HL Deb 14 May 1901 vol 94 cc3-9

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Bill read 3a.—(Lord Burton.)


My Lords, this is a Bill giving to the South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company an extension of time for the compulsory purchase of land, together with other powers that are advantageous to the company, and the object of my Amendments is to compel the company to improve their station at Ludgate Hill. On the Second Reading of this Bill, speaking on behalf of the Corporation of the City of London, I ventured to express the hope that the Committee to which the Bill was referred would give the City Corporation a locus standi to argue the question of the improvements required at Ludgate Hill and Snow Hill stations. With regard to Snow Hill station I am happy to say that an agreement has been come to between the Corporation and the board of directors of the railway company, but unfortunately this is only a small matter. It is only important as showing how extremely difficult a thing it is to induce the company to make any improvements at their stations, however much required or inexpensive those improvements may be.

The controversy with regard to Ludgate Hill station began towards the end of 1898, and in January, 1899, the Board of Trade promised to send an inspector to report as to the condition of the station. A good deal of correspondence ensued between the Board of Trade and the general manager of the company, and on 20th October, 1899, the latter stated that plans were being prepared showing what improvements could be effected, particularly with regard to the access to and from the platforms. It is rather remarkable that since that time, although eighteen months have elapsed, no plans have been submitted and nothing has been done except to improve the lighting. Naturally, the City Corporation, who had taken this matter up, wrote letter after letter to the company, asking for the plans and inquiring what was being done. Those letters were acknowledged but were not answered, and it was not till 23rd April last that the general manager wrote to the Town Clerk at the Guildhall. In his letter he pointed out the difficulties, suggested further delay, and invited the Corporation to look over the plans of the station. There is one very remarkable expression in that letter—the general manager says that the difficulties cannot be got over in a few weeks. Now, my Lords, whose fault is it that the company have only a few weeks in which to get over these difficulties? For eighteen months the Corporation of London have been imploring the railway company to do something. The suggestion made by the company was that the Corporation should send a deputation to look over the plans of the station. They declined to take this course on the ground that it was for the railway company, and not for them, to suggest how these improvements should be made. What the City Corporation complain of is that the board of directors have not made any suggestion with regard to the improvement of the station; they have only made difficulties, and for eighteen months have treated with contemptuous silence the remonstrances of the City. The Select Committee to whom this Bill was referred refused to give the City Corporation a locus standi to argue the question of the improvements at Ludgate Hill station, and I do not propose to say a word against the decision of the Committee. I think it very probable that on precedent the Committee were right in thinking that they would be travelling beyond their functions in giving the locus standi, seeing that the Bill had nothing to do with Ludgate Hill station. But I contend that your Lordships' House stands in a very different position as regards this matter from that of the Committee, and that, although the Committee may have been right, the House can, if it pleases, put this company under any conditions which it may think equitable before granting the relief sought in the Bill.

It is worthy of remark that the opposition to this Bill comes from that great body, the Corporation of the City of London. The Corporation has, like other influential, ancient, and uninformed bodies, been subjected to criticism, but I have never yet heard any critic of the Corporation assert that they did not pay due regard to the rights of property. On this occasion the City Corporation are championing, as it is their right and duty to champion, the cause of the public against a powerful railway company, and I think, looking to the past record of the City of London, your Lordships may be perfectly convinced that they weighed carefully, and, I venture to think, impartially, the merits of this case before taking up this action. I move these Amendments chiefly on the ground that there is no other redress. If the company are allowed further powers without any conditions being put upon them, there is no means of making them perform their obvious duty to the public at this station. The Board of Trade are powerless to interfere; and the Railways Commissioners are powerless to interfere; therefore I venture to think the case is a very much stronger one than was the case of the opponents to the London and North Western Bill, which was thrown out on Second Reading in the House of Commons the other day owing to the company being in default with regard to the housing question. It is a much stronger case, because there is a statutory remedy in regard to housing, and the companies can be fined; but here there is no statutory remedy at all, and the only chance of getting anything done is by insisting upon a condition of this kind when the company comes to Parliament for further powers. The City Corporation go upon this constitutional doctrine, that anybody who comes to Parliament to get a benefit must purge any offence of which he has been guilty before he gets that benefit, particularly where there is no legal remedy. I say it in no spirit of menace, but merely as information which the railway companies may desire to have, that, if this Amendment is defeated in the House of Commons, the City Corporation will continue their efforts to safeguard the interests and rights of the public. Ludgate Hill station is not only inconvenient, but dangerous, and the Corporation are determined, so far as as in them lies, to fight the railway company if they will not, at all events, promise to do something to remedy the defects of which the public complain.

Amendments moved— After clause 19 insert new clause 19A:—'Before making any of the works or acquiring any of the lands by this Act authorised to be made or acquired, the two Companies, or either of them, shall, to the satisfaction of an engineer for this purpose purpose appointed by the President for the time being of the Institution of Civil Engineers, obtain powers to provide increased and better accommodation for passengers at their Ludgate Hill station.' Clause 23, page 18, line 10, leave out all the words after 'may,' and insert in lieu thereof, 'for the purpose of providing such increased and better passenger accommodation as aforesaid at Ludgate Hill station, and for the purpose of remunerating such engineer as aforesaid, apply any moneys which they now have in their hands, or which they have power to raise by shares or mortgage, and which may not be required for the purposes for which the same were authorised to be raised. After the completion of such increased and better accommodation and the receipt by the two companies or either of them of a certificate from such engineer as aforesaid, that the same has been provided to his satisfaction, the two companies, for either of them, may apply such moneys, as aforesaid, for all or any of the purposes of this Act to which capital is properly applicable.'"—(Lord Monkswell.)


My Lords, as I had the honour to serve on the Committee to which this Bill was referred, I venture to express the hope that the House will not accept the noble Lord's Amendments. I cannot see how your Lordships could do so without being to some extent pledged to the principle which they contain. There is nothing definite before the House, and, so far as I am aware, there has not at any time been anything definite on the subject of this particular improvement before the House. This improvement may be a very good one for all I know to the contrary. I am not prepared to fight the battle of the railway company; it is not my business—but the question of Ludgate Hill station is not germane to the Bill, and I hope your Lordships will endorse the action of your Committee and reject this proposal.


My Lords, the noble Lord is perfectly within his right in moving this Amendment on the Third Beading of the Bill, but I hope the advice which has been given by the noble Earl who was Chairman of the Committee to whom the Bill was referred will be taken by your Lordships. In the first place, I would point out that it would be a novel thing to say that any works on a railway company—works of very great importance, which would have to be embodied in a Bill next year—should be completed to the satisfaction of an engineer appointed by the President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. That would be an entirely novel point, so far as I know, in the railway legislation of this country. The real objection to the Amendments seems to be—I say nothing as to the merits of the noble Lord's proposal—that the Bill has nothing whatever to do with Ludgate Hill station. What the House is asked to do is to prevent the company from executing any works of any kinds on any part of their line, which may be also a great public advantage, until a certain scheme, which must be very large and costly, for the improvement of Ludgate Hill station is completed to the satisfaction of some third person. Possibly my noble friend opposite may be perfectly right, and Ludgate Hill station may be a very bad one, but I can hardly think the remedy suggested is one your Lordships will resort to on the Third Beading of the Bill.


My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade, I have been asked to say a few words with regard to the noble Lord's Amendments. The noble Lord addressed a question to me on this subject a few weeks ago, and in reply I stated, on behalf of the Board of Trade, that it must be obvious that any adequate alteration to Ludgate Hill station would cost an enormous sum of money, and that a comprehensive scheme might necessitate an alteration of the viaduct over Ludgate Hill, which would be of doubtful advantage, and to which it was very questionable whether the Corporation of the City of London, whose cause the noble Lord champions, would agree. The noble Earl the Chairman of the Select Committee has pointed out the extremely original principle which the noble Lord has introduced in his Amendments, and which amounts to this, that not only has the Bill to receive the Royal assent, but also the assent of an engineer appointed by the Royal Institution of Civil Engineers. I think this startling proposition can hardly commend itself to your Lordships, and I therefore trust that the Amendments will not be accepted.


My Lords, I desire to say a few words on this subject on behalf of the railway company. The Bill before your Lordships, which has been sanctioned by the Select Committee, proposes to deal with certain small improvements and widenings on the company's lines, supplementary to very large extensions and expenditure which have already been made and incurred. It has nothing on earth to do with Ludgate Hill station. Among other things there is scheduled in this Bill a very important agreement with Messrs. Peek, Frean and Company, whose biscuit factory abuts on the line between London Bridge and New Cross, and by this agreement the company is proposing to spend an enormous sum of money in completing the widening of their line, which could not be adequately completed without this land. Were these Amendments to be accepted this important widening might be hung up for several years. The South Eastern and Chatham Railway Company have met representatives of the City Corporation at Ludgate Hill, and have asked them to suggest any means by which the station might be improved. They have expressed their willingness to do anything in their power to meet the views of the Corporation, but the Corporation have been unable to suggest any remedy. The fact is, nothing can be done to Ludgate Hill station unless a Bill is brought in to acquire adjoining land, which would be very expensive, and to do which we should have to get the consent of the shareholders, who are already groaning under the weight of enormous expenditure for improvements, and we should probably meet with great opposition on the part of the owners of property. I hope your Lordships will not sanction the very unusual and undesirable proposition put forward by the noble lord.


My Lords, after the speech of the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees, it would be impossible for me to carry these Amendments to a division, but I should like to say, with regard to the engineer, that this is not a vital part of my proposition, and that, if there is any objection to the engineer being called in, the City Corporation would be perfectly willing to strike that portion out of the Amendments. I am sorry to hear the noble Earl the Chairman of Committees say that this is quite a novel proposition, and that when a company has been in default—and as to their being in default I think there is no question at all, for they have acknowledged it over and over again with regard to this station—Parliament is never to put the company under any conditions, except where the particular station happens to come within the purview of the Bill. I had hoped that the precedent in another place would be followed in this House with regard to railway companies that are in default. I can only say that I hope very much that the City Corporation and the railway company may be able to come to terms, and I am glad to hear that at all events the remonstrances of the City of London have at last been treated with respect.

Amendments, by leave of the House, withdrawn.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.