HL Deb 26 February 1872 vol 209 cc1017-22

Message of the House of Commons of Friday last on the subject of Railway Companies Amalgamation considered (according to Order).


said, that in the discussion which arose on a former evening, it seemed to be the opinion of most of their Lordships that the great question of amalgamation involved in some Bills now before Parliament should be inquired into by a Committee carrying more weight than would an ordinary Private Bill Committee. The general feeling seemed to be also that Parliament should lay down some fixed principle upon which Committees should deal with Bills of this description; as, for instance, whether it was more for the advantage of the public that the imperfect system of competition should be continued as it now existed, or whether a system of amalgamation should be permitted under certain safeguards. A Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament would have much greater authority on such a subject than any Committee of either House separately. If their Lordships should agree to the Resolution, the Committee to be appointed would be constituted of noble Lords whose opinions would carry great weight. He felt it would be out of place in anyone speaking on behalf of the Government to express any opinion on the question of amalgamation, and, therefore, after the few observations he had made, he would confine himself to moving the Resolution.

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to join with the Select Committee appointed by the House of Commons, as mentioned in the said message, to inquire into the subject of the Amalgamation of Railway Companies, with special reference to the Bills for that purpose now before Parliament; and to consider whether any and what regulations should be imposed by Parliament in the event of such Amalgamations being sanctioned.—(The Earl Cowper.)


said, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, for which he was interested, was ready to lay its whole case before the Joint Committee. At the same time, he thought it was the feeling of the railway world that there were between the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company and the London and North-Western Company such special and peculiar interests—their interests were so bound together and interlaced—that their Bill might have been decided by the ordinary process, without an inquiry into the principle of amalgamation generally. The circumstances under which those two Companies came to Parliament for an amalgamation Bill were so exceptional, that an approval by Parliament of that Bill ought not necessarily to be taken as a sanction of the principle of amalgamation. It was the desire of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company that those who objected to its amalgamation with the London and North-Western should be fully heard. The parties who proposed amalgamation were to a certain extent incriminated, and, therefore, they were anxious to hear what was to be said against them, in order that they might meet all objections.


asked, whether the Joint Committee were to go into the particular Bills, taking in detail the objections that might be brought forward by their opponents, or whether the inquiry was to be confined simply to the question of amalgamation, reference being had to the particular Bills?


replied, that it was not intended the Joint Committee should go into the details of the particular Bills as a Private Bill Committee would do: indeed, the second reading of the Bills had been suspended until the Committee should have reported upon the general question.


thought the Order of Reference should make it clear whether the Committee was to take evidence only on the particular amalgamations now before Parliament, or go into the whole question. It appeared to him that persons who might not have a right to be heard on those particular Bills might have a right to be heard on the whole question; and it behoved the House to be very jealous of the interests of the public in this matter, as distinct from the shareholders.


thought that the Companies asking for amalgamation and extended powers should be required to make out their case before calling for the objections of their opponents.


thought it desirable that the Committee should take evidence on the general subject. A certain amount of discretion must be left in the hands of the Committee, who would have to decide for themselves how far they would carry their inquiries and where they would draw the line.


wished to know whether, if the Committee approved of the particular scheme of amalgamation before them, that would be taken as a precedent for sanctioning other amalgamations which had been spoken of in the railway world for some time past, but were not now before Parliament.


said, he did not know that there were any other amalgamation Bills before Parliament; but if there were, the decision in this case would not become a precedent for other cases.


said, the noble Lord (Lord Houghton) was wrong in thinking that the proposed inquiry was one about to be undertaken for the benefit of any particular railways. It was one intended for the benefit of the public. The present system of railway combination had been severely felt in Ireland. He did not blame the two great Companies which, owing to an arrangement known as "the award," had the railway accommodation in that country practically in their hands; but the result had been great inconvenience to the Irish public, who could not obtain branches which were much needed. The interests of Ireland were, therefore, involved in the inquiry by the Joint Committee, and he thought it a grave omission that there should be no Peer among those proposed to serve on it with any special knowledge of Ireland or Irish railways; and the only Irishman on the House of Commons' portion of the Committee was Mr. Chichester Fortescue, who, however, represented the Board of Trade and the Government rather than the public.


said, he was aware that as the House of Commons had already agreed to the Order of Reference there would be a difficulty in altering it now; but he thought it would have been better if the words "with special reference to the Bills for that purpose now before Parliament" had been left out. The previous portion of the Order would have covered all railways, while the words to which he had just referred conveyed a sort of intimation that the Committee was to confine itself to the particular Bills now before Parliament.


agreed with the noble Duke that there would be a difficulty in changing the Order of Reference now, though, no doubt, a change might be made if it were thought desirable. This was no precedent, however, for appointing a Joint Committee whose inquiry had no special reference to a Bill or Bills before Parliament.


took it that what the Joint Committee had to do was to consider the general question, whether amalgamations of this sort were or were not beneficial to the public, and if the Committee decided the question in the affirmative, then to lay down rules and regulations under which they should be sanctioned. That having been done, it would be for the promoters of particular Bills to show that they were within the principle laid down by that Committee. But he feared that a Committee acting on such an Order of Reference as that before their Lordships was not likely to bring about a real and satisfactory settlement of a question of great difficulty and great importance. The question of railway amalgamation deeply affected the future interests of this country. He was not unfavourable to amalgamation. No man who knew anything of the present want of co-operation among railway companies, but must be aware of the great sacrifice of money and of public convenience which resulted from the existing system. On the other hand, it would be a serious thing if those amalgamations were allowed without stringent conditions for the protection of the public interests:—otherwise very powerful bodies were created, and with immense powers of monopoly, which might be exercised to the detriment of the public. He regretted that Her Majesty's Ministers had not taken the subject into careful consideration during the Recess, so as to have been prepared to submit to Parliament some well-devised plan, which would have done justice to the public, and at the same time enabled the Railway Companies to obtain the advantages of amalgamation. This would have been a much better course than throwing upon a Committee of the two Houses the duty of devising a plan to which he feared they would prove unequal.

Motion agreed to.

Then it was moved, That such Select Committee should consist of six Lords, three to be a quorum; agreed to: The Lords following were named of the Committee:

Ld. President. E. Cowper.
M. Salisbury. L. Redesdale.
E. Derby. L. Belper.

Ordered, That the said Select Committee have power to agree with the Select Committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a chairman: Then a message was ordered to be sent to the House of Commons, in answer to their message of Friday last, to inform them of the appointment of the said Select Committee by this House, and to propose to the House of Commons that the joint Committee do meet in Room E. on Friday next, at Three o'clock.