§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. WHALLEY
said, he understood that the Board of Trade would consent to the second reading on the understanding that the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. LEEMAN
said, he objected to the principle of the Bill, and moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Leeman.)
§ MR. STEPHEN CAVE
said, the object of the Act which this Bill sought to amend was to relieve parties, who wished to form a railway to which there was no opposition on the part of any one who had a right to oppose, from the heavy cost of going before a Parliamentary Committee. Objections of two kinds had been taken to that Act in its progress through Parliament. One, that it did not go far enough, inasmuch as it did not embrace gas and water companies, which, it was said, were more properly objects of such an enactment, and more entitled to such facilities than railways. The other that it limited the power of landowners—that is, neighbouring landowners whose land was not taken — to oppose the construction of a railway, confining the opposition which would prevent the granting of a certificate by the Board of Trade to existing railway and canal companies. There was a good deal of force in both these objections. The Bill of the hon. Member (Mr. Whalley) aggravated one defect, but did not remove the 759 other. The hon. Member, who had shown great perseverance, and, in fact, moved an Amendment in the sense of the present Bill to the Act of 1864, said that no railways had been constructed under that Act, which was therefore a dead letter. This was not quite accurate, as four certificates had been granted this year. But even if it were so, it did not follow that this was the right way out of the difficulty. If he might venture to say so, he thought that the Act of 1864 and the present Bill were well meaning, but not wholly satisfactory attempts to meet an acknowledged evil. The Parliamentary Committee was allowed to be in its present form an expensive and unsatisfactory tribunal. The Board of Trade might be less expensive in the first instance, but could not be satisfactory. The Board of Trade might very well act ministerially in such matters. It might inquire into the fact of whether there was bona fide opposition or not. It might decide whether or not the undertaking was of public utility or contrary to public policy, as it was empowered to do by Clauses 8 and 52 of the original Act. It might, as in the case of piers and harbours, be productive of economy and prevent delay, by granting a certificate or provisional order, to which no one could demur. But, on the other hand, without going into the objections on constitutional grounds to giving such extended legislative jurisdiction to a department of the Government, how could such a department possibly exercise this jurisdiction in a manner satisfactory to the public, or to the parties appearing before it? In the case of the Beckenham and Brighton line, he believed the landowners concurred; but he was only using this case as illustrating his argument. Moreover, if objection on the ground of competition were shut out thereby, it would be worth a company's while to buy off a few remaining dissentients at any price, however exorbitant. This should not be overlooked. But he would assume that in the Beckenham and Brighton line all the landowners consented. He forgot how many years the contest went on between the Beckenham Company and the Brighton Company, how many counsel were employed, how many witnesses called, how much money spent. The hon. Member might think that this would be cured by striking out the clauses to which he objected in the original Act. But could any man suppose that the Board of Trade had the means of conducting such an inquiry, 760 or that both parties would acquiesce in such a decision? What would follow? When the certificate was granted and laid on the table, as it was obliged to be for six weeks, the opponents would move Heaven and earth to get it disallowed by Parliament, and far greater pressure would be put upon Members than was now sometimes put upon them in the case of the second reading of Bills, notably in the case to which he had already referred. They would have the case argued before the whole House, a tribunal notoriously ill-calculated for the purpose, and the result would probably be in the end a resort to a Committee as the only means of arriving at a decision which would be binding upon both parties and finally settle the matter. The House would observe that there were two ways in which the Board of Trade might proceed. It might attempt to try the case. Supposing it pronounced in favour of the promoters, the certificate would be objected to by the opposing companies, and the consequences he had described would follow. The matter would have to be tried twice over, and an amount of odium would be incurred against which no Department could stand. But the hon. Member wished the Board of Trade to act as in the case of the Piers and Harbours Act. Under that Act they declined going into the question of competition, and if a good primâ facie case was made out by the promoters, they granted a provisional order. That order lay on the table of both Houses, and did any one suppose that the parties objecting on the ground of competition would not immediately petition or move that it be cancelled and the case tried before a Select Committee? What would be gained? There would be a saving in the matter of fees, a great consideration in the case of an unopposed Bill, but a mere drop in the bucket in a Parliamentary contest. If the hon. Gentleman meant to insist that railway companies should not be heard even before Parliament on the ground of competition, that was going far beyond present legislation. There might, indeed, be a third course. The Board of Trade might decline to grant a certificate, under the 52nd section. But it would scarcely be fair to throw upon the Department the onus of refusing to give the full advantage of the Act to an applicant. Nor again was the length of the line or the capital involved always a measure of the difficulty of the case. He attached no importance to what might be 761 said about any understanding with railway companies at the time of the passing of the Act of 1864. Private arrangements by the promoters of Bills, even of public Bills, for the purpose of preventing opposition, did not pledge the public faith, and could not bind Parliament in future legislation. He only looked to what was the best course in the case before the House. The Royal Commission had reported against any alteration in the Act of 1864, in the direction of depriving railway companies of the right of presenting their case for the consideration of Parliament. His own opinion was that the present Bill did not do this, and, indeed, that it would be powerless to effect the hon. Member's object. He should recommend him not to press it; but, at the same time, if he wished to refer it to a Select Committee he saw no reason on the part of the Government for offering any opposition.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put off for six months.
§ House adjourned at a quarter before One o'clock, till Monday next.