HL Deb 07 August 1883 vol 282 cc1790-4

, in moving that the Bill be re-committed to the same Select Committee, said, he approached the question on two grounds—firstly, on public grounds; and, secondly, because the course taken in this case had no precedent in Parliamentary practice, and bore hardly on those concerned. It was not a very pleasant task to find any fault with a Committee of their Lordships' House, particularly as everyone would acknowledge that the work of Committees was so well done that it could hardly be improved. He might add that his noble Friend (the Earl of Haddington) had so much experience of business that any Committee would be safe in his hands as Chairman. He did not, therefore, approach the question in any way with a desire to find fault unnecessarily; but he would simply place the case as shortly as he could before the House, and leave their Lordships to decide what it was right to do. Their Lordships would be engaged on the second reading of the Agricultural Holdings Bill that night, and would be fully aware that in that measure they were dealing with a class which required special consideration just now. That had stimulated several Members of the House of Commons to object to excessive rates for artificial manures, and so on; and that House had decided to give special facilities to those who made objections as to rates—not only on artificial manures, but on other goods—to have the case considered by every Committee. A Standing Order had been passed which did not exist in their Lordships' House, where Petitioners had to appear in the ordinary way. Of course, what the House of Commons did had nothing, strictly speaking, to do with the procedure of their Lordships' House; but on public questions advantage was generally taken by their Lordships of outside opinions, and they were not usually unwilling to listen to any reasonable proposal. In this case the Manager of the Great Western Railway had stated that in no case where the traders in the district had appeared in opposition to a Bill, had Parliament sanctioned the rates which were now asked for, and not only so, but Parliament had rejected the classification proposed on the two occasions on which it had been asked for. So much for that part of the case. The facts were these. A certain number of farmers and traders petitioned against the Bill on the ground of excessive rates. There were 24 Petitioners, only one of whom had no interest, and did not reside in the district — a merchant of Gloucester — who would use the proposed line. They were all anxious to promote the line if the rates were fair. One day only was given for obtaining signatures to this Petition, so the number of Petitioners was not as large as it might have been. The time for presenting the Petition to the House did not admit of a longer delay. The Bill proceeded before the Committee, and certain evidence having been given, an interview was held with the promoters; the result of this interview was that the Petitioners decided to withdraw rather than jeopardize the making of the proposed line. Their counsel withdrew the opposition, and costs were then asked for by the promoters as against these Petitioners. The counsel for the promoters in asking for costs said he would retire at once if any farmer in any way interested in the district would come forward and say he wished bonâ fide to raise this question of manure or other rates. The counsel knew quite well that there were no witnesses there. A letter from Mr. Franklin, dated July 24, which he held in his hand, showed the reason why. Even Mr. Cripps, the promoters' counsel, was willing to say Mr. Franklin was an interested party for the promoters. The letter was as follows:— When I was asked to sign the Petition against the rates and classification of goods as set out in the Bill, I considered the former excessive, and the latter to want reconstruction. The day I was summoned to the House to give evidence to the Committee, I met several landowners and parties interested in the line, and heard from them that the question of rates for manure and agricultural produce had been especially considered by them, and that it would be impossible to work a short line passing through an agricultural district at lower rates, and that if the rates were reduced it would be tantamount to throwing out the Bill. After hearing this, and that the classification of goods on all railways would, in all probability, be brought before Parliament for adjustment. I was induced not to oppose the Bill further. Being agent for several landowners whose property the proposed line passes through and near, I considered the advantages would be too great to offer factious opposition. He (Lord Henniker) thought that this letter proved the interest of the leading witness, Mr. Franklin, and the grounds on which the opposition was withdrawn. The counsel, too, said he would produce the witnesses if two days were allowed. This was declined. So the offer was made by one counsel, who must have known why the witnesses were not present; and then when the offer was made to produce them within a reasonable time it was refused; and yet, notwithstanding this, costs were awarded against the Petitioners. The question was entirely one of costs. The Bill had to be re-committed entirely, if re-committed at all; but his point was that costs had been granted in this case in a way which required reconsideration. Costs could only be granted when a Committee found the Preamble proved, and that the action of the Petitioners was vexations. The costs were in this case given on the ground that the Petitioners had not been interested in the proposed line. Technically, the Petitioners in question had pro formâ petitioned against the Preamble, but this only to give them the power to cross-examine the promoters' witnesses. The ground of no interest in the line was clearly one of locus standi; but the counsel for the promoters expressly waived any objection to the locus standi of the Petitioners. If the locus standi had been objected to and sustained on Preamble, the opposition would have been at an end, and no costs would have been given. Was it fair, therefore, to claim costs on a point of locus standi? And, he might add, was it competent to award costs on this ground? Was there any other ground to go on except a want of interest in the line? He thought not; for the right to appear against clauses was admitted by the waiver of the objection to locus standi. The Petition was strictly limited to rates; and as to the vexatious question, he wished to know how it could be said the Petition was vexatious? A body of farmers and traders might petition against high rates; their Petition might be unfounded, and so fail; but in Parliamentary experience there was no case like the present in which costs had been awarded against such Petitioners. The Manager of the Great Western Railway's (Mr. Grierson's) evidence alone was good ground on which to rest, and was pretty conclusive on that point. The case, then, was this—that costs had been awarded on a question of public interest in the face of the fact that costs had never been so awarded before by any Committee; in face of the fact that witnesses were somehow induced to be away when they were wanted, but would have appeared later if time had been given to summon them, when the objection on locus standi was taken at a later stage of the proceedings than it ought to have been; in face of the fact that this case set a precedent for Parliamentary practice in the future which was against all the Parliamentary wisdom of the past, and while the other House of Parliament gave every facility to those interested to deal with this question of rates in a satisfactory manner. He thought he had made out his case, and that it was not asking too much of the Committee to reconsider the question of costs. No doubt, the Committee acted to the best of their judgment at the time, but could hardly have known all the facts of the case. Of course, he might have gone more into detail, and there was much more to be said on the subject; but he had endeavoured to place the facts of the case as shortly and as clearly as he could before the House.

Moved, "That the Bill be re-committed to the same Select Committee."—(The Lord Henniker.)


said, he considered that the rates imposed were proper and reasonable; they were, in fact, similar to those proposed in several Bills during that Session. He had arrived at the conclusion to which the Committee came with some hesitation; but he could not feel much doubt after hearing the reason urged by those in favour of that conclusion. He had himself asked the noble Duke (the Duke of Buckingham) to point out some names among the Petitioners of persons interested in the Bill, and he could only name one.

After a few remarks from the Earl of ROSSE,

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.