HL Deb 03 June 1924 vol 57 cc779-90

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Grey of Fallodon.)

EARL STANHOPE had given Notice to move, as an Amendment, That this Bill be read 2a this day six months. The noble Earl said: My Lords, if this was a Public Bill I would not ask your Lordships to oppose it on Second Reading but to amend it in Committee. It is a Bill of 83 Clauses, but there is only one Clause—Clause 61—to which I desire to draw your attention. Your Lordships would, no doubt, approve generally of the provisions were it not for the fact that amongst the clauses is one to set aside to the advantage of the railway company one of the general laws of the country. When it is desired to set aside the general law of England in some special case your Lordships would probably have no objection if sufficient reasons were adduced, but I submit that when it is desired to set aside the general law of the country the proper way is in a Public Bill and not in a private measure.

Under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act of 1845 land which was acquired by an undertaking and found to be superfluous for that undertaking had to be sold and a right of pre-emption was given to the original owner. In a famous case in 1868 between Lord Beauchamp's father and the Great Western Railway Company it was decided that where land was used for any other purpose than that of a railway company a right of pre-emption existed. By subsequent Private Bills this right of pre-emption has been to some extent modified. A company is now allowed to hold its superfluous land beyond the period originally laid down in the Act by which that land was acquired and to dispose of it if it so desires, but the right of pre-emption, although postponed, still exists and has not been abrogated.

The clause to which I desire to draw your attention goes a good deal further than anything to which I have so far referred. If this clause becomes law this railway company and others who are preparing to follow suit will be allowed to erect "shops, chambers, flats, offices, or any other similar buildings"—a very wide phrase—not only on land which they may hereafter acquire but on land of which they are already possessed; in fact, on all land which they may now possess or at any time acquire. Indeed, the power asked for goes further because it is retrospective, a matter which I think your Lordships have always treated with great suspicion not only in Private Bills but in Public Bills as well. You will find that the company asks to be deemed always to have had the power to erect buildings, and so on. They also ask for power to dispose on lease of any superfluous land for any purpose whatever. I must point out that a railway company has the power to erect buildings in order to house its own employees. That obviously is part of the undertaking of a railway company, but I doubt whether any noble Lord who may speak for a railway company will contend that under present day conditions a railway company is likely to erect workmen's cottages for anybody but its own employees, for which it has already the power.

Let me point out what may be the effect of this clause. A railway company has the right to acquire land compulsorily, but when it desires to do so it is com- pelled to notify each individual owner and to give him an opportunity of appearing before a. Committee; of your Lordships' House, stating his case, and putting forward any objections he may have. He may also appear when a railway company desires to alter or repeal any express statutory provision which exists for his protection. Under a general clause such as this the landowner gets no such notice. Under the Standing Orders of your Lordships' House all that a railway company is required to do is to produce an abridged notice in one issue of the London Gazette, a full copy of the Bill in one London newspaper, which must appear on one day in two subsequent weeks, and a similar notice in a county newspaper. I do not know whether your Lordships are in the habit of reading all the Loudon newspapers from cover to cover, and all your country newspapers as well, but my impression is that I shall not be over stating the case when I say that a notice such as this probably does not come before five per cent. of the landowners who may be affected by this clause.

A statement has been circulated to your Lordships by the railway company in which it is pointed out that shops and offices are built over underground railway stations under powers which have been already acquired, and it is suggested that this is a typical example of the intention of this clause. Perhaps I may be allowed to give other instances not quite so favourable from the point of view of the railway company. The railway company would be entitled to erect a large and unsightly block of tenements or flats in the midst of a garden city. Such an erection would obviously destroy to a large extent the æsthetic amenities of the neighbourhood and the value of much of the property. Your Lordships are well aware that in many of these garden cities small owners are in process of buying their houses under the instalment principle. These owners would be just as much hit as any large landowner, and would object perhaps even more strongly because they have nowhere else to go. In the same way under this clause the railway company would be allowed to lease land for, let us say, the purposes of a soap or candle factory in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, or to erect an oil stores close to a timber yard, or, as in a case which actually occurred a few years ago, to demand power to lease fifty acres of land for the erection of four large blast furnaces. This clause did not then exist and that power was successfully opposed. I think I shall have the support of my noble friend Lord Newton in regard to the smoke nuisance in view of the powers that may be acquired under this clause to erect large chimneys belching forth smoke.

It may be argued that railway companies, having paid in full for their land, should be allowed to use it for any purpose they desire. Under the law compensation is paid to the owner for any land which is compulsorily acquired on this basis: Where damage is occasioned the compensation shall be determined—I quote the words of the Act—" by the exercise of the powers of this or the Special Act or any Act incorporated therewith." The clause of the Bill which is now before your Lordships proposes, without further compensation, largely to extend those powers. Even if I were prepared, for the purpose of argument, to admit that land had invariably been paid for in full, I submit that this general clause, which obviously has not been seen by every owner who may be affected thereby, does not give such owners any chance of appearing before the Committee of your Lordships' House and stating his case, for the simple reason that he probably has never heard of it.

I am aware that a limiting proviso affecting this clause has been inserted in another place, by which the company is not absolved from any covenant or condition in a deed of sale and consequently is not able to override it, but I must point out that the company was limited in its powers and the landowner further had the protection of the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act. It is very improbable that many deeds contain the conditions necessary to protect the interests of the landowner. Moreover, there are many people who have bought land or houses, or are in process of doing so, under the instalment principle, who felt when they entered into their bargain that they were safeguarded by the fact that the neighbouring land was available only for railway purposes, and for no other. If this clause becomes law they will find that this land may be used for any purpose whatever.

I must frankly confess to your Lordships that this is not the first occasion on which a clause of this character has appeared before your Lordships' House. Last year the Great Western Railway Company succeeded in getting a clause of this character with even wider powers, and I understand the London and South Western Railway Company also succeeded in doing so in 1913. I believe that in both cases no opposition whatever was offered by either House of Parliament, either on the floor of the House or upstairs, and I have very little doubt that it was for the reason which I have suggested—that the clause was entirely unknown to the ordinary landowner—that no opposition was made in either case. May I make a further confession? I do not own a single yard of land alongside any railway which is ever likely to be developed or to have surplus land for sale, and I may further add that I am not a railway director. I see railway directors to right of me and to left of me prepared to volley and thunder, but at any rate I can claim that in bringing this matter before your Lordships I am doing so as an entirely disinterested person.

I submit that a general and retrospective, clause of this character inserted into an omnibus Bill gives no opportunity for legitimate objections being heard by your Lordships' Committee for the reason that owners know nothing whatever about a clause of this character. I further submit that to attempt in a Private Bill to destroy piecemeal a Public General Act—in this case the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act—is a practice which Parliament ought to resist. I am unable to move that this clause should be omitted from the Bill, and therefore, failing an undertaking that it shall be omitted when it goes upstairs before your Lordships' Committee, I have no alternative but to propose that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. I beg, therefore, to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment moved— Leave out ("now") and at the end of Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Earl Stanhope.)


My Lords, the noble Earl who has just sat down said that he saw railway directors all around him prepared to volley and thunder. I am speaking as a railway director on behalf of the London and North-Eastern Railway Company, and I will endeavour to make my thunder as short as possible, and also as fair as possible to the noble Earl's case. It has been my duty, in the interests of the railway company with which I am associated, to read through the speech made by counsel on behalf of this clause before the Committee of the House of Commons. It was a very able speech, though I found the subject somewhat dry and lengthy. The proceedings before that Committee of the House of Commons persuaded it to pass this clause. That is no reason why it should be assumed that the Committee of your Lordships' House, or your Lordships, will be prepared to pass the clause. They will approach it independently and de novo, but I would submit to your Lordships that you ought not to come to a decision on this clause without having given the railway company the same opportunity of stating their case as they had in another place. They do not ask more than an opportunity of stating their case in relation to this long, technical and somewhat dry subject.

I will not attempt to go over the whole ground, but I should like to put one or two points to your Lordships. In the first place, the point at issue under this Bill is not, as the noble Earl argued, a large point; it is a small one. It is not the London and North-Eastern Railway Company which is coming for the first time and asking for a modification of the Lands Clauses Act, 1845. That has been done again and again already. It is argued against this clause that if it is passed the railway company will have power to erect buildings on superfluous land not required for railway purposes. At the present moment the principal railway companies have power to sell or lease superfluous land for buildings to be erected, and the difference which will be made by this clause is not that they will have power to sell or lease land for building for the first time, but that they will have power to do on their superfluous lands the things for which they now have power to sell or lease lands for other people to do. That, as I understand, is the size of the point at issue.

The noble Earl says that the London and North Eastern Railway Company are promoting this Bill and asking for this power, and that, if they succeed in getting it, other companies will follow suit. As appeared from the noble Earl's own speech the thing really is the other way round. Other companies have this power and the North Eastern Railway Company are following suit. The London and South Western Railway Company got this power in 1913. The Great Western Railway Company got the same power in 1923. The London Midland and Scottish Railway Company are asking for this power this year in a Bill which your Lordships have already allowed to pass through Second Reading and go upstairs in the usual way. Therefore, I submit to your Lordships the point really is this: Why is the London and North Eastern Railway Company to receive less favourable treatment on this clause than has already been given to the other three great railway companies? I can only suggest one possible reason for meting out different treatment in this case to the London and North Eastern Railway Company, and it is that there are landowners owning lands adjoining that of the company who are in a special position, and that, therefore, you ought not to be satisfied with the treatment with which landowners adjoining the land of other railways have already been satisfied or with which Parliament has decided they should be satisfied.

AS to the particular circumstances of those petitioning against the Bill I know nothing, but if there is any reason why the landowners who petition against the Bill should be treated differently from those who own lands adjoining the land of other railway companies, I submit that that is a point for the Committee to go into. If ever there was a Committee point that, surely, is one, and if your Lordships say that that point is to be settled on the floor of this House and not by Committee, I think you might as well abolish Committees on Private Bills altogether.

I have only one or two further observations to make. The noble Earl said that if this power had been given to other railway companies, it was probably because landowners interested had been unaware of what was being done, I understood from his argument that the Standing Orders, in his opinion, did not provide sufficient notice to landowners. The railway company in this case have complied with all the Standing Orders. I ask you to consider what it would mean if, before a railway company promoted a Bill in Parliament, it had to ascertain the names of the owners of all land adjoining its system—a more enormous task than ever now that the railway companies have been amalgamated—and send them separate notices of what was being proposed. It would make it impossible for railway companies to introduce Bills at all. I submit that what has hitherto been considered sufficient in the Standing Orders should be regarded as sufficient for the purpose of this Bill. If the Standing Orders are not considered sufficient, that is a matter which should be taken up by your Lordships, not on the case of an individual Bill like this but as a general question affecting the whole scope of the Standing Orders

If the Standing Orders are altered to meet the noble Earl's point, it would make the promotion of Bills by railway companies impossible. The noble Earl said he would oppose the Second Reading of this Bill unless the railway company withdrew this clause. It is not, I think, fair to the railway company to ask them to withdraw this clause without being heard by counsel before the Committee, and we ask for the opportunities your Lordships usually afford railway companies of being heard before a Committee. It is not reasonable to ask us to withdraw this clause without having had an opportunity of stating our case.

The rejection of the Bill would be a serious matter. Under the Bill powers are taken to carry out work on which between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 will be spent. The railway companies, like other great institutions, have been urged by successive Governments, in the public interest, to push on their works in order to find employment at this very critical time. If you reject this Bill it will mean that these works will be held up, and that the railway company, which has been asked in common with others to do all it can to expedite work, will have those works exceptionally delayed. On the ground of public policy I submit that that would be very undesirable action for your Lordships to take. I am sure your Lordships would not wish to undertake action of that kind, on so small a point as that which the noble Earl has raised in moving the rejection of the Bill. I therefore ask your Lordships, on the general ground of public interest and from the point of view that no really essential point has been raised by the noble Earl, to pass the Second Reading and allow the Bill to go to Committee in the usual way.


My Lords, I have often asked your Lordships to allow a Bill to go to Committee upstairs, as has been suggested by the noble Viscount who has just sat down, but I have never done so with less hesitation than on the present occasion. The noble Earl who moved the rejection of the Bill claimed that in doing so he was adopting his only remedy. He evidently was not present a fortnight ago. I quote this precedent with some reluctance as your Lordships on that occasion voted in such a way that I voted in the minority. Only a fortnight ago your Lordships decided that a clause should be struck out of a Bill, after allowing that Bill to go to a Second Reading. If the noble Earl wants to take action that is his proper action, instead of moving the rejection of a Bill of eighty-three clauses, when he says frankly that he has no objection to any of them except Clause 61. It is obvious from the speech of the noble Viscount that it is a Committee point. The noble Earl says that landowners do not get sufficient notice. In this matter the Standing Orders of the two Houses are practically the same, and at any rate twenty-six landowners opposed this clause in the House of Commons. That fact entitles me to say that a considerable number of them, at least, had notice of the clause, and, as has been made clear in the debate; twenty-four of them have been satisfied by the Amendments which were made in another place. The remaining two have deposited Petitions in your Lordships' House. I think I may quite fairly argue from that' that they, at any rate, would not be displeased if this Bill went to a Committee and their cases were heard there.

I really do not feel that I need say another word upon the subject. It is a small point—I admit an important point—but it is a point in accordance with precedent. It is nothing revolutionary. And if the landowners who have lodged Petitions in your Lordships' House are in an exceptional position, compared with the other landowners who have appeared, they can make their case in the Committee in the usual way by giving evidence. This is obviously a point that we cannot decide in a Second Reading debate, and I hope that your Lordships will allow the Bill to be read a second time.


My Lords, like the noble Earl who moved the rejection of this Bill, I approach the question from an unprejudiced standpoint. I am not a railway director, and not even a landowner, and I am solely interested in this Bill from having had considerable experience of Private Bill legislation. I confess that I view with great surprise the attitude of my noble friend. I always looked upon him as a solid, substantial member of this House, who had a strong sense of responsibility. But what has he asked the House to do? Here is a Bill, an omnibus Bill of a far-reaching character, involving the expenditure of several millions of money. That Bill has been fought at considerable length in the House of Commons, where twenty-six landowners appeared, in addition to the Land Union. Of those landowners twenty-four were satisfied, and even the Land Union were satisfied, and withdrew their opposition. I should have thought that my noble friend might have had sufficient confidence in that institution to realise that there was nothing very revolutionary about this Bill.

My noble friend dwelt on the awful consequences that might ensue if the Bill were passed. What consequences have-ensued from powers that have been given to the railways already quoted? Can my noble friend quote any instance in which the London and South Western Railway, or the Tubes, or the Southern Railway have perpetrated any of the atrocities which he contemplates as a possibility? The only evidence of the kind that I know of is that in certain of the London Tube stations there are a few shops, and I am not aware that they do any harm to anybody. If the rejection of an omnibus Bill is to be moved because certain people object to one clause it really is rendering the whole practice of Private Bill legislation little better than a farce. We have on several occasions lately, I think, acted with rather doubtful wisdom in imposing restrictions upon Committees. I cannot help thinking that, if this House has not got confidence in its own Private Bill Committees, it cannot have confidence in anything at all. It is for that reason that I submit that the objections ought not to be entertained by the House. The point raised is a purely Committee point. The noble Duke and the other noble Lord concerned can appear before the Committee, and they are just as likely, if rot more likely, to get full consideration from a Committee of this House as they are from any tribunal in the country.


My Lords, reference has been made in this debate, and in the printed statement issued by the promoters of this Bill, to the Land Union. When this Bill was brought forward the Land Union took up with the railway companies certain points, especially Clause 61 which had been brought to the notice of the Land Union. The railway companies met the Land Union's wishes most courteously, and a provision has been inserted in this Bill, Clause 61 (4), embodying our agreement. There may be other points to which some people may take objection, but we were satisfied that our definite points had been met. My noble friend Lord Stanhope referred to the Great Western Railway Company's Bill of last year, and I should like, to point out that that company obtained powers to alter the Land's Clauses Acts, but when the Land Union this year were agreeing their clause with the other railway companies, the Great Western Railway Company very generously decided to fall into line with the other railway companies and to give up the power they obtained last year. They put into this year's Bill, which is now before the, House of Commons, Clause 60, waiving their previous power. I should like to express to the Great Western Railway Company my sincere thanks for the way in which they have met the Land Union.

On the other hand, I agree with my noble friend Lord Stanhope that the Standing Orders require to be looked into. It should not be possible for a Private Bill like this to upset public Acts of Parliament, without due notice being given of what the intentions of the Bill are. My noble friend Lord Stanhope pointed out that notice has merely to be given in the newspapers. If you look at the title of this Bill you will find it is an Act to empower the London and North Eastern Railway Company to con- struct new railways, widenings, etc., and for other purposes. Nobody reading that notice in a newspaper—even supposing that they saw it—would imagine that the Lands Clauses Act was going to be altered in a Private Bill. The title ought to have been: "London and North Eastern Railway Company Bill, and a Bill to amend the Lands Clauses Act." If people had seen that in the newspaper their attention would have been drawn to it much more forcibly. I should like to see a Committee set up to inquire into the Standing Orders, and to make the Standing Orders insist that in future a proper title should be given to every Bill. While, however, I. support the proposal for a Committee, I consider that this Bill should be allowed to proceed, and not be delayed while a Committee is sitting to inquire into the matter.

On Question, Amendment negatived, and Bill read 2a.