HC Deb 04 February 1841 vol 56 cc261-9

On the motion of Mr. H. Hinde, the Standing Order, Number 32, relating to Railways, was read as follows:— That all subscription contracts shall contain the Christian and surnames, description, and place of abode, of every subscriber, his signature to the amount of his subscription, with the amount which he has paid up; and the name of the party witnessing such signature, and the date of the same respectively; and that it be proved to the satisfaction of the committee on petitions, that a sum equal lo one-tenth part of the amount subscribed has been deposited with the Court of Exchequer in England, if the work is intended to be done in England, or with the Court of Exchequer either in England or Scotland if such work is intended to be done in Scotland, and with the Court of Chancery in Ireland if such work is intended to be done in Ireland; and that not less than three-fourths in number of the subscribers shall have paid up their shares of such deposit.

The hon. Member then moved, "that the said Standing Order be amended, by leaving out the words 'one tenth,' and inserting the words 'one-twentieth.' He would net detain the House by entering into arguments at any length in support of his motion; but he would merely mention a few facts bearing upon the subject. The House was aware that, previous to the year 1830, of the bills that were passed for making railways, a considerable number was confined chiefly to the purposes of local communication; but after the opening of the railway between Liverpool and Manchester, a great impetus was given to speculations of that nature, and in the following years several bills were introduced into the House to enable capitalists to open railways. In the year 1832 four bills were passed for that purpose, and in the year 1834 five bills were passed for a similar purpose. In the year 1835, twenty-four railway bills passed through that House, including the great lines from London to Birmingham, the Grand Junction, the North Union, and the London and Southampton. In 1836, the num- ber of applications was very large, and the attention of Parliament was particularly directed to the subject in consequence of the Standing Orders having been evaded, and, in fact, proof was laid before the House that evasions had been practised to enable parties to dispense with the Standing Orders. In 1837, the number of Railway Acts was fifteen. He admitted that many of the schemes in these three years, particularly in 1836, were not worthy of the support of Parliament, and were not brought under the consideration of the House in such a way as would enable them to be proceeded with. Out of the large number brought forward, forty-four did pass the House of Commons, and although there was no particular protection, there was not a single one of them which could be called a bubble company, and in proof of it he could state, that of the forty-four, twenty-one were at the present period actually finished, ten were partially opened, nine were in progress, and four not commenced. Two of these four were Irish railways, and of the peculiar circumstances connected with railways in that country, it was unnecessary for him to say any thing. Of the other two, the Deptford pier and railway had never been commenced, and the other, the Thames Haven railway, could not be commenced in consequence of the delay in advancing the Eastern Counties Railway. In August 1836, a Standing Order passed the House, requiring that a longer notice should be given than heretofore, and in July the following year the Standing Order was passed, requiring a deposit of ten per cent, and both these came into operation in 1838. After the passing of these two Standing Orders, there was a remarkable decrease in the number of bills presented to that House. In 1838, only two Acts of Parliament for new railways were passed, in 1839 only one, and in 1840, not a single Act for a new line passed the House. Surely, that looked like putting a stop to them altogether, and it would appear, that in taking steps to prevent fraudulent schemes, they had prevented the carrying on of wholesome plans. Among the bills passed within the last three years, the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway bill had been before Parliament the previous year, and therefore the Standing Orders did not apply to it, and another, the West Derby, had previously been in progress of formation, and that also was exempted. The only bill, therefore, which could be termed one for a totally new line was one for a short line in Devonshire, near Torbay, which was not quite three miles in length, so that, in point of fact, only one bill had passed since the Standing Order to which his motion referred. He did not mean to object to the long notices, although he had, in common with many others, objections to them, but he referred particularly to the order which required the deposit of ten per cent. He did not believe, that the Standing Orders relative to the notices had had the effect of preventing these being given, because, in point of fact, in 1838 there had been thirty-five such notices given, in 1839, twenty-nine, and in 1840, thirty, shewing that these notices had not been much decreased. It might be urged, and not without reason, that the state of the money-market had been one of the great causes of the small number of railway bills brought forward, and no doubt that had operated to a certain extent; but he would remind hon. Members that although British capital had not been invested to a large amount in railways at home, yet large sums had been invested by British capitalists in railways in Germany and France, and particularly that one between Havre and Paris, besides many speculations in the United States. Having disposed of the reasons why so small a number of railway bills had been brought before the House within the last three years, it only remained for him now to meet the objections of hon. Members, who thought it of little importance whether railways should continue to progress or not, and on them he would urge the strong argument that British capital was being absorbed in these undertakings in foreign countries. Some time ago it might have been a question whether every large town should have a connection by railway with the metropolis; but from what had occurred of late years, that was a point on which there could be now little doubt. He would take an instance with which he was familiar—namely, the Great North Road. It was true there was a railway from London to York, but instead of being a benefit to the large towns in a direct line it was the reverse, because in many instances it deviated thirty miles from the direct line. A great number of persons were employed upon these railways, but this employment, far from being a boon to the labouring population, would be a curse if it were to be suddenly withdrawn. Look at the operation of railways at this moment. During the last year, from February 1840 to February 1841, about 600 miles of new railway had been opened in the kingdom. On these 600 miles far more than a moiety of the excavators throughout the kingdom had been employed. It might be asked if he had the means of showing the number now out of employment, and he confessed that he had not. The works, especially the embankments, had been subject to so much dilapidation, from the state of the weather, and from the railways having been opened with undue speed, that on many lines the same number of labourers were employed in repairing them, as had been employed during their formation. But as spring advanced, these would be thrown out of employment, for though there were many railways in progress, with the exception of the Great Western and another, he knew of none that were going on with spirit. These were the chief causes he had to advance in favour of a modification of the Standing Order; but he would point out another inconvenience—namely, the formation of railways without the sanction of Parliament. If persons found generally they could more easily make a bargain with the landowners than by submitting to the restrictions laid upon them by Parliament, depend upon it that plan would be acted on, which would save the expense of an application to Parliament, and would enable the patties to give greater sums to the landowners. These railways were not subject to the Act of last Session, for the Standing Orders, related only to those formed under the sanction of Parliament. He would only further state, that if the House agreed to the proposition he had had the honour to make, they would only place the Standing Older in that House on the same footing as that of the House of Lords. When these new Standing Orders relating to railways were passed, a communication was made to the other House, under the auspices of a noble Lord, then at the head of the Board of Trade, to assimilate the Standing Orders of the two Houses, and he believed there was no other difference between the Houses than that the House of Commons proposed a deposit of ten per cent., and the House of Lords thought this too much, and would assent only to a deposit of live per cent. He thanked the House for the attention they had paid to his statement, and submitted his motion for their decision.

Mr. Labouchere

said, that although he was certainly prepared to offer every opposition in his power to the motion made by the hon. Gentleman—the hon. Gentleman was quite right in assuming that he did not rest opposition on any wish to discourage the progress of railways in this country, provided they were real and bonâ fide undertakings. He was as much convinced as any man could be that it was his duty to give every encouragement to the development of the railway system, but he was well convinced that the only way by which they could guard against a practical monopoly on the part of the lines already existing would be by lines more or less parallel, and constructed in such a manner as to offer some competition for the benefit of the public. He trusted, therefore, the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied that if he felt it his duty to oppose the motion, he did not do so from any desire to interfere with the progress of the railway system. But he really was at a loss to conceive how it could be believed that any railway undertaking could be carried on, so as to afford a fair and reasonable prospect of remuneration to the subscribers if there were a difficulty in obtaining a deposit of ten per cent on the sum required. It appeared to him, that if there were a difficulty in obtaining a deposit of ten per cent, as a subscriber, he should think he had little chance of obtaining the remaining 90 per cent. This subject had often been before the House. The principle had been considered by two Committees of the House of Commons, who had decided against it, in consequence of those disgraceful gambling transactions which, under the name of railway speculations, had imposed upon the country. It would, indeed, be with great concern that he should see the House relax their rule, which had had the most satisfactory effect in arresting the progress of schemes which were set up for no bonâ fide object, but only to induce inexperienced capitalists to purchase shares and give the advantage of temporary rises in price to the first speculators. The House of Lords had adopted a different principle, and the consequence was, that bills were introduced in that House which subsequently became abandoned, after much loss and inconvenience to parties who were misled by the projectors. To him it appeared impossible that any parties of character and substance could find any difficulty in obtaining a deposit of so small an amount. But the hon. Gentleman said, that the effect of the restriction was lo arrest the progress of railroads in this country, and to send capital abroad to be invested in railway speculations in foreign countries. Now, he thought he found a complete answer to that statement, upon examining the notices of private bills, upon which he found in this Session already fifty-eight notices of plans for new railways. He thought therefore, there need be no apprehension, that parties who had projects calculated to be beneficial to themselves and the public would rind any difficulty in making the deposit required by the present regulation. And he should feel very sorry if the House should alter the determination to which it came after so much deliberation.

Mr. Warburton

was so far from thinking the existing regulation requiring the deposit of ten per cent., at all excessive, he was convinced that in all bonâ fide schemes no difficulty could be found in conforming to it. Until that was enacted men of straw came before the public with ephemeral and good for nothing speculations, by which people were induced to invest their savings in projects that could never be attended with the least advantage to them or to the public. The hon. Gentleman read an extract from the Committee of the House, appointed in 1837, to the effect, that the only means of checking delusive schemes, was to require that all parties petitioning for a bill should be required to make a deposit. But that Committee had no intention to specify a particular amount of deposit, and he thought that the subsequent Committee very properly fixed the sum at its present amount. With respect to the hon. Member's statement that the effect of the regulation was to reduce the number of railway speculations, the hon. Gentleman had himself given the answer when he said that the state of the money market in the last three years had operated to the discouragement of those schemes. Yet, no less than sixty-eight bills had passed since the enactment of the present Standing Order, and 55,000,000l. of capital had been invested in carrying them into effect. He had had opportunities of inquiring into the merits of the case, and he was satisfied that the existing regulation was the best that could be devised.

Mr. Brotherton

had been a member of the Committee of which his hon. Friend, the Member for Bridport, was the chairman; and, knowing the number of bubble schemes which were brought forward, he thought the present rule ought not to be relaxed. He wished to state a fact which he thought of considerable importance. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company, a year or two ago, obtained an Act for a railway to pass through the borough which he had the honour to represent, and they had contrived to introduce a clause leaving it optional to them whether they should complete the railway or not. The consequences were, that parties who had received notice that the railway would pass through their property were completely tied up from disposing of their land in any way—and the company had the sole power of determining whether the property should be required at any time for the purpose of the railways. He did think that Parliament should take every precaution for having their works vigilantly and vigorously carried into effect.

Mr. O'Connell

wished to say a few words on the subject. It seemed to him that the regulation, as it stood at present, was, like many others, highly favourable to the rich, and to great capitalists, and that it went to increase the influence of those who were already possessed of enormous wealth, while it acted injuriously as regarded the smaller capitalist. It had that effect in the country from which he came, where there was but little capital. They felt severely in that country the pressure of the present regulation, and he therefore believed it to be his duty to protest against it. All railways were now a monopoly, and he thought it would be better, in that instance, to relax the rule, as proposed by the hon. Member.

Viscount Howick

said, that the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down, instead of considering the regulation as it now existed as favourable to large capitalists, ought in his opinion to consider it as likely to operate in an exactly opposite way. Before the regulation had been introduced a great injustice was frequently done to parties having small properties in counties through which it was proposed railways should pass. Schemes for the commencement of railways were brought forward, and which, as they were never carried into effect had no other result than to put resident landlords to the expense of needless litigation. He thought it was the interest of small proprietors, that a check should be put upon those who entered into deceptive schemes, by insisting rigidly on the rule as it now existed. He was persuaded that all Gentlemen connected with landed properly would do well to pause before they countenanced the resolution of the hon. Member. He was not hostile to that particular line of railway, in favour of which it was supposed the hon. Member had made his motion. He was so far from that that he could assure the hon. Member, that no one could be more anxious than he was to see a line of railway carried through that county which he himself had the honour to represent. But he felt that whenever a good line could be made out, the regulation they were now discussing would not offer the slightest difficulty in the way of its being carried into effect. On those grounds he would undoubtedly give his opposition to the motion of the hon. Member.

The Attorney-General

thought, that they ought to modify the order as it now existed. He did not think that a large percentage should be required before a bill was brought into Parliament. That was the hardship of which he complained, and of which those who were favourable to the line of railway, referred to by the noble Lord, must bitterly complain. The modification which he wished for, was, that they should require a deposit of ten per cent., not before the bill was introduced into the House, but before the works were begun. That was the principle which had been acted on in the case of the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway, and which had been attended with complete success. It would, he thought, be quite sufficient that they should have a certificate from a public functionary before a spade was put in the ground. In that case they would be sure to have a bona fide undertaking that would sufficiently protect the landed interest, and which would not at the same time discourage those useful works.

Mr. Freshfield

could not see the benefit of changing the present law. If the undertakings were of a bona fide and reasonable character, there was no fear but capital would be employed on them in this country rather than abroad. The Attorney-general said that a ten per centage paid before a spade was put in the ground would offer sufficient protection to the public. He was persuaded, on the contrary, that such regulation would tend to encourage improper speculation, to dealing in shares, to the injury of the public.

Mr. Hodgson Hinde,

in reply said, that almost all who had addressed the House were against rescinding the Standing Order. The noble Lord had said, that he considered the standing order as beneficial to the landed interest. Now, he considered, that if there was one standing order more injurious lo the landed interest than another, it was this very order requiring a deposit of ten per cent., for many railroad schemes, after having been brought lo a certain degree of maturity, were not brought under the consideration of Parliament, on account of the inability of the parties to make the deposit required; but these schemes were not on that account abandoned; they were merely postponed to another Session, and thus these schemes were kept hanging over the heads of the land-owners on the proposed line from year to year, in consequence of this standing order, without the decision of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that there were fifty-eight notices for railway bills this Session; now it was not by the number of notices given that they could judge of the effects of the standing order, but by the number of bills brought in, and he would venture to assert, that not more than half a dozen bills would be brought in of all the fifty-eight notices. He felt the sense of the House was against him, but he was desirous of recording his vote, because at another time, when the number of railway labourers thrown out of employment would be considerable, he thought the House would be glad to rescind this Order.

The House divided on the question, "That the words one-tenth" stand part of the said Standing Order: Ayes 144; Noes 15:—Majority 129.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Baines, E.
Ainsworth, P. Baldwin, C. B.
Arbuthnott, H. H. Baring, H. B.
Bailey, J. jun. Basset, J.
Bentinck, Lord G. Hogg, J. W.
Bewes, T. Hope, hon. C.
Blair, J. Horsman, E.
Blake, W. J. Howick, Visct.
Bolling, W. Hughes, W. B.
Botfield, B. Hurt, F.
Bradshaw, J. Hutt, W.
Bridgeman, H. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Broadley, H. Irton, S.
Brocklehurst, J. Jackson, Mr. Serjeant
Brodie, W. B. James, W.
Brotherton, J. Kelly, F.
Brownrigg, S. Knatchbull, right hon. Sir E.
Bruges, W. H. L.
Buck, L. W. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Litton, E.
Bulwer, Sir L. Loch, J.
Busfeild, W. Lockhart, A. M.
Canning, rt. hn. Sir S. Lowther, J. H.
Carew, hon. R. S. Lucas, E.
Chichester, Sir B. Lushington, C.
Childers, J. W. Lushington, rt. hn. S.
Chute, W. L. W. Lygon, hon. General
Clements, Visct. Mackenzie, T.
Clerk, Sir G. Mackenzie, W. F.
Clive, E. B. Maclean, D.
Clive, hon. R. H. M'Taggart, J.
Cochrane, Sir T. J. Mahon, Viscount
Colquhoun, J. C. Maule, hon. F.
Coote, Sir C. H. Meynell, Captain
Corbally, M. E. Mordaunt, Sir J.
Crawford, W. Muntz, G. F.
Darby, G. Oswald, J.
D'Eyncourt, rt. hon. C. T. Pakington, J. S.
Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.
Divett, K. Patten, J. W.
Donkin, Sir R. S. Pattison, J.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Perceval, Colonel
Duncombe, T. Philips, M.
Duncombe, hon. W. Philpotts, J.
Duncombe, hon. A. Plumptre, J. P.
Easthope, J. Powell, Col.
Egerton, W. T. Praed, W. T.
Ellice, Capt. A. Pringle, A.
Ellice, rt. hon. E. Pryme, G.
Estcourt, T. Rawdon, Col. J. D.
Ewart, W. Richards, R.
Fitzalan, Lord Rushbrooke, Colonel
Fort, J. Russell, Lord J.
Fremantle, Sir T. Salwey, Colonel
French, Fitzstephen Sanford, E. A.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Seymour, Lord
Gladstone, W. E. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Gladstone, J. N. Shirley, E. J.
Glynne, Sir S. R. Smith, R. V.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Somerset, Lord G.
Goulburn, rt. hon. H. Stanley, Lord
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Grant, Sir A. C. Stuart, W. V.
Greene, T. Strickland, Sir G.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Strutt, E.
Hale, R. B. Style, Sir C.
Hardinge, rt. hn. Sir H. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Harland, W. C. Walker, R.
Hill, Lord A, M. C. Wallace, R.
Hill, Sir R. White, A.
Hobhouse, rt. hn. Sir J. White, H.
White, S.
Wilmot, Sir J. E. TELLERS.
Wood, B. Freshfield, J. W.
Wrightson, W. B. Warburton, H.
List of the NOES.
Bagge, W. Ingham, R.
Barnard, E. G. O'Connell, Dan.
Campbell, Sir J. Power, J.
Dennistoun, J. Redington, T. N.
Ellice, E. Stanley, hon. W. O.
Euston, Earl of Stock, Dr
Feilden, W. TELLERS.
Ferguson, Colonel Hinde, H.
Hodgson, R. Jervis, J.
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