HC Deb 15 August 1882 vol 273 cc1808-16

Order for Consideration of Lords Amendments read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Lords Amendments be now considered."


said, that this was a Bill of so important a nature, that when it came before the House for a second reading, it was decided to take the unusual course with regard to it of sending it to a Committee of nine Members, instead of a Committee of four. When, after a most exhaustive inquiry by the Committee, it came down to the House in an amended form, strong objections were taken to it, and the third reading was only passed upon a division, in which 74 Members voted in the minority. The Bill had since been in "another place," where it was considered and evidence taken; and, after an inquiry which extended over 16 days, it now came back again to the House of Commons for the consideration of the Lords Amendments, and, upon examining it, he found that it was a totally different Bill from the one which had originally received the sanc- tion of the House of Commons, so many Amendments having been inserted in it by the House of Lords. The Amendments themselves occupied no less than 85 closely printed pages, and if it was, as he presumed it was, the duty of the Clerk at the Table to read all the Amendments, and for the Speaker to put them separately to the House, it would take at least two hours to dispose of them, without in any way attempting to consider them; and this, too, on one of the last days of the Session. He hoped that his right hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees was present, although he did not at the moment see the right hon. Gentleman in his place. But if the right hon. Gentleman was absent, at any rate the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) was present, and would probably be able to give explanations, although the matter was one which came more immediately under the Department presided over by the Chairman of Committees. He was glad to see that his right hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees had now taken his seat. He wished to ask his right hon. Friend if it was at all right or natural that Amendments extending over 85 pages should be considered by the House of Commons on one of the very last days of the Session? It was utterly impossible even for hon. Members to read through them; and what he desired to put to his right hon. Friend was this. Ought not the Bill, coming back as it did with such a considerable body of Amendments as those which had been introduced by the House of Lords, to be referred to the same Select Committee which originally considered the Bill, and which reported to the House some five or six weeks ago? It was utterly impossible, and he would not presume to take up the time of the House by attempting even, to go through the Amendments. He would not deny that many of the Amendments were improvements of the Bill; but, passing that by, he came to the main features of the Bill; and he asked whether it was right that a measure, amended and altered to so considerable an extent as this Bill had been, the object of which was to take over one of the principal water communications of the country, and to place that water communication in the hands of a speculative Railway Company which had just been formed for the purpose of purchasing it, should receive the sanction of the House of Commons at the extreme fag-end of the Session? When he presumed to bring the case of the Regent's Canal under the attention of the House, on the third reading of the Bill, at that time the Select Committee on Railways and Canals, which had been sitting for two years in that House, had not made its Report. Since then the Report of the Select Committee had been presented, and he would venture to state to the House what the nature of the recommendations of the Committee, in reference to the connection between Railways and Canals, was. The Report of the Committee, which was presided over by his hon. Friend the Under Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Evelyn Ashley), was as follows:— Serious complaints have been made by traders and Canal Companies against Railway Companies in respect to the working of Canals owned by them, or of which they control the navigation. Cases have been adduced where Railway Companies, having acquired possession or control of a Canal, have ceased to work it, or allowed it to fall into disrepair, or charged excessive tolls, especially in the case of through rates, and that, inconsequence, traffic is diverted to the Railways, where higher rates are exacted, to the injury of traders and the public generally. Tour Committee are of opinion that these complaints are not unfounded. Well, what were the recommendations the Committee made?— A Railway Company owning or controlling a Canal may think it profitable to lose the revenue of the Canal, in the expectation of deriving a greater revenue from the Railway, to which it is a competitor, and where the Canal forms part of a through competing route, it is obviously its interest, as a general rule, to discourage through traffic. The Committee wind up as follows:— Your Committee are, therefore, of opinion that it is impolitic that Railway Companies should have the control, either directly or indirectly, of Canal navigation; and that where Canals are already under the control of Railway Companies, Parliament should endeavour to insure their use to the fullest possible extent. And yet, in the teeth of this recommendation of the Committee, which had been sitting for two years, and had most carefully considered the subject, the House was now asked, at the end of the Session, to allow a newly-formed Railway Company to acquire possession of the Regent's Canal. He thought the House would agree with him that that would be a most improper proceeding; and he would appeal to his right hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees whether it was right that these Amendments, which the House had barely had time to look through, and which it was impossible they could properly consider, should be hurried through almost on the last day of the Session? He would ask his right hon. Friend whether it was not possible to refer the Bill back to the same Committee which had already considered the measure, or to another Select Committee when the House re-assembled on the 24th of October? He believed that such a course would be perfectly in consonance with the intimation conveyed by the Prime Minister as to the character of the Business they would be called upon to transact when the House reassembled after the adjournment. He understood his right hon. Friend to say that he did not intend to interfere at all with private legislation; but he did not accurately gather whether the right hon. Gentleman referred only to Bills introduced by private Members, or whether he referred to Private Bill legislation. He would, however, put it to the right hon. Gentleman and to the Chairman of Committees whether there was not a very strong case for referring these 85 pages of Amendments to the same Select Committee which considered the Bill when it was first introduced, or to another Select Committee to consider the measure in its altered form, and inform the House whether it was right that it should pass into law or not? He should not propose, at the present moment, to move the rejection of the Bill. He had no desire to take that extreme course; but he was certainly of opinion that it was most desirable the Bill should be re considered by a Select Committee, and reported upon at a later period of the Session.


Does the hon. Gentleman make no Motion?


No, Sir; I do not make any Motion.


Then the Question I have to put to the House is that the Lords Amendments be taken into consideration.


said, that, before his right hon. Friend the Chairman of Committees answered the appeal of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), he should like to say a few words upon the subject. He should be very sorry to countenance any hurried or hasty legislation upon important questions of this kind; but really he had listened with surprise to the speech of his hon. Friend, who was not only an old Member of the House, but a Member well acquainted with the Forms of the House; nevertheless, his hon. Friend had failed altogether to dig out of this large mass of additional clauses and extended clauses a single ground, as far as he (Mr. W. M. Torrens) could gather, or the slightest substantial reason why the House on this occasion should depart from its usual course. He would remind the Speaker that from that Chair he had twice already in the course of the present Session called upon the House to record its opinion in regard to the objections of his hon. Friend. When the Bill was before the House for a second reading, on the 2nd of March, his hon. Friend objected altogether to its being allowed to proceed, and upon an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Warwick (Mr. A. Peel) the measure was discussed for an hour or more. At the end of that time the House divided, and, by a majority of 5 to 1, declared that the Bill ought to be allowed to go on. He (Mr. W. M. Torrens) on that occasion made a proposal of a special nature—namely, that the Bill should be referred to a Hybrid Committee, and he had the honour to be supported in that proposition by Her Majesty's Government. The House deliberately affirmed the recommendation of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) that the Bill should be referred to a Hybrid Committee, and a Hybrid Committee was accordingly appointed. That Committee sat for 17 days to consider the Preamble of the Bill, and examined 75 witnesses. No fewer than 10,000 questions were put to the witnesses, and at the end of the evidence the Committee decided that the Preamble had been proved. After that the Committee proceeded to consider and discuss the clauses, and some more days were occupied in the consideration. In the end the Bill came back again to the House, and after the Report of the Committee was agreed to, it was submitted for a third reading. What happened then? The late opponents of the measure, who had stoutly resisted its progress, upon the ground of jealousy of the Railway interest, objected to the third reading of the Bill. Another debate took place, and another division, when, by a majority of 4 to 1, the House decided that the Bill ought to be read a third time. It could not, therefore, be said that the merits of the Bill in every essential particular had not been thoroughly discussed. The measure then went up to the other House. What took place there? The Chairman there—he (Mr. W. M. Torrens) had no delicacy in stating what was notoriously the fact—the Chairman of Committees in the House of Lords (the Earl of Redesdale), seeing the importance of the Bill, hesitated to appoint a Committee to inquire into it until he could secure the nomination upon it of noble Lords who were well acquainted with such matters. Some delay occurred in consequence; but, eventually, Earl Beauchamp was appointed Chairman, with four other Members of the House of Lords to act with him, one of them being a noble Lord (Lord Derwent) well known to hon. Members as a former Representative of Scarborough in that House. The Select Committee of their Lordships spent a whole week of working days in inquiring into the matter, and discussing the merits of the Bill de novo, and at the end of that time the Committee, without a division, decided in favour of the Preamble of the Bill. They then proceeded to discuss the clauses which had been fully considered by the Commons Committee. They introduced a variety of new clauses, and amended many of the existing clauses. He held in his hand the Amendments inserted by their Lordships, and he challenged his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), or any other hon. Member, to point out any new matter introduced by the House of Lords which was not in the direction of securing the advantage of the general public. He ventured to say that any hon. Member, looking at the Amendments with impartiality and without prejudice, would see that they were extremely developing clauses, expanding in certain particulars, in the interests of the public, the clauses passed by the House of Commons, and introducing others which were rather protective than otherwise of the Canal as against the Railway interest. One of the allegations made by those who took the same view of the question as his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) was that the transfer of the Canal to a Railway Company would result in the shutting up of the Canal and the removal of all competition, so that the whole of the traffic would in future fall into the hands of the Railway Company. The object of some of the Amendments introduced by the House of Lords was to prevent the possibility of such a condition of things; and he would put the question plainly and candidly to every hon. Member who had considered the Amendments inserted by the Lords, whether they did not effect a great improvement of the Bill as it originally stood? The Lords Committee, in his opinion, had fully carried out, he contended, the principles and intentions of the House of Commons when that House passed, by such an overwhelming majority, the second reading of the Bill. Among other things, the Committee of the House of Lords required the promoters of the Bill—of whom he wished the House clearly to understand that he was not one—to widen the Canal. In point of fact, they had placed upon them the obligation of increasing the width of the Canal from 35 feet to 40 feet. They had also inserted in the Bill a clause which he would venture to say was unexampled in the whole history of Private Bill legislation—namely, a clause giving power to the Canal Company to come in after the Railway was made, and be in the position of being able to buy the Railway if they were not satisfied with the arrangements made. He would put it to the House whether, without destruction of class interests or locality, it would be a light matter to throw out this Bill at the eleventh hour, and after the labours of the Select Committee which had been sitting upstairs during a considerable period of the Session to improve the facilities to enable the working classes to obtain dwellings out of town? His right hon. Friend—who was not at that moment present—the late Home Secretary (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was Chairman of the Artizans' Dwellings Committee, and if the right hon. Gentleman had been present he would doubtless have borne testimony to the accuracy of what he (Mr. W. M. Torrens) was about to say. After a careful investigation which had extended over two Sessions, the Committee had agreed to a Resolution that everything that had hitherto been done, or could be done, either by the Bill of the late Home Secretary or in any other way, to provide healthy and comfortable dwellings in the Metropolis for the working classes, would be insufficient unless Parliament was able by some means to increase the facilities of exit into the suburban districts. Now, he ventured to say that that was entirely a railway question. It was not a class question; but a question of the health and respectability and the good order of this great Metropolis. After long consideration, the Committee upstairs had recommended in the strongest terms that encouragement should be given to every scheme which would afford facilities for the working classes in living out of town, and they were anxiously looking around to see what would best aid the running of cheap trains to bring people in and take them out of town. Surely, then, the House of Commons would not at this eleventh hour throw out a Bill which afforded these advantages in a hitherto unexampled manner. The Bill, as it now stood, provided, for the first time, that a working man and his family, before 7 o'clock in the morning and after 6 o'clock in the evening, should have the privilege of travelling four miles for 1d., six miles for 1½d., and eight miles for 2d. Was this a moment at which the House, at the last moment, should be asked to reject a measure which made be great a concession to the working classes, who were panting for better and more healthy dwellings? What was the House asked to do? Were they to constitute themselves a Court of Appeal upon the details of every Private Bill, how was the private legislation of the House to be conducted? He trusted that the House would ratify the wise improvements which had been introduced into the Bill, and he believed that the advantages conceded by the promoters of the Bill should not be passed by and ignored except for more weighty reasons than had been adduced by his hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk).


The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) desires that the Lords Amendments should be submitted to the same Committee which considered the Bill when before the House of Commons. Now, I do not say there is no precedent for such a course; but it is a very unusual one to take, and the nature of these Amendments does not appear to me to be such as to require any further examination by a Committee of this House. No doubt, the Amendments inserted by the Lords are exceedingly bulky; but they mainly consist of clauses for the protection of private rights, the rights of the Crown, of various Railways and Canals, and of the Victoria Docks. All the other Amendments are in the interests of the public. One of them requires the width of the Canal to be increased from 35 feet to 40 feet, another has reference to the running of cheap trains, and there are others of a minor character, but all of them introduced in the interests of the public. Therefore, although the Amendments are bulky, they are not of a nature to require reexamination by a Select Committee of this House, as they are mainly in the interests of the public; and I hope my hon. Friend will be satisfied with pointing out the great care the Lords, as well as the House of Commons, have taken in considering and amending the provisions of the Bill, and will allow the Bill to be proceeded with without further delay. It would be a great injustice to the promotors of the Bill, if, after the lengthened examination the measure has received from both Houses of Parliament, they should now lose the Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendments considered and agreed to. [Special Entries.]