§ Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [2nd March], "That the Bill be now read a second time."
And which Amendment was,
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 again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ Debate resumed.
§ SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)
I am now prepared to withdraw my Amendment to the second reading of the Bill, and I may, perhaps, be allowed to state the condition under which I am prepared to do so, for I am not quite sure that it was made plain when the question was last before the House. The Company have consented to introduce a clause into their Bill by which it will be provided that in every case of amalgamation or other arrangement with any other Company the terms of that amalgamation shall be submitted to the Board of Trade, and shall be considered by them, or by some tribunal to be appointed by them, whose duty it shall be to see that the terms of such amalgamation or arrangement shall be not only just, but advantageous to the public. The Midland Company are prepared to consent that that provision shall be submitted to the Select Committee which will have to consider the Bill, and the Committee must have power, of course, to insert such a clause. The terms are satisfactory to us, as well as, I hope, to the Board of Trade; and, therefore, so far as we are concerned, the Bill may now be allowed to be read a second time.
MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
I will take the trouble, Mr. Speaker, to remind the House for a moment how this matter 286 stood on Thursday last. The Resolution, or Instruction, which my hon. Friend has mentioned was proposed upon the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. Hickman) to read this Bill a second time on that day six months. Now, it is most undoubtedly the case that in 1872 the original Midland Bill was obtained from this House upon an absolute promise made to the Select Committee by Mr. Allport, now Sir James Allport, the manager of the railway—a promise made not only to the Committee of the House of Commons, but also to the Committee of the House of Lords—that there should be a lowering of the rates from the Staffordshire district. That promise was given most carefully in the words which were read by my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton on Tuesday last. But as soon as they had got their Bill that promise was utterly ignored. They entered into an agreement with the London and North Western and the Great Western Railways; and, instead of reducing the rates, the rates at the present time between Staveley and Wolverhampton and London, and Wolverhampton and Staveley and London, are such as give a very large preferential rate in favour of the two points that are most distant; in fact, with regard to coal, the rates between Staveley and London are 1s. 3d. less in favour of Staffordshire than they are in the case of Wolverhampton. We have, then, a promise clearly made to Parliament—a promise under which the Company obtained the right of entering into these arrangements and joining a line from Walsall to Wolverhampton to the main line; and we find that as soon as they obtained their Bill the promise was utterly ignored. Under these circumstances, my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton has moved that this Midland Bill should not be read a second time until that promise is fulfilled. A Resolution was then proposed by the hon. Baronet—[Sir BERNHARD SAMUELSON: I beg pardon; I moved nothing.] Well, at all events, there is a Resolution upon the Paper standing in the name of the hon. Member for Mid Oxfordshire. That proposition was put forward the other night; but those of us who were sitting at the other end of the House had considerable 287 difficulty in hearing it. It was supposed to meet the difficulty which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for West Wolverhampton, and was in terms declaring that any agreement made under this Bill should be subject to the approval of the Board of Trade or a tribunal to be named by them. But that was not the difficulty in which we were placed. What we said was this—"You obtained your Bill and the support of the district around Wolverhampton and the South Staffordshire mining district. But you obtained that support on certain terms, for the people came here and gave evidence in favour of your Bill on your undertaking to reduce the rates, and that undertaking you have not yet carried out." Well, a clause which says that any future agreement made between the Midland and the London and North Western and the Great Western Railway Companies shall be under the surveillance of the Board of Trade does not meet this difficulty; and I think the House will be of opinion that I was justified in moving that the further consideration of the Bill should be adjourned until we saw more into it. But now the case stands on a different footing. On behalf of Staffordshire, I say that the Midland Company have frequently broken their promises. I know we were led to believe it was possible that we should have a good thing for the trade of Staffordshire from the action of the Midland. We rather believed, as they say in America, that "one railway spoils a town, two bring it to par, and three make it boom." We thought we should have trade reviving under the new railway arrangements which were to be brought about. But what I am coming to is this. I should not have given way upon this point—I should have taken the sense of the House upon it, because a more flagrant breach of faith I do not remember in the annals of Private Bill legislation—only the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) will introduce his Railway Rates Bill at no distant day, and I hope that that will include a clause to prevent any preferential rates from being given to one district over another, and to give to commercial bodies a locus standi to be heard with reference to those rates. If that is so—I think I see my right hon. Friend shake his head—but if that is 288 so, and that Bill is to be brought in speedily, I will not press the case any further now; but it will remain for us to say, when we have heard him introduce his Bill, whether we will move that the consideration of this Bill which is now before us shall be further adjourned until we see what the general Bill for dealing with railway rates is like, or whether we will at once withdraw our opposition and allow the Bill to be read a second time, because the general measure is one likely to prove satisfactory to traders. I need not take up any more of the time of the House now; but this matter is one of the most serious and vital importance. If I were to go on with my case, I could point out how one very large firm in South Staffordshire—a Joint Stock Company—is now in a state of liquidation through having fallen a victim to the present rates upheld by the three Companies. Those rates cannot be cut except by the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella) is about to bring forward. Under these circumstances, and hoping that good results may be brought about by the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman is to bring in, I will not now take up any more of the time of the House.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. MUNDELLA) (Sheffield, Brightside)
My hon. Friend the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxford-shire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) has raised a question of some importance. The Midland Railway Company, after conferring with the Board of Trade, have agreed to the insertion of a clause which will entirely meet the objection of my hon. Friend, which will make the rate charged a perfectly reasonable rate, and which will give the Board of Trade a proper control over any arrangement that may be made. Now, my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Staveley Hill) has complained of some breach of faith committed by the Midland Railway Company so far back as 1872. But this Bill does not deal with Staffordshire rates at all—it has no relation to any question affecting that district. It would be vindictive not to allow it to be read a second time because there is a grievance which ought to be redressed, and which only can be redressed by such a measure as that which I hope to introduce very soon on the subject of railway 289 rates. I may say to my hon. and learned Friend that if an undue preference is given against any locality or Company, then my Bill will be found to deal with it and to provide a remedy. I hope, therefore, that he will not insist on opposing the present Motion, but will allow the Midland Railway Bill to be road a second time on the distinct pledge that a new clause will be introduced into it when it is before the Committee, which will provide for proper arrangements being made.
§ MR. LLOYD (Wednesbury)
The matter which has just been referred to and explained by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade does not in any way affect the question which I wish to bring before the House. The question is not whether these preferential rates should be granted—that is not the question of which we are complaining. The question really is this—the Midland Company, in 1872, came to this House, and before a Select Committee made certain statements that they would give certain advantages if a certain Bill were passed by the House. The House allowed the Bill to be passed upon the distinct pledges made on behalf of the Company that these arrangements should be carried out. It is not a question of preferential rates at all; and, therefore, the Bill which has been mentioned does not meet the case at all. This House is always willing to listen to, and to sympathize with, the toiling multitudes of London and other places. But I would like to ask, Mr. Speaker, whether the House is willing to pay any heed to the burdens which are placed upon the toiling multitudes of the Midlands by this Bill, and in consequence of the Midland Railway Company not fulfilling their pledges? It is now suggested that we should be put off again. How? By a Bill which has yet to be brought in. What it may be none of us knows, nor do we know that it will ever pass. The Government may disappear long before their Bill comes to maturity, and the grievance from which we are suffering will not be dealt with and will not be removed. We are anxious that that grievance should be removed. The Midland Railway Company themselves admit the grievance. If you read the Report of the evidence given by Sir James Allport you will see that he admits the grievance in 290 South Staffordshire. A certain number of ironmasters come together; they promote a Bill; the Midland Railway Company take up that Bill; the Bill is brought in entirely for the purpose of bringing competition into South Staffordshire, so that we may have lower rates than those which exist, and which are admitted to be too high. Sir James Allport then says—We will reduce the rates and allow the competition to come in. Your rates shall be reduced.He goes on—We cannot tell how the charges will remain, or what the cost of certain items will be. It is impossible for us to fix any absolute rates, but you may trust us, because as Staveley is 148 miles off, and we only charge 10s. 6d. per ton, while Wolverhampton is only 124 miles off, and the present rate there is 15s., you may rely upon it that we shall put the Wolverhampton down to the level of the Staveley rate.When asked whether Staveley had any competition he said—No. It is all in our system. We do it without competition, so you may surely trust us to fulfil our pledge.Will the House believe it that up to the present time, though all this occurred 14 years ago, no change has been made? It was in 1879 that the line was completed. The ironmasters called upon the Midland Company to redeem their promise, and wrote to them; but then they forgot all those beautiful pledges they had given, and I hope the promises we hear to-day will not be broken in the same kind of way. Forgetting all the promises they had made, they said—"Oh, we have made a compact with the London and North-Western Company, and we cannot do it." In the evidence he gave, Sir James Allport admitted that the rates in Staffordshire were exceptionally high; but three years afterwards he said—We cannot do what you want, because we have made a compact.How is it that the House allows these compacts to be entered into? How is it that trade is allowed to be crippled by them? Why is it that the toiling miners in Staffordshire and the traders are permitted to be checked by these annulling compacts? What I should like to know is, why do we not make the Companies keep their promises? We ought, I think, to insist upon this pledge being 291 fulfilled, and allow me to say that there is no reason why it should not be kept. During the last debate one hon. Member admitted that the Midland, where there was water competition, reduced the rates. If they voluntarily, of themselves, reduce the rates where it suits them, surely we may ask them to fulfil their own pledge, which cannot be very onerous, and cannot be very painful to them. It has been admitted that they have reduced the rates where the water competition comes against them; and, therefore, Sir, I should very much regret it if the House is willing to give way on this question, and allow these Companies to go on in the old way, with their unsatisfied pledges still remaining unfulfilled. I should hope the House would not again trust to promises when giving new and additional powers to the Midland Company. I therefore hope that some check will be adopted to prevent the continuance of the present high rates. The case has been admitted ever since 1872. The Midland Company then admitted that the rates were too high, and they promised to reduce them. Wages and material never were lower than now, and therefore there is no excuse for the promise not being kept. I hope the House will Ray—"We insist upon these pledges being fulfilled." I will not trouble the House further; but I do hope that some other hon. Member will take the question up, and will not be satisfied to allow these matters to go on in this way. We hear very much of the claims of the labourers to consideration on both sides of the House. Why not the claims of the ironworkers? The agricultural labourers and the crofters are to be considered; surely the claims of the miners and the ironworkers ought equally to be admitted. Surely it is not because they are quiet bodies, who make no noise, that they are to be neglected. I hope hon. Gentlemen will not any longer allow these pledges to be unfulfilled.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR ARTHUR BASS (Stafford, Burton)
I hope the House will not give way in consequence of pathetic appeals 292 as to toiling multitudes. Settle this Bill on common-sense and practical lines. The Bill is a very small and ordinary one. It is a very small Omnibus Bill containing no sort of controversial matter, dealing mainly with the creation of three miles of railway and a few deviations of lines and roads. It does not even seek to raise any capital. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Lloyd) will not advance the cause of the toiling multitudes if he rejects this measure, which has nothing to do with South Staffordshire rates. The Midland Company do not at all acknowledge the substantiality of the accusations he makes. The Bill to which he refers was not a Midland, but a Walsall and Wolverhampton Bill; and the evidence of Mr. Allport was given, not as a Midland Director, but on behalf of that Company. The Midland Company traverse entirely the assertions of the hon. Gentleman; but are willing to meet those assertions in the only place where they should be met—upstairs before a Select Committee. The Midland Company do not desire to throw any impediments in the way of the fullest inquiry—they are quite willing that the question shall be fought out before a Committee—but that object would not be gained if the House were to consent to so unusual a step as to reject this Bill on second reading.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
May I add just one word? Mr. Allport, when giving the evidence which has been referred to before a Select Committee, was asked—Do you come here to express the views of the Midland Company with regard to this Bill?His answer was—I do.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.