HC Deb 03 March 1896 vol 38 cc4-13

Order for Second Reading read; Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be, now read a Second time":—


said, that in moving that the Bill be read a Second time that day six months, he believed he could give to the House such reasons as would induce them to accept his Motion. Eight days ago he asked the President of the Board of Trade what opinion the Law Officers had given with regard to the fares which this Rail way Company were charging. The right hon. Gentleman said he could not give the opinion of the Law Officers, on the ground that, until the deliberations of the House had been received the question could not be gone into. In 1893 and 1895 the House, through a Committee, decided that this question could not be considered on a matter of principle, and, when he read from the circular which the Board of Trade sent to the Committee as a matter of instruction, he thought hon. Members would agree with him that this was a deliberate attempt to interfere with the rights and duties of Her Majesty's Courts. The Bill was an Omnibus Bill, but, on the other hand, it attempted to support the charges which the Company had for some years been making, and which, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, as expressed by their Memorandum to a Committee of the House, was a deliberate infringement of their existing powers. In 1895 the Bill was referred to a Committee upstairs, and the hon. Member for the Stroud Division (Mr. Cripps) admitted it was an attempt to raise the maxima of third-class fares. The London County Council had undertaken a duty which no other public body had seen their way to take up, in attempting to prevent the Company from securing from the House the sanction of illegality. Mr. Forbes, the chairman of the Company, in his evidence before the Committee, said that until this question had been brought forward they had, practically for 25 years, been charging fares which were in excess of the maxima the House had permitted. As far as short-distance fares were con-concerned, the Company were within their rights, but by this Bill they sought power to increase their third-class fares for distances over three miles. The Board of Trade Circular to the Committee, the Report, of the Board in pursuance of Standing Order No.145, and the provisions of the Act of 1874, would show that the Company were, to a certain extent now seeking power to introduce their third-class charges for distances exceeding three miles. He accepted the statements of the hon. Member for the Stroud Division, and of the Chairman of the Company, that as far as first- and second class passengers were concerned, there was no attempt to charge higher rates. But first- and second-class passengers could well take care of themselves, but when the House remembered that there were 26,000,000 of third-class passengers annually, he thought the County Council deserved great credit for opposing the Bill, and thus undertaking a task that no other public body in London had undertaken. The Board of Trade further stated that it was very difficult to ascertain precisely what were the legal powers of the Company, but they were of opinion that the Bill afforded a favourable opportunity of defining the maximum rates the Company were entitled to charge. Until the question before the Courts had been decided, he hoped the House would not interfere, especially as the Chairman of the Committee upstairs had stated, in giving his decision to the promoters of the Bill, that the Committee declined to allow the preamble of the Bill to be proved until the decision of the Courts had been taken. In those circumstances he felt sure the House would not allow the Company to succeed in the attempt to get behind their statutory powers. If what the Chairman of the Committee had stated was true, the Company had for 25 years been charging rates in excess of those powers. Mr. Younghusband, a private gentleman, who had petitioned the House to be heard before the Committee if the Bill was read a Second time, had brought an action against the Company in the Mayor's Court. The Company, by a writ of certiorari, had taken the action into Her Majesty's Superior Courts, and the case was not yet decided. The delay was due entirely to the Company, who had deliberately attempted to prevent the case being settled in order that they might be able to state to the Judges when it came on that this Bill was at the moment before a Committee of the House to settle the question of maximum charges. The Bill was, in one respect, a whitewashing Measure. The Company had for years been charging rates in excess of the powers conferred on them in 1864, and they were now seeking not only sanction for what they had thus done in the past, but for powers to enable them to increase their maximum rates in future. He therefore thought the County Council were to be highly commended for the persistent way in which they had opposed this Bill, and he had much misapprehended the spirit of the House if it would allow a Railway Company to get behind its statutory powers with a view of exacting illegal and unfair charges upon the immensely largest class of passengers in the Metropolis. ['' Hear, hear!"] He would conclude, by repeating that the Bill was an attempt to get round the decision of two Committees of that House, with the view of increasing their third-class charges. It had been said by representatives of the Company that if Parliament permitted the higher maximum rates they would not be charged, but experience showed that if the power to charge was granted, it would not be long before it was exercised. Mr. Young-husband had had the courage to take the matter up as a private individual, and did so in the hope that in the Mayor's Court he might have it settled in a short, speedy, and inexpensive manner. The Company, however, by removing the case to the Supreme Courts, had landed him in a protracted law suit, and the fact that the question had not yet been decided was not the fault of the Judges, but of the Company by means of interposing the Bill before the House. On those grounds he appealed to the House not to assent to the Second Reading of the Bill.

MR. WOOTTON ISAACSON (Tower Hamlets, Stepney)

seconded the Amendment.


said, he should not complain of the hon. Member for East Finsbury opposing the Bill if he had shown any real grounds for doing so. With regard to what the hon. Member had said about the action of the Metropolitan District Railway Company being against the interests of the working classes of the Metropolis, he denied that the Bill would do any injustice to them, and said he would remind the House, in this connection, that the Company already provided accommodation for the working classes by means of workmen's trains very much in excess of their Parliamentary obligations [''Hear, hear!"], and that the fact had elicited the encomiums of the County Council. There was no fear of the fares being unduly raised, as the hon. Member suggested, if the Bill was passed; the existing competition was too keen to permit that to be done. [" Hear, hear!"] As to the Board of Trade, he might say that the Bill embodied the suggestions and requirements of the Department. In regard to the action of Mr. Young husband, pending before the Courts, the Bill could not affect any action or any number of actions affecting the Company. The provisions of the Bill were not retrospective, and any claim for overcharge in the past remained untouched. The object of the Bill was simply to authorise an equitable adjustment of the Company's powers of charge on various sections of their lines, so as to introduce a workable scale applicable to existing developments, and the necessities of the line. He believed the question was essentially one for a Committee of the House to consider, and before that Committee all parties could be heard. He hoped, therefore, the House would decide to send the Measure to a Committee upstairs.


said, he felt that if there was an amalgamation of the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District Railway Companies, and if there was only one executive and only one railway instead of two, the public would be so much advantaged that no Bill of this kind would be required. He should certainly do all he possibly could to assist his hon. and learned Friend who had opposed the Bill, as he felt the public had been most disgracefully treated with regard to this railway. In. his opinion the House would do quite right in throwing the Bill out in order that in due time an amalgamation of the Metropolitan and the Metropolitan District might take place.

MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said, he had no hesitation in opposing the Amendment. Hon. Members who remembered London without the Metropolitan District Railway could alone realise what a great advantage the line was, and the Company had always been anxious and had always done their best to make their passengers as comfortable as possible. He had very great sympathy with the thousands of persons who had put their savings into a railway which was really a great boon to the public, but from which they did not receive one penny piece in the shape of dividend. The Railway Company, under a previous Bill, entered into an arrangement to carry passengers at an extremely low rate. As years went on they found they were unable to do that with any profit to themselves, and they came to the House for powers to enable them to carry their passengers at a profit. He had no doubt the lawyers would like to have the matter first settled in the Law Courts, at the cost of the, unfortunate shareholders, but, in his opinion, the Company had taken the right and proper course in coming to the House and asking that a Committee should go into the matter, and, if satisfied, give them such powers as would enable them to carry on their business with some chance of making a profit.


said he hoped the House would always be reluctant to interfere with private business unless there was very good ground shown for the interference. The question arose here as to whether or not sufficient ground had been shown on the present occasion to cause the House to depart from its general custom of referring Bills of this character to a Select Committee. If the Bill was open to the objection raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Fins bury, that it was to protect the Company from any laches in the past, it would undoubtedly be sufficient reason for its rejection, and he would be one of the first to propose that they should intervene. He thought his hon. Friend would hardly persevere in that contention, for, having looked into the matter, he could assure the House that the position of the Company, so far as the past was concerned, would not be in the smallest degree interfered with if the Bill were passed into law in its present shape. Therefore that main ground of contention on the part of his hon. Friend must be dismissed from the minds of hon. Members when they were considering the course they ought to adopt. The Railway Company was coming to Parliament for the purpose of asking it to allow a certain readjustment of its fares. Those who were in the habit of travelling by the Underground Railway must know that the difficulties in connection with a proper adjustment of the fares on that line were extremely great. He did not think a case had been made out for refusing to take the course which was usually adopted in connection with matters of this kind, and he must take the same course as his predecessor, and recommend the House to allow the Bill to go to a Committee.

MR. J. CALDWELL (Lanark, Mid)

said, this Bill was precisely the same Bill that had been before two previous Committees of the House, and that had been twice rejected after the whole matter had been considered. And here, for the third time, without any change of circumstances whatever, it was proposed again, and he would ask if that was not a proper case for the House to interfere in. He sat on the last Committee, and he knew all the particulars of this case. He was surprised that the President of the Board of Trade did not state the case perhaps a little more fairly to the House, and give them the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown. The fact was that, by their Acts of Parliament, the Metropolitan Railway Company could only charge between Mansion House and West Brompton a maximum rate of 6d. first class, 4d. second class, and 3d. third class, and for this great number of years the Railway Company had been overcharging all those passengers on their line. What was the object of the Bill? Under a pretended rearrangement of fares they wished to legalise these excessive fares, which they had no right to charge. What the last Committee said, when the Railway Company argued that they were within their rights in that Bill, was that if they were within their rights they did not require an Act of Parliament to carry out their legal rights, but that what they wanted in the Act of Parliament was to give them a right, which they had no lower to do at present, to make legal for the future these excessive rights. The House was entitled to know the opinion of the Law Officers upon this matter. The matter was now before the Law Courts, to determine whaether the present fares were legal or not, and he ventured to think these were special circumstances why the House should, at this stage, refuse to send this Bill further until the Law Courts had determined what were the rights of the public and of the Company in this respect.


I would just like to answer one observation of the hon. Member who has last spoken. He has reproached me for not stating the opinion of the Law Officers. The hon. Gentleman ought to know, if he does not, that it would be highly improper while this question is sub judice for me to say anything about the matter.

MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.),

thought the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was of a highly disappointing character. It did not answer any of the questions, and only contained one statement of value, namely, that on the passing of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman would have to pay a penny more for his fare on this line than he did now. That was the most valuable piece of evidence that could possibly be supplied in support of the position taken up by those in favour of this Amendment. The Bill dealt with an entirely new system of tolls and fares that were charged upon the line, and it seemed to him an extraordinary thing that after the railway had been working for 20 years a provision of this sort should be brought into the House. The Bill was rejected by the London County Council last year, and yet the House were asked to assent to it to-day without any clear or definite explanation of its provisions from the Treasury Bench. He trusted that some Member of the Government would tell them why, when the case was sub judice., they should be asked to pass a Bill which would give legal sanction to something that did not exist at the present time.

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

would not have intervened except for the direct appeal for someone on the Treasury Bench to reply to the question put by the last speaker. He thought the point the hon. Member made was made under a misapprehension. This Bill would not legalise any charges which been made by the District Railway in the past, supposing that any of these charges had been illegal. If for years the company had been making illegal charges, the company would still be responsible for every illegal charge made duringall these years. He asked the House to dismiss altogether the thought that any- thing whatever that had occurred in the past in the dealings of this company would be in any way legalised or affected by the Bill. This Bill simply dealt with the future. The hon. Member who spoke last also unintentionally used a phrase which was misleading. He said the House was asked to sanction these fares. The House was not asked to do anything of the sort. That House, constituted as it was that afternoon, or at any time, was not a tribunal which could really decide whether 8d., or 7½,d., or 7d., or 6½d. was a proper fare to charge from the Mansion House to West Brompton. They had not the materials on which the could come to any proper decision. All that the House was asked to do was to say this matter should be sent to a tribunal upstairs, which had the power, and which would be able to investigate these matters, and (supposing the House should now read the Bill a second time) if the charges which appeared in the schedule of the Bill were unreasonable, the Committee would strike them out and leave the District Railway Company where it stood, or force it to introduce a scale of charges which was reasonable. With all respect to the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Caldwell), this Bill was not the same as had been previously introduced. It was the same in principle—namely, that it altered the system upon which the fares were based. The ancient principle which the House; sanctioned in the first instance, was an all-round charge, whatever distance the passenger was carried. That, in the course of time, had been found to be an unworkable arrangement, and the company now asked to be allowed to revise their table of fares. If the demands which they made were unreasonable, the Committee would reject them. If, on the other hand, in the opinion of the Committee those demands were fair and reasonable, then the Committee would probably accept the schedule of the Bill. He only desired to say in the interests of private business generally, that he thought it would be a dangerous principle to introduce that the House without really having the means of arriving at a judgment, should undertake to decide upon a matter such as the difference between, a 6d. and an 8d. fare, which could only properly be decided by a Committee of this House.

The House divided:—Ayes, 154; Noes, 95.—(Division List, No. 26.)

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill read 2a, and committed.

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