HC Deb 22 March 1881 vol 259 cc1639-49

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said that, as the Motion was opposed, he should take leave to say a few words in support of the case of the promoters. The Great North of Scotland Railway Company supplied a great part of the North-East districts of Scotland. It supplied the whole railway accommodation of the two counties of Aberdeen and Banff. The Company affirmed that it had now become necessary for them to make a new and short branch, about 13 miles in length, from an extension off the main line of railway, in order to supply the necessary railway accommodation of an important district of Banffshire, lying on the shores of the Moray Firth, and including two large and important fishing towns, which, at present, had no railway supply. The Bill was an Omnibus Bill. One great object of it was to enable the Company to make that extension of 13 miles. Another material object was to entitle the Company to carry through an amalgamation already agreed upon with the Morayshire Railway Company. The third object of the Bill arose from these circumstances—that the Company, which was a very poor one, notwithstanding that it had to meet the wants of the whole agricultural districts of these counties, had, at present, no adequate station and siding accommodation. In order to provide this accommodation, a large extension of capital was required; but they had no funds whatever to enable them to meet this absolutely necessary expenditure. It was, therefore, proposed to make, not an increase of agricultural rates, but to impose a charge for terminals, which this Company alone, he believed, of all the Railway Companies in the Kingdom, had not hitherto possessed, probably from some defect in their original Act. There was only one other point that it was necessary to call attention to. It was also proposed by the Bill to provide an income for the necessary expenditure in addition, by making a small and reasonable increase of charges upon the rates for the transport of guano and other valuable artificial manures, which were worth, perhaps, from £5 to £15 a-ton. These artificial manures also, from some original blemish in the old Acts of the Company, were classed with street dung and other similar composits, which were not worth more than 4s. per ton. The proposals of the Company had been met with the warmest approval in its own district. The Town Councils of Banff, of Cullen, and of Macduff had petitioned in favour of the Bill, and there had also been a largo Petition in its favour from the community of Buckie, signed by upwards of 4,000 persons. In point of fact there was no local opposition whatever to the second reading of the Bill. There were objections in regard to the rates which were proposed for the necessary terminals, and for the necessary small increase proposed upon the rates for artificial manures; but these were clearly matters for a Select Committee to consider. It was, therefore, with some surprise that the promoters of the Bill found it opposed upon the second reading, not by any Scotch Member, or in any Scotch interest, but by three English Members. It was opposed by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. A. J. Balfour), and by both of the hon. Members for Mid Lincolnshire. One of them (Mr. Stanhope) gave Notice of his intention to move the rejection of the Bill; and the other hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) proposed to move that the Bill be deferred on this ground— That, in the opinion of this House, no increase in the rates charged by any Railway Company for the carriage of agricultural produce ought to be sanctioned until the Committee appointed to inquire into the subject of the rates charged by Railway Companies has reported. That, of course, was equivalent to the rejection of the Bill upon the second reading, because it would have the effect of deferring it until too late in the Session to proceed with it. He wished, however, to point out to the House that this Amendment must have been put upon the Paper under some misapprehension, because the Bill did not propose to impose any additional rates whatever upon the carriage of agricultural produce. The additional charge proposed was no addition upon the carriage of agricultural produce; and, there- fore, he contended that the Amendment of the hon. Member had no ground to stand upon. The additional rates were asked for solely on terminals, in regard to which, he repeated, this Company, of all the Railway Companies in the Kingdom, had never hitherto imposed a charge. It was also proposed to make a small additional charge upon the carriage of valuable manures, which, he was informed, could not be carried at their present low rate, without costing the Company more than they received in the shape of tolls. The whole reasonableness of the proposals would be a fair matter for the consideration of a Committee upstairs. It would be most improper for the House to decide, upon the question of the second reading, whether the case which the Company said they were prepared to maintain could be made out, or whether the objections put forward by the opponents of the measure were fatal to its further progress. The Bill was of the utmost importance to the whole district to which it related, and; also to several other Northern Scotch counties and he trusted the House would not consent to reject it until its details had been fully investigated by a Committee upstairs. The Bill itself complied with the views expressed in the Amendment of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), because it distinctly provided, by the 52nd clause, that— Nothing in this Act shall except the railway from any future revision or alteration, under the authority of Parliament, of the maximum rates of fares and charges, or of the rates for small parcels. That provision being included in one of the clauses of the Bill, he hoped the House would agree to the second reading, and refer the consideration of the details of the measure to a Committee upstairs.

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


who had given Notice of his intention to move that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months, said, that he interposed mainly because he had no personal interest whatever in the Bill. Since he had put down his Motion for the rejection of the Bill on the second reading, he had been asked by several hon. Mem- bers why it was that he proposed the rejection of a Bill of this kind, when this very subject of the rates now charged by railways was under consideration by a Committee recently appointed, and which was sitting upstairs for that very purpose at the present moment. His answer to that, in the first place, was that there might be some hope that that Committee would be able to get through its work in time to report in the course of next year; while, in the meantime, this Bill, or any similar Bill, if pressed, would become law in the course of the present Session. Therefore he felt justified in protesting at this stage of the Bill against the increase proposed to be charged upon certain articles specified in the Bill, and he thought that the increase was proposed in such a manner as to be specially objectionable in detail. Now, as a matter of fact, some time ago this Railway Company did increase its rates, exactly in the same manner as it now proposed to obtain the sanction of law for doing, and it did so without the authority of Parliament. In consequence of the Company having taken that step, the people of the neighbourhood brought the matter before the Railway Commission, and the Railway Commission heard the case. He believed some points were also taken to the Court of Session in Scotland, and after protracted litigation it was decided by the Railway Commission and the Court of Session that the Company had not power to make these charges. The result of the decision of the Railway Commission was that the Railway Company now came to Parliament, and asked for leave to make this very increase of rates which the Railway Commissioners forbade them to make as illegal. The proposals they now made were, in the first place, to increase the rates of carriage on certain artificial manures. That was a matter of the greatest possible interest to all connected with agriculture in this country. But there was another proposal in the Bill which was of far greater interest, and of much greater importance, and it was one by which they endeavoured to increase their maximum rates. The part of the proposal to which he ventured to make the strongest objection was that by which the Company asked to be able to increase their rates for the use of stations and sidings, for the loading or unloading of goods, the warehousing and the wharfage of goods, and other incidental accommodation. That was, he ventured to say, a totally new principle in a Bill of this kind. It was a fact, as stated in a paper circulated among Members by the Great North of Scotland Company that morning, that there was a precedent for that course; and that precedent, he believed, was to be found in the case of the Staffordshire Railway Bill, which became law in the course of last Session. But in that case it became law under circumstances which were totally different. It was done by agreement between the traders and the Railway Company, who met together, and agreed upon certain terms, which were incorporated in the Bill. Without such an agreement he ventured to say that such a novel principle would never have been introduced. But, in the present case, it was sought to introduce that novel principle without any such agreement, and contrary to the opinion of those who were personally concerned in the matter in the neighbourhood. If that principle were agreed to, it would constitute a most fatal precedent in respect of any future Bill, by which any Railway Company might seek to acquire similar powers. He therefore thought he was justified in entering his protest against the principle at this stage of the Bill, in the strongest terms. The hon. Member for Aberdeen (Dr. Webster) said that the Bill was an Omnibus Bill. He (Mr. E. Stanhope) warned the Committee that if they did not take the opportunity, after the second reading, of expunging from the Bill the obnoxious proposals he referred to, he and those who took an interest in the agricultural prosperity of England would come down and do their best to reject it at a later stage. He should not, at present, move the Amendment which he had placed upon the Paper.


said, that as his name was on the back of the Bill he would like to say a few words upon the subject. The objection to the Bill was purely one of rates. When he was asked to put his name on the back of the Bill he was not aware of any proposal to increase the rates; but he understood that it was simply a Bill for the extension of the railway through a district in which a railway was very much required. The proposed line would pass through about 13 miles of rich agricul- tural district; it would pass through several fishing villages, and would terminate at the town of Buckie. That town was a very important port. A harbour had recently been constructed there at a cost of £50,000, which had attracted a great number of fishing boats and a considerable amount of coasting trade. It would, therefore, be considerably unfair for the inhabitants to deprive them of the advantage of a railway on what, after all, was a purely technical question, which could be decided upstairs. He ventured to say that there was no precedent for attempting to throw out a Bill of this kind, on the question of what should be charged for the carriage of a ton of guano or a sack of oats. A good many of them had had experience in connection with Committees upstairs. He himself had had a little; but he would appeal to Members who had had more experience than he had had, whether questions of this kind did not come up daily in Private Bill Committees. There was nothing exceptional in the provisions or character of the Bill. With regard to terminal charges, he did not see why the Railway Company should not have the advantage which many other Railway Companies had, of having these terminal charges. It would be too long a story to enter into a history of that subject at that hour; but all the Company asked was power to levy the usual terminal charges, and nothing exceptional. That was his justification for supporting the second reading of the Bill. There was nothing exceptional in the powers asked for. Even if there were, it would be extremely unfair to throw out the Bill, and deprive a large district and population of railway accommodation, which was greatly needed, when the question might be easily dealt with by a Committee upstairs. He thought that the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. Stanhope) had taken a wise course in declining to divide the House. If the hon. Gentleman had gone to a division, he (Mr. Duff) was confident the House would not have adopted the unusual course of rejecting the Bill, and of establishing a new precedent, upon such trivial grounds as those which had been stated.


said, he should, in a very few words, give his reasons for moving the rejection of the Bill. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Banff (Mr. R. W. Duff) that the objections to the Bill were trivial, because the extra charges which this Railway Company proposed to impose on the agricultural produce would probably amount to 2s. per acre on the rent of land under crop in Aberdeenshire. The hon. Member for Aberdeen (Dr. Webster), in moving the second reading of the Bill, seemed to be under some misapprehension, because, if he understood the hon. Gentleman correctly, he said the Bill was unanimously approved in the district. In point of fact, there was a public meeting called in Aberdeen of all the parties interested in the matter; and, of course, these parties were the landlords, and traders, and farmers of Aberdeenshire. At that meeting the Chairman of the Company came forward and stated the grounds on which they wished to have the rates increased as proposed under the Bill. After hearing the Chairman of the Company patiently and fully, the meeting resolved almost unanimously that it was inexpedient, improper, and unnecessary for the Railway Company to ask for the proposed increase of rates, and further appointed a Committee to oppose the Bill before a Committee of that House. He thought there were three dissentients to the Motion. There would be between 100 and 200 gentlemen present, and he understood the three dissentients were gentlemen more or less directly connected with the Railway Company. The hon. Member for Aberdeen had also said the Company proposed no increase of the rates on agricultural produce. He ventured to think the hon. Gentleman had not read, or, at the least, not fully understood, what the Bill proposed. It proposed to increase or to levy new terminal charges upon all kinds of produce and goods carried by the railway. He had in his possession a document showing what the increase would be in case the Bill were passed. He found that in one case from one station to another the Company would have the power to increase the charge from 3s. 6d. to 4s. 11d.; in another case, from one station to another, from 5s. 4d. to 6s. 9d.; and in another case from 7s. 6d. to 8s. 11d. This was an increase, not only upon agricultural produce, but upon all kinds of goods carried by the Company. Originally, the Company were bound to carry all kinds of manure at a maximum rate of 1½d. per ton. Some years ago they got a Bill through Committee without opposition, under which they increased the charge from 1½d. to 2d., and now they wished by this Bill to raise the charge from 2d. to 2½d. per ton. It could not be urged that the Bill was required to pay the shareholders a dividend, because he might mention that upon that branch of the railway in which he was particularly interested the shareholders already received dividends at the rate of 10 per cent; and upon that branch it was proposed, nevertheless, to increase the rate from 1½d. to 2d. He ought to explain that the original capital of the Company bore a very small proportion to the preferential charge upon it, and that the original shares were actually selling at a premium if account was taken of the stock which had been allotted to the shareholders without any payment. It was very hard that the people of Aberdeenshire should be under the necessity of coming here to oppose before a Committee of the House, at considerable expense, the attempt to make this increase of rates particularly at a time of agricultural depression. The charges which the Company were entitled to levy were quite as large, and larger, than the rates which any other Railway Company of Scotland had power to levy. Also the proportion of profit that this Company had upon its traffic was larger than that of any other railway in Scotland; therefore it was evident that, even at the present rates, the Company had a larger proportion of profit than other railways in Scotland. Under the circumstances, he considered he was justified in moving the rejection of the Bill.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, that, so far as the North Staffordshire Railway was concerned, it was simply a case of nil profits to the shareholders, and the position of the Company resulted in an application to Parliament in 1879 for an adjustment of the rates. As long as the proposal was opposed the Company found themselves unable to obtain what they sought; but, subsequently, the matter became one of compromise and agreement between the traders and the Railway Company. Therefore, when the two cases were compared, it would be seen that there was no parallel between them, and it would be unfair to take the case of the North Staffordshire Railway as a precedent for warranting an increase of rates in this direction.

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. J. W. Barclay.)

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


The Board of Trade will have to report to the Committee on the provisions of this Bill when it comes before the House of Lords in accordance with the Standing Orders of this Assembly; and perhaps I may now be permitted to say what is the view we take of the matter. In the first place, I have to object to the argument of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay). I understand him to say that the Railway Company propose to take some increased powers of charging, and that their prosals should be rejected, because they already pay 10 per cent on their undertaking: I am informed, as a matter of fact, that the Great North of Scotland Railway Company, so far as regards their main undertaking with which this branch is connected, do not pay anything at all.


I said that portion of the line which forms the Dee side branch, and in which I am specially interested. That, I believe, pays its shareholders 10 per cent.


I object altogether to this argument of my hon. Friend; and I think it is unfair to this Railway Company to say that because one of its branches is enabled to make a profit out of the passenger traffic to Balmoral, the tourist traffic, the Company should be precluded altogether from applying to Parliament to consider whether they should not be placed in a position which would enable them to make some slight profit on their main undertaking. I quite agree in another remark, that the questions raised by this Bill are of very considerable importance; but I may point out to the House that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Dr. Webster) stated, this is an Omnibus Bill, and it would be undesirable to refuse the Company the opportunity of going to a Committee for the powers they seek, unless there were the very strongest kind of objection to the proposal. As the Bill is drawn, there are clauses giving power to the Company to increase their terminal rates, and to make additions to their maximum charges under various heads; and I must say that, having carefully considered these clauses, I do think the form in which they appear is extremely objectionable. I am told, and I think the Company will accept the statement, that in justification of their proceedings they have based these clauses on some clauses which appear in an English Railway Bill. But, as has already been pointed out by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope), these clauses were introduced with the assent of the traders of Staffordshire; and they ought not, therefore, to form a precedent for any other Railway Company. Representations have been made to this Railway Company in respect to these clauses; and I have the authority of the Chairman for saying that the Company will be willing, when the case goes into Committee, to withdraw them, and to substitute clauses known as the "model clauses," with regard to terminal rates. These model clauses, of which, I think, Lord Redesdale was the author in the first instance, are to be found now in the Acts of almost every railway in the Three Kingdoms. Whether these clauses are in themselves good or bad is not for me to say; but it does appear to me that it would be hard indeed to refuse to this Railway Company the opportunity of having its proposal placed before the Committee, merely because it introduces into the Bill powers which have already been taken by almost every other line of railway in the Kingdom. If any proposal is adopted which, it has been suggested, the Committee appointed to inquire into the question of railway rates may make, I can only say that the Act of this Railway Company—the Great North of Scotland Company—would be subject to any fresh legislation just as much as all other Railway Companies; and, in fact, there is now inserted in every Railway Bill a clause which enacts that all rates taken by the Bill should be subject to any fresh legislation on the part of Parliament on the subject. Under these circumstances, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the Amendment he has made for the rejection of the Bill. If he declines to do so, I think it will be my duty to vote in favour of the second reading, in order that the Bill may go before a Committee.


hoped the House would not agree to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), but would allow the Bill to go before a Committee. The hon. Member for Forfarshire had informed the House that there had been a large public meeting in Aberdeen, and that it came to the resolution of opposing the second reading of this Bill. He would read to the House the resolution that was come to at that meeting. It was as follows:— That the following gentlemen be appointed a Committee to consider that portion of the Bill of the North of Scotland Railway which proposes to increase the rates on agricultural produce. The meeting did not come to any agreement to oppose the Bill on the second reading, as stated by the hon. Member for Forfarshire; but the only part of the Bill to which objection was taken was that which proposed to increase the rates for agricultural produce. He would now read the Petition of those gentlemen sent to this House in regard to the Bill, which was as follows:— Your petitioners therefore humbly pray your Honourable House that they may be heard by their counsel before the Committee of your House. He thought that entirely disposed of the remarks of the hon. Member for Forfarshire on that subject. He must remind the House that the hon. Member did not represent a single one of the persons interested in this Bill. He must also correct the hon. Member opposite (Mr. E. Stanhope), who stated that the bulk of opinion on the part of those interested in the railway was opposed to the Bill. Now, a great majority of the people who were interested in the railway were his constituents; and he had heard nothing whatever on the subject of opposing it. It was an Omnibus Bill, and the extension of the line to Buckie was its main feature. He hoped the House would consent to read it a second time.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 227; Noes 36: Majority 191.—(Div. List, No. 166.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed.