HC Deb 17 June 1904 vol 136 cc362-74

As amended (by the Standing Committee), considered.

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said that in order to I explain the reason for the new clause which stood in his name, it was necessary to state shortly what occurred before the Bill was introduced. Three or four years ago a certain decision in the Law Courts gave a new interpretation to the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845,: and the Railway Act of 1854, and that I interpretation was taken to mean that a trader could not make a private siding unless he was himself prepared to run the trucks over the railway. The result of the decision was that traders thought it would be necessary to bring in a Bill to re-enact the provision which had always been supposed to be in force under the two Acts. The railway companies made no objection to that as they had no wish to take advantage of the unexpected legal decision. He was now proposing this clause, because the railway companies did not think that under this Bill the actual position prior to the decision of the Court was being re-enacted. The Act of 1845 provided that sidings might be constructed in any place where communications could be made with safety to the public, without injury to the railway, and without inconvenience to the traffic thereof. The clause in the Bill only provided for "reasonable facilities" being given for the making of sidings, and everyone knew what varied interpretations might be put on the word "reasonable." The object of the railway companies was to avoid possible litigation both in their own interests and the interests of the traders, and he believed that the latter only wished to get the law back into its original condition. This clause had been drafted in order to place both the companies and the traders in the same position. It was submitted to the Board of Trade and met with the approval of that body, but when the matter was before the Committee the Secretary of the Board of Trade, while intimating that he would vote for it, stated that he did not think it necessary as the lawyers of the Department held that there would be no difficulty about the interpretation of the word 'reasonable." The result of the attitude taken up by the Board of Trade was that the clause was thrown out for the traders complained that they had not had time to consider it and feared there might be something in it which gave the railway companies some unexplained advantage. Since the Committee stage the railway companies had taken a legal opinion and had been told by an eminent lawyer who sat on the Front Bench opposite that they were perfectly right in their contention that the clause was absolutely necessary. With that opinion he believed the hon. and learned Member for Stretford agreed. He hoped hon. Members who might not be directly interested in railway companies or in any branch of trade would give this clause their support, for unless something of the kind was put into the Bill great inconvenience might be caused to the public at large.

One object of the] clause was to secure that railway companies should not be obliged to make sidings at big junctions, and everyone could understand how the placing of a siding at a junction where there was a great amount of traffic might cause serious inconvenience to the public. Nothing more annoyed a traveller on a long journey than to be subjected to continual waits, which often led to broken business engagements. He could not see any possible objection to his proposed new clause, the first part of which practically re-enacted the 76th Section of the Act of 1845, while as to the latter part it simply provided that where signalling was necessary in the interests of the public the trader should pay for it. Probably the chief objection to the clause was to the provision with regard to appeals to the Commissioners to vary Orders, etc. The complaint was that that would stop finality, but he ventured to suggest that the provision was in the public in- terest as sidings might be put in places where a subsequent great increase of traffic might make their continued working unsafe. No one could suggest that excessive profits were earned by railway companies in the present day and the House should not do anything calculated to put a stop to railway enterprise and to induce people to refrain from investing their money in railway shares. People would not put their cash into undertakings returning only 3 or 4 per cent, unless they were assured that there was no risk of legislation which would render their money unprofitable. Hence he hoped the clause would be agreed to.

A clause (Provisions as to Orders under the Act).

  1. (1) "Before making any Order under this Act, the Railway and Canal Commission shall satisfy themselves that adequate sidings have been or will be provided by the applicant for the accommodation of traffic from time to time passing over the junction so as to avoid causing obstruction or delay upon the railway.
  2. (2) "Any signalling or other work necessary to enable the Company to afford facilities under any Order made under this Act with due regard to' the traffic using the Company's railway shall be deemed to be services rendered to the applicant at his request at or in connection with the siding.
  3. (3) "Any party to an Order made under this Act by the Railway and Canal Commission may apply to the Commissioners at any time to Vary, rescind, or alter any Order made by them under this Act."—(Sir Frederick Banbury.)

Brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."


asked the House to confirm the action of the Standing Committee and reject the clause. The traders contended that the rights they enjoyed under Section 76 had been destroyed by recent decisions in the Courts of Law. Directly the decisions were given the traders found that the railway companies began to put difficulties in the way of working existing railway sidings and constructing new ones. They therefore framed a Bill with, the express object of restoring parties to the position they were in before the decisions were given. They would have liked an express re-enactment of Clause 76, but after consultation with the Board of Trade the Bill was framed as it now stood. The traders were prepared to accept the view of the Board of Trade and to take the Bill as it stood, but in order, as lie considered, to make the Bill more complete, and to carry out a promise which he gave after the rejection of this clause by the Committee, to frame a clause which would free the railway companies from any apprehension that they might not, under the Bill, have full protection given them by the Railway Clauses Act, he was willing to move his clause in lieu of the present one. If that were accepted it would restore the traders and the companies their rights as they existed under Section 76, whereas the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham's new clause did not re-enact the whole of that section. It furthermore placed the railway companies in a stronger position than they would have occupied if the decisions of the Court of Appeal had not been given.


In a stronger position than under the 1845 Act?


Yes. Sub-section 3 of the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham's new clause, did not, as he understood it, re-enact the provisions of the Railway Clauses Act. It was a subsection taken from a provision in the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1888, but by the rules and regulations framed under that Act, its operation was very much restricted. Of course it was possible that these rules and regulations might be altered if necessary, and that was the proper way of effecting the object of the companies of extending the scope of that provision, and not by inserting a clause which would subject traders to perpetually having their arrangements brought for revision before the Railway Commissioners. He reminded the House that traders did not like being brought before the Railway Commissioners because they considered that Court was a costly tribunal. The clause moved by the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham in Sub-section 3 provided that— Any party to an Order made under this Act by the Railway and Canal Commission may apply to the Commissioners at any time to vary, rescind, or alter any Order made by them under this Act. If that was enacted, they might, at any moment, be called upon to spend hundreds of pounds in defending their rights before that tribunal.


If we accept the next clause on the Paper will the hon. Baronet withdraw the clause which is now in the Bill? We should be prepared to do that.


said no, they could not do that. The clause in the Bill had been formed by the Board of Trade and they were fully conscious of the reasons for it. It was really a clause to cover Cowan's case—whilst his clause bore more directly on the Lancashire Brick and Tile case—decided on the question of the validity of Clause 76, and he was not prepared to withdraw it under the circumstances.

MR. GALLOWAY (Manchester, S. W.)

said the railway companies had nothing to complain of in the speech of his hon. friend. It appeared to him, however, that the House was trying to settle a legal question which ought to be settled by lawyers. They were all quite willing that the law should be brought into accordance with recent decisions, for that was what they all desired, and it did seem unfortunate that they could not find words to carry out that which they all desired to enact. Directly the decision was come to by the Court of Appeal it was alleged that the railway companies resolved to put impediments in the way of trade. He was a large trader himself and had dealings with several railway companies, and he found it very convenient sometimes to play one railway off against another, but he had never yet found that they placed any difficulties in the way of getting whatever trade he had got. On the contrary he found that they vied with one another to give as many facilities as possible. It was obvious that there must be a common sense way of dealing with a railway company just as there was with any other business concern, and it was not the desire or wish of railway companies to put any difficulties in the way of trade. Railway companies did not make their profit passenger traffic alone, but out of out of goods traffic as well, and no railway could be conducted successfully if it did not endeavour to meet its traders so far as it reasonably could. He was anxious that they should come to some arrangement to avoid the House going to the trouble of a division, because this was really a legal difficulty. He did not see anything in the clause under consideration to which any trader could reasonably object. The three provisions in the clause proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham were not unreasonable, and they were necessary if the railway companies were to conduct their business with that due regard to the safety of the public which the House of Commons had a right to demand. He wished to state quite frankly that they were ready to make any compromise which would reasonably carry out the intentions of the mover of this Bill, that the law should merely be put back into the position it was in before without any advantage on the one side or the other. He could not see why it was impossible to come to such an arrangement.

MR. BLACK (Banffshire)

said the whole object of the Bill was to reverse a decision of the Scotch Courts some two years ago in the Cowan case. He happened to know something about that case. The firm in question was not in a position to bring any other line into competition with the North British Railway Company, and the railway company in raising the question was really endeavouring to make a change in the law as it had hitherto been recognised for the purpose of bringing indirect pressure to bear upon the trader concerned. They were ultimately successful in having it established that reasonable facilities did not include the right to connect private sidings with the ordinary lines. The object of the Bill was to put the law back where it was before Cowan's case was decided; and not in any other way to affect the law as it stood prior to that decision. The onus was on the representatives of the railway companies to show that that decision altered the law in the direction suggested by the proposed clause. He submitted that so far they had entirely failed to advance any argument establishing' such a contention. There was no case for altering the law in the direction suggested by the hon. Member for Peckham. He therefore hoped the House would pass the Bill as it stood and refuse to accept the Amendment.

MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said common sense and history told them that things were not the same now as they were in 1845 when the Railways Clauses Consolidation Act was passed. That Act was passed on the assumption that the railway companies were mere toll takers and not providers of motive power as they were now; and if the provision of that Act was to be reinstated some regard must be had to modern conditions. The right to demand facilities could not be granted as if railways were now what they were contemplated to be under the Act of 1845—namely, mere providers of the road which other persons providing their own motive power were allowed to use. It was not an unreasonable thing for the railway companies to say that, if they consented to the reinstatement of the law of 1845, it should be subject to conditions which were really required in the interests of the public. He submitted that the circumstances justified the modifications in the clause of the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham.

MR. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

said he was always suspicious when railway companies came to the House of Commons asking for fresh powers. They possessed already very great powers, and they used those powers very harshly in many cases. The clause of the hon. Baronet the Member for Preston was of a very much more moderate character, and would satisfy the wants of traders. They should not lose sight of the importance of doing all they could to encourage trade. The case of Cowan had been quoted. That case was carried to the Scottish Court of Appeal, and the decision went against the trader, who was not in a position to bring his case before the House of Lords. It would prove to be a serious tax on industry if traders were to be pestered with litigation in this way, and driven from Court to Court. They should do their utmost to help traders to develop their industries without all these restrictions. The Board of Trade had a voice in these matters, and they would see that traffic was conducted in the public interest. These matters were of vital importance to the small traders, and great railway companies, with their large dividends, were in a totally different position. He was surprised that the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham had raised a point of this sort, the meaning of which must be apparent to everybody who knew anything about Stock Exchange business. If a man wished to start a manufacturing concern on the banks of a river he would build his works there and perhaps spend many thousands of pounds to found a great industry, and possibly build a large number of cottages for his workmen; and after doing all that he was never sure whether a railway company might not pounce down upon him, and drag him before the Commissioners, thus 'involving him in costly litigation with a chance of his rights being taken from him. For these reasons he much prefered I the proposal of the hon. Baronet the 'Member for Preston. He was in favour of justice being done to both the railway companies and traders, but railway companies should not stand in the position of having power to crush out industries and squeeze traders to their heart's content. He sincerely trusted that the House would realise the importance of voting against the clause which had been moved by the hon. Baronet the Member for Peckham, and he hoped they would stand by the clause of the hon. Baronet the Member in Preston. He opposed this clause, not with a desire to hinder the business of the House, but in order to protect traders, and in order that the railway companies should not have absolute power to hamper industries.


said the Board of Trade were interested in this Bill from one point of view, viz., they wished to give traders the right they had up to the time that a certain decision was arrived at in the Scottish Courts. The Bill, as it was introduced, was framed by the Depart- ment, and they thought it carried out that object. The railway companies considered that certain Amendments were necessary to put them in the position in which they were before that decision, and this Bill had been the result of a compromise. The Board of Trade had tried to get both sides to take a reasonable view, and to pass a Bill to which nobody seriously objected. He had been in communication with his hon. friend who introduced the Bill and the I representatives of the railway companies, and he was glad to say that they had agreed to a compromise which he thought effected everything the House desired. According to the law as it stood at present, once a siding was granted the arrangement was final, and it could not be altered except by Act of Parliament. Circumstances might alter, and a place which was once suitable for a siding might not always be so. What was now proposed was that a railway company should be able to deal with a question of that kind without the necessity of a special Act of Parliament. His hon. friend did not like the words in the Bill-He wished that before the Railway and Canal Commission made any Order under this Act the railway companies should show a prima facie case for the alteration they proposed to make. The railway interests had agreed to accept that, and he hoped the House would accept an Amendment in that sense.


stated that after the Second Reading of the clause he would move the omission of Subsections 1 and 2, and the insertion of words in the third sub-section which would meet the view expressed by his hon. friend.

MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)

said that as the representative of important trade interests in Scotland,he had much satisfaction in expressing concurrence in the proposal now made. Hs appreciated the spirit in which the railway companies had met them in this matter. He thought the compromise would prove a workable one. His hon. friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade had with perfect accuracy pointed out that circumstances might alter, and that the conditions which existed when a siding was originally granted might no longer obtain.

Question put, and agreed to.

Amendment proposed to the clause— To leave out Sub-sections 1 and 2."—(Sir Frederick Banbury.)

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment proposed to the clause— In line 2, Sub-section 3, after the word ' may' to insert the words, 'on specifying to the Commissioners that they have a primâ facie case.' "—(Sir Frederick Banbury.)

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, added.


had given notice of a new clause with respect to the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade for the protection of the public at level crossings in the following terms— All private sidings or private branch railways, whether authorised by virtue of this or any other Act, and whether authorised before or after the passing of this Act, shall fall within the jurisdiction of the Board of Trade who are hereby empowered to make such rules and regulations, and to attach such penalties as they may think fit, for the protection of the public at those points or places where such private sidings or private branch railways cross public highways, roads, footpaths, or thoroughfares by means of level crossings, or where such private sidings or private branch railways abut or adjoin such public highways, roads, footpaths, or thoroughfares.


said the clause was not in order.

MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid.)

, on the point of order, said the object of the Bill was to give increased facilities for sidings. [Cries of "No."] It was so. The Bill was to amend the law in relation to private sidings. The object of the Bill was to enable private parties to have sidings which they were precluded from having now. These sidings, therefore, would increase in virtue of this Act, and the public interest should be protected by provisions in regard to level crossings where these crossed public roads. The Bill obviously would create new sidings, in fact it would be of no use if it did not. He submitted that the clause was in order.


said the Bill now before the House dealt only with the question of connecting private sidings or private branch railways with railways. The proposed new clause was not in order.

A clause (Extension of private sidings or private branch railways)— Where a private siding or private branch railway is connected with a railway under the provisions of Section 76 of the Railways Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, as amended or explained by this or any other Act, the owners or occupiers of lands adjoining to such private siding or private branch railway shall be entitled to the same reasonable facilities for constructing and connecting a private siding or private branch railway with such private siding or private branch railway, and by means of such private siding or private branch railway with the railway belonging to the railway company, as under said Acts, are possessed by the owners or occupiers of lands adjoining to the railway belonging to the railway company."—(Mr. Weir.)

Brought up, and read the first time.


in moving the Second Reading of the clause, said he was anxious that the industries of the country should be encouraged and that proper railway facilities should be provided wherever factories were set up. The object of the clause which he now proposed was to prevent railway companies from being able to say that they would not allow the connections which were required in different localities. If they objected to the proposal on the ground that it might lead to congestion of traffic he thought that difficulty could be got over by having several lines to meet the requirements of the traffic. In view of the foreign competition, to which many of our industries were subjected at the present time, it was of the utmost importance that facilities should be provided for working people being removed to places where house accommodation could be obtained at moderate rents and where living was less costly than in the cities and towns. He hoped the promoters of the Bill would accept the clause in the interest of British industries. He begged to move.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the clause be read a second time."


said this was a most reasonable clause in the interest of the general public, and also of those who wanted to connect with the railways. Whatever arrangements might be made between the railway companies on the one hand and private individuals on the other, it was obviously the duty of Parliament in these matters to see that the terms of the Act did not prejudice the public interest. The section now proposed to be incorporated in this Bill was Section 76 of the Railway Clauses Act, 1845, which gave power to those whose lands adjoined a railway to make a connection between a private siding and the railway. They came forward asking that their right in this matter, which had been disputed by the Law Courts, should be restored, or rather that they should get the privilege, which I under the law as presently interpreted they had not got, to connect their branch I railways and sidings with the main railway. There were obviously other parties who were entitled in equity to have a connection with the main railway besides those who were nearly adjoining I the railway. A proprietor of extensive works a little bit off a branch railway might wish to get a connection with the main railway, but at present it was impossible for him to get that connection if the proprietor adjacent to the main railway refused to give his consent. What objection could any man have to giving powers of the kind provided for in the new clause?; He should say that it was in the interest of the railway companies that such I powers should be granted. The owners of private branch railways were asking "by this Bill that they should have access to the main railway, and why should they object to another person whose works did not lie alongside the railway, but a little way off, from gaining access to the main line? It stood to reason that if one man got a privilege from Parliament he, in turn, should give facilities to someone else—who had probably a different kind of traffic altogether—for having running powers over his branch siding or railway in order to reach the main line. A large landed proprietor might have the whole land alongside the railway and no person but himself would be entitled to have a branch siding; while a little further down there might be very large and valuable works which were technically outside the boundary of the main railway. The owner of these works might consequently find himself cut off from railway communication on account of the limited nature of the powers given in this Bill. It was in the interests of the trade and commerce of the country that access to the main lines of railway should be made as wide as possible; and nothing could be more reasonable than to say that if a man got a privilege from Parliament to connect his siding or branch railway with the main line, he should, in return, allow somebody else who had works which adjoined that branch line or siding to have a connection through that branch line or siding with the main line—more especially as the prosperity and industry of a whole village or town might depend on these works so cut off by this Bill from all communication with the main line. It was not for the general convenience of trade that the promoters of this Bill should enjoy all the advantages of access to the main line of railway and refuse it to others who happened to have large and valuable works outside the radius or technical border of the main line. He heartily supported the proposed new clause.

SIR JOSEPH LEESE (Lancashire, Accrington)

said he gathered now that the Bill had passed so far as the main clause was concerned. He also gathered that the effect of the second clause was to re-enact Section 76 of the Act of 1845. Now the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty proposed a new clause which was to extend the Act of 1845. Ho had looked to see if the Amendment were, necessary, and he thought that that Act fully and better covered what the hon. Gentleman wanted than did his new clause.


said he begged leave to withdraw the clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill read the third time, and passed.