§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."352
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he had an Amendment down upon the Paper against this Bill, which raised, to some extent, the identical principle which had been under the consideration of the House for the last hour and a-half; but the House would be glad to learn that it was not his intention to detain them more than a few moments, as he only desired to point out what he thought wore the very objectionable provisions of the Bill. There was only one clause to which he took exception—namely, the 25th clause, which provided for the extension of time beyond that allowed by the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act for the disposal of surplus lands by the North Eastern Railway Company. He should not detain the House by reading the clause in detail; but in the Lands Clauses Act, which he need not remind the House was a general Statute, the limit of 10 years was proscribed during which surplus lands should be disposed of in the manner provided by that Act. This Bill, however, gave another 10 years during which these lands should be disposed of. The ground of his objection was that if it was necessary to amend the Lands Clauses Act, which was a Public General Act, that amendment should take the shape of a Public Bill. The promoters of the Bill had issued a statement of the reasons for it. It was not his intention to controvert those reasons. The proposal in the Bill might be an improvement—and he would concede, for the sake of argument, that the proposal in the Bill might be an improvement—in the existing law; but still he said that even an improvement of the Lands Clauses Act should be introduced into this House as a Public Bill. It was no answer to his objection to say that the Lands Clauses Act was faulty in any respect. He would assume that it was faulty. The same principle which was discussed at some length just now applied far more forcibly to the present Bill—namely, that it was sought by means of a Private Bill to modify, or, if they liked to say so, to amend and improve a public Statute. Now, among the reasons given by the North Eastern Railway Company why Parliament should adopt their proposal was one which he thought was a very good argument against the Bill—namely, that certain other Bills which they mentioned had had similar provisions in- 353 serted. The North Eastern Railway Company said that in 1849 and in 1851 they succeeded in obtaining the introduction into Private Bills of provisions of this kind. Now, he thought that a reason why the House should, upon that occasion, mark its disapproval of that practice. If Railway Companies, or any other persons, desired to amend the Public Statutes, they should bring their proposals before Parliament in the shape of a Public Bill. It was a great hardship to owners of property. Owners of property relied upon the provisions of the Public Statutes, and they were not, in the first instance, disposed to put themselves to the expense of opposing a Private Bill. He was not himself personally affected by that Bill, although many of his neighbours were; but in some cases those who were in the possession of ample means had availed themselves of the opportunity of petitioning against the Bill. He knew one Petition which had been lodged; but those who were not so well able to deal with cases of that kind would not incur the expense, and were now without any protection for the defence of their interests. He ventured to say that it was a hardship upon private persons to be driven to the expensive machinery of petitioning against Private Bills when they held their property in reliance upon the provisions of the General Statute. He should not detain the House, especially as he had the disadvantage of following a lengthy and exhaustive discussion upon a Bill which raised, to some extent, a somewhat similar principle. The House must, however, be very careful how they deliberately allowed themselves to be drawn into a precedent in the matter. What had occurred before was only a quasi-precedent, which had escaped the notice of Parliament. The House had now before it an attempt to override a General Statute. But he was not without hope that the attention of the promoters of the Bill would be called to it, and that they would modify the Bill and strike out this clause. But there was another provision to which he would draw the attention of the House. In the Lands Clauses Act provision was made for the right of pre-emption, and the rights of certain parties within the 10 years prescribed by the Statute. The person from whom the land was originally severed, 354 and other persons, had a right of preemption; but this Clause 25 did away with that. He was told that the clause as drawn very distinctly overrode the right of pre-emption, which was distinctly preserved in the Lands Clauses Act. Apart from that the clause was most objectionable, and he hoped the House would firmly put its foot down upon the principle involved—namely, that a Public Statute could be amended by, as he thought, an insane clause in a Private Bill. He protested against such a thing, and he would venture to hope that the Representative of Her Majesty's Government, whoever he might be, who had this matter in charge, would support the proposition that he laid down; and even conceding, for the sake of argument, that the proposal was an improvement upon the Lands Clauses Act, he held that the improvement ought to be brought in as a Public Bill.
§ 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. James Lowther.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. J. W. PEASE
said, that as one of the Members who had charge of the Bill, perhaps the House would allow him to reply to the remarks of his right hon. Friend. The Bill was a most important Bill for the North of England. It was a Bill which contained a great many provisions for works which were calculated to promote specially the public safety. This Bill went into several matters which had been delayed for several years owing to the depression of the times. It was a Bill which was looked upon with great interest in the districts served by the North Eastern Railway Company; and, therefore, he begged that the House would not jeopardize a Bill, on the allegations of his right hon. Friend, especially when it contained so many provisions that were of interest to the community. His right hon. Friend said that that was a matter of principle, and that the Railway Companies ought not to come to the House and ask for an extension of time. He would ask his right hon. Friend when he first discovered this great principle, because ever since his right hon. Friend and he (Mr. Pease) came into that House—for he thought 355 they came into it at about the same time—year after year Railway Bills had been passed containing that very clause, or something to a similar effect. Only the previous evening the House passed the second reading of a Bill containing a clause drawn on these very lines; and during this Session of Parliament four Railway Bills had been passed, and he asked why the North Eastern Railway was to be singled out to be made a martyr of for the sake of a principle which had already been admitted? What he wished to draw the attention of the House to was that he was quite prepared to abandon that clause, and substitute another clause, one which had already been inserted in the North Western and Midland Railway Bills, and which limited the power of the Railway Company to hold surplus lands not adjoining Railway Stations or Railways to two years. That clause had been most carefully settled by the Earl of Redesdale, and had been approved by his counsel; and he (Mr. Pease) suggested that that clause would be an improvement upon the clause in the North Eastern Railway Bill. But in reference to his right hon. Friend's remark, he would say that the North Eastern Railway Company had had that same clause in several Railway Bills. It was brought forward from the old Bill. The North Eastern Railway Company had never offered land to anyone but to the adjoining owners, and they had always concluded that they were bound so to do by the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, in dealing with the clauses alluded to by his right hon. Friend. But if there was a railway in the world to which the period for holding surplus land should be continued, he thought it was the North Eastern Railway. During the last 10 years that Company had laid down, in promoting public safety, 325 miles of siding; they had considerably increased their rolling-stock; and in order to place their servants near their work, and in order to avoid accidents, they had built nearly 1,000 cottages for their platelayers and signalmen. It was impossible to say to what good purpose the surplus lands might be applied. They who were on the North Eastern Board knew no one who was aggrieved by that action of the North Eastern. His hon. Friend the Member for Stockton (Mr. Dodds) had some 356 private interest which he supposed was affected. There were other persons whose private interests were also affected; but he thought that those private interests must come before a Committee of the House, but not before the House of Commons, because that House was not a proper tribunal to look after those interests. All he asked the House was to pass the second reading of the Bill, and he would undertake to put in a clause on the lines of the clause inserted in the North Western Bill. And as to the difficulty which his hon. Friend had regarding selling lands to adjoining owners, he would give him his word that there was no intention to override the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act. He trusted, under those circumstances, the House would deem it right to pass the second reading of that most important Bill.
§ MR. DODDS
said, he could not agree with the reasoning of his hon. Friend the Member for South Durham with reference to the Bill; but he entirely agreed with his right hon. Friend opposite. ["Hear!"] It was gratifying to him, and it was a gratification that was evidently shared by the great majority of the Members of the House, that he—on this occasion, at least—agreed with his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. J. Lowther). He agreed also, with pleasure, with some of the remarks which had fallen from the hon. Member for South Durham. He (Mr. Dodds) thought that the Bill was of considerable importance, and he was in favour of many of the propositions which it sought to authorize. But the clause to which objection was taken had no reference whatever to any of these propositions. The hon. Member proposed to abandon the form of the clause to which objection had been raised. He had admitted the force of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and admitted that the clause ought not to be sanctioned as it stood; but he (Mr. Dodds) trusted that the House would insist on his either withdrawing the clause absolutely and unconditionally, or refuse to read the Bill a second time. His hon. Friend the Member for South Durham said that private interests only were affected; but the House would remember that when private interests were affected by Private Bills, the requirements of the law should be adhered 357 to as to notice to the owners and occupiers of all lands taken, and if the North Eastern Company desired to extend the time required by them under the provisions of the various Acts, they had only to give notice to the several occupiers and owners. Instead of this, they were seeking to take lands in six or seven different counties, and in 120 different townships, which had been acquired by 26 different Railway Companies now incorporated with the North Eastern system, and they sought to affect every one of those owners and occupiers without giving them any notice. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman opposite would insist upon the entire omission of the clause from the Bill, or would divide the House upon the question of the second reading.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he thought that the House ought to thank the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Lincolnshire for his opposition, which was based upon the clearest principle, that that was an attempt of a Railway Company to evade the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act. He did not rise for the purpose of adding anything to the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He only wished to remind the House that last year it set its foot down when an attempt was made by the Metropolitan Railway to deal with another clause of the Land Clauses Act, and it enjoined that if a part of a house were taken the whole ought to be taken. They tried to evade that and failed, and he begged to remind the House of the fact, and hoped the House would be consistent, and set its foot down firmly against the demand of the Railway Companies to evade the principles of the Land Clauses Act.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
pointed out that the right hon. Gentleman opposite said he hoped the Member of the Government specially charged to look after that Bill would express the opinion which had been formed upon it. As that Representative, he should endeavour to do so in a few words. The position which the House had taken up in reference to these matters was, that they would not interfere with the functions which they had voluntarily committed to the Committees upstairs, unless there was some great principle of public policy, or other great principle, at stake. He had carefully considered the Bill, and did not think that it was a case of the 358 kind. The only point was whether the Company should be allowed to vary the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act so as to obtain an extension of time for the re-sale and redemption of surplus land. Surely that was a matter of detail, and a matter of evidence, which could not be properly decided by the Houses; but which could be decided, after full inquiry, upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman said that the promoters were seeking by a Private Bill to alter a Public Act; but that statement was a little misleading. It was a Public Act which it was usual to incorporate in all Private Bills, power being given to modify its provisions when special circumstances required their modification. The modification of the provisions of the Lands Clauses Act was a matter of frequent occurrence. Only within the last few days a Bill of the North Western Railway contained exactly the same provision as was in the Bill now before the House; and it certainly would be inconvenient if the House were to take the matter into its own hands and interfere with the work of the Committees upstairs.
§ MR. GREGORY
ventured to think that that was a matter for the House to take into consideration. The principle of the Lands Clauses Act was that a Railway Company should have the power, for 10 years, to say whether they required the land they had purchased for the purpose of their works or not. During these 10 years they had to give the adjoining owner the right of preemption; and if they did not sell within the 10 years, then the land reverted to the persons originally entitled to it. Now, the Bill entirely set aside that. He ventured to think that there was a very important principle and policy in the Lands Clauses Act, because, if it were not for these provisions, the Railway Companies might acquire the right to get lands into their hands, and they might set up to be not only Railway, but Land Jobbing Companies. It was said that there were several Acts containing similar provisions to those in this Bill; but he doubted if any one was of so wholesale a character as that Bill. The Bill sought to take lands which were in 126 different parishes, and acquired under no less than 26 Acts of Parliament, and no particulars were given of what these lands were, or how 359 long they had been held; and he could not help thinking that much of the land comprised in the Bill had been in possession of Railway Companies for years and years beyond the period. That was a matter with which the House ought to deal, and that was a point to which he wished to call the attention of the House.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, that the hon. Member for South Durham (Mr. J. W. Pease) had stated that he would withdraw the clause, and would substitute for it another clause which was found in the Bill of another Railway Company. He had not had the opportunity of studying the clause, and he could not be expected to commit himself to a clause he had not read, and still less to commit the House in the matter; but he had no doubt the hon. Member would allow the second reading to stand over until, say, Friday. He would withdraw his Amendment if the hon. Member would thus give him time to examine the clause and see if he could agree to it. He should like to hear the hon. Member say something on that point.
§ SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said, he hoped his hon. Friend opposite would not accept the offer of his right hon. Friend, who would only move the rejection of the Bill when the second reading again came on.
§ MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he distinctly stated that he would withdraw his Motion for the rejection of the Bill, because he wished to have an opportunity of examining the clause it was proposed to substitute for the one now contained in the Bill.
§ SIR MATTHEW WHITE RIDLEY
said, that meant that if he thought proper he would again move the rejection of the Bill. It was not reasonable that exception should be taken to one particular clause and the Bill rejected on that account. His hon. Friend opposite had done as much as he could in having said he was willing to substitute a clause which had been already approved by the Speaker's Counsel, and which had also met with the approval of the Chairman of Ways and Means; and he thought his right hon. Friend (Mr. Lowther) ought to agree to the second reading, and allow the clauses to be submitted to the proper tribunal upstairs. He must correct his right hon. Friend in another point. He had said that this 360 was an attempt to override the Lands Clauses Act. Why, the Lands Clauses Act specially provided that any further period beyond 10 years might be prescribed; and surely it was obviously impossible for a Railway Company always to say exactly what use they would be able to make of their land. It appeared to him the promoters of the Bill asked nothing unreasonable, and he hoped the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.