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"The difference in the amount of shipping belonging to the principal English
and French ports is equally remarkable, thus :
Shipping exclusive of steamers belonging to the ten principal English ports in 1844.
Shipping exclusive of steamers belonging to the ten principal French ports in 1844.
"Total shipping belonging to ports in the United Kingdom :
"The total tonnage of France being very little more than that of the single port of London."
The honourable Member concluded by moving for
"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.
DRAFT OF REPORT.*
The Select Committee appointed 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, and who were empowered to report their observations and opinion thereupon from time to time to the House ;have considered the several matters to them referred, and have agreed to the following Report.
YOUR Committee have examined several witnesses, and received documentary evidence on the state of railways, and the legislation respecting them, in this and other countries; and have called for returns from the British Railway Companies illustrative of their past and present condition: they have also to regret that the delays experienced by them in obtaining various returns, on subjects connected with their inquiry, have not allowed them to present these observations at an earlier period.
It appears to your committee that, without discouraging legitimate enterprise, the railway legislation of this country may be materially improved by the adoption of a better system of control and supervision applicable to all railways at present existing, or to be constructed hereafter, and by changes in the course of procedure necessary to obtain railway Bills.
The line between public and private legislation has seldom been correctly drawn in this country. Individuals and associations have in all times been allowed to assume the exercise of powers which properly belong to the executive, without being subjected to due responsibility; and in a large class of Bills, private in name, but often affecting important public interests, the existing mode of procedure before the legislature supplies no adequate means for obtaining a knowledge of the real merits of measures to other parties than those who promote or oppose
* This draft of Report was, in some way, presented to the House as the Report of the Committee. I had myself left town; but, upon inquiry by a Special Committee it appeared that the clerk of the committee, Mr. Chalmers, had placed the document on the Bar where papers that are to be presented to the House are often deposited. How the paper became actually presented was never ascertained. Special Committee was, in the following session, appointed to inquire into "The circumstances under which "a certain document was printed by order of the House, 66 purporting to be the Report of the Select Committee appointed To inquire "whether, without discouraging legitimate enterprise, conditions may not be em"bodied in Railway Acts better fitted than those hitherto inserted in them to promote and secure, the interests of the public."
Which Committee reported:-
"That the irregularity of the proceeding appears to have arisen purely in "mistake."
them. Without entering on an inquiry into the relative advantages or disadvantages of such a state of things at different periods in the progress of a nation, your committee conceive that the time has arrived when it can no longer be continued with safety, and that a regard to the best interests of the community requires the adoption of a very different system. Among those public objects which hitherto have been the subject of legislation in private Bills must be included the means by which the communications between the different parts of a country are effected.
The roads of a country, from the very nature of things, are public concerns; they are as necessary to a people as the air they breathe. The very nature of society implies that men should have access to each other for the supply of their respective wants, whether they live in towns, or are scattered over the face of a country; and the common sense of mankind tells them that the roads and streets should be free from obstructiou. In this country from the remotest times, the title of the Sovereign, as representing the nation, to the control of its roads, has always been allowed. The designation of King's Highways, by which the public roads were known, sufficiently indicates the right which the Crown possessed and exercised over them. The practice of intrusting to associations locally interested the making and repairing of roads, with the power of levying tolls to repay the outlay required for that purpose, which first became general towards the middle of the last century, amounted merely to a delegation for a time by the legislature, on certains conditions, of a portion of the powers of Government to meet a public exigency, but never to a permanent transfer of them. The public have always possessed the right to control the trustees, and to withdraw from them the management of the highways included in their trusts; and there are repeated instances, in our own times, of the exercise of this right.
The period is not remote since an extensive parliamentary inquiry was instituted into the state of the turnpike trusts of the country, when the right of the nation to regulate and control the management of its highways was practically vindicated, and, among other results, a number of tollgates in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, felt as an inconvenience by its inhabitants, were ordered to be removed.
But of all the means of communication between different parts of a country, that by railways is by far the most important. If it be necessary for the public welfare that a country should never divest itself in perpetuity of its right of property in its ordinary highways, it is still more important that it should not part with the right to control its railways. On an ordinary road there could have been no monopoly of the means of conveyance; a man might travel by it all hours, and in any manner he pleased; but on a railway he can only travel at such times and under such arrangements as those who are entrusted with its direction may choose to adopt. If one coach on a road charged too much, travelled at too slow or too quick a rate, or failed in
other respects to give satisfaction, another might have been started; but on railways there is no option; the passenger must either submit to the regulations fixed by its directors, or abstain from using it. It has now been ascertained that the hope of relief from the objectionable course pursued on one railroad, by having recourse to a competing line, must in a great measure be abandoned. It is confidently stated by nearly all the witnesses examined by your committee that the public cannot count on being relieved by competition from the consequences of an abusive exercise of power on the part of railway companies. From the very nature of things, therefore, a railway company exercises a complete monopoly; but a monopoly subject to no responsibility and under no efficient check or control, is necessarily an intolerable abuse; and it can only be rendered innoxious by subjecting it to rigorous control and supervision.
But besides, as a railway is so superior to all other means of communication, that it must necessarily supersede them, and confers the greatest advantages on the localities through which it runs, it becomes of the greater consequence that the lines for railways should be wisely selected, and that railway companies should not be suffered, by an injudicious choice, to inflict injury either on the public in general or on the owners of property. That these objects were not at first sufficiently attended to in this country can hardly be a matter of surprise, when we reflect on the ignorance with respect to the nature of the change about to be effected by the new power thus brought into action, which then generally prevailed. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway, executed under the greatest discouragements, first demonstrated the possibility of realizing projects which, to the minds of most men, had before appeared chimerical. But even after the success of this experiment, the consequences to society which would result from the adoption of this new means of communication, were seldom correctly appreciated, even by men of the best understandings; and, under such circumstances, it is the less to be wondered at that extensive powers should have been given to railway companies, without the accompaniment of such safeguards as subsequent experience has proved to be necessary for the protection of the public. The foreign Governments which profited by our experiment, with one exception, were at first mislead by it into an imitation of our practice; but they soon became aware of the evils that might result to the public from parting in perpetuity with the uncontrolled property in them. Belgium, the configuration of a great part of which, namely, the Western, highly favours the construction of railroads, is the only country of which the Government from the first laid down a systematic plan respecting its railways, which it afterwards strictly adhered to; that plan embraced the whole kingdom, and it had exclusively for its object to communicate, at the cheapest possible rate, the benefit of railways equally to every part of the population. The lines in Belgium were till lately begun and completed by the government itself,
through the means of loans; and it was enabled to fix the fares at an exceedingly low rate. The original system has been so far departed from of late, that several lines of railway have been conceded to private companies, for terms of years, on conditions extremely advantageous to the public; but none of these roads are yet open to the public.
France did not proceed so systematically. The first railroads were constructed solely with a view to the conveyance of coals to the places where they were consumed. The success of the Liverpool and Manchester Line suggested the idea of conveying passengers, and the line from Paris to St. Germain was conceded to companies in 1835, the two roads of Versailles, and that from Montpellier to Cette, in 1836.* Other lines were undertaken by private companies, and some by the Government itself. But at length the inconvenience of numerous undertakings without order, without any common plan or general design, began to be felt, and the Government occupied itself seriously with the formation of a plan in which these means of communication should be created and connected with each other according to a system previously adopted. This system is explained at considerable length in the report of the commission charged with examining the Project de Loi, relating to the establishment of the great lines of railway, presented to the Chamber of Deputies on the 16th April, 1842. The first general rule was, that the great lines should all run from Paris in the direction of the frontiers by land and sea ; Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, the Mediterranean, Spain, the Ocean, and the Channel. In these directions, the points of Lille, Strasbourg, Lyons, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Nantes, were to be touched on. The next object, as France was not a vast plain, like Belgium and Prussia, was to select the directest and shortest lines, except where the height of mountains might render it advisable to turn them; and the plan of conceding the lines to private companies on leases was recommended. The law of 1842 is considered the basis of the French system.
In the speech of M. Dumon, in the Chamber of Deputies, on the 31st January, 1846, an account is given of the manner in which the views in the Act of 1842 have been carried into effect.
In 1842, there were voted 3,481 kilometres of railway. In 1844, the number of kilometres of railways to be constructed had increased to 4,250. Hitherto extensive assistance by the State had been granted; but the successful results of the lines to Orleans and Rouen led to offers by private companies to construct some lines at their own expense, and on these terms the Amiens, Boulogne, Montereau, and Troyes lines were conceded. In the session of 1845-6 additional lines were decided on, making a total of 4,998 kilometres, or about 3,100 English miles. Of the new lines, the Lyons and Lyons and Avignon, were conceded without any State assistance, and the lines of Tours and Nantes, and Strasbourg with assistance, but considerably less than was granted