HC Deb 14 April 1896 vol 39 cc852-81

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

MR. D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

said, he found that the Bill proposed that further facilities should be given to the London and North Western Railway with regard to the Chester and Holyhead Railway, and that in respect of a proposed extension of that section, the same rates and charges should be allowed as the company had power to charge at present under the Act of 1891. Now, by the Act of 1891 exceptional rates and charges were sanctioned in respect of that line of 2d. per ton per mile, the usual rate being 1¼d. He objected very strongly to the exceptional charges in respect of that particular branch of the line. He did not believe any case had been shown for it. He knew that the contention of the company was that this line cost a good deal more than any other line in respect of which the charge of l¼d. was made. He believed it was a very expensive line, but the London and North-Western purchased it very cheaply indeed from the original promoters, so that whatever case the original Chester and Holyhead Railway Company might have made in this House for an exceptional charge in respect of the conveyance of passengers and goods, that argument had no weight so far as the London and North-Western were concerned. Unfortunately, too, that company were using the powers already given them in order to oust out the sea trade in particular ports. There was a branch of the Chester and Holyhead Railway which ran down to Carnarvon. There they were entitled to charge 2d. per ton per mile, and they used their maximum powers to the fullest extent for the purpose of preventing the conveyance of slates from Carnarvon harbour, and compelling the owners of the slate quarries to send them along the whole length of the line to any particular part of Great Britain. He should not divide against the Second Reading, but, if necessary, when the Bill came back from Committee he should move Amendments for the reduction of the rates and charges complained of.

MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)

asked the hon. Baronet opposite, who was a director of the London and North-Western, to give some explanation as to the reason why differentia] rates between the Chester and Holyhead section and the rest of the system of the company were still maintained. A few years ago the company voluntarily agreed to equalise the rates on the Chester and Holyhead system with the other portions of the London and North-Western system, but they excepted coal and minerals from the arrangement, and he wished to know the reasons for this. The company alleged that it cost a good deal to maintain the existing line along the North Wales seaboard. However that might he, this line provided their main artery between England and Ireland, and by means of the Chester and Holyhead line they secured the great Irish trade, and, moreover, their position near the coast line practically excluded every other company from that coast line. The London and North-Western had, indeed, a valuable monopoly along that coast. They also urged that with the sea on one side they did not derive so much traffic as if the line ran through the interior part of the country. But the sea had been the means of bringing a large number of works to the North Wales coast owing to the cheapness of water transit, and in consequence the London and North-Western Railway received a large amount of traffic which otherwise they would not secure. Having regard to all the circumstances, including the interests of the trade and agriculture of the district, he submitted the company ought not to charge a higher rate for the conveyance of trucks of coal and minerals than on other portions of the system. The present disparity of rates ought not to be allowed any longer.

MR. W. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)

complained of the policy of the London and North-Western Railway in refusing to put on third-class carriages in connection with the mail trains. This company received an enormous subsidy for carrying the mails from Euston to Holyhead, and, instead of giving Irish Members and the Irish people generally any advantage from that enormous subsidy, they absolutely charged a higher passenger rate from Dublin to Euston than would be allowed in any other country in the world. He appealed to hon. Members who had Imperialistic sympathies, and who said that the Irish Members ought to be in touch with the Imperial Parliament, to regard this question from a broader point of view. The Irish Members wanted facilities to come to Westminster. [Laughter.] They did not wish to stay there, but so long as the House obliged Irish representatives to attend, he said it was unfair that Parliament should allow a private company of monopolists to exact taxation from the Irish Members while coming to discharge their legislative duties. It was really absurd that while the railways were the property of the State elsewhere, the Members of the Legislatures having the privilege to travel free, here obstacles were put in the way of Members travelling by the Company's lines. The question was not to be viewed lightly, for so serious was it in his judgment, that he advised his colleagues from Ireland not only to press the matter to a Division, but to resist this unjust taxation and to oppose every Railway Bill that came before the House, until justice to the Irish Members was obtained. He asked for an assurance on the part of those who represented the London and North-Western Railway that something would be done to facilitate the attendance of Irish Members in the discharge of their legislative duties.

*MR. J. JORDAN (Fermanagh, S.)

also protested against the action of the London and North-Western Railway Company in refusing to put third-class carriages on trains to and from Holy-head. It was most unjust and unfair that anyone coming from Ireland with a third-class ticket should not be able to travel on the mail trains from Holyhead, and it was also only fair that third-class passengers should have permission to travel back by any train. He would join in blocking Railway Bills until the companies gave travellers all the facilities possible. No company ought to get a Bill passed through the House unless a provision was inserted allowing Members of Parliament to be carried even free when employed in their public Parliamentary duties.


did not say that the questions which had been raised were not questions which might fairly be addressed to the House; but he could not see the logical connection between those questions and the opposition to this Bill. The Bill was intended simply to widen a section of the railway between Chester and Holyhead, and to facilitate the traffic coming from Ireland to England, and to render it more safe and certain. As to passenger rates, it was the interest of a railway company to give the greatest facilities for traffic, and to do all they could to encourage and to foster traffic from whatever direction it might arise. He assured hon. Members that the question of passenger rates had been carefully considered. Every effort was made to charge rates which would serve the interests of the company. Those interests were best served not by high, exorbitant, and excessive rates, but by rates which would create the greatest amount of traffic possible. As to mineral rates, he thought hon. Members had forgotten that the question of rates on merchandise of all kinds had been carefully considered by the Board of Trade and by a joint Committee of the Houses of Parliament. Tribunals and machinery had been set up in order that any grievance on the part of the traders in any part of the country might be heard; and therefore the House of Commons did not appear to him to be a suitable place to raise such questions. The Board of Trade gave an increased rate on the minerals in question in consideration of circumstances that were brought before the Department, and which were considered sufficient to entitle the company to charge them. That opinion might be good or it might be bad, but at any rate it was the answer which he had to give to the hon. Member. With regard to third-class carriages on mail trains, the answer was a simple one. No doubt the company would be glad to increase their traffic on the mail trains; but they had to consider carefully the contracts they had entered into with the Postmaster General to deliver the mails expeditiously and punctually. It was manifest that if they added third-class carriages on the mail trains, with a larger number of passengers, the burden of the trains would be greatly increased, possibly resulting in pressure of traffic and unpunctuality. There were only two ways of meeting the difficulty. Either there must be a heavily-burdened train which was apt to be late, or they must divide the train into two portions. If the train was divided into two portions, there was great danger that the third-class passengers who went by the second train might not arrive in London at all, because the steamship company was under a separate contract as soon as it received the mails on board to go off and not wait for passengers.


said, that last Sunday the company carried a theatrical company of third-class passengers to Holyhead. If this was done for a theatrical company why should it not be done for Members of Parliament? [Laughter.]


said, that the safe and punctual transmission of traffic on the railway would be seriously imperilled if the trains were overburdened. There were already two express trains passing from England to Ireland every day and vice versa—four trains in all; and on those trains third-class passengers were conveyed. The facilities, therefore, were very considerable. There was every disposition on the part of the London and North Western Railway Company to increase its passenger traffic, but it was of the greatest importance to this country and to Ireland that letters should be conveyed day by day as expeditiously as possible. He was afraid that it would be impossible to provide the facilities which the hon. Member desired for passengers, and at the same time to insure the observance of the conditions under which the mails were carried. There was nothing exceptional in the conduct of the company in connection with this matter.

MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

did not think that the observations of the hon. Baronet had done much in the direction of furthering the cause which he had at heart. The hon. Baronet's statements as to the traffic charges were not satisfactory.


Order, order! This cannot become a general discussion on the passenger traffic and charges on the whole line. The objection must be confined to the fact that certain trains passing over this portion of the line will not carry third class passengers. There cannot be a general discussion.


I understand, Sir, that the discussion may extend also to the question of the charging of excessive rates for the carriage of minerals and merchandise over this portion of the railway line.


Upon that point it is only open to hon. Members to argue; that there is no reason why an exceptional rate should be charged upon this particular portion of the line. The general charges of the London and North Western Railway Company cannot be discussed.


said that the hon. Baronet opposite had declared that there was no logical connection between the objections that had been raised and the Bill before the House. There was a connection and it was this. Under this Bill the London and North Western Railway asked for further facilities, and in return the company were asked to provide further facilities for passengers. Hon. Members on his side of the House would not consent to give the facilities that the company asked for unless the company on their side agreed to grant the facilities for which the passengers asked. The hon. Member opposite said that because the Board of Trade allowed the company to charge an extreme rate the company were entitled to charge that rate. To that he could not assent. To say that the company would charge a maximum rate because the Board of Trade permitted it, was not the way to commend this Bill to the favourable consideration of the House. He had himself some experience of the charges of this company. A basket of agricultural produce was sent to him from Ireland every week. The railway charge in Ireland for carrying the basket from the country to Dublin was 4d., and if it were conveyed to London at the same rate he would get it for another shilling, But the London and North Western Railway Company had no bowels of compassion, and made him pay 4s. 2d. The company, he held, ought to follow the good example set by the companies in Ireland in connection with the carriage of agricultural produce. The facilities for third class passenger traffic provided by the company were inadequate, and the reason was that there was no competition. In fact, the passenger accommodation provided on the line between London and Holyhead was worse than that provided on any other line. Travellers to Scotland could go in a corridor train and obtain a splendid dinner for 2s. 6d. Why was there not a corridor train to Holyhead? As he had said, the reason of the inadequate service was that the company enjoyed a monopoly, and Irish and Welsh Members had submitted to the existing state of things too long. He proposed to move— That until the London and North Western Company is prepared to give further facilities for goods and passenger traffic with reduced rates, this House is not prepared to extend its powers.


That Amendment would not be in order, because it is a general proposition, and is not confined to the question actually before the House. It raises the general question of the conduct of the London and North Western Railway Company. If the hon. Member likes to move as an Amendment that the Bill be not read a second time until this day six months it is competent for him to do so.


proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)

could not agree with his hon. Friend in what he had said in respect to the passenger accommodation provided by the London and North Western Company. He thought that the accommodation for first and second class passengers was excellent. The demands of third class passengers might, he suggested, be met by the abolition of second class accommodation and the substitution of third class carriages. The same facilities for travel as were given to passengers to Scotland ought to be given to passengers to Ireland. As a result of competition some of the third class passenger trains to Scotland actually went faster than the trains that carried the mails. Between London and Holyhead the trains were slower and the fares dearer than they were on the same length of line between London and Edinburgh or Glasgow. He supposed that an Irish Member paid toll to the London and North Western. Railway Company to the amount of £100 every year. This, therefore, was an important subject to them. Then the question of rates was very important to Ireland, for the railway rates were strangling the industries of the country. The London and North Western Company should give Irishmen the same facilities as they gave to Scotch passengers who were not disturbed by a sea passage. He could assure the House that the sea passage made Irishmen sick of the Act of Union every time they had to take it.

MR. C.T. MURDOCH (Reading)

said, that this was a general Bill of the London and North-Western Railway, and was of considerable importance to the working of the line; but the only proposal to which objection could be taken was the widening of the line between Chester and Holyhead. The two things of which complaint was made were, first, that there was no third class on the Irish mail; and second, that the rates for minerals and goods were too high. It was not the general custom to place third class carriages on trains devoted especially to carrying the mails, because the heavier the train the greater the danger of unpunctuality. It was suggested that third-class carriages should be put on in place of the second class. But the North-Western Company had arrangements with many other lines, and it would be extremely difficult to abolish the second class unless the change was general throughout the country. The opinion of the most skilled railway managers was that the general feeling of the public was in favour of maintaining the three classes. But it was quite possible that it would be a wise policy on the part of the railway companies to reduce the first and second-class fares. As to the rates for minerals and goods, there were no new powers sought for in the Bill. It was very rare indeed for the companies to charge the maximum rates. He knew from personal experience in countless instances that the greatest satisfaction was derived from conferences between the traders and the goods managers; and that was a much surer way of getting satisfactory rates than anything that could be done in the House or by the Board of Trade. [Mr. LOUGH: ''What about agricultural produce?"] The hon. Member must be aware that all the railway companies, and particularly the Great Western, were doing all they could to meet the difficulty. Objections to the Bill in detail could be discussed in Committee, and no reason had been shown for refusing the Second Reading.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said, that he complained of two points in the Bill. The first was Subsection 12 of Clause 31. In every Railway Bill there was a standard clause relating to the displacement of workmen under the Artisans' Dwellings Acts. Parliamentary lawyers had generally accepted this clause without hesitation, and had even asked for its extension, rather than its diminution. But this Subsection 12 narrowed down the standard clause by providing that 30s. should be the maximum wage of displaced men for whom the company was bound to find accommodation. In many towns the 30s. standard would not cover the case of many gangers and foremen, and great injustice would be done. The second point was even more objectionable. It was the attempt on the part of the Railway Company to impose the Savings Bank Act of 1858 on the men employed on the new extension and tributary lines. Many of these men had for years subscribed to various friendly societies for sick and unemployed benefit, and for old age superannuation. Now, irrespective of their wishes, they would be compelled to come under the system which the company already had power to apply to their own main line. If their wages were not sufficient to enable them to pay the compulsory contributions under this Savings Bank Act, as well as the voluntary subscriptions which they had long paid, they would have to give up the latter or leave the employment of the company. It was time that this tyranny on the part of the company, in breaking up workmen's voluntary agreements, was put an end to. It should be left to the option of the men whether they would come within the provisions of the Company's Savings Bank Act. He hoped that the hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill (Sir W. Houldsworth) who was always an active sympathiser with working men, would consent to withdraw the two objectionable provisions to which he had referred, or else he should be obliged to divide against the Bill. He felt bound to enter his protest against this action on the part, of a great corporation, who had some 70,000 men in their employ.

MR. W. ALLAN (Gateshead)

said that to say that by putting a third class carriage upon the mail train would delay the mails was an absurdity.

MR. W. ABRAHAM (Glamorgan, Rhondda)

said that the rates charged by the London and North Western Railway Company over a portion of their line in North Wales impeded trade if they did not altogether prohibit it. This Debate had come on very opportunely, and he appealed to the Government to assist the House in the matter.


Order, order! The hon. Gentleman cannot enter into a general discussion upon railways.


said that of course he should at once bow to the authority of the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, but he thought that he should be in order in pointing out that that House had a right to prevent large monopolies like railway companies from imposing unjust rates upon the traffic on certain portions of their lines.

*MR. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith)

said that there was one point to which in justice to the London and North Western Railway he desired to call attention. The hon. Gentleman opposite had called attention to the wording of the section which related to the weekly wage of the workman who would be affected by the clause relating to the dispossession of the labouring classes, and had complained that the average of that weekly wage should be fixed at 30s. What he desired to say was that the company in fixing that sum had followed verbatim et literatim, the words of the Standing Order of the House.


said that he rose for the purpose of supporting the Amendment, which had been moved by the hon. Member. No reply had been given by the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill to the points that had been raised in the course of the Debate. One of those points was that higher rates were charged upon this portion of the line than were charged upon the rest of the line. Could not the hon. Gentleman who was in charge of the Bill give the House some explanation why this exceptional charge should be made upon this particular portion of the company's line. The fact was that the company had obtained this portion of their line more cheaply than they had constructed the rest of it. He did not mean to say that it had not originally cost more, but the company had purchased it at a very cheap rate from the original company, who. had been at the expense of constructing it. Notwithstanding the fact that the company received a subsidy from the Government of £150,000 for conveying the mails, they charged four times as much in respect of the traffic over this portion of the line than they did with regard to traffic over the rest of their line. The hon. Member for Reading had said that this was a matter of detail that could easily be settled before a Parliamentary Committee. The hon. Member must, however, know how difficult it would be for a few weak slate quarry companies to fight a wealthy railway company like the London and North Western before a Parliamentary Committee. Even if those slate quarry companies could be got to combine, which was a most difficult matter to do, the companies between them would be unable to get together the £20,000 that would be necessary to enable them to enter upon such a contest upon anything like equal terms. They knew what had happened in 1891, when the Board of Trade ought to have offered them assistance. The fact was that in 1891 the Board of Trade was completely captured by the London and North Western Railway Company, and the latter company employed the first Parliamentary Counsel to fight their case. In such circumstances, what could a few weak traders effect against this great company. It was simply idle therefore to say that all these matters could easily be settled before a Parliamentary Committee.


said, that he thought that this subject was absolutely exhausted. As far as the Board of Trade were concerned, they saw no reason whatever why this Bill should not be read a second time. The Bill was a Measure which was brought in for the purpose of enabling the London and North Western Railway Company to widen particular sections of their line, and it was as important to the public as it was to the railway company that that should be done. It was objected against the Bill that the rates on some parts of the company's line were not as favourable to traders as they were on other parts of the line, but that was no reason why facilities for traffic on particular sections of the line should not be given, seeing that they would conduce to the public convenience. No doubt higher rates were charged upon the particular portion of the line which had been indicated than were charged upon the rest of the line, but those rates had been already sanctioned by Parliament, and it was not proposed to increase them, but merely to continue them. The hon. Gentleman opposite had said that it was impossible for traders to appear upon equal terms with a railway company before a Parliamentary Committee, but as far as the Board of Trade and he himself were concerned, they had shown their view with regard to the question of rates by the representations they had made to the different railway companies, which representations, he was glad to say, had not been without effect. Without expressing any opinion as to whether these particular rates were or were not fair, he could only say that if hon. Members who were interested in the subject would lay their views with regard to it before the Board of Trade, that Department would consider those views, and if they thought it right to do so, would make representations to the London and North Western Railway Company, who would, no doubt, receive those representations in the same spirit in which, he was glad to say, all railway companies received them.


pointed out that the hon. Baronet had not met in the smallest way his statement with respect to the rates and charges for passengers. He challenged contradiction of his statement that the passenger rate from Dublin to London was the dearest in the world. Unless he could give some explanation regarding their grievances he should press the matter to a Division.


declared that the policy of exclusion of third class passengers on the part of the line between Chester and Holyhead was devised in order to compel persons who, by reason of straitened means or otherwise, wished to travel third, to travel second class, and that that policy of exclusion was possible only because the London and North Western Company had no other company in competition with them. This company exercised their rights in a cowardly manner; in a cowardly manner they trampled on the interests of the poor, because they ran third class carriages where they had competition. The company must be taught that monopolists had their duties as well as their rights. [Cheers.] He would venture to tell the House his own experience. In the discharge of his Parliamentary duties he travelled between his home in Ireland and London on the average 16 times a year. When he commenced he travelled first class: now he conscientiously travelled third whenever he could. [Laughter.] He induced all his friends around to travel third, and he did so partly in the interests of economy, but also to deal a slight blow at a monopolist company. [Laughter.] If he saved a couple of pounds on a journey he felt a happier man for the rest of the week. [Laughter.] In 1893—for reasons which he need not go into—for six weeks he left this House on Friday evenings, travelled to Dublin and was back in his place on Monday. If he had wished to travel third under these circumstances he could not. Why Because he had to leave Dublin on the Sunday evening, and because there were no third class carriages attached to the mail on Sunday evening. How satisfactory this was to the Directors! They kept the Sabbath and raised the dividend. [Laughter.] He hoped he had raised the tone of this Debate. [Laughter.]


rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put"

The House divided:—Ayes, 221: Noes, 107.—(Division List, No. 96.)

Question put accordingly, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes, 207: Noes, 130.—(Division List, No. 97.)

MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

rising to address the House,


claimed, "That the Main Question be now put,"

Main Question put accordingly.

The House divided:—Ayes, 203; Noes, 124.—(Division List, No. 98.)

Bill read 2°, and committed.


, rising to a point of order, intimated that' he intended to move that the vote of the hon. Member for North-West Manchester should be disallowed on the ground that the hon. Baronet had a direct personal and pecuniary interest in the Bill. [Cheers.] He desired to know whether he should make the Motion now or tomorrow, when the hon. Baronet's name would appear in the printed Votes.


The hon. Member is entitled to move it now. [Cheers.]

MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)

On the point of order, Sir, I should like to ask what that pecuniary interest was, and whether—[Opposition cries of "Order!"]


The hon. Gentleman is entitled to raise a point of order. [Cheers.]


And whether any Member who has a pecuniary interest as a shareholder in this particular railway company is in the same position as the hon. Member for Manchester.


The question is always one for the House to decide whether an hon. Member has such a direct personal pecuniary interest as to disentitle him to vote.

MR. LLOYD - GEORGE moved, ''That the vote of Sir William Houldsworth be disallowed." By the Standing Orders of the House it was explicitly laid down that no Member was entitled to record his vote upon any question in which he was financially interested. That was a matter of very considerable importance for the purity of their action in the House. If any Member of the legal profession were briefed to state any case in the House and then voted upon it, he had not the slightest doubt hon. Members on the other side would very soon be prepared to raise a question of privilege in connection with such a vote, and one rule should not be applicable to members of the legal profession and another to railway directors. [Cheers.] The hon. Baronet was a member of this company; he came down and asked for a monopoly from the House of Commons which would undoubtedly enhance the value of the property in which he was pecuniarily interested, and, not satisfied with voting in support of a Bill which financially benefited himself, he went to the extent of twice moving the Closure, the Speaker declining to accept it on the first occasion. ["Hear, hear!"] He was not criticising either the action of the hon. Baronet himself, who was not merely anxious to vote down Members on the other side of the House who wanted to get equal advantages from these great monopolies, but actually went the length of trying to prevent hon. Members raising their voices against irregularities resulting from these monopolies.


The hon. Member is not entitled to refer to the Closure in that way after it has been applied by the vote of the House. It would be impossible to carry out the Standing Order if, immediately after the decision of the House had been taken, reflections were to be made either upon the Member proposing the Closure, or the Chair in assenting to it. The two are so allied together that it is impossible to separate them. [Cheers.]


disclaimed the slightest intention of reflecting upon the action of the Chair. He proceeded to point out that the House had always been scrupulously careful of its honour in cases of this kind. In the matter of the Uganda Railway it was laid down that three hon. Members, who were not directors of the railway at all, but who were interested in the country that was going to be surveyed, ought not to vote on the question. Here the interest of the hon. Baronet was much more direct, he being both a large shareholder and a director of the company concerned. He made no imputation of corrupt motive against the hon. Baronet, but a general principle having been laid down that Members ought not to vote on questions in which they were pecuniarily interested the House ought to adhere to it, whether the subject on which the vote was given referred to Central Africa, Wales, or Ireland. [Cheers. ]


seconded the Motion, contending that this was a matter on which they were entitled to guidance from the Government. It ought not to be made a Party question, for it affected the honour and purity of the House as a whole. In the case of Judge Ross the late Speaker (Mr. Peel) took this remarkable action. Mr. Ross, who was then a Member of the House, proposed to call attention to the release by the late Government of prisoners connected with the alleged murder of District-Inspector Martin in Donegal. He called Mr. Speaker Peel's attention to the fact that Mr. Ross had himself been the prosecuting counsel in the case, and, therefore had had at one time an interest in the case. Mr. Speaker Peel instantly declared that that being the state of the facts the hon. Member for Derry had no business to move such a Motion. [''Hear, hear!"] But here the case was much stronger. The hon. Baronet was not only a director of the company, but was largely interested in the question. Over and over again complaint, was made that men got into the House as capitalists, and when they joined to the power that large capital had in that House the right of directorships, and voted on questions such as these, then he said they had reached a stage when the House ought to put down its foot.["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for Salford had raised a point as to a shareholder not being disabled from voting. There was a great distinction between the two, for whereas a shareholder merely got his dividends, a director got his fees. It was not only in railway matters that these points arose, but they also came up in water companies. Enormous questions, he understood, would arise soon affecting London water, when they would be soused with a brigade of London water directors. [Laughter.] It was desirable that the Government, when they went into the Lobby with their majority, should be able to have the consciousness that they were not rubbing shoulders with interested persons whose votes must inevitably be open to the suspicion of being influenced by the positions they held. ["Hear, hear!"]


understood that when a question of this sort was raised with regard to the vote of any hon. Member it was usual for such hon. Member to withdraw, and if that was the case he was prepared to follow that course. [''Hear, hear!"]


The course taken by Mr. Speaker Peel on a somewhat similar occasion was to call upon the hon. Member whose vote was in question—as I have now called upon the hon. Baronet —and, after he had made a statement to the House which he desired, he was requested to withdraw.


said, he only desired to say that he left this matter entirely in the hands of the House. Undoubtedly the fact was that he was a director of the London and North - Western Railway Company, though not for a very long time, and as a director in charge of the Bill which had been before the House he was bound to do his duty in endeavouring to get it passed. His pecuniary interest in the company was not a very large one, and it dated back to a time long before he became a director. With reference to the remark of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon as to his moving the Closure, he wished to assure the House that he did not take that step with any desire to shut out any complaints which might be made, but because he thought the question had been thoroughly exhausted, and in the interests of the business of the House. [Cheers and counter cheers.] If by his action he had interfered with the right of any hon. Gentleman to bring any question in connection with this Bill before the House, he could only express his regret. He would, however, venture to say that he did not think a discussion on the Second Reading of a Bill of this sort was at all a convenient time for bringing forward questions of detail [''Oh!"]—which he would be very glad to consider in an impartial and even conciliatory spirit if the opportunity arose, either at the board of the London and North-Western Company or elsewhere. He now placed himself entirety in the hands of the House.

The hon. Baronet then withdrew.


rising immediately afterwards, said, the question which the hon. Member for Carnarvon had started in connection with the vote given by his hon. Friend was not new to the House. From time to time it occurred to hon. Gentlemen to raise the question of whether a director of a company should or should not be allowed to record his vote in connection with a private Bill in which his company was interested, and the House had decided almost uniformly that such vote should not be disallowed. He thought the action of the House in that respect had been wise. What the House had got to guard against was corruption. ["Hear, hear!" and "Oh!"] If there was anything more than corruption he did not know what it was—corruption or the suspicion of corruption. ["Hear, hear!"]


Personal interest.


said, that personal interest, if it influenced an hon. Member's vote in a public matter, was corruption, and he knew of nothing more clearly corrupt than that a man who was sent to the House to do public duties should allow his vote to be influenced by those private interests. [Cheers.] It was not relevant whether an hon. Member was or was not a director of a company. [Cries of "Oh!"] How could it be relevant? An hon. Member who was a director of a company got fees as a director, and his fees were not increased in prosperous times, nor were they diminished if the company was not prosperous. [Cries of ''Oh!'' and laughter.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite had a larger acquaintance —['' Hear, hear!'' and laughter]—with questions connected with directorships than he had, for he had never had the advantage to serve upon a board— [cheers']—and he might, therefore, have readily fallen into some error as to the method in which directors' fees were arranged. But surely he was not wrong in saying that the emoluments of a director of the London and North-Western Railway Company would not be increased if this Bill passed, and would not be diminished if the Bill were thrown out. [''Hear, hear!"] Under these circumstances it was perfectly clear that if the vote of his hon. Friend were attacked, it ought not to be attacked because he was a director of the company, but because he was a shareholder. ["Hear, hear!"] If that was admitted, were they going to cross-examine all the gentlemen who took part in the late Division as to whether or not they had got shares in the company? Evidently, the House of Commons would be taking upon itself a task which it was incapable of performing if it drove the doctrine of private interest in industrial concerns to the extent of saying that no man, however little interested in any industrial concern, was to give any vote in this House by which the fortunes of that concern might be influenced. Was a Member for a Lancashire town, who happened to be a cotton spinner, to give no vote on the question of the Indian import duties? ["Hear, hear!"]


It would be better if he did not.


asked, was a Member who was either a mortgagee or an owner of land never to give a vote on anything touching land? Was a solicitor never to give a vote on any subject by which the interests of the great body of solicitors might be affected directly or indirectly? Was no lawyer ever to give a vote upon any Bill which, if it passed, might increase litigation—[laughter]—or which might be so modified, as, perhaps, under some circumstances, to diminish the emoluments which might be legitimately expected by that honourable profession by their appearance in Court? They could not drive this doctrine of personal interest to the extent which the hon. Member who moved the Motion, or the hon. and learned Gentleman who seconded it, attempted to do. Let the House remember that this had nothing to do with directorships. It had simply to do with the holding of shares, and, unless the House was prepared to lay down the doctrine that the holding of shares was to preclude any Gentleman from voting on a Bill which directly or indirectly might affect the business in which he had shares, then he thought the vote of his hon. Friend ought to be allowed. It was not necessary for him to weary the House by dealing with precedents, but it did so happen that there was almost an exactly similar question raised with regard to another director of the same company Mr. David Plunket, as he then was, under almost exactly similar circumstances. His vote was challenged as his hon. Friend's vote had been, and the House, having listened to the arguments on both sides, decided by a large majority that Mr. David Plunket's vote should be allowed. Under these circumstances it appeared to him they had both reason and precedent on their side, and he hoped the House would not consent to disallow the vote, and would not, therefore, agree to the Motion which had been made from the opposite side of the House. [Cheers. ]

*MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddington)

said, he could not help thinking that the question which came before the House, not for the first time, was one of a larger general interest than that which was involved in the mere question of whether the hon. Baronet ought to have voted. Of the hon. Baronet, he must say at once that, knowing him as he did, and having a high respect for his personal character, he did not for a moment believe that he would have voted if he had in the least conceived that it was wrong to do so. But the question which the House had to decide was the question which was raised upon this action, and he did think it would be well if they could come to some distinct understanding as to what their course was to be upon future occasions. As he understood the rule, it was simply this, that no Member was to vote on any matter in which he bad a direct personal pecuniary interest, and what that meant, and whether in a particular case he had such an interest, was a question which was left to be decided by the House. Obviously, in that state of things, the House had to consider each case, and the House had to determine whether the case was one in which it was desirable that hon. Members should give their vote. This question had come before them more than once, and it had always been left to the House to determine whether, having regard to the circum stances of the case, it was one within the rule. In the present instance they had the bare proposition put before the House by the First Lord of the Treasury that the mere fact of being a director, and that having an admitted interest as a shareholder besides, was not a sufficient reason for disqualification. He wanted to know whether the right hon. Gentleman put that as an abstract proposition. Take the case of a company in which a director, who was a Member of this House, had got a very large pecuniary interest—a very large number of the shares, it might be almost the whole of the shares. Would he, in that case, coming here as a director, be a person whom the House would say had no pecuniary interest in the matter? It was obvious that in all cases it was one of degree, and, if one of degree, it surely was not expedient that the rule should be left in a state of ambiguity. It was surely far better that they should lay down some principle, and it seemed to him especially desirable that they should do so, having regard to the feelings that had arisen not only inside but outside the House on the question of the votes of the directors of the water companies upon the recent Bills. It seemed to him it would be convenient that the House should make a precedent upon this occasion, and that the precedent should be to the effect, though it was probable there would be exceptions, that no person who was a director or shareholder might give a vote in a case in which a Bill which he was promoting was before the House. The hon. Baronet had told them—and this seemed to him to make it essential that some rule of the kind should be instituted—that he rose in his place to promote this Bill because it was his duty, not as a Member of the House, but as a director of the London and North-Western Railway Company. The position of a Member of that House was a sacred one. It was a position of trust, and he was not sent there by his constituents to promote Bills for companies or corporations. As there was absolutely no rule to govern these cases, and as the House had treated it essentially as a matter to be determined on the circumstances of each case, he did think that they would be acting wisely, without imputing anything to the hon. Baronet, if they took advantage of that occasion to make a precedent. A rule ought to be laid down that no Member who was a director or shareholder in a company should vote upon a question relating to a Bill which he came into the House for the purpose of promoting, and a precedent to that effect might certainly be established on the present occasion, especially as the House was badly off for guidance in such cases. A vote given under the circumstances of the present case ought not to be recognised, and the House could lay down a precedent without making any reflection on the right hon. Baronet.


On a point of order, Mr. Speaker, is it in the power of the House by any vote given on this Motion to lay down any principle with regard to our future guidance; in other words, would not any vote we give be strictly confined to the merits of the case before us? Could it possibly have the effect suggested by the hon. and learned Gentleman?


On the point of order, Sir, is it not open to us, as a result of the general Debate, to lay down a precedent which will be of value in clearly determining future cases?


That is the more correct definition. It is a precedent that may be laid down, but whether that precedent is converted into a principle must depend on the House.


said, that probably every Member of the House would be glad that the right hon. Gentleman had not made a good defence against the Motion. [Cries of "Oh!"] The right hon. Gentleman had said that he was inexperienced in those matters, and not a few Members felt glad, with himself, that the House of Commons should be led by one who had had no such experience. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman could have made no remark which more displayed that want of experience than when he said that, in this case at least, the hon. Baronet had no direct interest in voting, because the fees of a director of the London and North-Western Company would not be affected by the Bill. It was well known that directors in connection with some of the great railway companies received fees amounting to upwards of £5,000 a year. ["Oh, oh!" and cheers.]


The hon. Member has mistaken what I said. I believe that I at first laid down too wide a proposition relating to directors generally, but I restricted that afterwards by saying that the directors of the London and North-Western Company certainly did not have their emoluments increased by any increase in the dividends or decreased by any diminution of the dividends. [Cheers and cries of "Oh!"]


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman had had more experience he would have known that the very first thing that suffered—in an honest company, at least—was the directors' fees. If the earnings of the company went down the fees decreased, if the earnings increased the fees went up. He desired to associate himself entirely with the remark of a previous speaker, that he had no idea in taking part in this discussion of making any charge against the hon. Baronet the Member for North-West Manchester. He had often felt very keenly on this matter since he had been a Member of the House, and he could not refrain from supporting the Motion. There was, he thought, a loose feeling in the House with regard to limited companies. It seemed to be thought that if one could get behind the shelter of a limited company he was not so directly interested pecuniarily as if the undertaking was a private or personal one. But this was an error. There was a growing feeling that they had too much of this director business in the House of Commons, and the flagrant case of the London water companies, through which millions had been added to the property of those having seats in the House by the decisions of the House, ought to be fresh in the minds of hon. Members on the present occasion. ["Hear, hear!"] There was no need for the adoption of any drastic course, but the House might at least express the opinion that it would be better if directors did not vote on Bills affecting their companies. ["Hear, hear!"] So far as he was concerned he would go a step farther, and apply the same rule to shareholders. There were many admirable instances of Members of that House refraining from voting on questions in which they were pecuniarily interested, and there was one case in which an eminent lawyer had sacrificed £10,000 a year in order to keep his hands clean in that respect. This was not a Party question, and he trusted it would not be made so. He perfectly remembered the precedent which had been referred to by the First Lord of the Treasury, and he thought at the time, and still thought, it would have been better if that vote had been disallowed. The present case was similar in most respects, and he urged that it was an excellent opportunity to lay down a precedent for action in future cases of the kind.


said, he entirely agreed with the hon. and learned Member for Haddington that some rule should be established on the matter with which they were now dealing. But he ventured to think that such a rule was laid down in the case of Mr. David Plunket, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House had already referred. On that occasion Mr. Plunket took part in a Debate and voted in the Division on a London and North Western Railway Bill. The question was raised as to whether his Vote ought not to be disallowed, and the House decided by 254 to 36 against disallowing it. So far, therefore, as any precedent, or rule, could be established by decision of the House, a decision was then given in the most emphatic terms, upon which decision the hon. Member for Manchester had acted, and it was now proposed, practically and publicly, to censure him for doing that which he had done in accordance with a recent and strong decision of the House.


I remember that case perfectly well, but in the present case—and this was the distinction I made—the hon. Baronet stated that he had come here to take charge of the Bill, and he specifically said that he did so in order to do his duty as a director of the North Western Company.


said that that established no distinction. The question was one of interest. His hon. and learned Friend said that the hon. Baronet's vote was given, not as a Member of the House but as a director of the company. But it was impossible to divide in that way the motives that actuated a Member. If the hon. Baronet had not been a director he would probably have given the same vote on public grounds. It was, therefore, impossible to say that he had voted as a director only and not in the public interest as a Member. In a similar way it was impossible to draw a distinction between a shareholder and a director, and yet the interest of a director in an undertaking might be much smaller than that of a shareholder. It was possible, therefore, that there might be Members of the House who had a larger interest in the North Western Company as shareholders than the hon. Baronet had as a director. He submitted that in the case of Mr. Plunket the House had already laid down a rule of action in such cases, that that rule should be followed on the present occasion, and that the Motion should be rejected. ["Hear, hear!"]


said, he trusted the House would rise above the political prejudice that had been imported into the Debate, and any commercial interests that might operate with Gentlemen on either side. The feeling of the people outside towards the House of Commons was considerably diminishing, and it was because a suspicion had grown up that it had in recent years become too frequently the rendezvous of guinea pigs, and of railway, and gas, and water company directors. [Cheers and laughter.] He ventured to say that that was the opinion of the man in the street, and he thought the fact made the passing of such a Motion as that now proposed absolutely necessary. He also thought the Government ought to give some promise that the whole question relating to hon. Members voting on matters in which they had a pecuniary interest should be reconsidered, with the view to laying down some definite rule in the matter for the future guidance of the House. There was not a single vestry, parish, town or county council, or one of the 40,000 local governing institutions in the country which did not consider it a municipally disqualifying act for a man to speak, and above all to vote, in favour of any scheme in which he had a direct personal interest. And before a Member of the House could sit upon a railway, gas, tramway, or water Bill upstairs, he had practically to declare that in the subject-matter that would come before him he had no private interest whatever. He saw no reason why the House should not more religiously apply such a principle, so far as its Parliamentary proceedings were concerned. There were better instances. No magistrate could vote in respect of a licence for a public house in which he was pecuniarily interested, and to the eternal credit of our judiciary no Judge would think of giving a decision in any case in which he had even indirectly a pecuniary or any other interest. The legal encyclopædia (Mr. T. M. Healy) who sat on his right informed him there were many cases in which Judges had been under the common law disabled to give decisions on ordinary rating and assessment appeals, and that frequently it had been the practice of municipal corporations in Ireland and elsewhere to remove that disablement, so that the Judges should have the opportunity of exercising their judicial duties without fear or suspicion. He was surprised the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth should put a matter like this on the ground of votes. It was a question whether the director of a railway company should choose between the private interests of the monopoly he served by moving or supporting a Bill, or the duty imposed upon him as the representative of the constituency which sent him to the House by their votes. When the President of the Local Government Board introduced the Bill which practically deprived London of water from Wales for 50 years, who were the Members who sat behind him? They sat as the song says, "Nineteen jolly boys all in a row."


The hon. Gentleman must not go into a detailed history of a previous case.


said, he had said sufficient on that point and would turn to the remarks of the Leader of the House, whom they all honoured, because, in such matters as this, he was above suspicion. He desired, however, in good temper and with great respect, to traverse the distinction the right hon. Gentleman attempted to make. It was frivolous of the First Lord of the Treasury to put the case of a man with a cotton mill discussing in the House such things as import duties. They would not be inclined to press a disqualification upon a joint-owner of a cotton-mill who had a perfect right to discuss abstract fiscal, legislative or economic restrictions upon the development of the trade in which he was interested through his mill; but, if a cotton-mill proprietor in India came here and wanted to palm off on the House of Commons an antiquated cotton mill to the detriment of the Indian ryots, they would be able to bring some pressure upon him. It was frivolous, too, to suggest that a mortgagee in land would have no right to vote on land questions, and that a lawyer would not be able to bring in a Bill, the result of which would be to increase his fees. The scandal of the present state of things was very great. The Liberal Unionists in the House had an average of 4 ¼ companies per man, the Tories an average of 2 ¼ companies per man, the Liberals an average of 1¾ per man, and the 86 Irishmen had to their eternal honour only 4 companies amongst them. There was one Labour Member who had a joint interest in a Friendly Society that could not be called a company at all. It was said that he was disqualified from sitting on the Committee to consider the printing contracts because, before he became a Member of the House, some printers somewhere sent him £10 towards his election expenses. He had resigned his seat on the Committee before that allegation was made, but the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Austin) resigned in consequence of it.


said the hon. Member was really travelling very far from the vote of the hon. Member for Manchester.


said he merely wished to add that had he not already resigned, he would have done so rather than any suspicion should rest upon him. The British House of Commons had saved itself from the breath of suspicion and corruption that had brought down many legislative assemblies and ruined many political and Parliamentary institutions, and put in their place autocracies and dictatorships. Because he believed there were too many directors of companies in that House he would support the Resolution. It was bad enough that Empires should be swept on one side through being governed by the lost tribes of Israel, but good-bye might be said to the future of a House when it was governed by the forty thieves. [A laugh.]

MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)

said the question whether Members who were shareholders in or directors of a limited company should vote was a very important one, but in connection with it there was a still more important question which was well worthy of being raised, and that was whether a person who was a shareholder in or a director of a limited company was capable of sitting in the House if the limited company had a contract with the Government. The London and North Western Company had a contract for carrying mails with the Government. Would the proceedings this afternoon and the conclusion they would arrive at in any way help to settle that question? [Mr. W. FIELD: "Certainly."] The hon. Member imagined they were going to disallow the vote which the hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester had given in accordance with numerous or innumerable precedents. [Mr. FIELD: "We must make a beginning some time."] They could not settle the principle by a chance vote. The hon. Member who first called attention to this case relied on a precedent which he thought was on all fours. He recalled to their recollection the case of the Mombasa Railway, in which certain votes were disallowed. There was a great difference between the two cases. In the Mombasa case the Vote of the House was a Vote of public money to be given to the company. This was not at all a case of the same character. Whenever a case like the present had been raised the House had decided, whether rightly or wrongly, not to disturb the vote of the person who was a shareholder or director; conscious of the extreme difficulty of drawing a line, they had left it to the Members concerned to determine whether or not the votes should be given. Practically, the House had refused to interfere in the matter. He thought it unworthy of the hon. and learned Member for Haddingtonshire to pick up the words of the hon. Member for Manchester and twist them into a meaning they did not bear. He regretted that his hon. Friend allowed himself to stoop to the argument he used.


said his right hon. Friend misapprehended him. He quoted the expressions because they represented what was the case. The hon. Member for Manchester was in charge of the Bill, and his name was on the back of it. He did not make any imputation on the hon. Baronet; in fact, he expressly said he had the highest regard for his character. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he could understand that, but still his hon. Friend did use the language. Now, with respect to the question raised, one result of the discussion would be to deepen the suspicion that many Members must have that it was desirable to remove this kind of work from the House altogether. [Cheers.] He wanted to point out for the immediate consideration of the House that that particular Debate, if pushed to a conclusion, would certainly end in the confirmation of the right of the hon. Member to give his vote. But at the same time it did open this alarming prospect before them—that every time a railway Bill appeared and a vote was taken upon it somebody might get up and move to disallow the vote. [Opposition cheers, and A VOICE—"So much the better!"] He thought it desirable to prevent such an occupation of the time of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] Therefore, he would suggest that the Leader of the House might consent to the appointment of a Committee to consider this matter, so that a principle might be established to guide them. He thought the present Motion might be withdrawn on the understanding that his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House consented to the appointment of a Committee to consider this very important, delicate, and almost momentous question affecting the characters of Members of the House and the conduct of its business. ["Hear, hear!"]


said he should be very glad to appoint a Committee on the general question. [Cheers.] Whether that committee or any committee could find a solution he did not pretend to forecast, but it would be well to have a matter which had more than once exercised the feelings of the House thoroughly threshed out. On the part of the Government, therefore, he was prepared to assent to the appointment of a Committee. [Cheers.]


said under these circumstances he should withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.