§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Dodds.)
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he rose to oppose the second reading of the Bill, and to move as an Amendment, that it be read a second time on that day six months. By the Bill it was proposed to increase the rates and charges to be made in future in regard to certain commodities which were necessary in the successful conduct of agriculture. The rates and charges in question were to be imposed upon artificial manures. All Railway Bills dealt with this question; but, as a rule, it was provided that all manures should be carried at a certain rate. In this Bill the word "common" was inserted before the word "manures," and the effect was that exceptional charges were imposed in the case of artificial manures compared with what had hitherto been the practice. Unless he could secure an alteration in this respect he should certainly feel bound to oppose the second reading of the Bill. He hoped, however, that the promoters of the Bill would not persevere and insist on making this alteration in these charges. They must be perfectly well aware that the agriculturists felt strongly upon the subject, and that the rates and charges imposed upon agricultural commodities was already a matter of serious complaint, and inflicted great hardship upon those who were engaged in agricultural operations. He begged to move that 955 the Bill be read a second time on that day six months.
§ 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. Chaplin.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
said, that he was one of the backers of the Bill, and he supported it not in the interests of the promoters, but on behalf of the public. He was quite as desirous as any other hon. Member could be that the public should make the best terms they could with the Railway Companies; but, at the same time, he wished to point out that this was not the extension of the powers of an existing railway. It was a Bill to authorize the construction of a new railway; and it seemed to him that the agricultural interest of the county of Rife would benefit very largely by the passing of a Bill of this kind, which brought a new railway into the district in competition with another railway which now enjoyed a monopoly of the carrying trade. Without saying whether the charges proposed to be imposed on chemical manures were right or wrong, he thought that the question raised by the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. Chaplin) was one that could be readily dealt with by a Committee upstairs. The House was aware that a Committee sat last year to consider the question of Railway Rates. One of the recommendations of that Committee was that the authorities in future should draw the attention of the House to any Bill which proposed an increase of rates. That recommendation, however, had not yet been adopted, and until action was taken by the House upon the Report of the Select Committee, he thought they must continue to trust to the Committees upstairs to which these Bills were referred. He understood that the words objected to in regard to the rates and charges were not, as a matter of fact, a part of the Bill; but it was proposed to insert them in Committee. Therefore, he thought the Committee would be the real and proper tribunal for dealing with the matter. He understood that some time ago the Great North of Scotland Railway Company applied for powers similar to those asked for in this instance; and, although 956 it was an existing railway, the question was referred to a Committee upstairs and decided there. He hoped that hon. Members, however reasonably and justly they might object to the proposed rates, would reserve their objections until the Bill was sent to a Committee, and that they would do all they could to facilitate the passing of a Bill which, by authorizing the construction of an entirely new railway, would afford new means of transit to the public, and enable a competition to be undertaken with another Company which now enjoyed a monopoly of the carrying trade. Under all the circumstances of the case, he hoped the House would pass the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, that he had had the honour of serving upon the Select Committee upon Railway Rates last year, and this was one of the questions which came before that Committee. It was a very important question, and one which seriously affected the agricultural interests of the country. As it involved a principle which might become of very general application, he thought the safest course would be to stop the Bill in limine. It was contended on behalf of the Railway Companies that there was a distinction between artificial and common manures, and that the rates of carriage in the former case ought to be increased. He certainly failed to see upon what ground such a distinction was drawn. It was said that one class of manures was of a more valuable description than the other, and that it ought, therefore, to pay heavier rates; but he did not understand that the cost of carriage was in any way increased to the Railway Company. At all events, the Select Committee had made no recommendation in that respect. On the contrary, their recommendation only went to this extent—that where a Railway Company came to Parliament for new powers, parties objecting to the tolls proposed to be charged should have a right to be heard before the Committee, and that no such Bill should be entertained without a statement from the Board of Trade or some public authority, in the interests of the public, that the rates proposed to be levied were reasonable. He could not help thinking that the House was somewhat unfairly dealt with on the present occasion in not having received any assistance from the Board of Trade or 957 any of the public authorities. It was quite true that they received a general Report from the Board of Trade in reference to Railway and Canal Bills; but it was little more than a catalogue of the Bills which had been introduced. It was urged that this was a new Railway, and therefore that the promoters had a right to make these propositions in reference to tolls; but it had been settled over and over again, and was a perfectly well established practice, that all such proposals by Railway Companies should be reviewed. He believed that hitherto it had been usual in Railway Bills to insert all manures in one class; but what was sought by this Bill was to take artificial manures out of this classification and place them in another class by themselves. It established, in fact, a new principle, and he hoped the objection which had been taken to it would receive the careful consideration of the House. It was said that the objection ought to be taken when the Bill went before a Committee upstairs. It was all very well to say that it was a matter for the Committee, but see how it would affect the parties interested. They would be called upon to fee counsel, at a very heavy expense in order to bring their case before the Committee. It was a case of general principle and general application, and if the principle were now adopted it would eventually find its way into other Railway Bills, and it would be most difficult for the House to deal with it.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE
thought there was a great deal of truth in what his hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) had stated; but, so far as he understood the question, the case of this Bill was one upon which the House could not possibly decide, because the House was not the proper tribunal to settle a Schedule of Tolls in a Railway Bill. He did not say that the tolls proposed to be charged were fair or unfair; but with regard to manures it was very well known that there was unquestionably a wonderful difference between mere sweepings of the streets of a town, which the local authorities were only too glad to get out of the way under any terms, and chemical and artificial manures, which were worth £6, £7, £8, or even £15 a-ton. Chemical manures required a considerable amount of care; they had to be conveyed in covered vans, and to be carefully protected from the weather. 958 There was so much difference between the one class of manure and the other that in regard to the carriage it was only fair to the Railway Companies that they should charge a higher rate to the public. If the House once took upon itself to settle the Schedule of Tolls in every Railway Bill it would find itself involved in very great difficulties. It was all very well to say that it was a hard case upon people who desired to see that the tolls in the Schedule of a Railway Bill were right and fair to compel them to appear before a Select Committee; but it was only what the public had had to do from the very commencement of railway legislation. So far as he understood the matter, there was nothing very special or very peculiar about these tolls. The Bill proposed to charge a higher rate for the carriage of artificial manures than for common manures; but that was not a matter with which the House should be called upon to deal. It was a question essentially for the consideration and decision of a Committee upstairs. The great question would arise of what the services rendered by the Railway Company were. In the case of one class of manures it might only be necessary to remove them by direction of the local authorities for a few miles out of town at a low rate of carriage. The Railway Company would render hardly any service whatever beyond the carriage. In the other case, that of artificial manures, they would be required to warehouse them, to convey them under cover, and to warehouse them again at the other end. He hoped the House would allow the Bill to go to a Committee upstairs in the usual course.
§ MR SCLATER-BOOTH
remarked, that the Schedule of Tolls which the Bill proposed to impose involved important considerations of public policy; and, unfortunately, experience showed that Select Committees could not be trusted to safeguard the interests of the public in this respect. This was a public question, and not a local question at all; and, unless it was brought before the Committee in some authoritative shape, there was no security that that Committee would enter upon the subject at all. What was it that they had found out in the Select Committee on Railway Rates and Fares? They found out that clauses in Railway Bills against the interests of the public had crept in from 959 time to time, because the subject had not been brought specially forward by someone interested. As he had said, he did not think it was a local question at all. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) said it was in the interest of the county to have a second railway, and for the people of the district affected to say whether the tolls were properly charged or not. But that was not the question at all. The question was whether the matter was to be allowed to be passed over without a word being said about it. If it was, it might be that a precedent would be established which would be followed by other Railway Companies who would quote the precedent set up in the present case, and the result would be that artificial manures would be placed in a classification higher than other manures, and higher than the tolls already sanctioned by other Acts of Parliament. Eventually the sufferers from the precedent so established would be the public. Public attention having been called to the question, he thought it was necessary that the House should have, either from the promoters of the Bill or from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, an assurance that the matter would not be permitted to pass through the Select Committee without being thoroughly sifted, and without the attention of the Committee being specially drawn to it by the President of the Board of Trade. Whether or not this was in accordance with the usual practice of the Board of Trade he did not know. The general assent required from the Board of Trade to Railway Bills was, he was afraid, merely something of a perfunctory process. What was wanted was something more. Last year the President of the Board of Trade found himself unable to deal with the whole subject of the Report of the Select Committee on Railway Rates and Fares; and it was highly desirable, pending legislation upon that question, that the right hon. Gentleman should give an assurance that he would take on himself the duty of having brought under the notice of the Committees appointed to investigate Railway Bills every provision by which an increase of rates was proposed.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
There are two questions which have been raised in the discussion upon this Bill. One is 960 the local question which concerns the particular Bill under discussion. That is really a simple matter, although it may involve an important principle, and in reference to it I think I shall be able to make a proposal which will be satisfactory to the House. But there is also the general question which has been raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) and the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) as to the action of the Board of Trade, or of some other Government Department, in reference to the provisions of any Railway Bill which proposes a change in the classification or amount of rates. Let me say, in the first place, that it was the custom of the Board of Trade, until the last few years, to make a Report on every Railway Bill brought before the House. These Reports were sent to the Committees upstairs; but they were treated by such Committees merely as a matter of form, and thus the practice came to be of not the slightest value. A great deal of unnecessary trouble and labour was caused to the Department, and last year they were finally abandoned. If it is considered desirable that the Board of Trade should make a Report upon these and similar Bills, I think it is necessary that the House should go further and give some sort of Instruction to the Committee that the Report of the Board of Trade should be taken into consideration. Even if the House is prepared to go as far as that, the subject will be a difficult and complicated one to deal with. In the first place, it must be understood that any Report of the kind applies to all rates, and not simply to the case of rates upon agricultural produce or manures. It will apply wherever a Railway Company proposes to increase its rates. Whenever an old Railway Company makes such a proposal, it is perfectly easy for the Board of Trade to call the attention of the Committee to it; but a difficulty arises in the case of a new railway which proposes new rates. In such a case there are two questions which the Board of Trade would have to determine, first, whether the rates are an increase of the ordinary and existing charge, and I will take by way of illustration this question of manures. It is a fact that the rates now in force on different railways vary, and it would be a very difficult thing to say whether the 961 particular rates and classification adopted in a new Bill could properly be called an increase or not, because there were precedents for exactly similar rates and classification in existing Bills. On the other hand, there are precedents follower rates and a different classification. And that is not all. The Board of Trade has to take into account the particular circumstances of the new railway. For instance, a new line of railway may be made at a cost double that of an existing line, and it would be perfectly fair for the promoters to demand a higher rate than in the case of a railway which can be more cheaply and economically constructed. I find, therefore, that the question involves a large amount of detail and consideration, and I am not certain that any tribunal can be found to deal with it so good or so competent as a Select Committee of the House of Commons, with power to call evidence and sift the matter thoroughly. The only improvement which I think can be made upon the existing practice is in the nature of a suggestion which has been thrown out already, that there should be on all occasions some sort of Report from the Board of Trade. That we should be willing to undertake if the House would accompany the request with some kind of Instruction to the Board to report with regard to the Bills now before the House. There are a number of precedents for such a course. As regards the question immediately before the House, there are 11 Bills in which this altered classification and these increased rates have been adopted. I do not say whether that precedent ought to be followed in the present case; but it is clearly a matter that ought to be discussed upstairs. In order to meet the objection that the Select Committee may overlook the alteration in the classification, or the increase of the ordinary rates proposed by the classification, I shall be quite willing to undertake, in this particular case at all events, that a special Report shall be made by the Board of Trade, calling attention to the fact that an alteration of the rates has been made.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
confessed that he was disappointed at the speech which had just been delivered by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. The attention of the Board of Trade had been specially called 962 to this question by the Report of the Select Committee on Railway Rates; and he had hoped that when the right hon. Gentleman rose he was about to lay before the House some distinct policy upon the matter, and to tell them how the question was to be dealt with. But the right hon. Gentleman had, after all, only suggested to them that the way in which the difficulty might be met was by laying before the Select Committee on these Bills Reports from the Board of Trade, to which Reports the right hon. Gentleman told them, with great truth, Select Committees in former years had paid no attention whatever. That might be a satisfactory course in the view of the right hon. Gentleman; but it was not at all satisfactory to the House, and especially to those who represented the agricultural interest. Their reason was this—they felt that Select Committees could not be altogether trusted in the matter. The question of rates upon manures might be one of no particular interest to any of the parties who went before the Committee, and the questions which the agricultural interest desired to raise might not be brought prominently under the notice of the Committee, who would consequently pay no attention to the complaint. But the question was one in which the general public was interested, and in which the agricultural public was specially interested; and, so far as he could test the feelings of Members who represented county constituencies, it was their determination not only to oppose this Bill, but every Bill of a similar character which attempted to increase the rates upon manures. The right hon. Gentleman told them that certain precedents had already been established. He was very sorry that was so, and that such a precedent should have been allowed to have been created. The real truth was that it was extremely difficult for a private Member to observe the clauses of all the Private Bills that came before the House, and some of them invariably escaped notice. He was not disposed to deny that there might be in this Bill some provisions which would benefit the general public, and would not hurt the agricultural interest in any way. It was not their desire to prevent those portions from becoming law; therefore, he would suggest to the House that as this question had now been raised in a manner 963 which would call the attention of the public to the important issues involved, they should now adjourn the debate until a future day, and take it up at a time when it could be thoroughly discussed and understood. He begged to move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. E. Stanhope.)
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
asked the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade if it was his intention to secure that all the Railway Bills should be referred to the Board of Trade, or only those which involved this particular question of an increase of rates?—because he (Sir Baldwyn Leighton) wished to point out to the House that although there were only a certain number of Bills which raised this particular question, there were before the House this Session Bills which involved the principle, he believed of some 480 miles of new railways. He believed that many of them were on all-fours with the Bill they were now discussing, and would come under this special proposal. Therefore, he wanted to know, if the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman was adopted, whether it would only apply to this Bill, or whether he intended it to apply to all Bills coming under a similar description? He (Sir Baldwyn Leighton) hoped the House would agree with the proposal of the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. Chaplin), unless they got some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that he would take charge of these Bills in order that the question of rates should receive proper consideration.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
In answer to the hon. Member for South Shropshire (Sir Baldwyn Leighton), I may say that I intended to make it quite clear that what I propose is this—that the Report of the Board of Trade, which I have suggested, should apply to all Bills falling within this category, which have been introduced in the present Session, and which propose an alteration in the ordinary classification of the rates affecting agricultural manures. I pointed out that the principle of such a Report would apply to all rates whatsoever; but I am not prepared at this moment 964 to propose to the House that the Board of Trade should be called upon to report upon all Railway Bills. My only object was to get over the present difficulty, and to insure that this particular matter was specially inquired into. The Board of Trade will be quite prepared to make a Report upon any changes which have been made in the classification of agricultural manures.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, that his name appeared upon the Paper as opposing the second reading of this Bill, and he wished to apologize to the House for not having been in his place when the Bill was called on. Unfortunately, when he was coming down to the House there was an accident to his carriage, which prevented him from reaching the House in time. With regard to the general question, he did not gather from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade—
§ MR. SPEAKER
The noble Viscount must confine himself to the Question of the adjournment of the debate.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
said, he only desired to make one observation. He did not gather from what the President of the Board of Trade stated that his answer to the question addressed to him would be satisfactory to those who opposed the second reading of the Bill. He therefore trusted that the House would consent to the proposition of the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln (Mr. E. Stanhope), and agree to the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
expressed a hope that the House would agree to the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Stanhope). This was an important question, and it was desirable that it should receive some consideration in the country, and by those who were interested.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE
rose to Order. He wished to know whether the hon. Member was confining himself to the Motion before the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member must confine himself to the Question of the adjournment of the debate.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, that he was suggesting that the proposal which had been made for the adjournment of the debate was a very proper one, for the purpose of giving the promoters of the Bill an opportunity of stating whe- 965 there they were prepared to adhere to the proposition contained in the Bill now before the House. He thought that the debate ought to be adjourned, not only in regard to this Bill, but also in regard to the other Bills which raised the same question. It would be most inconvenient to adjourn upon one and not upon the other; and it was quite possible, if they were to refer any of these Bills to a Select Committee, without the Report which the President of the Board of Trade had promised to make, that the whole of the leading features of the objectionable clauses might not be dealt with.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, lie hoped the promoters of the Bill would agree to a short adjournment, in order that the Board of Trade might consider whether, pro hâc vice, they would send a representative from that Department to consult with the Committee.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Perhaps I may be allowed to point out what I understand to be the state of the case. What we are asked to do is really to take care that we do not pass these Bills without attention being called to any changes proposed to be effected in the classification of the rates. What the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) suggests is, that I should do much more in the matter, and express the opinion of the Board of Trade whether the change is desirable or not, and have our opinion represented before the Select Committee either by counsel or otherwise.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I presumed that to be what the right hon. Gentleman meant—namely, that a representative of the Board of Trade should attend the Committee and give evidence. Of course, that is the only position in which he could appear before the Committee at all. Now, I do not think I should be quite prepared to take that course. My desire is that the Committee should have the matter brought under their notice; but I do not desire that the Board of Trade should express an opinion, and advocate that opinion before the Select Committee.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
desired to say one word before the matter was disposed of. 966 He wished to suggest a reason why it was desirable they should adjourn the debate, and that was in order to give the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade an opportunity of considering further whether, in pursuance of the fourth recommendation of the Railway Rates Committee, some provision might not be made affording Chambers of Commerce and others interested on behalf of the general public a locus standi to appear before the Select Committee.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
remarked that, in the interest of the promoters of the Bill and of the public, he saw no objection to the adjournment of the debate, if it were understood that it would be only a short adjournment for not more than one week.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Tuesday 6th March.