HC Deb 13 May 1897 vol 49 cc340-53

Order for consideration, as amended, Read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now taken into consideration."

MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

moved to leave out the words "now taken into consideration," in order to add instead thereof the words "re-committed to a Select Committee of five Members, three to be nominated by the House, and two by the Committee of Selection." The right hon. Gentleman said that he thought that there were special grounds for his asking the House to take this somewhat exceptional course in this case. The proposed railway, if constructed, would run through the valley of the Earn, which was one of the most beautiful glens in Scotland, would destroy one of the most exquisite drives in that part of the country, and he did not hesitate to say that it would utterly ruin the peculiar charm of the locality. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill was opposed by a large majority of the local residents on various grounds, such as that the railway would destroy the beauty of the scenery, that it would reduce the value of their property for letting purposes, and that it would interfere with the numerous crofts in the valley. It was most unfortunate that the great majority of those who were opposed to the construction of the railway had no locus standi, before the Committee, owing to the fact that it was not proposed to take their land, although undoubtedly the construction of the line would depreciate the letting value of their houses. But, in addition to the local residents, a large number of persons all over Scotland were opposed to the construction of the railway on the ground that it would completely destroy one of the most beautiful valleys in the country. It was most unfortunate that those who had a locus standi before the Committee had been induced to withdraw their opposition to the Bill, and that thus the Measure had been allowed to pass through the Committee stage as unopposed. A petition against the Bill had been signed by the most influential and representative men in Scotland, who, having no locus standi, had had no opportunity of laying their views before the Committee. It was on this ground that he had taken the somewhat unusual step of opposing the Bill at this late stage. The object of his Instruction was to empower the Committee to inquire whether the construction of the railway would affect materially the beauty of the scenery. It really embodied the ground of his opposition to the Bill. The House last year had instructed the Committee on the Light Railways Bill to make inquiries as to whether the construction of such railways would seriously detract from the natural beauty of the scenery of the district through which it was proposed they should run, and he now asked the House to take a similar course on the present occasion. He trusted that the House would take into consideration the strong local feeling that prevailed in reference to this matter, especially as there was another route along which the line might be made, which would not injure the scenery of the valley in any way. He trusted that the House would accept his Motion to recommit the Bill in order that the merits of the cases on both sides might be thoroughly inquired into. He begged to move the Motion of which he had given notice. ["Hear, hear!"]

*SIR DONALD CURRIE (Perthshire, W.)

seconded the Amendment. He said that when the Bill was first suggested he was invited to promise to put his name on the back of it, and he agreed; but subsequently he felt it his duty to withdraw this promise, when he was told the details, on the ground that his constituents in the district, by a great majority, were unwilling that the Bill should be approved by the House. He had no reason to believe that they had changed their opinion. He was not going to discuss the question of the route, but he objected, in the interests of his constituents and of people in the neighbourhood whose property would be injured, as well as on the general grounds stated by the right hon. Gentleman, to the Bill in its present form.


said that, like the hon. Member for West Perthshire, he had put his name on the back of the Bill. The hon. Member had withdrawn his name because of the conflict of opinion in his constituency. That consideration did not affect him. He was induced to back this Bill because, like a number of his constituents, he was in favour of multiplying, as far as possible, the outlets for their crowded population, both for summer residences and for daily excursions. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bryce) had said that the great preponderance of local feeling was against the Bill. That was one of the several points which the promoters strongly contested. Five petitions were lodged against the Bill, praying to be heard by counsel and witnesses, and these petitions were successively withdrawn, arrangements being come to with the petitioners; but the promoters were ready to go into the Committee, and had their witnesses ready to support every one of the statements they had made in favour of the Bill. With regard to the local feeling, it was as well that the House should know who were the actual promoters of the Bill. The Chairman was Colonel Hay Drummond, the Convener of the county of Perth, who would not from his position lend himself to anything that he believed to he either destructive to scenery or injurious to the interests of the county. The, second promoter was the Lord Provost of Perth, a gentleman highly respected by all who knew him, and one who took a most active interest in the affairs both of the city and the county. An important business promoter was Mr. Fraser, of the firm of Macdonald, Fraser, and Co., auctioneers, Perth, who supported the line in the interests of the farmers because of the facilities it would afford for bringing their sheep and cattle into the market. The remaining promoter to whom he would refer was the Lord Provost of the city of Dundee, whose sole interest in the Bill was a public interest. Gentlemen who were familiar with the railway arrangements of the district knew that if they wished to go from the west of Scotland to the east through the city of Perth they must make a long détour to the south via Dunblane and Callander. The trains were very awkward, and loss of time was entailed in making that journey. By the construction of this short length of railway the distance would be considerably shortened. and they would be able to step into a train in Dundee and go over to Oban in about four hours. The opponents of the Bill had not availed themselves of the legitimate opportunity of opposition before the Committee. The Bill, having been initiated in the House of Commons, there was still the ordinary course left of opposing it in the House of Lords. The Committee of the other House would, no doubt, give fair and reasonable consideration to any and every representation that might be made to it. He was, as much as any man in the House, in favour of respecting the beauty of our scenery, but there was this difference between him and some other hon. Gentlemen, that while they desired to preserve the enjoyment of that scenery for the wealthier classes, he was in favour of extending to the masses of the people in our great towns and cities the privilege of also enjoying the grandeur and the beauties of nature. Concluding, he said he regretted that there had on this occasion been a departure from the ordinary course, and that the time of the House should be taken up with a discussion which in all fairness and propriety, ought to have taken place in the Committee.

MR. C. B. RENSHAW (Renfrew, W.)

said that those who supported the Motion for the recommittal of the Bill suggested practically that after a Measure had gone through all the stages prescribed by the Standing Orders, and its promoters had fulfilled all the conditions laid down, a new duty should be imposed upon them. According to the right hon. Member opposite, himself, there was only one precedent for the course which was proposed, and he (Mr. Renshaw) did not think that it ought to be followed in this case, there being no formal objection by the inhabitants of the locality concerned to the provisions of the Bill under consideration. He should certainly vote against the Instruction.


associated himself with the right hon. Member opposite, and hoped that they would not be precluded from taking the course which he suggested merely because it was unusual. There was no doubt that facts which ought to have been considered had not been placed before the Committee to whom the Bill had gone. As a rule no doubt that House paid the greatest respect to the decisions of Committees, but this was an exceptional case. Considerations of convenience urged on behalf of the populations of large towns situated at a great distance from a district that would be affected by the construction of a railway ought not to prevail beyond a certain point, and he did not think that in this case such considerations ought to overrule the views of the inhabitants of Perthshire.

*MR. MELLOR (York, W. R., Sowerby)

reminded the House that this was not an attempt to defeat the Bill, and said that he intended to vote for its recommittal. The point involved was a very important one. The question was what the House ought to do when a private Bill was introduced, and the petitioners against it disappeared. It was well known that there were people who wished to oppose Bills but could not afford to do so. These people ought to be considered, and the general public also. This Bill had been Read a Second time without opposition, because people who had not petitioned, but who desired to oppose it, believed that it would go to an ordinary Select Committee. The petitions against it were, however, withdrawn, and the Bill went in the ordinary course in such cases to the Unopposed Bill Committee, before whom no one could appear to give reasons against the preamble. There was no public officer whose duty it was to attend the Unopposed Bill Committee, or, indeed, any Committee to give information and protect the rights of the public. Who are the proper guardians of these rights if this House be not b? It is plain that circumstances may arise in which it becomes the duty of this House to interfere and instruct the Committee as my right hon. Friend now proposes to do, and as was done in the Ennerdale case. The Members of the Unopposed Bill Committee were ignorant of the facts put before the House that day by his right hon. Friend, and the Bill passed through the Committee as a matter of course. Under the circumstances it would be simple justice to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, before whom opponents could appear and state their case. Railway promoters as a rule had hard hearts, and cared little for beautiful scenery or ancient buildings. Some years ago a railway promoter informed him that he had gone with a party to Kenilworth Castle to ascertain whether it could be converted into a railway station. [Laughter.] It was urged that the scheme which this Bill would sanction would seriously interfere with some very beautiful scenery. He took the view that they ought to do what they could to protect such scenery against disfigurement. The Bill should be sent to a Select Committee, before whom his right hon. Friend could appear and state all that he knew about this matter. Hon. Members would see from the statements that had been circulated that the allegations on either side were such that it was quite impossible for the House to decide this question itself. Whether the promoters of the Bill were right, or whether its opponents were right, the interests of the public ought to be protected by the investigations of a Select Committee. That would be the most simple and direct mode of inquiry, and it would result in justice being done.

SIR J. KINLOCH (Perthshire, E.)

supported the Motion of the right hon. Member for Aberdeen. The railway could be constructed on the south side of the loch just as well as on the north, and if that course were followed the scenery would not be spoilt.


said that while he agreed with most of the statements of the right hon. Member for the Sowerby Division, he differed from him on one point. The right hon. Member said that this Bill ought to be sent to a Select Committee in the ordinary way. But that was just what had been done already. If the House agreed to the Motion of the right hon. Member for Aberdeen the promoters of the Bill would have just ground of complaint. They had done nothing wrong, but had complied in every respect with the Parliamentary conditions imposed on the promoters of railway Bills. The Bill was introduced in the ordinary way in January, and was Read a Second time on February 12, and not a word was said against it. The hon. Member for West Perthshire, who represented the locality through which this railway would pass, had told them that he was prepared at one time to put his name on the back of the Bill, but that he subsequently withdrew his approval of the Measure because there was so much opposition against it.


said that when he was asked to promise his name on the back of the Bill he did not know what the route of the railway was. When he found out, before it was printed, what the route was to be, he intimated to the promoters that he should not give the support of his name to the Bill.


thought that the course taken by the hon. Member was very natural. The hon. Member very reasonably did not wish to make himself unpopular with his constituents. But it was, in the circumstances, a singular thing that not a single word should have been heard against the Bill until that day. The Bill had gone in the ordinary course as an opposed Bill to a Committee. There were five petitions against that Bill, and the petitioners claimed to be heard. What happened? The promoters of the Bill came to terms with their enemies, and they agreed to certain conditions; and amongst others was one that they should pay the cost of the petitions. After a time they withdrew the petitions, and now hon. Gentlemen opposite asked them to take what he considered a very unusual course upon the Third Reading, asking that the Bill should be recommitted. He had no interest in the Bill one way or the other. He was only concerned to see that the private Bill procedure followed its usual course, and that justice was done to the parties. He thought injustice would be done to the promoters if the course suggested were followed. He concluded by saying that he asked the House to reject the Motion on this ground, that injustice would be done to the promoters of the Bill. It was his duty to vote against the Motion.


desired to make an explanation. He had never heard of the Bill until it had passed its Second Reading. Of course he would have raised the question then. He had made arrangements to move the Instruction while the Bill was before the opposed Committee, when suddenly the Opposition was "squared," and his opportunity was gone.

MR. R. B. HALDANE (Haddington)

, said he lived in the neighbourhood of this railway and knew something of the locality. Reference had been made to the position in which the House found itself through the petitions against the Bill having been withdrawn, and this Debate and the situation in which they were showed more than anything the necessity—for the measure to which the Government had given its sanction—for having some at least of these private Bill inquiries in the locality where the matter could be gone into. [Cheers.] The people who came before the House to give information in a matter of this kind were necessarily wealthy people. The public generally could not petition. In this case, one of the petitioners— Lady Helen Macgregor, whose property was affected—had withdrawn, because the expense of appearing with witness and counsel to oppose the Bill was greater than she felt she was justified in undertaking. The promoters had taken the position which a well-to-do corporation could always take, and had bought Lady Macgregor's opposition off. Allusion had been made to the costs which the promoters had paid, but they had not paid any of the costs of opposition before a Select Committee, or of bringing witnesses up, or, in fact, any of the heavy substantial costs of private Bill legislation. They had only paid those preliminary expenses which in their nature were not heavy. Those who represented the public in this matter had some right to complain. They were entitled to rely when these petitions were presented, and when they knew that there was some opposition to the Bill, that in the ordinary course the Bill would go before a Committee, where its merits would be investigated, and where the House would have some opportunity of satisfying themselves that the matter had been looked into. He agreed that the railway would confer great advantage, and he hoped to see it made, but that was not the question before the House. The question was whether it should be taken by a route where it would do inexpressible damage to scenery which was almost unique, or whether it should be taken by another route where it would do much less damage. The hon. Member for Dundee spoke of finding an outlet for the population of Dundee, on whose behalf he addressed the House. He agreed that there ought to be an outlet for the population of Dundee. But his hon. Friend spoke as if Dundee were somewhere near this scenery. Dundee was a good 50 miles away, and Perth at least 25 miles. The question was as to the route the railway was to take. Everybody directly connected with the locality had spoken strongly against the proposed route. Both the Members for the county were against it, and all the information that had reached him from people living in the locality was to the effect that they would regard the proposed route as injurious to their interests and unnecessary. The present request was a modest one. It was that the House should not sanction this proceeding without some investigation. If there were an investigation before a Select Committee they would then have a guarantee that the merits of the matter would be gone into. No substantial expense had yet been incurred, and the promoters would merely find themselves in the position in which they ought to have been if the matter had been properly dealt with in the first instance.

MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)

said the Bill had not been considered in the interests of the public. The hon. Member for Dund had given the names of those who now promoted the Bill, but he would call attention to the name of gentlemen who had ceased to be promoters. The hon. Member for the Western Division of the county had withdrawn his name. The Provost of Broughty Ferry and, he believed, the Lord Provost of Dundee, had also withdrawn their names as promoters. Why had they done so? They were reported in the public press to have said that they had been told that the inhabitants of Comrie were in hearty sympathy with the scheme; but when they went to Comrie and discovered the strong sentiment against the railway they withdrew their names. Five petitions were presented against the Bill, two of which were by railway companies and one by crofters, whose interests were injuriously affected. At the last moment, before the time expired for these petitions being lodged, one of them was withdrawn, and it was stated that certain persons whose property was to be dealt with had been very generously treated. Notwithstanding that, many people in small houses in the villages had been ruined, and had not had a penny given to them. He supported the Amendment on the general ground that, as a member of the public, he was entitled to oppose a Bill which was likely to do a great deal of harm in the neighbourhood through which the railway was to pass, and also on the ground that the majority of people whose interests were injuriously affected could not afford to employ counsel to represent them before the Committee. Dealing with the details of the Bill, the hon. Member was understood to object strongly to the fact that the proposed railway would repeatedly cross the high road and would therefore be a source of public danger. In the statement made by the promoters of the Bill it was said that the road was crossed only once. That was an altogether misleading statement, the meaning of which was that the road was only once crossed after leaving a particular village until Lochearnhead was reached. He submitted that the Bill ought to be recommitted, in order that the merits of the Bill might be gone into.


said he might claim to speak as an inhabitant of Perthshire, and he hoped he was not less careful of the preservation of beautiful scenery than hon. Gentlemen who opposed the Bill. The same idea of spoiling the scenery was advanced both in the case of the railway through the pass of Killiecrankie and Glenfarg, but those localities were still largely resorted to by tourists. If he gave his view as an expert in scenery, he would have preferred to see the railway taken on the other side of the loch; but he supported the Bill on much broader grounds. An hon. Member opposite spoke as if the Unopposed Bill Committee were utterly uninformed as to the merits of the Bill. So far as anything asked for by the promoters infringing on the general law, all these private Bills were very carefully scrutinised in the various offices, and if there were anything objectionable in them on that ground notice would be taken of it. The question of which side of the loch the railway should go was not a public question. The question now raised might have been raised before the Committee, and even now those who objected to the Bill could still do everything they wanted to before the Lords.


said he was obliged to make the motion in the House of Commons, because the question could not be raised without an instruction, and he had not heard of any instruction in the Lords.


did not pretend to be familiar with the procedure of the House of Lords, but he thought that there would be ample opportunity found there to do what was desired. He should oppose the Amendment because he thought it would open the door to great inconvenience. ["Hear, hear!"]

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

contended that there was no reason why the railway should not go on the south side of the Loch instead of on the north side. On the day before the Bill was put down on the Paper he saw the Parliamentary agent for the promoters, who agreed that the Bill should not be proceeded with for several days, yet on the following day it appeared on the Paper. He thought that was a very unreasonable course of proceeding after a distinct arrangement had been made. It would make him fight shy of making arrangements in the future, and never again would he take the word of that Parliamentary agent. [Cheers and laughter]. The House had heard a great deal about beautiful scenery. He admired scenery as much as any man in the House, but fine scenery would not fill empty stomachs. [Laughter]. He pointed out that in many cases crofts would be cut in two by this railway, without any provision being made for compensating the holders.

*MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

said the Chairman of Committees seemed to be under the impression that the opposition at this stage was due to the action of one of the persons concerned, who had petitioned against the Bill and then withdrawn the petition. He thought it, was only right that the House should know that Lady Helen Macgregor did not do anything which led to the action of his right hon. Friend, or of others who were opposing the Bill. Any letters from her which had appeared were due to those who had written to her to obtain her opinion. The opposition originated with the inhabitants of St. Fillans, with whom he had had personal friendship for many years, and who had no locus standi. From his knowledge of the district and of their wishes he was convinced that his right hon. Friend was thoroughly justified in his Motion.


said the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty implied there had been some breach of faith on the part of the promoters. On referring to the Votes he found that the Bill was down for Second Reading on the 8th of February. Objection, was raised to its being taken then, and it was not taken until the 12th of February. Four days therefore, were allowed.

SIR J. STIRLING-MAXWELL (Glasgow, College)

protested against the line taken by the Lord Advocate and the Chairman of Committees. Both those Gentlemen had put the merits of the Bill on one side and addressed themselves to the question of procedure. Everyone admitted that a railway between the two points specified might be made with advantage, and yet everyone who knew the locality felt that the line proposed would interfere very seriously with the interests of persons who had not been sufficiently rich to oppose the Bill. Opposition was very expensive; and, if the House were going to allow every Bill to which opposition did not come up in Committee, it was quite clear that injustice would often result. He hoped the House would send the Bill to another Committee.

Question put, "That the words 'now taken into consideration' stand part of the Question:"—The House divided:— Ayes, 159; Noes, 175—(Division List, No. 207.)

Question proposed," That those words be there added:"—


said he was sure that as it had now been decided to send this matter back to the Committee, the House would not desire to deprive the promoters from stating their case before the Committee. He therefore begged to move the addition of the words," And that the promoters have leave to appear by themselves, their counsel, or agents."

Words amended, by adding, at the end thereof, the words" and that the Promoters of the Bill have leave to appear by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents."—(Mr. J. W. Lowther.)

Words added.


moved:— That it be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire and report whether the railway proposed to he authorised by the Bill, will, if constructed along the line mentioned in the Bill, so seriously injure the scenery of the valley and lake along which it is to pass as to make it inexpedient to pass the Bill, and that the Committee have power to call witnesses and receive evidence on the subject,

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Ordered, That the Bill be re-committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to be nominated by the House, and Two by the Committee of Selection, and that the Promoters of the Bill have leave to appear by themselves, their Counsel, or Agents.

Ordered, That it be an Instruction to the Committee to inquire and report whether the railway proposed to be authorised by the Bill will, if constructed along the line mentioned in the Bill, so seriously injure the scenery of the valley and lake along which it is to pass as to make it inexpedient to pass the Bill, and that the Committee have power to call witnesses and receive evidence on the subject.