§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Forster.)
§ MR. WADDY,
in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, he did so for reasons which he hoped would receive the support of every dis- 1444 interested Member of the House. He had no objection to the Bill so far as it was a Railway Bill, and he had nothing to say against it. His objection was simply with regard to a particular provision of the Bill. The measure provided that the North British Railway Company should become hotel proprietors on a somewhat extensive scale; and if there ever was a case in which such a provision was objectionable it was in the case now under the consideration of the House. It was not an attempt to obtain powers such as were obtained openly in a great many instances, but it was put forward in a very ingenious manner. Many years ago this Railway Company became possessed of certain property for railway purposes. That property had been used in various ways and under various pretexts, and, having had the property so used, the Company now came before Parliament and asked it to sanction that which was done improperly and irregularly a good many years ago. The Company now proposed to open the property they had obtained for the purposes of an hotel. There was not the slightest need for such an hotel, and the Company were simply poaching on the ordinary business of hotel proprietors which had been carried on in the immediate neighbourhood for many years, and which anybody who knew Edinburgh would say had been carried on there successfully and well. One great ground of complaint against the Railway Company was that when they entered into this or any other business, they did not enter into it, as everybody knew, under fair and equal conditions. The hotel proprietors of Edinburgh had no opportunity of opposing the Bill, because it was settled that they had no locus standi before the Select Committee to which the measure would be referred, and they were unable, therefore, to put the House in possession of the real state of the facts. The amount of money already spent in the supply of hotel accommodation to Edinburgh and the immediate neighbourhood was very large; and, apart from the breach of faith in the present case, he could not help thinking it was time that something should be done to put a stop to attempts on the part of Railway Companies to undertake businesses for which they were not fitted, and which they had no right to under- 1445 take It might be a desirable thing to establish hotels when there was a lack of enterprize on the part of the [...] people, and the requirements of the public demanded such accommodation. In such cases it was desirable and right that Railway Companies should undertake the duty, and establish such hotels; but there could be no excuse of that kind in this instance. Everybody knew what took place in regard to Glasgow, where a similar kind of business was carried on by the Railway Company. The passengers were besieged by the guards of the North British Railway Company, who were converted into hotel "touts," and telegrams wore despatched to procure beforehand the accommodation required. When the hotel proprietors of Glasgow desired to do the same thing, they were told that they must not send their touts down to the station, because it would be an interference with the business of the Railway Company. That might be so; but the practice did not appear to involve any interference when it was undertaken on behalf of the Company's own hotel, because the moment the train got into the station the passengers were again besieged by touts from the Company's own hotel. The genuine hotel proprietors were consequently subjected to an unfair competition. So long as the business was carried on in a fair manner there might have been no objection; but, unfortunately, it was not conducted fairly, and therefore he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time on 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. Waddy.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. ORR-EWING
said, this was one of those important Bills which were known by the name of omnibus Bills, and it proposed to do a great many things besides authorizing the North British Railway Company to enlarge and improve the premises which were at the present moment held by them as an hotel. The hotel in question was an old one, and had been used as an hotel for many years for the convenience and accommodation of passengers by the railway. It had been the property of 1446 the North British Railway Company since the year 1865; but the hotel premises [...] at present unlet, and the object of the 24th clause of the present Bill was to enable the Company to enlarge, remodel, and improve their hotel and other property fronting Prince's Street in Edinburgh, so that they might be able to let it as an hotel. The Railway Company had no intention of occupying the hotel themselves; nor, in fact would they have any right to do so, because the Railway Company were not entitled to carry on the business of hotel-keepers. They found themselves obliged, however, to obtain power under a special Act of Parliament to enable them, among other things, to use their capital in this way. All they wanted, in connection with this property, which had now been in their possession for nearly 20 years, was that they should raise money for the purpose of improving it, so that they might be in a position to let it. The hon. and learned Member for the City of Edinburgh (Mr. Waddy), who had moved the rejection of the Bill, said that the hotel-keepers of Edinburgh had no other method of opposing the measure, or of objecting to any portion of it, except by moving the rejection of the whole of it; and he had told the House that if they had petitioned to be heard against it, it would have been declared that they had no locus standi. But the fact of the matter was that they never thought of opposing the Bill until one enterprizing hotel-keeper, who had a large interest in the hotels of Edinburgh, purchased, in the month of February, £300 worth of Stock in order to give him a position to oppose the Bill in public meetings of the Railway Company, and also before the House. If there was any doubt upon the matter whether it was desirable that the Railway Company should obtain this power, it was not a question for the House, but for a Select Committee to consider upstairs. The House could not know anything about the facts of the case, and they had been put in a very prejudiced way by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh. The proper place in which the opponents should submit their views was before the Committee upstairs, who would decide whether the North British Railway Company were entitled to raise money for this purpose or not. It would be monstrous to throw 1447 out an important Bill like this upon an insignificant question of this nature. It would, he thought, be an unfortunate abuse of the privileges of that House if a Bill of this kind were to be rejected merely because a mere fragment of it was complained of.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
wished to say a word in support of the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Waddy). The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Orr-Ewing) said that it was a strong argument in favour of allowing the Bill to be considered, that it was an omnibus Bill, and that it would be unfair because they objected to a part of it to attempt to reject the whole Bill. But he (Mr. Buchanan) understood that it had been held that the Petitioners who opposed the Bill would have no locus standi before the Select Committee.
§ MR. ORR-EWING
said, they had presented no Petition.
§ MR. BUCHANAN
said, he understood that unless they obtained the concession they asked for at this stage of the Bill they would find it impossible to obtain it at any other stage. That, he thought, was a strong argument in favour of the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend. As a matter of fact, these premises were originally obtained not for hotel purposes at all, but in order to enlarge the station accommodation of the Railway Company; and the present proposal only showed how ready the Company were to make use of powers granted for one purpose for another and an entirely different purpose. He felt bound to support the proposal of his hon. and learned Friend.
§ MR. LEWIS
begged to move that this debate be now adjourned for the reason that they were not at that moment favoured with the presence of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means, and he thought it was important that hon. Members who knew nothing about the matter should have the advantage of the advice and assistance of the right hon. Gentleman. It was certainly strange to hear a strong Protectionist argument from the other side of the House; but when private interests were affected they often saw the cloven-foot of Protection peeping out. The hon. Members for Edinburgh appeared there as the champions and supporters of all the existing hotel-keepers in that City, and they denounced 1448 as unrighteous that the Railway Company should have the opportunity of setting up a rival establishment. He thought the proposal of the hon. and learned Member was hardly one that the House was likely to accept. It seemed that his objection was confined to a portion only of one clause in the Bill, and yet he asked the House to throw out the whole measure. If the Amendment were accepted, it appeared to him (Mr. Lewis) that it would reduce the business of Private Bills in that House to perfect chaos, and everything that was really of importance in a Private Bill would hereafter stand a chance of being wrecked. [Sir ARTHUR OTWAY here entered the House.] He now saw the hon. Baronet the Chairman of Ways and Means in his place, and he would not, therefore, press the Motion for the adjournment of the debate; but it was perfectly obvious that the House could not allow a division to take place without having the advantage of the advice of the hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Does the hon. Member withdraw the Motion?
§ GENERAL SIR GEORGE BALFOUR
said, he knew nothing himself of the merits of this Bill; but he understood that it was an omnibus Bill, which had been introduced to obtain powers for various purposes, and that, amongst other powers, it proposed to enable the North British Railway Company to raise money for enlarging the building for their proposed hotel in Edinburgh. Now, he thought that the hotels attached to railways were very valuable as far as the convenience of the public were concerned, but only in places where hotels were deficient; but this was not the case in Edinburgh, where hotels were many and good, and therefore the additional hotel was not required; and if objections were raised to the proposal in this instance, he considered that it was only right that the question should be fairly argued before a Committee upstairs. If the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Orr-Ewing) was correct in the statements he had made, he did not think the objection to the second reading of the Bill should be pressed; but as the Chairman of Ways and Means was there, he would probably inform the House whether the powers asked for were such as ought to be given to the Railway Company.
§ SIR ARTHUR OTWAY
said, he had not paid much attention to this matter, nor had he had the advantage of hearing what had been stated in the House upon it. He merely rose, therefore, for the purpose of saying that the opposition of certain hotel-keepers of Edinburgh to one of the provisions of the Bill was scarcely sufficient to justify the House in refusing to read the Bill a second time. Even if it were true that the hotel-keepers had no locus standi before the Committee in a matter of this kind, he had no doubt that the Committee to whom the Bill would be referred would have their attention directed to the discussion which had now taken place, and would deem it desirable to consider the matter and decide accordingly. But he must confirm the remark of the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Lewis) that it was the interest of the House of Commons to preserve some principle in arriving at their decisions in regard to the second reading of Private Bills; and if upon a clause of this sort they were to refuse to read a Bill a second time, he could not help thinking that a considerable amount of injustice might be done. Notice having been taken of the complaint of the hotel-keepers of Edinburgh, he thought the House might safely leave the matter in the hands of the Select Committee, and he hoped the second reading of the Bill would now be passed.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
would advise his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Waddy) to rest satisfied with the statement of the Chairman of Ways and Means. He had done all that was necessary, he (Mr. J. W. Barclay) thought, to insure that the attention of the Select Committee should be directed to the question he had raised. He did not think his hon. and learned Friend could expect the House to vote against the second reading, because it was a Bill which contained various other important provisions. He felt, therefore, that his hon. and learned Friend would be best consulting the interests of those on whose behalf he was acting if he were now to withdraw his opposition to the Bill on the assurance which had been given by the Chairman of Ways and Means—that the question would be considered by the Select Committee.
§ MR. ONSLOW
said, he had intended to vote with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, and he could not say that he agreed with the remarks of the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Orr-Ewing). He did not think that this was a very small question. He thought that sufficient hotel accommodation already existed in Edinburgh, as was shown by the Petitions which had been presented to that House, and it was monstrous that private interests should be invaded by a powerful Railway Company. But as the Petitioners were to have a locus standi before the Committee, or, at all events, their views were to be considered, upon such an assurance he would advise his hon. and learned Friend opposite not to press the Motion to a division.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Does the hon. and learned Member withdraw the Amendment?
§ MR. WADDY
said, he would not press the matter further; but he desired to say a few words in answer to the observations of the hon. Member for Dumbarton.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and learned Member is not entitled to address the House again.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.