Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [21st May],
That where a Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, or other similar body, sufficiently representing a particular trade or business in any district to which any Railway Bill relates, petition against the Bill, alleging that such trade or business will be injuriously affected by the rates and fares proposed to be authorised by the Bill, or is injuriously affected by the rates and fares already authorised by Acts relating to the Railway undertaking, it shall be competent to the Referees on Private Bills, if they think fit, to admit the Petitioners to be heard, on such allegation, against the Bill, or any part thereof, or against the rates and fares authorised by the said Acts, or any of them: The provisions of this Order relative to rates and fares already authorised, extend to Traders and Freighters, and to a single Trader, in any case where a locus standi would have been allowed to them or him, if this Order had not been made: Nothing in this Order shall authorise the Referees to entertain any question within the jurisdiction of the Railway Commissioners."—(Mr. B. Samuelson.)
And which Amendment was,
To leave out all the words after the first word "where," to the end of the Question, in order to insert the words "an application is made by a Railway Undertaking for Parliamentary powers, attention shall be directed by the Board of Trade to the proposed, and, in the case of an existing Company, to the existing rates or fares, with a view to their consideration by the Committee; and that persons affected by such rates or fares shall have a 'Locus Standi' before such Committee,"—(Mr. Laing,)
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, that, in rising to continue the adjourned debate on the Resolution in favour of the New Standing Order moved by his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson), he wished to remind the House that the proposed Standing Order was based, not only on a recommendation of the Railway Committee which 579 sat two years ago, but also on a Resolution which, had been passed unanimously by the House last year, and which received the approval of the Board of Trade. The proposal now made by his hon. Friend was to give effect to a Resolution passed by the House on the 4th of May last. It would be in the recollection of the House that the debate was adjourned on the last occasion on the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, on the ground that he was about to introduce a Bill which was to deal with the whole of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Railway Rates. That Bill had since been introduced; but it did not deal with the point to which that particular recommendation of the Select Committee and the Resolution of the House applied, and with which the New Standing Order now proposed by his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury proposed to deal. He did not intend to discuss the provisions of the Railway Regulations Amendment Bill, further than to point out that that Bill did not deal with the subject to which the New Standing Order was intended to apply. The Bill which had been introduced by his right hon. Friend proposed to give to any Railway Company the power to come to that House with amended rates and classifications, which amended rates and classifications were to be considered by a Committee of the House. But that was entirely optional on the part of the Railway Companies; there was to be no power to compel Railway Companies to come forward with such Bills for a revision of rates and classification. Therefore, the Bill, even if it became law, would fail to provide a remedy for the evils which were proposed to be dealt with by the New Standing Order. The New Standing Order proposed that where a Railway Company came to Parliament for new privileges or increased powers, the traders should have a right to invite the attention of the Committee to the existing rates and charges of such Railway Company, and to complain of any abuse of the powers and privileges which that Railway Company already possessed; and if the traders were able to make out a good case, then the Select Committee should have power to deal with such rates and fares. There could be no doubt that in many cases 580 there was a necessity for such an interference with the existing rates and charges. A great many of the Acts of Parliament under which the Railway Companies were now levying tolls were of very ancient date. A new state of circumstances had in many cases arisen. New industries had sprung up, whilst many kinds of goods were now carried in vastly increased quantities. It was, therefore, desirable that, from time to time, the rates of the Railway Companies should be revised, and brought more in accordance with modern experience, and to meet the new necessities of the case. On the other hand, it might be said that such powers were already exercised by Railway Companies in their own favour. From time to time Railway Companies came to that House asking for increased rates and charges, and sometimes for new powers and privileges. Such questions were considered by Committees of that House; and in certain cases, due cause being shown, Railway Companies had obtained power to charge increased rates. What the traders were now asking for was a corresponding power on their side to secure that when a Railway Company came to Parliament asking for further powers and privileges, the traders on the other side should have the power of appearing before the Committee and complaining in respect of charges the Rail way Company was now making under the powers which it already possessed. He thought such a power would be beneficial not only to the traders, but also to the Railway Companies. It would give to the traders an opportunity of laying before the Railway Company, and to the Railway Companies an opportunity of hearing, all the circumstances of each particular case in a better way than any which was now provided; and, of course, it would give the traders the power of insisting on their views with some effect, and of obtaining the opinion of a Committee of that House, whether they had just cause of complaint against the Railway Companies, and whether the power of the Railway Companies ought not to be modified. The door which the New Standing Order proposed to open up would be the only opportunity offered to the traders to state their case before any tribunal. The Railway Commission had powers only in respect of terminal charges and certain other questions of a similar 581 kind; but they had no power to deal with maximum rates—at least, it had not been so held; and, therefore, practically, this Standing Order would afford the only opportunity the traders had of obtaining the consideration of the rates and powers which the Railway Companies now possessed. When the Resolution was under the consideration of the House last year, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade said he had no objection to it, although he held that some provision might be necessary to protect Railway Companies from being harassed by traders. Now, he had observed, in his experience, that the Board of Trade was always very anxious to protect the Railway Companies from being harassed by traders. He had noticed that in more cases than one the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had interfered in that House to protect and defend Railway Companies from reasonable attempts, on the part of the traders, to obtain a bearing, in directing the attention of the House to certain Railway Bills in which their interests were injuriously affected; but he had not observed that the Board of Trade was equally anxious to protect traders from being harassed by Railway Companies. There had been a good many cases in recent years in which Railway Companies had come to that House asking for increased rates, increased privileges, and increased powers, and he had not observed that the President of the Board of Trade had interfered to protect the traders from the attempted increased rates proposed by the Railway Companies. In more cases than one the Railway Companies, after being defeated by the traders at great expense, had from year to year come before Parliament with Bills to a similar effect, until at last the traders, worn out by the long purse of the Railway Companies, had been compelled to submit to increased charges. Such being the circumstances of the case, he thought it was only fair that the traders should have an opportunity of stating their case before Committees of that House; and if they were able to establish a good case before Select Committees, then the Committees should have power to give redress. Was there any danger whatever in the Railway Companies being 582 harassed by the traders? On this point he appealed to all who had any experience of the enormous expense involved in appearing against Railway Companies before Committees of the House; and he was satisfied that no trader would be likely to go before a Committee unless there was a very good cause for his appearance. In the debate which took place when the Resolution was introduced last year by his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson), the President of the Board of Trade objected to such questions being referred to Committees of that House. He (Mr. Barclay) had certainly been very much surprised at the objection, because they all knew that the railway rates and charges had been fixed by Committees of that House. He did not mean to say that a Select Committee of the House of Commons was a perfect tribunal in such cases; but he had not heard that any more competent tribunal had ever been suggested. He was of opinion that Committees should have power to revise the existing rates and charges in favour of traders as well as of Railway Companies. The question of railway rates was one which was occupying more and more the attention of the country. In the present depression of trade and agriculture, and the great competition now prevailing all over the country, the charges made by the Railway Companies formed an important element in carrying on business; and while no one would desire to prevent the Railway Companies from making a fair charge for the conveyance of goods and for the services they performed the traders had a right to see that they were fairly dealt with by the Railway Companies, and in cases where they thought they had a good case to appeal to a tribunal of that House. He hoped the House would be pleased to pass the proposed Standing Order, which would give an appeal to Committees of the House, not only in the interests of the traders, but also in the interests of the Railway Companies, because he thought a revision could not fail to be of great service to the Railway Companies themselves. It must be important to them to have the grievances of the traders thoroughly discussed, and the attention of the Railway Companies 583 brought, even by the application of some pressure, to bear upon the points which were raised by the traders. Therefore he thought, if this Standing Order were passed by the House, the result would be to remove a good many of the anomalies which now existed in connection with railway charges. He did not believe it possible, by any general Bill, to provide for a complete revision and classification of railway rates or the classification of goods generally; and he was afraid that to pass a general Bill would result in producing greater anomalies than those which now existed. Their only hope of securing a reform of the railway system seemed to him to be by dealing with the charges by degrees in such a piecemeal way as had been suggested; and when Railway Companies came before the House, asking for new Bills, that would be the best opportunity of considering the powers, rights, and privileges which such Companies already possessed. No doubt it would involve a very considerable expense to the traders, and the traders would not come forward to oppose any Bills before a Select Committee unless they thought they had good cause for doing so, and for asking that the rates and charges should be revised by a Committee after due consideration. In such case, there was every reason to hope and expect that the new rates would be so adjusted that they would remain undisturbed for many years to come. He did not think there would be the slightest ground for apprehending that the traders would incur a very great expense for the simple purpose of harassing the Railway Companies; and, such being the case, he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would modify the objections he had raised to the Resolution of last year. As the Board of Trade had failed to exercise control over the rates and charges on behalf of the traders, he trusted the traders would be allowed an opportunity of looking after their own interests.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE
said, that on rising to take part in the debate he wished, in the first place, to say that he sympathized very strongly and very decidedly with those who thought that the public had every right to be protected against unreasonable railway rates, and 584 that any railway rates which came before the House should be carefully revised by the House; but while he held that opinion, he was afraid that he could not go further with his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), who had spoken just now, and his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson), who had brought forward this proposed modification of the Standing Order. In fact, it seemed to him that this endeavour to make things better would only have the effect of making things worse. As regarded the debate of the 4th of May, he would recall the recollection of the House to the few hon. Members who were present in the House at the time, and to the fact that it was a most unsatisfactory debate. Three or four times the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury was attempted to be counted out; and he (Sir Joseph Pease) had left the House under the impression that the Motion would come to nothing at all, being simply a reiteration of the charges made before the Committee on Railway Rates and Fares which had been distinctly dealt with by that Committee, when the complaints against the Railway Companies were made and answered, to a great extent, to the satisfaction of the Committee by witnesses who were called on behalf of the railway interest. That Resolution of the 4th of May certainly stood on the Books of the House as a Resolution of the House; but it was a Resolution which had been obtained in the most unsatisfactory way it was possible to obtain the passing of a Resolution. His hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) had stated that the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade did not make any provision in the direction of this New Standing Order. That Bill was still before the House, not having, as yet, been withdrawn; and he was, therefore, afraid that he was not in a position to discuss in a straightforward manner the propositions which it contained; but any Bill brought in by the Government would, as a matter of course, not deal with those points which could only be dealt with by a Standing Order; and therefore the hon. Gentleman was quite correct in saying that this question was not included in the provisions of the Government measure as well as some 585 other recommendations of the Committee on Railway Rates, and that it must necessarily, if it were dealt with at all, form part of a Standing Order of the House. The fact that railway fares and rates had existed without alteration for a considerable number of years would not, of itself, render it necessary that they should be altered now; and the argument of the hon. Member was altogether a new doctrine to him. He had been brought up in one of the oldest railway schools, and was connected with one of the first railways constructed in the Kingdom. The fares originally proposed upon that railway had remained unaltered, and still gave satisfaction to the traders who made use of it. He was speaking in the presence of his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson), who used the railway to which he referred to a very great extent, and his hon. Friend would contradict him if his assertion were not strictly accurate. Therefore, he did not think it followed, as the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) seemed to imply, that because some of the rates and charges were old they must necessarily require revision. His hon. Friend also spoke of the Board of Trade as the protectors of the Railway Companies. He entirely demurred to that assertion, which was altogether a new view to him. He had been under the impression, all his life, that the Board of Trade, as far as their powers were concerned as between the Railway Companies and the public, held the scales very evenly between the Companies and the public, endeavouring to see that the Companies did not trespass on the rights of the public; but, whilst seeing that the public were duly protected, also taking care that the Railway Companies had fair play, subject to the regulations which the Board of Trade had power to impose from time to time. He entirely demurred to the statement of the hon. Gentleman that this proposal would, in any way, carry out the Report of the Committee on Railway Rates and Fares; and he wished to meet it, as far as possible, by the recommendations contained in that Report. The Report had been very carefully prepared. The Committee sat for a very long time, and there were upon it only seven Members connected with the railway interest out of a total number of 27 Members. The Committee 586 came to a general conclusion, which deserved the consideration of the House. Among their recommendations was one which emanated from his hon. Friend the Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), whose views on these questions were generally sound, and who took an active part in the preparation of the Report. The passage he referred to was as follows:—Your Committee are of opinion that in all cases of Bills for authorising new lines of railway, or extending the powers of existing Companies, the attention of the Committees on such Bills should be impartially directed by some public authority to the rates and fares either authorised by such Bills, or, in the case of existing Companies, by previous Acts; and that such Companies should have power to alter, modify, and regulate such rates and fares in the interest of the public, and with due regard to the interests of the existing Companies. That for this purpose a locus standi before Parliamentary Committees should be given to persons affected by such rates and fares, and complaining of the same.The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade stated very distinctly how difficult it would be for any public officer to examine into these rates and fares. But what the Committee intended was distinctly that the responsibility should rest on a public body. One reason why he demurred to his hon. Friend's Standing Order was that it only added piecemeal legislation instead of doing that which the Committee had endeavoured to do—namely, to place the rates and charges and the classification of railway rates on one and the same basis, by laying down a standard of rates and fares, so that all new Acts of Parliament should contain provisions in conformity with that standard, whereby the traders would be protected, and whereby there would be general supervision over the railway charges. There were many means of accomplishing that object. The same Committee proposed that the question of terminal charges should be decided more in favour of the Railway Companies than they had hitherto been. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, in his present Bill, or in any future Bill brought in, would no doubt take care that the privileges of the Railway Companies were fairly dealt with, and not handed over to the Railway Commission, unless they came under some positive enactment which required them to bring their rates and fares be 587 fore some tribunal competent to deal with the question in a fair and impartial manner. His hon. Friend the Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing), who now moved an Amendment to the proposed Standing Order, wished to insert these words—Where an application is made by a Railway Undertaking for Parliamentary powers, attention shall be directed by the Board of Trade to the proposed, and, in the case of an existing Company, to the existing rates or fares, with a view to their consideration by the Committee; and that persons affected by such rates or fares shall have a 'locus standi' before such Committee.Now, his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) had drawn up in the Report of the Committee on Railway Rates a clause which was practically similar in effect to that of the hon. Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing), and which provided that any person should have a locus standi to appear against a Railway Bill as the representative of a Chamber of Commerce or a Chamber of Agriculture, or of individual traders, and that he should have a right to be heard, not only against any powers proposed to be conferred upon a Railway Company, but against the powers which the Company already exercised under a special Act. His hon. Friend had, however, voted with the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) against his own Resolution, being satisfied with the clause of the hon. Member, which was embodied in the Report, and believing that the recommendations of the Committee were more satisfactory than his own. Then, what was it that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) proposed on behalf of the traders? He thought his hon. Friend hardly realized what he was about to do in this proposal. It was inconvenient to discuss a question like this on a point affecting a Standing Order when the subject involved a great question of principle. The Standing Order of the hon. Member would enable a number of traders, or a Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, or some other similar body representing the trade of a district, to petition against any Bill promoted by a Railway Company, if it could be alleged that a particular trade or business would be injuriously affected by the rates and fares proposed to be authorized by a Bill, or was injuriously affected by rates and fares already authorized. For instance, if the Great 588 Western Railway Company came to Parliament for a Bill to authorize them to buy a piece of land for the purpose of increasing their station accommodation, the whole of the charges, rates, and fares imposed by that Company might be made a subject of investigation by a trader whose interests were connected with South Wales, although the Bill itself might apply to Exeter. A similar case might arise in his own neighbourhood. For instance, a merchant sending corn to Newcastle from Carlisle would be able to have the whole of the charges of the North Eastern Railway Company investigated by a Select Committee if they proposed to add some small loop-line, purely for the accommodation and benefit of the public. If his hon. Friend carried this Standing Order he would certainly do that which the House had no wish to do—namely, he would prevent Railway Companies from coming to Parliament at all for powers to enable them to provide increased accommodation for the public. The House must remember that Bills were being constantly introduced into Parliament by Railway Companies solely in favour of the public, such as the construction of small lines and works required in different localities, not so much for any advantage which accrued from them to the Railway Companies themselves, but for the increased accommodation they afforded to the public. He would ask if it was likely that a Railway Company would apply to Parliament for powers of that kind if every dissatisfied trader was to be at liberty in such a case to invite the attention of a Select Committee to every charge imposed by the Company promoting the Bill? At present, if the Companies made improper charges it was in the power of the traders to bring them before the Railway Commission; and if this Standing Order were passed it would be almost impossible to draw a line between what belonged to the Railway Commission and what belonged to the Committee. What they were really seeking to refer to this tribunal were questions affecting the income which formed the foundation of the £800,000,000 which had been invested in railways. It was not merely the question of dividends to the shareholders; it was well known that the capital invested in railways in this Kingdom only yielded a net dividend of about 589 £4 4s. per cent; but if they were going to allow Committees of the House of Commons to deal with matters of this kind they would at once upset all the security which now existed in shares and debentures, and they would be doing just as much wrong as if they attempted to carry out a general principle of confiscation. What was the tribunal to which it was proposed to refer these matters? First of all, the Court of Referees were to decide whether the traders had a locus standi. A locus standi was to be given to any Chamber of Commerce or to any individual trader, provided the Referees agreed and the complaint itself did not come under the powers of the Railway Commission. The Court of Referees was composed of three Members appointed by the Speaker—two permanent officials of the House and the Speaker's Standing Counsel. It was a Court set up by the House in order to deal with questions of locus standi, in order to prevent a Committee of the House of Commons from, trying difficult questions of locus standi, and to provide a Court for deciding what were really questions of Committee practice. What was it they were now going to ask the Court of Referees to do? He had not one word to say against the Court. Every one of the members composing the Court was a thoroughly efficient officer of the House, and most of them were members of long standing; but it was proposed to give them an entirely new duty—namely, that of deciding whether a Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, or any individual trader, had a primâ facie case for petitioning against any Bill introduced by a Railway Company, and of enabling such Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, or individual trader, to raise before a Select Committee the whole question of the Company's rates and fares. Consequently, the Court would have power to give a locus standi to any individual to be heard before a Select Committee. Well, the question would have to go before the Committee, and the Committee would have to deal with it, not as Parliament would deal with it, in a general measure—because the President of the Board of Trade would not by his Bill allow a Railway Company to take possession of the charges for terminals until they had come to Parliament and had their rates revised—but it would give them an ab 590 solute power of dealing with the whole of the tolls at present imposed by the London and North Western, the Great Northern, or the Midland Railway Companies. Under this Standing Order every toll imposed by a great Railway Company could be fought by a trader, or by a competing Company at the suggestion of a trader, and in that way they would be handing over to a Select Committee the power of dealing with these questions, which ought only to be exercised by the House itself. He thought there could be nothing more serious than a proposal to deal with great and important questions affecting the property of the country by handing them over to such Committees as this. It must be borne in mind that questions might be raised which might have the effect of materially lowering the interest upon railway shares and railway debentures. He was afraid that if his hon. Friend carried this Resolution he would be doing great injury to the trade of the country. He would undoubtedly prevent Railway Companies from coming to Parliament, where they only came now, as a rule, in order to secure for the public additional accommodation. It was piecemeal legislation of this kind of which the public had a right to complain, and which, at the same time, the Railway Companies would be glad to get rid of. What they really wanted was that there should be universal classification, if they could possibly obtain it, and that was the object of his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade in bringing in his Bill. The Standing Order would also prevent a general standard of rates from being fixed. It was proposed that some permanent authority should deal year by year with these Bills in the interests of the trader, whether the trader came or not—and on that point there was some doubt—but he took it for granted that he would come, because the great object of this Standing Order was to get him to come. If, however, he did not come, then the matter was left entirely in the hands of the Committees and the Companies themselves, and it would be impossible to prevent anomalies. If the House adopted the plan laid down by the Committee on Railway Rates, and laid down after careful consideration, there would be some consistency of action, because the Railway Companies would be brought under 591 one system of railway rates and fares which everyone could understand; and not only would the interests of the public be guarded, but those of the shareholders and of the Railway Companies themselves. He hoped he had not trespassed too long upon the time of the House; but while he felt sympathy with the object which his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) had at heart, he could not support the proposed modification of the Standing Order, which, instead of making things better, would only have the effect of making them worse.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
I was surprised to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) declare that the traders never had any assistance from the Board of Trade in their differences with the Railway Companies. I certainly do not think that the Board of Trade is a Body intended solely to consider and favour the representations of the traders. As my hon. Friend behind me who has just spoken has said, it is a Body intended to hold the balance evenly, and, while protecting the traders, at the same time to protect the just rights of the Railway Companies. My hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire is certainly a little ungrateful. I have just brought in a Bill, about which I will only say that it contains nine-tenths of the demands which have been put forward from time to time on behalf of the traders. That Bill has been denounced by both sides. I read the other day an account of a meeting, at which Sir Edmund Beckett declared that Bill to be confiscatory and revolutionary in its character, and calculated to harass the Railway Companies. A Circular has been sent round to shareholders which has brought letters to hon. Members in all parts of the House, denouncing the Bill of the Board of Trade, and urging that legislation of so novel a character should be at once rejected. Now, I think there is some exaggeration in this view of the case; but I think it is rather hard to find myself criticized and condemned from both sides. On the one hand, I am told that I have no regard for the interests of the trader; while, on the other hand, I am at the same time denounced by the Railway Companies for confiscating their property. My hon. Friend says, and says very truly, that the proposal of my hon. 592 Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) is based on the recommendations of the Railways Fares Committee. That is true; but the recommendations of the Railway Fares Committee must be taken as a whole, and what I protest against is the evident unfairness of taking one of them which would press hard on the Railway Companies, while, at the same time, we refrain from giving effect to others, some of which are intended for the relief of the Railway Companies. I do not deny, for a moment, that there are cases of oppressive and anomalous rates established by Railway Companies. No doubt they are due, in part, to the circumstance which has been mentioned by my hon. Friend—that the rates were fixed a long time ago, and have not been altered since. I believe, however, that it would be for the interest of the traders, and of the Railway Companies also, that those rates should be revised. But, on the other hand, it would also be to the interest of the public that the revision should be complete, if at all. What I object to in the Resolution of my hon. Friend is that, in the first place, it proposes only that rates should be dealt with which are supposed to be, or on the allegation that they are, unfavourable to the traders; and that, on the other hand, the Railway Companies should have no power whatever of dealing with the rates when they complain, as they do at the present time, that the amounts allowed to them are insufficient to provide a fair remuneration for the services rendered. I have always considered that the two things ought to be treated together; and in the proposal which I have made to the House I think I have shown a method by which that result may be arrived at. Then I object to another feature in this proposal. The revision proposed to be made would be, as the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) has pointed out, a piecemeal revision. The Railway Companies would never know what to expect; there would never be the slightest prospect of tranquillity for them; they might this year have the whole of their rates revised, and next year, when they brought in a Bill, a further revision might be demanded. That would be, it seems to me, really harassing legislation, against which the Railway Companies have a right to protest. My hon. Friend says 593 there are occasions when the Railway Companies come to the House to ask the Committees to revise the rates and charges in their favour; but my hon. Friend omitted to say that in all such cases the Board of Trade makes a Report to the House on such matters, in accordance with the suggestion thrown out by the Railway Rates and Fares Committee. I will go a step further, and I may state that my objection to my hon. Friend's proposal would be very much modified if he confined his claim to a revision of the rates of the Railway Companies to cases in which the Railway Companies applied for additional rates, or for a revision of the rates. That would be more in accordance with the principle I have laid down as fair to both parties. But that is not the case. The proposal of my hon. Friend is that when any Railway Company comes to Parliament for a Bill, no matter what the purpose of that Bill may be, the whole of its rates and fares shall be subject to revision. Now, see how that proposal would operate. Over and over again cases come before the Board of Trade in which it is found necessary to urge upon Railway Companies, in the interests of the traders, or for the public safety, to undertake additional works, such as providing level crossings, or in some other way to increase the accommodation of the public. The answer we have had made to us is this—"It would be impossible for the Railway Company to do that without going to Parliament for a new Bill." Now, I never admitted that that was a sufficient answer; but I confess it would be an almost unanswerable contention if the result of the application of a Railway Company to Parliament for power to give additional accommodation to the public were to involve any penalty of this kind upon them, in regard to the alteration of their rates. I agree with what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease), that the adoption of the proposal of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) would be distinctly against the public interests, for undoubtedly the Railway Companies would never come to Parliament if they could avoid it; they would only come to Parliament in cases of absolute necessity, and thus the Bills which are now passed by the House to give additional 594 facilities to the public would be stifled in their inception. I think this Resolution of my hon. Friend is at least premature, and I would prefer to rely on the support of my hon. Friend to the provisions of the Bill which I have laid before the House. I believe that Bill deals justly with all the interests concerned. I do not say that it is perfect, or that it is incapable of amendment by the House or by a Grand Committee; but at least it does provide, in the first place, for facilities in the interests of the traders for getting rid of anomalous and excessive rates, and, at the same time, it gives to the Railway Companies the remedy they want in cases of being required to give accommodation never contemplated in their original Acts. In that way it would, if passed in its present form, or with Amendments, provide a settlement of the question for some time to come. Until we can see our way to a more complete settlement, I do not think it would be wise for the House to adopt the proposal of my hon. Friend.
§ MR. PEMBERTON
said, he apprehended that at present the House was discussing the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing) to the original Resolution moved by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson). He thought both, the Amendment and the original Motion, were objectionable; and he hoped his hon. Friend the Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing) would be induced to withdraw his Amendment, in order that the House might decide, as he hoped it would, upon rejecting the proposition made by the hon. Member for Banbury. He should like to point out, in a few words, the difference there was between the Amendment and the original proposition, and to state very shortly the objections which he thought ought to induce the House to reject the Resolution. The proposed Standing Order entirely overlooked and omitted an important qualification which the Committee upon the question of rates and fares inserted as a condition of appearing before the Railway Commissioners—namely, that the Commissioners should be possessed of a certificate from the Board of Trade that the Chamber of Commerce, or whatever other Body it was, was a bonâ fide Association. The Amendment of the hon. Member for 595 Orkney covered that point by providing, as a preliminary to the hearing of a Petition, that the Petitioners should be in possession of such certificate from the Board of Trade. He understood that the Board of Trade felt themselves unable to deal with this question, and proposed that it should be left to some other tribunal. Both the original proposal and the Amendment appeared to him to be most objectionable, for the reasons which had been pointed out by previous speakers. Certainly both of them would equally prevent the development of railway improvements. As had been already pointed out, supposing a Railway Company—the London and North Western, or any other large Company, came to Parliament for half-an-acre of land for increased station accommodation, they would be liable to be subjected to a revision of all their rates and fares at the instigation of a Petitioner who had nothing whatever to do with the project before the House. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had pointed out that a proposal to provide additional accommodation at Exeter might be objected to by a trader in Wales; but the hon. Baronet had understated the case. This Standing Order would give power to any Petitioner interested in the existing rates and fares to open up the whole question; so that a season ticket holder, or a man who had a return ticket, or anybody who had the most remote interest in travelling on a particular line of railway, if that railway proposed to take fresh powers in reference to a station, possibly 300 miles from the place in which the Petitioner lived, he would have power to call for a revision of the whole system of rates and fares which had existed for many years, and probably under half-a-dozen Acts of Parliament. But it was not merely in reference to that question of revision, but to the Court and tribunal by which the revision was to be made, that he thought the principal objection applied. The recommendation of the Committee on Railway Rates stated that the certificate of the Board of Trade would enable anybody to be heard; but the proposal now made was that without any certificate whatever any Petitioner—and he was not now distinguishing between a trader and a private individual—any Petitioner coming before Parlia 596 ment was to be referred to the Court of Referees to decide the question whether, although the Bill before Parliament had nothing whatever to do with rates and fares, the whole system of rates and fares might not be gone into. Well, that was to be done, and the revision was to be made by a tribunal of this description. His hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had given a short outline of its constitution; but the House would remember that the Court of Referees was originally constituted for an entirely different purpose. It was originally constituted merely for the purpose of examining into the details of Railway Bills, Water Bills, and Private Bills of that description, in order to see that the engineering works were properly provided for, that the estimates were sufficient, and to examine into the quantity and quality of the water, &c. proposed to be supplied. He thought it was about the year 1868 that the powers of the Court of Referees were altered. The powers originally given to the Court of Referees were then referred to the Committee who heard the Bill on its merits, and the functions of the Court were changed by requiring them simply to decide questions of locus standi on every Petition against a Private Bill. That was to say that the Court originally constituted to decide whether, according to the practice of the House, a Petitioner was entitled to be heard, in order to make the system uniform and establish one general system, should decide under what circumstances a Petitioner should be entitled to be heard against a Private Bill, who had petitioned against such Private Bill upon its merits. What was now attempted to be done was this—that in every Petition, however frivolous, or however small the interest of the Petitioner in the matter, the Court of Referees was to be put in the position of the Railway Commissioners, and was to decide on the whole question of the fairness and equality of the rates of every Railway Company which might happen to promote a Private Bill in Parliament. Of course, the Court of Referees, he was sure, would be most anxious to do its duty, and would spare no labour to do what the House required; but he thought it must be perfectly obvious to the House that it was a Court which was never 597 intended, and was not competent, to discharge such duties. He had no wish that the Court should escape from any work the House might see fit to impose upon it; but on putting additional work upon its shoulders it would be well to consider the nature of the work and the qualification of the Court to discharge the duty in a satisfactory manner. As to the broad principle, whether upon Petitions of this kind it was right that the whole system of past legislation should be gone into, that was another point. It might be very doubtful whether people who had invested their money in railway debentures, preference Stock, and other kinds of security would consider themselves very fairly treated. It was true that when they made their investments they had no right to expect that the railway rates and fares then in existence were to be permanent; but at least they had a right to think that those rates and fares, with the possibility of their being diminished, should be considered by a proper and competent tribunal, and should not be brought into dispute at the instigation of anybody who happened to be a season ticket holder on the railway in which their money was invested. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) had alluded to the grievances under which the traders laboured. That, he believed, was owing to a misconception which, at one time, the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) also laboured under. Both hon. Members appeared to be under the idea that Chambers of Commerce and Chambers of Agriculture, according to the Rules of that House, were not entitled to be heard before the Railway Commission. That was altogether a misapprehension. All Chambers of Commerce, and all Chambers of Agriculture, if they fairly represented any one interest or trade in any locality, were always heard. All that the House did by the Court of Referees was to refuse to hear persons who chose to call themselves a Chamber of Commerce or a Chamber of Agriculture if they could not show that they had any interest whatever in the trade of the district affected. He hoped, therefore, that the House would consider that, however right it might be to revise the system of railway fares and rates now in existence, the proposal to do so by a Court which had never been constituted 598 for that purpose, and certainly was not competent to do so, was a proposal which ought to be rejected, and that this question of railway rates and fares, if it were to be dealt with properly, should be raised either under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade or by some properly constituted tribunal, either a Royal Commission or a Committee competent to deal with it, and appointed for the purpose of going into the whole question, instead of dealing piecemeal with the subject in the way proposed by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson).
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he had no wish to detain the House for more than a moment; but he thought that after the speech of the President of the Board of Trade they might very well rest the question upon the ground upon which he had put it. What the Railway Companies objected to so much in the matter was not the revision of their rates and fares, but to be subjected at all times, and under all circumstances, to have these questions perpetually brought up. Another thing was that whenever it was done it should be done by a competent tribunal, and a fair settlement arrived at finally by a competent authority, so that there might be an end to the matter. They objected very strongly, and he thought they were right in their objection, to anything in the nature of piecemeal legislation on a subject of such vast importance. In his opinion, the interests of the Railway Companies and the interests of the traders were not really antagonistic, but were very much the same. He was in favour, and always had been, as far as trade was concerned, of making the best terms with all the customers who could be induced to come. That was the only and proper way in which trade could be carried on; but after the speech of the President of the Board of Trade they might well rest the matter on the ground on which the right hon. Gentleman put it. No one could improve the position in which the right hon. Gentleman had placed the matter before the House, and they ought not to take from the Report of the Railway Fares and Rates Committee one recommendation only without dealing with the whole.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
remarked, that, with reference to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Member 599 for South - West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), although he was not there to say that if he had proposed to deal with the question by Standing Order he should have treated it in the way it had been dealt with by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson), still he did not think it was open to the objection which had been raised against it by the right hon. Gentleman and by the hon. Member for East Kent (Mr. Pemberton). In the first place, the hon. Member for East Kent spoke of the Standing Order as enabling anyone having the smallest possible interest in any part of a line of railway to petition against the Bill, no matter what the object of the Bill was. But when he read the proposed Standing Order it appeared to him that its scope was much more limited. It said—That where a Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, or other similar body, sufficiently representing a particular trade or business in any district to which any Bail way Bill relates, petition against the Bill, alleging that such trade or business will be injuriously affected by the rates and fares proposed to be authorized by the Bill, or is injuriously affected by the rates and fares already authorized by Acts relating to the Railway undertaking, it shall be competent to the Referees on Private Bills, if they think fit, to admit the Petitioners to be heard, on such allegation, against the Bill, or any part thereof, or against the rates and fares authorized by the said Acts, or any part of them.In regard to that part which applied to the Court of Referees, the Court would have to satisfy themselves that the Petitioners did represent a particular trade or business, and it went further by requiring the Petitioners to satisfy the Court that they represented a particular trade or business in the district to which the Bill related. He, therefore, took it that if the Standing Order was open to exception, the exception did not apply to that part of it, but to the second part, which stated—The provisions of this Order relative to rates and fares already authorized, extend to Traders and Freighters, and to a single Trader, in any case where a locus standi would have been allowed to them or him, if this Order had not been made.The only parties whom the Standing Order permitted to apply to the Court of Referees were Chambers of Commerce or Agriculture, or other similar Bodies representing a particular trade or business in the district to which a 600 Railway Bill related. The other traders would be left in precisely the same position as that which they occupied now, and they must show that they had an actual locus standi. That was certainly his reading of the proposed Standing Order; and he thought it was not open to the objection which had been urged against it by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) and the hon. Member for East Kent (Mr. Pemberton). He thought it was desirable to call the attention of the House to the state in which the question was left when the debate upon the previous occasion was adjourned. That debate was adjourned on the promise of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to bring in a Bill dealing with the whole of the questions included in the recommendations of the Committee on Railway Rates. He himself had hailed that declaration and that promise with much satisfaction, because he, too, thought there were objections to dealing piecemeal with questions connected with the Railway Companies, and the only justification for dealing with them in this manner was that there was no chance of having the question completely dealt with in the present Session. He must say that he had been very much disappointed at the tone of the speech which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman that day. He had expected to hear something more definite as to the prospect of passing that Bill. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that, because a few objections had been raised to some of the provisions of the Bill, it must therefore be put on one side owing to the advanced period of the Session, and the blame for the loss of the measure had been indiscriminately cast on everybody. It was an unreasonable thing to expect that a Bill of this nature dealing with so complex a subject was likely to receive approval from everybody concerned in it. With regard to the opposition to the Bill from the traders' point of view, he could not help saying that it had been dealt with in a very fair spirit, with every endeavour, as far as possible, to meet the objections that were raised to it. He was not present at the interview between the traders and the President of the Board of Trade; but he believed that their objections to the Bill, as it stood, were 601 gone into at that interview, and he had had something to do with framing certain other Amendments, which, if the Bill went on, were intended to be brought forward. They had been framed from a desire and with the endeavour to improve the Bill—not to make the grave objections entertained to parts of the measure an excuse for destroying it, but to introduce Amendments in the hope that the Bill might be carried. He believed that if a satisfactory measure could be carried it would do a great deal both in the interests of the Railway Companies and in the interests of the traders. He supposed they might infer from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that day that he did not see any chance of pressing the Bill forward that Session, and they would probably hear to-morrow that it was one of the measures which the Government had decided upon abandoning. Under these circumstances, the House had now to consider what their position was. His own opinion was that the consideration of the recommendations of the Committee on Railway Bates and Fares was urgently required, and as it was now impossible to deal with the whole Bill it was desirable to take up such parts as could be dealt with by a Standing Order; and the reason for selecting this particular recommendation was that it was the only part of the recommendations of the Committee on Railway Rates that could be dealt with by Standing Order, and which did not require an Act of Parliament to carry it out. It could be dealt with by Standing Order in the same way that another important recommendation was dealt with last year by the Standing Order proposed by his right hon. Friend the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth). He saw no reason why they should not be able to deal by a Standing Order with the position of the Railway Companies not only in regard to new rates, but also in connection with existing rates. He had placed on the Paper a Standing Order to follow that of his right hon. Friend. If the Standing Order they were now considering were carried it might be a question whether it would be worth while to proceed with his Standing Order; but if it were not carried, he certainly thought that he would press his Standing Order upon the consideration of the House. At the 602 present moment, however, he had no desire to carry the discussion beyond the Standing Order now under consideration; and, that being so, it was necessary to deal with the question as it stood when the last debate upon it was adjourned. It would be in the recollection of the House that upon that occasion the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. Bolton), who was one of the ablest Representatives of the railway interest, gave his views on the proposition for the New Standing Order. He put forward two objections on public grounds. The hon. Member told the House that by passing the Standing Order they would really damage the public interest. First of all, because the Standing Order only dealt with part of the Report of the Railway Commission; and next, because it would preclude the Railway Companies from coming to Parliament for further powers for the accommodation of the public. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had made the same objection to the Standing Order that day, and had talked about Railway Companies constantly coming to Parliament for the construction of local lines and small sidings for the public convenience; but that was certainly not the character of the Bills which the large Railway Companies were constantly bringing before the House. As an ordinary rule, they came forward for purposes of their own, and did not apply voluntarily to Parliament in the interests of the public. They came to Parliament because they were forced to do so, compelled by the force of circumstances, and knowing that if they did not bring forward schemes for the better accommodation of a particular district some new line would step in and do the work over their heads. As a rule, it was the competition with which they were threatened by other lines that compelled them to come to Parliament with schemes for the accommodation of the public. He did not think that the passing of a Standing Order in the interests of traders, in order to enable them to obtain further relief, would prevent the Railway Companies from coming forward in the future with railway schemes that were intended to accommodate the public. He therefore thought they might safely disregard that objection. He came now to 603 the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, not with reference to the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced, but with reference to the Standing Order. Taking the Railway Companies in a general sense, the principal objection he had to the present system of maximum rates and charges was not so much to cases of excessive rates as to their condition of excessive and great complication. That was admitted by the right hon. Gentleman in the previous debate. He had said, referring to the London and North Western Railway, that they made their rates under 128 different Acts of Parliament; and he seemed to think that the rates levied under those Acts would have to be dealt with over and over again each time the railway applied to Parliament for permission to carry out a new work, small and unimportant as that work might be. He considered it the strongest possible reason for dealing with the question of rates that traders would have to search 128 Acts of Parliament in order to know what they might be legally charged. He (Mr. Tomlinson), however, thought the right hon. Gentleman had been over-persuaded by the Railway Companies as to the difficulty of dealing with the question of rates. He did not deny that, supposing the Board of Trade had to do with the rates of Companies, they would have some difficulty to contend with; but what he did contest was that the work would be one of such magnitude as was imagined. A great part of the work had been already done at present. In a Return made in 1878 the maximum rates of Railway Companies had already been tabulated. For instance, to take the Great Western Railway. The list of maximum rates in force on different parts of their line took up 20 pages of the large book he had in his hand; the list of the London and North Western Railway Company took up 16 pages; and that of the Midland took up 14 pages. Some of the Railway Companies, on the other hand, had done their part in the work of simplifying their rates. The Lancashire and Yorkshire and the London and South Western were examples of railways that had one scale of rates applicable to the whole of their system. If this Standing Order was carried, the first thing the Chambers of Commerce, or 604 whatever Bodies it was which appeared before the Committee, would draw attention to was the question whether or not the Railway Companies had too complicated a scale of rates. At present the rates were very complicated. For instance, if he wanted to send goods from London to Plymouth, he would have to do with several scales of rates. Ought they not, in estimating whether the rates quoted were fair, to have one main enactment to appeal to. The first object of a Chamber of Commerce or any Body of that kind would have in dealing with the rates of a Railway Company would be to see how far the rates could be simplified; and he (Mr. Tomlinson) would suggest that the proper way of doing that would be by requiring the Companies to provide a standard scale. When they had once simplified the scale of rates the thing would be settled once for all, and would not have to be dealt with again. He need not go into the question of anomalies, as they were all in the Table he had referred to, and which he held in his hand. He could take the London and North Western with one scale of rates from Euston to Preston, and another scale on the main line from Preston to Lancaster, and another on the line from Lancaster to Carlisle. The maximum rate for cattle between Lancaster and Preston was 2d. per mile; but the moment Lancaster was passed the rate the Company was entitled to charge to Carlisle was 4d. per mile. So that the question of rates was full of anomalies. He would wish to draw attention particularly to one branch of this question, which was exemplified by the Great Eastern rates. Looking through their scale, he found they had a general rate for the main line; but different rates for the small lines combined with the main line. Instead of all the little lines throwing themselves into the general scale of the main line, the branches still retained the scale of rates originally fixed, notwithstanding the amalgamation. He thought that even if the Board of Trade grappled with this matter, if their officials applied themselves to the task of simplifying the rates, much might be done without great difficulty for the benefit of the traders. He should support the Standing Order of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson); but if that was not carried, he (Mr. Tomlinson) would endeavour to 605 take the judgment of the House upon the Standing Order he had to move himself.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I wish to address a few remarks to the House on this subject, because I entirely dissent from what has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), who stated his belief that the interest of the traders and the Railway Companies are not antagonistic. They may not be so in reality; but I am afraid there are a great many instances throughout the country — and they were admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon—in which the fares and rates of the Railway Companies are both oppressive and anomalous. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) spoke on behalf of the interests of Railway Companies, and I do not blame him for so doing. It is right that the Companies should be represented in this House; but I would speak on behalf of other interests representedhere—I would speak in the interests of my constituents, and I would say there is a strong feeling among them, especially among the agriculturists, that the Companies do charge rates for the conveyance of produce which are both oppressive and anomalous; oppressive in their amount, and anomalous inasmuch as they give direct advantage to the foreign producer over the home producer. That is a feeling which is widely entertain ed in the country; and no one who has admitted, as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has admitted, that the words oppressive and anomalous can justly apply to many of the rates now charged by the English railways, can deny that something ought to be done by this House to remedy that which is an undoubted grievance. It may be said that if farmers and traders are aggrieved they have their legal remedy; but do the Companies and the public stand on equal terms in this matter? I deny it altogether; it is absolutely impossible for any individual farmer or trader, as at present situated, to deal on fair terms before the tribunals which decide these matters with the great Companies who make demands which are to his disadvantage. A trader or farmer who attempts to do so would simply ruin himself. What is 606 now proposed is to carry out one of the recommendations of the Committee of last Session, and to give certain definite Bodies who have distinct interests in the matter a right to appeal to Parliament when the Railway Company in their district applies to Parliament for fresh powers in connection with their undertaking. It is said—"You are appealing to the wrong tribunal. A Select Committee of the House of Commons or the House of Lords is not a proper Body to deal with this matter;" because, I suppose, they are likely to differ sometimes one from another. But, Sir, however they may differ, the tribunal is one that at present exists, and which at present has these very matters to consider. These are the tribunals that have fixed railway rates and fares in times past. It may be better, and I do not wish to enter into that question now, that all these matters should be subject to revision by one and the same tribunal. That was the proposal in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, which is understood to have been dropped for this Session. If such a proposal should come before Parliament, it should be discussed and decided, and some amendment on the present system might be made; but what we have to do now is to try if, pending that discussion, we cannot do something to remedy an admitted grievance. That is the proposal of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson). It is said, again—"It is not fair to adopt a part only of the recommendations of the Select Committee on Railway Rates and Pares, and base a Standing Order on it to give it the force of law." I do not myself think so very highly of the Report of that Committee as some hon. Members who have spoken in the interests of the Railway Companies. It is, no doubt, very true that the Railway Companies were only directly represented on this Committee by a comparatively small number of Members; but, at any rate, that number consisted of extremely able Representatives. They had at their command some of the greatest talent in the Kingdom; and they produced evidence, made suggestions, and, certainly, in my humble opinion, made such use of the opportunities afforded to them as to bias the Report of the Committee entirely in favour of the Railway Companies.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
I should I like to ask Mr. Speaker whether the question under discussion is the constitution of the late Rates and Fares Committee and the conduct of its Members, or the Standing Order proposed by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson)? The right hon. Gentleman opposite has not said anything relevant to the point before the House.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
I have stated my opinion. I dare say it is not the opinion of the hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Watkin) for very obvious reasons; but it certainly is an opinion very largely shared throughout the country. Now, why should not that part of the Report of the Committee be adopted? It is said—"You are about to adopt that to harass the Railway Companies;" but I would point out that they can, if they like, as has been already observed, apply for increased rates and fares where the existing rates and fares are deemed by them to be insufficient; therefore, if that is so, why should you not give the public, through their authorized representatives—through representatives who have a real interest in the matter—and I do not understand the hon. Member for Banbury would wish to go one step beyond that—similar power to appeal to Parliament for reduction of rates and fares where they are oppressive and anomalous? We are told—"You will deter Companies from applying to Parliament for powers to carry out works and alterations for the benefit of the public." Well, I do not believe in Railway Companies making application to Parliament purely in the interest of the public—I do not believe they are guided solely by considerations of the public benefit. I believe they have, as they ought to have, primarily in view the interests of their shareholders. They will look to their interests in future, if this Standing Order passes, just as they have done in the past. Believing, as I do, that we ought to place the interests of the agriculturists and traders of this country on a fair footing, as against those of the Railway Companies, I am glad the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Samuelson) has brought forward this Standing Order; and differing from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, and my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Asshe 608 ton Cross), I shall support the hon. Member for Banbury in his proposal, if he carries it to a Division.
§ MR. PELL
said, that, as a Member of the Committee which sat on this question, he wished to take up the time of the House for a few moments with a few observations on some of the simple and leading features of the case. The question had been gone into by previous speakers in very elaborate detail, in which he was not disposed, if, indeed, he was prepared, to follow them. They were considering the case of members of the public, who had arrayed against them—he would not say against them, though he was not inclined to agree entirely with the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the interests of the traders were not considered—but he would say members of the public who had to deal with large Corporations possessed of an enormous capital and enormous political and other powers which attached to the possession of such capital. He, for his part, in what he had to say, was speaking in the interest of those who had not, for the most part, embarked their capital in railway enterprize, but who still had to do with railways as merchants and traders. The Motion made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson), to his mind, opened to the public the only available means of dealing with the question they had at present open to them. It presented to them the only method of obviating the grievances under which they suffered which had been proposed for some time. Therefore, it was one which could not be set aside by the statement that they were to have a Bill to deal with the question as a whole. He did not agree with those who said that the method which might be pursued, if the House gave effect to the hon. Member's Resolution, would be vexatious, or that the hon. Member was dealing with only one part of the recommendations of the Committee, and omitting others which ought to be dealt with. He did not think that was by any means a sufficient answer to the case as it had been presented to them by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) and those who supported him. So much of the recommendations of the Railway Rates and Fares Committee which did not apply to the feature of the case they were discussing could be very well dealt 609 with by a Bill, or by an addition to the Standing Order; and, therefore, if there was even a better prospect of the measure proposed by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) being passed into law that Session, he should be very slow to counsel the House to relinquish the opportunity they now had of dealing with this part of the question. What was admitted in this case? Why, it was admitted not only by those who represented the Railway Companies, but by those whom he might be said to be representing now—he had not the good fortune to own a single railway share in the world; but still he was not so selfish or careless of other people's interests as to wish to give a vote which would be detrimental to vested interests, or to the interests of those who had done enormous service to the State and to the public. Still, he wished to point out that what was admitted on all sides was that excessive and partial rates had been established in times gone by. Some of them, no doubt, were due to a state of things in existence many years ago, and which was very different to what it was now. These excessive and partial rates were owing, also, to the neglect of the public in not paying that attention to Railway Bills when they were before that House which they ought to do. The public, he considered, were immensely indebted to the hon. Gentleman who had proposed this Standing Order, and to the hon. Member for Forfar (Mr. Barclay), who also had worked with them, for the way in which they had organized the consideration of this case, and for having engaged such an able man as Dr. Hunter to formulate that case, and present it to the Committee on Railway Rates and Fares, and to the public. He hardly knew how sufficiently to praise the exertions of these Gentlemen, and those who had worked with them. He believed it was really due to what they had done that the House was now able to have an intelligible debate on the subject in the House of Commons. If as much were considered as he asked to have considered, and it was seen that they had rates which were admitted to be excessive, and that no attempt had been made in the House during the past few years to prevent the imposition of exceptional and harsher rates, how was the difficulty to be met? His answer was that they had no means presented 610 to them of meeting it at present other than by supporting the Motion of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson). What were the objections made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade—whom he was sorry had had to leave the Front Bench opposite a little time ago—and those who were with him? One objection was this—and it appeared to be very taking with the House, and a very strong one—that they would have a large amount of vexatious opposition to railways in their attempt to do that which some people would lead them to believe the Companies did not do in their own interest, but in the interests of the public at large. It was said that if the House passed the Standing Order, whenever a Railway Company came to Parliament for an Act an opportunity for vexatious opposition would be given to almost irresponsible people, and one that would interfere with the improvements Railway Companies wished to carry out, and the advantage which the public would derive from the energy of Railway Companies in the future. Well, nobody could attempt to make use of this Standing Order without spending a considerable amount of money. No one would be likely to make use of it except Chambers of Commerce or of Agriculture, and they were not such wealthy Corporations that there was any reason to be afraid of them. That was a great security against the action of litigious people. They had not, however, heard a Word from Gentlemen who represented the Railway Companies of the vexatious interference which one Company exercised towards another when Bills were brought into Parliament. He should have thought that the gentlemen who represented railway interests had not so much to fear from the effects of this Standing Order as they had from the action of the Companies. It seemed to him that their great complaint should be against other Companies interfering with the claims they were making before Select Committees upstairs. Let hon. Members call to mind how the House had suffered from the vexatious interference of one Railway Company with another. He was most interested, as an occupier of land in a railway in one of the Eastern Counties. Some years ago, but since he had been in that House, there was a measure brought forward by the Great 611 Eastern Railway Company. An attempt was made in that Bill to carry a line, working at low rates of carriage and low rates of speed towards the North of England, to bring coal into the Eastern Counties, and supply the East of London without obliging the Coal Companies to make use of the Great Northern or Great Western. It was sought to benefit the consumers of coal in the East of London. Who was it that opposed this scheme? It would never, he took it, have been opposed by those who would act under this Standing Order; but it was opposed by the great Railway Companies who had already got possession of the coalfields and their outlets in the North; and he recollected perfectly well how universally the action of the great Companies was condemned by Liberals as well as Conservatives. Complaints were made on all hands; but they were altogether unavailing, and the district it was proposed to serve with coal at reduced rates was left still un-provided with these facilities. There could be no doubt that the measure proposed by the Great Eastern Railway Company would have been of enormous service to the public if the Bill had been allowed to pass. He maintained, therefore, that the vexatious—if they called it vexatious—interference of one Railway Company with the action of another was most severe and detrimental to the interests of the public. The House need not trouble itself much more about the opposition of Chambers of Commerce and Chambers of Agriculture to the Bills of Railway Companies. If effect were given to the Resolution of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. B. Samuelson), there was plenty of precedents and authority for this proposal. They were asked to consider how their cousins across the Atlantic got on in this matter. Were those Corporations running from one ocean to another—the Central Pacific, the Union Pacific, and the other great through lines—allowed to charge rates detrimental to the public interest? Not a bit of it. He (Mr. Pell) had had the honour of serving upon the Royal Commission on Agriculture—that was, he and the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) had been deputed to make inquiries into this matter. They found that every State in the United States through which a great line of railway ran possessed absolutely identical 612 powers on behalf of the public to interfere with the rates, if they were of such a character as to be injurious to the interests of the community. That power was not an unnatural one, and it certainly had not been found to work to the disadvantage of the American railways. It had given great security and great peace of mind to those cultivating the land and carrying on other industries in the Western States of America. One word more about identical rates. He was not saying whether the rates charged by the Railway Companies were or were not inequitable; but there could be no doubt whatever—it would be admitted and no hon. Member would contradict him, when he said that preferential rates were given to freights which were brought over the sea through an arrangement with the American lines. He could not take the case of live cattle coming from Chicago, because they would not go beyond Liverpool. However, if they took the case of goods which could be conveyed inland—wheat or dead meat—that was a very strong case indeed. The Railway Companies competed one against another for this traffic—it was admitted that they did. The Companies having sea termini competed for this Western traffic, and undercut each other for the purpose of getting it. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had told them that railroad investments, as a rule, paid something like 4¼ per cent. He (Mr. Pell) did not know that that was the case; but if it were correct, the small interest which railway enterprizes returned on the capital invested in them was due to this undercutting in rates. The undercutting and loss made by it could only be made good, and the Companies could only hope to restore it, by exceptionally high and preferential rates upon certain classes of traders. The Companies put rates on English goods in order to meet the low rates at which they carried foreign goods, and upon which they lost so much interest on their capital. If he might say one word as to the great railways running towards the Northern Counties, he would point out that the competition was well understood between the Companies. The lines ran through centres of industry filled with intelligent and wealthy people, with whom, to use a common term, they could not play tricks. As a rule, the 613 rates in such districts were fair. But then they came to another class of railways—those running from London towards the Continent, such as the South Eastern and South Western. He could not speak in the terms of either of those lines that one would apply in referring to lines running towards the North. He was glad to see the hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Watkin) in his place, because as he represented, these lines—
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
I rise to Order. I do not represent any line; I represent the borough of Hythe, in the county of Kent.
§ MR. PELL
said, then he was glad to see in his place the hon. Baronet who represented the borough of Hythe, in the county of Kent, seeing that this borough had availed itself of the services of the lines to which he referred. He took it for granted that the hon. Member's connection with this borough must have given him an intimate acquaintance with the subject to which he (Mr. Pell) was referring, and they all knew how ably railroad interests were advocated by the hon. Baronet. One of the arguments against the Resolution submitted by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) was, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had prepared a Bill on the subject, and it was said—"Why do not you wait for the Railway Bill?" Well, it seemed to him useless to wait for the Railway Bill, as there could be no possibility at that period of the Session, and in the existing state of Business, of such a measure being passed. The time had gone by for that Bill; but the time had not gone by for obtaining some remedy for the very bad state of things under such a Motion as that of the hon. Member for Banbury. Under all the circumstances to which he had alluded, he intended to give his vote for the Motion. Before they proceeded to a vote, let the House recollect that they were dealing with a very exceptional state of things. There were many millions of money—hundreds of millions of capital—embarkod in railway enterprizes in this country; and the interest was, therefore, a great one which required protecting. But there was something else to be considered. The policy of these great Companies had been to put a stop to all other means 614 of intercommunication. There was nothing to resort to now for the purpose of transit but the railroads. The railways had broken down the canal routes in a most insidious and clever manner by buying up small sections and filling them up, rendering the whole systems useless and inoperative. He was not one of those who thought that the canal method of conveying goods could ever compete with the railroads. He could well understand that time was of enormous value in the conveyance of almost every class of goods; and not only did the railroads possess advantage in the matter of time; they could also convey goods more economically than the canals. However, in years gone by, the Railway Companies had not believed that themselves, and they had jealously broken down all other means of intercommunication than that which they themselves afforded. The public were in the hands of these great Railway Companies; and he therefore, on all these grounds, thought the House would not do well without due consideration to reject the Motion of the hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
said, he should not have risen had not the hon. Member for South Leicestershire personally alluded to him. The hon. Member (Mr. Pell), represented the farming interest, and had accused him of representing the railways; but, as a matter of fact, he represented his constituents, and they had pretty well shown, by the evidence they had given before a recent Committee, that they were opposed to any such arrangement as that before the House. One of the stalking-horses of the hon. Members for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) and Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson), and those who thought as they did, was the question of the preferential rates charged on foreign produce as against home-grown produce. Now, some of these preferential rates, such as the cheap rates for the conveyance of lean foreign cattle, were directly in the interest of the farmers themselves. In the case of cheese, these hon. Gentlemen knew, or ought to know, that Cheshire and home-grown cheese brought to London was carried at the same rate as American, when packed in the same way and in similar quantity. Another stalking-horse had been the question of hops, and they had, with 615 regard to that charge, distinctly deluded the House. Hon. Members ought to know that the mode of packing and value of foreign hops was totally different to that of English hops. What were the facts? Why this. Dr. Hunter, whom the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) had so often quoted, had gone into the question, complaining of the charges of the Railway Companies as preferential. But he (Sir Edward Watkin) had had the curiosity to inquire as to the amount received for foreign hops brought to Boulogne, Folkestone, and London; and he had ascertained that the transit receipt was £116, representing about 80 tons; whereas, if he remembered rightly, the South Eastern Company had carried something like 30,000 tons of homegrown hops during the same year. It had been assumed that there was a great commercial grievance in this matter; but in reality there was nothing of the kind. He absolutely denied the existence of any grievance. The rate for foreign hops had been put an end to. What happened? Why, these foreign hops were being conveyed by water to London instead of by railway at two-thirds of the cancelled rate. Thus the hop was worse off than before. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson) had spoken of anomalies existing in the railway rates; he had said something about one Company being regulated by 128 Acts of Parliament.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
Very well. The question was not as to the different circumstances of the railways, their different gradients, and so forth, but as to the actual charge made; and he maintained that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) and the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Mr. Pell) had distinctly begged the question. They had assumed that there was a great commercial grievance where there was none. They had brought forward their charges of anomalies and preference; but similar charges had been brought before the Committee on Rates, and had entirely broken down. He (Sir Edward Watkin) denied that there was any substantial grievance while amongst the 1,000,000, or, indeed, he believed over 616 a 1,000,000 rates which existed in this country there might be a slight anomaly here and there. No doubt there were some anomalies, and it was obvious that among so many rates anomalies could not be prevented from creeping in here and there; but these anomalies and irregularities, he apprehended, could always be put right. He emphatically denied that there was any great and general grievance. What was the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) attacking? It was not the Railway Directors. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Pell), according to his own statement, had not contributed to the construction of any railway.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
understood, then, that the hon. Member had contributed to the building of railways; and he was sorry that the hon. Member was now disposed to eat his own children. The attack was not upon Railway Directors, but upon the shareholders, who were beginning to find out the necessity for combination. The principle of the proposed Standing Order was to get something more out of the Railway Companies than the public possessed at present. If not, what was the meaning of it? The hon. Member for Banbury would say—"We are going to give you some benefit;" but the only benefit this would give them would be to take more money out of the pockets of the railway shareholders. The shareholders were beginning to find this out, as the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) would find when he came to face his constituents on the hop question, a great many of them being shareholders. This was, in reality, a delusion, a case of Mrs. Harris—a case of the three tailors of Tooley Street. There was no substance in the complaint. They were dealing with a body of 400,000 shareholders, whose average holding was only some £2,000 of Stock, and who were getting only a little over 4 per cent for their money. It was not the great ironmasters and the other leading traders of the country who wished to take money out of the pockets of these people, whose enterprize was 617 so essential to the country. The Standing Order would cut both ways, and he was astonished that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) did not see it. There could be no doubt that hon. Members from Ireland who were acquainted with the circumstances of the railways of their country would know exactly how that would be. The railway shareholders had laid out their capital on certain distinct conditions contained in their Acts of Parliament. They desired, if it were alleged that they had not fulfilled their obligations, to be tried by the ordinary Judges of the land, and not by a bastard tribunal like the Railway Commission. The railway shareholder said to them—"If you give me privileges in consideration of my laying out capital, do not take away those privileges without my consent." Would the landowners of the country like to be treated in the way it was proposed to treat railway shareholders? The landowners were endeavouring to make the case against the railway shareholders their own; but would they like to have all their differences tried by a special tribunal? Would they like to be deprived of the right of appeal, when they had laid out money on enterprizes which were regarded universally as one of the great and glorious advantages of the country. The railway shareholders said, further, that if they were to be dealt with in this way, they ought not to be dealt with under a measure the tendency of which was confiscation, without having due consideration paid to their claims for compensation. Yet no one proposed compensation. They were spoken of very bitterly and treated harshly; and if they began to resent it they were looked upon as the enemies of their country, and treated as such, instead of being treated as among the benefactors of mankind. What would have become of agriculture in these days of foreign competition, if it had not been for the Railway Companies? He maintained that the opposite policy to that of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) was the best—entire opposition to the Standing Order, not only on its own merits, but because it would prove injurious to the best interests of the country. The interests of the country, the interests of agriculture, and the interests of trade were to encourage the class of small capitalists—these 618 400,000 railway shareholders—to make more railways, and not to discourage them from laying out their savings to meet growing trade by enlarging transit accommodation.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, the hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Watkin) had made reference to the feeling in his (Mr. Gregory's) constituency on the course which he had thought it right to take on the question before the House, had charged him with misrepresentation in regard to the rates charged in his and the adjoining county, and had warned him that in consequence he would meet with some opposition from those who were interested in the railway question; but, speaking for himself, he should be perfectly prepared to present himself before his constituents and to abide by their decision upon the action he had taken on the question now under consideration. He was quite willing to be judged upon it whenever the occasion arose. The position he had taken was supported by the finding of the Committee on Railway Rates, from whose Report the hon. Gentleman had quoted. It was stated as a matter of fact, not of opinion by the Committee—and he was not aware that any opposition had been offered to the finding of the Committee—that complaints had been submitted to them that on the same railway higher rates were charged for one class of goods than for another, though the cost of performing the service was no greater in the one case than in the other. Numerous complaints were also made that foreign produce was carried at more favourable rates than home produce under similar circumstances, and that produce for export was sometimes carried to the port of shipment at lower rates than home produce carried to the same port, but not for shipment. Thus foreign hops were conveyed from Boulogne, viâ Folkestone, to London at 17s. 6d. per ton, while the charge for hops from Ashford, on the same line of railway, to London, was 35s. per ton. The beef of American cattle slaughtered at the wharf in Glasgow was carried to London for 45s. per ton, while the rate for the meat of home cattle was 77s. per ton.
§ SIR EDWARD WATKIN
said, if the hon. Member would read on he would see this was merely the statement by the Committee—not the findings.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE
said, he was sure the hon. Member did not wish to misrepresent. If he went on a little further he would find the "findings" of the Committee on these statements of fact.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, these were statements of facts upon which the Committee founded their Report. He was willing to read the whole of the Report of the Committee, and quite willing to abide by it. This was a statement of facts which had not been traversed. He was about to refer to a Resolution which he had had the honour of moving in the Committee, and which had been referred to by his hon. Friend. That Resolution was to a very considerable extent in accordance with the proposition now before the House, and by that proposition he was quite willing to abide in all its terms. The words he had used were that the Committee should have power to modify the rates and fares in the interest of the public, having due regard to the interests and rights of the Railway Company, and to any modification of the Standing Order in that sense he would be quite ready to assent. But a Private Bill Committee would fail to do that justice between parties for which it was appointed unless it did have that due regard to the interests of the Company. As to the Resolution itself, he might be allowed to meet one or two objections that had been raised, and to show what the Resolution really was. It had been stated by the President of the Board of Trade that Railway Companies should have an alternative power of raising their rates. But they had that power. They could come to Parliament at any time for power to raise their rates; and he remembered some years ago that throughout the whole system of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company fares were raised in a Bill that received the sanction of Parliament, on account of their being fixed too low to meet the requirements of the Company. The right hon. Gentleman said the Standing Order should only deal with those Companies who came to Parliament for power to raise their rates; but what would be the effect of that? Companies who had high rates would not appear; it would be those who 620 had a low scale of rates and fares would come to have it raised, and in regard to these Companies there would be no sufficient cause of complaint. Another objection of the right hon. Gentleman was to dealing with this question piecemeal; but the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman himself did no more than that, dealing with Companies coming before Parliament and the Commission for further powers. Let the House read the terms of the Resolution and see what the conditions were, and who were to be the parties to bring the Standing Order into operation:—Where a Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, or other similar body, sufficiently representing a particular trade or business in any district to which any Railway Bill relates,"—these were the parties the Committee would have before it—
§ MR. PEMBERTON
said, if the hon. Member would read the last part of the Resolution, he would find it read:—The provisions of this Order relative to rates and fares already authorised, extend to Traders and Freighters, and to a single Trader, in any case where a locus standi would have been allowed to them or him, if this Order had not been made.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he was quite aware of that, and was coming to that point in order; but he would refer to it at once. What was it? A trader would have a locus standi where he would have had a locus standi though the Standing Order were not passed—
§ MR. PEMBERTON
said, he might be allowed to explain. The locus standi he would have had independent of the Order was extended by that Order to cases where he would not have had a locus standi before; therefore, as a consequence of passing this Resolution, everybody, anybody, a trader, an individual, would be entitled to go on his Petition into every question of past legislation.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, it extended it to rates and fares already authorized, while his hon. Friend's contention was the locus standi should extend only to rates and fares to be authorized. Now, the main provision was this—that any recognized Chamber of Commerce, or Agriculture, or Association representing the traders in any district to which the Bill related, was required to show that the trade of the district would be injuriously affected by proposals made, or was 621 injuriously affected by rates in existence, and upon that showing it would rest with the Referees to give a locus standi or not. It would be allowed, he presumed, that the Court of Referees was sufficiently constituted to consider any such claim, and under his hon. Friend there could not be a better tribunal. If necessary, have another; but he did not think it would be necessary to insure the bona fides of those claiming to be heard as representing the opinion that trade interests were or would be injuriously affected by rates imposed or proposed. This was a condition of the Standing Order. An alternative proposal was that a locus standi should be declared on a Report from the Board of Trade; but the Board of Trade declined to deal with it, so there remained only the method proposed, by which parties would have to make out a bonâ fide case, and at the risk of failure and heavy expenses they would make their claim for investigation. He could not help thinking it was a fair and reasonable proposition, and he hoped the House would assent to it.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Sir ARTHUR OTWAY)
I have heard, not without regret, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Gloucestershire (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), which contrasted with some remarks of a very moderate character from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross). The latter spoke in a very dispassionate manner, whereas the right hon. Baronet made a most passionate, and, as I submit, an unjustly severe attack upon the railway interest of this country. Now, I am not concerned to defend that interest against the attack—it seems to me it has sufficient and most able defenders in this House; and I must say I was very much struck with the complete answer given by the hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Watkin), and by anticipation to the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory), in the attack made by the latter on the rates for the conveyance of hops. The hon. Member for East Sussex is far too honourable and just-minded a man to put forward an inaccurate statement knowingly on any subject; but I observe, on looking into the Report of the Rates Committee, that in his citations he did not give 622 what was really the opinion of the Committee on these exceptional rates. But into that it is not my province to enter. I propose shortly to deal with the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson). In passing, and in answer to what has been, said by the right hon. Member for East Gloucestershire, I may say the Motion seems to me to leave out of consideration the real position of the railway interests of this country. They are the largest in the country, and it is hardly possible to conceive, now or at a future time, greater interests than are represented by the railway interest, a Corporation with capital equalling or exceeding the amount of the National Debt, having several thousand servants, giving employment to 1,000,000 men, with an income equalling the Revenue of the Russian Empire; an interest such as this ought not to be lightly attacked, or subjected to observations not well founded. This Standing Order proposed by the hon. Member for Banbury seems to me to be open to several objections. Now, he proposes, in the first place, to give a locus standi to what he terms a Chamber of Commerce, and I should like to know what a Chamber of Commerce is? It is not a term recognized by law; it is not an Association of which we have any cognizance whatever; there is nothing to prevent a few gentlemen acting together, and calling themselves an Association or Chamber of Commerce. A gentleman informed me the other day that in one small market town he mentioned there are two Chambers of Commerce and two Chambers of Agriculture. Now, is such a body to have exceptional privileges in dealing with matters in which the greatest interest in the country is concerned? Now, the Court of Referees, to which reference is made, is constituted in a manner which, I have no hesitation in saying, has the confidence of the House; its proceedings are regulated by practice and precedents of 20 years' standing, and before that Court every bonâ fide trader can show his right or interest to be heard, and there is no necessity for enlarging the locus standi to include parties representing such irregular and ill-ascertained positions as what the hon. Member for Banbury calls Chambers of Commerce or Agriculture. This alone would be an objection, in my mind, to the pro 623 posed Standing Order as it stands. Now, I have so high an opinion of the Court of Referees that I should not at all be indisposed to offer to accept that portion of the alteration if he had joined with it the recommendation made last year, but which, to my surprise, I see he has altogether omitted now, a recommendation that had the sanction of one of the ablest men that ever advised the Chair, and whose services are now unfortunately lost, Sir Francis Reilly. He considered this subject well with the object of reconciling the interest of the Railway Companies with the view of the hon. Member for Banbury; and he considered that the Referees might grant a locus standi, if they thought fit, on the production of a certificate that the body had bonâ fide qualifications to speak on behalf of those whose interests they claimed to represent. But that addition is now omitted from this proposition; and, therefore, any two or three gentlemen can unite to call themselves a Chamber of Commerce, and claim a locus standi under this Standing Order.
§ MR. B. SAMUELSON
It may save a little time if I correct my hon. Friend. These words were accepted by me; but they were distinctly refused by Sir Francis Reilly, and for that reason I omitted them. I am quite willing to accept them now.
§ MR. PEMBERTON
I do not know whether I have any right to interfere; but the words originally proposed by the hon. Member for Banbury were not refused by Sir Francis Reilly, but by the Board of Trade, who said the Department was incompetent to go into the question at all. I make this explanation, because during the illness of Sir Francis Reilly I was ordered by the late Speaker (Sir Henry Brand) to take up that portion of Sir Francis Reilly's work for him, and, to a certain extent, was answerable for the framing of the words of my hon. Friend. But the fact is, it was not Sir Francis Reilly who struck out the words; they were struck out in consequence of the Board of Trade declining to interfere.
§ THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Sir ARTHUR OTWAY)
resumed: That must be the correct statement, for I hold in my hand a memorandum drawn up by the gentleman, whose services we have lost. Chambers of Commerce have always been refused a locus standi, for 624 the reason that they do not directly or indirectly represent the distinct interest of traders, traders of all classes, one class of traders, or individual traders, any of whom can claim a locus standi. Without going further into the matter, I think the reasons are conclusive, and I was never more satisfied with the view drawn up by a competent man than with the view of Sir Francis Reilly on the subject. I am bound to say that it was his suggestion that these bodies should, of necessity, be furnished with a certificate that they represented some interest, some trade, and did not merely assume the name or title of a Chamber of Commerce. That seems to me a real and sufficient objection in itself to the proposed alteration; but what I would wish to put to my hon. Friend is this—it seems to me in a matter like this—and it will recommend itself to a man of his fair mind and judgment—in a matter like this, an interest so large and various, connected with matters so large and complicated in character, it is not right to deal with a question of such magnitude by an alteration in the Standing Orders. If there was no prospect or probability of its being dealt with as it should be dealt with, in a comprehensive spirit by direct legislation, then we might be driven into such a change as that recommended by the hon. Member for Banbury; but we know—I will not say, under the circumstances now existing, that we have a moderate prospect of a Bill of the kind being brought forward and carried to a successful issue; but we know that it is a matter that has been adopted by a Cabinet Minister, and, be it this Government or another Government in power, it will be absolutely impossible to pass this great question by without legislation. That is a matter for my hon. Friend to consider, and that is the only fair and prudent way of dealing with a question so large. On the other hand, my hon. Friend must see that this Standing Order would offer facilities for purposes I am sure he would not allow. Would it be right or fair, for instance, taking such a case as might happen under a Chamber of Commerce, that a man taking a ticket from, say, Willesden to London, the Company charged him 7d. instead of 4d.—would it be right or fair that he should have the power of ransacking those 128 Acts of Parliament of the London and North 625 Western Railway Company, under which their proceedings are regulated, going into other affairs, and putting them to enormous expense and inconvenience for a matter so contemptible as that? You may say such a case is not likely to occur; but I do not know that. I think it would be unwise for the House of Commons to make such a power possible. I do not know what view my hon. Friend will take, but I know that he is a man wishing to deal in an equitable and fair spirit; and I trust, having regard to what has fallen from the President of the Board of Trade, having regard to his own experience, and the knowledge which attention to these matters must have gained for him, that these are vast interests to interfere with. I trust he will see that the best and proper course, not prejudicing the interests he represents, would be to withdraw his Motion for this Session, and let the matter be dealt with in the only manner it can be properly dealt with, by a comprehensive Bill. I do not know that it is necessary to continue to prolong this debate, and I am sorry it was introduced to-day; but I make all allowances for the interest my hon. Friend takes in this subject. I observe on the Orders of the Day three Bills of the greatest practical interest affecting the Sister Country, Ireland, and in which Irish Members are greatly interested. I am very sorry so much time has been taken away from the discussion of measures of such a practical character as afforestation in Ireland. If the suggestion I have thrown out is accepted, I can only say it is my conviction that the matter will not be allowed to sleep, but will be dealt with at the earliest opportunity open to a Minister to deal with it.
§ MR. B. SAMUELSON
said, he did not know that it was necessary to make any lengthy observations in reply to speeches made during the discussion, seeing that hon. Members who had taken part in the debate on behalf of the railway interest had, none of them, denied that a revision of rates, if not necessary, was desirable. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Watkin) was the only objection; but he denied that he was a Representative of the Railway interest, and claimed only to represent the borough of Hythe. The Chairman of Committees in his speech made one or two 626 statements that necessitated a few words in reply. First, he would explain that before he put down the terms of his Motion he took every pains to consult authorities on matters of procedure; and if the words which the Chairman of Committees would like to see inserted were omitted, that was done at the instigation of the hon. Member (Mr. Pemberton), representing at the time Sir Francis Reilly. He had not the least objection to having these words restored; but he believed the objection was not simply that the Board of Trade declined to interfere, but to the calling in of any authority outside the House on the question as to who should or should not have a locus standi. But the Chairman of Committees forgot that the words substituted fully met the case. The words in the Motion were—A Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, or other similar body, sufficiently representing a particular trade or business, in any district to which any Railway Bill relates.Thus, unless, in the opinion of the Referees, a Chamber of Commerce sufficiently represented the trade or business, locus standi would not be allowed. With regard to other similar objections, he really thought they should have been stated at the time when the terms of the Motion were given. He made every endeavour to settle the text in a satisfactory manner; and if the Standing Order was to be passed, he did hope that not too much would be made of technical points of detail, but that the Motion would be considered on its merits. He was told he had better wait and see what legislation could do. But legislation could do nothing upon this point; it was a matter for Order of the House—not for legislation. An attempt was made by the President of the Board of Trade to meet this by legislation. And how? He proposed that the Railway Companies should take the initiative and introduce a Bill; but it was obviously futile. What security was there that any Railway Company would introduce a Bill for revision of rates? Under what circumstances would they do it? If a Railway Company found that thereby they could increase their receipts they would do it; but never, by any chance, if those receipts would be diminished. In all cases where the trader really required it, there was no prospect of its ever being done; and, therefore, he could 627 not listen to the appeal to abandon this Standing Order. He must go to a Division. There was scarcely a person in the House who was not interested in railways. No one denied for a moment that £700,000,000 or £800,000,000 sterling had been spent upon railways; but who was it who provided the revenue? Why, the traders, passengers, and agriculturists paid £70,000,000 to £80,000,000 sterling per annum, which enabled the Railway Companies to pay their dividends; and he ventured to say that unless some steps were taken such as were being taken in other countries—they had been taken in France, and Germany, and other countries—unless some steps were taken to revise obsolete railway rates, great injury would be done to the trade of the country; and if to the trade of the country, then, also, to the interests of the railways themselves. If he thought anything contained in this Standing Order could possibly injure the interests of Railway Companies, he should be the last man in the world to propose it. If he might introduce personal matter, he might inform the House that he had a larger pecuniary interest in railways than he had in trade. He was convinced that what he was asking the House to do would be of as great an advantage to railway shareholders and bondholders as to traders themselves. He thought the matter had now been sufficiently debated. Everything that could be said on the subject from the point of view of the Railway Companies had been said, and the case of the agriculturists had been very well stated by hon. Gentlemen opposite. He hoped they would now be permitted to go to a Division.
§ MR. PEMBERTON
asked to be permitted to make a personal explanation. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. B. Samuelson) had said truly that he consulted the late Speaker's counsel with reference to the form of this Standing Order. Sir Francis Reilly, during the time he was able to give his attention to the subject, was responsible simply for the form of the Standing Order. When Sir Francis Reilly was unable to attend any longer, he (Mr. Pemberton) undertook to attend to the matter; but he distinctly informed the Speaker and his hon. Friend (Mr. B. Samuelson), and the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain), that he should reserve to himself full liberty 628 to oppose the principle of the Standing Order when it came before the House. He thought the hon. Gentleman (Mr. B. Samuelson) would do him (Mr. Pemberton) the justice to say that if the Standing Order were carried in the way in which it was now framed, it would certainly promote his object infinitely more than it would have done in the form in which it was originally presented.
§ SIR EDMUND LECHMERE
said, that as he represented one of those irregular bodies alluded to—the Chambers of Commerce—and as President of the Railway and Canal Rates Traders Association of the Birmingham district, he might be allowed to say one or two words upon this question before the Division was taken. He was surprised at the remarks of the hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees of Ways and Means (Sir Arthur Otway), because he felt certain that one so well-informed as the hon. Gentleman would not have taken such a mistaken view of the question. For more than 20 years he (Sir Edmund Lechmere) had been connected with a Chamber of Commerce. Of the good work done by Chambers of Commerce generally there could be no doubt. The House was well aware, too, of the important functions performed by the Chambers of Agriculture. Who could be more interested in the railway interest than the Chambers of Commerce? Who depended so much upon the railways for the development of trade in their great towns as the Chambers of Agriculture? Who had to look so much to the accommodation afforded by railways as agriculturists? He believed, therefore, that it was an entire mistake to suppose that this Motion was in any way antagonistic to the railway interest. He asked why Chambers of Commerce and Chambers of Agriculture should not be allowed to occupy the same position before Select Committees of the House as was enjoyed by landed proprietors? Why should their interests not be considered in the same manner? Now, as to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain). He had attended one or two meetings, and he had heard of other meetings which had taken place on the subject; and he found that the feeling of the traders was in favour of the general scope of the Bill; all they 629 desired was that there should be a modification of some of the clauses. He believed the intention of the traders was to support a good Bill to carry out a real measure of railway reform. He had great pleasure in supporting the proposed Standing Order of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson).
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
desired to say a few words as to what fell from the hon. Baronet the Member for Rochester (Sir Arthur Otway), who had taken upon, himself to dispute the proposition that a Chamber of Agriculture was fit to have a locus standi.
THE CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Sir ARTHUR, OTWAY)
said, the hon. Gentleman had misinterpreted his statement altogether. He did not object to any properly constituted Chamber of Commerce or Chamber of Agriculture having a locus standi; but what he said was that any two or three men, calling themselves a Chamber of Commerce or Agriculture, could claim, under the proposed Standing Order, to have a locus standi which they would not otherwise have. It was to such bodies that his observations applied.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
said, he did not desire to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman; but he thought the House would admit that the tone of the hon. Gentleman's remarks was such as to cast considerable suspicion upon the Standing Order, and to suggest that, as a general rule, these bodies might be got together hastily for a special purpose; and, therefore, they ought not to be entrusted with the position of locus standi. He (Mr. R. H. Paget) rose for the purpose of pointing out to the hon. Gentleman and to the House that the first and chief recommendation of the Railway Rates Committee, which sat for two years, and to which frequent reference had been made in the debate, was that Chambers of Commerce and of Agriculture, as well as other similar Associations, should have a locus standi upon a certificate of the Board of Trade that they were bonâ fide Associations. But that was not all. The hon. Gentleman (Sir Arthur Otway) appeared to have forgotten that the Bill of the President of the Board of Trade made a distinct provision for this very matter; for what was done by Clause 52? Locus standi was given to Incorporated Chambers of Commerce and of Agricul 630 ture. The Railway Rates Committee, after careful investigation, and the President of the Board of Trade, also after careful investigation, considered that locus standi should be given to such bodies; and all that this Standing Order proposed to do was to give distinct effect to the recommendation of the Railway Rates Committee in that respect. It was not a mere rash statement that any half-a-dozen men, making themselves intimate with the question in dispute, could acquire a locus standi; the Chamber of Commerce or of Agriculture must be a properly constituted one. The proposed Standing Order was one which he thought the House, on consideration, would think it right to accept, and for this reason—if they did not get this Standing Order, what were they to get? It was as clear as daylight that the Railway Bill was dead; its funeral oration had not yet been pronounced; but many days could not elapse before that interesting ceremony would have to be performed. The question was "now" or "never;" it was "this" or "nothing;" and this proposition was made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson), who had devoted a great deal of time and attention to the subject. Whenever a moderate proposition like this was made in the House, its proposers were always confronted by hon. Gentlemen representing railway interests. The advocates of the railway interest in the House had all the mark of the beast. The mark of the beast was their declaration that—"We are engaged in defending the rights of a great system which has invested funds no less in magnitude than that of the National Debt." The £750,000,000 or £800,000,000 were always rolled off by hon. Members who got up to support the railway interest. The hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Arthur Otway), who was the very embodiment of judicial calm, and who began his remarks by disclaiming that he was a railway man, could not restrain himself from rolling off the £800,000,000 invested in the railways, and from talking of the 400,000 or 500,000 men employed on the railway systems of the country. If there were £800,000,000 sterling invested in railway enterprizes, how many more millions sterling were invested in the trade and agriculture of the country? If there were 400,000 or 500,000 men 631 employed by the Railway Companies, how many millions of the population were there in the Kingdom who were at the mercy of the Railway Companies? If this Standing Order were thrown out, the Railway Companies might pose as benevolent despots. They had been made despots by Act of Parliament. They were in full and complete possession; and they had a gigantic monopoly. He was not there to complain that, on the whole, Railway Companies had not done their work admirably; but it was too much to ask men of sense to believe that Railway Companies were always inspired by the purest patriotism. They cared about nothing but the pockets of their shareholders; and their patriotism received its reward by Parliament refusing to deal in any way with what were called their vested interests. Ono thing alone should actuate Parliament; and that was equal justice to all. It was clear that, under the present system, any incorporated Railway Company could come to Parliament, and, by its Bill, ask for any increase of its rates it liked. It was perfectly true that under the Standing Order which was recently introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth) any proposed increase was to be brought to the notice of the Committee before whom the Company appeared. That was the result of the action of the Railway Rates Committee. But although that was true, there was no locus standi for a trader who chose to complain of the exceptionally high rates on existing railways. A Railway Company could come to Parliament and say, "Give us a higher rate;" but a trader could not come and say, "Reduce your present exorbitant rates." The hon. Gentleman the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease) had contended that there was no need to revise the old rates; but the President of the Board of Trade distinctly admitted, in so many words, that in many cases the rates were oppressive and anomalous; and he gave as a reason for it that they had been settled long ago, and were not applicable to the present time. It was contended by some hon. Members that this was piecemeal legislation. It was something new to find at this time of day hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House condemning this Mox 632 ture. not on its merits, but because of its piecemeal character. There were some Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition Benches who would be inclined to answer that argument by suggesting that the Government were dealing with Parliamentary Reform in a piecemeal fashion. Inasmuch as he sat upon the Railway Rates Committee, perhaps he would be permitted to say a word upon the Report that Committee had published. If it had done nothing more, it had thrown a flood of light upon what was previously a most complete mystery. He need only give one instance. Previous to the date at which the Committee was appointed, the system of classification tables of rates was entirely unknown to ordinary people. Those tables could not be got at; and it was only by the merest chance that the Committee had an opportunity of viewing one. The result of the deliberations of the Committee had been that any Railway Company coming for further powers was bound by the terms of its Act to keep a classification table for sale at its head office; and a Company could not get the further powers it required unless it complied with that regulation. The Railway Rates Committee had in their Report made a great many valuable suggestions; but if they had had the same amount of information that was given to the railway people, he did not hesitate to say that, in some respects, the Report would have been seriously modified. He did not complain of those people who took an interest in railway matters fighting the battle of their shareholders, and doing it to the best of their ability. The difficulty under which hon. Members of the House laboured was that the ability of the champions of the railway interest was too much for them; they knew it well; they were men of great ability, and they had that complete and intricate knowledge of all the details of their systems, which enabled them to put their case before the House in a way which it was by no means easy for those who were not exports to follow. They had to deal with things as they found them; and it was in vain to say there were no complaints out-of-doors. This proposed alteration of the Standing Orders was by no means a step which would lead to the serious results with which it was attempted to frighten the 633 House. The proposal of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) was in accordance with the Report of the Railway Rates Committee, which no man could say went one bit too far. In his view, it fell short of what it might have suggested. The Bill of the President of the Board of Trade must now be abandoned; therefore, the House had no option but to pass some such Standing Order as that proposed. The new Standing Order might throw some additional work upon the Referees; but he believed they were quite willing to undertake it. It was because he believed it would be to the interest of all the traders of the country, and would not militate against the interests of the railways, that he was prepared to give his hearty support to the proposal of his hon. Friend (Mr. B. Samuelson).
§ COLONEL MAKINS
said, that, although his hon. Friend (Mr. R. H. Paget) had branded the Representatives of the railway interest with the mark of the beast, he (Colonel Makins) would not be deterred from saying a few words with reference to the proposed Standing Order. He had for the last 10 years represented an agricultural constituency (South Essex), and for 20 years he had sat on the Board of the railway which served his constituency. During the whole of the latter term he had never heard any complaints of the rates charged for the carriage of agricultural produce. There had been many complaints; but they had been in respect of the insufficiency of the railway accommodation. The farmers desired increased facilities for bringing their produce to the London and other markets; but the Railway Company experienced great difficulty in raising the capital necessary to provide the additional facilities required, and this difficulty arose from the vexatious restrictions which were constantly being placed on the action of Railway Companies by Parliament. This proposal would be one more straw with which to break the camel's back, and he should most certainly give it his opposition.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.634
§ Main Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 94; Noes 84: Majority 10.—(Div. List, No. 155.)
§ Resolved, That the said Resolution be a Standing Order of the House.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, that as the Standing Order just adopted to a great extent covered the ground of the one which stood in his name he did not propose to move it.