HC Deb 06 February 1863 vol 169 cc172-6

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill "for diminishing the expense attending the passing of Bills relating to Railways and affording facilities for obtaining ample and trustworthy information thereon," said, that he had brought the subject before the House so far hack as 1853, and he was then told by the hon. Member for North Lancashire (Colonel Wilson Patten) that the subject was being inquired into, and that it was unnecessary to make any Motion upon it at that moment. The present system occupied the time of some of the best Members as Chairmen, and of a great number of other Gentlemen as members of these Committees, and greatly interrupted the discharge of their ordinary Parliamentary duties in the House. The result of the inquiry by the Committee of 1858 was to show a unanimous concurrence of opinion that the present tribunal was attended with almost every possible inconvenience and disadvantage. The proper principle was to refer such investigations to a department of the Government, subject, of course, to a review of their decisions by cither House of Parliament. It was now some twenty-five years since the Tithe Commissioners were first appointed. Questions of far greater moment than even the important questions in relation to new lines of railway had been referred to the Tithe Commissioners; and yet such were the means adopted for checking and controlling the operation of the law that there had never been any substantial complaint of the way in which they had exercised the powers intrusted to them. Twelve years ago the subject of enclosures was referred to another Commission, constituted upon the model of the Tithe Commission, and that part of the private jurisdiction of the House was withdrawn without dissatisfaction and without complaint. The year before last another step in the same direction was taken in reference to piers and harbours. He now thought the time was come when something ought to be done in defence of the interests of those parts of the country which were not already provided with railways. The practical effect of the present system was to render it almost impossible for any local company to get powers to make a local line. In the case of a company of this character, of which he was chairman, they expended £86,000 before they obtained their Bill to construct a line eighteen miles in length. They had to prepare plans, to give notice to every one who could possibly be affected, and to contest the scheme before Committees of both Houses, because one great company feared that they might be indirectly injured or that their great rival might be benefited. It was scarcely possible to conceive anything better adapted than the present machinery to prevent the investment of money in the improvement of districts at present unprovided with railway accommodation. Mr. Hope Scott, who had had great experience of railway contests, said he always gave his clients a stereotyped answer— I can't advise you absolutely upon your prospects of success. There is so much uncertainty that all I can say is, I think you have a chance. His proposal was almost identical with the course pursued in France and other coun- tries, and was in strict conformity with the opinion of the experienced men who gave evidence before the Committee of 1858. It was, that promoters should send a short prospectus, stating the estimated cost and general course of the line, to the Board of Trade, that the Board of Trade should direct an inquiry to be made whether the proposed Railway was wanted, and that, if it appeared to be necessary, the Board of Trade or other Department, for which the Government would be responsible, should issue a provisional order, upon which the promoters should direct a. survey to he made and notices to be served in accordance with the present Standing Orders. When the proper Department had by these means been thoroughly satisfied not only that the line was required, but the plan and all the other essential matters had been properly arranged, he proposed that exactly the same course as had for thirteen years been taken by the Enclosure Commissioners should be adopted, and that a Bill should be sent to that House to enact that a railway should be constructed in accordance with certain plans. The House would then, of course, be at liberty to revise the whole matter as they thought fit, but as a matter of course the measure was not to go before another Select Committee. Such was the object of the Bill which he now begged to move for leave to introduce.


expressed his approval of any proposition the effect of which would be the lightening of the heavy expenses to which railway companies were subjected in passing Bills through the House. There was one notorious case of a railway, the engineering and law expenses in connection with which amounted to £680,000. One indefensible part of the expense was the enormous fees paid to the "leading counsel" practising before Parliamentary Committees, who very frequently, if they carried out their engagements, ought to appear before half a dozen Committees at once, while able men in stuff gowns were to be secured whoso services would be in reality more efficient, inasmuch as they could attend to the cases which they undertook. The consequence was that very few barristers gave their exclusive attention to any one case, and it would be far better for the clients if they could have the services of men in stuff gowns than have to fee gentlemen in silk, who would undertake the advocacy of any number of cases and attend to none. It was an undeniable hardship that a man, whose property was about to be interfered with by a proposal for a railway, should be obliged to present himself before a Committee to defend it, and to incur the great expense of feeing counsel, and actually paying for reporting the evidence on his own side and the House fees in addition. He hoped the Bill of the hon. Gentleman would have the effect of providing a remedy for that state of things.


thought that cheap law was about as bad a thing as possible, and he thought that to carry on a local inquiry on the spot where the persons differently interested resided would be the worst possible thing that could take place. As to the fees to counsel, it was for the public to judge the value of the services of counsel, and not for Parliament to meddle with small details of this character. He protested against such a suggestion that these gentlemen were not entitled to the remuneration which the public were willing to give them. They were men of great ability and learning, and afforded the Committees very great assistance, such as could not be obtained from any attorney ill-informed on these subjects who attended on the spot. Though not a member of the Bar now, he had been, and protested against this meddling interference with that which was a free-trade principle, and which secured to men eminent in their profession what had been called a high rate of remuneration.


said, that the question of the emoluments of counsel was not embraced in the measure now proposed by the hon. Member for Peterborough. The hon. Member proposed a scheme for diminishing the expense of Railway Bills; and if he could devise a scheme to accomplish that end consistently with security to the land-owners and the various other interests affected, he would undoubtedly confer a great benefit on the country. He (Mr. Milner Gibson) thought the House ought to give the hon. Member leave to introduce the Bill; but he did not consider it probable that the House would part with the powers it now exercised in private legislation to so great an extent as proposed, without deliberate inquiry into the subject. He should like, before expressing any opinion, to have heard the views of those hon. Members whose great experience in Private Bills, and the attention which they had given to these sub- jects, entitled their opinions to great weight. It was possible that his hon. Friend would be able, from the consideration he had given the subject, to frame clauses in a Bill which would form the basis of a good scheme; and he thought, therefore, they should allow his hon. Friend to submit his measure to the consideration of the House.


said, that there were no doubt evils in the present system which it was very desirable, if possible, to remove, and if the hon. Member for Peterborough should succeed in devising a scheme to remove them, he would deserve the thanks of the country. The great object which they ought to endeavour to accomplish was to diminish the expenses which the prosecution of those Bills now entailed. But he would warn the hon. Gentleman that the constitution of a private tribunal for deciding those cases would not lead to the attainment of that end. If the new court of inquiry was to partake of the character of a system of arbitration under which inquiries were to be made upon the spot where the works were to be constructed, it would, he believed, be found even more expensive than the present Committees of the House of Commons. A local inquiry had been instituted in the case of a water-works scheme at Reading, and he believed the parties were anything but satisfied with the result. He thought it very desirable that they should direct their attention to the subject, and that they should for that purpose proceed to a consideration of the Bill which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Peterborough; but if they were to pass any measure in the case, he hoped that measure would be made to extend to Private Bills of every description as well as to Railway Bills.



Motion agreed to.

Bill for diminishing the expense attending the passing of Bills relating to Railways, and affording facilities for obtaining ample and trustworthy information thereon, ordered to be brought in by Mr. WHALLEY and Mr. M'MAHON.

Bill presented, and read 1o [Bill 6.]