HC Deb 02 March 1886 vol 302 cc1666-77

Order for Second Reading read.

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


I have given Notice of my intention to move an Amendment upon the second reading of this Bill which is as follows:— That this House, whilst not unwilling to consider favourably an application from the said Company, under proper conditions, for power to make arrangements with other Companies tending to economise the cost of transport to the Company, refuses to entertain the same as a mere incident in a Bill for miscellaneous objects, and unaccompanied by the offer of any compensating advantages to the public. It is well known that copies of Private Bills introduced into this House are not circulated among Members in the same way as other Parliamentary Papers; and I may add that very important powers, and powers affecting great questions of principle, may be sought by a Private Bill without the attention of the House being directed to it. With regard to the Bill now under consideration, it seeks to confer very largo additional powers upon the Midland Railway Company; and I do not find, in the report of the proceedings of the Wharncliffe meeting, that any mention is made of some very extraordinary powers which I am about to show are included in the Bill. Going through the different heads, I find that the Bill gives, in the first place, power to make roads, to prepare roads, to acquire land, and so on. And then all at once I come to an entirely different matter. By a clause in the Bill powers are asked for, which amount virtually to the power of amalgamation with other Companies, and not only to a power of amalgamation with other Companies, but absolutely to a power of amalga- mation with any Company with which this railway is in communication. Now, the House is aware that the Midland Railway and its branches extend over a wide extent of England, and that the line is in communication with railways from the Land's End to the frontier of Scotland. Therefore the Bill, as it stands, actually asks for the power of amalgamation with almost every Company; at any rate, in England and Wales. [An hon. Member: And Scotland, too.] My hon. Friend says that it touches Scotland also; and therefore, by assenting to the second reading of the Bill, the powers contained in it will also apply to the Scotch railways. I do not know whether that is the intention of the promoters of the Bill; but, to my apprehension, that would be the effect of passing the Bill in its present shape. Surely that is a question of principle which ought to be carefully considered by the House before the second reading is passed. For my own part, I am prepared to say that I believe it is desirable that there should be a reconstruction and amalgamation of Railway Companies; and I believe that the sooner that is effected the better, for this reason—that it would enable the Railway Companies to diminish their expenses, and give them the means of reducing their rates and charges to the public. But it is one thing for this power to be obtained by the Railway Companies, in order that they may be in a position to lower their rates, and it is quite another thing to' feel sure that they would make use of that power in the interests of the public when it is conferred upon them. I certainly cannot find, within the four corners of this Bill, anything which will insure to the public any compensating advantages for the powers given to the Midland Railway Company if this Bill passes. That is the point to which I think it is important to direct the attention of the House. I believe that every hon. Member will admit that of all the Railway Companies the Midland Railway Company is probably the one which, on the whole, has done more in the interests of the public than any other Railway Company. I candidly acknowledge that they were the first to introduce a system of running trains at a comparatively cheap and uniform rate of fares. But that is not a reason why we should not take precautions in order to be certain that the powers we grant to them will be used, not only to their own advantage, but also to the advantage of the public. Evidence was given before the Railway Rates Committee, which sat during two Sessions, that certain promises, which the Midland Railway held out when they applied for an extension of their system, have not altogether been fulfilled. I have no knowledge of the facts of the case myself; but I think there are hon. Members in the House who will be able to give information upon the matter. However honest a Railway Company may be, I think it is our duty in this House to see that the public interests are safeguarded. This is a question in which, at any rate, we ought to know that the attention of any Committee to whom the Bill may be referred will be fully drawn, and that the intentions of the House will be fully indicated and distinctly understood—namely, that if increased powers are to be given to this or any other Railway Company, some compensating advantages to the public will be looked for. For this reason I beg to move the Resolution which I now submit.


I rise for the purpose of seconding the Motion, and I ask for that indulgence of the House which is usually accorded to those who address it for the first time. I promise to be as brief as possible. My grounds of opposition to the Bill are quite distinct and separate from those of the hon. Baronet. I object to the Bill because, on a former occasion, in Private Bill legislation, the Midland Railway Company held out to the great iron districts of Staffordshire certain expectations, and gave certain pledges, which they have since altogether ignored and refused to carry out. The history of the transaction to which I refer is shortly this. In 1882 a Bill was promoted, called the Wolverhampton, Walsall, and Midland Junction Railway Bill. In opening the case before the Commons Committee, Sir Edmund Beckett said that the object of the line was not to serve mere local purposes, but to introduce the Midland system into Staffordshire. Although this was nominally a Private Bill, the Midland Company paid the expenses of promoting it, and they have since made the line. It is now in their possession, and worked by them. Sir James Allport, the then General Manager of the Midland Railway, in his evidence before the Commons Committee, was asked this Question— The promoters and ironmasters say that if you get to Wolverhampton they will have a reduction of rates. What is your opinion of that? The answer was— I have always been of opinion that the rates of the South Staffordshire district are too high. We have had no control of them. The London and North Western are the people who have fixed the rates, but they are too high. In answer to another Question Sir James Allport said— I have no hesitation in saying that, in looking at other iron districts, the South Staffordshire rates are too high. He was asked if there would be a permanent reduction, and his answer was— I should think so. Sir James Allport was then asked— Suppose that you and the London and North Western Company got to loggerheads, and then come to an arrangement; would that arrangement be permanent or temporary? Sir James Allport said, in reply— I cannot give you a better illustration than what we are doing, where we have it entirely in our own hands. We charge at present from the Staveley ironworks to London 10s. 6d. per ton. Question — Who compotes with you there? Answer— Nobody; it is entirely on our own line, and it is either 10s. 6d. or 11s. From South Staffordshire it is, I believe, 15s. I cannot give any better answer than that. Asked— What is the difference between the distances; The answer was— The distance from Staveley to London is greater than from Wolverhampton. That shows what the Midland Company do. Now, Staveley is 149 miles from London, and Birmingham only 113; but the Birmingham rate is 15s. for 113 miles, while the Staveley rate is only 12s. 6d. for 149 miles. Sir James Allport repeated the same evidence before a Committee of the House of Lords; and he added that his Company had done very little in Staffordshire in respect of the London trade, which, he said, was owing to the excessive gradients on their existing lines. He was asked this Question— If you could get a line more suitable for the traffic, you would be inclined to push that trade to a considerable extent? Answer— Yes. Question— Even by competing rates, if necessary? Answer— Yes; there is no reason why we should not. He was then asked by Earl Fortescue— Are the Midland Company prepared to bind themselves permanently to take lower rates under the clause in the Act of Parliament? Answer— No; I do not think the Midland Company would, because whatever rates are put in a Bill of this kind would be binding on the whole Midland system. I think the Midland Company, who have developed the ironstone and various trades upon their line, would be a guarantee to the trade that the Midland Company would put them on the same footing. That is to say, the same footing as Staveley. Well, Sir, when the Midland Company made that railway, the Iron Masters' Association of Staffordshire applied to Sir James Allport to redeem the pledges he had given. But he said— We cannot without the consent of other Companies; we have entered into an agreement with other Companies, and without them we cannot reduce our rates. Now, what we complain of is that such a combination should have been entered into. I venture to say that it is an unholy combination, because the result of it is this—that, although we could easily satisfy a particular Company that it is to their interest to reduce certain rates and charges, they are unable to do it, because the other Companies with whom they are acting will not agree. Suppose, for instance, a trader goes to the London and North-Western Railway Company in order to get a rate between two stations on their line; the Company see that their traffic would be increased by granting a rate; but they cannot do it without having first obtained the consent of the Great Western and the Midland Companies. As they are competing with each other for the traffic, it is impossible to obtain their consent; and the effect is that no reduced rates are secured. Originally there was only one railway to Liverpool; but since that day two other Companies have lines to Liver pool. Nevertheless, since this competition has existed the rates to Liverpool, instead of having been lowored, have been increased by 25 per cent, and our rates in Staffordshire are higher at this moment to ports of embarkation than in any district in the world. I believe that there is no case in which the charges are so high as in South Staffordshire. We had thought that when the Midland Company obtained their Bill we should have had some reduction; but I am sorry to say that we have got none. I ask this House, therefore, to mark in a solemn manner their feeling that they object to pledges of this kind being given if they are to be followed by a refusal to carry them out. I beg, Sir, to second the Resolution which has been moved by the hon. Baronet.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House, whilst not unwilling to consider favourably an application from the said Company, under proper conditions, for power to make arrangements with other Companies tending to economise the cost of transport to the Company, refuses to entertain the same as a mere incident in a Bill for miscellaneous objects, and unaccompanied by the offer of any compensating advantages to the public.—(Sir Bernhard Samuelson.)

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


I do not think that the arguments which have been advanced by the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Resolution are such as to justify the House in taking this Bill out of the ordinary course. It has been admitted that the Midland Railway Company have always been desirous of consulting the interests of the traders. This is hardly a question which can be discussed in this House; but all questions in regard to rates may be discussed before a Select Committee; and will the hon. Members, or anybody else, say that this is a ground for objecting to the second reading of this Bill in order to insert in the measure provisions of an unusual character? We have been led to believe that a Bill will be introduced shortly into the House which will deal specially with the subject of the railway rates of all Companies; but if questions of this kind are to be dealt with in Private Bills, the expense which will be entailed upon the promoters of such Private Bills will be enormous. I think the clauses which are inserted in the Bill, as it now stands, are very reasonable clauses. We must consider the immense competition which Railway Companies have to meet. We must also remember that these Companies are compelled to run daily a superfluous number of trains, far beyond what the Companies require, in order to afford facilities for their traffic. I believe there are about 40 passenger trains daily from Manchester to London; and when we know that many of these trains are not half-filled, it is apparent that in some cases they do not pay their working expenses. Under these circumstances, I do not think the House will be prepared to say that a clause of this kind to compel Railway Companies to make terms with their competitors for the sole purpose of securing the public convenience ought to be inserted. The clause as it stands in the Bill is, I believe, a wide one; but it may be altered in Committee, and special terms laid down on which the Midland Railway might be able to base its arrangements. I trust that the hon. Baronet will not feel called upon to press his objections to this Bill. If the Bill is sent up to a Committee in the same way as other Private Bills, I believe that the interests of the public will be protected, while, at the same time, the interests of the Midland Railway will also be studied.


I hope the House will allow me, for a few moments, to refer to the general question which has been raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Hickman) below the Gangway. I think that he has hit the nail on the head in the observations he has made. He complains that after the traders of Staffordshire had supported the Midland Railway Company in opposition to another line they failed to obtain the benefits which they hoped to secure for the district. I believe that Parliament has done great injury by granting competing lines of railway, instead of regulating those which already existed. The hon. Member for the Hallamshire Division of the West Riding (Mr. Mappin) has referred to the fact that Railway Companies are compelled to run duplicate trains at an enormous loss; but so long as this is the case, and so long as this ruinous system of competition is carried on and asked for by the traders, the traders of the country will have to complain of the conduct of the Railway Companies, and of the high tolls charged by Companies which used to run as competing railways, but who are now compelled to work in co-operation. The effect of all our system of railway legislation has been to oblige the Railway Companies to raise double and treble the amount of capital which the country requires for the conveyance of its traffic. If the House will allow this Bill to go to a Committee with the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir Bernhard Samuelson), all these questions will be carefully considered, and the Midland Company enabled to make arrangements which will suit the interests of the trade.


My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) has admitted that no Company has acted more liberally and more generously to the public than the Midland Company. I happen to know something about that Company; I know the Directors personally; and I know that they all feel that the interests of the Midland Railway are bound up with the interests and prosperity of the country. They have done everything to develop and increase the trade of the country. This Bill will give increased facilities to the Company for making bettor arrangements with regard to competing railways, by means of which a reduction in the number of trains and a considerable saving in the working expenses of the line may be effected. If the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Hickman) has a grievance, his proper plan is to go before the Committee; and therefore I hope the House will take the course in regard to this Bill which it usually takes on other occasions—that is, that they will allow the Bill to be read a second time and sent to a Select Committee, before whom any suggestion, any grievance, or any recommendations will, doubtless, be properly attended to. I hope the hon. Member for Banbury will be satisfied with the clause already contained in the Bill, and that he will not press the Amendment.


My hon. Friend who spoke after the Mover of the Amendment (Mr. Mappin) said that there was no reason for taking this Bill out of the ordinary course. Now, I think that there is every reason for doing so. The Bill itself appears to involve a new departure from railway legislation; and I venture to assert that in the Midland Counties there is universal dissatisfaction as to the way in which those counties are served by the Railway Companies. There is not one of them which has not tied down and bound its own hands by agreements with other Companies which render it utterly impossible for them to do justice to the people whose interests they ought to serve. To-day we hear the old story—let the Bill be read a second time, and it can be amended in Committee. We have heard that over and over again in this House for the last 30 years. A Railway Company, be it remembered, goes into a Parliamentary Committee with the money of the shareholders; it obtains the most expensive legal advice that can be got; perhaps it gets beaten one year; but it will be found that the next year the same measure is brought forward again. What is the result of this? The opponents have exhausted their means and their money in opposing it in the first instance. Everyone connected with the Midland Company is aware of that fact, and knows very well that it has been going on for years. The Midland Company has been asking every year for fresh legislation; not only have they dealt with the question of rates, but it is impossible to tell in a Bill of this sort what question is not dealt with; and I defy anybody to say what a Bill of this kind may not do. I think there ought to be some better mode of ascertaining the nature of the provisions of Private Bills, so that the public may know at once what is really going to be proposed. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) will not take the disinterested advice which has been given to him; that he will not allow this Bill to go into Committee; but that he will take the sense of the House upon this new departure in railway legislation.


I have no desire to find fault with the Midland Railway Company for the course it has taken; but I simply wish to say that we have no evidence, if the House refuses to accept this Resolution, that the matter can be dealt with in Committee, and for this reason—that the interests of the general public are not represented upon a Committee, nor do the public appear before the Committee. The only questions fought are the interests of rival Companies, and the public have nobody to support them, so that it is in vain to attempt to get their interests considered. It is invariably the case that a Select Committee upstairs only deals with those questions which are fought out in the interests of rival railways. I think this is not a Bill which ought to go before a Committee without some such Resolution as that which my hon. Friend has prepared; and therefore I give my hearty support to the Amendment.


My hon. Friend the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) is perfectly justified in opposing this Bill as it stands; and unless the Midland Railway Company are prepared, as I understand them to be, to accept a clause safeguarding the interests of the public, I shall certainly oppose, or ask the House to postpone, the second reading of the Bill until some arrangement with the Company can be made. This Bill contains, no doubt, powers of amalgamation quite unprecedented in an Omnibus Bill of this character. I do not say that these powers may not be most desirable, not only in the interests of the Company, but of the public. No doubt, the principle of competition has in many instances been carried to an unreasonable length. A large number of trains are run, many of which are comparatively empty; and it is time that some better means were come to for putting an end to the wasteful system of management now pursued by Railway Companies. But this House has a right to know, before assenting to a Bill of this character, the nature of the arrangements proposed by the Company; and we have a right to be told what advantage the public will derive from it. A perfectly correct account has been given by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. Hickman) in regard to the Midland Company and its dealing with the traders of South Staffordshire; but I think that the statement of the hon. Member would have been more appropriate on the second reading of the Bill which I hope to introduce to the House next Monday. This is, undoubtedly, a case for investigation and inquiry, and possibly a case for the consideration of the Railway Commissioners themselves. A clause has, however, been submitted to the Railway Department of the Board of Trade to-day on behalf of the Company which, if introduced into the Bill, will provide that any agreement made under the powers of the Bill shall receive the assent of the Board of Trade, or of some tribunal nominated by that Department. That clause is as follows:— Any agreement made under the powers of this Act shall be subject to the approval of the Board of Trade or a tribunal to be nominated by them in that behalf in manner provided by Part III. (relating to Working Agreements) of 'The Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1863;' and in considering any agreement submitted to them for approval the Board of Trade, or such tribunal as aforesaid, shall have due regard to the interests of the public and of other railways, and may attach to their approval of any agreement such terms and conditions as they may think necessary or just for the public protection and advantage, and for the security of any other Railway Company or Companies. I should not have been prepared to assent to the second reading of the Bill if I had not received information from the officials of the Board of Trade that this clause is to be introduced, and that they are satisfied with it. I trust that my hon. Friend the Member for the Hallamshire Division of the West Riding (Mr. Mappin), who, I believe, represents the Company here, will be prepared to engage on the part of the Company that if the Bill is read a second time this clause will be introduced into it. If not, I must certainly oppose the second reading.


I have no instructions to do so.


If any hon. Member on behalf of the Midland Company will accept the clause, I will ask the House to allow the Bill to be read a second time; because I certainly consider that some of the powers which it asks for are very desirable. I have no wish to protract the further procedure in regard to this Bill, if there is an understanding that this clause is inserted, giving the Board of Trade, or any tribunal the Board of Trade might appoint, a control over the arrangements.


Are we to understand that the Board of Trade is going to take the responsibility of assenting to a contemplated amalgamation between the Midland Railway Company and other Companies? [Mr. MUNDELLA: No; not at all.] If that were so, I think the opposition to the Bill should be continued. I think it is impossible to follow this Bill clause by clause in a discussion upon the second reading; and I think the best course would be to withdraw the Amendment on the understanding that we reserve the right of opposing the Bill when it conies back to us on the Report of the Committee. There would also be a further understanding that the Board of Trade will appear before the Committee in order to see that this clause is inserted in the Bill, which, in their opinion, will fully protect the interests of the public. If the interests of the public are hereafter found not to be protected by that clause, it will be open for any hon. Member to oppose the Bill on Report.


We have only at present the Bill before us; and although the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has placed before us a clause, we have not yet had an opportunity of seeing it. The right hon. Gentleman further tells the House that the Bill which he is going to introduce on Monday is likely very seriously to affect this question. Then, what I wish to propose, under the circumstances, is a course which, I venture to think, will meet the urgency of the case. Certainly, I, for one, am not prepared, having only just heard the clause read, to accept it. I would therefore propose that the debate be adjourned for the purpose of affording an opportunity for the consideration of the Bill, together with the clause referred to by the President of the Board of Trade.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Staveley Hill.)

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till Tuesday next.