HC Deb 04 March 1844 vol 73 cc516-30
Mr. Gladstone

rose to call the attention of the House to the following Report, agreed upon by the Select Committee on Railways:—

  1. "1. That in each case, where Bills are now pending, to authorise the construction of new Railways, competing with one another, such Bills be respectively referred to one Committee.
  2. "2. That the Committees for the consideration of such Bills be specially constituted.
  3. "3. That Bills now pending to authorise the construction of new lines of Railway, which will compete with existing Railways, be in like manner referred to Committees specially constituted.
  4. "4. That such Committees be composed of five Members to be nominated by the Committee of Selection, who shall sign a declaration that their constituents have no local interest, and that they themselves have no personal interest, in the Bill or Bills referred to them; and that they will not vote on any question which may arise without having duly heard and attended to the evidence relating thereto; and that three shall be a quorum.
  5. "5. That a Select Committee be appointed, to consider which of the pending Railway Bills shall be deemed competing Bills according to the foregoing resolutions.
  6. "6. That such Select Committee be composed of five Members, of whom three shall be a quorum, and that the Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records.
  7. "7. That such of the Standing Orders as relate to the composition of the Committees on Private Bills, and the orders consequent thereon, be suspended, so far as regards competing Railway Bills pending in the course of the present Session."
The right hon. Gentleman said he would in the first instance, call the attention of the House to a particular Railway Bill, which at present stood committed for Thursday: namely, the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway Bill, with respect to which the question might fairly be raised whether it ought not to be considered as a competing Railway with another line; and he should take the opportunity of proposing that the Committee on that Bill be deferred for a reasonable time unless the promoters of the Bill would take that step themselves in the event of the House adopting the Resolutions of the Committee. The Resolutions which he was about to propose, in conformity with the instruc- tions of the Committee of which he had the honour to be the Chairman, had been in the hands of hon. Members two or three days; and as they were not very long, he trusted hon. Members were fully aware of their nature. He did not know, that there was anything on the face of the Resolutions requiring any statement from him; but as there was some departure from the usual practice of the House with respect to the appointment of Committees on Private Bills, he wished to make a few observations. The Committee, on proceeding to examine that part of the subject which was referred to them, relating to the Standing Orders of the House, of course, had to take into their view that some of the questions requiring their investigation had been already raised in a special form by some of the Bills now before the House. The question, for instance, of competing Railways, was one which, although not raised on a very large scale by the Bills of the present Session, was raised in a very considerable number of instances, generally speaking, on short. Railways of secondary importance. The Committee, he believed, were unanimously of opinion that there were some considerations applicable to Railways which rendered it desirable to try whether some experiment should not be made, at all events, for the purpose of dealing with those Railway Bills. These considerations summed themselves up in this main position—that Railway Bills, although they are in respect to interference with private rights, and in respect to the accommodation they afford to particular districts and localities, of the nature of Private Bills—yet they do enter so directly and so closely into communication with other great lines that constitute the main arteries of the traffic of the kingdom, that they do partake virtually, and as to their end and policy to a considerable extent, of the nature of public Bills, that theme are many reasons why public interests should be largely represented in the Committees that have to deal with those Bills. At the same time, the House having adopted it as a principle, that its Committees on Private Bills should be composed in part of a very limited number of selected Members, and of Members more or less connected with local interests, he was very far from calling upon the House, in its present state of information, to depart from that principle; but be did, as the organ of the Committee on Railways, invite the House so far to depart from that principle as to constitute its Private Railway Bill Committees for the present Session on different principles from those which had hitherto obtained. Now, there were some considerations which presented themselves to the Committee, en which he thought he might say the Committee were unanimous it was quite obvious, and it was acknowledged by every Member of the Committee, that it would not do to allow all the Railway Bills in the present Session, whether competing Bills or not, to go forth in the usual course prescribed by the rules of this House. It was felt that it would be quite absurd in cases where it was proposed to make two railway form nearly the same terminus and for the accommodation of the same district and the same traffic—it was felt that it would be quite preposterous to allow these Bills to go before two different Railway Committees of the House. The first step was, that Bills competing with one another should be referred to the same Committee. And then came the question of the constitution of the Committee; and there was a case which he would now mention to the House—a case of two railways proposed to be made from the town of Ashton-under-Lyne to Staleybridge, both having for their object the accommodation of that town and its connection with the great manufacturing district of Manchester. One of those Railways proposed to join he Manchester and Sheffield Railway and the other the Manchester and Leeds Railway. The two Railways were intended to go through different counties, and although they started from the same town their termini in that town were in different counties. It so happened that the town was situated in two counties. Now, there was no rule of the House to determine to what list a Bill of that nature should be referred. In former years he believed the experiment had more than once been tried of constituting the Committees, where more than one county was concerned, of Members for different counties. He believed, that it was the opinion of the House that the experiment worked in a most unsatisfactory manner, and ought not to be continued. That, at all events, was the unanimous feeling of the Committee on Railways, because it created a Committee so large and so cumbrous, and so vague, and raised a contest of local interests so disproportioned to the share of public interest, that it was difficult to know how any Private Bill could be dealt with satisfactorily in that manner, much less a Railway Bill, which was to a certain extent a public Measure. The Committee were almost unanimously of opinion, that it was necessary that the representation of local interests in cases of competing Railway Bills should at all events be very materially restricted. It was their opinion, that if the House were to be called upon to depart from its usual course of practice, that the wisest plan would be to ask the House to try an experiment which would be likely to put fairly to the test the principles upon which it was founded, so that when that experiment should have been tried the House would be more advanced in its knowledge, and, whether it failed or whether it succeeded, they would at all events have the advantage of something to refer to as a guide for their future proceeding. The Committee, therefore, thought that in deviating from the usual course of a somewhat large and promiscuous Committee, it would be necessary in reducing the number of the Committees, to appoint them so that there might be a strong sense of individual responsibility; that there might be a disposition on the part of Members of the Committee to take a close and immediate interest in its proceedings, and as nearly as possible to attend throughout the whole of those proceedings. He had described the proceedings of the Committee on Railways as nearly unanimous up to this point. He did not mean to say that the resolutions which had been laid upon the table, and which he now proposed for adoption, were carried without any difference of opinion. Considering the nature of the subject, and the details which it involved, it would be a bad compliment to the Committee if those resolutions had been carried without any difference of opinion, because it would have led to the idea that they had been hastily adopted. Certainly there was considerable difference of opinion; but there was a general and almost unanimous concurrence in the opinion, that the usual course must be departed from—that the number of Members of Committee on that class of Bills must he reduced—that local influence must be a subordinate element in their composition, and that public interests and public motives must be more prominent. But it would be seen that the resolutions went further than the description which he had up to that moment given of them. The resolutions recommended, by way of experiment, the exclusion of local influences altogether. He thought the Members of the Committee would bear him out when he stated that there was a very strong disposition on the part of many Members to arrange, from time to time, something like a limited representation of local interest—to retain the local interest as subordinate, but denying it the predominant power which it now possessed in private bill Committees. The practical difficulties attending the working out of that proposition induced the Committee to abandon it. They thought it their duty to communicate with the highest authorities of the House, and with that Committee which had been appointed by the House for the purpose of superintending the composition of its Private Bill Committees—he meant the Committee of Selection—a body which he believed had discharged its duties in a manner that had tended to win for it, in no ordinary degree, the confidence of the House; and they found, after consulting with such authorities, that to attempt a considerable limitation of local interest would deprive them of the advantages which they sought without conferring others. It was found that the difficulty of selecting a limited number of persons to represent local interests would, in the opinion of the best qualified persons, be almost insuperable. It was apprehended that the jealousies of parties would be excited, and that apprehensions would be raised to a still greater degree if a very narrow and partial representation of local interests were given, than if they had no representation whatever of local interests. Therefore, after mature consideration, the Committee on Railways came to the conclusion which he (Mr Gladstone) unhesitatingly recommended to the adoption of the House, that, upon the whole, looking to the limited sphere on which they proposed to try the experiment with regard to a particular class of Railway Bills, and for the present Session, the best chance of its success would he found in recommending the constitution of Committees for this special purpose on public grounds, and on public grounds alone. The Committee, therefore, recommended in the first instance, that a select Committee should be appointed who would have a very short and simple duty to perform, namely, to go over the list of Railway Bills standing for consideration during the present Session, and to determine which of those Bills should be considered as standing in the category of competing bills. They then proposed that that Committee having so determined the Bills belonging to such class, the Committee of Selection should proceed to provide for the consideration of those Bills in their respective Committees, by the choice of five gentlemen unconnected by personal interests, unconnected by the local interests of constituents with the Bill to be brought under their consideration. Of course he was not able to say precisely in what number of cases this measure would come into operation, but he thought the number of competing Bills would be eight or ten. The form of proceeding upon these Bills—the degree of expense that might be occasioned to the parties, as compared with the expense under the present system—the time that might he occupied in the investigation—the satisfaction which the decisions would meet with in different quarters,—all these were most important elements for the consideration of the House; and he trusted when the experiment had been tried that the House would be in a much better position for considering in what way it would be better to deal with Railway Bills in general, than it was at present. He did not think there was anything further in the resolutions to which it was necessary to advert. They were framed for the purpose of giving effect to the general views which he had stated. He believed he was correct in stating that they conveyed the impression of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the Resolutions of the Committee be read.

Resolutions read. First resolution read a second time; Motion made and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said resolution."

Mr. Labouchere

said, the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of the Committee on Railways had so clearly stated the views with which the Committee recommended these resolutions that it was quite unnecessary for him to go over the same ground. The most important point involved in these resolutions was much beyond the convenience of dealing with these par- ticular Bills,—it was a question whether the House would try the experiment of conducting the private business of the country upon principles totally different from those which had hitherto prevailed. The principle which it was now proposed to affirm was one of the utmost possible consequence. It was this: to try an experiment at first for special purposes in particular cases, which, if found successful in those cases, might afterwards be enlarged and more generally adopted. The object was to try whether those tribunals could not be so formed as to invest them with somewhat of a judicial character,—whether they could not be purged of all local and personal interest,—and whether, by diminishing the number of members on such Committee, a greater degree of individual responsibility could not be fixed upon them. He was convinced that the best results would follow the adoption of such a course, and that the public would hail it with the greatest satisfaction. The adoption of such a plan would tend to diminish the length of contests upon Private Bills,—would tend to the diminution of that fearful expense to individual parties which those protracted contests had hitherto caused,—and would ensure for the decision of these Committees a greater weight for their known responsibility than Committees upon Private Bills, as at present constituted, could calculate upon. He was not insensible of the difficulties in the way of the successful conduct of this experiment. He was glad to find that it was to be made upon a limited scale, and applied in special instances. The House would be able to see the manner in which it worked in those instances, and would then be able to judge with what degree of confidence it might extend the principle hereafter, if it should be found to work successfully. But there was one point of such importance to the working of the scheme that he could not help calling the attention of the House to it. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to constitute a certain number of Committees upon this new plan. He stated that there were about ten Committees, and these of course would require the services of about fifty Members. The main difficulty in the way of the working of this system would be the danger of not finding Members who would devote their time to the consideration of Private Bills, in which neither they nor their constituents had any direct interest. The successful working of the experiment must mainly depend upon gentlemen, from a sense of public duty, devoting their time to Private Bills under these circumstances, and consenting to investigate them. If the House was really anxious to see the experiment tried, he hoped that Gentlemen would consent to sit upon Committees for Private Bills, and would give their constant and regular attendance in cases where their own constituents were not concerned. They should recollect that they would by this means become exonerated from attending other Committees of more protracted duration, in which they might otherwise be engaged. He was quite sure that hon. Gentlemen who attended to the private business of the House, would feel greater satisfaction in the discharge of their duty, when it could be done without any possibility of suspicion that his judgment was biassed by local interest. He hoped there would be no difficulty in finding fifty Gentlemen who would undertake to serve upon these Committees. It was upon this point that the whole chance of the successful result of the experiment depended; and he had, therefore taken the liberty of calling the attention of the House to it at this moment. He could only say that he gave his hearty support in the main to those resolutions. In some points he did not agree with them, but they were not points of essential importance; in the main spirit and tenour of these resolutions he entirely concurred. They were a great experiment, and a novelty that he was desirous of seeing fully tried. He hoped they would have a fair trial, and he should not despair of this being the first step towards putting the private business of the House on a sounder and fairer foundation. If the House could effect this they would effect a very salutary change, and do that which would greatly tend to raise the character of the House in the eyes of the public.

Mr. Hodgson Hinde

said, when he first read these resolutions he was of opinion they were a mere experiment; and the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced them, and of the right hon. Gentleman by whom they were supported, confirmed him in that opinion. Those Gentlemen who sat on the Railway Committee might have had sufficient evidence before them to justify them in coming to these Resolutions; but as far as the body of the House was concerned they had no information whatever to enable them to come to a contrary decision to that to which they had come on former occasions. He did not mean to say that evidence might not be given which would change his mind on the subject; but before he was called upon to give a vote with the Members of that Committee, he was entitled to see the evidence which had influenced them in coming to the decision which had been reported to the House. He thought the House ought to have a little more time for consideration. Notice of these Resolutions was only given on Friday last, and between that day and Monday the attention of Members was least likely to be directed to the subject, and he did hope that at all events the right hon. Gentleman would allow a few days for consideration, to enable individual Members who entertained different views to give counter-notices, if they might think them necessary. The right hon. Gentleman said there were certain Bills before the House to which he wished to apply this principle. Now he (Mr. Hinde) had no objection to the passing of the first of the Resolutions without any discussion. He thought that competing lines ought to be referred to one Committee; but before coming to any general decision on that point he would rather adopt the course proposed with regard to these individual isolated cases. This would be better than to bind the House to any general regulation on the subject; and he would just remind the House that the alterations which had been made, with regard to the standing orders on Railway Bills, had not always been the most felicitous. For instance, one regulation with regard to notices, which was carried almost by universal acclamation, was soon afterwards repealed; and another with respect to the 10 per cent. deposit, it was recommended to rescind. If more time was not to be granted, he called upon the Committee for some explanation of their fifth Resolution. Why was it considered necessary to appoint a select Committee to ascertain what should be considered competing lines? It might in some cases be necessary to appoint a Committee to inquire into the circumstances connected with these Bills, so as to enable the House to come to a resolution upon them; but he thought it would be entrusting too large a power to five individuals, to allow them to determine competing lines. He could assure the right hon. Gentleman that the northern companies never considered the Lancaster and Carlisle railway as a competing line; and he could not see why hon. Members should seek an occasion to declare a line to be a competing one, when the parties interested in the matter made no such objection. He objected to the fifth Resolution more than to any other. He thought that the House ought not to give away its jurisdiction to a Committee, by allowing a Committee to determine the nature of a competing line. He had not the slightest objection to the Resolution now before the House; but, with regard to the others, he intended to move an Amendment if they should be pressed by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Ewart

heard with the greatest satisfaction the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, and he believed the House and the country would join with him in that satisfaction. He agreed with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, in the opinion that when a new principle was introduced, it ought to be worked out; and he entertained not the slightest doubt that the principle of justice contained in these Resolutions would at length be applied to all private business. He felt bound to vote with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and his predecessor, and he was only sorry they did not give him their cordial support when he brought forward a proposition on this subject two years ago. On that occasion he had the misfortune to be opposed by the First Lord of the Treasury and the whole power of the Government. He did not blame them for that, nor did he blame the right hon. Gentleman for thus introducing gradually, and perhaps discreetly, a principle which ought to be introduced in all Railway, and all Private Bill Committees. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the principle of removing locally and personally interested parties from these Committees, and he thought such a proposition reflected great credit on the Government. He also thought that it was very desirable to diminish the number of the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman did not state that this very principle had been introduced into the House of Lords, and most successfully. He believed that every Member of their Lordships House would acknowledge that, when they reduced their Committees to five, and ejected every person locally or personally interested, they greatly improved their tribunal. The Parliamentary agents were satisfied that it had worked in a very satisfactory manner, and were of opinion that a similar principle ought to be applied to all Bills before the House of Commons. Such a principle ought not to be confined to competing lines, but ought to be extended to Bills relating to rating and other matters, where not only local but political interests were introduced into the decision on Private Bills; and from this all Committees ought to be purged. If he wanted a high authority on this point, he might refer to that of the right hon. Gentleman the Speaker, who, to his honour, in conjunction with Mr. Greene, was the first person to call the attention of the House to the subject. The principle of diminishing the number of Members in a Committee, of increasing their responsibility, and of removing them from all local or personal interest, was some years ago advocated by the right hon. Gentleman who now tilled the Chair in that House; and so highly did he (Mr. Ewart) approve of that principle, that he felt quite certain the Resolutions proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would be sanctioned, not only by the House, but by the country. He hoped to see the principle extended to the whole of the private business of the House.

Colonel Sibthorp

thought that the proposed Resolutions required more deliberation than had been bestowed on them. He would not say that it was the intention of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to take the House by surprise, but he thought that he ought, in justice to the country, to accede to the proposal which he (Colonel Sibthorp) meant to make to the House. It was very well known to the House and to the country, that he had great objections—great suspicions—with regard to these railroads, especially with regard to the manner in which they encroached on private property. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to limit the number of the Committee to five Members, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton said, that he highly approved of such a limitation. He (Colonel Sibthorp) did not mean to impugn the character of any one, but he thought it was hardly fair that the great Local interests of the country should be left to the decision of five hon. Members of the House. He should not be surprised if, after what had taken place, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton were to propose to limit the number of a jury, and to reduce it from twelve to five. He called on the right hon. President of the Board of Trade to grant them a delay of eight days before agreeing to this Report. To attain that object, he would at once move that the "Debate be now Adjourned" with a view to a consideration of the Report that day week.

Mr. Wallace

thought there could be no doubt that the principle involved in the Resolutions was a good one, and would, if carried out, be the means of ensuring a better Committee than at present. With respect to competing lines, it appeared to him, that they were about to have that principle limited, which was the only safeguard to the country. If competing lines were to be in any way restricted, he should object to the whole of the resolutions. He was, however, decidedly of opinion, that they ought to postpone the consideration of the Report in order that they might have time for further inquiry. Being of that opinion, he would support the Motion of the hon. and gallant Member for Lincoln.

Sir J. Hanmer

begged to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, to a subject connected with Railroads. He had that morning received a communication from (as we understood) some of his constituents, stating that considerable alarm and discontent were felt among persons interested in Steam Navigation, in consequence of sonic attempts which were said to have been made by certain Railroad Companies, to obtain a Power from Parliament to apply a portion of their capital to the establishing of Steam-Packet Companies in connection with particular lines of Railroads. They represented that such a power would interfere very materially with the interests with which they were connected.

Mr. Estcourt

considered the adoption of the resolutions a total abandonment of the principles upon which they had heretofore acted with regard to a certain class of Bills, but was not averse to the experiment being tried. He thought there would be no difficulty in obtaining Members to act on the proposed Committee, nor would their duty be at all different from that which was performed by the selected Members of former Committees.

Mr. Stuart Wortley

said, that the fact of the Committee having expressed a decided opinion in favour of these resolutions, had great weight with him, and he was quite ready to agree to the experiment being tried, but at the same time he wished it to be understood, that he would vote on the ground stated by the right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, in his opening speech, and not on those assumed by certain hon. Members. He was prepared to vote for those Resolutions, in order that an experiment might be tried, but he was not prepared to affirm, that the mode of proceeding proposed was the best which could be adopted. It was rather too much to say, that in questions of this description, all local knowledge and experience should be excluded from the Committee; but, recollecting that in consequence of the strong sense entertained of the evils of the previous system, the House had proceeded to regulate the mode of dealing with the Railroad Bills, he had no objection to giving the new method a fair trial.

Viscount Sandon

believed, that there were one or two points upon which the Committee were not unanimous. He was perfectly prepared to allow a larger infusion of what might he considered as independent judgment into the Committee, but he was not prepared to go the length of saying that no local influence or knowledge should be allowed in that Committee. The duty of hon. Members was no doubt to look to the general interests of the people, but they were also the representatives of their respective constituents, whose interests they were bound to attend to, either in the House or in the Committee if they were excluded from being represented in Committee, they had no other alternative than an appeal to the House. He thought that great injustice would be done to the smaller constituencies if they should lay it down as a right principle that all local influence or local knowledge should be excluded. He did not wish to object to the resolutions of the Committee, but he wished to protest against their being considered as bound by them on every occasion. He doubted whether they would be able to find a sufficient number of impartial Members to attend regularly on the proposed Committee. For these reasons he gave a reluctant consent to the scheme then under their consideration. He did not wish to raise any opposition to a plan of which a majority of the House and of the Committee on Railways had approved.

Mr. Greene

said, that the present system was open to great objection. Under that system they had agents, and witnesses, and counsel, and they had, in addition, the interested parties acting as judges. It was absolutely necessary that they should have tribunals of a more impartial character. They should render those Committees as nearly judicial as possible, and they would by that means render an essential service to the public. That was the principle for which he had for years urgently contended. The hon. Member for Greenock seemed to think, that by the plan then proposed, an end would be put to competition. But if two competing lines were referred to the same Committee, it would not follow that the Committee might not decide that both should be adopted.

Dr. Bowring

said, the present system had the effect of often placing hon. Members in a very disagreeable position by exposing them to the solicitations of persons representing contending interests. He did not approve of the principle of allowing interested parties to sit on Committees. He was sure that the opinion of the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. Greene) was the right one; and that the more they excluded private interests from Committees the more elevated and the less embarrassing would their condition become. It was desirable to give those tribunals as much as possible a judicial character, and a judicial responsibility.

Mr. Strutt

said, that the noble Lord, the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon) had stated that the adoption of the resolutions then under their consideration would increase the number of appeals from Committees to the House. But he was of a different opinion. He believed that many of the appeals from the decision of Committees were made from a conviction that injustice had been done by those Committees, in consequence of the preponderance of powerful local interests. They had often heard parties saying, that although a majority of the Committee was against them, they had a majority of disinterested Members in their favour; and he believed that such statements had more weight with the House than any other arguments advanced on those occasions. It was because the resolutions before the House would do away with the possibility of such representations, and because they would make the Committees impartial tribunals, that he believed that appeals, so far from being increased, would be considerably diminished by the adoption of those resolutions. Several hon. Gentlemen had spoken of the difficulty there would be in obtaining Members to serve on these Committees. It had been said that five Members would not be found to serve throughout on Committees of the kind. But as he had been for several years a Member of the Committee of Selection, and as he had some experience on the subject, he could confirm the statement of his hon. Friend, the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Estcourt); and he could say, to the credit of the House, that they had hitherto found no difficulty in obtaining the services of Members for Committees. He believed that no difficulty would be felt on that head in carrying out the resolutions. He believed, too, that by the adoption of these resolutions the call for the services of Members on private Committees, so far from being increased, would be considerably diminished. He had further to observe, that although some hon. Members had objected to these resolutions, no one had proposed any plan which could be adopted as a substitute for them. He was fully persuaded of the propriety of the resolutions, and he should give them his most cordial support.

Mr. E. B. Denison

said, that the Committee which had recommended the adoption of the resolutions before the House had not passed over the consideration of the propriety or the impropriety of excluding local influence. In fact, the question had formed one of their difficulties. They had, however, come to the conclusion, that it would be better to exclude local interest from the Committees. He felt persuaded that the public would be better satisfied with the perfect independence of those Committees.

The House divided on the question that the Debate be adjourned.—Ayes 3; Noes 200:—Majority 197.

List of the AYES.
Hodgson, R. TELLERS.
James, W. Sibthorp, Col.
Wallace, R. Hinde, H.

[It seems sufficient to preserve the List of the Ayes.]

Resolution agreed to. Subsequent re, solutions agreed to.

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