HC Deb 05 June 1845 vol 81 cc127-36
Mr. Labouchere

rose, in pursuance of the notice he had given on the subject, of the best course to be pursued by Government in relation to the amount of railway business before the Legislature. He sincerely regretted that the task had been left to him; for he still retained the opinion he had expressed a few evenings ago, that it would be far better if the question were left in the hands of Her Majesty's Ministers. Having, however, thought it to be his duty to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade to the subject, and having urged on his notice the propriety of considering the state of Railway Bills, and of bringing in some measure on the subject, and having received an answer from that right hon. Gentleman, that it would be advisable to postpone the subject for a month or six weeks, and that until that period had elapsed, Government would not be prepared to recommend any course on the subject, he had determined to press the question on the consideration of the House. He entertained a strong opinion that the House would not be doing its duty if it did not, without further delay, adopt some measure in reference to this subject. The right hon. Gentleman's argument that delay would be of advantage, in his opinion would be found to operate in a contrary direction; for he believed that a great deal of unnecessary delay and expense now entailed on Railway Bills before that House could only be put an end to by some immediate measure. Having, since the time he had last addressed the House on the subject, held communication with some hon. Members, and with Gentlemen interested in railway matters, he had fully ascertained it was the prevalent opinion that the measures he recommended some days ago would, if they became law, have a salutary effect in checking that delay now which Railway Bills encountered. The state of the railway business before the Legislature was so notorious, and so well known to the majority of the Members of that House, that it was hardly necessary for him to call the attention of hon. Members to the fact. Out of 243 Railway Bills introduced this Session, there were 140 now in Committee still undisposed of. This number of 140 was ranged in twenty-four groups, so that only 103 Bills had hitherto been disposed of in Committee, and reported upon; leaving thus a mass of 140 projects, including the more important and difficult of the Railway Bills, in the Committee Rooms on the 5th of June, and likely still to continue there. He would further remind the House, that besides the difficulty of disposing of this mass of Railway Bills, and the inconvenience and expense which resulted to parties connected with them, the necessity of referring the recommendations of the Board of Trade to a Committee existed, and that this afforded an additional reason why the Legislature should attempt something towards remedying the present state of things. The reasons he had urged formed a strong case why Parliament should take care that parties promoting railway projects should not be subjected to a delay and an expense which the House, by adopting some efficient measure, had the means of preventing. With regard to the expenses of some of these railways, he had heard that a learned counsel in one of the Committees—that Committee in which the London and York Railway line was investigated — had stated that the daily expenditure with regard to this one Bill was 3,000l. He really thought it was the duty of the Legislature, considering the enormous expense entailed by unnecessary delay, to see that no delay and no expense should be imposed on parties which might be avoided. The question then was, what was the best course to be taken. The Session had arrived at such a period that, with respect to some of the more important railway lines, it was quite impossible they could pass into law this Session. Even if the Bills passed through Committee, it was impossible they could reach the other branch of the Legislature in time to pass into laws. It was notorious that parties opposed some Bills, and were carrying on their opposition for the purposes of delay, thinking it would entail on the promoters of the rival projects the necessity of commencing afresh next Session, and perhaps of defeating their hopes. He held it to be the duty of the House to interfere under such circumstances. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more unfair than that those parties who had struggled through Committee, and had got a favourable verdict, and whose Bills were only prevented from being carried from the impossibility of getting them passed through the House of Lords, should be thrown back, and should be compelled to go through all their work over again next Session. There was a degree of injustice in this course which he was satisfied the House would never agree to. He now came to the question of delay. He thought the most efficient mode of preventing unnecessary delay would be to tell all parties that if their Bills parsed through Committee, and were reported upon, though there might not be time this Session to pass them through the House of Lords, yet that in the next Session they should be placed in the same situation as they were left at the end of the Session. Looking back to precedents, he found that the House on more than one occasion had recommended this course in the case of Railway Bills. The circumstances under which the House took this step were different to the circumstances which existed now. The course was, on a former occasion, recommended by an unexpected dissolution of Parliament. The House had then been led to the consideration of what was best to be done with the Railway Bills, and they recommended what he hoped to see adopted now, that the Bills should be put substantially in the same place, and go on from the point at which they arrived the previous Session. The case now was, however, so far different, that they foresaw what was going to happen; and it was therefore but fair that notice should be given to all parties of the course which Government intended to pursue. It was from entertaining these sentiments that he would venture to submit the Resolution which he had placed on the Paper. The first part of the Resolution referred to Bills already reported to the House, and which had already gone through the ordeal of the Committee. When these Bills were read a second time, they had no claim to any favour in the following Session. What he proposed to do was, to give them a claim to favour. They had struggled through the Committee, they had gone to a great expense, and had been at much trouble to prove their case; and in his opinion they ought to have some amount of favour shown to them. If the terms of his Resolution were not large enough, he was quite willing to enlarge them. With regard to the remedy, he thought the best course would be to follow up the analogy of the cases in 1830 and 1842, though he admitted there was some difficulty in the question. With these views he had framed the Resolution he was about to submit to the House. He repeated, he regretted Her Majesty's Government had not thought fit to take the step he had taken themselves; but if they had changed the opinion they had expressed the other evening, he should with pleasure give up the management of the question into their hands. He begged to move— That, inasmuch as, from the unusual number of Railway Bills which have been introduced into this House during the present Session of Parliament, and also from the delay which has been occasioned in the consideration of them, in consequence of the reference of the Reports of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade to the Committees on these Bills, it may be impossible for many of them which shall have been reported to this House to be passed into laws during the present Session, this House will adopt such measure in the next Session as may appear best calculated to prevent the parties promoting such Bills from being subjected to any unnecessary expense or delay. That a Select Committee be appointed to consider in what manner it may be expedient to carry this Resolution into effect.

Sir G. Clerk

said, that when the subject of railway legislation was brought before the House some days ago, he had replied to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in answer to his inquiry, whether be was prepared to propose anything relative to the matter to the House, that the Government had certainly turned its attention to the question, on account of the enormous mass of railway legislation, but that he was not then prepared to call upon the House to come to any specific Resolution respecting that branch of private business; and he still thought that there existed very strong objections to any Resolution pledging the House to adopt any particular line of conduct in regard to Railway Bills. The House must consider with respect to the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, that they were thereby called upon to adopt a course for which no precedent whatever existed. Instead, therefore, of pledging the House to any Resolution such as that proposed, he should, looking at the extreme difficulty which such a course would involve hereafter, infinitely prefer the whole subject to be referred to an investigation before a Select Committee of the House, by whom the progress actually made in the different Railway Bills, and the position in which they stood, should be examined and reported upon with a view to the recommendation and adoption of measures which might appear prudent and desirable. He wished the Committee to be adopted with a view to far wider results than were contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman's Resolution, which only referred to those Bills which had been investigated and reported upon by the Committees; whereas, it might very easily happen, that Bills had not yet come under the notice of Committees which were far more likely to obtain the sanction of Parliament, and yet which would remain so long on the list as to give the Committee no opportunity to report upon their merits. Under the circumstances, therefore, he thought it would be far better, without pledging the House to any particular course, that he should move as on Amendment on the words read from the Chair the following Resolution:— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the state and progress of the several Railway Bills now before Parliament, and to consider and report their opinion as to what measures should be adopted by the House, in order to facilitate their re-introduction, and to prevent expense and delay in the progress through Parliament, in the next Session, of such Railway Bills as it may be found impossible to pass into laws from want of time for their proper investigation during the present Session. He anticipated no difficulty in appointing such a Committee immediately, and he thought that when it came to inquire into the subject there would be found a vast variety of cases, differing from each other, and obliging them to lay down new rules and to suggest special regulations, in order to meet those cases. One of the results would probably be to prevent those from being under the necessity of proving their case again who should once have proved it. The Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman merely embraced one particular class of Bills, those, namely, which had been reported to the House; and he would put it to the right hon. Gentleman, whether it were not preferable to refer all the Railway Bills actually in existence to a Committee constituted similarly to that which had formed the rules by which railway projects had been classified and placed under their present regulations. He thought that such a Committee might, by the exertion of due diligence, select and report such cases as merited the indulgence of the House in regard to their progress during the next Session, and also specify which of the Standing Orders of the House it might be safe to dispense with. It would, in his opinion, be highly imprudent to create such a precedent as that which would be established by the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman; and, therefore, he should move as an Amendment that which he had just read.

Viscount Howick

could not think that the right hon. Baronet's Amendment would meet the object which it was desired to effect. If the Resolution of his right hon. Friend near him was too narrow in its terms, there would be no difficulty in enlarging it. His right hon. Friend had stated truly that it was desirable to give the parties promoting Railway Bills some guarantee on the part of the House, that those Bills which had received the sanction of the Committees, and had been reported to the House, should come forward again next Session without any fresh expense and without any loss of time; for, if the contending parties were made aware of the fact that the lateness of the period at which Railway Bills were reported to the House would be no bar to their being placed in the same position in the next Session in which they were when the House was prorogued, that would have the effect of stopping at once that vexatious opposition which was at present raised in the hope of defeating those projects, by delaying the reports on them. But the Amendment of the right hon. Baronet gave no such pledge to the parties, and consequently it did not answer the object which it was desirable to effect. If the right hon. Baronet were to withdraw his Amendment as far as the first Resolution was concerned, and suffer that to pass, the right hon. Baronet's Amendment might be appended to his right hon. Friend's second Resolution with excellent effect. He understood the right hon. Baronet to state that he did not object to the first Resolution; and therefore there was no difficulty in adopting the course he suggested.

Lord G. Somerset

said, that the noble Lord had assumed as a recognised fact, that the opponents alone of the different Railway Bills were the causes of the delay in their progress before the Committees. Such was not the case. He had observed frequent instances in which the mass of superabundant evidence brought forward by the agents for the Bills had caused the slow progress of those measures. He thought the House was not justified at so early a period of the Session in assenting to an abstract Resolution, professing, as that of the right hon. Gentleman did, to be founded on a fact which was not in his opinion substantiated. It was far from his wish to see the House pledge itself to a particular course by adopting such a Resolution.

Sir G. Grey

said, that the Resolution of his right hon. Friend had been before the House for a considerable period; and every one had an opportunity of making himself acquainted with its purport. The Amendment of the right hon. Baronet had only that instant come to their knowledge, and yet they were called upon to decide immediately in favour of it, although they had not had an opportunity of weighing well its purport. The time was come, he admitted, at which the parties to Railway Bills ought, in justice, to know what the intentions of the House with respect to that branch of legislation were. The Amendment proposed by the right hon. Baronet, merely went the length of saying that it was expedient to inquire what ought to be done. He could not accept such a proposal in lieu of the Resolution of his right hon. Friend. If the right hon. Baronet would give a pledge on the part of the Government that something should be done to obviate delay and expense to the parties who might be shown to merit such consideration; and if he would state that the business of the proposed Committee would be to inquire who the parties were that should be considered to be so entitled to future indulgence, then he should be satisfied, and should admit that to be a just and proper course. He suggested, that the words "should have been reported" be left out of the Resolution, and the words "wherein due diligence has been used," should be inserted instead.

Sir R. Peel

said, that the right hon. Gentleman had proposed for the adoption of the House a most uncommon Resolution, namely, that the House should give an assurance to certain parties interested in railway projects that their Bills, if reported upon within a certain time, should have certain advantages during the next Session. He could not assent to such a proposition; but he did think that the House was called upon to do something in the matter. He was not prepared to establish such a precedent as that which the Resolution proposed would create. But the Committee proposed by his right hon. Friend might inquire into the course which it was just to adopt, and point out what precedents it would be right to establish in this respect, whilst its appointment by the House would give a strong indication to the public of the desire which was entertained on their part to do justice. Before, however, they could act upon this desire, some evidence must be adduced of the propriety of so acting; and the best way of proceeding was by a Committee, which should examine and report upon each case in order to show that unusual circumstances had interfered to impede the course of the private business. But, in the absence of any such formal preliminary inquiry, he could not consent to grant such a precedent as that which the Resolution would undoubtedly create. The very act of appointing a Committee was an admission that very great peculiarity was observable in the cases under consideration, and that the parties must first make out their claims to consideration before they could be allowed. He hoped, therefore, as there really existed so slight a difference between the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's Resolution and that in which the Amendment was framed, that the House would adopt the course of proceeding recommended by the Amendment, and assert thereby the principle, that neither vexatious delay nor uncompromising opposition to a railway project would have the effect of ultimately proving successful in marring the success of such Bills.

Mr. F. T. Baring

said, that as the only object in view on both sides was to do justice to the parties interested in Railway Bills, the intention of the right hon. Baronet's Amendment could not, for a moment, be called into question, except in so far as to whether it accomplished the object in view. He thought the Committee might with great advantage commence its labours immediately, and report from time to time its decisions upon the cases as they came before it, without delaying until the inquiry and Report were completed together. He thought also the Government ought to endeavour to save the time now consumed in the Committees on the Railway Bills, by framing some regulations under which the evidence pro and con, with respect to the gradients and to the traffic on the proposed lines, might be collected beforehand, and submitted to them in a mass.

Mr. Labouchere

said, as there did not appear to be any very material difference between the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade and himself, he did not feel inclined, particularly after the speech of the right hon. Baronet the First Lord of the Treasury, to resist the Government proposition. He thought that the object which he had in view would be gained by the Government proposition, and he would therefore withdraw his Motion. With regard, however, to the appointment of a Committee, he must say, that his experience of Railway Committees of that House induced him to request the Government to consider, whether a well-digested scheme brought forward by them upon their own responsibility would not be much more likely to prove satisfactory than anything that could result from a Committee.

Mr. W. Patten

suggested, that whether the Government or a Committee undertook the subject, whatever was done should be done in the present Session. The existing delay had not so much arisen from the parties concerned as from that House itself, which spent about six weeks at the beginning of the Session in laying down rules for the conduct of private business. It was, he thought, of the greatest importance that the measure should be prepared this Session, that every one might know what course they should have to pursue next Session. It was known that 100 new Bills were ready to be introduced next Session, and unless some measure were prepared now they would be in the same difficulty next Session as at present.

Sir R. Peel

thought it would be better to appoint a Committee of the most active Chairmen of the present Committees, who should, if possible, lay down some rules in the course of the present Session for the guidance of parties concerned in railway business.

Lord Worsley

expressed his opinion that a good deal of delay and inconvenience had been occasioned by the mode in which some of the lines had been grouped. He knew that his own county had suffered much inconvenience from the circumstance that lines running east and west through Lincolnshire into the manufacturing districts had been grouped with the Cambridge and Lincoln, the London and York, and lines running from south to north. Those lines running east and west could not by any possibility obtain a hearing until very late in the Session, in consequence of having been grouped with those other lines.

Motion and Amendment withdrawn. The Amendment was then put as a substantive Motion, and agreed to.

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