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the public some security that the works will be duly carried out as proposed. Now if this system has not been found to work well, why not modify it? If the amount required to be paid up is too small, why not increase it? If the time allowed for the completion of the scheme be too long, why not shorten it? If a company should by some extraordinary chance be found unable to complete a good line, there would be no difficulty in finding another company (if the speculation promised to be a fair one) which would step in and accomplish it.
And, as I have before observed, a fine might be imposed in case of the line not being completed.
Looking at the enormous railway system which is now growing up around us, I do feel most strongly the necessity of imposing these reasonable restrictions on railway companies which I am now submitting to the consideration of this House. If nothing be done, I fear we are about to create a power most needing control, but on which we shall be able to exercise none. I have already described the mode in which it appears to me certain that railways will supersede all other means of conveyance. Over the old methods of conveyance our authority by Acts of Parliament was complete, besides that we had the not less important safeguard of an effective competition; whilst this new and all-absorbing mode of transport, is at present, without practical limit or control, either by Act of Parliament or by competition.
We have for many years been struggling against monopolies ; long before I had a seat in this House, the question of monopoly has proved a subject of keen discussion, of powerful attack. And we now all of us seem agreed that monopolies ought not to be allowed to increase, so plainly have the mischiefs they produce been made manifest to us all, so completely has their impolicy been exposed. Yet what is this House now doing? While combating old monopolies, you have reared up a new monopoly; one more formidable, more extensive in its ramifications, and more injurious than any which preceded it.
I know, Sir, it has been said, and by great authority, that we may rely without fear upon competition, and on the rivalry naturally existing between companies possessing lines running in the same general direction. But experience, as well as reason, shows that to rely in this case wholly upon competition would be a fatal mistake. No matter how inveterate the apparent hostility of contending companies; no matter how fiercely they may fight before committees, or in this House, still where there exists a common interest, there will soon be found a common understanding, and that understanding will, of course, regard the interests not of the public but of the parties more immediately concerned. Their own gain is, of course, the great object of railway projectors, and the consequences likely to arise to the public and the country, from their being allowed to carry out unchecked all their plans, to establish without hinderance the whole fabric of their power, are such as make it matter of paramount necessity, immediately
to institute some means of wholesome restraint upon what will otherwise prove a potent instrument of evil. I therefore, Sir, beg leave to move,—
1. "That it is the duty of Parliament, in giving its sanction to the establishment of new railways, to render them the means of affording to the public the best and safest communication, and the greatest possible amount of accommodation at the lowest possible
2 "That the clauses heretofore introduced into railway bills to limit the amount of tolls to be demanded for the use of the railway having proved practically inoperative, it is expedient to make more effectual provision against the undue enhancement of the cost of travelling and transportation in every future railway bill, by fixing the highest rates which the railway company shall be allowed to charge for the conveyance of passengers and goods.
3. "That for these purposes every committee on a railway bill introduced in the present or any future session of Parliament, shall report a table of fees and charges, the lowest which they shall judge to be consistent, under the circumstances of each case, with a fair and reasonable return for the capital to be invested.
4, "And that every committee to which two or more competing projects for new railways may be referred, shall require the promoters of each to put in statements as to the rates of charge for the conveyance of passengers and goods to which they are content to be limited, and the amount of accommodation which they will bind themselves to provide for the public at those rates; and that, in determining on the comparative merits of competing schemes, regard shall be had to the extent and nature of the advantages which can be thus reserved to the public from each."
The Speech of James Morrison Esq., M.P., on moving for the appointment of a Select Committee" to inquire whether, without discouraging legitimate Enterprise, Conditions may not be embodied in Railway Acts better fitted than those hitherto inserted in them to promote and secure the Interests of the Public," in the House of Commons, Thursday, March 19, 1846.
Mr. MORRISON, in bringing forward the motion of which he had given notice, respecting railways, said that as he found there was to be no opposition offered to the proposition, he should probably best consult the wishes of the house by not entering upon the subject at such length as he might otherwise have been in
duced to do. At the same time he trusted he might be permitted to occupy a few moments in stating generally what were the leading objects of his motion. He considered that the experience of the last year, not only in England, but the other countries of Europe, had been most important, as it had shown that the developement of traffic had gone on in a way not to have been anticipated by the most sanguine; and he proposed to show, by the committee he was about to move for, that the system of cheap fares had everywhere been most advantageous and profitable, and that in almost every case the companies which had tried the experiment had not been injured but benefited by that system. He also proposed to inquire to what extent it was practicable, by some general regulations, to relieve the railway committees from the weight of business with which they were at present oppressed, Lastly, he proposed to bring before the committee the important subject of the granting of leases of lines, instead of concessions in perpetuity. The railway system had been so recently introduced, and had extended itself with such rapidity, that there had been little time to give to the whole subject a calm consideration; but in the course of the past year it had been found, not only in this country but in others-in Belgium, France, and America— that there had been a remarkable increase of traffic, and, to a certain degree, a uniform increase. Our experience was yet inadequate to determine what the exact ratio of that increase was likely to be. That it must increase with the wealth and population of the country there could be no doubt; and to that must be added the progression or increase of business caused by the railways themselves; but looking to all the circumstances, the supposition might be risked that the traffic on the great lines between towns of large population would double itself in the next ten or fifteen years. Should such be the opinion of the house, it would probably think it necessary to reserve to itself the right of revising the fares at periods considerably under twenty years apart. One of the most important subjects which could engage the attention of the committee would be the effect of the reduction of fares, as proved wherever the system had been attempted, in increasing the traffic, and, in some, if not in most, cases, improving instead of diminishing the revenue. The scale of charges which would be found most productive might vary to some extent with the circumstances of each particular case; but it appeared evident to him that the scale most advantageous to all parties was much lower than anything hitherto attempted in this country. He believed that the rates charged in Belgium would at no distant time be thought quite sufficient here. It was known that on the lines recently adjudicated in France, the fares fixed for passengers had been, for the first, second, and third class respectively, 10, 71, and 5 centimes per kilometre, with an allowance of thirty kilogrames, or 66 lbs. of luggage to each person, these rates being somewhat proportionate to 12d., 14d., and 1d,, including the 10 per cent. additional tax to government. Now these lines were known to
stand at considerable premiums; and the Paris and Orleans Company, which was limited to the same rates, was highly prosperous, and its shares were at a very high premium indeed a success which he had never been able to account for on any other ground than the lowness of fares. Let it not be forgotten that France presented far fewer advantages than England in respect to railway enterprise. The population there was less per square mile than ours; the towns were neither so numerous nor so large; their manufactures were unimportant when compared to ours; and their foreign trade more limited; so that to supply the same number of people they were obliged to lay down a longer line of rail than we needed. Then, with respect to the conduct of railway business, he thought that hon. members would acknowledge that the attempt of last year had been a failure. Had he gone fully into the subject he might have endeavoured to show how strange and contradictory had been the different decisions arrived at by the committees, and how various had been the rates fixed for passengers and goods, ranging from a 1d. to 4d. per mile. In one instance he had been told that with respect to so important an article as coal, the difference of charge for carriage between one line supplying Manchester, and another line, was 250 per cent. If such disparity as this prevailed, it must be injurious; and surely much advantage would be derived from such great variations being hereafter corrected by some general regulation. With respect to the subject of leases, it was a matter which rather concerned the house and the country, than the railway companies, it would be for the house to consider whether the practice of granting leases for terminable periods, instead of in perpetuity, might not with great advantage be adopted in this country. Experience had shown that parties were quite willing to undertake the whole cost of constructing railways in France to be held for terminable periods. This was in fact mainly a matter of policy on the part of the State, Of course a sinking-fund would have to be provided out of the profits, in order to reimburse the original expenditure at the expiration of the lease. And that was no real hardship to companies. The whole transaction resembled a loan to the State, made on the principle of terminable annuities, by which the lender agreed to receive an annual payment for a term of years, instead of in perpetuity, and calculated the amount of this annual payment according to the length of the term. It therefore appeared to him that there could not be two opinions upon the subject, and that if it were practicable to get our new railroads undertaken upon this principle, it was most desirable that no time should be lost in adopting it. No one could pretend to estimate to what extent the railway system might be carried in twenty or thirty years, or what might be the effect of improvements in cheapening the cost of locomotion during that interval. But it was manifestly desirable that the State should, as early as possible, obtain the control of those lines of public communication. If we adopt this system of leases, which had been so successfully introduced into France, every
Railway Act that was passed would have the effect of a conversion of so much of our national debt into annuities terminable with the expiration of the leases, without the sacrifice of one shilling by the State. For as soon as the lease of a line expired, it would become the absolute property of the State, and might either be sold, and its value applied directly in reduction of the public debt; or worked or let for the benefit of the State, and the revenue derived from it applied in relief of the general taxation of the country. And it might safely be assumed that from the progressive increase of traffic and improvement in our railway science, the productiveness and value of almost every line would be far greater at the termination of the lease than at present. He would never advise the House to give up the principle of competition, for it was a very valuable one; but competition was not enough. In the case of the Bank of England it had been admitted that competition was not enough; and he thought the right honourable Baronet, if he would devote a little attention to the subject, would acknowledge that in the case of railways, as well as of banking, something more than competition was necessary. He had stated that the experience of the last year had been of infinite value as regarded railways. That of the next three years would be more so; and, indeed, the experience of every succeeding year would furnish additional evidence as to the extent to which the increase of traffic was likely to be carried. That there were the means of working railways in this country on terms more advantageous to the public than in France, could not be a matter of doubt, upon comparing the resources and relative amount of population of each. The honourable member illustrated this position by reading the following statistical details :—
"Population of France in 1842, 34,213,929; and dividing this sum by the area of 203,736 square miles, the population for each square mile is 167,932. The population per square mile in England is at present 297,698; and of Great Britain, 210,476. The trade and mercantile marine of France are quite inconsiderable compared with those of Britain. In 1844, the total customs revenue of France amounted to 215,825,704 francs, or 8,633,6281.; whereas the total customs revenue of the United Kingdom, during the same year, amounted to 24,107,3487. In 1844, the customs revenue of Liverpool amounted to 4,487,6647.; while the customs revenue of Marseilles, which has the largest trade of any town in France, amounted during the same year to only 36,688,000 francs, or 1,467,5201. And, with the exception of Havre, the customs revenue of which in 1844 amounted to 1,085,040, the customs revenue of no other town in France exceeds 500,000%. ; whereas in this country the customs revenue of the Clyde amounted in 1843 to 938,5147., that of Dublin to 977,890., that of Leith to 628,0087., and that of Hull to 525,4181. The proportion of the population living in towns in Britain is incomparably greater than in France. This is evident from comparing the present population of the ten principal towns in each.