§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. BASS
said, that this was the second Bill on the same subject, and a great many of the clauses which were of advantage to the public in the former Bill were not to be found in this. Now, the subject was one which required much more consideration than it was possible to give it at this period of the Session. Clause 10 in the former Bill, which related to taking possession of shops and dwelling-houses, provided that the companies should give six months' notice beforehand; but the railway magnates had succeeded in getting 617 this clause struck out. Again, Clause 14 of the old Bill gave compensation for loss of trade—and assuredly there could not be a fairer ground for compensation—and yet that clause had been struck out. In Clause 21 of the first Bill restrictions were imposed upon the creation of impediments to traffic; but the railway companies induced the right hon. Gentleman to strike out that provision also. Clause 22 of the other Bill provided that the companies should not stop up a street without the consent of the street authorities, and in a previous clause it was laid down that a portion of the street should be left open for traffic; but both clauses had been cut out. The fact was the railway companies at present had it all their own way. What with contractors in the House and railway directors at the right hon. Gentleman's back, those companies were a very powerful body. For similar goods and similar quantities of them it would be thought that the same rates should be charged; but that was not always the case even on different parts of the same line. Some railways charged only half what was charged by others. He could give an instance with regard to one trade, in which the difference of rates made a difference of £50,000 a year. This Bill was too important to pass in so thin a House and at such a late period of the Session, and he should therefore move that it be re-committed this day month.
§ LORD FERMOY
seconded the Amendment. Their constituents out of doors had reason to complain of the way in which the President of the Board of Trade had dealt with the Bill. The Bill had been subjected to so many alterations that it was to all intents and purposes a new one. The parishes of St. Pancras and Marylebone had, of all others in the metropolis, been most invaded by the railway companies, and no one except those who were intimately connected with the traders of the metropolis could form an idea of the absolute ruin which was caused by those companies running a line through a populous district. He had known many excellent and industrious tradesmen in St. Pancras and Marylebone utterly ruined in consequence of the railway companies cutting off customers from getting access to their shops. The conduct of the Government with regard to this Bill had been something very like underhand dealing with the House, and ho should give every possible opposition to the Bill unless his 618 right hon. Friend consented to reintroduce the compensation clause which was contained in the former Bill.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Bass,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
said, he should feel it his duty to vote for the Amendment of the hon. Member for Derby. The Bill professed to give the public protection against the railway companies; but he held in his hand a circular which would put an end to that delusion. That circular, which was signed with the name of Mr. Thomas Coates, stated that the Parliamentary Committee of the railway companies had discussed the provisions of the Bill with the Board of Trade, and those provisions were now in harmony with the views of the railway companies. Of course they were; for the clauses in favour of the public had been struck out. It was said that this was merely a Bill for the consolidation of previous enactments, and yet the Amendment which he had proposed to introduce would not be accepted by the right hon. Gentleman, though the provision which the Amendment embodied had been inserted in a former Bill. In the North Staffordshire Bill a clause had been inserted which subjected railway terminal charges to arbitration, and that was the very principle of the clause which he proposed to introduce as an Amendment. That was the sum total of the protection which he proposed to give the public, and yet the right hon. Gentleman had taken exception to it. In cases of difference, who was to decide under the Bill proposed by the right hon. Gentleman? None but the railway companies. But let hon. Members picture to themselves a trader taking a case into Court against railway companies with their millions of capital. What, then, could be fairer than to adopt the principle of the North Staffordshire Bill, and to have arbitrators appointed? Such a protection was absolutely necessary to the public. If his hon. Friend would consent to insert a clause to that effect he should be disposed to support the Bill; but the Bill in its present shape was injurious to the public and iniquitous, and he should oppose it.
§ MR. HARVEY LEWIS
said, the inhabitants of the metropolis had the greatest possible reason to complain of the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. Several Bills had been withdrawn to-day on the ground that it was too late in the Session to pass them, and that was the course which ought to have been pursued with regard to the present Bill; but the right hon. Gentleman had allowed himself to be overpersuaded by the railway directors who were now sitting behind him. The Metropolitan Underground Railway was calculated to supply a grievous want, but it also brought to light a grievous want, and that was, a want of proper legislation for railways running through the metropolis. His noble Colleague (Lord Fermoy) had stated that he knew several instances of persons who had been ruined by the construction of the metropolitan railways. The law was, that persons injuriously affected might obtain damages against the companies, and many persons proceeded against them in the Sheriff's Court and had been awarded damages, which in some cases the companies paid. But at last the railway authorities took heart of grace and appealed to the Court of Queen's Bench; and the Court decided that the judgment of the Sheriffs' Court was right. The railway companies upon this appealed from that decision to the Court of Error, and there it was decided that a person might be injuriously affected without being wronged. And now the law was, in such a case, that persons not having money could not obtain compensation because they could not go to the House of Lords. One would have thought that to Clauses 21 and 22 of the former Bill there could have been no reasonable objection; and yet these clauses had been struck out, through what occult influences he would leave it to the House to imagine. He had himself presented a petition in favour of these clauses, and especially of the compensation clause. They were told that the Bill contained nothing new, and, therefore, they ought to pass it as a matter of course. But if there was nothing in the Bill but what was law at present, then let the law remain as it was until next Session; and let nothing be introduced by a side wind. If the Bill should go into Committee, which he hoped would not he the case, he should ask leave to introduce a clause which, he believed, had emanated from 620 the Vice President of the Board of Trade, and which was contained in the original Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman, to whose special care they must look in matters of this kind, had deliberately adopted certain clauses, was the House to submit to have them struck out at the dictation of railway companies? If the clauses were wrong why introduce them into the original Bill? If right, why strike them out?
§ MR. M'MAHON
said, that in the course of last Session a Bill was introduced for the purpose of limiting the amount of compensation to first-class railway passengers to the small sum of £300. The whole power of the railway interest was brought to bear in support of that Bill. [Mr. MILNER GIBSON: NO!] The right hon. Gentleman must know what influences were brought to bear better than he could, but at all events the Bill was favourable to the railway interests. That Bill was thoroughly considered by the House, and thrown out by a very large majority. Now, it so happened that in one of the Railway Bills passed last Session a clause was smuggled through the House limiting the compensation for killing a mechanic to—what sum did the House think? What was the value of a mechanic's life in the opinion of railway directors? [An hon. MEMBER: No; of the Board of Trade.] Well, it might be the opinion of the Board of Trade too. The clause to which ho referred was in the Bill of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway—and he mentioned the circumstance because the right hon. Gentleman said there was nothing new in the Bill. Now, he would ask, was there any general railway Act in force applying to England, Ireland, and Scotland in which the compensation for killing a mechanic was reduced to £100? And not only was the compensation not to exceed £100, but the amount to he awarded was to be determined by an arbitrator appointed by the Board of Trade, and not otherwise. Now, in a Christian country to introduce such a clause was the most wicked thing he ever heard of. Cicero mentioned that it was one of the moot questions of his day whether in a storm one should throw overboard a cheap slave or a dear horse. Well, he supposed the right hon. Gentleman had been considering that question. In the Canal Navigation Act the limit of compensation for the loss of a horse was £50. Assuredly a valuable horse ought in the estimation 621 of the right hon. Gentleman to rank with a mechanic, and therefore they had better reduce the compensation for a mechanic's life to £50. Such a clause as that to which he had referred would alone be enough to show that this Bill had been clearly introduced in the interest of the railway companies, Hon. Members might be sure that the interest of those companies had been consulted to the detriment of the public.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, there was clearly some misapprehension as to the nature and objects of this Bill. He was charged with having been advised by the railway companies and the various parties interested in order to determine what clauses the Bill should contain. Of course it was right, as far as it could be done, to consult all parties interested, so as to know what they had to urge. But in this case it happened that the only advisers he had were the Acts of Parliament and the decisions of that House. The object of the Bill was to condense and settle the clauses which had been sanctioned by Committees on Private Bills, and which were of such a character that it was thought safe and proper to incorporate them in a general Act, so as to save Parliament the trouble of repeatedly enacting the same thing. His hon. Friend objected to the Bill because it did not contain a great many provisions which would be for the public advantage. He was quite ready to admit that changes had been made in the Bill since it was first introduced. And why? Because it was found after some consideration that clauses had been introduced which it was believed had not been sufficiently sanctioned by Parliament to justify their incorporation in all future Acts. The clause in which the Marylebone vestry took such great interest had been introduced into only one metropolitan railway Act, and in consequence of which the company concerned gave up the line altogether, because the compensations would be so excessive that it was out of the question to think of making it. The Board of Trade, therefore, did not consider themselves justified in introducing that clause, seeing that it had had the sanction of Parliament only in one particular Bill. He accepted the doctrine that every person should be protected from injustice, but the present law was supposed sufficient to do that. ["No, no!"] Parliament at least had thought so. Now, so far from the Bill having 622 been framed in the interest of the railway companies, he had received a deputation representing the railway interest, which had asked him not to proceed with the Bill. The Bill had been introduced in the public interest, and not in that of the railway companies, and he thought it would be acceptable to the House. The hon. Member for Liverpool proposed to introduce a new clause. [Mr. HORSFALL: It has been introduced already in another Bill.] It was new matter as far as the object of the Bill before the House was concerned. It was true it had been introduced in one Bill; but that was not enough. The Government did not propose to put into this Bill every clause that had ever been introduced in a private Bill, but only such as had unmistakeably received the sanction of Parliament. The Bill was intended to re-enact such clauses only as Parliament had affirmed over and over again. There might be errors in the Bill, but those errors might be corrected in Committee; but if it was to be opposed at this period of the Session, clause by clause, he quite admitted that that was an argument against going on with the Bill. He did not wish to take anyone by surprise, but the measure was not volunteered by the Board of Trade. It was in consequence of a recommendation of a joint Committee of the Lords and Commons, which sat in the beginning of last Session, that the Bill was brought in. That Committee considered the question of metropolitan railways, and they recommended that as soon as practicable a Bill should be introduced, containing such clauses as had received the sanction and approval of Parliament, and which should apply to all future Bills. If, however, the feeling of the House was that it was too late in the Session to carry such a Bill, he would not stand in the way. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Horsfall) wanted the House precipitately to enact without inquiry, as a permanent clause for the government of all future railways, a new clause somewhat similar to one once inserted in a private railway Act. This was a clause settling for the future the mode of assessing the terminal charges on railways. But the hon. Gentleman was the Member of a Commission appointed to inquire into that particular question. It was his duty to bring that subject under the consideration of the Commission, and recommend to Parliament what he thought right after 623 inquiry by the Commission. But the hasty legislation which the hon. Member now asked for was not prudent or justifiable. He (Mr. Milner Gibson) did not wish to prolong the Session unnecessarily. By not passing this Bill the question would be left where it was, and hon. Gentlemen must be held responsible for declining to protect the public interests covered by the Bill. He would ask leave of the House to withdraw the Motion.
said, he was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman would follow the course which all his Colleagues had recommended should be taken with every measure that had come before them to-day; and therein the right hon. Gentleman was acting with great discretion. But the right hon. Gentleman would allow him (Mr. Henley) to call his attention to this point. The House had been informed that, as regarded the framing of this Bill the right hon. Gentleman had held no consultation with anybody, but had framed his measure by taking those clauses which were usually found in railway Acts.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
denied having said that he had had no communication with the railway authorities in respect to this measure. He had certainly intended to say the very reverse.
repeated, that the right hon. Gentleman had stated that his measure was framed on those clauses that were usually found in railway Acts. How was it, then, that every provision that operated as a protection to the public had been struck out of the Bill by the right hon. Gentleman's own hand? As the Bill originally stood there were five or six provisions which gave some protection to the public; but they were now gone. Now, it was the duty of the Government, in introducing model clauses, to take care to introduce those which protected the public; the railway interest was quite capable of looking after itself. The title of the Bill as amended, was, "A Bill for consolidating in one Act provisions frequently inserted in acts relating to Metropolitan and other railways." But these words should have been added, "and to give further power to certain public bodies in the metropolis to obstruct improvement, and enable railway companies further to oppress the public." He was thankful that the measure was to go along with all the other Bills already discharged, and that hon. Members would have the chance of getting away sooner.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, the right hon. Gentleman had given no explanation of the allusion made by the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. M'Mahon) to the valuation of a mechanic's life at £100 in certain cases of railway accident. Now, the clause in question was really of extreme benefit to the working classes. Whereas the railway companies had power to charge at the rate of 1d. a mile, the London, Chatham, and Dover offered to carry working men at certain times of the day at the rate of one penny per journey, upon condition that the responsibility of the company should be limited in case of railway accident, and the maximum payment should not exceed £100. He saw-nothing in this arrangement but what was highly beneficial to the working man.
could not see the advantage to the working classes from such an arrangement, and asked what Parliamentary sanction had been given to this valuation of a working man's life at £100?
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.