§ Order for Consideration of Lords' Amendments read.
§ Lords' Amendments considered.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he must ask the House to disagree with the Amendments of the House of Lords on this Bill. The reasons for his doing so were somewhat peculiar. The Bill had passed through the House of Commons without opposition, and when it left there, it was a perfectly innocent measure, with which no one could find any fault. After it came before Committee in the other House, certain Amendments were introduced by the promoters which would have a very serious effect on the shipping and trading interests of the county of Fife. These Amendments were introduced without Notice, and if the parties interested had been aware of such intention, the Bill would have been opposed in the House of Commons. No opportunity, however, was given them of opposing it. The first Amendment was one which imposed on the ratepayers of Burntisland the liability of making good any deficiency in the sinking fund. A Petition signed by 70 or 80 ratepayers had been sent up, in which they protested against the Amendment on the ground that, as they derived no benefit from the harbour, they ought not to be taxed for its maintenance. The next Amendment was even more objectionable still. The railway rates were fixed by an Act of Parliament in 1858; but they were so high as to be impracticable, and a new arrangement was entered into in 1872, which was made statutory in 767 1873, stipulating that certain rates, and none higher, should be charged. That agreement had been acted upon since that time, and the traders very seriously objected to an Amendment now introduced into the Bill, which would throw the agreement over. The traders trusted to the Town Council of Burntisland; and until quite lately the Town Council of Burntisland was perfectly firm about it. They insisted that the Bill should be withdrawn, if the railway company insisted upon upsetting that agreement; and it was only so late as the 30th of July last that the Town Council, in eon-sequence of influence brought to bear upon them, passed a resolution agreeing to withdraw their opposition. The 30th July was only the other day. The proprietors were an unorganized body, and it was impossible for them to get up an opposition on the spur of the moment to a Bill passed by a Committee of the Lords. They were unable to oppose it themselves, but they trusted to the House of Commons to refuse to sanction an Amendment so extremely unjust as that. It raised rates so much that it would prove to be a great grievance. The coal proprietors—for whom he was then speaking—had an "output" of 800,000 tons per annum; and out of that quantity 400,000 tons were shipped. Therefore, the amount that they would be taxed in respect of that Amendment would amount to many thousand pounds annually. There was another Amendment, which raised the shipping rates from 1d. to 2d., or 100 per cent; and the harbour rates on ships were raised from 4d. to 6d., or 50 per cent. The two last Amendments were not of so much importance to his constituents as the first Amendment, but he thought he had shown sufficient cause why the House should disagree with the Amendments.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that the burgh which promoted the Bill was one he represented. He did not propose to go into any details. The general question appeared to be this—the burgh having gone to a very large expense in respect of the Bill, it would be in a very great difficulty if it were thrown out at the last moment. The burgh was not anxious that the Amendments should be introduced; but having been introduced, and having received the sanction of Lord Redesdale, the very experienced Chairman 768 of Committees in the Lords, they came to the conclusion that it was distinctly for their interest that the Bill should be allowed to pass. A very special agreement was entered into between the Town Council and the North British Railway Company in regard to the rates charged for coal and other matters; but that, he repeated, was a special agreement. As he understood the case, it came to this—that those Petitioners were not parties to the special agreement made between the Town Council and the North British Railway. They were outsiders. They were customers, no doubt, of the railway, but they were protected as all customers of other railways were protected—namely, by ordinary rules. Moreover, under the Bill they would be specially protected in that respect under the clause inserted by the House of Lords. Special provision was made that the rates should not be raised to such a degree as to injure the harbour; and, in case of a difference, a special reference was to be made to the Railway Commissioners, not only under the general law, but under the particular agreement. He ventured to think that those third parties, who were no party to the agreement, should stand exactly as the customers of any other railway would stand; he could not see that it was fair they should at the last moment interfere, with the result of throwing upon his constituents a very heavy expense.
§ MR. ADAM
said, he trusted the House would not permit the Bill to be thrown out, because of the objection of the hen. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson). That would be a very unusual and a very unfair course. It had gone through all its stages, and at the last moment it was met by opposition from third parties who had no direct interest in the matter. If they appeared at all, they ought to have appeared before Lord Redesdale, and it was unfair to appear at the last moment, when it was perfectly certain the result of any opposition must be to throw the Bill out altogether, and say that they had not been sufficiently heard. It was all very well to say they did not know what was going on before Lord Redesdale; but he knew from correspondence which he had seen in the Scotch newspapers, that these facts must have been known to the gentlemen who now appeared long 769 before they made another move. He asked the House to consider the very injurious effect the stopping of the Bill would have on the public interests of the county of Fife. It was a great coal - producing county, with an extensive seaboard, and it had not got a single harbour in which big ships could get. If that Bill were thrown out just when they expected to get a good harbour and good ships—and he thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Anderson), instead of representing coal proprietors in the county, more probably represented some individual interests amongst those coal proprietors—the effect would be that the harbour would not be made for a couple of years after it should be, and the whole public interests would be injured to an extent which it was impossible to estimate. He trusted the House would agree to the Amendments.
§ MR. RAIKES
said, he quite agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Adam), that it was a very unusual circumstance that the House should be engaged in discussing Amendments made in the other House of Parliament on the 9th August; but he (Mr. Raikes) would not say that appeared quite to sustain him in the position which he understood the right hon. Gentleman to take up—namely, that if the House took the course of disagreeing to proposed Amendments, the House should be responsible for the loss of the Bill. He had had the matter particularly under his own consideration while it was in the House of Commons, for there it was an unopposed Bill, and therefore it was referred to him in his capacity of Chairman of Ways and Means. It passed before him without any suggestion of Amendment, and it left the House as an unopposed Bill. Under those circumstances, he did not think that upon that House would rest the responsibility of the failure of the Bill consequent on its restoration to its original shape. The question raised by these Amendments was really an important one. The first Amendment was called Clause 9 A, which provided additional security for the formation of a sinking fund by hypothecating the revenues of a town, and giving the rates as additional security for the sinking fund. If that was an English Bill it would not be competent for the other 770 House of Parliament to introduce an Amendment of that sort, because it would be directly in contravention of the Borough Funds Act. He held in his hand a Petition presented to the House by upwards of 70 persons in the borough of Burntisland, in which they protested against any such burden being cast upon their rates in respect to a matter which they had had no opportunity of considering. Although the Borough Funds Act had not, he believed, been extended to Scotland, still he could not but feel that its principle must be recognized in regard to the Three Kingdoms. He thought the Amendment was an invasion of the privileges of the ratepayers, against which they had protested. [Sir GEORGE CAMPBELL: May I be allowed to explain?] The second Amendment repealed a certain agreement between the Town Council and the railway. It was quite true that the parties who were now anxious to disagree to the Amendments did not appear before the other House of Parliament; but it was easy to explain why they did not appear. They were at one time acting with the Town Council, and believed their funds to be sufficiently protected, and if they had come before him and asked to be heard to an unopposed Bill, he, in accordance with the usual course, should have been obliged to have excluded them. He presumed that course had been followed in the other House. The parties interested, the coal proprietors, placed every confidence in the Town Council that they would reject this Amendment or withdraw it, and in that belief they remained till the 30th July. Then they were driven to this House in order to enable them to defeat the clause which they had had no opportunity of opposing. Those were the two most important Amendments. As regarded the harbour rates, he thought the Lords Committee had improved the Bill. When the Question was put, he should be prepared to support the Amendments of the Lords on that point. But having in view the evidence which he had put before the House, and having regard to uniformity of legislation on private Bills, and to the importance of maintaining the principle affirmed in the Borough Funds Act, and also having regard to the importance of not shutting out persons who were affected by a measure from an opportunity of making 771 themselves heard, if the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson) divided the House on the first two Amendments, he (Mr. Raikes) should confess it his duty to go into the Lobby with him, leaving to the promoters of the Bill the responsibility of any further steps.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, he would not have appeared in opposition to the ratepayers, but the Petition had been put into his hands, and he found that it was from some of the ratepayers. He would not dispute the authority of the Chairman of Committees as to the general question affecting the particular clause.
§ MR. ANDERSON
said, he would adopt the suggestion of the Chairman of Committees, and disagree to the two first Amendments, but not divide on the minor ones.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, there was an Act in operation in Scotland analogous to the Borough Funds Act, known popularly as Sir William Rae's Act—the Lord Advocate at the time—and that its provisions were most stringent.
Several Amendments agreed to; several disagreed to.
Committee appointed, "to draw up Reasons to be assigned to The Lords for disagreeing to the Amendments to which this House hath disagreed:"—Mr. RAIKES, Mr. ANDERSON, Mr. M'LAREN, Sir GEORGE CAMPBELL, Mr. ADAM, Mr. ROWLEY HILL, and Mr. M'LAGAN:—To withdraw immediately; Three to he the quorum.
Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords Amendments reported, and agreed to:—To he communicated to The Lords.