HL Deb 18 May 1885 vol 298 cc650-5

. in moving that the Bill be re-committed to the same Select Committee to whom the said Bill was committed, said, that the Bill was promoted by the South-Eastern Bail-way Company for the purpose of having referred to arbitration certain matters in dispute between them and the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Company, which disputes, he believed, arose out of one of those lamentable arrangements by which Bail way Companies were frequently in the habit of depriving the public of the benefit of competition. The amount in question was something approaching to £10.000,000. The Bill came in due course before their Lordships' House, and passed a second reading without any comment whatever. If there had been anything very erroneous in principle about the Bill, his noble Friend at the Table (the Earl of Redesdale) would, no doubt, as he always did, have taken notice of it. His noble Friend's attention had evidently been called to the Bill, for he made the remark that he presumed that both parties assented to the proposed arbitration; but he did not think it worth while to ascertain whether that was the case or not, and the Bill was read a second time. As a matter of fact, he believed that the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Company did not consent to arbitration, but was vehemently opposed to it; but the contention of the other party was that the matter could not possibly be dealt with by the ordinary Courts of Law, and that it ought to be referred to arbitration. Whether they were right or wrong in that contention he knew not. After being read a second time, the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, presided over by his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Camperdown). The counsel for the promoters stated the object of the Bill, and read the Preamble to the Committee; but no sooner had he come to the first enactment clause, when the counsel for the other side got up and objected to the Bill being proceeded with, on the ground that it was objectionable in principle, because it was a Bill to oust the jurisdiction of the Courts of Law. The Chairman of the Committee, struck with that argument, asked for a precedent; and although it was a mistake to suppose that a precedent was necessary for an Act of Parliament, their Lordships every Session being called upon to pass Acts wholly without precedent, yet the promoters' counsel was able to cite the precedent of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Arbitration Bill of 1869, the Preamble of which was almost on all fours with the present Bill. The Chairman of the Committee, however, demanded a precedent for acting precisely in the same way. Now, his point was that if there were no precedent at all it did not in the least affect the question; because by reading the Bill a second time their Lordships had decided that the principle of the Bill was a proper one; and what the Select Committee had to do was to inquire whether the allegations in the Preamble could be sustained by evidence. The Committee, however, absolutely refused to hear one word on the merits, and said that it was not desirable to proceed with the Bill because of its principle. The action of the Committee had created, so far, a most dangerous precedent in regard to Private Bills; because their Lordships' House, in reading a Bill a second time, affirmed generally its principle, subject to the proof of its Preamble in Committee, and in this case the Committee had declined to allow any evidence to be given in support of the Preamble. The Committee, he submitted, had committed an error of judgment, as the wisest men were liable to do; and he, therefore, now moved that the Bill be re-committed.

Moved, "That the Bill he re-committed to the same Select Committee to whom the said Bill was committed."—(The Earl of Milltown.)


as Chairman of the Select Committee on the Bill, wished to give his version of what took place. The Committee were perfectly unanimous in their decision, and after reflection he thought they had arrived at what was the only sensible conclusion in the matter. The Bill, which was not an ordinary one, was brought forward by the South-Eastern Railway Company for the settlement of certain disputes between them and the London, Chatham, and Dover Company, and the latter Company was strongly opposed to the Bill. The Preamble said that, whereas under agreements large sums of money had been divided between the two Companies, and whereas disputes had arisen as to the validity of such agreements—what the disputes were was not stated—and whereas claims had been made by each Company upon the other involving long and intricate investigations and many complicated matters which were unsuited for a Court of Law—that was, unsuited in the opinion of the South-Eastern Company—therefore it was expedient to appoint a Court of Arbitration, to which all claims in connection with the agreement between the Companies were to be referred. That Court of Arbitration was to be empowered, if it thought fit, to declare the agreement void, to alter, vary, or rescind it in whole or in part, and to require the two Companies to enter into a new or modified agreement. It simply came to this, therefore—that the South-Eastern Railway Company having a dispute with the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway Company, which was actually at that moment before a Court of Law, introduced this Bill for the purpose of stopping all the operations of the Courts of Law, and of substituting a Court of Arbitration which they proposed to set up. It would be acknowledged that, even if the parties were agreed, such a Bill was not quite of an ordinary character; but, as a matter of fact, the London, Chatham, and Dover Company opposed the measure tooth and nail, their contention being that the questions at issue were at that moment before a Court of Law. The noble Earl had referred to a precedent cited by one of the counsel for the promoters. He desired to point out, however, that there was a great difference between the two eases. In the case of the London, Chatham, and Dover Act of 1869 the parties were agreed; but in the case under consideration they were disagreed. He thought that was a tolerably important difference between the two cases. The noble Earl said this Bill was read a second time, and that if there was anything objectionable in the principle of the Bill the noble Earl at the Table (the Earl of Redesdale) would have stepped in. When the 15111 was read a second time the noble Earl was nut in possession of information that the measure was opposed. The Bill wras handed over by the House to a Select Committee; and if the Committee discovered in the Preamble of the Bill—that was to say, in its principle—something which, in their opinion, appeared objectionable, and that it was inadvisable to proceed with it, he asked their Lord-hips whether it would be right to put the parties to the additional expense of inquiring into facts, quarrels, and disputes between the different officials and Chairmen of the Companies when the Committee had made up their minds that the principle of the measure was one which it was not expedient for them to sanction? The noble Earl said that there was no precedent for what the Committee had done; but in 1876 the South Wales Atlantic Steamship Company Bill was unanimously rejected by a Committee on the preliminary objection that it was a Bill to alter existing legal rights. He could assure their Lordships that the Committee over which he presided gave a most attentive consideration to the principle of this Bill; but the objections to it appeared so overwhelming to them that they thought it was inadvisable to proceed any further with it. If their Lordships wished to re-commit the Bill, he, of course, would bow to any decision which might be arrived at; but he should like to point out that the principle of the measure was one which ought to be discussed in the House itself. Was it right, when there were two parties to a dispute, and when that dispute was before a Court of Law, that on the application of one of those parties a Bill should be passed totally suspending the operation of the Courts of Law, calling into question and possibly upsetting an agreement which had been acted on by both parties for 20 years? He submitted that a question of that kind ought to be decided in the House. At the same time, he hoped their Lordships would uphold the decision of the Committee.


said, the noble Earl moved the re-committal of this Bill on the ground that, having been read a second time in their Lordships' House, the principle (if the measure was thereby admitted. He thought that was a wrong contention. The pith of this Bill was contained in the Preamble; and when their Lordships were asked to re-commit it they were virtually asked to say that the Preamble had been proved. The point they had to consider was, whether it was advisable to allow such a Bill to proceed? The questions in dispute between the two Companies were at that moment before the Law Courts; and until the Courts had given a decision in the matter it seemed to him to be an objectionable proceeding to come forward and ask for the appointment of a special Court to consider the question. If their Lordships consented to the re-committal of the Bill they would virtually come to a decision to allow the measure to proceed.


said, he hoped that the House would decline to give any countenance to the Motion of the noble Earl. He demurred entirely to the proposition laid down by the noble Earl that that House, by reading this Bill a second time, had affirmed its principle, so as to take the consideration of that principle out of the province of the Select Committee. The Members of that House, who were not Members of the Standing Orders or the Select Committee, knew nothing of the merits of any Private Bill; and if the House were, under such circumstances, to reverse the decision of the Select Committee, the present system of Private Bill legislation would be a perfect delusion and a snare, and ought to be abolished. But if there was one case in which such a course would be more objectionable than another it would be in regard to the present Bill. The second reading of this Bill would never have been proposed by the noble Earl at the Table, if he had not—as he expressly stated in his note upon it—assumed, as of course, that both Companies concerned had consented to it. The pro- moters of the Bill, after they had seen that note, omitted to inform the noble Earl at the Table, or the Standing Orders Committee, that there was no such consent. It was only the other day that the House, on the Motion of the late Earl Cairns, refused to give a second reading to a Bill similar to this in principle, which proposed to alter a Parliamentary contract between Trinity College, Dublin, and their lessees, because it was not consented to. The House, when it read the present Bill a second time, was left in ignorance that it was not consented to. He noticed also that the Bill provided, forsooth, to lay new duties on the Lord Chancellor by casting on him the task of appointing arbitrators. His consent to undertake this duty had never been asked, and, as a matter of fact, he entirely objected to it. The Motion to re-commit the Bill was entirely without justification.


in reply, said that he neither advocated nor opposed the Bill; but contended that the Committee had acted wrongly in the matter. He thought that the whole House was the proper tribunal to consider the principle of a Bill.

Resolved in the negative.