§ On the Order of the Day for the third reading of the Railway Clauses Consolidation Bill,
§ Sir R. Inglis
said, he could not avoid taking that opportunity of calling the attention of the House to what seemed to him a matter of deep importance to the community at large. It was strange that in Acts of Parliament authorising the construction of railways, which cost so many millions of money, and the natural consequence of which was the drawing together of such a vast number of persons from the places where they might be naturally expected to receive proper religious instruction, no provision was made to supply that instruction. He thought the matter to which he alluded was well worthy the attention of the noble Lord near him, and others concerned in legislating for such undertakings, to endeavour to provide some means of supplying the spiritual wants of the vast masses of population who were thus thrown together in various places without the security of pastoral care and superintendence. For his own part, he wished to take that public opportunity of expressing his sense of the duty which was incumbent on railway directors in this respect. There was another point, too, to which he would advert briefly; and that 1145 was, the necessity of seeing that the police regulations of railways should be managed so as not to afford facilities for producing a breach of the peace. He understood that on a recent occasion arrangements had been made by a great public company for the purpose of conveying a large concourse of persons for the avowed purpose of committing a breach of the peace. He sincerely trusted that all railway companies would take into serious consideration the duty which every Christian member of the community could not but believe incumbent on them, of providing for the religious instruction of the inhabitants of those new towns and places which their operations called into existence, and which were now necessarily totally destitute of all means in this respect. He had only, in conclusion, to express a hope that the noble Lord who had charge of the Bill then before the House, would take his suggestions into serious consideration.
§ Mr. Hawes
could not avoid bearing his testimony to the great liberality evinced in respect of the matter alluded to by several great railway companies; and he conceived that this spotaneous consideration for the spiritual wants of those neighbourhoods which were in any way connected with them was more praiseworthy than if they had been compelled by compulsory enactments to do so. That these companies felt the responsibility which rested with them in this respect was evident by the course they were pursuing. The Great Western Railway Company, for instance, were, at one of their stations, near Swindon, erecting a church and a school; and the London and Birmingham Company were also doing the same at one of their stations near Wolver-ton. And this mode of meeting the spiritual wants of the population around them was much more creditable and advisable than were it done under the compulsory provisions of an Act of Parliament.
§ Lord G. Somerset
fully concurred in the justice of the remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, that it was most advisable to secure the benefits of proper religious instruction for the great numbers of people thus brought together; but on the other hand, he fully agreed with the hon. Member for Lambeth, that it was better to leave this to the good-will and proper feeling of the companies themselves, who were connected by locality with those communities, than to have it done by means of special provisions 1146 in Acts of Parliament. For his own part, he had known several instances wherein not only had railroad directors evinced a proper anxiety in this respect, but even the contractors themselves who were engaged in managing their works had contributed largely towards providing for the spiritual instruction of the large masses of workmen they had collected together; and he thought it was but fair that he should mention the fact on the present occasion.
§ Order of the Day read.
§ Bill read a third time.
§ Lord G. Somerset
then moved some Amendments of which he had given notice, which with an additional clause were ordered.
§ On the question that the Bill do pass,
§ Mr. Hawes
would take that opportunity of asking the noble Lord opposite, whether there would be any objection in framing the Standing Orders so as to require all railway companies intending to conduct any works likely to interfere with navigation, to give a notice of their intention so to do to the Admiralty, similar to that they were called upon to give to Parliament. And after this it might be expedient to pass an Act empowering the Admiralty to exercise their authority in preventing such works as might be deemed obstructions to navigation. At all events one result would be, of carrying out his proposition, that there would be time sufficient for Parliament to be acquainted with the full merits of any case that might arise between any public company and the Board of Admiralty. He would take that opportunity of saying, in reference to the manner in which that House had been recently occupied, that he hoped they would never have these morning sittings again. He thought such sittings would be perfectly impossible for the remainder of the Session, if they were to do common justice to the great quantity of private business which had to be transacted. He presumed these morning sittings would not be continued after Easter; but if they were, he conceived it would be next to an impossibility to have a House, as more than four-fifths of the Members would be occupied in Private Committees, and consequently it could not be expected that the public business would be fairly or satisfactorily done. At the close of a Session there might be some reason for morning sittings; but, for his part, he should strongly protest against any renewal of the morning sittings after Easter.
§ Colonel Sibthorp
expressed his full concurrence in what had fallen from the hon. Member for Lambeth. The fact of hurrying through two such important Bills as were then before them was almost unheard of in the previous legislation of this country; and for the many years' experience he had in that House he had never known any similar proceeding. If the constituencies of the country could only see them at that moment, with hardly a dozen Members present—legislating at what he might call railroad speed—disposing of two most important measures, at morning sittings, they would have very little confidence in their Representatives. He would take that opportunity of saying, that though he had, at the request of a large and respectable portion of his constituents, presented, as he should be always ready to present when asked by them, two petitions in favour of a railroad, his own sentiments on this system still remained unaltered. He gave the noble Lord near him (Lord G. Somerset) every possible credit for his desire to perform the public business most fairly and efficiently; but at the same time he should enter his strong protest against the manner in which these two measures had been carried, and he hoped they would never again witness a repetition of such scenes as that House presented at the recent morning sittings.
§ Mr. Labouchere
said, a very important question was involved in this discussion; and that was whether the House should continue to have morning sittings or not at this the busiest part of the Session. There were some occasions, however, which would only permit a choice of evils, whatever inconvenience might arise from those early sittings. However, he hoped this practice would not be continued or adopted as a precedent; the principle he did not approve of. On the present occasion, however, he did not mean to blame the Government for the course they had pursued. These measures were of importance and of a pressing nature; and if not taken at the early sitting their discussion would in all probability obstruct a great deal of other business.
§ Lord G. Somerset
regretted, both for the sake of hon. Members and the Speaker, that they had been obliged to have recourse to the present proceedings; but particular reasons had rendered it necessary that these Bills should be passed as expeditiously as possible, as it was considered that great public benefits would be conferred by them. It was found impossible to proceed with this 1148 Bill at any other time than that selected, and it was of the greatest consequence to have them carried out before Easter. But with regard to having morning sittings after Easter, he conceived such a thing would be next to an impossibility, when the great mass of private business that was before the House was taken into consideration. With respect to the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Lambeth, on the subject of the Standing Orders, and requiring a notice to be given to the Admiralty, he thought the question was a highly important one, and deserving of much attention, and he promised to introduce after Easter some proposition on this subject for the consideration of the House.
§ Bill passed.
§ House adjourned and resumed at five o'clock.