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The Directors of Railways, and those who represent the Railway interest, both in and out of Parliament, have always maintained that no better mode could be devised of imparting to the community the advantages of the new and improved mode of communication than that which exists at present. The Railway interest has been, and still continues to be, very powerful in the legislature, and much of the active talent of the country has been enlisted in the service of Companies. While barristers and solicitors were reaping golden harvests,-while landowners, great and small, were availing themselves of the eagerness of Companies to proceed with their Lines, and holding threats of opposition over their heads, in order to extort inordinate prices for their land,-while members of Parliament were deeply involved in numerous Railway speculations,-it was difficult for an independent man to obtain a hearing. The Government of this country is, from its very nature, obliged to yield to those who are in possession of influence; and now that the legislature more than ever represents the active classes, it can less and less afford to have a distinct and independent determination. No minister of this country, can ever again possess the power of Mr. Pitt, though even he was obliged to enter on the war with France against his own opinions. But the barristers and solicitors have reaped their harvest, and the gleanings that remain are comparatively of little moment, the landowners have pocketed their prices, the Railway speculators in parliament though not fewer, are less formidable from the change in the public feeling; and we may therefore hope to find the legislature more accessible than it has been to views in
harmony with the public interests. A brighter day is beginning to dawn upon us. With these improved prospects, it may be supposed that the legislature will be more ready to second the adoption of any system which, without disturbing the powers granted to existing Companies, promises to work the country out of the difficulties in which it has been so improperly involved.
Hitherto, as I have shown, in all the proceedings before Parliament and Parliamentary Committees, the interests of rival Companies were alone considered. The floors of Parliament and Committee-rooms were the arena for battles between these parties, and the interests of the public received little, if any, consideration. Let us hope that, in this respect, the present parliament will be guided by sounder and more legitimate views of its duty than the last; and that in its determinations with regard to Railway affairs, the first consideration will be, not how particular Companies may be affected, but how the public interest will be most promoted.
Railway Companies, as I have shown, have been enabled to work the extensive mischief from which we have suffered so much, by the whole course of legislation having been directed to the extension of unrestricted monopoly over the country. If we wish to secure the country against a danger to which it may be again exposed, should an abundance of capital, and a low rate of interest return, with the prospect of high receipts from Railways, Parliament must at once interdict the practice of issuing new shares by the proprietors of existing Lines at par, to be divided among themselves, in order to realize premiums by their sale in the market. In all cases where additional Lines
are projected, and where new shares can be issued at a premium, such shares ought to be disposed of for the benefit of the original Lines. Some, arguing from the present state of the share market, may deem all precaution against this evil superfluous. But, though shares can never rise again to their former price, it is not so certain that they may not hereafter be again eagerly sought after. At all events, the legislature ought to set its face stoutly against this practice, and destroy the motive for embarking in unprofitable undertakings, with a view to sell premiums on the shares required for them, corresponding to the difference between the receipts on the old Lines and the usual returns for capital, whereby the common return for the whole of the connected Lines, both old and new, must ultimately be lowered, and Directors, instead of reducing the fares to keep pace with the improvements in the cost and working of Railways, will be driven, as the South Eastern, for example, to successive enhancements of their scale. It is impossible to over-estimate the mischief which has resulted from this practice. Were it abolished, Directors and existing proprietors would no longer be biassed by the temptation which has been found irresistible, of sacrificing for immediate gain the future interests of their Companies. To say that men who can pocket cent. per cent. premiums, and even more, by new issues, while they gain, perhaps, another cent. per cent. by being in the secret of an intended Amalgamation, are not under the influence of sinister interest, is to betray an utter ignorance of the motives by which mankind are usually governed.
Mr. Hudson, indeed, told the Railway Acts Enactments
Committee, that he had no personal interest whatever, in the purchases made by him, "not holding a single share in the Great North of England, at the time of its purchase, or in the Brandling Junction, or in the Durham Junction, or in the Stanhope and Tyne, or the Hull and Selby; that, in fact, in any Railway of which he had become the purchaser, he had no interest to the amount of sixpence, directly or indirectly, in any way whatever."
Far be it from me to question the purity of the right honourable gentleman. An Aristides may, no doubt, occasionally be found, even in these degenerate days. But it would be hazardous to calculate on many such instances of disinterestedness. We may, without being deemed uncharitable, assume, as a general proposition, that, where the shares of a Line, from the lowness of its receipts, are a drug in the market, those who are in the secret of an intended purchase by a rich Line, or an Amalgamation on the principle of guaranteeing to the holders of such unmarketable shares a high rate of dividend, are under the influence of an irresistible temptation to turn their secret to account. And even where a Chairman may scorn to avail himself of his peculiar sources of information; and, though knowing with certainty that the shares which are to-day purchaseable, say for £100,000, may be sold in a week's time for £200,000, or even £300,000, will allow, without a sigh, the enormous gain to be appropriated by others; yet, this paragon of selfdenial may have friends and dependents, who are not altogether indifferent to the means of becoming easily and
* Second Report Railway Acts Enactments, Minutes of Evidence, p. 253.
suddenly wealthy, and we know sufficiently well that the power to confer riches on others, is not altogether valueless. This much is certain, that enormous sums
gained, by parties who had the good fortune to be in possession of shares in unproductive Lines, at the time of their purchase, or Amalgamation, and that enormous sums were also gained by the proprietors of prosperous Lines, on every fresh issue of shares. And it is quite as certain, that if the legislature do not interfere, the same disreputable juggles will be repeated should opportunities
When the distrust caused by the mystery in which Railway affairs are now involved, has been removed by publicity and an audit by a public functionary, and when it is seen that Lines can continue to pay a suitable dividend from the revenue alone, without drawing on capital, it may be expected that the shares of such Lines, though they may never rise to their former extravagant prices, will, in most cases, be somewhat above par. Allowance too must be made for the growth of the traffic of the country; for, as has been justly observed by Mr. M'Culloch, “the fair presumption is, that the country will continue to increase in wealth and population, for an undefined period, with the same rapidity that she has increased since the close of the American war; and, if So, these rates (Railway) will in a few years yield a profit or interest far beyond any that was in the contemplation of the parties when the work was entered upon.'
It must be borne in mind that Railways are necessary to the community; and we may be certain, therefore, that * British Empire, 3rd Edit. vol. ii. p. 59.