HC Deb 19 May 1885 vol 298 cc926-36

Bill, as amended, considered.


said, he rose for the purpose of moving the following Amendment in the Preamble of the Bill, page 5, line 19, to leave out the words:— And that power should be conferred upon the Company to remodel and improve their hotel adjoining the Waverley Station at Edinburgh (known as the 'North British Station Hotel'). If this Amendment were agreed to, he proposed to move the omission from Clause 33, page 27, line 6, of the following words:— The Company may alter, enlarge, remodel, and improve their hotel and other property fronting Princes Street, in the city of Edinburgh, and raise the back portion thereof to the same height as the front portion, so as to form an uniform block. The Bill had passed through its preliminary stages, and had been considered and reported by a Committee upstairs. Under those circumstances he should not, as a general rule, feel disposed to interfere with the decision of a Committee, and he should not do so in the present instance if he were not of opinion that a great principle was involved. The question which he desired to bring before the House was a most important one, the principle involved in it being whether a Railway Company ought to be allowed to interfere with the legitimate business of the hotel-keepers by starting an hotel of their own. This might appear to be a somewhat startling proposition, because it was well known that a considerable number of Railway Companies did, at the present moment, possess hotels in connection with their principal stations. He knew that fact perfectly well; but there had never been an occasion before in which the question of the right of a Railway Company to keep an hotel had been objected to, and he believed that statement was fully borne out by the evidence not only of the opponents, but by those who gave evidence in support of the Bill. Not only had opposition to this part of the Bill of the North British Railway been offered before the Committee, but it had been determined to continue it in the House itself. The principal witness on behalf of the Bill before the Committee was Mr. John "Walker, the general manager of the Company, who was compelled, on cross examination, to admit that he did not know of any hotel power having previously been opposed before a Parliamentary Committee. Therefore, he (Mr. Warton) thought that a new question had been raised which he was fairly entitled to bring before the House. He did not pretend to say that it was at all a new fact that Railway Companies had occasionally established hotels in connection with their stations; but it was a new question whether the principle, now that it had been opposed, was or was not to receive the solemn sanction of the House of Commons. The reason why, in this case, the North British Railway Company ought not to be allowed to build an hotel in Edinburgh was because, in the first place, it had been abundantly proved, by evidence, that the City of Edinburgh was very well supplied with hotels already. To prove that assertion he would take it out of the mouth of the Company's own witness—Mr. Walker, the general manager, who was obliged to make the following admission to the Committee:— I do not dispute the fact that the City of Edinburgh has for many years been exceptionally well supplied with hotel accommodation. And what was the history of this hotel which the Railway Company proposed to alter, enlarge, remodel, and improve? The land upon which the existing hotel stood was purchased many years ago by the Company nominally for the purposes of the railway. Under Standing Order No. 156 of the House of Commons no Railway Company was to be allowed to carry on any other business except that of a Railway Company without the sanction of Parliament through a Select Committee. In this case how had that assent been given? It was stated in the Report of a Committee presided over by the hon. Baronet the Member for West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) that the Company purchased the ground on which the hotel stood many years ago, and that until lately it had been let by the Company for the purposes of an hotel. It was now untenanted owing to the want of certain improvements. Why was it that the hotel was untenanted? It was for this reason—that two separate tenants had successively occupied the hotel under the Railway Company, and both had failed to make it profitable. Now, if other hotel-keepers in other parts of the City of Edinburgh tried to establish a business and failed the result was a loss to themselves; but the grievance in this case was that the Railway Company would be able to carry on the business of hotel-keepers at a loss, as far as the mere hotel itself was concerned, and therefore it was instituting an unfair competition to require traders who had to find their own capital to compete with a great Railway Company with an immense capital, subscribed by the general public, behind them. It was self-evident that a Railway Company would be able, out of the general profits of the railway, to carry on the business of an hotel at a loss. There were other ways in which they were able to compete, with exceptional advantages, with an ordinary trader who had to carry on a business by his own industry, and out of his own capital. A Railway Company could employ its own officers in touting for custom; it offered to the travelling public the privilege of forwarding telegrams along the railway free of expense, and there were other advantages which the ordinary hotel-keeper was unable to provide. No other hotel-keeper, for instance, could send telegrams free of expense; they could not have Hansom cabs constantly upon their premises, with the names of their hotel painted on them; and they were prevented from touting for custom at the railway stations, although that was a process which was carried on constantly by the railway servants in connection with the railway hotels. The Chairman of the Committee, in the Report presented to the House with regard to the Bill, further stated that for the purposes of the railway this hotel was very conveniently situated for the public accommodation. Of course, hon. Members knew all that very well. An hotel at a railway station was, no doubt, very convenient for those passengers who arrived at the station by night, and wished to stay at an hotel. That, however, was not the point; the point was, that a Railway Company carrying on the business of an hotel-keeper were able to conduct an unfair trade against those with whom they were brought into competition. He desired to call the attention of the House to the unfair manner in which the opposition to his proposal, as far as the present Bill was concerned, had been got up. [Cries of"Divide!"] He trusted that the House was in a judicial mood. He simply wished to call the attention of the House to the way in which the opposition to this point on the part of the Railway Company had been got up. He held in his hand a paper which had been circulated by this unscrupulous Railway Company. The first sentence contained in it was as follows:—"Mr. Warton has given Notice on behalf of an opponent." He would assure the House that that was not the case—and he thought he knew better than anybody else for what reason he had given Notice of opposition; and he simply stated that he had not given Notice on behalf of any opponent of the Bill, but on behalf of a general principle, and on behalf of all the hotel-keepers of the City of Edinburgh. No doubt, this statement was subsequently qualified, because the circular said—"The gentleman on whose behalf it is understood to be moved." After the bold statement that he appeared there on behalf of an opponent of the Bill, the Company qualified it by the statement that—The gentleman on whose behalf he was understood to appear" had done so and so. No doubt, the gentleman referred to did all he could to serve his own in- terests and to protect his own trade; and he (Mr. Warton) asked the House calmly to consider whether it was disposed, in contravention of the 156th Standing Order, to sanction the principle that a Railway Company, which Railway Company was a monopolist, should carry on another business in addition to that for which it had been secured a monopoly; and whether it was just or fair that a man who had nothing but his own resources to rely upon should be handicapped by having a prosperous Railway Company which could afford to carry on an hotel business at a positive loss even for years as a competitor? Such competition must inevitably, in the end, drive the legitimate trader out of the field. In this case, the land which it was proposed to enlarge, remodel, and improve was acquired by the North British Railway Company years ago, under the pretext that it was wanted for station purposes. He said, with all respect to the hon. Baronet who had acted as Chairman of the Committee, that he had never heard a weaker representation from a Committee than the honest admission which was contained in the present Report, that some years ago the existing hotel was let, but that it was now unoccupied because two successive tenants had failed to make a living out of it. It was altogether a new proposition that when a legitimate trader failed to carry on the business of an hotel-keeper a Railway Company should step in and conduct it on their own account, with all the unfair advantages they would be able to avail themselves of—such as the power of using its own servants as hotel agents, sending telegrams free, and employing cabs at the railway stations for the purpose of pushing the trade. He hoped that he would receive the support of the House in favour of the appeal which he now made, and which was an appeal based not only upon strict equity, but absolute justice. He heartily wished that the Prime Minister were present, because he believed that the word "justice" would have fetched the right hon. Gentleman. He also hoped to obtain the support of all the so-called temperance part)'. Indeed, he thought they were bound to support him on this occasion, seeing that the fewer number of hotels there were, the less amount of intoxication was likely to take place. He therefore trusted that all the supporters of the temperance movement would vote for his proposal on the ground that it would prevent one more establishment of this kind from being brought into existence. He had also every reason to hope that he would be supported by those who wished for Fair Trade, even although it happened to be in the business of hotel proprietors, and that they would be prepared to stand up against the grasping monopoly of a Railway Company, who generally displayed the extreme vices of monopolists wherever the Legislature allowed them the opportunity.

Amendment proposed, In the Preamble, page 5, line 19, by leaving out the following words "And that power should be conferred upon the Company to remodel and improve their hotel adjoining the Waverley Station at Edinburgh (known as the 'North British Station Hotel').—(Mr. Warton.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."


said, he thought that it was inconvenient and, to some extent, a waste of the time of the House to bring forward for discussion a question which was fully considered only a fortnight or three weeks ago, when the present Bill came on for second reading. The conversation which then occurred was quite sufficient to elicit all the facts of the case; and it afforded him an opportunity of making some observations upon a point then raised—namely, that an objection might be raised to the locus standi of the hotel proprietors of Edinburgh, and that, consequently, their case would not be heard. That was not the case now. The Bill since that discussion was raised had been before a Select Committee upstairs—a Committee presided over by an hon. Member who had had very much experience indeed of matters of this kind. The whole question was fully investigated before the Committee; and what was the Report which the Committee had presented? The hon. and learned Gentleman had not read it fully, but had merely selected a few passages from it; and as he (Sir Arthur Otway") was anxious to save the time of the House, he would not refer to it further than to say that it effectually disposed of all the objections which the hon. and learned Gentleman had now raised. The Bill had been fully examined and considered; and it appeared to him that this provision was one which was dictated by common sense, and that the establishment of an improved hotel at the "Waverley Station in Edinburgh would not only be convenient to the public, but of advantage to all parties concerned. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would withdraw the Motion he had made, or, if he pressed it to a division, the House would reject it by a large majority without wasting further time in discussing it.


said, that he had been a Member of the Committee to whom the Bill had been referred; and, in the absence of the hon. Baronet the Member for "West Essex (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson), who was Chairman of the Committee, he wished to say one or two words in support of the decision to which they had arrived. He had listened with attention to the statement which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Warton) had made, and he could assure the House that every one of the objections which had been raised by him had been fully laid before the Committee. The evidence of the hotel-keepers of Edinburgh who appeared in their own interest against the Bill had been carefully considered; and, after statements on both sides had been submitted to the Committee, they came unanimously to the conclusion that the general convenience of the public would be promoted by granting the power asked for by the Company in the Bill.


said, the hon. Member who had just addressed the House told them that the Bill would promote the convenience of the public. No doubt, it contained a comfortable arrangement to promote the interests of the Company themselves; but, notwithstanding the Report which the Committee had presented to the House, he was of opinion that the House had a right to form its own opinion upon the merits of the case. He would like to ask what would be the practical result of Railway Companies making a regular practice of building hotels at all the important railway stations? In his opinion, the effect would be that the existing hotel proprietors would be ruined; and, as soon as they had ruined the legitimate trade, the Railway Companies would charge any- thing they liked to their customers. It might take some time—even a considerable time—before this result was brought about; but it was sure to come, sooner or later; and he thought the amount of monopoly the Railway Company had already—namely, the right of conveying passengers to particular localities—ought to be quite enough for them without Parliament conferring on them the right of competing with traders, and licensed traders into the bargain. It was well known that the hotel-keepers of Edinburgh and other large towns had invested large sums of money in the building and furnishing of their establishments; and if the existing hotels were deprived of the prospect of realizing a profit, the Railway Companies would hereafter be able to impose any tariff they pleased. He thought it was for the interest of the general public that Parliament should restrict rather than enlarge the monopolies enjoyed by the Railway Companies; and on that ground he hoped the House would support the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for Brid port (Mr. Warton).


also supported the Amendment. Ho had no objection whatever to competition, provided it were not carried on under unfair conditions. He thought the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means had scarcely put the case in a proper light. It was scarcely fair for the hon. Baronet to get up and say that as a Committee had inquired into the provisions of the Bill, and had presented their Report, the House of Commons had nothing further to do with the matter except to obey the mandate of the Committee. He thought it ought to be clearly understood whether an investigation by a Committee took away all the responsibility and control of the House over Private Bill legislation. Some time ago he had had the opportunity of bringing before the House the scandalous manner in which its Public Business was done. In regard to the present discussion, and the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Gentleman, he wished to put before the House a few observations. The object of the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman was to prevent a Railway Company from building a hotel and becoming hotel proprietors, and the ground upon which it was supported was that the hotel was sought to be built in a city which was already overrun with hotels. There were very few Members of the House who would not have paid a visit, some time or other, to the City of Edinburgh? lie would therefore appeal to the experience of hon. Members whether, in the whole world, with the exception perhaps of one or two places in America, there were more commodious or splendid hotels to be found than in Edinburgh. It was proposed by the present Bill to add another to a city which possessed too many hotels already, because it was a notorious fact that the people of Edinburgh and of most parts of Scotland had only a short tourist season of two or three months, and a considerable number of the hotel-keepers found it very hard work to keep their heads above water. He was informed that there were no less than 82 hotels within a few minutes walk of the place where the North British Railway Company proposed to build a new one, and he thought that fact virtually disposed of any plea for the Bill on the ground of necessity. Of course, it was to the interest of the Railway Company to continue their monopolies. It would really appear that they were desirous of seizing and devouring everything. He objected to the proposed hotel, because it was not wanted; but he objected to it still more, because it would enable the Railway Company to enter into an unfair competition with, existing traders, and assist them in devoting a portion of their capital in making a bad speculation pay. That was really what the Bill proposed to do. He did not know whether hon. Members generally had received copies of a Petition from the hotel proprietors of Edinburgh; but he would invite the attention of the House to some points which had been brought forward by the witnesses who gave evidence before the Committee. The chief witness was Mr. John Walker, the General Manager of the Company. He would not go into Mr. Walker's evidence; but he might sum it up by saying that Mr. Walker did not state with any certainty or confidence that the hotel would pay, but at the same time the witness clearly indicated that the Railway Company proposed to spend a portion of its capital in entering into an unfair competition with other hotel proprietors. For instance, telegrams would be sent free for the occupants of the hotel. Two previous tenants had been compelled to give up the hotel, as it now existed, because they found it impossible to make it pay; but the Railway Company, with the vast capital at its disposal, would be able, even at a loss, to give facilities to customers which no other hotel proprietor could give. In this way they would be in a position to carry on a most unfair competition. He thought it was time the House of Commons took a stand against monopolies being extended to the Railway Companies in connection with every form of enterprize; and for these reasons he trusted the Motion of the hon. and learned Member would receive the support of the House.


wished to correct a statement which had been made by the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor). This was not a Bill to empower the Company to build a new hotel, but to give them power to alter and improve a hotel which already existed at their Waverley Station, in Edinburgh. At the present moment the accommodation provided by the hotel was inferior and insufficient, and it was most desirable to improve it for the convenience of travellers passing through Edinburgh who desired to break the journey and stay there overnight. It was not intended that the hotel should be for the convenience of the general public, but simply for the accommodation of travellers by the railway.


hoped the Amendment would not be pressed to a division. He wished to correct the statement of his hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Orr-Ewing) that this was not a new hotel, but one that had been in existance for a number of years. Although a small hotel did exist on the premises, practically what was in view was the construction of an entirely new hotel, and one of a different character. The whole question had been raised when the Bill was before the Committee, and was fully argued out. He deprecated a renewal of the discussion; but, undoubtedly, if the Motion were pressed to a division, it would be a favourable opportunity for deciding in the Lobby whether, in addition to the monopoly already enjoyed by Railway Companies, and by means of the resources so obtained, they should be allowed to enter into the trade of hotel proprietors. He was himself of opinion that if it was desirable to raise that question in an intelligible shape, it could not be done in a better case than the present. Therefore, if the hon. and learned Member went to a division, he should certainly vote with him.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 161; Noes 56: Majority 105.—(Div. List, No. 198.)

Amendments made. Bill to be read the third time.


said, he wished to put a question to the Chair in reference to the recent division. He wanted to know what was the procedure of the House in regard to the appointment of Tellers in a division. Was it in Order for the Assistant Clerk to find Tellers, or was it not left to the hon. Member who submitted the Motion upon which a division was called? As a matter of fact, before the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was nominated by the Clerk to tell with him (Mr. Warton), he had provided himself with a Teller, having selected a Scotch Member in the person of the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Webster), this being a Scotch question. He wished to have a clear understanding whether it was in the province of the Assistant Clerk to select a Teller for an hon. Member who had already arranged for one?


In reply to the hon. and learned Member, it will be in the recollection of the House that I distinctly asked the hon. Member who would tell with him, and, as I received no reply, I named the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), because he had supported the Motion moved by the hon. and learned Member.


apologized to the right hon. Gentleman. He had not been aware that the Tellers had been named by him. He had understood that it was by the Assistant Clerk, or he would not have mentioned the matter.

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