HC Deb 04 March 1847 vol 90 cc829-32

called the attention of the House to a question connected with the selection of Members to serve on Railway Committees. He had been named as one of the Members of a Committee, to which some of the Bills promoted by the Great Western Company were referred. But after the Committee was struck, and the list of names had appeared in the papers of the House, he was apprised by his hon. Friend (Sir W. Heathcote) that he was relieved from his attendance on the Committee. No reason was stated; and he only heard afterwards in the House that he had been removed from the list of the Committee in consequence of representations from the parties to the Bill. He thought this conveyed some kind of imputation on that character for impartiality which the Committees possessed; and he wished to ask whether, after a Committee had been nominated, it was regular to remove Members from it on the representation of parties applying for Railway Acts?


said, that he would, in answer to the question of his right hon. Friend, briefly state the course which the Committee of Selection had adopted in the matter. The Committee of Selection, in appointing the Members to take the group of railways over which his right hon. Friend had been appointed chairman (the London and Windsor lines), had taken care to select them from the west and north-west of England. This had been done to avoid the possibility of any partiality being imputed, and the Committee had upon this principle been selected. When it had been selected, the parties had sent in objections to the constitution of the Committee, founded, not on the personal interest of the Members themselves, but of their family connexions. These objections, however, had been so futile, that they had no effect but to excite a distrust of the parties who had put them forward; but the parties interested in that group of railways, and interested on both sides, had subsequently offered to demonstrate to the Committee of Selection the unfitness of the selected Members on another ground. They had been permitted to assign their grounds for saying so; and from published documents they had proved that several Members of the Committee represented towns and cities through or near which extensive lines of railway ran; that the companies connected with those lines were greatly interested in the question of the two gauges; and that thus indirectly the Members of the Committee were interested in the question of the gauges, inasmuch as that question would have to be decided by that Committee. Under these circumstances, the Committee of Selection had thought it to be their duty to discharge the Committees originally selected, and to reconstruct them, to avoid the charge of partiality, which otherwise might have been brought against their decisions.


was not satisfied with the explanation given by his hon. Friend, as he thought, after Members had been selected on a Committee, and had made the declaration required, they should not be discharged without some good reason. He was glad that his hon. Friend had no other objection to allege than that his constituents were supposed to be in favour of the narrow gauge, in consequence of the railway passing through Coventry. It gave him the occasion of again pressing upon the consideration of the House the absolute folly of going on with the present system. In order to show that he was perfectly disinterested on the subject, he would refer to a statement he had already made, hoping that some Member of Her Majesty's Government would propose a resolution by which all competition between the two gauges should be referred to competent judges. The Committee had refused to entertain the consideration of the gauges, on the ground that they did not consider themselves competent judges. The parties interested did not themselves consider the Committees impartial on the question; and it was impossible to find any one Committee upon which there could not be found some Member who had not already formed some opinion on the question. 300,000l. had been spent in the discussion of the question before a Com- mittee of that House last Session; and when such sums were expended, the losing party would be ready enough to accuse the Committee of not being so pure as they supposed themselves to be. He hoped that the House would find a remedy for such a system.


suggested a suspension of the selection of the Committees for a short time, that the subject might be considered.


thought it was extremely unadvisable for a Committee to be appointed, and to examine into the merits of a subject before the report of the Railway Board was made. He begged to ask a question of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Strutt), whether there had been included in the reference to the Commission the question of the power of railway companies to introduce into their Bills, under cover of station extensions or otherwise, clauses which should enable them to form steam-ship companies. A Bill had been before them that evening, containing a clause, apparently referring only to the extension of a station; but in reality, and on examination, empowering the company to act as a steam-packet company, and without any of the ordinary liabilities. An accident only had discovered this; and for the future it was to be hoped that all Railway Bills would be referred to, and endorsed by, the right hon. Gentleman. Security would then be felt that no objectionable proposal would receive assent. If the right hon. Gentleman did not take the matter in hand, he (Lord Sandon) should consider it his duty to bring forward some Standing Order in reference to this subject.


could assure his noble Friend the Member for Liverpool, that the subject had attracted the attention of the Railway Commission; that he had looked over different Railway Bills; and that he was now aware of the existence of certain clauses which, if acceded to, would have given power to railway companies to become steam-boat companies. Under the terms of the reference suggested by his right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry (Mr. Ellice), such clauses would always come under the notice of the Commission; and it would be a most important matter for them to consider and reject the proposals in different Railway Bills for purposes alien to strictly railway purposes. Clauses of that kind alluded to should not be overlooked.


was convinced that the Committee of Selection had acted most improperly in discharging a Committee, on the ground of the constituencies of various Members being interested in the particular question upon which they would be required to deliberate. The Committees which had been referred to, were composed of most distinguished Members of that House, in every way competent to deal with the subject; and, though the question of the gauges was one unfit to be considered by any Committee, they were as well capable of any other of settling it. He, for his part, was always much more afraid of an incompetent than of an interested Committee.


had never hesitated, as a Member of the Committee of Selection, to recommend to his brother Members to erase the name of an hon. Gentleman from the list of a Committee when it was found, even after he had been named, that there were certain reasons why imputations of partiality might be attached to him.

Subject dropped.

Forward to