HC Deb 18 March 1904 vol 132 cc55-61


Order for Second Reading read.

SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)

I beg to move.


said he desired to second the Motion. The occasion for the introduction of the Bill had arisen from certain decisions in the Court of Appeal in Scotland and England from judgments of the Railway Commissioners. The custom of constructing private sidings i.e., sidings on land belonging to private persons and connected with the railways was almost as old as the institution of railways themselves. In 1845, by Section 76 of the Railway Clauses Act, owners and occupiers of land had conferred upon them the right, subject to certain conditions, to connect such land with railways for their own use That clause had been incorporated in every private Railway Act which had been passed since, and until the decisions of the Court of Appeal in the two cases to which he had referred, it was universally believed that private owners had under that clause certain definite rights. The rights supposed to be conferred by that section had often been the subject of litigation before the Railway Commissioners, and they had always been accepted by the railway companies as binding upon them. The decisions given were really carrying out Section 9 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1888, in which the rights of owners of private sidings were specially recognised, and also Section 4 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1894, whereby not only the existing sidings were recognised but express permission was given to the Railway Commissioners to settle disputes as to the amount of rebate which was due to private owners for services rendered by them at the siding. In 1901 there was a case in Scotland in reference to a siding belonging to Messrs. Cowan & Son, Limited, who took proceedings against the North British Railway Company. There, amongst other things, the question of reasonable facilities to provide sidings was raised, and the Commissioners held that the firm should have reasonable facilities to have their trucks delivered at, or taken from, their sidings by the railway company. On this the railway company appealed to the Court of Appeal in Scotland and the decision of the Railway Commissioners was reversed. He need not go into the particulars of the case, because another followed in England more directly to the point. He referred to the case of the Lancashire Brick and Tile Company and the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company. In 1901 that company connected its land with the railway, under Section 76 of the Act of 1845, and the Railway Commissioners allowed them the right. The Court of Appeal, however, reversed the decision, holding that Section 76 never had the meaning which the Legislature, the Board of Trade, the railway companies and private owners conceived it to possess, and that the owners of private sidings, who had spent in many cases thousands of pounds in laying out and connecting their sidings with the railway, were entirely at the mercy of the railway companies. It might be asked, perhaps, why those interested in private sidings did not in these cases go to the final Court of Appeal, the House of Lords, but they were precluded from doing so by the Act of 1898. The only case in which an appeal from the Court of Appeal was allowed was where the decision of the Court of Appeal in one portion of the United Kingdom differed from the decision of the Court of Appeal in another part of the United Kingdom. In that case only was an appeal to the House of Lords open.

The existing state of things had created an intolerable situation, and it was felt to be a matter which required redress at an early date. Steps were taken on behalf of private siding owners last session to bring in a Bill, and a measure was brought in which it was hoped and believed would have replaced siding owners in the position in which they were always believed to be before the recent decisions. Unfortunately the Bill was not favourably placed for a Second Reading. Those who understood the position of private siding owners felt that any opportunity for redressing this grievance ought to be used and the promoters of the Bill desired, in framing it, to follow lines approved by the Board of Trade. It was with some regret that they found that the Department did not see their way to go as far as they wanted. The promoters desired that the validity of Clause 76 should be expressly established by Act of Parliament. They did not regard the clause as proposed by the Board of Trade as a sufficient remedy for the grievances of siding owners, but the clause recognised their claims to some extent, and he supported the Second Reading of the Bill as drafted in accordance with the limits insisted on by the Board of Trade, and hoped that the House would accept it. The principal clause in the Bill was a very short one. It went back to the Railway Traffic Act of 1854, and that Act, like the Act of 1888, was based on the recognition of the rights of private siding owners as understood by this House and the Courts of Law at that time. The Bill would not grant all that private siding owners wanted, but would give a substantial proportion of what was desired. Clause 2 of the Act of 1854 was intended to enable the rights of the public generally to be more clearly defined that they previously had been. It defined what reasonable facilities were, and provided that no railway company should make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to, or in favour of, any particular person or company or to any particular description of traffic in any respect whatsoever. The Bill before the House followed up that provision. He did not see why questions affecting railways should be treated as if they involved any antagonism of interest between the companies and the public. Surely it was to the advantage of the companies to encourage British trade rather than to be merely the carriers of foreign goods imported into this country. It would not be difficult to show that the antagonistic attitude of the railway companies had been one of the inducing causes of British capital being employed abroad rather than at home. It was doubly to the interest of the railway companies to induce British producers to carry on their industries in this country, because they were customers for ever, and therefore he regretted the tone frequently adopted by railway companies, which gave the impression to the producers that they were of no greater interest to the railway companies than foreign producers He had in his hand a list of fifty cases where the railway companies had refused since the recent decisions of the Courts of Appeal to grant facilities to private siding owners except on most onerous terms. As, however, he understood it was not the intention to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, it was unnecessary to labour the matter. He begged to second the Motion.

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

SIR FREDERICK BANBURY (Camberwell, Peckham)

said the only difference between the railway companies and I the traders in this matter was that the traders appeared to think they were the only class of people who used the railways, but there were other classes, and the desire of the railways was to assimilate their traffic to suit all classes, and thus avoid friction. The railway companies did not desire to gain anything by the recent decisions of the Court of Appeal, and were prepared to go back to the provisions of the Railway Clauses Act of 1845. All they asked was that the privileges given to them under that Act should be retained by them. There might require to be some modifications in the Bill when it reached the Committee, and there would have to be a clear definition of the word "reasonable" in Clause 2, in order to avoid litigation in the future. With that understanding he accepted the Second Reading.

SIR JAMES JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)

said that this question of sidings had always been a grievance in the eyes of trader and he was glad it was now going to be put upon a proper footing. He agreed that there ought to be proper safeguards put in in the interests of the public, and in this matter he spoke with the advantage of experience, because at a particular place in the North he was desirous of having a siding, and found out afterwards that objection was raised, and very sensibly raised, by the Board of Trade, who wished to safeguard against accidents arising from the creation of sidings at busy junctions where collisions might result. He submitted that the railway companies were just as anxious to give facilities to the public, and to increase their profits, as other people were; and he anticipated that they might probably hear from the President of the Board of Trade whether the measure had the sanction of his Department.


said the object of the Bill was to restore what was always believed to be the law until two or three years ago. He was glad to find the Bill found favour with the railway companies, and all he had to say was that the Board of Trade were prepared to consider with a fair, open, and im- partial mind, any Amendments which it might be thought desirable to move.

MR. CRIPPS (Lancashire, Stretford)

expressed himself as being in favour of the Second Reading. It was clearly in the interest of the railway companies and the traders that where facilities of this kind could be given, subject to the general convenience of the working of the railway and satisfactory to the public, that they should be given, and the companies, he thought, would not oppose them save where such facilities would, in their opinion, be dangerous to the travelling public. He thought the Bill ought to receive the assent of the House. It would do away with the technical difficulties of the case, and each case could be referred to the Railway Commission to be dealt with on its merits.

MR. COHEN (Islington, E.)

said he had no difficulty in accepting the view of the railway companies as expressed by the hon. Member for Peckham in this matter. He was glad that for the first time this Bill had met with the cordial assent of the railway companies, but, when the hon. Member stated that the companies had always been in favour of benefiting the interest of the traders, he could only say that had they been as much opposed as it was stated they were in favour they could not have adopted a stronger attitude. The impression created in his mind had always been that the railway companies were unfavourably disposed to granting facilities. He agreed that the word "reasonable" ought to be defined as in an Act of Parliament its meaning was much too vague, and he hoped when the Bill got into Committee a proper definition would be found. He trusted that the Bill would be unanimously read a second time, and that in due course it would become statute law.


declared that traders in many parts of the country were subjected to great disadvantage in this matter and he, therefore, gave the Bill his support with the greatest satisfaction.

MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)

also supported the Bill and was glad that the House of Commons was attempting to deal practically with a situation of difficulty that had been created by technical legal decisions. He looked on the Bill as a vindication of the practical good sense of that Assembly. He traced a change in the attitude of the railway companies towards this Bill. It was all very well for them to claim that the interests of the trader and of the company were identical: the interests were too much like those of master and servant, and it was a well-known fact that those who were the first to get sidings were often placed in a far more advantageous position in regard to terms than those who applied later. He would, however, urge the desirability that the words of the Bill should be made as broad as possible. No trader would desire to have a siding in a position dangerous to passenger traffic, and the experts of the Board of Trade would be well able to decide what were reasonable facilities.

Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, etc.