HC Deb 14 March 1879 vol 244 cc893-904

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Charles Forster.)


said, that, in the interests of the carmen, contractors, and carriers of the United Kingdom, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months. The Legislature had always been particular in maintaining vested rights, and in opposing any attempt to interfere with them. The present Bill was an attempt at interference, on the part of the London and North Western Railway Company, with a very large vested right indeed. He was told that if they succeeded in carrying this Bill, Clause 33 would have the effect of causing total ruin to a very large and important body of men. The amount of capital invested by the carmen, carriers, and others, was no less than £20,000,000. Looking into the Census Returns of 1871, he found that there were at that time no less than 320,000 persons employed in this traffic in England and Wales; and it was estimated that the number at the present time had increased to over 1,000,000 persons in the United Kingdom. The Railway Companies had within themselves an enormous power, not only of interference, but of money, and any attempt on the part of any individual to oppose such great and important interests was almost sure to bring ruin on the persons so opposing. The House was well aware that all monopolies were, more or less, objectionable, and the monopoly of the Railway Companies was a most serious one indeed. Railways in the early days of inland navigation objected to become carriers, and they were the cause of bringing the carriers, and other traders of that description, into existence; but by degrees they had taken upon themselves to become their own carriers, and, in one way and the other, by the introduction into Acts of Parliament of special clauses, they bad succeeded in making themselves traders in a very great many and important particulars. Since the year 1859 the Railway Companies had obtained power to become hotel proprietors, book-sellers at their stations, tarpaulin manufacturers, harness makers, farriers, and, in fact, almost everything which appertained to the traffic and the carriages which run upon their lines. They were now attempting, in the present case, not only to become carriers for themselves, but to establish agencies throughout the Metropolis, and possibly throughout the Kingdom; because, if this attempt should be successful, other Companies would fall into it, and the Railway Companies would become carriers not only for their own lines, but for other lines. He supposed they bad all individually felt the powers already possessed by the Railway Companies. He imagined there was scarcely a Member of the House who had not some complaint or other to bring against the Railway Companies. A monopoly once established became too powerful for public opinion or individual exertions to upset, and the power of the railways, great as it was by the influx of money always flowing into their coffers, and by the very large amount of capital at their command, became almost irresistible. It was so great that it ought not to be used against the public, whose traffic over their lines contributed so much to their prosperity. He was afraid that their desire now to extend their profits arose from the extravagance they had indulged in in the past. It was only necessary to look around, in order to see what enormous sums of the shareholders' money had been invested in the erection of huge railway stations, such as those which existed in the neighbourhood of King's Cross; and now, on every side, they saw the Railway Companies attempting to redeem their extravagance by an increase of tolls, or of fares, over their lines, or by reducing the wages of the railway porters, or of the inferior officials in their employment. He was told that one of the railways, the other day, gave notice that it was going to raise the price of first-class season-tickets. They were remonstrated with, but persisted in their intention. Then railway travellers, in order to protect themselves, intimated that they would use the second-class carriages and season-tickets instead of the first; but, in order to meet any difficulty that might arise in that way, the Railway Companies took off their second-class carriages altogether, and when the passengers presented themselves to take a second-class ticket, they found that the Company had withdrawn all second-class carriages. The consequence was that the passengers would either have been too late for their business in the City, if they had waited for other trains, or they would be compelled to take single tickets by first-class carriages for that day's journey. He was told that, in this particular instance, the second-class carriages were withdrawn for a month. He thought such an act was entirely unworthy of a great Company. Unfortunately, the Railway Companies forgot, as soon as they obtained powers, that they were the servants of the public, and that they were put there to protect the interests of the public travelling on their line. Parliament had protected the Companies to a considerable extent by restricting the competition; and for many years the great main lines had been established throughout England, carrying on the traffic of all the large towns—the consequence being that, by one means or the other, the railway monopoly had passed into the hands of large Companies; and when all chance of competition was destroyed, it was found that these Companies invariably increased their fares against the public. He could assure the House that the persons who were taking an interest in getting this clause removed from the Bill felt very seriously, indeed, the position in which they were likely to be placed. They felt, however, that all-powerful as a Railway Company was, there was an important power over all of them—namely, the power of Parliament, a power which, he was sure, would not allow any great injustice to be done to the general community, and, by so doing, to every individual Member of the House. It was somewhat curious to observe how the Railway Companies were attempting, at all times, to evade the law of the land. One peculiar feature in railway legislation was the manner in which Railway Companies succeeded in introducing into different Private Bills clauses which gave them all they wanted. They did this in order to avoid the effect of the law, and to promote their own interests. It was a most ingenious device, and in many instances had been successful. It was not, how- ever, always successful. In 1859, the Great Western Company applied for powers to Parliament to build a bridge over the West London Railway, instead of a level crossing, and they inserted in that Bill power to alter the rates of fares over the whole of their line. It was only after the Bill had been read a second time that this fact was discovered; and it was mainly through the instrumentality of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce that it was detected—indeed, it was by the merest accident that it was discovered. He had given Notice of opposition to the introduction of the Bill in the interests of the carmen, carriers, and other outside interests; but he hoped the House would agree to the Committee which, he believed, the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade (Viscount Sandon) was about to propose—namely, a Hybrid Committee, to be nominated partly by the House and partly by the Committee of Selection, which would inquire fully into this question. He had such confidence in the noble Viscount that he was certain anything he proposed would be in the interests of both parties; and he should be quite content, therefore, if the House acceded to that proposal, not to persevere with his Motion for the rejection of the second reading of the Bill. He would move that Motion now formally, and, at the proper time, he would ask to be allowed to withdraw it.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months," —(Mr. Alderman Cotton.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


congratulated the hon. Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Cotton) on having changed his views in respect to monopoly since last evening. The hon. Gentleman was of opinion that Railway Companies ought to be checked. He would not follow the hon. Member in the long string of indictments which he had brought against the Railway Companies, nor would he detain the House further than by drawing their attention to this particular clause, which related to wharfingers, warehouses, and town carriers. This clause did not in anyway alter the position of carmen and carriers from what it was at present. The Railway Companies had been accused of attempting to evade the law. Now, their position was simply this. In a particular case an injunction was applied for against the London and North Western Company, and in order to put themselves right in future they proposed to introduce a clause into the present Bill. The terms of the clause had been modified. As it originally stood, it bore a construction which was not intended to be placed upon it; but as it was now modified he believed that, in most instances, it met the approval of those who had been previously opposed to it. As it appeared at present, it applied only to town carriers. The Railway Companies stood in a peculiar position. They were forced to get rid of the goods they carried as soon as they received them, because if they allowed any large accumulation of goods the accommodation at their disposal would be insufficient. They had, therefore, been obliged to make certain arrangements with certain agents for the delivery of the goods. If these arrangements were not made, and if they depended upon chance carriers, they would be unable to clear the goods; and so they were obliged to employ agents where they could not do the work themselves. They claimed, however, that they were legally entitled to do the work for themselves wherever they were able to do so; and, by the present clause, the London and North Western Company were only put on a level with the town carriers. Town carriers were employed to collect goods for various Railway Companies; and it was only for the interests of the public that one Railway Company should under agreement be entitled to carry goods for another Railway Company. For instance, if any individual wished to send three bales of goods by three particular Railway Companies, there was no reason why one Company should not accept the goods and agree to convey them to the stations of the other Companies. If they were compelled to send to the different offices by different carriers, the whole machinery for the collection of goods would be very much complicated. He was afraid the House might have been induced to believe that the town carriers did not receive anything from the Railway Companies for conveying the goods. That was by no means the case. They were paid by the Companies as well as by the public; and the clause which had been introduced in this case was, as he had said before, only introduced for placing the Railway Companies on a level with the town carriers. For these reasons, he supported the second reading of the Bill; but he should accept the promise of the noble Viscount the President of the Board of Trade (Viscount Sandon), that the Bill, when read a second time, should be sent to a Hybrid Committee.


said, the question before the House was one of considerable importance. At present, they had heard the case as far as two of the parties were concerned—namely, the Railway Companies and those who were opposed to the second reading of the Bill. It must not, however, be forgotten that there was a third party whom the House was bound to consider in the matter, and that was the public themselves. The Railway Companies must not complain if any application on their part for increased powers was viewed with great jealousy, because nothing could have been more short-sighted, less liberal, or more inimical to the convenience of the public than the course which the Railway Companies had hitherto pursued with respect to parcels. Their charges were most exorbitant, while their accommodation was very slight; and he believed they had very much injured their own interests by the short-sighted policy they had pursued. Unfortunately, where they had Railway Companies with a practical monopoly, there was a very great want of enterprize; and when a Railway Company came to the House and began to ask for fresh powers, if Parliament should consider it desirable to give them the powers they sought, such powers ought only to be conferred when increased securities were given to the public that their convenience would be studied, and additional accommodation provided for them. He had no wish to object to the second reading of the Bill, because he thought the proposal made by the noble Viscount the President of the Board of Trade was the best way of dealing with the question. He would, however, make one suggestion to the Board of Trade. If the Bill was to be referred to a Select Committee of a hybrid character, he thought it should be understood that the Chambers of Commerce, and others representing the public interest, should be heard before that Select Committee, and that the scope of the inquiry should be sufficiently large to enable the Committee to deal generally with the requirements of the public.


said, he had given Notice of an Amendment; but he need hardly say that he would be quite content on his part to accept the proposition of the noble Viscount the President of the Board of Trade. If that proposal was likely to be agreed to, he should not trouble the House with his Amendment; nor should he have risen at all, if it had not been for some remarks which had fallen from the noble Lord who sat opposite (Lord Richard Grosvenor), who, he had no doubt unintentionally, had misrepresented the existing condition of the Railway Companies. The noble Lord told them that the clause which was objected to in the present Bill did not alter the position of the town carriers. Now, he (Mr. Ritchie) contended that it did very materially alter the position of the town carriers. The noble Lord said the Railway Companies were at present legally entitled to do what they were now asking power from the House to enable them to do. If they were legally entitled to do it, why did they require the confirmation of their power in a fresh Act of Parliament?


said, the Railway Companies asked to place themselves in the same position as the town carriers.


had understood the noble Lord to say that they were already in the same position as town carriers. The noble Lord now said that they only sought to be placed in the same position. He (Mr. Ritchie) still contended that the Bill would place them in a very different position. The town carriers would have opposed to them the great Railway Companies, who had enormous capital, and who would, practically, be able to extinguish the competition of private individuals—such as town carriers—altogether. For instance, the capital of a town carrier was necessarily very small as compared with that of a Railway Company. It would be practically indifferent to a Railway Company whether they embarked a small portion of their capital in a particular business or not, and whether they sustained any loss upon it; while the business they carried on constituted the sole existence of the town carriers. They were thus in a very different position from the Railway Companies. He would only add, in reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Rathbone), who spoke last, that he hoped all the Chambers of Commerce, and those members of the general public who were interested in the question, would be able to be heard before the Committee. He hoped his hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Mr. Alderman Cotton) would withdraw his opposition to the second reading, so that the Bill might be read a second time and referred to the Select Committee proposed by the noble Viscount the President of the Board of Trade.


thought it ought to be borne in mind, in connection with this question, and, indeed, with the whole class of these questions, that it was one of the Rules of the House that no Member was to take any part or interfere in a question in which he had a personal or any other interest. In this case there were two Bills before the House, each containing a clause proposing that the Company to which the Bill referred should have, in respect to an important branch of trade, a statutable monopoly. The noble Lord who spoke on the subject just now (Lord Richard Grosvenor) said that all the Railway Companies wanted to do was to place themselves in the position which common carriers now occupied. They would, however, be placed in a very different position if this Bill passed through Parliament and received the Royal Assent; because they would have not only an equal advantage in keeping their shop open in town for the receipt of goods; they would also practically have the key of the gate when the goods were brought to them to forward by rail, and they might impose their own conditions on the present forwarding agents. By this means they would be enabled to secure the annihilation of the private carriers. It would, practically, amount to that; and he thought it was the duty of Parliament to provide some safeguards in the interests of the public. He had no desire to press the matter to a Division by any opposition on his part at this stage; but he hoped it would be borne in mind that while the railway interest was largely represented in the House on the one hand, the Rules of Parliament on the other precluded hon. Gentlemen in the railway interest from taking part in questions or voting where their personal interests were involved.


said, he would only trouble the House with a very few remarks, because he gathered from the tone of the debate that hon. Members on both sides were willing to accept the proposal he was about to make. He would, therefore, simply explain why Her Majesty's Government did not lend their support to the Motion for throwing out these two Bills on the second reading; and why, on the other hand, they would not be satisfied with the reference of those Bills in the ordinary way to a Select Committee upstairs. With regard to throwing out these two Bills, they thought it would be a great injustice to the two Companies concerned; because, after all, they were only asking for legal powers, under amended clauses, to confirm what had been the usage for many years past. He had no reason to suppose they were acting in anything like bad faith. On the other hand, he felt that the subject raised was a very important one, so far as the great commercial communities were concerned. The Board of Trade had received deputations and communications on the subject of this Bill from almost every large town in the country. There had been deputations from Bradford, Portsmouth, Bristol, and many other towns, as well as important communications from London, all showing the great importance attached to the subject by the trading community. They had also borne in mind that Parliament had of late shown very great jealousy in allowing the Railway Companies to go at all beyond the actual business they had been in trusted with by Parliament as Railway Companies. He gathered that it was the wish of the House to restrict, to some extent, a permanent extension of those Companies in other lines of business than those which legitimately belonged to them. Considering the great interest taken, it was most desirable that the very best judgment of Parliament should be passed on the very large questions raised in these Bills. He therefore intended to propose, on behalf of the Government, that the Bills should be referred to a Hybrid Committee. He hoped to secure the services on that Committee, as Chairman, of some Gentleman of large experience; and he had ascertained that a Hybrid Committee would have the power of hearing the Chairmen of the Chambers of Commerce and private individuals on the subject, so that all the interests concerned would be fully heard. He might also add that he had already laid upon the Table of the House all the Memorials on the subject presented to the Board of Trade, and he proposed to refer them to the Committee, so as to call the attention of the Committee especially to the complaints which had been made. He thanked the House for the manner in which they had received the proposal of the Government; and he should be prepared to make this reference to a Hybrid Committee, when his hon. Friend the Member for the City of London withdrew his opposition.


who was very indistinctly heard, was understood to say that the principal Railway Companies of the Kingdom had already a great monopoly of the traffic in its various branches, and he trusted that the additional powers now sought for to enable them to become carmen, carriers, booking-office keepers, and wharfingers, to the destruction of those engaged in such undertakings, would be refused by the House.


said, he could not see what was the object of sending the Bill to a Hybrid Committee. The noble Viscount the President of the Board of Trade intimated that he should propose to refer the Bill to a Committee, nominated partly by the House itself and partly by the Committee of Selection. He thought that they had had sufficient experience of the Committee of Selection to know that in all matters of importance the greatest care was taken by the Committee to secure the thorough investigation of a Bill upon its merits. He, therefore, failed to see what object was to be attained by appointing a Hybrid Committee instead of referring the Bill in the usual way: It was said that unless the House nominated part of the Mem- bers of the Committee, they would not have the power to instruct the Committee to hear witnesses on extraneous matters. That was not necessarily the case. If he was rightly informed, the House had ample powers to give all these instructions to an ordinary Committee; and as all of them could be given to an ordinary Committee, he thought the House was going out of its way to appoint a Hybrid Committee. He was afraid that of late they had been getting into a habit of appointing these Hybrid Committees unnecessarily. If it could be shown that any object was to be gained by the nomination of such Committees, he would not object; but without some object could be shown, and unless it could be made manifest that a Hybrid Committee would have powers which could not be given to an ordinary Committee, he thought the better way would be to appoint an ordinary Committee, calling the attention of the Committee of Selection to the nature of the provisions of the Bill, and giving them all the necessary instructions as to how the Bill was to be dealt with.


said, he did not know whether he ought to say a few words, because it was not improbable that the Bill would come before him personally; but he wished to give a reason why the Bill ought to be referred to a Hybrid Committee, rather than to an ordinary Committee. If it were referred to an ordinary Select Committee, the Committee would not be empowered to hear evidence where the parties had no locus standi. Another point was that, in a Select Committee, the decision virtually rested with the Chairman. A Select Committee only consisted of four Members; and if the Chairman carried one Member with him, he was able to decide every point. As this Bill would probably have to come before him, in the event of its being referred in the usual way, almost all the material points would virtually be left to his decision, and he should be extremely sorry to undertake such a responsibility. He thought there could be no question that the Bill ought to be referred to a Hybrid Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

VISCOUNT SANDON moved— That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of Five Members, Three to be nominated by the House, and Two by the Committee of Selection.

Motion agreed to.


then moved the following Instruction to the Committee:— That they have power to inquire and report as to the expediency of authorizing the said Company from time to time to purchase by agreement or take on lease or otherwise provide, and to establish and hold booking and receiving offices and other premises for the collection, reception, and booking and delivery of goods, parcels, and other matters and things intended to be carried upon or over their Railway, and to collect, receive, book, and invoice any such goods, parcels, and other matters and things; and to make and carry into effect any such contracts or agreements with any other Railway Company or Companies with regard to the collection, reception, booking, or invoicing of any goods, parcels, and other matters and things intended to be carried upon or over the Railways of the respective Companies so contracting, or any or either of them.

"Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Three to be the quorum."

Motion agreed to.

And, on March 21, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. MASSEY, Sir JOHN KENNAWAY, and Mr. MAURICE BROOKS.