest of the public and of his own—because he desired to be relieved from the heavy responsibility that he considered would have rested upon him if he had not called the attention of Parliament and Government to the subject. He did not call upon the latter for an immediate answer, but he earnestly recommended the matter to their consideration. He had been in communication that day with many of the promoters of these schemes, and they had failed to convince him by their arguments that delay would be prejudicial, or that there was no sufficient reason for inquiry; the ugh it was true that the system of tramways had been tried and was still in operation elsewhere, He earnestly hoped that the Government would direct their attention to the question.


said, that he was relieved of a considerable difficulty by not being required to give an immediate reply to the noble Lord, who had performed a public duty of the highest importance in bringing this question under their consideration. Their Lordships always felt indebted to his noble Friend whenever he drew their attention to any matter of private legislation—particularly when, as in this case, it related to schemes of a somewhat novel character. For reasons which they would all regret, he had had no opportunity of communicating with the President of the Board of Trade since his noble Friend had given his Notice, but he could promise that the attention of the Board should be at once directed to the subject, and that the suggestion of the noble Lord should be carefully considered. Without entering into any discussion, he would just observe that he understood a tramway was now actually at work in Liverpool, and very successfully, and that no objections were made to it. He would also remind the noble Lord that the question was a local, not an Imperial one, and that the decision in every case must mainly turn upon the particular circumstances of each locality. He also understood that new rails had been devised which obviated the inconveniences and objections which, he well remembered, attended the se laid down by Mr. Train.


said, he hoped the Government would not only consider the question whether tramways were desirable, but, if so, whether they should be in the hands of private companies or in the se of the municipal or some public authority. He should be jealous of the granting of a monopoly, either in London or elsewhere, to private companies, for such a policy might hereafter prove extremely inconvenient.

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

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