§ Lord Wharncliffe
had to present a petition on a subject which not merely concerned the agricultural interest, but which affected also those persons who resided in towns and cities. The petition related to the formation of railroads. Their Lordships must be aware that many bills for the formation of railroads had been introduced into Parliament, and the public attention had been strongly directed to this subject. The tenour of the petition which he rose to present was, that, inasmuch as railroads were projected in various parts of the country, it was important that they should be confined, as much as possible, to the line of the existing turn pike-roads. He did not approve of that principle, but he would suggest to noble Lords in his Majesty's Government that when a railroad bill came into that House, some inquiry should take place prior to its being read a second time, as to the line on which it was adviseable that such rail road should proceed. There were at present between Brighton and London no less than three projected lines of railway. Now, he apprehended that no man in his senses could suppose that more than one railroad was necessary between Brighton and London. According to the newspapers, however, the shares in all these undertakings were at a premium. This was a most extraordinary fact. He had himself considerable experience on this subject, having sedulously attended a Committee which sat for a long time to investigate the circumstances connected with a rail-road of very great importance. They had heard evidence for many days with reference to that railroad—evidence in many instances of a directly contradictory nature. Knowing, therefore, the difficulties by which the subject was surrounded, he would suggest to his noble Friend opposite, that a Committee should be appointed to ascertain, in the first instance, the best line that could be adopted for any given railroad; and which should take especial care that no proposition for a railroad should be countenanced if its projectors did not adopt the best possible line. He made these observations, be- 671 cause he felt that it was Government alone that could with propriety take up this important subject.
The Marquess of Londonderry
wished to say a very few words on this question, as he was connected with a county in which those railroads had grown up in a most extraordinary manner. He alluded to the county of Durham. Five or six years ago, application was made on this subject to Parliament, and one individual particularly exerted himself on the occasion. He succeeded in his attempt to carry a railroad bill. Two or three years afterwards, some opposition having been given to his plan, he got up another railroad, parallel to that which he had first projected; and, strange to say, the same individual had again succeeded in forming a third railroad. Here, then, were three railroads running nearly parallel to each other. Of the first—the Stockton and Darlington railroad—he believed the profits were much overrated. The shares were perhaps at par. With respect to the second, it was entirely bankrupt—and Government would find it necessary to take possession of it. As to the third, he believed that it would never pay. Such was the situation of three railroads projected in the county of Durham. Was it possible, he would ask, that these railroads were projected for the public service, when they had turned out such miserable speculations as he had described? No—they were got up merely that certain joint-stock companies might reap advantage. The consequence of this system was, that the estates of gentlemen were rode over in every direction. It was now proposed to create a great northern railway to Edinburgh, which should pass through the county of Durham. This might be very desirable, as the bill for forming a great Western Railroad had passed; and he should be inclined, indeed he should be most anxious, to support it, as beneficial to the county of Durham. But a certain party by whom the Stockton and Darlington railway had been projected, preponderated in the county; and that party, which was composed of Quakers, insisted that the Northern railroad should come out near the Darlington and Stockton railroad, by which they would be enabled to give, for a profitable consideration, a portion of their railroad to the Great Northern railroad. The individual who represented a portion of Durham in another place (and 672 who was a member of that religious persuasion to which he had alluded) brought forward this plan, in order that a great part of the Darlington and Stockton railway might be available for the great Northern railway. Others, however, denied that such was the true line, and that the Great Northern railway should enter Durham in such a manner as to render available a great portion of the Clarence railway. Thus they had one party contending for the Darlington and Stockton line, and another for the Clarence line. Now, unless his Majesty's Government, seeing those difficulties, came forward with some general principle as to the formation of railways, the greatest mischief and confusion must follow. There was really, at the bottom of these railroad speculations, a strong desire to serve private speculating interests, but nothing whatever for the benefit of the public. That was entirely lost sight of. He thought much good would be effected, first, if the compulsory clause—obliging individuals to give up their property when experiments of this kind were made, whether they would or not, were to be omitted in future; and next, if it were enacted, that after a certain period, the capital and interest of money expended on such undertakings having been paid, the railways should revert to the public. This, in his opinion would check the rage for speculation.
§ The Marquess of Lansdowne
entirely agreed in the observations made by the noble Lord (Wharncliffe), both as to the importance of the subject, and as to the necessity of its being taken up by Government. He was of opinion, that when Bills of this description were introduced, some preliminary or some concurrent inquiry ought to be instituted—there ought to be placed before them the evidence of some impartial authority—before they were allowed to proceed. He undoubtedly felt very strongly the necessity of taking this course, because this was not a case of individual interest merely, but one so general and extensive in its operation, that the Government of the country was bound to notice it. The immense magnitude of the capital required for these projects, and the various and important consequences, connected with them, which affected every branch of industry throughout the country, called for the most serious consideration. This would appear at once, when, he stated to their Lordships, that even at the 673 present moment there were applications before the other House of Parliament, for carrying into execution projects for railways, which involved the expenditure of little short of 40,000,00l. of money; certainly between 35,000,000l. and 40,000,000l. Entertaining this opinion, which, he believed, was supported by the concurrent opinion of their Lordships, he was happy to state, that this very day a proposition would be made in another place, having for its object to refer the consideration of the subject to a Committee. That Committee, after receiving proper information, would report their opinion to Parliament on the important subjects that would be referred to them, and the public would thus have a certain security that nothing would be recommended but that which, upon examination, appeared to be intrinsically good. Petition laid on the Table.