§ Order for Third Reading read.
THE MARQUESS OF CHANDOS
said, it, was his intention, after the third reading of this Bill, to move the omission of the whole of the clauses from the 19th to the 25th, both inclusive. He objected to those clauses on the ground of the too extensive powers which they proposed to confer upon the Board of Trade; and, also, because, during the last Session of Parliament, the matters to which the clauses referred were treated as questions of public importance that must be dealt with by some general measure of legislation. The effect of these clauses was to make considerable changes in the law, which delegated, perhaps very rightly, to the Board of Trade, large and ample powers that took away, in some respect, from the public the right of appeal to the law courts in cases of action. They also delegated to the Board of Trade power over the adjustment of tolls, and the rate of charges to be made by companies upon the public, and not only the power of reducing or mitigating the tolls already sanctioned, but of raising them in some respects. Such a power might be right, but to be useful he thought it should be made of universal application, for it would be most unjust to apply to one railway powers which were not applied to another. True, he might be told that the introduction of the clauses was to form a precedent for general legislation. But was it not absurd to ask the House to consider them in a private Bill, when it was intended to legislate upon them in a public Bill? Was it not absurd to introduce into this measure clauses which were to form the subject for discussion a fortnight hence, perhaps in an altered or considerably modified shape; and if so, of course involving the repeal hereafter of the clauses in the present Bill? He must say, he could have wished to see the general Bill of the Government upon the table before they proceeded to legislate in the mode proposed. That, he felt, was absolutely necessary to their legislating upon railway matters with advantage, not only to the companies, but also the public at large. He thought he was justified, therefore, in asking the House to withhold its assent from the clauses until hon. Members had had an opportunity of seeing what was contained in the contemplated Bill. Previous to the adoption of any such clauses, surely time ought to have been given for their consideration; but although they had been circulated amongst Parlia- 327 mentary agents and others as proposed to be inserted in all Railway Bills, they had not yet been placed in the hands of the Members of that House. When he first heard of them, he at once went to the Vote Office and then to the library of the House to obtain a copy, but in neither place could he succeed in doing so, and at the Vote Office to this day they were not to be obtained. The clauses were, he understood, prepared by the Board of Trade, and by that Board sent to the General Committee on Railway Bills, in the form of a Report, more than a fortnight ago. It struck him as most extraordinary that a Report of that importance, recommending the insertion in a private Bill of clauses which were to form part of a general measure that was still under consideration by the Government, had not been laid upon the table of the House. This, therefore, formed an additional reason why the clauses should not be adopted, until the measure contemplated by the Board of Trade had been brought forward.
§ Bill read 3°.
§ On the Motion that the Bill do pass,
THE MARQUESS OF CHANDOS
said, he would now move that the clauses from the 19th to the 25th, inclusive, be expunged.
§ Amendment proposed to leave out Clause 19.
§ Question proposed, "That Clause 19 stand part of the Bill."
§ MR. BOUVERIE
said, as Chairman of the General Committee on Railway Bills, he must beg to explain that these clauses which the noble Marquess desired to expunge had been prepared and recommended by the Board of Trade at the request of the Committee, and that they had not been laid upon the table of the House because it was not usual for Select Committees on private Bills to lay on the table records of their proceedings, or copies of clauses which they recommended should be inserted in Bills. The object of these clauses was to provide that railways, in forwarding traffic brought from other lines and canals, should not show any undue preference to particular companies. Great inconvenience was at present caused, to the public from the conduct of the railway companies in this respect, as was illustrated in the case of the Eastern Union Railway and the Eastern Counties Railway. Again, owing to the differences between the London and North-Western Company and the Shrewsbury and Birmingham Company, the unfortunate passengers were made to 328 travel fourteen miles out of their way. A remedy for this state of things was therefore demanded by the public interest. Now, he was not particularly enamoured of these particular clauses abstractedly; but he said that the railway companies, when they combined together, were a most powerful and enormous body, and there was great practical difficulty experienced in dealing with them; and an extraordinary grievance like the present required an extraordinary remedy. The best way in which the public could obtain from them what was wanted was by Parliament making stipulations with them as they came from time to time before it seeking for powers and advantages. Parliament could then obtain some equivalent for the public in return for the privileges it conferred; and this, although it might only be a gradual remedy, would, in his opinion, secure more for the public than would be done by waiting for a general public Bill, which was not likely to be passed for a very long time. This, he thought, was the mildest and justest mode of dealing with the companies; because if they were to pass a general Bill applying to all railways, old and new, it would be said that their legislation was ex post facto, and that they were dealing with companies that had no favours to ask of them in the same way as with companies that had.
said, he was not personally interested in any railroad in this country; but as a Member of the General Railway Committee he thought it right to say a few words on the subject. He would not then enter on the merits of the particular clauses in question, or discuss whether they were right in principle or wrong; what he would contend for, however, was that these clauses were sought to be passed through the House in an objectionable manner. His real objection to the clauses was, therefore, one not so much in the interest of railway companies as in the interest of the House. A sub-Committee, of which he (Lord Stanley) was a Member, had received a paper containing a copy of these clauses, headed, "Clauses to be inserted in all Bills," which made it appear that some authority was claimed by the general Committee in matters of this kind. Then the different sub-Committees would form their own opinions as to the insertion of these clauses in any particular Railway Bill. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) said that the railway 329 interest was very formidable, and would offer very great resistance if the House attempted to introduce these clauses into a general measure; but what was that but to say that because the railway companies could not be attacked fairly, the House should be prepared to attack them unfairly. The course now suggested, if taken, would practically and in effect be coming to this—that they were to have a general Act affecting all future lines and companies, which Act was to be proposed not by the House, but by the general Committee on railway business. To this he objected, as being unconstitutional in principle and inexpedient in practice; therefore, he should give it his decided opposition.
MR. TATTON EGERTON
said, that the great principle pursued by the House of late years had been to withdraw private legislation from the consideration of the whole House, and delegate its authority to Committees, and he begged to say that "forwarding clauses" like the present was by no means novel in principle, because they had been inserted in previous Railway Bills. If the House did not take the opportunity of dealing with the companies when they came to make a request of Parliament, it would adjourn till an indefinite period the provision of a remedy for the evil now justly complained of on the part of the public.
§ MR. GEACH
said, he thought these clauses would strike a blow at private enterprise, the effect of which he was bound to believe that neither the House nor the Government clearly understood. No other great interest in the country would be treated in the same way as the railway companies; and he saw no reason why a different rule should be applied to railways than was applied to land, for instance. He be believed that if the railway companies had been made aware beforehand that they would have to submit to such legislation as this, a great proportion of the capital now embarked in railways would never have been so invested.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that the question before the House was one of very great importance, and ought not to be decided except upon mature consideration. The question had presented itself to the Railway Committee which sat last year in the following manner:—The Committee felt generally that they had the choice between either sanctioning amalgamation on a great scale, or sanctioning it on a smaller scale, and at the same time pro- 330 viding those guards for the protection of the public which this amalgamation would necessarily render it advisable to establish. Now, he (Mr. Labouchere) thought that the House must adopt clauses of the nature of those now before them, in some form or other, if they really meant to protect the public against injury and inconvenience; but he apprehended that the manner in which this question was now brought forward would tend, in no slight degree, to prejudice its fair discussion. It was most important that the question should be brought forward in the most open and avowed manner, and no advantage, he believed, could possibly be gained by endeavouring, by a sort of side-wind, to introduce clauses into a Bill without the full knowledge and sanction and deliberate consideration of the House. The Resolutions adopted by the general Committee had not been generally circulated; and, in truth, be thought they ought to emanate from the responsible body in such matters—the Board of Trade. This measure need not be taken by means of any Act of Parliament at all, but the President of the Board of Trade would act in the way most conducive to the public interest if he framed some general Resolutions on this subject, and laid them on the table of the House; and if upon deliberation the House adopted those Resolutions, it might be made an instruction to the sub-Committees to insert these Resolutions in particular Bills, so as to ensure uniformity. At present, as pointed out by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley), no such uniformity would be obtained, as the Committee would be free to decide according to their own judgment. He, therefore, hoped that this subject would be dealt with as a separate and distinct question after due notice had been given, which he believed would be the most judicious mode of accomplishing the object in view.
§ VISCOUNT JOCELYN
said, he thought the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Labouchere) deserved great consideration. He had understood that the clauses which had been framed by the general Committee were designed to secure uniformity of decision upon Railway Bills; but it appeared, after what had been stated that night, that the clauses were not meant to be necessarily binding upon the sub-Committees, so that similarity of decision would not be ensured. He (Lord Jocelyn) had thought it would be advantageous if a general Bill were laid on the table; but, 331 looking at the growing power of the railway companies, and the difficulty there was in obtaining from them the conveniences to which the public was entitled, he had not thought it wrong, in a Committee with which he was connected, to propose to insert these clauses. He agreed, however, with the right hon. Gentleman who spoke last, that it would be advisable if the Government were to lay Resolutions on this subject on the table.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, he thought that the feeling of the House on this subject had been rendered very clear by the discussion which had already taken place. That discussion, however, had not touched at all on the general principle of these clauses. With the single exception of the hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Geach), not a word had been said against that just protection, as it appeared to him (Mr. Cardwell), to which the public was entitled in a matter of this kind. But a very strong opinion had been expressed by a great many Gentlemen whose views were deserving of great weight, that this was not a convenient form of raising that question, and nobody had stated that opinion more strongly than the noble Marquess who originated the discussion, and for whose opinion on such subjects he (Mr. Cardwell) had the highest respect, looking at the important position which the noble Marquess held connected with the railway interest. Therefore he (Mr. Cardwell) collected that it was the desire of the House to come to a fair deliberation and decision on this question. He hoped, after what had passed, that any general Bill which might be introduced would be dealt with by all parties, including the railway companies, upon its own merits, and with a desire to give it effect, if its provisions were consistent with the public interest. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Taunton (Mr. Labouchere) and others had expressed an opinion in which he (Mr. Cardwell) entirely concurred, viz. that the more uniform the measure was, and the more uniform its application, the greater would be its benefit. He had, therefore, spoken to his noble Friend the Leader of the House during the discussion, and with regard to the course which the Government would take in the introduction of their Bill, he (Mr. Cardwell) would, with the permission of the House, make a statement on that subject on Thursday next. The desire of the Government was to introduce their Bill and give it the fairest and fullest 332 discussion before Parliament; and he would therefore suggest that the most convenient course to pursue with regard to the Bill now before the House would be in the meantime to postpone its further consideration until he had had an opportunity of making the statement to which he had referred on the general question.
§ MR. LOCKE
said, whatever might be the views of the right hon. Gentleman and the course he intended to take, he would ask the House to consider what the right hon. Gentleman was about to do. And though he did not deny that some alteration might be needed in the railway system, yet he would ask the House to bear in mind that in one of the propositions of the right hon. Gentleman it was intended to deal with tolls which the House after solemn deliberation had sanctioned and secured to railway companies. He did not approve of this side-wind way of dealing with the subject, and he hoped the House would not sanction such a course.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
said, he wished to know what was to be done by the Committees now sitting, or about to be appointed? Were all the Bills to be suspended until the right hon. Gentleman had introduced his Bill, and until it was carried, or were the Bills to be thrown before the Committees at random?
§ LORD HARRY VANE
said, that, as Chairman of one of the groups, he wished to know whether it was right that those Bills should be proceeded with? It was absolutely essential some proceeding should be adopted with regard to the present stage of these proceedings, because they could not proceed further without manifest detriment. It was hard upon railway companies on whom these clauses had been forced, that they should be made exceptions to the general rules of the House. It was from a conviction that every Committee should introduce these clauses into the Bills before them that he consented to be a party to the introduction of those clauses.
§ MR. LAING
said, the promoters of new Bills would be placed under circumstances of hardship if the progress of the Bills were to be suspended until the proposed general measure was decided upon. He thought the Bills might be allowed to go on, subject to any new legislation that might be subsequently agreed upon. As far as the railway interest was concerned, 333 they would never oppose any suggestion of Government that really had the public interest in view.
§ MR. HILDYARD
said, he trusted that his hon. Friend (Mr. Bouverie) would agree to the clauses being struck out, and a clause introduced agreeing to any legislation that might hereafter take place.
said, he hoped that on Thursday next all Members would look upon the question as an Imperial, and not a local question, and that all would be willing to give their assistance to Government with the object of making the new propositions as perfect and as useful as possible.
§ MR. CARDWELL
said, it was possible that he might introduce the Bill to which he had referred on Wednesday; but if he should not be able to do so on that day, he would introduce it on Thursday, with the intention of proposing the second reading on Monday next.
§ MR. JAMES MACGREGOR
said, he wished the right hon. Gentleman would take a voyage to France and learn how it was that railways there not only served the public well, but paid good dividends to the shareholders, without the mass of legislation that encumbered our system. In bringing forward his clauses the right hon. Gentleman was beginning at the wrong end. The effect of allowing Bills to stand over for only a few days was to cause an expenditure of many thousand pounds. No one knew better than the right hon. Gentleman the cost of these matters, and no one ought to be more anxious than the right hon. Gentleman to check such useless expenditure.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade would be ready to make his statement on Thursday next. He hoped, therefore, no objection would exist to postponing the Bill, and he trusted the noble Lord (the Marquess of Chandos) would not press his Motion.
THE MARQUESS OF CHANDOS
said, on the part of the Company he represented, there could be no objection to the postponement; but it was represented to him that there were other parties seeking powers from Parliament, whose Bills would be materially prejudiced by postponement. Even though the second reading of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman should be taken on Monday next, the Bills of those parties would be prevented from reaching the House of Lords before Easter, 334 and would, therefore, be materially postponed. If the clauses in question were left out, there would be no prejudice to the Government or to the public, and that, in his opinion, would be the simplest way of dealing with the question.
§ MR. WILSON PATTEN
said, he thought that under the circumstances it would be advisable rather to postpone the consideration of the Bill than to strike out these clauses.
§ MR. MANGLES
thought, if there was a postponement at all, it should be a postponement until the Bill was brought in and discussed, but they should consider the great inconvenience that might arise from all the Bills now pending being delayed.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, that when his right hon. Friend had stated that he would introduce his measure, and suggested the postponement of the Bill under discussion, he did not see that any one rose to oppose the postponement. Sixty or seventy Members had left the House on the understanding that a postponement would take place, and he (Lord J. Russell) did not think it was a fair course to insist upon proceeding with the question before the House.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he thought the arrangement was an imprudent one; but when it was stated that a large number of persons were influenced by the understanding that they would not then proceed further, he would advise his noble Friend not to go against it.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Further proceedings on Third Reading adjourned till Monday next.