HC Deb 11 May 1886 vol 305 cc722-32
MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)

, in moving— That the Resolution of the Standing Orders Committee of the 19th day of February last, with respect to the Felixstowe, Ipswich, and Midlands Railway Petition, together with the said Petition, and the Bill annexed thereto, be referred back to the said Committee, and that they have power to inquire whether there are any special circumstances which render it just and expedient that the Standing Orders should be dispensed with in respect of the said Petition, said: I rise for the purpose of asking the House to pass this Resolution as a favour, and not as a matter of justice. It has reference to a Bill called the Felixstowe and Midlands Railway Extension Bill. Felixstowe forms part of the constituency which I have the honour to represent. It is a watering place; and, although not very large, is one of the most pleasant watering places on the Suffolk Coast. It is situated at the mouth of the River Orwell, opposite to Harwich, and only separated from Harwich by the mouth of that river, which, I may say in passing, is the most picturesque waterway on the East Coast of England. Distant about 12 miles at the head of this river stands the enter-prizing town of Ipswich. At Felixstowe there has just been constructed a dock capable of accommodating vessels of the largest draught of water at any state of the tide, and the dock is connected with a railway which now terminates at the town of Ipswich, or rather in the parish of Westerfleld, just adjoining the town of Ipswich. There are about 13 miles of railway now connected with the Felixstowe Dock; and in the scheme I have now to ask the House to sanction the proposal is to connect with it some 50 miles more of railway, in order to bring Felixstowe Dock and Railway into connection with the town of Cambridge, and there to unite it with the Midland, London and North-Western, and Great Eastern Railway systems. I need hardly say that the scheme would be of great benefit to the district through which it is proposed that the railway should pass. It would pass through a part of Suffolk which is singularly destitute of railway accommodation, and which, greatly needs it; and the dock at Felixstowe would be opened out for the development of Continental traffic between the Midland Counties and the North of England and the sea. It would thus be of advantage to a large number of people, and when completed the country would be richer by one more railway, giving facilities for travel and for conducting of all kinds of business. The plans relating to this line were at an early period of the Session duly deposited and went before the Standing Orders Committee, but were thrown out by them. Now, I have no fault whatever to find with the Standing Orders Committee for throwing out the plans. There were inaccuracies of detail in the plans deposited by the engineers—inaccuracies in no way germane to the feasibility of carrying out the plan, but still inaccuracies quite sufficient to justify the Standing Orders Committee in the course they took, in throwing out the Bill on the ground of its failing to comply with the Standing Orders of the House. The Petition I now present to the House asks the House to allow the Bill to be sent back again to the Standing Orders Committee, and I will explain in a few words the grounds upon which I venture to ask for this indulgence. I do not ask it in the least degree on behalf of the promoters of the Bill. I feel that the promoters suffered from their own fault, and that they have only their own engineer and themselves to blame for the position in which the Bill was placed before the Standing Orders Committee. But it appears to me that there are special circumstances at the present time which make it desirable that, if possible, the great works connected with this proposed railway should be carried out. There is a singular dearth of works of this kind before the country at the present moment, and there is a large amount of labour anxiously, and, I am sorry to say, in vain, seeking for employment. The works connected with the construction of this railway are estimated to require an expenditure of something like £1,000,000, and that money, I am positively assured, is ready to be advanced at once, so soon as the necessary formalities authorizing the construction of the railway shall have been gone through. Therefore, if the House will give its permission to the request I make there will be employment provided for a large amount of labour. What I ask the House is that it will, by allowing the Bill—the plans in connection with which are now, it is believed, perfectly correct—to go back to the Standing Orders Committee, thus opening the way for employment to a very large number of persons. It is quite within the power of the House to do this, although I am aware that it is a very unusual course for the House to take. It is not, however, a course without precedent. I hold in my hand particulars of a precedent which occurred in 1875 in reference to the Edinburgh Street Tramways Bill, when the House granted a similar indulgence to the promoters of that measure. Now, it seems to me that in the present state of the labour market, and of trade generally, it would be a very great pity indeed if the House should refuse this indulgence. I am informed that all the money is ready to be spent, and that it is kept from the men who are desirous of getting employment only in consequence of the position in which, through certain technical but really unimportant inaccuracies in its accompanying plans, the Bill has been placed. If ever there was an occasion when it was fitting that the House should do what, I admit, is an unusual act, this is one of those occasions, and I earnestly hope that the House in its kindness will allow the Bill to go back to the Standing Orders Committee. I would not ask this indulgence if I had not first availed myself of the opportunity of mentioning the matter to the right hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John R. Mowbray), who is Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, and who so ably presides over the proceedings of that Committee. I think I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Baronet when I say that if it is the wish of the House that the Bill should go back, looking at the special circumstances of the case, he will not be prepared to oppose it. I have been waited on by two or three deputations of working men, and by a gentleman representing the Mansion House Relief Committee, and by another gentleman from a Trades Organization in London, representing something like 27,000 men. Both of these Bodies and these deputations have earnestly requested me to take up this matter and to lay it before the House. I therefore ask the House, in these unusual circumstances, considering the great depression of trade, to grant the favour which I have now the honour to solicit at its hands. The money is ready, and, if the Bill is allowed to pass, by September next the works will actually be commenced, and some hundreds of working men will be very grateful to the House for the facilities given to them to obtain employment. I beg to move the Motion which stands in my name.

MR. QUILTER (Suffolk, South)

I rise for the purpose of most heartily seconding the Motion which has been made by the hon. Member for the Wood-bridge Division. The line traverses a district which I have the honour to represent, and if it is made it will be a source of great convenience to the agricultural and manufacturing classes in that division. There are many farmers there now who have to send their produce 13 or 14 miles to a railway station who will be very much benefited by the construction of this line. I should not myself have ventured to make the appeal which my hon. Friend has so eloquently made, although I feel as much, or even more, interested in the success of the Bill than he is; for I feel that the patience of the Standing Orders Committee has been sorely tried by this Bill having failed to comply with those proper conditions which are laid down by the House in reference to Private Bill legislation. But the circumstances with regard to the industrial population in my division are so very peculiar, and so very pressing, owing to the low rate of wages the agricultural labourers are receiving at the present moment—in some instances as low as 9s. a-week—in addition to which it is the fact that a great many of them are unable to obtain work, while not only they, but many mat weavers, have been on short time during the whole of the winter, and that this railway, if proceeded with, will afford employment for hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of deserving men, and will give a stimulus to trades which are at present but languidly carried on in the division. These are the reasons which induce me to join in the appeal which my hon. Friend has made. I have no hesitation in saying that if the House is disposed to grant this boon it will prove to be a very great benefit and a very great blessing to hundreds and thousands of deserving labouring men who have recently had the privilege of the franchise given to them by this House. I believe that, in every way, they are worthy of that privilege, and also of any measure for their assistance which may be brought forward. There is one special circumstance connected with this case to which I think I am entitled to allude. There are, I am informed, 1,500 men who will shortly be thrown out of employment by the suspension of the operations at the Felixstowe Dock, with which the proposed railway will be connected in some measure; and owing to the cessation of the large relief works, which were started some time ago at Ipswich, for the simple purpose of giving employment to those in want of work, there will be a large number of men thrown idle upon the locality. The construction of this railway will find them the means of subsistence, and, therefore, I beg most heartily to second the appeal which has been made by my hon. Friend.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Resolution of the Standing Orders Committee of the 19th day of February last, with respect to the Felixstowe, Ipswich, and Midlands Railway Petition, together with the said Petition, and the Bill annexed thereto, be referred back to the said Committee, and that they have power to inquire whether there are any special circumstances which render it just and expedient that the Standing Orders should be dispensed with in respect to the said Petition."—(Mr. Everett.)


It may appear a somewhat ungracious position to occupy when I rise to oppose the Petition which the two hon. Members opposite have made to the House, and which they have said they make, not as a matter of justice, but as a matter of grace. I should like, however, to draw the recollection of the House to the history of the Bill. I do not dispute a single word that has been stated by the hon. Member who introduced this Motion in regard to the necessity of this railway, or in regard to any of the facts he has brought forward in reference to it. But that is not the question for this House at the present stage. It is rather a question to be considered when the Bill comes before a Committee of this House, and it has to be proved in proper form before that Committee. What is the history of this Bill? In 1885 the same Railway Bill was brought before the House of Commons, and it was then thrown out by the Standing Orders Committee because it was so full of blunders that it could not possibly be passed. The Standing Orders were suspended in order that the promoters might have another chance; but the result was that the Bill was not proceeded with. Surely if the promoters of this Bill were so anxious about their scheme after it had once failed to pass the Standing Orders Committee, and they got leave to bring it in again in an amended form, they would have availed themselves of the opportunity? I suppose, presumedly, it was for want of funds. The hon. Member now informs the House that there is £1,000,000 at the disposal of the promoters; but he did not tell us who has it ready, or where it is. If anybody is prepared to advance £1,000,000 for a purpose of this sort, he will probably look to get it back from the subscribers who will support the undertaking hereafter. As I have said, the Bill was not proceeded with in 1885, and now, in 1886, the same Bill has been brought forward again. It has failed before the Standing Orders Committee on precisely the same points upon which it failed in 1885. The promoters of the Bill, who are so anxious to get this railway constructed, did not take the trouble to remedy the blunders they committed in 1885. Every single error was repeated, and the Bill was thrown out by the Standing Orders Committee on precisely the same grounds. The hon. Member now comes forward and asks us to reinstate the Bill. I listened with great attention to his remarks to see if I could find any special grounds to justify the course we are asked to take. The only ground I could find was, I admit, a strong one; but it is simply a sentimental ground—namely, that in order to provide work for the unemployed, this £1,000,000 will be set loose if the Bill be allowed to go before a Standing Orders Committee. Now, I wish to point out to the hon. Member that the people he wishes to benefit would not be benefited even if this railway is started, because railways are not constructed by agricultural labourers, but by navvies who are brought from various parts of the country, and whose regular business it is to go from place to place constructing railways. The only people who would be benefited by the construction of this railway besides these navvies would be those whose food they would eat and whose beer they would drink. There is another objection, but it is one which will be better dealt with by the authorities of the House than by myself—namely, that if this Petition is granted now, and the Bill is sent upstairs, it will be almost impossible for it to reach the House of Lords before the day after which no Bill can be read a second time in that House. Therefore, those who oppose the Bill—and I need not remind hon. Members that there are generally two sides to every question—the opponents, as well as the promoters of the Bill, will be put to the expense of contesting the matter again before the Standing Orders Committee, and they will suffer, as they have already suffered, in their purse through having to oppose a measure which I venture to think cannot be very seriously intended. I think that this Bill is one of those financial undertakings which have been introduced into Parliament in recent years, but which have always been regarded as objectionable. It is quite possible that if the Bill is passed, and the capital is raised, and the railway commenced, that we shall have a repetition of what occurred in the case of the Hull and Barnsley Railway last year, and that preference debentures will have to be created in order to enable the promoters to carry out the undertaking. If on a question like this the Standing Orders of this House are to be ignored, I think we may as well do away with our Standing Orders altogether. They exist for certain purposes, for the protection of opponents as well as promoters; and when a Company has shown so little attention, and has on more than one occasion refrained from complying with the Standing Orders in the past, I do not think they come here with a very good grace to ask the House to suspend its Standing Orders in order that they may proceed with their Bill. I trust that the House will not give its consent to the Motion of the hon. Member.

SIR JOHN R. MOWBRAY (Oxford University)

Perhaps it may save the time of the House if I interpose thus early in the debate, and state shortly, as Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, the views which we take. The hon. Members who have moved and seconded the Resolution have stated explicitly that they do not appear on behalf of the promoters of the Bill. Had anyone appeared here on behalf of the promoters I must have called attention myself very strongly to the circumstances which have been brought before the House by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Essex (Colonel Makins). It is quite true that the promoters came before Parliament last year with a Bill identical with the present, and we suspended the Standing Orders then in order to enable new plans to be deposited. Those plans were not deposited, and the Bill was withdrawn. The promoters came this year with the old Bill, and have deposited the old plans with the same identical errors which we pointed out last year, and the promoters certainly are not entitled to any favour or indulgence from anybody. As to the appeal which has been made to me as Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee, I have nothing to do with it in that capacity; but it is for the House to consider whether, owing to the great want of employment which exists, they will be induced to take a liberal view of the matter. I have received deputations from working men in London with regard to this Bill, and also representations from Lord Charles Bruce on the part of the Mansion House Fund, desiring that the work may be allowed to proceed in the interest of the unemployed, having regard to the depression of trade and the large number of the labouring classes who are now out of employment. That is a matter of policy for the House to consider. If the appeal were made on behalf of the promoters I would certainly ask the House not to grant any indulgence to them; but I understand that it is made in the interests of the unemployed, with a view of promoting the construction of new works. I understand that the money is ready, and that new plans are ready to be submitted. Therefore, if the House is inclined to grant the indulgence asked for, I shall have nothing to say in opposition to the Motion.

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton)

I would venture to join in the appeal which has been made to the House. I have received a large number of deputations myself from persons who believe, whether rightly or wrongly I am unable to say, they can get employment in connection with this railway if the Bill receives the sanction of the House. It is only on their behalf that this favour is asked at the hands of the House. I quite feel how excessively difficult it is, if we are to have Standing Orders at all, that we should sanction their violation. This, however, seems to be a very special case; and I think that the men who may be able to get employment if these works are commenced, ought not to suffer because of the negligence of the promoters of the Bill.


I think, before we allow a Bill like this to go back to the Standing Orders Committee, we ought to have a little more information with regard to the capital which is alleged to be ready to pay the expense of constructing this railway. As I understand the matter, the promoters of this Bill have already failed on two or three occasions to comply with the Standing Orders, in consequence of their inability to obtain the capital. It seems very strange that within two months of the time when, as I understand, railway enterprize has been in a position of more difficulty than it was ever in before, the promoters should suddenly be able to command £1,000,000 if they receive this favour from the House. Unless we have more information on the matter than the bare allegation that the money will be forthcoming, I think it is the duty of the House to vote against the Bill, because it will only lead to false hopes being raised which will never be realized.

SIR HENRY TYLER (Great Yarmouth)

I may say at once, in rising to oppose the Motion, that I am a Director of the Great Eastern Railway. I think the House will be prepared to admit that the promoters have placed themselves entirely out of court. In this Session they have made no attempt to rectify the errors which they committed in a former Session; and I am informed that the errors contained in the Bill this year even go beyond those of the measure of last year. No doubt, an appeal to the House, with a view to find employment for a number of labouring men, is a different matter. I understand that the promoters of the Bill have been for some time acting as if they were without any money at their back. A very surprising statement is, however, now made to the House—namely, that there is £1,000,000 at somebody's bankers ready to be utilized in connection with this undertaking. But we have no evidence that if this railway is sanctioned the £1,000,000 will be forthcoming; and we all know that, in these days of depression, so large a sum of money is not very easily found. Therefore, until we have some evidence that this £1,000,000 is ready, I would ask the House not to believe that it is lying at a banker's ready to be expended in the making of this railway. If it were really there, I admit that it would be quite a different thing; but even if it were available, and the Bill should be passed by the Standing Orders Committee of the House of Lords, it is quite impossible that it could get through by the 30th of June next. Fresh surveys would have to be made; fresh contracts to be entered into; and it is quite certain that the railway could not be commenced in the course of the present year. Therefore, the construction of this line in that case, even if £1,000,000 is forthcoming, would not afford the means of relieving the present depression, or of providing work within any reasonable period for any now unemployed.


I am anxious to say a word before the House divides. After the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down I think the House ought to be very suspicious of the remarks made by Directors of Railways. Where it is evident that their own interests are concerned, they are not very likely to study the interests of the general public against their own. The hon. Member wants to know where the money is for the making of this railway. Now, it is well known that so much per cent has already been deposited for the construction of the line, and the line itself is to be made for the purpose of benefiting the property of a great landed proprietor, who is prepared, I understand, to advance the funds necessary for the construction of the railway. After the appeal which has been made by two hon. Members who represent that part of the county of Suffolk through which the railway will run, and looking at all the circumstances, and the speech we have just heard, I think the House may well reconsider the position in which it stands in reference to the Bill, and allow it to proceed. The Chairman of the Standing Orders Committee has told the House that no doubt the promoters have no locus standi before the House. But the appeal is made on another ground—namely, that there are great works to be executed, and that representations have been made urging my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir John R. Mowbray) to allow the Bill to proceed, in order that employment may be given to a large number of deserving men who are now unhappily thrown out of employment. I must say that, looking at the whole facts of the case, I trust the House will be prepared to assent to the request which has been made to them in favour of the Bill, and that they will allow it to be proceeded with in the way suggested.

MR. ARCH (Norfolk, N. W.)

I have some knowledge of the district through which it is proposed to carry this railway, and I know that there is a very strong desire on the part of the trading population, as well as on the part of the working classes of the district affected by the measure, that the works should be executed if possible. I have no interest in the railway myself; but the reason I have risen to support the Motion of my hon. Friend is that representing as I do the class that will suffer most from the railway not being constructed, I would humbly ask the House to accede to the wish of my hon. Friend, and to allow the Bill to proceed, so that thousands of hungry men and women may be fed.

Motion agreed to. Ordered, That the Resolution of the Standing Orders Committee of the 19th day of February last, with respect to the Felixstowe, Ipswich, and Midlands Railway Petition, together with the said Petition, and the Bill annexed thereto, be referred back to the said Committee, and that they have power to inquire whether there are any special circumstances which render it just and expedient that the Standing Orders should be dispensed with in respect of the said Petition.—(Mr. Everett.)