§ Bill as amended, considered.
§ LORD ALFRED PAGET
said, he rose to move that this Bill be ordered to be read a third time. It was not until the previous evening he had ascertained that there was any intention to oppose the measure. A Committee had, for fourteen or fifteen days, sat upon it, and unanimously recommended it to the House. The opposition took them completely by surprise, else the Members of the Committee would be present to defend their decision. Under these circumstances he thought it would be a monstrous thing for the House to set their decision aside by rejecting the Bill.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be read the third time."
SIR EDWARD DERING
said, he would move as an Amendment that the Bill be considered that day three months. As a general rule the House ought, he admitted, to abide by the decisions of its Select Committees, unless when those decisions were founded upon erroneous principles, as he thought he could show was the case in this instance. In 1853 the House of Commons sanctioned the formation of a line from Stroud to Dovor, thereby connecting the arsenal of Chatham with the most important of the Cinque Ports; and so important did they consider the project, that they dispensed with the Standing Orders in favour of the measure authorizing it, and released £50,000 to enable the East 623 Kent Company to make the extension from Canterbury to Dovor, exacting a pledge from the South-Eastern Company not to interfere in the matter. In consequence of the East Kent Company being so encouraged, the works were undertaken, the tubular bridge put across the Medway at Rochester, and a large portion of the line proceeded with. In 1857 it was discovered that the traffic upon the North Kent line was crowded, of which they had a proof in the lamentable accident which had happened the other day; and hence the application for the present Bill, contrary to the pledge that the South-Eastern Company would not interfere with the East Kent Company in the construction of an independent line, with a terminus in the west end of London. The Bill had no clause authorising the construction of such a terminus; but the Committee in deciding in favour of the South-Eastern Company, had required a pledge that it would come before Parliament next Session for power to construct one. As that was the case, he did not see how it would act as a hardship upon them if the Bill before the House were postponed to next Session, especially as the Committee had decided in its favour, because they considered the construction of the East Kent Company's line would be prejudicial to the South-Eastern Company. In that they had clearly outstepped their province, as he contended that that was a question with which the Committee had nothing to do. It was not for them to say whether there should or should not be competition between the South-Eastern and the East Kent in the face of the principle asserted by Parliament, which had already declared that there should be competing lines between London and Dovor totally independent of the South-Eastern Railway. The question which they had had to try was the respective merits of the Bills submitted to their consideration, and they had passed the present Bill though they admitted it to be a bad Bill; for the Chairman himself said, and these were his own words, "that they had come to a decision, he must say rather reluctantly, that they would grant the green (the South-Eastern) line; at the same time he must say that it did not satisfy them in all respects as to what ought to be done for the accommodation of the public." Considering, then, that, by the adoption of this Bill, the whole of the continental through traffic, as well as the whole county of Kent, would be handed 624 over to the South-Eastern Company, that the policy of establishing an independent line would be reversed, he begged to move as an Amendment, that the further consideration of the Bill be postponed to that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the words "That the" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "further Consideration of the Bill, as amended, be adjourned till this day three months," instead thereof.
§ COLONEL FREESTUN
, as the only Member of the Committee, said that they had considered the rival schemes for fifteen days, and after hearing all the evidence had decided in favour of the present Bill. He therefore considered that it would be a flagrant wrong to set aside their decision.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
said, he wished the hon. and gallant Member for Weymouth (Colonel Freestun) had given the House some of the reasons which induced the Committee to come to their decision. He had no doubt all the Members of the Committee were actuated by the best intentions, but they had, he thought, proceeded upon false and mistaken grounds. Indeed, it would appear that the South-Eastern Company were themselves the committee, so completely were their interests attended to. As to the flagrancy of setting aside the decision, what, he asked, would be the use of the House of Commons at all if it were not to control whatever might be done by five or seven Gentlemen above stairs sitting in Committee? The House was told that the Committee had sat for fifteen days, and he verily believed that during that time the Members of it had become completely obfuscated, as they put the public convenience altogether out of the question, and recommended the present Bill in one of the most extraordinary Reports ever presented to the House, the public having been entirely thrust out of sight, whilst the South-Eastern Company was put forward in everything. The Chairman, speaking for the Company, stated that it was with reluctance that they decided as they had done; so that their unanimity was, after all, a reluctant one, and he added that they were not satisfied that it would be for the accommodation of the public, but because they thought the East Kent project would be prejudicial to the interests of the South-Eastern Company they determined to recommend the present Bill to the House. If the House were now upon such a Report to confirm the decision they 625 had arrived at, it would shake the public confidence in Select Committees altogether. He hoped, however, none of the railway directors, one of whom he saw behind him, would vote on the question. As to what they might say upon it, he did not care two straws.
§ MR. RICH
said, he was one of the directors of the South-Eastern Railway, and might be looked upon as having a personal interest. Still he was of opinion that when companies petitioned for powers to carry out any great undertaking, the House had serious and important duties to perform; and one of those duties was, to see that the public weal was first considered. But the public weal could never be properly considered if a total disregard was shown to the interests of the companies which were conducting works that would tend to the promotion of the public weal. ["Oh, oh!"] The hon. Member might cry out "Oh!" at that; but the principle was as clear as the sun at noonday to every hon. Gentleman who had fairly weighed the rights and privileges of these great companies. The decision to which the Committee had arrived was founded upon the relative merits of the two lines. His hon. Friend the Secretary to the Admiralty had asked the House if they were prepared to hand over the whole county of Kent to the South-Eastern Company in preference to having an independent line. His hon. Friend had shown his bias in favour of his constituents, for it was from Dovor that this opposition proceeded; but he would ask his hon. Friend whether he believed that the East Kent Company would give them an independent line? Did he not know as well as that he was then sitting in that House, that the question was one of barter—that the East Kent Company had for years—aye, from the time of its creation, been endeavouring to negotiate the sale of its line to the South-Eastern Company—that, in short, the question had come to this, how much they could screw out of that company? [Sir E. DERING: No!] His hon. Friend did not know. He (Mr. Rich) could show him documents to prove it. If, then, they had obtained the additional line, they would only have had a heavier screw, and been able to insist on a better bargain. [Sir E. DERING: No!] His hon. Friend said "No." He repeated he was ready to show him the papers to prove it. The East Kent Company had been got up by its late deputy chairman, the late Mr. J. 626 Sadleir, of dishonourable notoriety, and its contractor had failed. Legitimate competition was to be encouraged, but not that got up by interested attorneys, stockjobbers, and contractors. He, therefore, called upon the House, then, to pause before it determined to throw out a Bill which had received the unanimous approval of its own Committee.
§ SIR BROOK BRIDGES
contended that the East Kent Company had been called into existence by the demand of the nation for a direct line of railway to Dovor with a west-end terminus. The public convenience was undoubtedly the first thing to be considered; and it was rather a peculiarity in the present case, that they were engaged in discussion at a moment when, through the wants of the public not being met and satisfied by the South-Eastern Company, one of the most terrible accidents on record had taken place. Ten or twelve lives had been lost within a few hours of the time he was then speaking; and upon what line? Why, upon the very line which the East Kent Company was endeavouring to relieve of some of its over-crowded traffic. Even if the South-Eastern Company carried out their proposed line, the traffic would remain quite as great at the point where that accident had occurred as it was now. The necessity for the East Kent line was also made manifest during the time of the last war, as for military purposes the South-Eastern line was too much exposed to an attack from an enemy. He did not ask the House to give a preference, at this moment, to one line over the other; all he contended for was that the line which did not give the public the security which it had a right to demand should, at all events, be deferred for another year.
§ SIR BENJAMIN HALL
said, that there were times when the House should feel no hesitation in setting aside the decisions of a Committee. He had been twenty-five years a Member of that House, and had never seen such a Report as the one upon the table. If it meant anything it meant that the Committee had been undecided as to the course which they ought to pursue. He was of opinion, therefore, that the Bill should be allowed to stand over for another year, in order that the matter might be reconsidered by the competing companies, and some line presented to Parliament which would satisfy the public at large. He spoke solely on behalf of the public, as it was his duty to do in 627 his official capacity, and in connection with the great improvements which were now going on in the metropolis. According to the Bill the terminus of the line was to be at London Bridge, and everybody knew how over-crowded that was already; whereas the competing line, instead of making a turn to that point, proposed to go to the west-end, and have another terminus on the other side of the water, which would draw away some of the immense traffic which was now concentrated at London Bridge. It was, therefore, better that the Bill should stand over until the next Session, and that Parliament should not allow itself to be dictated to by the great railway companies.
§ MR. BENTINCK
observed, that he agreed with the right hon. Baronet that the House should not sanction the principle that the decisions of the Select Committees were not to be subject to the review of the House. After reading the Report and listening with the utmost attention to the various remarks which had been made, he must say that there appeared to be the strongest possible ground for the postponement of the Bill. Indeed he thought the House would be neglecting its duty if, after the lamentable accident which had just arisen from the over-crowded state of the North Kent line, it did not refrain from sanctioning any other scheme until it had time to consider whether the recurrence of such a catastrophe might not be prevented by the construction of a railway arriving at a different terminus.
said, that as a director of the South-Eastern Railway Company, he wished to say a few words in defence of the Report of the Committee, and to assert that if the line now sanctioned by them had been carried out no such accident as they were then deploring would have occurred. It was not necessary for an hon. Member to sit on a Committee in order to have his wits "obfuscated." The language of some of those who had opposed the Bill that day created a presumption that their own minds were in that unfortunate condition.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, competition might be allowed in Kent if it were a large manufacturing district. He had never held a share in the South-Eastern Company, nor did he ever intend to do so, but he lived in a district which that Company amply accommodated, and, therefore, he did not wish to see its powers of providing for the public accommodation 628 crippled, as the setting up of a rival shop would do by drawing away their profits, and preventing them keeping up the number of pointsmen, guards, and other servants whom they at present employed to take care of the public safety. He must also protest against the late accident being used as an argument ad invidiam against the Bill. All the opposition offered to the measure by the people of Dovor arose from their eagerness to get to London an hour or two sooner. He did not blame them for that, but this was a poor reason for sanctioning a competition that would ruin both of the rival companies, and disable them from providing for the safety and comfort of the travelling public.
§ COLONEL FRENCH
said, he thought that the interference of the right hon. Baronet the Chief Commissioner of the Board of Works, in his official character, was quite uncalled for in this matter, and, although he would admit that the House had full power to overrule the decisions of its Committees, yet no single argument had been adduced of sufficient weight in the present instance to induce him to disregard the Report of the Committee, which appeared to have been arrived at after considerable care and investigation. He should, therefore, vote in favour of the original Motion.
§ SIR JOHN SHELLEY
said, that looking to the public interest he also concurred in the propriety of postponing the Bill until next year.
§ MR. WATKIN
hoped the House would pause before it enunciated the doctrine, that having once given to a particular railway company the privilege of making a line from one point to another, it was prepared to encourage speculators to come forward and depreciate the property of those to whom the country alone looked for the necessary accommodation. It was not the Chief Commissioner of Works or the Secretary of the Admiralty that they must ask for the authoritative opinion of the Government upon a question like the one before the House. If they wanted advice as to railway policy they must turn to the Board of Trade. And where was that Board to-day? Surely if it had considered that there was anything in the Bill that was inimical to the public interests, the right hon. Gentleman the Vice President of the Board of Trade would have been there to tell them what were the bonâfide opinions of the Government about the matter. But, so far from that being the case, that Board was not represented in 629 the House on the occasion. A good deal of stress had been laid by the hon. Member for Dovor (Mr. B. Osborne) upon certain words which he had read from a paper before him, and which he gave the House to understand was the decision of the Committee—he meant the statement that the Committee had arrived at their decision "rather reluctantly." Why, there were no such words as these in the whole of their Report. The House had nothing before it of the kind; and it could not be called upon to act on what might have fallen from the Chairman of the Committee, and which had been printed since by hon. Gentlemen opposed to the Bill. He would express his hope that the Resolution of the Committee would be affirmed, as the line which they had recommended was necessary to the convenience as well as the safety of the South-Eastern Company's traffic. The system of canvassing hon. Members to vote, whether for or against private Bills, which had been resorted to in this instance, was disgraceful.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
remarked, that he thought that there appeared to be some very extraordinary concert and canvassing among the representatives of the Government present, and some misstatements had been made, that the Committee had in their Report stated that they had come to their decision with extreme "reluctance." Now, the Board of Works might do many great things, but they could not find such a word as "reluctance" in the Report of the Committee. He had never been connected in any way with the railway interest, and having heard no sufficient reason for repudiating the report of the Committee, he should give his vote against the Amendment.
§ MR. COBBETT
said, that the course proposed, of throwing overboard the Report of the Committee without any evidence, was one in accordance with neither law nor justice, and was, he could hardly help thinking, somewhat insulting to the Committee. At all events the House ought not to overrule the decision of the Committee until the hon. Members of the Committee were present to take part in the discussion. He referred more especially to the hon. Chairman who was at present absent at Quarter Sessions.
said, that although the question had been discussed for a considerable time, not a single fact or feature had been brought forward to show that the Report of the Committee ought to be rejected. 630 If the present Bill were passed, there was nothing whatever to prevent the East Kent line from bringing forward its own Bill in another Session. That Company had not even thought it necessary for its own protection to petition against this Bill. The East Kent line was to go by St. Mary's Cray and Bromley, coming into the western part of the Metropolis. The scheme now proposed was to make a branch from Dartford to a point on the Greenwich line, in order to avoid Woolwich and Greenwich, and thereby relieve that portion of the South-Eastern Company's line on which the late accident had taken place, by avoiding the crowded site of that deplorable occurrence. He would grant that the Committee had stepped out of the usual course in presenting such a Report; but the House must have something more practical—must have proof that upon the merits of the question the line ought to be rejected—before it resolved on adopting the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Kent.
THE EARL OF MARCH
remarked, that he also must complain of the conduct of the hon. Member the Secretary of the Admiralty, in imputing motives to the Committee.
§ MR. BERNAL OSBORNE
denied that he had imputed motives. He only said that they might have been "obfuscated" by the heat of the weather.
THE EARL OF MARCH
proceeded: as he had not heard any grounds for rejecting the Report, he should vote against the Amendment.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed, to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill to be read 3°.