HL Deb 10 February 1902 vol 102 cc796-806

My Lords, I have to present to your Lordships to-day a Motion of some importance. Parliament is being besieged with Bills for tube railways, which are being proposed in every direction, but there is no central authority to control the presentation of these demands. There is no authority to lay down what is desirable in the public interests, no mapping out of districts nor arranging for connections. Each company comes forward and claims what it likes. In one instance I have just laid a Petition on the Table from the Royal Borough of Kensington, where five companies are seeking power to run tubes under the High-street, which is a physical impossibility. The Kensingtonians are panting for a tube, but who are going to decide what scheme is to be adopted? Take the Fulham Road. That thoroughfare is threatened with a connection all along the line of hospitals, the Consump- tion Hospital, the Cancer Hospital, the Hospital for Women, and others, and such a tube may materially effect these hospitals by vibration and otherwise. The laying down of these tubes has the effect of producing a drainage of the soil in their neighbourhood and a shrinkage of the clay, and this in turn causes cracks, which become dangerous. There is no guarantee in the schemes now being applied for that there will be any cross lines; they are all longitudinal, seeking to connect the City with the various parts of the West of London. My third ground for referring these schemes to the Joint Committee may seem superfluous, but it is not. Although the original Twopenny Tube obtained at first the credit of being well-ventilated, complaints are very numerous now, and a great deal of care is required to find out by what means the atmosphere of these tubes can be purified. The Motion which I propose is meant to to encourage the development of tube railways, but to do that in a systematic and not in a haphazard way. I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved, to resolve, That it is desirable that the Joint Select Committee on London Underground Railways appointed last Session be re-appointed to consider and report—(1) Whether any of the lines of route for Underground Railways in and near London proposed by the Bills which have been introduced during the last and present session afford adequate facilities for present and probable future traffic; (2) whether any extensions or alterations of route are required for the purpose of providing cheap and rapid travelling communication throughout London and the outskirts, and whether the making of such extensions or alterations should be a condition of the grant of powers to make any proposed railways; (3) what is the best method of constructing, working, and ventilating such railways, having regard to the safety, health, and convenience of persons travelling by them?—(Lord Glenesk).


My Lords, the question which my noble friend has brought before the House is one of very great importance to London, and at the same time it is one of so intricate and difficult a character that I think it well deserves the consideration of your Lordships. I thought it well to intervene immediately after my noble friend's speech, so that I could place the House in possession of the facts of the case as they at present stand. My noble friend justly said that these projects for tube railways are increasing every year. The present position with regard to these Bills is this. There are at present in London eight authorized lines of railways. Of those, two are in actual operation, and two in course of construction; and there are four in connection with which no works have as yet been executed. Last year eleven Bills were introduced into Parliament, seven of which dealt with entirely new schemes, and four had reference to extensions of the authorized railways to which I have already referred. The Bills were referred to a Joint Committee, the reappointment of which my noble friend now moves. The reference to that Committee was, briefly, to consider (1) The general lines of route for underground railways; (2) what special provision should be made for the protection of owners of property adjacent to the railways; (3) the conditions as to construction and working; and (4) whether any, and which, of the eleven Bills to which I have referred should be allowed to proceed during that session. At that time a Committee was appointed, under the Chairmanship of Lord Rayleigh, to consider the question of how far the vibration caused by existing railways was affecting adjacent properties, but they had not reported, and therefore my noble friend Lord Windsor's Committee had to deal with that question in a hypothetical manner. On all the other points the Committee presented to the House a very able and interesting Report, and suggested that seven of the eleven Bills which were before them should be allowed to proceed in the ordinary course. As regards four of the Bills—those with which my noble friend is particularly interested, namely, the lines which it is proposed should run under the main thoroughfare between Putney and Hammersmith and the City—the Committee strongly reported that it was desirable that there should be a continuous line between Hammersmith and the City.

The sitting of the Committee lasted practically the whole session, with the result that it was impossible for the Bills which had been referred to them to proceed. Following precedents that have been set in former years in the case of Bills which have been delayed by the direct action of Parliament, these Bills were allowed as a matter of privilege to be suspended and to be brought up in the present session at the point at which they were left last session. Nine out of the Bills have survived their period of suspended animation, and are now again before the House for consideration. In addition to those nine Bills, fifteen other Bills are now before the House dealing with tube railways. Of these, two deal with an extention of time in regard to railways already authorized, nine with extensions of works of authorized railways or of railways that had Bills in the last session of Parliament, and only four may be called new schemes. Of the twenty-four Bills now before Parliament I think I may say that, if you deduct the double Bills that have been introduced by these Companies, you reduce the schemes to seventeen, and if you further deduct the two Bills which merely ask for an extension of time, and the two which are very small additions to authorized railways, you bring the schemes down to thirteen. The whole of these Bills, except the four new ones to which I have referred, were before the Joint Committee last year. The only Bills that were not before them were the London United Railways Bill, which is a scheme new this year, following the route to which my noble friend has referred, from Hammersmith to the City; the Central London Railway Bill which is an entirely new scheme occupying the same route; a Bill for a small railway called the Edgware and Hampstead Railways, which may be regarded entirely in connection with the Euston-square and Hampstead Railway; and, finally, the Crystal Palace and City Railway.

So your Lordships will see that, with the addition of the Crystal Palace and City Railway, there are the Bills which existed last year and two addition 1 schemes competing for the very important thoroughfare from Hammersmith to the City. Last year, as I have already said, the Joint Committee so far approved of all the schemes except the four competing for that route as to say they might go to a Committee in the ordinary course. My noble friend now proposes that the schemes of this year should be referred to the same Joint Committee. So far as I read his notice, the ground he now takes was completely, or almost completely, covered by the Committee of last year. He asks in the first and second paragraphs that the lines of route should be considered, and in the third paragraph that the best method of constructing, working and ventilating the railways should be reported upon. The Committee of last year considered the lines of route and the methods of constructing and working the railways, though the word ventilation was not directly incorporated in their instructions. The effect of carrying my noble friend's motion would undoubtedly be that the Bills now before Parliament would be delayed for another year.


Not if the Committee had the power of passing them.


The noble Lord is now suggesting quite another matter and one with which his Motion does not deal. The Motion of my noble friend is for a Joint Committee to sit as the Joint Committee did last year to consider certain principles. The Bills would then have to go as competing Bills before separate Committees. I have no doubt that if the Joint Committee which sat last year had to go over the whole ground again, with the addition of the Bills that have been recently introduced, the inquiry would last a very large part of the session if not the whole of it. At any rate, there would not be sufficient time left to enable substantial progress to be made with the Bills. I do not say that the question of delay, where matters of such great importance are dealt with, is an insuperable objection, but it is a very serious matter. When I tell your Lordships that the Bills of last year asked for the authorization of a capital of something like £30,000,000, and that the Bills of this year ask for between £20,000,000 and £30,000,000 more, you will see that it is a very serious matter for the promoters. A very large sum has been deposited in respect of the Bills of last year, which is lying idle. I agree with what my noble friend would probably say, that the interest of the promoters is not the most important thing we have to consider. We have to consider also the interest of the public, and there again the delay seems to be most inexpedient. Every day the traffic in our streets is becoming more and more conjested, and it is daily becoming more important that we should have railways constructed from the centre to the suburbs. This is also an important matter in connection with the problem of housing the working classes, and I earnestly deprecate delay in regard to these schemes unless any great object is to be gained thereby. I think I have shown to the House that there is really nothing new in the schemes of this year which has not been considered very carefully by the Joint Committee of last year. I think the House may safely leave to an ordinary Committee the relative merits of the different competitors for the important thoroughfare to which the noble Lord referred. On the ground, then, that delay should be avoided, if possible and that the Committee of last year had before them everything that they would have this year, with very few modifications, I do not think it is desirable to lengthen the proceedings by reappointing the Committee.

Perhaps I may be allowed before sitting down, to give some indication as to the mode in which I think it is desirable these Bills should be dealt with. The suggestion of my noble friend that the whole of the Bills should be referred to a Joint Committee, not merely to consider the principle of them, but to pass them has been made before. I had the advantage of a communication with my right hon. friend the Chairman of Ways and Means in the other House, before his extremely regrettable illness, and I have also been in communication with the Board of Trade on the subject, and though there is a good deal to be said in favour of that course, it is one almost without precedent. In fact there are only two precedents—the Irish Amalgamation Bills and a certain Bill relating to Dublin; but those Bills had been the subject of a very acute Parliamentary fight in the previous session, and there were other circumstances connected with them which took them out of the ordinary category. I do not think that in the present circumstances it is desirable to adopt that course, and I am rather inclined to think that the ordinary method of procedure has a very considerable advantage in this particular case over the Joint Committee, The advantage is this, that a second hearing may be required to put right any oversight that may occur in the first House. I admit that it is extremely difficult to know how to group these Bills. It would undoubtedly be well to place them under a single Committee, but I am afraid that to do that would be to place a great tax on the noble Lords who would sit on that Committee; and, moreover, the proceedings would last such a considerable time that the prospect of passing the Bills in the present session might be jeopardized. I am endeavouring, in conjunction with the President of the Board of Trade and the officials there, to devise some means by which these Bills could be grouped and dealt with as far as possible by two or more Committees, who would, of course, be guided to a large extent in general principles by the valuable Report of the Joint Committee of last year.

With regard to the recommendations in that Report, there are only three to which I think I need draw the attention of the House. In the sixth paragraph the Committee strongly recommend that the County Council and the City Corporation should be granted a locus standi in all cases of extension of time. There seems to have been some difficulty with this matter, and I venture to think this a valuable suggestion. Rules with regard to locus standi in this House are very elastic, and are dealt with by the Committee before whom the Bill is being discussed. I feel perfectly certain that, after this suggestion, the Committee will liberally interpret any precedents governing the giving of a locus standi to the County Councils of London and the adjoining counties into which the railways may extend, not merely with regard to an extension of time in the case of existing railways, but with regard to lines of route generally. The second clause I wish to draw attention to is clause 19, in which the Committee recommend—and I have great sympathy with the recommendation—that there should be some central body to control the general scheme for these different lines of railway. They suggest a public Department such as the Board of Trade, or the Light Railway Commissioners, or a Joint Committee of both Houses; but I think I am right in assuming that Parliament would be very jealous indeed of giving up any powers which it possesses over these railways, and would prefer to retain the control of them and the scheme regulating them.

In Clause 20 the Committee suggest that, having regard to the inflation of capital and other matters, power should be given to the City Corporation and the County Council, as in the case of light railways, to construct, or to assist in constructing, these tube railways. I am not going to argue whether or not it is desirable to give this power, but I do not hesitate to say that personally I think it is of very doubtful expediency. It is an entirely new departure in the principles of municipal government, these tubes being absolutely different from light railways and tramways, which are comparatively small matters. They do not affect the surface of the streets in which the local authorities are directly and especially interested, and are schemes of enormous cost. But this is the suggestion of the Joint Committee. The point has never been discussed by the House, and I doubt if many of your Lordships are aware that it has been introduced into this Report. I am placed in this difficulty that in consequence of this paragraph, clauses have been introduced in many of the Bills this year giving the County Councils power to advance money for the purpose for which the Joint Committee recommend. It seems to me that that power should not be given unless Parliament has deliberately, after full discussion, come to the conclusion that it ought to be given. I do not think it would be right to sanction so large a development of the power of municipalities by a clause in a private Act. I gather that the House will support me in what I propose to do on this occasion. I propose to strike that Clause out of every Bill in which it occurs before it goes to a Committee. I do so—and I wish it to be distinctly understood—not because it is my duty to express any opinion upon the policy of such a course, but because I think the principle ought not to be adopted without the distinct and deliberate assent of Parliament. For the reasons I have given in the earlier part of my speech, I do not favour the proposal of my noble friend to re-appoint this Joint Committee. At the same time, I wish to acknowledge most heartily the services which the Committee have rendered. They sat for a great number of days, took some very valuable evidence, and their Report is a most useful document, and will be of immense value in enabling the Committees, to which these Bills will eventually be referred, to come to a wise conclusion.


My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee which sat last year, and whose services the noble Earl, the Chairman of Committees, has so pleasantly referred to in the course of his very clear statement, I would remind the House that the recommendation that County Councils should be empowered to advance money for these tubes, was carried in that Committee by a majority of one only. I think my noble friend has come to a wise decision in resolving to cut out this Clause from the Bills before the House this year. I oppose the Motion to re-appoint the Joint Committee, on the ground that they would be asked to do exactly what they did last year. Moreover, if the Motion is carried, all these Bills will be suspended again, and great expense will be unjustly thrown on the promoters, who had every reason to believe that their Bills would be properly discussed this year, and either passed or rejected. In the interests, also, of the working classes, to whom these tube railways will be of the greatest advantage, I hope the Motion will not be carried. Paragraph 1 of the Motion is almost exactly the same in terms as the reference to the Joint Committee of last year, and upon which we took evidence and reported very fully. General principles were distinctly laid down to guide the Private Bill Committees upon these tube Bills, and no more could be done by a re-appointed Joint Committee. The third paragraph in the Motion raises important engineering questions, and to properly inquire into and report upon them, it would be necessary for the Committee to sit, not for one session, but for several sessions. The questions, moreover, are more suitable to a Royal Commission, with expert engineers upon it, than to a Joint Committee of this description.


My Lords, I feel I ought to say a few words on the important discussion which has just taken place. In the first place I wish to thank the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees for the very clear and able statement he has made on this subject, which is one of very great importance to the Metropolis. I entirely share the views he has expressed with regard to the Motion of the noble Lord opposite. As far as I understand from the observations of the noble Earl and the noble Lord who sat on this Committee last year, nearly all the points in the Motion before the House was fully discussed, and it would therefore be a great waste of time to go over the ground again. It would be a very serious thing if the enormous amount of capital involved in these schemes were to be hung up for another year. I would urge on the noble Earl the importance of these schemes for tube railways being regulated, if possible, by one body. I quite admit that it would take a considerable time if all these numerous schemes had to be submitted to one Committee, but I think we ought to ask that Committee, in the interests of the Metropolis, to undertake a greater duty than falls to most Committees of your Lordships' House in order to secure a systematic scheme with regard to these railways. I fully admit that the arguments of the noble Earl as to the importance of two Committees, one in each House, the second Committee to overhaul the work of the first and to remedy any mistakes or omissions, cannot be overlooked. With regard to the recommendations of the Committee, I believe your Lordship will support the noble Earl in the decision he has come to with regard to the third and probably the most important recommendation. In my opinion the principle should be fully discussed in Parliament before local authorities are given power to contribute to these gigantic schemes. I do not know what may be said about it when the point is thrashed out, but I think the House will support the noble Earl in what I consider to be the wise decision to which he has arrived. I hope the noble Lord will not press for the re-appointment of the Joint Committee, and that the Chairman of Committees will take care that all these schemes are referred, if possible, to one Committee, or, if that is impossible, that some uniform principle is laid down for the guidance of the Committees who will have to deal with this exceedingly important subject.


In withdrawing my Motion, which has not met with a too warm reception, I think it well that the public should be warned of the heavy price which one of these days it will have to pay for these undertakings being acquired by any public authority, if they are permitted to spring up indiscriminately all over the Metropolis.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

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