HL Deb 28 March 1887 vol 312 cc1591-5

said, that last Friday he presented a Petition from the South Eastern Railway Company, praying that the Company might be heard by counsel at the bar against the Railway and Canal Traffic Bill. He might take the opportunity of saying that his clients, he was about to say—[Laughter]—ho would adopt the word—his clients the Railway Company, who were represented by him, and who desired to be represented by counsel, had not presented that Petition in a spirit of obstruction. The application he was now making had not been originally suggested by them, but by himself to them. He wanted to present, not an abstract, but a concrete case—the particular case of this particular Company—upon the subject upon which they were called upon to legislate. The Petition stated two facts, neither of which could be contradicted. One was that under an Act passed in 1836 they made their line, and were empowered to charge certain rates and tolls. The other fact, equally indisputable, was that the Bill proposed to take away the right to charge these rates. It seemed to him only necessary to state these facts in order to obtain a favourable answer to the Petition that his clients might be allowed to employ counsel before their Lordships against the Bill which proposed to interfere with their rights. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill had stated that there was a special reservation by Parliament of its right to revise these rates and tolls. But no lawyer would raise such a contention, as this reservation was only to be found in Acts of Parliament passed long subsequently to the Company's Act of 1836. As he had said, he had not been requested by the Company to bring this matter before their Lordships, but he had made the suggestion to the Company himself. As they would be affected by the principle of the Bill now before their Lordships, they ought, in all fairness and justice, to be heard against it. It was not to be supposed that the case of the South Eastern Railway Company was so bad that it was not worth while to hear them. That he denied, and no lawyer would contradict him. What would be thought of a tribunal or Judge that first decided a case was too plain to hear the party, and then without hearing, decided against him? The Company he represented would be seriously affected by the Bill; and in fairness, reason, and justice, they ought to be heard upon it. He therefore moved that the South Eastern Railway Company be hoard by counsel against the Bill. Moved, "That the prayer of the petition of the South Eastern Railway Company, presented on Friday last, praying to be heard by counsel against the Bill, be complied with."—(The Lord Bramwell.)


said, that when he came down to the House, he was prepared only to speak to the point to which the noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell) had begun by calling attention, and that was whether or not it was expedient that this Bill should be argued by counsel at the Bar. He (Lord Stanley of Preston) was prepared to show that it was not expedient for the House to acquiesce in the Motion which the noble and learned Lord had made. Having consulted the practice of the House on former occasions, in order to see what precedents there were for counsel being heard against Bills in their Lordships' House, he found that it was at least 40 years since any Motion similar to that which the noble and learned Lord had made had been proposed in that House. He would not weary the House by going through the authorities; but there were at least ten or a dozen measures with regard to which this proposal had been made, the latest occurring between the years 1835 and 1840. No doubt, in very exceptional cases, counsel had been heard at the Bar in opposition to measures. An important debate took place in the House on Juno 10, 1850, with regard to a Petition concerning the Australian Colonies Government Bill, when it was ultimately decided by a sufficient, though not a large, majority that it was not expedient for the Petitioners to be heard by counsel at the Bar in opposition to the Bill. Sir Erskine May, in his Parliamentary Practice, laid down the Rules which had always prevailed with regard to the discussion of Bills of national interest, and stated that it had not been unusual, when particular persons were affected, to allow them to be represented by counsel. In making that observation Sir Erskine May was doubtless referring to the practice of hearing counsel before Committees. With respect to this Petition, the Company in question had not communicated with anyone in charge of the Bill upon any of the grievances which they alleged. There was nothing, he maintained, complicated about the question to need their Lordships hearing counsel upon it. He would point out that the Bill did not touch the revenue of the Companies; and that it did not deal in anything like the sweeping manner stated with the traffic arrangements. For instance, as regarded the question of the reduction of faros, he had expressly stated, in introducing the measure, that it did not attempt to deal with them in any comprehensive manner. The noble and learned Lord would probably not contend that Parliament, in these latter matters, had reserved to itself the right of dealing with them on the grounds of general policy, bearing in mind, of course, the interests of the public on one hand, and those of the Companies on the other. As regarded this particular Petition, it was not presented till Friday evening before the debate. He had no doubt their Lordships would give it full consideration; but there was nothing about the case to induce them to reverse the uniform practice of the House for at least 40 years. Not only would the course proposed be exceedingly inconvenient; but it was difficult to see how the Petitioners would benefit by its adoption, inasmuch as there were very few counsel who would be so well able to lay their case before the House as the noble and learned Lord. The measure was, he thought, in the general feeling of the House, a useful and workable one; and the Company, as he had said, had not made any communication to those who were in charge of the Bill. He trusted the House would not accede to the Motion of the noble and learned Lord, for its effect would be only to lead to delay. It would not be productive of any advantage to the Companies, and it would be extremely inconvenient to the practice of their Lordships' House.


said, he should like to point out that the South Eastern Railway Company could not petition against the second reading of the Bill. What they asked was to be heard on clauses which particularly affected them. The noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade based his argument on the assumption that the Bill would not affect the revenue of this Company. If the Company had a guarantee to that effect from the noble Lord, of course they would desire nothing more, and would be satisfied. They, however, believed that it would affect them; and, in the name of justice, those who were going to be injured by this legislation should be heard before the injury was done. He did not understand Sir Erskine May to say that such a Petition as that should not be heard. He asked, as a matter of right, that the Petitioners should be heard.

Motion disagreed to.