§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
intimated that he did not intend to move the Motion of which he had given notice for the rejection of the Bill.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.
I beg to move, "That all persona who have presented Petitions against the Bill praying to be heard against the expediency of allowing the North British Railway Company to build a hotel or carry on hotel business in Edinburgh, be heard by themselves, their Counsel, Agents, and Witnesses, upon their Petition if they think fit, and Counsel heard in favour of the Bill against such Petition." The question which I desire to bring under the notice of the House is one of considerable general importance. A petition in reference to this Bill has been lodged by various parties—some feuars, some shareholders, and some hotel keepers in Edinburgh—and the object of my Motion is that that petition shall be referred by the House to the Committee on the Bill. It is necessary that I should take that course because by the interpretation put on the Standing Orders by the Court of Referees hotel-keepers would not have a locus standi to oppose the Bill. I am not going to quarrel with the Court of Referees on the application which they have adopted of a somewhat general rule, but I think it will be necessary for the House seriously to consider whether the construction is not far too narrow and entirely contrary to the public interests. The point of objection to the Bill is that it adds to the proper functions of a railway company that which is no part of their business, viz., the business of an hotel-keeper. That statement will be disputed, but no one can read the Bill without seeing that the Company are attempting to obtain powers in an indirect manner. That will be a question for the Committee; but even granted that it is desirable that railway companies should add to their proper business of carriers innumerable other occupations, I think before that is done that those who are interested in the trades which these great monopolists seek to absorb have a right to be heard before the Committee on the subject. I think the policy hitherto adopted of permitting railway companies to undertake all sorts of occupations has been disastrous to shareholders themselves. In America, where railway companies are much more 1492 numerous and much more powerful, they have, by the wisdom of the Legislature of the United States, been most rigorously confined to their own business. Every railway company must be a monopoly to a greater or less extent, and the policy of the State ought to be to restrict that monopoly within the narrowest possible limits, and, as far as possible, to bring competition into play, because they know that the public are better served by competition than by any monopoly. Parliament awoke to the necessity of stopping the aggrandizing spirit of railways in regard to steamboat traffic. It appeared at one time as if the whole steamboat traffic of our ports would be absorbed by the railway companies. The Court of Referees, however, held that steamboat owners should be allowed to appear before the Committee as competitors in the business of carrying, and besides that, a Standing Order was introduced under which every railway company which sought for steamboat powers were compelled to put the words "Steamboat Powers" on the title of their Bills, so as to attract attention and give an invitation to steamship owners, to appear and state their views before the Committee. Everyone knows that if there is no petition against a Bill, it is not referred to a Select Committee, and the merits of the question are, therefore, never properly discussed, for however anxious the Chairman of Committees may be to look at the question from the point of view of the public interest, he is not armed with the knowledge that would be brought before the Committee by a genuine opponent. I know that in a number of cases hotel powers have been given to railway companies. It may be thought doubtful whether railway companies should be allowed to become the builders of hotels, but it is certainly bad policy to allow them to become the managers. The business of an hotel keeper depends upon individual energy, and cannot be discharged by a huge joint stock company. And if there is one thing more than another on which both the directors and chairmen of companies refuse to inform their shareholders, it is as to the success of their hotels. In these circumstances one is not uncharitable in hazarding the conclusion that the 1493 reason is because they are working ing them at a loss. This loss has to be borne by the general body of travellers, who do not use the hotel. I do not ask the House to decide the question, or to express an opinion upon it, but simply to allow it to be discussed in Committee, and to allow hotel keepers, and others interested in the measure, to state their case, and to allow the Committee to form a judgment on the whole merits of the question.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That all persons who have presented Petitions against the Bill praying to be heard against the expediency of allowing the North British Railway Company to build a hotel or carry on hotel business in Edinburgh, be heard by themselves, their Counsel, Agents, and Witnesses, upon their Petition if they think fit, and Counsel heard in favour of the Bill against such Petition."—(Mr. Hunter.)
§ * MR. BAIRD (Glasgow, Central)
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) professes to be very much in favour of the delegation of the authority of this House; but, at the same time, he is disputing the authority of a tribunal which has already been set up to deal with this very question. To a certain extent, I believe that the Motion of the hon. Member is altogether unnecessary, seeing that there are shareholders of the company who are opposed to my part of the scheme, and who will be entitled to be heard before the Select Committee. The hon. Member has gone into the question of whether railway companies should be allowed to own and manage hotels, but seeing that many of the railway companies do at the present moment hold and manage hotels, I do not see why, in the case of this particular railway company, the same privilege should not be conceded. Moreover, I believe that the hotel which this company propose to establish in Edinburgh will be greatly for the benefit of the public. The whole question was gone into in 1885, and the company obtained permission to alter and remodel their premises at the Waverley Station in Edinburgh. All that they now propose is that they should have permission to apply their capital to these purposes.
§ MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)
The question is not whether the railway company ought, or ought not, to be allowed to build hotels in connection 1494 with their system; there are many cases in which it is for the public convenience that railway companies should be allowed to do so; but the question involved in this Bill is a very specific one—namely, whether the Committee who are to inquire into the Bill ought to be bound to hear the complaints of the hotel-keepers of Edinburgh who have establishments within sight of this railway station. It is perfectly well-known that unless some such instruction as this is given the hotel-keepers will have no opportunity of being heard, and will practically have no redress. Everyone who knows anything of Edinburgh must be aware that close to Waverley Station, almost touching the station, there is a cluster of hotels which up to the present time have, at great expense, supplied every accommodation to the travelling public. The sole question is whether these hotel-keepers should through counsel have an opportunity of stating their case. It may be for the public convenience that the railway company should have their own hotel, but it is for the public convenience that when a project of this kind is brought forward those who believe they may be injured by it should have an opportunity of stating their case.
§ MR. COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
Hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have overlooked the real point in the question. We are not discussing the question whether this railway company should keep an hotel. Every railway company which has a terminus in London has an hotel, and there are others at York, Glasgow. Chester, Derby, Liverpool, and many other places which have been found of great convenience to the public. It is, therefore, somewhat late in the day to raise the question whether railway companies shall be allowed to keep hotels. The real question involved in the present Bill is whether the company shall be allowed to apply the money of the shareholders for an alteration or rebuilding of an hotel, which they were authorized to do two or three years ago.
§ MR. COURTNEY
The Bill of 1885 gave express power to the company to alter, enlarge, remodel, and improve their hotel, and the same words are 1495 introduced into the present Bill. The power remains exactly where it was. The company have hitherto been unable to apply their capital to this purpose, because they had not obtained the consent of the shareholders. That consent has now been obtained, and the simple proposal in this Bill is to enable the money to be applied to the purposes authorized by the Act of 1885.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Bill committed.