HL Deb 20 April 1883 vol 278 cc731-3

, in rising to ask Her Majesty's Government, Whether, considering the vast importance of the Thames Embankment as a source of health and pleasure to the people of the Metropolis of the United Kingdom, they propose to take any steps to abate the nuisance by which the District Railway are now engaged in destroying the beauty and amenities of that great public work? said, the comfort of the public appeared to be a matter of supreme indifference to the District Railway Company. The ventilators erected by them would not have the effect they wished the public to believe, for on the North Metropolitan system, where ventilators already existed, the air was just as foul as if they had never been made. Their real object was to get rid of the steam, which was, no doubt, an obstacle to the working of the traffic; but this difficulty could be get rid of much more simply, either by the obvious method of condensing the steam, or by using compressed air, which had already been tried with success on a section of the Metropolitan Railway, or by using the electric system, which had already been adopted in Ireland on the railway between Port Rush and the Giant's Causeway, and had been sanctioned by Parliament for a railway between Waterloo and Charing Cross. It was true that there was no precedent for taking away from a Railway Company the powers conferred on them by Parliament; but this was an unprecedented outrage and desperate diseases required desperate remedies. If the Company were ordered to remove the ventilators, they might receive compensation—that was, they might be repaid the actual expense they would incur in restoring the Embankment to its former state. That expense might fairly be paid by the Metropolitan Board of Works, who had certainly been guilty of laches in not having opposed the Bill on its third reading. He wished to know whether the Government were going to stand by with folded arms and see this great work spoilt?


I regret that I cannot give any other reply than I did three weeks ago to the noble Earl. The Railway Company are strictly within their right, and, having gone through all the usual inquiries before a Committee of both Houses, they have the law on their side. Under these circumstances, the Board of Trade cannot interfere, and cannot express any opinion on the subject. This matter rather rests with the Metropolitan Board of Works than with any other Body acting for the ratepayers in the government of London. Although they strongly opposed the Bill while going through Parliament, it seems a great misfortune that they did not take the step of appealing to Parliament last Session when they found themselves beaten before the Committee. I am informed by the Board that as soon as the ventilators were commenced they at once took steps this year to introduce a Bill to oblige the Railway Company to give them up and restore the Embankment to its original state. Unfortunately, however, as Notices had not been given in November, the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Commons refused to allow it to proceed, so that no further steps can be taken this year. There appeared to be, however, two Railway Bills coming before the House of Commons for the second reading soon—one promoted by the Metropolitan District Railway Corn-pan y, and the other jointly by the Metropolitan Railway Company and the Metropolitan District Railway Company. The Metropolitan Board of Works inform me that Notice has been given in the House of Commons of an Instruction to the Committee, to which these Bills will be referred, to consider whether, before further powers are granted to these Railway Companies, terms ought not to be made with them to restore the Embankment to its original condition, and give up the ventilators. Whether they are likely to succeed or not, I know not, and so far as the Board of Trade is con- cerned, I express no opinion. The First Commissioner of Works is very anxious that the hideous iron ventilating structure, near Westminster Abbey, spoiling one of the most beautiful sights in London, may, at any rate, be swept away; and I trust, with many of your Lordships, that some of the steps taken by the Metropolitan Board of Works may be successful, and that the day may not be far distant when the ventilators will disappear, and that the Railway will, by means of electricity or some other power, be worked without them.