HC Deb 23 April 1885 vol 297 cc491-3

asked the President of the Board of Trade, Whether, having reference to his recent statement, that the subject of preferential Railway rates on Foreign goods was "ripe for legislation," he will be good enough to inform the House if he is prepared to introduce a Bill dealing with the subject; and, whether, in view of the ur- gency of the question, he will make an early statement on the matter, and place the House in possession of the principles of his proposed measure?


I will endeavour to give the hon. Member the explanation and further information as to the intentions of the Government for which he asks. In the first place, I have to say that we consider that the evidence taken by the Committee on Railway Rates and Pares in 1883 furnishes sufficient information as to the nature of the complaints which have been made of preferential rates both on foreign good and also on home products. We are further of opinion that the Report of this Committee, and the Reports of previous Committees and Commissions on the subject, show conclusively that no general law of universal application can be laid down. The establishment, for instance, of equal mileage rates which has sometimes been proposed would be most injurious to trade since it would deprive freighters of any advantage from competition; it would also cause a revolution in the movement of traffic, and would involve the ruin of very large interests which have been created on the faith of existing arrangements. On the other hand, there is good reason to believe that under the present system preferences have been created which cannot be justified in law or equity. In the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1854, there is a clause dealing with undue preference, which appears to be sufficient for the purpose, and all that is necessary is that all cases of complaint should be dealt with as they arise by a competent tribunal. Such a tribunal the Government believe already exists in the Railway Commissioners; but further legislation is required in order to put this tribunal on a permanent basis, with somewhat extended powers, and at the same time to facilitate the resort to it by giving a locus standi to public bodies and associations which may be expected to seek a decision in all disputed cases of any importance, where, however, the interests of private traders and individuals may not be sufficient to induce them to undertake the burden of litigation. These views found expression in the Railway Regulation Acts Amendment Bill introduced by me last Session, but withdrawn owing to the pressure of Business. I am afraid that the present state of Public Business does not leave room for hope that the Bill could be re-introduced with any advantage in the present Session.


asked whether he was right in understanding that the only legislation which the right hon. Gentleman proposed was the permanency of the Railway Commissioners, and to give a locus standi to certain bodies before it?


said, he thought his previous reply was very full. It was proposed to put the Railway Commission on a permanent basis, somewhat to extend its functions, and to give a locus standi to other bodies, so as to facilitate their access to its decisions?


asked whether, in the opinion of the President of the Board of Trade, the Railway Commissioners had jurisdiction now to entertain questions of undue preference as between foreign goods and English goods?


Yes, Sir; that is my opinion.