HC Deb 16 June 1845 vol 81 cc595-600
Mr. M. Sutton

rose to move— That the Cambridge and Lincoln Railway Bill be re-committed to the same Committee (Group X.); and that it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to take into consideration whether the Section deposited in the Private Bill Office may not be amended, without injury to public or to private interests; and that it be a further Instruction to the said Committee, that they have power to amend the said Section, if, on inquiry, they shall deem fit so to do. In bringing forward this Motion, he did not mean to impugn, either directly or indirectly, the decision to which the Committee had come; nor did he ask the House to impugn that decision, or to withdraw its support, without which it would be impossible for Committees to perform their functions. He would confine himself to simply stating the facts of the case. No doubt, he should be told that there was no precedent for the application he was making; but in reply to that he would observe that the circumstances of the case were likewise unprecedented. The petition for the Bill had been presented in February, and had been referred to the Sub-Committee of Standing Orders, and it had not been opposed. The parties who promoted the Bill informed the Standing Orders Committee of every point, as far as they knew, in which the Standing Orders had not been complied with. The Sub-Committee reported, that the Orders had not been complied with. The petition was then referred to the Standing Orders Committee. It was then also unopposed; and the promoters of the Bill brought forward before the Committee all the errors of which they were aware. The Standing Orders Committee permitted the promoters of the Bill to alter two lines; and reported to the House, that they ought to be allowed to proceed. The Bill was then referred to the Committee on Group X. It was ascertained in that Committee that an error had been introduced into the Bill as to the construction of one of the sections of the line, as compared with the datum line. He would not enter into discussion as to the character of that error—as to whether or not it affected the real merits of the line—nor would he ask the House to interfere with the functions of the Committee. He would not ask the House to express the slightest opinion as to the merits of the case. All he asked them was, to give to the Committee on the Bill the power to inquire into these circumstances. When the error was discovered in the Committee, the Committee considered that the best course to pursue was, to decide that the preamble do not pass, and to report the matter to the House, accompanied with the reasons upon which the decision was founded; so as to give an opportunity of bringing the subject before the House at the earliest possible time. The hardship of this case was, that the adverse decision of the Committee did not arise from any demerits in the measure itself, but from the fact of a clerical error—an error that had escaped the notice of the original promoters of the Bill, and also the Standing Orders Committee, and which was not detected until the Bill was brought under the consideration of the present Committee of Inquiry. The Committee, though they did not consider the error as fatal to the merits of the measure, were nevertheless bound to take notice of it, and report in the manner they had reported. This was a case of special and peculiar character, and called for the interference of the House. He did not ask the House, in dealing with the case, to reverse the decision of the Committee, but to grant it further powers of inquiry. As regarded the power he proposed to vest in the Committee, he did not believe it would be exercised prejudicially, either towards the parties interested in the measure, or the public. The powers he proposed they should exercise were those which had been exercised on several occasions by the Standing Orders Committee. He could state a few cases, in which that Committee had allowed the sections and the datum line to be corrected. There was a case during last Session in which an error similar to the one in the present Bill was allowed to be corrected in a branch of the Sheffield and Huddersfield Railway. In the present year, there had been eight cases in which corrections had been made. Of these, he might instance the Wakefield, Pontefract, and Goole, the Cornwall, the North Wales, and the Brighton and Chichester Railway Bills. He saw no reason why a power which had been exercised in these several instances might not with perfect safety be extended to the present Committee. The merits of the competing lines was not the question at present; but it was, whether it would not be judicious and proper to extend, in this special and important case, those powers of reconsideration which had been exercised by the Committee on Standing Orders? Were this done, he was sure the power would not be abused.

Lord Courtenay

, as Chairman of the Committee to which the Bill had been referred, wished to make a few remarks before the discussion proceeded further. He did not wish to express any opinion as to the propriety of granting the application; but he would just state, on behalf of the Committee, that in the main the statement made by the hon. Member for Cambridge was perfectly correct. It certainly was correct, as stated in the petition, that it having appeared, on the examination of the principal engineer, that this error existed, and the Committee being further convinced, that as far as the evidence enabled them to form a judgment, it was a clerical error—feeling the importance of the investigation which was committed to them, and the desirableness of giving the promoters of the Bill an opportunity of setting themselves right before the Committee, if they could do so—they thought it fair to all parties to ask leave to present the Report at as early a period as possible, in order that the promoters of the Bill might as soon as possible amend their position. The error, so far as the evidence enabled him to speak, was one which did not materially or prejudicially affect any one landowner on the line, or any public or private interests; but it was an error on which they felt bound to decide in the manner they had done, according to the clauses in the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act. They came to a decision after the most careful deliberation; but they did not proceed upon any impression that the existence of the error was prejudicial to the landowners; because the evidence would have led them to the opposite conclusion. It was with considerable regret that the Committee felt bound, under the circumstances, to place one of the competing lines in a position less favourable than the other; for the Committee would have had more satisfaction in deciding on the merits of the Bill, if they had been placed in an equal position.

Mr. Estcourt

considered the error to be one of great importance; because the datum line was a substantial part of the measure; and the House had directed certain notices to be given, and certain sections to be deposited, and that the datum line should be so marked out that all the world might be able to judge of its correctness. How, otherwise, could individuals ascertain whether their property was likely to be affected or not? He trusted the House would maintain the Standing Order; and not agree to the Motion of the hon. Member for Cambridge. The hon. Member had referred to various instances where parties had been allowed to make corrections; but the Standing Orders Committee considered the datum line of such importance, that he knew of no case in which they had dispensed with it. He trusted the House would adhere to the Standing Order, and repel the Motion of the hon. Member.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, his constituents were so greatly interested in this measure, that he felt it necessary to make a few remarks, although he seldom interfered in the private business of the House. He thought that a sufficient case had been made out for the adoption of the Motion of his hon. Friend. The parties whose properties were affected could not have been misled by the error which had occurred. The hardship in this case was, that the objection was not taken before the Standing Orders Committee. If the objection had been taken then, the House would undoubtedly have permitted the parties to correct the error. If the Bill should be thrown out, in consequence of the parties not having had the opportunity of bringing the matter before the Standing Orders Committee, great injustice would be done to them, and a most inconvenient precedent would be set; for parties who were aware of the existence of objections might refrain from taking them, for the purpose of profiting by them at a future opportunity.

Lord G. Somerset

said, the Standing Orders expressly directed, that the datum line should be taken and adhered to with regard to all the plans and sections; and by the Act which had been passed during the present Session, it was enacted that no deviation of more than five feet above that datum line, should be made without the special consent of every individual affected by it. Now, what was the proposition before the House? That because the parties, by their own negligence, had omitted to give the information which every party was bound to give, they should have the means of rectifying the mistake, and putting themselves in a better position than those who had complied with the rules of the House. If any motion had been made, it ought to have been, that the matter be referred to the Standing Orders Committee, whose province it was to consider the equitable construction of the Standing Orders. The Chairman of that Committee had stated that he did not remember an instance in which such an objection had not been considered fatal. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the House would adhere to the Standing Orders, and reject the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Mr. W. Patten

was afraid, according to the regular rules of the House, that the matter could not be referred to the Standing Orders Committee. He thought it would be more advisable to refer the case to the Committee on Standing Orders. That Committee would make a Report, and the House could then come to a decision upon the Motion. If the forms of the House would permit it, he would move an Amendment to that effect.

Mr. Speaker

I am not aware whether the hon. Gentleman intends to enforce his suggestion by way of Amendment or not; but before I put the question to the House, I ought to state that I do not see how it is possible that such an Amendment can be put consistently with the Standing Order. The Standing Order requires that the House shall not receive any petition relating to the Standing Orders after the second reading of the Bill. Now, this petition has been presented after the second reading, and it does relate to the Standing Orders. For the parties have certainly been guilty, though unintentionally so, of not complying with the Standing Orders; still it is quite clear that they had not complied with those Orders. Therefore, if this petition should be received as one relating to the Standing Orders, it would be decidedly against the rule of the House. I do not think that, consistently with those Orders, it would be competent for me to put the question which the hon. Member has suggested.

The House divided on the Question that the Bill be recommitted:—Ayes 77; Noes 118; Majority 41.

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