HC Deb 02 April 1895 vol 32 cc704-12

On the Order for the consideration of the Great Eastern Railway Bill,




That cannot be done The Bill is by order.

*MR. J. A. M. MACDONALD (Tower Hamlets, Bow)

who had given notice to move that the Bill be considered that day six months, complained strongly of a speech made by Lord Claud Hamilton, the Chairman of the Company, at the half-yearly meeting. He urged that, as the company had refused to co-operate loyally with the Board of Trade in giving effect to regulations laid down by Parliament, the House should not consent to give the company sanction to any further extension of its powers. He moved the rejection of the Bill.


seconded the Motion, and said that in dismissing 400 men from the employment of the company Lord Claud Hamilton said that "someone must suffer" for the legislation which had taken place. The action of the company, he argued, deserved the reprobation of the House. He instanced the case of an engine-driver who, after 22 years' service and with an irreproachable character, had been dismissed because he had been the spokesman of his mates. Shortly after he called the attention of the Board of Directors to a gross instance of fraudulent returns of hours of labour connived at by one of the local superintendents. One would have thought that the action of the Board of Directors would have been to have punished the superintendent who connived at this fraudulent return.

MR. T. GIBSON BOWLES (Lynn Regis),

on a point of order, asked whether it was in order for the hon. Member to call attention to these matters on the Bill now before the House.


I should have thought it my duty to stop the hon. Gentleman had it not been for the remarks of the Chairman of the Company. I think that does give a reason for the course taken. But I think the particulars into which the hon. Member is now entering are outside the Bill, and are not relative to the immediate issue. There is nothing in the Bill with reference to the hours of labour, and I do not think the hon. Member can cite particular instances as a reason for punishing a company when they come to this House to ask for further powers.


said he would merely say that in this particular instance the man who violated the regulation of the Board of Trade was allowed to remain in his employment, and he believed that if a great Company sanctioned such conduct as that, it would convert the measures which that House passed into waste paper. He felt that the Great Eastern Railway Company, as a rule, behaved well to their employés, and that the foremen and the management set an admirable example to most of the Railway Companies throughout the country, but it was here, he feared, the spirit shown in Lord Claud Hamilton's speech might develop, and do harm, not only to the Company, but also to the public and the men in their employ, that he seconded the motion of his hon. Friend.


said, that as one who had not the smallest pecuniary interest in the Great Eastern, but as one whose constituents were deeply affected by the line and the future prospects of the line proposed by this Bill, he hoped the hon. Member would not persist in his motion. He could quite understand the honourable motives which had led both the mover and the seconder to bring this question before the House. It affected, he had no doubt, men in whom they were most deeply and honourably interested, but he should like to point out that there was also a larger proportion of the population who were still more interested in the passing of this Bill. The Bill related principally to a branch railway in a district which at the present moment was in great need of railway accommodation, and it, moreover, affected a large body of the men in whom the hon. Members were interested, namely, the railway servants, because it provided for an extension of the pension scheme. He would ask them if, after expressing their opinion on the subject of the Chairman's speech, they might not think it compatible with their duty to withdraw their opposition. They had heard that the relationships between the Great Eastern and the Board of Trade had been of the most friendly character, and also that their treatment of their servants was in every way praiseworthy, and that being so, he would like to ask the hon. Members if they did not think it would be looking a little too far forward to prophesy as to what the future relationships between the Company and their servants might be. He felt so certain himself that the future of the Great Eastern must and would depend so largely upon the friendly relations between the Company and the men, that he could not think for one moment they would go behind the back of the law and do anything prejudicial to the interests of their employés.


said, he did not feel altogether surprised that the remarks made by the Chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company had given rise to a Debate. At the same time he very much regretted it for it imported into the consideration of this Bill what ought to be considered only upon its own merits, an element which was, no doubt, of a controversial and, to some extent, of a painful nature. He read those remarks, and he thought they were not necessary. He thought they did not tend to make easier the duties of those who had had cast upon them by Parliament the very difficult function of endeavouring to apply an Act which was in the interests not only of railway servants but also of the whole travelling public, upon a subject which was especially difficult. It would be possible, by hasty, precipitate, or over-zealous administration to injure the railway servants themselves, and, at the same time, to embitter the relations, which ought to be cordial, between the Railway Company and the Board of Trade. They did their best to administer the Act in the spirit in which Parliament passed it, and in which they thought it ought to be administered. They did their best to prevent it from too suddenly imposing too heavy obligations on the Company, and at the same time to make it valuable as a means of relieving the men from excessive hours, and, further, of securing the safety of the public. He did not think it would be desirable to go beyond the ruling of the Chair and enter into the particular instances of contest and discussion which had arisen between the Great Eastern Railway Company and the Board of Trade. There had been, no doubt, a certain number of cases in which they had been unable to take the view the Company desired them to take, and the Company had not, so far, made the reduction the Board of Trade thought desirable. These matters, however, were not concluded, and he thought it would be going beyond the limits of the Speaker's ruling if he were to discuss them now. He therefore came to the question which was really raised by the Motion, that the Bill be rejected. He must observe upon that that it was extremely undesirable, for various reasons, that the House should take this opportunity of pronouncing an opinion upon the conduct of a Railway Company in matters which were not concerned in the Bill primarily before the House. This question of the hours of railway servants was one which had been put, in the first instance, into the hands of the Board of Trade with a view to bringing about a friendly solution, and the remedy provided in case a friendly solution was not arrived at was by proceedings before the Railway Commission. Parliament had, therefore, deliberately prescribed a method by which this question should be determined. In other words, it had removed it from the practical cognisance of this House, and it had, by implication, said that there were no matters of such a nature that should be raised on the Second Reading of these Bills.


said, his point was that when a Railway Company, which had expressed a hostile opinion with regard to General Acts of Parliament regulating the conduct of its business, applied to Parliament for extended powers, then this House ought to take cognisance of the attitude of that Railway Company in determining whether the application should be granted.


said he did not at all subscribe to the doctrine that because a Chairman of a Company said a certain thing the whole Company was to be prejudiced. If a Chairman had indulged in reflections upon the wisdom of Parliament in passing this Bill, it was no reason why they should depart from their own settled procedure and reverse their own policy in a matter so deliberately settled as this was settled by the Act of 1893. He could not assent to that distinction. But there was another thing to be said about this Bill. These Bills are not promoted exclusively in the interests of the Railway Company. They were promoted for the benefit of the general public as well. They were, in many cases, for better facilities for the working-classes getting to and from their work. They were very often Bills for increasing the means for the public safety, and for taking additional lines to improve their stations or their shunting yards, and in that way to provide it must be for the safety of their workmen. They were, perhaps, for the purpose of doubling their lines and running their trains upon an additional line so as to secure greater immunity from collision. Under these circumstances, they must not regard these Bills as solely in the interest of the Company, which they would punish if they rejected them. For these reasons he hoped his hon. Friend would not persevere in his objection, but would be satisfied with the attention he had drawn to the language of the Chairman of the Company, and to the unfortunate results which must follow if Companies were to set themselves in opposition to the deliberately adopted policy of Parliament.


said, he was not concerned in the least in the Great Eastern Railway Company, except that he had the misfortune of living upon it. He spoke simply in the interests of the agricultural community. He would venture to suggest to the hon. Member who had made this motion that such speeches as the one to which he had called attention meant practically absolutely nothing. In this case nothing had been done after the speech of the Chairman which could in any way prejudice the employés of the Company. If the hon. Gentleman carried his Motion he certainly would not penalise the Company. He would not do any harm to the Chairman, but he would do considerable harm to those men who were employed by the Company. He should have no objection to the Great Eastern Company receiving a lesson, for they charged the highest possible railway rates for agricultural produce, and they did not enjoy the wheeled arrangements which they called carriages which were run on their line. He thought none would deny that the county of Essex should have new communications and fresh facilities of transit, and it was absolutely necessary for the farming interest that these communications and facilities should be given and made. He therefore hoped the hon. Member would see fit, under the circumstances, to withdraw his Motion.


said, that he had not read the speech of the Chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company, but he wished to have further imformation with respect to this Bill, whether the Board of Trade had any special ground of complaint against the Great Eastern Railway Company, either in regard to the enforcement of the Railway Servants' Hours Act, or the working of the Conciliation Clause under the Traffic Acts. The Standing Orders, giving directions to the Private Bill Committees, did not contain anything dealing with recent legislation. The Board of Trade had no power to enforce its views with respect to reasonable charges under the Traffic Act, and the House ought to support the Board of Trade where the Company showed itself to be absolutely unreasonable. Again, with regard to the hours of railway servants, wherever a company had refused to attend to the reasonable requirements of the Board of Trade, the House would be informed of the fact when it was being asked to confer further powers upon that Company.

MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)

thought the House would have no difficulty in supporting the President of the Board of Trade with respect to this particular Amendment, but some protest ought to be entered against the practice obtaining in some quarters of the House of introducing, under cover of an Amendment, to resist the passage of a Private Bill, controversies of a more or less political character. The Chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company did not need anyone to defend his reputation. He had been a highly-respected Member of the House off and on for many years, but as far as the passage quoted from his speech was concerned, the noble Lord deserved more than the faint praise by which he had been damned by some of his defenders. The noble Lord was not only within his right, but within the limits of his duty, in placing before his shareholders matters which he thought deserving of their consideration. If such a person, occupying a position of public responsibility, were to be cramped in the expression of his mind to his own shareholders, it was carrying any supposed ideas of privilege to a very far pitch. He thought the remarks of the noble Lord were fully justified. No doubt he was speaking from full knowledge, and as the result of inquiry; and, if he had not been straightforward to his shareholders, he would have deserved their censure. Were the proceedings of the House to be delayed, and its time occupied by political controversies arising out of the meetings of Directors and shareholders of public companies? If there was anything in the Bill to which any hon. Gentleman took exception the House would hear him, but he hoped the present Motion would not be taken as a precedent for re-thrashing out questions on which Parliament had already decided.


said, that the principle laid down by the hon. Member for the Maldon Division could not be allowed to pass without challenge. It was that when a railway company failed to agree with the President of the Board of Trade and his subordinates, it was to be penalised when it came to Parliament for further powers. He could not understand hon. Members who called themselves Liberals complaining of the remarks made by the Chairman of a Railway Company in criticism of an Act of Parliament or of a Public Department. How was it possible to get foolish Acts—of which there were some—and mischievous Acts—of which there were many—repealed unless public attention was called to them? He thought it was the doctrine of the Liberal Party above all others that it was the business of those who objected to any law to go on agitating until it was repealed. Why should an official, such as the noble Lord, whose every Act had to be submitted to the Board of Trade, be debarred from calling attention to the action of that Department? He entirely agreed with the noble Lord that a great deal of the action of the Board of Trade was ill-advised, and ought not to be taken.

MR. C. B. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said, that he did not complain of the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, but he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would give no encouragement to the principle laid down by the hon. Member for the Maldon Division. The right hon. Gentleman must see that to do as the hon. Member asked him to do would be for an Executive Department to decide ex-parte on the very questions which Parliament had said should be referred to a judicial tribunal—the Railway Commission.

*SIR C. DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said, that he presumed the President of the Board of Trade, though not answering the questions which had been raised now, would do so when the general matter came under discussion. [Mr. BRYCE signified assent.] On that understanding, the question could be allowed to pass now.


thought that this Motion was a gross abuse of Parliamentary privilege. On a Bill which contained nothing in reference to these matters the Motion raised a question which was decided by the House of Commons last year on entirely different lines. It not only asked the President of the Board of Trade to introduce an alien subject, but also to say that the persons with whom he disagreed were absolutely in the wrong. A method was provided for settling a dispute between the Board of Trade and the Railway Companies by a reference to the Railway Commission, and it would be asking the President of the Board of Trade to do a grossly unfair act if he were asked to say that the Companies with whom he was in dispute were in the wrong.


said, that the question which he had raised was in no sense a personal one, but a large and general question, of which the House might well take cognisance. The speech of the hon. Baronet and the right hon. Gentleman opposite made it hard for him to withdraw his Motion, for he still thought that the attitude assumed by the Chairman and Directors of the Great Eastern Railway Company ought to be taken notice of by the House. But he would consent to withdraw, in view of the speech of the President of the Board of Trade.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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