§ MR. B. SAMUELSON
I rise, Sir, to move—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 he 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 stand 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.This Standing Order is consequential on the Resolutions of the Committee on Railway Rates and Fares, which sat in 1881 and 1882, and on the Resolution of this House of May 4th, 1883. The latter of these is to the effect that—It is expedient that the Railway Commission be made permanent and a Court of Record; and that in general conformity with the recommendations of the Committee, the powers of the Commission be extended, and that, on application by a Railway undertaking for Parliamentary powers, a locus standi be afforded to Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture, and similar bodies, and to persons injuriously affected by the rates and fares sought or already authorised in the case of such undertaking.The House will observe that this Resolution consists of two propositions—the first of which refers to the powers of the Railway Commissioners; and the second to procedure before Committees of this House on Railway Bills. The Government has undertaken to deal with the first; and we have been expecting a Bill on the subject from my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain). It seems somewhat doubtful, at present, whether it will be possible for him to deal with the matter 915 during the present Session; but, with regard to the second, we have no promise from the Government; and it is because the Government have not undertaken to deal with it, which I should have much preferred, that, having moved for the appointment of the Select Committee, and having also moved and carried the Resolution of this House of last year, I have thought it to be incumbent on me to propose this Standing Order. The House will remember that I gave Notice of my intention to do so towards the close of last Session; and it was only at the earnest request of the Prime Minister, and in order not to interfere with pressing legislation, that I consented to postpone it from the last to the present Session. Had it been carried then, it would have given to traders facilities of which they stand in great need during the present Session; and I am anxious that they should not be deprived of them, at any rate, beyond this Session. When the Resolution of the 4th of May was before the House it met with no opposition. My right hon. Friend merely reserved some means of protecting Companies against frivolous complaints, somewhat after the manner in which the fiat of the Attorney General is required in the case of certain criminal prosecutions. No one amongst the numerous Representatives of the railway interest in this House opposed it. Indeed, the only one of those Gentlemen who spoke on the subject was the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. Bolton), who is the Chairman of the Caledonian Railway Company, and he confined himself to a general defence of the Railway Companies against complaints which he supposed to have been made against them. But, when I gave Notice of the Standing Order, one of those papers with which hon. Members of this House are familiar was circulated, which, I suppose, represented the objections of the Railway Companies. the tenor of these objections was that the now Standing Order would involve an entire change in the rules and practice of the Court of Referees; that it would be inconvenient to give a locus standi to Chambers of Commerce or Agriculture, who could now, if they desired, support a Petition of traders; that its purpose was to attack powers already conferred by Parliament, which had hitherto been held to be inviolable; and that the matter 916 ought not to be dealt with by a private Member. To the last of these objections I have already replied; and I can only repeat that I regret very much that the matter should have been loft to be dealt with by one so incompetent as myself. As to whether the change is, or is not. an improvement, and with respect to the power to be given to Chambers of Commerce or Agriculture, I need scarcely tell the House, after all the evidence which was given before the Select Committee of 1881–2, that single traders are afraid to attack Railway Companies. The Companies have so many means of inconveniencing those who enter into a contest with them that few, except the very wealthiest and most independent traders, have the courage to take proceedings against them; and, with reference to the most important objection to the Standing Order—namely, that it attacks powers already conferred —I would remind the House that, in all Railway Bills which have been passed within the last,30 years and more, a clause has been inserted, reserving the right to Parliament of revising the maximum rates and fares granted by such Bills. I am anxious that it should not be supposed for a moment that I am unwilling to do justice to the general fairness of the Railway Companies in their dealings with traders. I have said, on various occasions, that I believe the policy of those great bodies has, on the whole, been straightforward and advantageous to the trading interests. At the same time, it cannot be denied that this has not always been the case. Indeed, this has been proved by numerous witnesses; but, if these should be supposed to have been partial, I may appeal to a witness, to whom, I suppose, the Railway Companies will not take exception. A meeting of Railway Shareholders was held at the Cannon Street Station Hotel on the 3rd January of the present year. Lord Brabourne was in the Chair, and Sir Edmund Beckett was asked by the Chairman to move a resolution. His speech was full of invective against all who had ever attempted to control the Railway Companies in any way. The President of the Board of Trade, the Railway Commissioners, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer were all denounced; but, in the midst of these denunciations, a little light was thrown on the dealings of Railway Com- 917 panies amongst themselves and with the public. He said that—One of the first things he had learned in his long experience was that jealousy was a stronger motive with railway officials than any feeling of joint interests. A Railway Manager or Chairman asked himself whether any particular proposal was more likely to harm him than his rival. Supposing that the hon. Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Watkin) and Mr. Forbes were asked to assent to a certain proposal—he would not say which was A; but A would say, 'Well, now, let me see; I think this would do B more harm than me.' And, in that case, he knew, by experience, that A was very apt to assent to the proposal. The same thing had occurred with other A's and B's.And so he proceeded, in a similar strain, to expose the motives which occasionally guide the actions of Railway Directors and Railway Managers, amidst which, it is quits certain, that the interests of the public are the last to be considered. But, as I said at the outset, this matter has really been threshed out. There is no occasion for me to dwell upon it, and I will conclude by proposing the Standing Order of which I have given Notice?
§ MR. GREGORY
I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. B. Samuelson). It would be well for us to consider, with reference to this new Standing Order, what is the position of a Railway Company when it comes before us for further powers. I take it, it is this. It appears in the character of a Petitioner for some powers that are not accorded to it by the Common Law—for some thing no allowed by the ordinary law of England—and for which it, therefore, makes special application to Parliament. Well, these Parliamentary powers are granted in consideration of certain benefits and advantages which the Company, in return, confer on the public. The Railway Companies are in a position of having to make terms with the public and with Parliament for the powers which they wish to acquire; and that is the case, whether the application they make is an original one, or whether it is merely supplementary—for instance, for further powers to extend the powers already granted. Therefore, I apprehend that the question is in the discretion of the House, and that Parliament generally—that is to say, this House and the other branch of the Legislature—has a right to exact such terms as it pleases from the Railway Companies seeking 918 these powers. Now, this question of the rates charged by Railway Companies is, perhaps, one of the most important subjects to the agricultural and commercial interests of the country that can be well dealt with; because we all know that the railways at the present day have practically a monopoly of the conveyance of produce, whether manufactured or otherwise. Therefore, it is most desirable that fair and reasonable terms should be provided between the public and the Railway Companies with respect to the conveyance of that which is essential to the commerce and agriculture of individual districts, and of the whole country. It was generally admitted before the Select Committee of this House on Railway Rates and Fares—a Committee upon which I had the honour of sitting—that, in one respect, railway rates required revision. I think the Representatives of the railway interest made no question of that, and that we were all at one with respect to it—namely, that there should be something like a classification of rates. It was admitted that the present method of fixing rates was a hap-hazard one. The classification is carried forward from one Bill to another, and there has been nothing like a uniform or technical classification of goods that are to be carried at particular rates. That should be one of the points that the Standing Order should deal with; because the attention of the Committee considering a Railway Bill should always be called to the question of classification of rates, as well as to their amount. As to the amount of rates, that is a question of controversy. It is quite clear to me—in fact, it was shown to my satisfaction before the Committee on Rates and Fares, and to the satisfaction also of other hon. Members—that many of the rates are unnecessarily high—in fact, by means of terminals and other charges of that nature, much higher than the railways have a legal right to charge—and that these improperly high rates enable the Companies to give preference to one class of persons and one class of goods to the prejudice of another class of persons and another class of goods. We found that the power of giving one interest an advantage over another was frequently exercised in favour of the foreign producer against the home grower of agricultural produce. Under the Stand- 919 ing Order, as proposed, attention will be directed to this subject; and it is absolutely necessary, to my mind, that it should be so. Many of the railway rates have never been revised, or looked into, ever since the railways were originally established, and that is the case particularly with one of our railway systems in the South of England. In that case, I believe the rates are 40 years old, and they are now anything but in accordance with the circumstances of the traffic of the present day. It is, therefore, necessary that there should be some method of revising these rates. What method can we adopt? I see none but by taking advantage of the applications of Railway Companies when they come to Parliament for fresh powers. I see nothing unfair in that; I see nothing unfair in saying to a Company— "You come to us for further powers: you have these rates which have never been properly regulated, and, therefore, you must submit to a fair and reasonable investigation and revision." I think we ought to throw upon the Committees of this House, when asked to grant further powers, the duty of placing some regulation or exercising some proper control over the rates; and that, as I take it, is the object of the present Standing Order, because it says—that when application is made, it may be alleged by Chambers of Commerce or Agriculture that trade or business are injuriously affected by the rates and fares, and—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.The bodies referred to in the Standing Order are Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture; and I do not know what bodies are better constituted, or more qualified to be consulted in regard to rates and fares than them. They will not primâ facie have an absolute right to petition against a Bill, but will only have the power of applying for permission to deal with the subject. Remember, they are only to have power to apply to the Referees for the purpose of being heard before the Committee, and the Referees 920 will grant them a locus standi or not as they think proper. It will be the duty of the Referees to see that the application is a bonâ fide one, to see that the applicants sufficiently represent the trade and business of the district with which they are connected, and to see whether there are sufficient grounds for yielding to the desire of these bodies. If it is shown that the application is a bonâ fide one, can there be anything unreasonable in the operation of a Standing Order? There will be a control or check on anything like vexatious opposition on the part of these public bodies, by the action of the Referees in the first instance, and their liability to costs in the second. It is absolutely necessary that we should have something of the kind. We cannot leave the opposition to Railway Bills in the hands of private persons. It is necessary that you should have some combination—some organization; you must have something like a public body to meet a public body, particularly when the latter possess an unlimited purse. The Railway Companies are enormous organizations, and are able to get up their cases very carefully before Committees. They are very experienced, and their advantages are so great that they cannot be met by individuals, and, therefore, must be opposed by combinations having facilities and advantages somewhat akin to their own. It appears to me, therefore, that to carry out this object, the Standing Order is very properly devised. With regard to the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease), it is said that—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.That would make the Standing Order defective and ineffectual, unless some such principle as that I have described is embodied in the Amendment. By the Amendment, the power of calling attention to these rates and fares will be left to private individuals, instead of to large representative bodies. On these grounds, in conjunction with my hon. Friend, I venture to submit the Standing Order to the judgment of the House.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
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 stand 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.)
§ MR. LAING
Mr. Speaker—Sir, in the absence of the hon. Baronet the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease), who is prevented by indisposition from being in his place to-day, I beg to move the Amendment standing in his name, which proposes to leave out all the words after the first word "Where," in order to insert—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.I move this Amendment with more pleasure, because, on this question of controlling the charges of the Railway Companies in the interests of the public, I have always taken the view that a more efficient system than that at present in use should be adopted, and I have always recognized that there are, and always must be, monopolies; but I am entirely opposed to attempts to meddle bit by bit with the security of railway property by unsettling and eccentric enter prizes. I may observe that, in the first place, I think the attempt to found the proposed Standing Order on the authority of the Committee on Railway Rates and Fares is not one altogether borne out by the facts; for, in reality, the recommendation of the Committee involved a very large and comprehensive system of control. It was based upon several Resolutions, which declared, 922 amongst other things, that it was not to be a one-sided arrangement, taking everything away from the Railway Companies and giving them nothing in return. As compensation for the right of revising railway rates it was proposed to give the Railway Companies the regulation of terminal charges and of other matters—in short, it was a fair and comprehensive measure that was proposed. I. hold that any measure or legislation on this subject, or any alteration of the Standing Orders which comes to the same thing, ought to be conceived in that spirit—namely, a fair and comprehensive spirit. If the arrangement arrived at is to be a permanent one between the public and the Companies, it must be one based on fair reciprocity, considering the magnitude of the railway interest, and how largely the public credit would be affected by anything that might have the appearance of exceptional legislation against them, without giving them a fair compensation. The capital invested in railways has been, recently estimated at about £750,000,000, or about the amount of the National Debt; so that any attack or interference with vested interests of that magnitude without fair consideration and adequate compensation would be as great a shock to public credit as any injudicious steps taken to interfere with the interest payable in respect of the National Debt. The return on the enormous amount of capital invested in railways is something very moderate, having regard to the vast benefits conferred on the public, and the vast interests that are concerned. According to recent Returns, it appears that the interest on the railway capital amounts to only a very little over 4 percent, which is certainly not an excessive amount when we look at the risks and at the magnitude of the operations. It cannot be denied, on the whole, that the public have benefited by the construction of our railways to a much larger extent than the shareholders have done. The great objection which I feel to this new Standing Order is that, practically, it will and must give what may be a very large power of interference with the vested interests of the Railway Companies to a body which, however respectable, is totally unfit to deal with questions of this description. The Standing Order goes the length of giving to the Referees on Private Bills the power, if they 923 think fit, of admitting the Petitioners to be heard against a Bill, or any part of it, or against the rates and fares authorized by the Companies' Acts. No doubt, as I have said, the body to which this power is given, in the first instance, is a highly respectable body; but it certainly, to my mind, is the last body which should have the right of saying whether a property as largo as the National Debt is, or is not, to be injuriously affected by legislation. A great many cases must arise where such interference would amount almost to a confiscation of railway property. Suppose a Railway Company conies to Parliament to ask, not for anything which would be of great advantage to the shareholders—not to increase its dividends, but to carry out some improvements for the benefit of the public, such as making new stations, laying down an additional line, or improving its rolling stock. Would it be fair, under those circumstances, for the Referees, when considering a Bill for that purpose, to allow all Chambers of Commerce to come in, and state any grievances they might have with regard to rates and fares? Would it be fair to oblige the Company to enter into an expensive Parliamentary contest with every Chamber of Commerce in a district which fancied it had a grievance? I think it is clear that an interference of that sort should only be exercised under the control and supervision of some public tribunal of weight and authority, which would take a large view of the whole matter. Such a tribunal, it appears to me, exists in the Board of Trade, which already exercises a control and supervision, both over the railways and the commerce of the country; and I have not the least objection to a Department like that, represented by a Cabinet Minister in the House of Commons, having the right to say whether or not a Company possesses excessive powers and uses them unfairly; and that, therefore, the question of such powers shall be referred to the Select Committee to whom they may desire to apply for further Parliamentary powers. To whom can this proposal be objectionable? I take it to no one but those engaged in the legal work of Parliamentary Committees, such as agents, solicitors, and barristers Every Bill promoted would bring about an expensive contest; and, not only that but one Committee would take a view 924 favourable to Railway Companies, and another a view adverse to them; and the result would be that some railway interests might be very considerably injured, although only applying to Parliament for power to carry out a work of great public utility, while others might be benefited or have their rates left as hey were, without proposing any advantages to the general interest of the community. The only safe position, therefore, for us to take is that some independent Body, such as the Board of Trade, should alone have the right to interfere. Such a Body would be more likely to take a large view of the subject, and, in the next place, their recommendations would carry more authority. A Bill for the purpose of improving the control and superintendence of railways has been promised, and was to have been brought forward this Session; but whether or not it will be brought forward this year I cannot say. I can only say that I, for one, should very much regret if the state of Public Business made it impossible to devote adequate time to the consideration of a matter of that sort. It is better that the question should stand over until another year, when it can be considered as a whole, rather than that it should be dealt with in the meantime by this sort of piecemeal legislation, which will only make "confusion worse confounded," and will benefit no one but the lawyers, who will get fees from the multiplied contests that will ensue. I have no wish to detain the House any further from going on with the Public Business; and, therefore, with these few remarks, I will confine myself to moving the Amendment which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Durham (Sir Joseph Pease).
§ MR. BOLTON
Mr. Speaker—Sir, in rising to second the Amendment, I will only detain the House for a very few minutes. My objections to the proposed Standing Order are many, and, first, I object to piecemeal legislation on a matter of this kind. The hon. Member who moved the Amendment (Mr. Laing) has shown to the House that the Committee who sat, I think two years, on the question of Railway Rates and Fares, proposed a number of recommendations for the consideration of the House. Amongst those considerations was the one now made by the hon. Mem- 925 ber for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson); but he was unable to induce the Committee to adopt his views in the matter he brought forward. The hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) has told the House that the reason why we should entertain the proposal of the hon. Member for Banbury is, that some of the rates now charged by Railway Companies are more than 40 years old; but he omitted to tell the House, at the same time, that the obligations of the Railway Companies are of exactly the same age; and I think that, before he proposed to alter the rates, or to give power to a body to alter the rates authorized to be levied by the Companies, he ought to have shown that these were not charged in accordance with the Acts authorizing them. But he has not done any such thing. No one can say that the Railway Companies are charging rates in excess of those authorized. Another objection which I have to the proposed Standing Order is, that it will preclude Railway Companies from coming to Parliament to obtain power to carry out improvements which are very much required by the traders of the country; they will think twice before they expose themselves to all the expense that it will be necessary to incur by coming to Parliament, when the only object to be attained is, perhaps, the extension of some small section of line, in the interest of the public. For example, Companies cannot acquire additional rolling stock without applying to Parliament for authority to obtain money to purchase it. Very often they come for power to acquire additional rolling stock on account of some spurt in certain districts, which spurt may be ephemeral. The Companies come for additional money and additional power to obtain this rolling stock, and are met by objections that, in certain remote districts, the rates are adverse to a certain class of traders. Consequently, these traders, whoso interest in the railways is very slight indeed, are to prevent powers being granted that would be to the been fit of very large interests. It is assumed that when Railway Companies apply for addititional powers, they only do so in their own interest; but such is not the case. I can speak from a great many years' experience, and I can say that Railway Companies avoid coming to Parliament as much as they possibly can. When they do come, they come in 926 the interest of traders for additional facilities, asking for rolling stock, for sidings, or some line for the convenience of trade; but it is not usually to their interest to extend their system. In the majority of cases, I maintain, they do not ask these powers in their own interest, but in the interest of traders using their system. Well, the effect of this Standing Order would be a direct tendency to prevent Railway Companies applying to Parliament at all. Now, Sir, we are told that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) has the intention of introducing a Bill this Session, based on the recommendations of the Railway Rates and Fares Committee, of which the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson) was a Member. I know I can speak for the Companies, in stating that they will give the right hon. Gentleman every assistance in their power in legislating on the lines of all the recommendations of that Committee; and I think, under the circumstances, and seeing, moreover, that the rejection of this Standing Order by the House would not in any way affect the legislation of the present Session, that the House ought to pause before accepting the Order, and wait for the Bill the right hon. Gentleman has promised to give us. For these reasons, I beg to second the Amendment of the hon. Member for Orkney (Mr. Laing).
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 proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
Mr. Speaker—Sir, I have listened with interest to the remarks of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment now before the House; and, as far as I understand the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. Bolton), his objection, which is also shared by the hon. Member who moved the Amend- 927 ment (Mr. Laing), is, that this is a matter of piecemeal legislation. But, if I understood him aright, he proposed to the House that there should be introduced into the Standing Orders a new Resolution, giving large powers to the Board of Trade, which it does not at present possess, and which would be, in itself, open to the very objection that he takes to the original proposal. The Proposer and Seconder of the Amendment suggest piecemeal legislation. That appears to be the one and chief ground of the opposition, and the reason why the original proposal is not to be accepted by the House. But this piecemeal legislation, as it is called, has already been adopted, to a certain extent, on this very matter; because, it was only last Session, or the Session before, that a Standing Order was introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Hampshire (Mr. Sclater-Booth), which, to a certain extent, deals with this very question of Railway Companies seeking powers to levy rates in excess of those already authorized. That Standing Order was passed directly to deal with that particular question, which had been the subject of investigation by the Railway Rates and Fares Committee which sat for two years. Now, Sir, the Resolution that has been proposed is one which has been proposed on separate grounds. What does it attempt to introduce? What is to be done by this, is to give effect to that which was recommended by the Railway Rates and Fares Committee—namely, to give a locus standi to Chambers of Agriculture and Commerce which at present does not exist. It is desirable to point out to the House the necessity that exists of allowing a number of persons interested in trade to combine together, for the sake of opposing that which has been pointed out as one of the largest interests in the Kingdom—to oppose the Railway Companies, who have an invested capital, if the fact be as stated by the hon. Member opposite, as large as the National Debt. That cuts two ways. If you are dealing with operations so vast, and you put them on one side of the scale, and the small traders in remote districts, whose interests are seriously prejudiced, on the other side, surely the argument tells in this particular case not in their favour, but decidedly in favour of grant- 928 ing additional protection to those who, by the side of the railway interests, are insignificant. The Railway Companies do not, in many instances, impose rates in excess of the maximum in their various Acts; but that is a matter which, I think, is still open to some kind of doubt. If I remember rightly, a case has been recently decided, where the hop growers in Kent objected to the rates, and an appeal has been lodged which will be decided in a day or two. At present, it has only been decided in the Court of First Instance. The traders for years claimed the rate which the Court of First Instance has declared to be a rate that has no right to be charged. Why did the traders wait so long? I am satisfied that it was because only now the people have taken upon themselves to subscribe a sum sufficient to enable the case to be brought before the tribunal. Now, Sir, another reason which is suggested against this proposed Standing Order is this. We are told that, in the future, Railway Companies will be prevented from applying for additional powers, either for rolling stock, or to carry out improvements, because they will be afraid to have their rates called in question. Well, if their rates are wrong, no doubt they ought to be called in question. It is no argument against this proposed Standing Order to say that it will afford an opportunity of looking into the rates of every Company. I will go on further; I will go to this point—that, instead of it being necessary to wait for an opportunity when a railway comes for increased powers, in order to allow an aggrieved trader to appeal, that the opportunities of the trader who feels himself injured should be more easy, and not necessarily contingent on a Company coming to ask for further powers. If the rates are indefensible, those who are injured by them should surely have a right to make their case heard without waiting for the chance that may be afforded to them when the Companies come to ask for increased powers. So far from the argument that this Standing Order would enable the rates of a Railway Company to be gone into when that Company comes for increased powers being against this Standing Order, it appears to me to prove that what is required is something still more sweeping. The hon. Member for Stirling- 929 shire (Mr. Bolton) made a somewhat bold statement when he said that Railway Companies habitually came to ask for increased powers, not in their own interest, but in the interest of the traders. That is an interesting statement—one which, I venture to say, if I may be permitted to use the expression, is somewhat audacious. The objection I take to the Amendment recently proposed is this—that it certainly would appear to set in motion the Board of Trade, and that without stating on the face of it in what way that Department is to be set in motion. It says—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.Who is to direct that attention? Are the Board of Trade to set themselves up as a tribunal, ready to hear the complaints of traders who think they are grievously affected by existing rates or proposed rates? Are these, or any traders or freighters, who think their interests are affected, to have the right to go to the Board of Trade and make a complaint, and is the Board of Trade then to make its opinion known; or is the Board of Trade to arrive at the decision without hearing the case, or being applied to by the traders at all? In the Amendment there is no method of moving the Board of Trade pointed out. The arguments in favour of this new Standing Order are very strong. One thing is clear, and that is that the small traders do demand at the hands of this House a larger amount of protection than they at present get; for it has been abundantly proved, in evidence before the Railway Rates and Fares Committee, that, rightly or wrongly, the great body of traders, large and small, were fully convinced of this— that it was prejudicial to their interests to venture to engage in a battle with the Railway Companies. We had a statement made to us distinctly by traders dealing with vast amounts of goods, to the effect that they were afraid that they were likely to be further prejudiced by the rates which would be charged if they opposed the Railway Companies; and they, therefore, individually held their hands, for fear of such a thing coming about. The arguments in favour of this proposed alteration 930 of the Standing Order are, to my mind, very forcible. It would have been well if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) had been able to bring in his promised Bill, dealing with this matter in a larger spirit. In such case, there would have been a great deal to be said against making a small alteration of the Standing Orders; but I hear, from the best source of information, that we have no reason to hope that this Session will see that Bill passed into law, even if it sees it introduced. We have to deal with the present as it is. The proposed Standing Order is a Small step in the desired direction; and I venture to think the House will be in favour of its adoption.
§ MR. CHAMBERLAIN
Mr. Speaker, it will, perhaps, be convenient for me to intervene early in the discussion, and to state what are the views I take, both in respect to the proposal itself and the Amendment which has been suggested. There can be no doubt as to the great importance of the subject raised by my hon. Friend (Mr. B. Samuelson), not only in relation to the public interest involved, but also in reference to the Board of Trade, and this enormous amount of property which has been accumulated under statutory protection. Speaking first, with regard to the Amendment, it is proposed that whenever a Railway comes to Parliament the Board of Trade should be asked to make a Report as to its rates and fares; and the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Tomlinson), in an Amendment which he has on the Paper, would carry that a little further, and would suggest a method by which those duties might be performed by the Board of Trade. Well, I find, on inquiry, that there is no doubt it would be possible, if it were the will of Parliament to impose this duty on the Board of Trade, for the Board of Trade to carry it out. But I must say I am not at all anxious to see the functions of the Board of Trade increased, and to have our work overloaded in the way it is suggested. I must show what it amounts to. Take, for instance, the case of a railway system like that wonderful system, the London and North Western Railway. I believe that Undertaking levies its charges under the provisions contained in the Schedules of no less than 128 931 Acts of Parliament. Every one of these would be subject to careful examination by the Board of Trade; and if the work is to be done effectually, the Board of Trade would have to constitute itself a judicial tribunal. It would have to hear all the complaints and representations; and an inquiry of this kind would be a monstrous addition to the work already undertaken by the Board of Trade. Moreover, it would be very expensive to all parties concerned; and I am sure that the result would not be satisfactory either to the House or the country. In addition to this, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend (Mr. Laing), if there is to be a revision of this kind by this tribunal whenever a Company comes before Parliament—and that, in the case of our great lines, would be every year—it would be very unfair to the Company; because, after the matter has been once settled, the whole of the business would have to be gone into again and again every year, and there would be no limit to the extent to which rates and fares would be tinkered and interfered with, so that all confidence in the stability of this property would be destroyed. Passing over the Amendment, I come to the Standing Order proposed by my hon. Friend (Mr. B. Samuelson); and I must say I admit that it does not go further than the recommendations of the Report of the Select Committee on Railway Rates and Fares. But, then, it must be remembered that the Report of that Committee dealt with the whole subject, and that this recommendation was one of a number of recommendations which were all very closely connected together. I do not deny, in the least, that a case may be made out for the revision of rates in certain cases. It cannot be supposed possible that these maximum rates, having been in existence for so many years, are always consistent with the circumstances of trade. It cannot be supposed that the circumstances of trade have not at all altered since the rates were fixed, and that, therefore, none of the rates charged are injurious to commerce. It may be desirable that the rates should be revised in these cases as against the Railway Companies, and in favour of the traders; and then, on the other hand, it is quite true that there are rates which require revision in the interest of the Railway Companies them- 932 selves. That is true as to what are called station terminals. Though the Companies have no statutory right to make these charges, inasmuch as the terminal expenses have gradually increased since the Acts were obtained, nothing could be more equitable than that they should be allowed to make a reasonable charge for those services. All I contend is this—that if these statutory rates and provisions are to be revised at all, the revision ought to be complete, and be a revision in the interest of the Railway Companies, as well as in the interest of the public. Well, then, Sir, I come down to the point that, if there is to be a revision, the tribunal suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury would not be the best, nor would it be the most satisfactory tribunal for the purpose. My hon. Friend suggests, in the first place, that the Referees on Private Bills should declare whether or not the parties have a locus standi. Now, to do that, the Referees must take evidence, and go into the whole circumstances of the case, in order to see whether there is any real injury done. It would be necessary for them to look into various Acts of Parliament, and undertake work which has never yet been imposed upon them by Parliament. It would throw upon them an amount of labour which it can hardly be expected a Committee of that kind can undertake. But, supposing that they have made this preliminary examination, and have given a locus standi to individuals or public bodies, the matter would then have to go before a Parliamentary Committee. It does appear to me that this idea of perpetually altering railway rates by a tribunal which is constantly changing would be objectionable. If these rates ought to be revised, they ought to be revised by a competent tribunal—an export and a permanent tribunal; so that there should be something like a principle in the manner in which they are dealt with. I think, if matters of this kind are to be dealt with, they ought to be dealt with by the Railway Commissioners, and not by Parliament. Reference has been made several times already to the fact that the Government have given Notice of their intention to bring in a Bill which will, of course, deal generally with the suggestions of the Railway Rates and Fares Committee, 933 which included the suggestion raised by my hon. Friend as to the Standing Order. The introduction of this Bill has been delayed by circumstances which are known to the House. I have felt that in a Session so crowded with work as the present Session is, it would be almost useless to bring in a Bill, and hopeless to expect to go forward with it, if there were anything like opposition to it from any section of the House. Therefore, I have been engaged in endeavouring, more or less successfully, to consult the different interests concerned, and to secure some common agreement, notwithstanding the differences of opinions which prevail, by which the Bill may be referred to a Grand Committee, where the details would be carefully examined and considered. I do not know whether I have already succeeded in my efforts; but, in view of the Motion of my hon. Friend, I have come to the conclusion, at all events, that it is better not to wait any longer, but to introduce the Bill as it has now been put into shape, in order to ascertain what the opinion of the House is, and then to decide whether it will be possible to proceed with it this Session. Under those circumstances, I hope my hon. Friend will not proceed with his Motion. I do not ask him to withdraw it; but I would suggest that the debate be adjourned, in order that the House may have an opportunity of seeing what the proposals of the Government are, and then of considering whether it would still be advisable to go on with the Motion of my hon. Friend. As it is possible that I may not have an opportunity on the introduction of the Bill of explaining its provisions, it is, perhaps, desirable that I should state now what is the general nature of the proposal I have to make on this particular point. In the first place, I entirely agree with my hon. Friend in reference to what he has said as to giving a locus standi) to public bodies to appear before the Committee. I do not think that any Bill could be effectively worked, or would be satisfactory to the House, which did not contain a provision of that kind. I may remind the House that, during last Session, a Resolution was unanimously passed that a locus standi should be given to the Chambers of Commerce and Agriculture, as well as to Town Councils, as representative 934 Bodies. It may be necessary to provide that there should be some right in the Board of Trade, or some other public Department, to say whether, or not, a Chamber of Commerce is a fairly and properly representative Body; but, with that limitation, the Bill proposes to give a locus standi to these public authorities. Then, Sir, the Bill proposes to deal with two questions—with the revision of rates in the first instance; and, secondly, of terminals. I had hoped that it would have been possible to deal with the question of classification in the Schedule of the Bill; but I find that the Railway Clearing House classification, which is always taken as the basis of revision, contains no less than 2,300 different articles; and, therefore, before the House is asked to proceed with a Schedule of that kind, it would be necessary to consult all the interests affected by the whole of these 2,300 different articles, which would involve an inquiry the House can hardly be expected, possibly or fruitfully, to undertake at the present moment. Under the circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that the proper way of dealing with the subject will be to throw upon the principal Companies the onus of bringing in Bills to provide a new classification of maximum rates, and, at the same time, of making proposals for such a revision of rates as may be essential in order to bring the rates into relation with the new classification. It appears plain that the moment the classification is altered the maximum rates must also be altered. A Bill of this kind might usefully be referred to a strong Hybrid Committee, who would take evidence where any representation was made that the interests of any trade or persons were injuriously affected; and the new classification and new rates having been assented to, then the classification and rates might be put into the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, and made an essential condition of every new measure. That is the way in which, I think, the matter may be dealt with; and I, therefore, propose to insert in the Bill, in the first place, a clause which will give the Railway Companies the right of appealing to the Railway Commissioners to allow them, on sufficient evidence, to make a reasonable terminal charge. In the next place, it is only fair and right that the measure should be made applicable to Railway 935 Companies, conditionally on their having previously introduced into Parliament, and obtained the sanction of Parliament, to a reduced classification of rates. In that way, the whole matter may be dealt with. I have not described the details of the proposals; but I have simply given a general idea of what will be found in the Bill, which, if possible, I will introduce either to-morrow night or on Monday. Under those circumstances, I will now move, in order to raise the question, that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion, made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned." — (Mr. Chamberlain.)
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
I think the House will agree with me in the conclusion I have arrived at—that it will be quite impossible and very unwise to discuss, at the present moment, the provisions of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade proposes to bring forward, until we have seen the Bill itself. I think the House is obliged to him for the interesting statement he has made. I think, also, that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. B. Samuelson), who has brought forward the Motion today, will agree with me that, under the circumstances, and especially as we are to have the Bill before us in. the course of a day or two, it would be useless to take up the public time by a further discussion of the particular question now before us. It is quite clear that we could come to no satisfactory conclusion upon it until we have seen the Government proposals in a formal shape before us. Therefore, I will not take up the time of the House further than by saying that if it had been necessary I would have seconded the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. I hope the House will at once agree to it.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Wednesday 18th June.