§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
rose to move—That all Bills of the present Session which include among their main provisions any of the following objects:—(1.) The transfer to any Railway or Canal Company of the undertaking or part of the undertaking of any other such Company; or (2.) The transfer to any Railway or Canal Company of any Harbour; or (3.) The amalgamation of the undertaking or any part of the undertaking of any Railway or Canal Company with the undertaking of any other such Company, shall be referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons.He desired to explain that he moved this Resolution, not merely on behalf of the Government, but also as having been Chairman of the Joint Committee of last Session on Railway Amalgamation. That Committee were not able to lay down any general rules or principles on the subject such as would relieve the House from the necessity of inquiring into each separate case. They therefore thought it desirable that Parliament should, at all events, take the most efficient means in their power to secure a complete consideration of every proposal for amalgamation which might be made, and with that view they unanimously recommended the Resolution which he now moved. In their Report the Committee advised that each amalgamation scheme should be dealt with in reference to its bearing on other similar schemes and on the general railway system. They desired also that unity and consistency in the action of Parliament should be obtained, and, in order that the information gained in one year should not be lost in the next, that the Committee should be, as far as practicable, permanent. The Committee he now moved 784 for referred, however, only to the present Session. This proposal did not prejudge the general question of the advisability of referring all Private Bills to Joint Committees, although the opinion of high authorities had been reported to Parliament from time to time in favour of that plan. Mr. Milner Gibson's Committee of 1863 reported in favour of a single hearing for each Bill, and the Committee of 1869 upon the Business of the House distinctly recommended Joint Committees of both Houses for all Private Bills. Amongst the witnesses who gave evidence upon this point were Sir Erskine May, Lord Grey, Mr. Bidder, Colonel Wilson Patten, and several others. The object of the former plan was mainly economy, and Sir Erskine May stated that if it had been adopted for some years past, the public and promoters of Bills would have saved millions of money. But while the plan of 1863 was mainly advocated on the ground of economy, his present proposal was designed to secure efficient inquiry—conducted by a powerful Committee, composed of the most capable Members for the purpose of both Houses of Parliament—and likewise as much continuity and consistency of action as the circumstances allowed. Whatever might be decided hereafter as to the general principle, it was desirable to avoid conflicting decisions and to consider amalgamation schemes as a whole; and in nearly cognate cases, such as the metropolitan railway scheme of a few years ago, Joint Committees had proved advantageous. The Peers who were Members of the Committee having unanimously recommended the plan, there was no reason to apprehend any obstacle from a majority in the other House to the adoption of this course. The right hon. Gentleman then moved the Resolution.
§ MR. GREGORY
remarked that, as the Resolution was moved on the recommendation of the Joint Committee, he could not offer his individual opinion against it; otherwise he should have objected to such large interests being referred to one tribunal without appeal. At all events, it was very desirable that the functions of the Committee, and the nature of its inquiry, should be more fully defined, and their attention directed to the points for their consideration. For instance, the question of tolls 785 materially affected not only the trading community, which in some cases looked after their own interests, but the public in general, yet no instructions were apparently to be given to the Joint Committee as to the questions which they wore to consider. Having practised before Private Bill Committees for 25 years, he had had some experience in this matter. Some years ago he was concerned in a Lancashire amalgamation scheme, where the rates were of vital importance to the colliery traffic, making it necessary to go into elaborate calculations to guard the interests of that traffic, and there the trade being united and vigilant could look after their interests; but take another case in which he was also engaged, the amalgamation scheme of the Brighton, South Eastern, and Chatham Companies. The Bill went through this House unopposed, but attention being afterwards called to it, certain corporations at some risk, and individuals by means of small subscriptions, appeared before the Lords' Committee and induced them to insist on a considerable reduction of the tolls, the result being the withdrawal of the Bill. Now, under this Resolution there would be only one hearing, and it was often difficult for corporations to incur an expense which they could hardly recover from borough funds, and which individuals could not be expected to bear. There should be greater facilities for parties interested to come forward, and he would almost compel a Committee, in the absence of opposition, to obtain information from the Board of Trade, or other sources, so as to guard against the passage of objectionable schemes through compromises or the withdrawal of opposition. Unless an arrangement of that kind were adopted, he feared public interests would suffer severely by these amalgamations.
said, he preferred the decision of a Joint Committee to the conflicting and accidental decisions of separate Committees, because railway companies would thus be enabled to ascertain the collective opinion of Parliament upon the question. He would ask whether the consideration of these schemes would be stayed pending the progress of the general Bill which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced.
§ MR. CHICHESTER FORTESCUE
could not say at the moment what course 786 the Committee might take, but he believed there would be no unnecessary delay in the consideration of the schemes.
Motion agreed to.
Resolved, That all Bills of the present Session which include among their main provisions any of the following objects—
- (1.) The transfer to any Railway or Canal Company of the undertaking or part of the undertaking of any other such Company; or
- (2.) The transfer to any Railway or Canal Company of any Harbour; or
- (3.) The amalgamation of the undertaking or any part of the undertaking of any Railway or Canal Company with the undertaking of any other such Company, shall be referred to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons.
Resolution to be communicated to The Lords, and their concurrence desired thereto. — (Mr. Chichester Fortescue.)