HL Deb 15 July 1878 vol 241 cc1441-8

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.


, in moving that the House resolve itself into Committee on the said Bill, said, their Lordships might desire to hear shortly the course which the Board of Trade had taken in this matter. Their Lordships were, no doubt, aware that these Bills confirmed various Provisional Orders for making tramways in many parts of the country, and gave authority to work them by steam. Although the Tramways Act (1870) provided for giving authority to work tramways with other than horse power, yet it was not until 1876 that the Board of Trade inserted in any Provisional Order "steam or other mechanical power." An application for that purpose was received in that year from the Wantage Tramway Company. After very careful consideration, the Board of Trade determined to proceed with it, at the same time making a special Report to Parliament upon the subject; and they further called the attention of Parliament to the matter by placing the Order in a separate Confirming Bill. In the same Session, Parliament, by means of a Private Bill, gave similar powers in the case of the Vale of Clyde Tramway, in which the Board of Trade obtained the insertion of very stringent precautionary clauses. Both the Vale of Clyde Tramway Bill and the Wantage Provisional Order passed through Parliament without discussion. In the following Session—1877—there were many applications by Bills and Provisional Orders for power to use steam on tramways, and a Select Committee of the House of Commons was appointed to consider how far and under what regulations the employment of steam or other mechanical power might be allowed upon tramways on publics roads. The Committee, after taking much evidence, reported that they were of opinion that the use of mechanical power on tramways should be generally permitted, but that any Bill or Order granting such power should contain clauses providing very stringent conditions, which were specified in their Report. The Committee also recommended that, in order that local authorities or persons interested in the improvement of mechanical power on tramways might have an opportunity of trying experiments without infringing the law, a short Act of Parliament should be introduced, enabling the Board of Trade to grant permission to try experiments on any tramway, on the application or with the consent of the local or road authorities, for such a limited period and under such regulations as the Board of Trade might direct. In consequence of that recommendation, the clauses to authorize the use of steam were struck out of all the Private Bills and Provisional Orders of that Session, and a short general Bill, in accordance with the recommendations of the Select Committee, was introduced. That Bill, however, did not pass. In the Autumn of last year there were again many applications for the use of steam power on tramways. After much discussion and consideration, it was determined to deal with each application on its merits, and then to refer all the Private Bills and Provisional Orders authorizing the use of steam on tramways to a Select Committee, who should decide whether steam should be used or not, and, if sanctioned, under what uniform conditions and regulations. That course was adopted, as it was foreseen that, unless all Bills and Orders were referred to the same Committee, different decisions would be arrived at, and interests would be created, which it would be difficult to disregard, if, at any future time, in the interests of public safety and convenience, or for financial reasons, it might be thought necessary to legislate generally on the subject. As the local authorities had in each of the applications of this Session expressed their assent to the proposal for the use of steam, and were, in several cases, promoters themselves, the Board of Trade inserted steam powers in these Orders; but, at the same time, introduced very stringent clauses for their regulation. In consequence of the decision he had already referred to, all the Bills and Provisional Orders were referred by the House of Commons to a Hybrid Committee of nine Members, who were instructed to consider— Under what conditions, if at all, the use of steam or other mechanical power might be authorized upon tramways. The Committee sat for 20 days, and took evidence; during which time they examined into the respective merits of each individual scheme, and subsequently issued a Report, in which they recommended the use of steam, and thus confirmed the decision of the Select Committee of last Session. They also amended the Bills and Orders by inserting uniform regulating clauses with respect to the public safety and convenience, and also with regard to the consents and financial position of the local authorities, and as to tolls and agreements. They also laid down the principles which they thought ought to be adopted in settling all Bills and Orders by Parliament when dealing with the question. These might be stated shortly:—1. That the use of mechanical power on tramways should not be discouraged. 2. That there should be perfect freedom of contract, as far as agreements were concerned, between the promoters and the local authorities, subject to an appeal to the Board of Trade. 3. That there should be a power of revision of tolls at the end of five years. 4. That the Railway Commissioners should have power, as in the case of Railway Companies, to deal with all questions relative to the facilities of traffic. 5. That, considering the tentative nature of the question, all agreements under which steam was sanc- tioned should determine at the end of seven years. 6. That the Board of Trade might, at all times, make such bye-laws and regulations as might be necessary for public safety and convenience; and that if these regulations were disobeyed, the Board of Trade might stop the use of steam. Such was a short account of the course which had been taken by the Board of Trade in the matter. In so acting, they had carried out the recommendations of the Select Committee of the House of Commons of last Session, and had, by the Amendments made in the Provisional Orders now before their Lordships, adopted the recommendation of the Hybrid Committee of this Session, who expressed themselves in favour of a means of transit which was evidently felt to be a want to the travelling public in many parts of the Kingdom. When the Confirming Bills came back from the Committee to the House of Commons, a debate followed in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade both took part and spoke in their favour; and, ultimately, upon a division, they were carried by the large majority of 97, the numbers being 216 to 119. Under these circumstances, he had to express a hope, on the part of the Board of Trade, that their Lordships would allow these Bills to pass. The promoters had already been put to very great expense, owing to the action of Parliament during the last two Sessions; and after the inquiry which had been held by the House of Commons, they might fairly hope that, as they had had the consents of the local authorities, in whose districts their lines would run, and had very onerous restrictions and regulations imposed upon them by the House of Commons, no further opposition would be put in the way of giving the public a new mode of locomotion. It was important to point out that by the terms upon which the Bills and Orders had been granted, the use of steam could be put a stop to at any moment, should it be found in practice to be unsafe or inconvenient. In conclusion, he reminded their Lordships that, should they think it desirable in any way to amend these Bills, by introducing further restrictions in the interest of the safety and convenience of the public, or with the object of bringing them more directly under the provisions of any future general legislation, there would be no difficulty in introducing such changes in Committee, and he said that the Board of Trade would be glad to render any assistance in the matter, which it might be in their power to afford.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee."—(The Lord Henniker.)


, who had given Notice on this Motion to move— That the Committee be deferred to a later day, and to submit to the House reasons against agreeing to provisions which will be held to sanction the general use of steam power on tramways without further consideration, said, his object was to procure for the subject a little more examination. He did not think it had been sufficiently considered by all parties in this country, nor did he think that any change going to the extent to which the principle of these Bills might be forced, if they were carried, should be introduced without, upon the occasion of their first introduction, mature deliberation and the adoption of necessary safeguards and precautions. If they read the Bills without taking some such step, it would be a distinct admission that all parties who constructed tramways might use steam upon them. The Bills before them simply allowed the making of a railway with a steam locomotive upon a turnpike road. That was, practically, what it came to. There was one proposal that a line should start from a great railway terminus, to run through a country upon a perfectly level turnpike road, and a road, therefore, very easily made practicable for steam purposes, whether railway or tramway. This line would run for about 10 miles into the country. Let them agree to this, and it would prove only the first of a long series of similar projects. Now, it was very important for them to consider whether they were prepared to have what were, practically, railways running alongside their roads, without any fences to protect those roads. No doubt, under the regulations introduced by the House of Commons the other day, they could not travel at a more rapid rate than 10 miles an hour. But the point was that they got power to come upon the roads with steam, and it just a chance where or how the extension of their powers would be arrested. Pass the Bills, and there was the railway on the public road. Now, they should consider the relative positions of the Railway and Tramway Companies. The latter got for nothing the soil for which the Railway Companies paid, often pretty sharply. At present they confiscated a portion of the public highway where in many cases it was not very wide. In regard to tramways, in general, they took the centre of the road, in order that parties living on each side might have a siding to their property free from any interruption of this sort. But one of the schemes before their Lordships allowed the tramways to go on one side, the property on which side would of course be much interfered with, while a railway was found running close to the other side. That would certainly be very inconvenient for the owners of this property if they wanted to build upon it. He repeated that this point had not been sufficiently considered, and if these tramways were made, steam would be used upon them, because they were simply asked to allow of the construction of railways upon the highroads without the restrictions which were imposed upon railways. These tramways were open to other objections. It was said that fares would be moderate, but there was no condition upon the subject. Then, with respect to tolls, they seemed to be open to very serious question; and he saw, for instance, that the toll on coal on one line was 3d. a-mile, while upon the railway where the coals were delivered only 1½d. was charged. These were only a few of the matters calling for consideration, and he trusted the House would be very careful about establishing a principle so fruitful of inconvenience. He did not desire to defeat the Bills if cautiously framed, and he had not thought it desirable to make a definite proposal to their Lordships; but he considered it desirable to have an expression of opinion upon the part of the House. What he desired was to see the Bills adjourned, so that some necessary provisions might be inserted, or that they might consider whether a common and general measure should be adopted with reference to all tramway schemes.


said, he felt that, in consequence of the manner in which the questions involved in these Bills were presented to their Lordships, they were precluded from giving any opinion on the principle of them. The whole question, in fact, was in an experimental stage. He believed he was right in saying there were only two tramways in the Kingdom on which steam was used—Swansea and Wantage. The case of Swansea was a peculiar one, as there steam was allowed to be used for a certain time under the sanction of the Board of Trade; and there had been, he believed, a decision of the Court of Chancery which limited the conditions of its use. These exceptional cases showed how little was known of the subject; and he ventured to think that their Lordships, in passing these Bills, would be giving their sanction to a principle which might be fraught with a great amount of evil. Local authorities were, in many instances, shareholders in these undertakings, and their interests would induce them very often to favour them unduly. He thought that, even if these Bills passed, there should be something stronger than the control of the local authority, and it appeared to him that it should be that of the Local Government Board rather than that of the local authority. The local authorities throughout the country were, in his opinion, a very unfit body to be intrusted with the large experimental powers about to be given by these Bills. He did not at all wish to oppose the suggestions of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees; but, at the same time, the subject was one of such magnitude and importance that it should be dealt with by some special Act of Parliament, which would enable them to express a direct opinion on the questions involved, and not by such Bills as they now had under consideration.


said, the noble Earl at the Table had held that he did not wish to defer the consideration of these Bills too long, that they would be defeated by lapse of time. He had no objection, however, to postpone them for a week or 10 days; but he thought they should not be longer deferred. The promoters had already been put to much inconvenience and expense by the action of Parliament, and it would only be fair to them to come to a decision as soon as possible.


said, he should be sorry to interfere with the interests of tramway promoters, but their Lordships should recollect that whatever they did now would be a precedent, and would be quoted hereafter as such in the promotion of similar undertakings; and if they passed these Bills now, which might or might not be wise Bills, they would establish a precedent against themselves that would be quoted by every set of private promoters, and the consequences might be most injurious to the public. There was one question he should like to ask the noble Lord opposite in the interest of the public. Taking into consideration the fact that they were going to allow these Tramway Companies the use of steam for locomotive purposes, they ought to endeavour to secure a portion of the advantage for the public. As their Lordships would recollect, up to the present time every single tramway that had been sanctioned had been sanctioned as a tramway to be used with animal power; and their Lordships would see that, if they once sanctioned the use of steam power on tramways, all the systems in operation would be coming to Parliament to ask for power to work their lines by steam. The result would be that those tramways now authorized to be worked by animal power would then use steam, and the companies would put into their pockets the difference of cost between working by steam and working by horse power. He concurred in the remarks of the noble Earl at the Table, but did not understand from him in what way he proposed, within a period of only a week or 10 days, to arrive at a general decision on that question of employing steam power on tramways. Let them recollect that, whatever they did now, they would be doing once for all, and that they would have only themselves to blame for any unfortunate results. He thought the better course would be to postpone the Bills for the present Session.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn; and Order for the House to be put into Committee, discharged.