§ Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, the sequence of events which has led up to this Bill is shortly as follows. The port of Richborough was constructed by the War Office during the War. It was more or less within the statutory limits of the Sandwich Haven authorities. The Government, to all intents and purposes, assumed the functions of the Haven authority, although that authority continued to own and operate a smaller 508 wharf further up the Haven. The port was created purely for War purposes and I think that subsequent events entirely justified its construction. A very large amount of war material was sent through this port to the Front and after the Armistice a vast amount of surplus material was imported through Richborough for sale in this country.
Later on, however, the administration of the port became entirely unsatisfactory. The Government had no power to levy dues of any kind and all dues that were levied went to the Sandwich Haven authority. In March, 1921, the Disposals Board sold the port as a going concern to the Port of Queenborough Development Company. This firm made an agreement with the Sandwich Corporation to present a Bill to Parliament providing for a joint board of control and a revision of the schedule of dues, which was already greatly overdue. This Bill, however, came to nothing because the firm in question were unable to implement their contract, with the result that in July, 1923, the Government accepted the rescission of the contract and re-entered into possession. Obviously the state of affairs was then even more unsatisfactory than before. The Government had to expend a considerable amount of money on dredging and on the general expenses of maintenance of the haven and works, bur in spite of that fact all the dues in respect of cargo and vessels went not to the Government but to the Haven authority.
About this time the mineral rights in that part of the country were acquired by the firm of Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long, and it became evident to those who were intimately connected with the situation that the future of the port depended entirely upon the development of industry in that vicinity. Consequently the Government once again opened negotiations with the Sandwich Corporation with a view to promoting a new Bill in Parliament, and at the same time they entered into negotiations with Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long with a view to their leasing or buying the Government interest in Richborough. These negotiations have now materialised. This firm is buying the port on condition that the Government promote and pass a measure similar to the Bill that was before Parliament in 1922. This Bill was to secure, among other things, an equal 509 representation to the purchasers on the joint board of control that was to be set up, and, more important still, it was to secure to them the rights in perpetuity to cross the main Ramsgate-Sandwich road with certain railways on the level. The Bill to which I now ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading is the Bill referred to, and it has the support of the Sandwich Corporation.
It is around the subject of these three level crossings that most of the discussion with regard to this Bill has centred. It is suggested that bridges should be constructed over these crossings forthwith, but I should like to put forward certain points for your Lordships' consideration in respect of this suggestion. In the first place, all these crossings are gated—that is to say, the railways are gated, not the roads—and in the second place, the road traffic on this Ramsgate-Sandwich road is admitted to be on the decrease. Furthermore, this traffic is almost entirely of a pleasure character. There are numbers of charabancs, and the road is connected very intimately with the game of golf. The Government do not think that the interests of the development of industry in that district should be sacrificed lightly for those purposes. Furthermore, each bridge would cost about £18,000 to construct. After having received expert advice on the matter, the Government consider that it would be a great waste of money to spend these large sums at the present moment. They do not consider that the conditions obtaining on this road warrant such a large expenditure of money at the present time.
As a result, I understand, of the representations of the Kent County Council the following provisions have been inserted in the Bill: (1), that no level crossing shall be used for shunting; (2), that one of these crossings is to be used only between the hours of nine o'clock in the evening and nine o'clock in the morning; and (3), if the Kent County Council ever wish to construct bridges over any of these level crossings, Messrs. Pearson. Dorman, Long have undertaken to contribute a sum of £5,000 in respect of each bridge and, further, to give free any land which may be necessary for the construction of embankments and other works in connection with this bridge building.
510 I suggest to your Lordships that this last concession is a very important and considerable one indeed. In addition to that, I think I may say that if the Kent County Council ever wish to undertake this work of bridging it is open to them to apply in the ordinary way for an additional grant towards their expenses from the Road Board. Furthermore, I think it is fair to point out that if this bridging does become necessary it will be entirely due to the industrial development of that district, and, consequently, the rateable value of that district will have gone up considerably and therefore profited the Kent County Council to that extent. I wish to make it perfectly clear that the undertaking of Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long to purchase this property is clearly contingent upon their being granted the privilege of using these crossings.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
I am afraid I cannot inform the noble Lord on the spur of the moment, but I will find out and let him know in the course of the debate. I was pointing out that the undertaking of Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long is contingent, upon their being allowed the use of these level crossings. If this privilege is withdrawn, or if this Bill is not passed I think by January 31 next, the agreement will be rescinded. There is no other prospective purchaser: it is most unlikely that the Government, will find another purchaser, and they will be faced with two alternatives—either of operating the port as a Government or semi-Government concern and probably making a loss, or of breaking up the port, in which case they will probably not get more than a quarter, and certainly not, more than one-third, of the scrap value. I suggest to your Lordships that in these circumstances, both from a financial and a national point of view, it is of the utmost importance that this Bill should be passed as early as possible. Therefore I beg to move that it be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Plymouth.)
§ LORD HARRIS had given Notice to more after the Second Reading, That it 511 be an instruction to the Committee to whom the Bill shall be referred, to provide that it shall not be lawful for the Secretary of State or any purchaser from him of any interest in the Rich-borough port and depot to maintain any level crossing over the main road from Ramsgate to Sandwich, and that a bridge shall be substituted for any level crossing which the Committee may regard as a necessary means of communication with the port or depot, and that the whole cost of such bridge and its approaches shall be borne by the purchaser of the above port and depot.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise on behalf of the Kent County Council to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. I congratulate the noble Earl on the very clear way in which he has delivered his brief, but I can supplement the information which he gave to your Lordships in one or two respects. I am afraid I shall have to ask you to allow me to detain you a little time because there is quite a story connected with this matter, and I am sorry to say that the Kent County Council think that the Government do not make a very good showing over this matter. I imagine that the voice which we have heard to-day is the voice of the Treasury—I rather think that the Treasury are conducting this Bill through Parliament—but the hand is the hand of the War Office, and when the noble Earl said just now that he did not know what the terms of the contract were I can only imagine he has not read the shorthand note of the evidence given in another place, because there it is perfectly clearly stated what are the terms of the contract.
§ That is to say, the price which the War Office is going to get was handed up to the Chairman, so that the price is known. I know the price perfectly well but—why I do not know—I am not at liberty to mention it. However, that is the fact, and when the noble Earl says there are only two alternatives there is, of course, a third course possible. The War Office could give away a little bit of its pound of flesh to Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long, and then of course Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long would be able to adhere to the terms of their contract and the Government would be able to adhere to the terms of its contract. The difficulty is simply that the War Office is hanging on with, all its might—with its talons—to 512 its pound of flesh and pretend that it is impossible to carry out the contract unless Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long are given these running powers over the level crossing.
I daresay a good many of your Lordships know this locality very well, but for those who do not I may say that whilst the title of the Bill is the Sandwich Port and Haven Bill, as a matter of fact these railway lines are better known in connection with what was called the Port of Richborough—in connection with the old Roman castle, the remains of which can still be seen in the neighbourhood. From a marine point of view, it is hardly distinguishable from Pegwell Bay, where the shrimps come from. I have a very important point to submit to your Lordships. In the course of the debate in another place a question was put to the Minister in charge of the Bill by one of the members for Kent, Major Sir Granville Wheler. He asked—I think the noble Earl in his exposition referred to certain Amendments which were put in—
May I take it that these Amendments to the clause have been agreed to by the Kent County Council?
—Mr. Guinness replied:—
Yes, I understand that is so.
My information is exactly the contrary. I have a letter here from the solicitor to the Kent County Council, in which he says:—
The Kent County Council have not agreed the Amendments and have never been asked to do so or referred to in the matter, and are entirely opposed to the level crossings.
I am quite sure it is by inadvertence, but the House of Commons has been misinformed, and who can say what would have been the result of the Bill if a correct answer had been given?
§ I see the Lord Chairman in his place and I wish he would advise your Lordships, if he sees fit to speak presently, what he thinks should be done with a Bill which comes up to your Lordships post hoc if not propter hoc on incorrect information being given to the House of Commons. I hear that a Committee has been formed and is going to sit on Monday. Surely that is rather rushing the Bill through, having regard to the fact that the Kent County Council have not been consulted about these Amendments and are entirely opposed to the 513 level crossings. What harm would be done by deferring the Committee to a later period of the year, giving time for the County Council and the War Office and Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long to come together and see whether they cannot arrange such terms as will enable Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long to get down to the seashore and at the same time enable the public to pass along their main road without interruption?
§ It is quite true that there are level crossings there now. During the War the brilliant idea—and it was a most brilliant idea—occurred to the War Office of conveying its warlike goods direct without transhipment—from the manufactory almost, I believe—right away by rail to Richborough putting the trucks on to barges, taking them across to the other coast, and I believe in some cases taking them up the waterways of Flanders and France. It was a magnificent scheme, there is no question about it. Richborough Port was a magnificent asset during the War. Now it is practically derelict and I should think the War Office say to themselves: "We are very lucky indeed to get any purchaser." Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long want to do precisely the same as the War Office did during the War. They want to get down to the water, and very naturally. The depot, as it is called, is no use to them unless they can get there. They are exploiting certain coalfields in Kent and everybody must wish that they will be successful. There are rumours that they also contemplate importing iron ores from the Continent and smelting on the spot. I do not know that we can congratulate the neighbourhood if smelting works are set up there. However, that is the rumour that is in the air. If it is successful, and we all hope it will be successful in a business sense, you can conceive the amount of traffic that will go over these level crossings.
§ I say there were level crossings during the War. The War Office came to the County Council and submitted their scheme and, D.O.R.A. being in existence the County Council, of course, had to say "Yes," and there the level crossings are now. I can prove to your Lordships that it was acknowledged in Committee in another place, on a question by the Chairman, that there will be five level 514 crossings. I think the noble Earl admitted that they were gated. From the first of the level crossings of the three which are now there to the third is a mile and a quarter; that is to say, there will be three lots of gates in a mile and a quarter. That is not very convenient for traffic.
§ My noble friend was instructed to say that the traffic had fallen off. Well, that is not fair. I do not suppose the noble Earl has a room in which to study this thing and it is not fair to put such information in his hands. I have the evidence given in the House of Commons and it is upon this that I expect the noble Earl's information was based. I forgot to tell your Lordships that this is a main road, a. No. 1 road; it is the ordinary coastal road from Dover through Sandwich to Thanet. There is another road inland which goes over a bridge called Pluck's Clutter, and I should think the name is enough to deter anybody from going round that way. The traffic goes by this road. In August, 1912, the number of vehicles per week passing along the road was 8,000; in August, 1913, it was 10,000, and in August, 1922, 8,500. That is all the information I can find which will justify the. Department in informing my noble friend that the traffic is decreasing, I cannot believe, from what I know of the traffic in Kent, and particularly the charabanc traffic, that the traffic has fallen off, but I have no information subsequent to 1922. The drop from 1913 is due to there being 2,000 fewer bicycles.
§ I am going to move that this Bill be read a second time this day three months unless the noble Marquess thinks that., on the whole, it would be better to defer the appointment of the Select Committee until the autumn. I submit to him that that is the reasonable thing to do, not to press for the Select Committee to be appointed to-day. I am sure if he will consult his moral conscience and not be satisfied with his political conscience, he will see that this is a grave injustice to the ratepayers of Kent. What is the use of the members of this Party to which I have been loyal for a great many years, parading the country and claiming to be the hereditary protectors of the ratepayers, if in a matter like this a Government Department, seeing its chance, does 515 the ratepayers down in order that it may retain its pound of flesh? How can we go with any faith to the ratepayers of Kent—and they have been a very loyal body to this Party for a great many years—and say, "We consider that we are justified in imposing this cost upon you." There may be three bridges to build, and it is put in evidence that each of these bridges will cost not less than £18,000, so that something like £40,000 may be thrown upon the shoulders of the ratepayers.
But Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long have offered to give £5,000 per bridge; therefore you have to deduct £15,000 from the total cost. That leaves something like £40,000 to be thrown upon the shoulders of the ratepayers because a private company wants to get down to the seashore. What chance would a private company have, if it had not the assistance of the Government, if it came to Parliament for running powers and rights of crossing a main road? None whatever. And, remember, this is a private line; the public have no rights over it whatever. The public rights are being given away to a private company. If a public company came to Parliament and requested the right to cross a main road by level crossing what would the Standing Orders do with regard to that? The Standing Orders are perfectly distinct. They say that Parliament objects to level crossings, and these level crossings only exist because they were necessary in the War, and under the agreement which exists the County Council only consented by licence to these level crossings up to next year. After that they were to be terminable at a year's notice.
On all these grounds, therefore, I submit that Parliament may very fairly take a little more time to consider this matter, and defer the appointment of this Select Committee until the autumn, by which time, I have very little doubt, some influence may have been brought to bear upon the War Office to give up part of the price that Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long have agreed to give them subject to their having these rights. I dare say the noble Earl is right that it is not absolutely essential that the bridges should be build at once. It is perfectly easy of arrange 516 ment that the War Office shall return to Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long, if and when they have to build bridges, such part of the price as that firm have to pay a excess of the £5,000, and that will come out of the price the War Office have obtained for the sale.
I would like to tell your Lordships than I am very doubtful whether the Ministry of Transport has ever been consulted on this subject. As I said before, it is the Treasury which is conducting the Bill and the War Office which is the vendor. I have now found the Standing Order for which I was looking just now. It is Standing Order No. 155 of the House of Commons, and it provides thatNo railway whereon carriages are moved by mechanical power shall be authorised to be made across any railway, tramway, tramroad or public carriage road on the level, and no tramway shall be authorised to be made across any railway on the level, unless a Report thereupon from some officer of the Ministry of Transport shall be laid before the Committee on the Bill, and unless the Committee, after considering such Report, and hearing the officer, if the Committee think fit, if they shall disagree with the said Report, shall recommend such level crossing, with the reasons and facts upon which their opinion is founded;"—I have not seen any reasons or facts quoted—and in every clause authorising a level crossing the number of lines of rails authorised to he made at such crossings shall be specified.I have not seen any specification as regards the number of lines, though I believe, as a matter of fact, there are at least five.
There are one or two other points I desire to mention to your Lordships. I need hardly tell your Lordships that the whole policy of Parliament for years has been to do away with level crossings. That cannot be contested, I am perfectly sure. If such a proposition as is contained in this Bill came from a private enterprise it would be most strongly condemned, and would have no possible chance of obtaining the approval of Parliament. This is really a Private Bill. It was part of the terms of the contract that the Government should conduct it through Parliament; in other words, the vendors who are interested are to conduct this Bill through Parliament. It is a very funny story, my Lords. The view that the County Council take of this matter—and 517 I can assure your Lordships they are most indignant—is that by this Bill the Government are asking Parliament to sanction something which their own responsible Minister would strenuously oppose if it were promoted by anybody else.
On May 21 of this year the Minister of Transport, in a speech in another place, made use of the following words:—It is a sound policy to build by-pass roads around many of our towns. That policy is being pursued. If there is one thing more than another which annoys me when I can get into the country, it is the level crossings. Level crossings are out of date and ought never to have been allowed.Do you not think that after the Minister has given expression to such an opinion as that I am justified in inferring that the Minister of Transport has never been consulted about this Bill? I am informed that large sums of money are now being provided by the Ministry of Transport for the purpose of doing away with existing level crossings.
Those, I think, are the facts of the ease and I desire now to say something about procedure. I told your Lordships that I proposed to divide the House in regard to the Second Reading of the Bill. I have been in communication with the executive of the County Council. They are so indignant that they have asked me to do that and I shall do it. If, as I assume they will be, the Government are successful in carrying this point and the Bill is read a second time—although, I hope, I shall at least find a Teller—I shall, as I am informed is the proper procedure, immediately move the instruction to the Select Committee, of which I have given Notice, to take care that the cost of these bridges, if and when they are constructed, shall not be thrown upon the ratepayers. It will not be necessary for me to inflict a second speech upon your Lordships because I have dealt fully with every point. I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this clay three months.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day three months").—(Lord Harris.)
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I only intervene in this debate because I happen to be a ratepayer in Kent and I very often use this road. Indeed, I know this place probably as well as anybody in recent 518 years because this was one of the ports which was constructed and used, when I was First Lord of the Admiralty, for the ferry across to France. Accommodation was erected there for some 18,000 men, and now it is a pitiably derelict concern. So far as I am concerned, I should be very glad to see the matter disposed of and the liability or the Government for any upkeep there may be—though I do not observe any as I pass along there from day to day; but I suppose there is somebody there or thereabouts—got rid of and the Government cut their losses. In my opinion the whole thing was constructed on the most elaborate and ridiculously expensive permanent basis at a time when it was thought that to throw away as much as possible of the money of the taxpayers of this country showed extreme patriotism. For Messrs. Pearson, Dorman and Long who bought these quarries—I know the situation perfectly well—it is absolutely essential to try to get possession of part of this place which will then be a private port. I think they will find it a very expensive one, having regard to the amount of dredging I was acquainted with when I was First Lord; but at the same time it will enable them to do exactly what we did during the War with munitions, guns and all sorts of things of the kind—to find an easy means of transport of coal across to France and up the rivers and elsewhere.
But this is the main road from Ramsgate to Sandwich. It is none too wide; indeed, in my opinion, it is very much too narrow for the traffic. The whole traffic to Sandwich, and all along the road from Sandwich and from the direction of Ramsgate and through Richborough, goes along this road and nothing astonished me more than the statement of the noble Earl that the traffic on this road was diminishing. You come down to a toll bridge as you enter Sandwich, and I have seen long queues of cars and vehicles held up there. In passing by Richborough at many places I have also seen cars held up. I have never counted the number of cars or chars-a-bancs or other vehicles that use this road. What I am stating is what I have learnt merely from personal observation.
If Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long are successful, just imagine what it will be going across a road of that kind from a 519 colliery by level crossings. I do not believe the traffic will be maintainable in those circumstances. You may as well block up the road altogether. It is quite true, as my noble friend has said, that there were level crossings there during the War. The whole place was at that time cut off as being a military area. I remember myself, when I was First Lord of the Admiralty, being refused admittance because I had not a pass when I went down to visit the port for some reasons connected with the Admiralty. The whole area was cut off and there was practically no traffic because no one could get through without a pass. Now, however, the position is entirely different. Why should not there be bridges made? That is the modern way of providing crossings over public highways.
My noble friend exactly hit the point when he said that the result of what has happened is that you want to get more money for the War Office at the expense of the Kent ratepayers. That is what it really comes to. The Government say "Let us carry out this. If we lose this opportunity we may not be able to sell. We will carry it out at a price which will enable the bridges to be built and put the obligation upon somebody to build them." But why should you say: "We must carry this out, we must exact our price, and we will put in a provision—Messrs. Pearson, Dorman, Long are willing it should be put in—that at any time the Kent County Council think that they do not like level crossings going over this important road they can at their own expense, at the cost of £18,000 per bridge, put up the necessary structures"? Is that fair to the ratepayers? Is that in accordance with the practice of this House? I should be sorry to do anything that would prevent Pearson, Dorman, Long getting their contract to carry this out, because I believe it is a good opportunity to do so, and I think the proposition that my noble friend has made is a perfectly fair one.
Give a little more time for negotiations in the matter. See what you can do with Pearson, Dorman, Long. See what you can do by negotiations as to price and by give and take to get the necessary bridges built, but do not, in the hurry of trying to dispose of a 520 surplus asset of the War, attempt to inflict what will really be a great hardship upon the inhabitants, the County Council and the ratepayers of Kent. I have no interest in this matter except that I am an inhabitant of the district. Terms ought surely to be possible in a case of this kind. That the matter is looked upon by the Government as one of extreme importance is shown by the fact that they themselves have put in certain conditions regarding the level crossings being allowed to be built at the expense of the Kent County Council hereafter. There appears to be a controversy as to whether the Kent County Council was ever consulted at all. It appears to have been stated to the House of Commons that they had agreed to it. If anybody ought to know about that I think it is my noble friend Lord Harris, than whom Kent has no greater champion. He does more public work for his County than any man I know, and his opinion ought to have some weight. This Bill ought not to be carried by the arbitrary authority of a Conservative Government, which always surmounts every difficulty by its majority. It ought to see whether a business-like arrangement cannot be made, and the feelings of the people of Kent should be ascertained upon this matter.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY)
My Lords, I can assure my noble friends that I do not approach this subject in any spirit of hostility to them, or to the cause which they represent. I fully endorse everything which my noble friend Lord Harris has said, both as to his great service to us, and his loyalty to his County and to everything which, politically, I hold dear. My noble friends could have had no more welcome champion in your Lordships' House in respect of this Bill or in respect of the Party which sits around me, and I shall show before I sit down that these are not merely words, but that I intend to act upon them.
Let me, first, deprecate a certain feeling, perhaps a natural feeling, of hostility which my noble friend displayed towards the War Office. Surely the War Office are not to be found fault with in this matter. He himself bore witness to the great service which this port conferred upon the country during the War and spoke in the 521 highest terms of those who had established it, and by that means carried on warlike operations and communications for warlike operations which reflected the highest credit upon them. That was done during the War and, as my noble friend who has just sat down truly said, money was poured out like water at that time. But the War Office, no doubt, want, if they can, to recover a little of that money, It will be a very small quantity that they will recover, but they are not to be blamed for trying to recover as much as they can. It is, after all, in the interests of all of us that they should do that so far as they can do it consistently with what is fair to the Kent County Council. Therefore we ought not to find fault with them, and ought not to hold them up as grasping individuals who are trying to exact their pound of flesh from an unfortunate county council. All they are trying to do is to recover a little money for the British taxpayer where they can. In trying to present the matter in that spirit let me say one other word of caution. My noble friend has assumed that the other relevant Departments of the Government have dot been consulted. I have made inquiries, and, as far as the information which was furnished to me goes, that appears to be quite a delusion. The Ministry of Transport were consulted.
May I ask whether the Minister of Transport is now disposed to change his views with regard to level crossings?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
That I do not know. I only know that the Ministry of Transport proposed certain Amendments, and those Amendments were inserted in the Bill. Therefore everything has been done in that respect perfectly regularly. But my noble friends say that the Government were misinformed, that the House of Commons was misinformed, as to the views of the Kent County Council and their agreement—
I want to be quite clear about that. It is in a letter from the solicitor to the Kent County Council. It is on the authority of that official.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not question it at all. My noble friend speaks with great authority. There may have been some misunderstanding, and 522 that is a strong reason why your Lordships should in this matter proceed with the greatest caution. I fully admit that. But that is not a reason for rejecting the Second Reading of the Bill. That clearly is a wrong remedy. The Bill is a large measure. It does not deal only with level crossings over these main roads. It deals with other things; it establishes a new body of commissioners and disposes of the harbour and docks, and to reject it on Second Reading because there is something wrong with regard to two or three level crossings would be an unwise proceeding. The noble Lord really does not want to reject the Second Reading of the Bill at all, although he has moved it. What he wants is to have a change in the terms under which the Bill is to be carried out and I would most respectfully submit to him that it is not a proper way in which to proceed. If he wants to amend the Bill let him amend it at the proper stage and not try to throw it out on Second Reading when he does not object to it.
What we had hoped was that my noble friends would have agreed in the ordinary course that this Bill should be sent to a Committee upstairs. It is a Hybrid Bill and it must go before a Private Bill Committee. My noble friends say that all these things are wrong, that level crossings should be abolished, that bridges ought to be built, and that the cost of building these bridges—several thousands of pounds—should not be thrown on the Kent County Council. Are we to discuss all these matters on the floor of the House? Is that a reasonable proceeding? Is it a regular proceeding? Is it ordinarily done? Of course not. Those are obviously matters for the Private Bill Committee to which the Bill goes in the ordinary way. My noble friend Lord Harris quoted something that happened before the Private Bill Committee of the House of Commons. We have, of course, profound respect for the Private Bill Committee of the House of Commons, but we do not rely upon that Committee. We rely upon our own Committee and that is why we send Bills upstairs, in order that these particular points can be discussed and determined, and for no other reason whatever.
My noble friends say that all this is very bad and that the Kent County Council is being very badly treated. If 523 so, I should be the first man to desire to do them justice, but surely it is not reasonable to throw out the Bill on Second Reading, or bind the hands of the Committee before they have had time to consider the matter at all. I suggest that that is not a reasonable attitude on the part of my noble friend. Let the Bill go before the Private Bill Committee—that is the right course. Then my noble friend says: Let us have a little postponement. I should be very sorry to appear to have even the appearance of doing an injustice to the case put forward by my noble friends. If they insist on a postponement until the autumn, in order to show how anxious I am to meet them, I shall not resist it. The reason I say that is this. It is quite true that the Government are a party in this matter, they are one of the parties to the issue, and certainly to use, or try to use—I cannot pretend to do more —the majority of your Lordships' House in order to justify the Government in what is a Private Bill matter, without general consent, would be to attempt a thing which I should dislike very much to do.
I should not like, in a matter which should be decided purely on grounds of justice, to ask your Lordships, merely because you support the Government, to pass this Bill through. If my noble friends say they would like to have time and a postponement until the autumn, I shall not oppose them. But let me just put this consideration before them. The Government are anxious to get on with these works because of their importance.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I understand that a good deal of employment will be immediately involved if this is carried through. My noble friends will not expect me to have personal knowledge of this matter, but that is my information. The thing is to push on, and the Government want to push on, in order to give general employment. We are anxious to do that if we can and we would like to get the Bill pushed through. There is no question of sacrificing the contract. If your Lordships pass it in the autumn the contract will be perfectly sound, but we want to push on with the work. I was going to suggest that we should postpone any decision on this matter until to-morrow, in order that I might confer with my noble friends on 524 the question of the postponement until the autumn. It was not until my noble friend spoke just now that I had any idea there was to be a suggestion of a postponement of the Committee. It has come upon me rather as a complete surprise and I have not had time to consider whether this is really a wise course of procedure.
My counsel to your Lordships, therefore, is this. If my noble friends insist, the Government will consent to postpone the Committee until the autumn, but if they will take a suggestion from me we should postpone this debate now as soon as we have agreed to the Second Beading and, between now and to-morrow, I shall he able to consult with them as to whether a postponement until the autumn is really a reasonable suggestion. I think that is a generous offer. It is because of the peculiar position of the Government in respect to this matter, and because of my great regard for my noble friends behind me, that I venture to submit it to your Lordships.
My Lords, I find the argument of the noble Marquess really unconvincing on the main point. It is all very well to pass this Bill, but if it goes to the Select Committee without an instruction then the Select Committee, if it acts like other Select Committees, will say: "You have dropped this question, and we are not going to insist on something which might be fatal to the prospects of the Bill." That raises really a question of principle. It is proposed to sell this port to the purchaser without any stipulation as to these three level crossings. Is it right, in the times in which we live, to leave railways with level crossings not protected?
I listened to the speech of the noble Earl who introduced the Bill and I observed that he did not propose that these crossings should be guarded by any signalmen. If he had he would have been open to the comment that it was about as cheap to build bridges as to maintain signalmen. But it is not proposed to do that. It is said: We will see that they are opened only at certain hours, and it does not matter very much because the only persons concerned are golfers and pleasure seekers. I am not a golfer, and I am not much of a pleasure seeker, but at the same time I have a certain human 525 regard for these people and I do not want to see golfers and pleasure seekers run over, as they might be at these level crossings. They will be all the more liable to be run over because there are gates which will cause delay, trains will come along and there will be the usual accidents that are inevitable in those circumstances.
The noble Marquess asks us to give the Bill a Second Reading and then agree to a certain delay. I think that this is a reasonable proposal if it is a substantial one, but my interpretation of it as a substantial proposal is that the noble Marquess has listened to all that the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Carson, have said and is prepared to say that there may be negotiations and bargaining as to how this matter can be decided. It is all very well to say that the War Office only want to get this money back. No doubt they do and that is very reasonable, but the War Office might have to abate something of its price if it is going to hand over these railways in a proper condition from the public point of view. If the noble Marquess means that this matter is to be the subject of a genuine negotiation with the Government, having regard to the principle that a railway should not be made with level crossings unprotected and that it is better that there should be some kind of bridges—I find it difficult to believe that these bridges will cost £18,000 a piece, as was suggested by the noble Earl—I for one am quite ready individually to assent to the course proposed to be taken—namely, that we should read this Bill a second time now on the understanding that the Committee is postponed, that this debate is adjourned and that the noble Marquess opposite means what one would gather that he meant, that things are to be taken up in a substantial way and that negotiation is to be entered into whereby, by abatement of the price if necessary, or in some other way, these level crossings are to be secured. I notice that the noble Marquess does not assent to that. In that case I for one, speaking in the public interest, do not like this proposition.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, I should like, if I may, to say a few words on this Bill in view of my official connection with this neighbourhood. May I say, first of all, that I think the noble Lord, Lord Harris, is under some slight misconcep- 526 tion. I think I heard him say that his idea was that this House was likely to adjourn on Tuesday next and that there would not be time for this Committee to consider the matter properly on Monday. That is not what I believe to be the intention of His Majesty's Government. I understand that this House will sit until the end of next week and therefore this Committee, if it is set up on Monday, will have plenty of time to go into this matter fully.
I confess, as one who lives in the neighbourhood, that I am quite unable to agree with the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading of the Bill that the traffic along this road is in any way decreasing. I am quite sure that the direct contrary is more likely to prove true, especially if a new census is taken this year. All over Kent the amount of traffic, especially charabanc traffic, is growing to immense proportions. Each charabanc carries something like fifty people and their numbers are increasing yearly. Even if it were the fact that the actual number of charabancs is not growing very largely, the number of people carried is undoubtedly increasing by leaps and bounds. Although I hold this view, and should immensely regret the continuance of these level crossings, I agree with the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that it is before a Committee of your Lordships' House that matters of this kind are most usefully dealt with and that we cannot deal with them upon the floor of the House. The Private Bill Committee was set up in order that your Lordships' House might be relieved of matters of this kind. Accordingly I venture to hope that the matter will be allowed to go before that tribunal, and I am quite sure that justice will be done to it by that body.
My Lords, if I understand the proposal of the noble Marquess aright, it is not that we should adjourn the debate, as the noble and learned Viscount opposite suggested. The noble Marquess offered, as I understand the matter, that, subject to this Bill being allowed to pass its Second Reading, no Committee would be appointed. In that case, what will happen in the autumn? Will there be a distinct Motion to appoint a Committee? The Lord Chairman of Committees advises me that on a Private Bill there is no formal Motion 527 to appoint a Select Committee, but the; Bill goes automatically to the Committee. I should like to know whether, when consideration of this matter is resumed in the autumn, there will be a clear Motion to appoint a Select Committee, allowing us to bring the matter up again publicly so that we may know whether any agreement has been arrived at between the Ministry and the parties concerned. If that is the offer of the noble Marquess, then, speaking on behalf of the Kent County Council, I accept it.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not know whether your Lordships will allow me to answer the questions that have been addressed to me, for I have already exhausted my right to speak in this debate. I think the noble Lord has rightly interpreted my offer to him. If the House will be good enough to agree to the Second Reading, I will take care that the Committee stage is not taken until the autumn. My noble friend has said that there is some difficulty as to procedure. I think that there will be no such difficulty if he will leave his Motion for this instruction on the Paper. That must come before your Lordships again on the floor of the House, and the Committee cannot be set up until it is disposed of. I earnestly hope that, when the time comes, my noble friend will not insist upon his instruction, but of course I do not expect him to give any undertaking in that regard now. I think that the matter ought to be left open to the Committee to decide as it thinks best, but, as far as procedure is concerned, that is the simple way. Accordingly I hope that your Lordships will consent to the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.