Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [8th March],
That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of Railway and Canal Traffic; and for other purposes.
§ Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. MUNDELLA) (Sheffield, Brightside)
In introducing a measure of the great complexity and importance of a measure dealing with Railway and Canal Traffic, I think it will be well if I give a brief retrospect of the legislation since 1854 which bears upon the subject. In that year an Act was passed by the late Viscount Palmerston for giving facilities for through traffic over different railway Systems, and to prevent undue preference. From that year down to 1867 there was no legislation and no inquiry with regard to the railway systems of the United Kingdom; but in 1865 a Royal Commission was appointed of very eminent and able men, of which the present Duke of Devonshire was Chairman. It sat for a long time, took a great deal of evidence, and in 1867 made a Report which went very thoroughly and completely into the whole of the principles which ought to govern legislation in the matter of railways. The question of unequal rates was then, as now, a subject of contention between Railway Companies and the public—it is, indeed, a question which has exercised the public mind ever since 1845—but the public interest in the subject has been developing of late years, and it has been quite recently very much increased in consequence of the depression in trade and agriculture. The Commission I refer to went very deeply into the question of rates, and reported—and here I may say that I will trouble the House with as few quotations as possible—especially in regard to inequality of rates. It reported that—Inequality of charge in respect of distance, besides being a necessary consequence of this competition, is an essential element in the carrying trade—that is to say, the principle which governs a Railway Company in fixing the rate is that of creating a traffic by charging such a sum for conveyance as will induce the produce of one district to compete with that of another in a common market.And they sum up their judgment on this question of inequality of rates in the following words:—The power of granting special rates thus permits a development of trade which would not otherwise exist, and it is abundantly evident that a large portion of the trade of the country at the present time has been created by and is continued on the faith of special rates.555 I draw the attention of the House to these words, because we have recently heard equal mileage rates advocated; and the whole tendency and result of all inquiries that have been made, from the very first inquiry that took place down to the last in 1882, shows that equal mileage rates are practically an impossibility. In 1872 a strong Joint Committee of both Houses was appointed to consider the question of Railway Amalgamation. I need hardly say that the Report of that Committee was of a very exhaustive nature, and of very high authority, having regard to the fact that among the Members of the Committee were the Marquess of Ripon, the Marquess of Salisbury, the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Redesdale, Lord Monk Bretton (then Mr. Dodson), Mr. Chichester Fortescue (now Lord Carling-lingford), the late Lord Belper, Sir R. Assheton Cross, the late Mr. Ward Hunt, and others of great weight. They decided that the principles laid down by the Duke of Devonshire's Commission were sound, and with regard to the proposal to introduce equal mileage rates they declared it to be impracticable. In their Report they say—The proposers of equal mileage have admitted that there must be numerous exceptions—e.g., where there is sea competition (i.e., as above stated, at about three-fifths of the railway stations of the United Kingdom) where low rates for long distances will bring a profit, or where the article carried at low rates is a necessary, such as coal. It is scarcely necessary to observe that such exceptions as these, while inadequate to meet all the various cases, destroy the value of 'equal mileage' as a principle, or the possibility of applying it as a general rule.That Committee made a variety of valuable recommendations, amongst others the appointment of a Commission; and as a result of that Report the Railway Commission of 1873 was appointed, and an Act was passed giving extensive powers to that Body. I think experience has shown that the powers conferred on the Commission by the Act of 1872–3 were too restricted. And not only were the powers too restricted, but the jurisdiction of the Commission has been considerably limited since its appointment by the action of the Courts of Law. The powers which the Courts possess of limiting the jurisdiction of the Commission by prohibition or certiorari has been freely exercised, and the usefulness of the Commission thereby cur- 556 tailed. Nevertheless, it has done really good service to the community. Its decisions have given general satisfaction to the trading community; it has operated, so far as the railways are concerned, in terrorem; and we believe it is capable, if strengthened, of doing much good and useful work. Now, the most recent inquiry is the one of 1881–2 by a Committee of this House, over which Mr. Evelyn Ashley presided, and on which, no doubt, all the various interests were represented. The railway interest was fully represented. ["No, no!"] Well, there were nine Members representing that interest on the Committee. The best proof of the strong convictions which were entertained by different sections is that there were 100 divisions on this Report, and that some of the decisions were conflicting. There were very few occasions on which there was anything like unanimity. I must demur to the statement of my hon. Friend behind me, that the railway interest was not satisfactorily represented on that Committee. It was fully and adequately represented. However, Sir, we are all familiar with the Report of the Committee, which made a number of recommendations, none of which have been yet put into the shape of a Bill. I think many of these recommendations, notwithstanding the statement that the railway interest was not well represented on the Committee, are exceedingly valuable, and I hope we shall embody them fully in the measure I am now about to submit to the House. The next step was the Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend who was then President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain). That Bill was not considered, for various reasons, and was never discussed by the House. In consequence of the withdrawal of that Bill last year, the principal Railway Companies introduced Bills of their own, proposing new classifications and revisions of rates. The fate of these Bills was certain from the moment of their introduction. No doubt, they were objected to by the commercial and trading community, and they were practically rejected by the general feeling of this House. It was felt, not merely upon the merits of the Bills, but on the ground of procedure, that it was not right that such great changes should be effected by the means of Private Bills, introduced by Railway 557 Companies, who, if objecting to modifications made in their Bills by Parliament, could withdraw the measures altogether. Now, I have brought down the history of railway legislation from 1854 to the present time. We have arrived at a point when it is admitted that the condition of affairs with respect to railways is not satisfactory. There are statements made from all classes of the community, with regard to the treatment they receive from the Railway Companies. There is no doubt that the Schedules annexed to the present Act governing the rates and charges of Companies are obsolete, and greatly need revision and reform. It has, therefore, become necessary that some course shall be taken at once to satisfy the reasonable demands of the public, strengthen the Commission, and prevent what I am afraid is now a good deal too common—namely, undue preference being given to the large and heavy traffic, to the neglect of the local and intermediate traffic. But there is a good deal of exaggeration and misconception with respect to the rates charged, and I cannot substantiate some of the statements made; on the contrary, I think they will not bear investigation. For instance, I do not think it is correct that it has ever been possible to send grain from England to New York, in order to bring it back to London, or that sheep have been sent from Colchester to Rotterdam, in order to bring them to London. Various statements of that kind have been made, and I think they have been exaggerated and misleading. Those who make them cannot substantiate them. Yet, I am bound to say, there is much reason for many of the complaints we hear. I am daily almost overwhelmed with evidence of the inequalities existing between the rates charged for different articles of produce, according as they are British or foreign, coming from the same towns in the same quantities and under the same conditions. There is sometimes a variation of as much as 50 per cent—e.g., between foreign cattle and home cattle. There are great inequalities in the charge for the carriage of foreign and home cattle from Newcastle to Wakefield, and from Newcastle to Chesterfield, and so on—inequalities which would seem so arbitrary that I can understand the trades generally, and the agricultural classes in particular, 558 feel considerable irritation and annoyance at the disadvantage under which they are placed as compared with the foreigner. I do not believe the Railway Companies wish to discourage the development of English trade. On the contrary, their interests are really identical with those of the public generally. But I am afraid that railways in the past have been conducted during the period of prosperity very much on the same lines as the general business of the country. We have all made too much of the grand commerce. Everybody desired to deal with goods in bulk, and to send large quantities. The agriculturists despised petite culture; the manufacturers and merchants despised petty commerce; the railways despised petty transport. We have been prosperous—too anxious only to cultivate the great trades and heavy traffic, to deal with great bulks, and have been too neglectful of the development of smaller affairs and the smaller traffic and commerce, to which we shall probably have to pay more attention in the future. With regard to many of the complaints which have reached me as to some of the charges, I am bound to say that I think certain of those charges are doubtful in point of legality; and that being the case, where it is conceived that the rates are not consistent with the spirit of the Acts under which the railways work, we may fairly ask—"Why do not the traders appeal to the Commission on the subject—why have they not combined to put a case before them to try the legality of those doubtful charges?" Well, they have done so in a good many cases; but, in reply to that question, it may be said that the traders—especially the small traders and producers in the rural districts—are unwilling to incur the costs of litigation; and, moreover, it is a very unequal affair for such traders to enter into a contest with powerful Corporations having a large capital at their back, which they do not hesitate to use for the purpose of maintaining their vested interests. That fact will, perhaps, account, in a great measure, for the continuance of these inequalities of charge which are complained of, and for the apparent indifference with which the traders, especially in the agricultural districts, regard them, and for their unwillingness to bring test cases into Courts of Law for the purpose of having 559 doubtful questions determined. I have no desire to exaggerate the feeling that exists on this subject; but every hon. Member in this House knows what the feeling of his own constituency is. But while there is this feeling in this country, the same kind of contest is being carried on in every other country. The question of railway rates and charges is a subject of the liveliest interest in France at this moment—in fact, there have been very excited discussions upon it there during the past few days. I have received from the Foreign Office information that complaints are made in France by the French manufacturers that the through rates from England to Germany, Switzerland, and Italy are so low that it is impossible for them to compete with the English manufacturers in the German and Belgian and Italian markets; and this complaint is especially made by the coal miners of France. In connection with a strike now going on there, it is complained that English coals sold in the interior of France are allowed preferential rates, and that French coals are handicapped thereby. It is said that more is charged for the carriage of French coal over short distances than for the carriage of English coal over long distances. The same contest has been going on in the United States for many years, and there various different forms of dealing with railway rates have been tried. There, I think, some progress has been made towards arriving at a solution of the question, more, perhaps, than has been made in any other country; and it is possible that we may have much to learn from that country on the subject in the future. I am sure that the House will not forget that while the traders have brought forward many well-founded complaints against the Railway Companies, yet that in legislating with regard to Railway Companies we are dealing with interests of great magnitude. It would, in fact, be suicidal if we were to do anything that would seriously interfere with the successful working and management of our railways. It has been said by Viscount Sherbrooke, I think, that the railways have contributed largely to the fortune of everyone but their own shareholders. I do not think anyone desires unduly to limit the railway rates. It may be desirable, to a certain extent, to regulate the through rates charged by the Companies; but it may be fairly said that 560 the interests of the public and of the railways are so bound up together, that if Railway Companies will adopt a liberal policy towards the public, nobody will profit by that course as much as the Railway Companies themselves. Wherever the railways have adopted a liberal policy towards the public, they have been liberally rewarded for it. There can be no better illustration of the truth of my statement than is to be found in the result of the liberal course which was taken by the Midland Railway some 10 or 12 years ago, upon the advice of Sir James Allport, when they determined to make only two charges for conveying their passengers—one being at the rate of 1d. a mile, and the other at the rate of 1½d. a mile, and this for the shortest route. In this way they reduced the number of their carriages and the haulage on their lines very materially. There is no better travelling in the world than that afforded by the Midland Company, who convey their passengers to the North at the rate of 1d. per mile in comfortable and well-ventilated third-class carriages; while their first-class carriages, for conveyance in which they charge only 1½d. per mile, are the most roomy, the most convenient, and the most luxurious that can be found anywhere. The liberal reduction of fares to which I have referred was made in 1872, in accordance with the advice of Sir James Allport and Mr. Edward Ellis, head Superintendent; and nothing has ever answered the expectations of a Company more completely than this arrangement. Comparisons have often been made in this controversy between the rates of English and foreign railways; but in comparing them we must not forget to compare, at the same time, the relative costs of making the respective lines. No doubt, this House has done something to increase the cost of making English railways, and, no doubt, the landowners have also contributed to increase that cost; while no class of the community has profited so largely by the formation of railways as the landowners themselves. The disparity between the cost of making English and foreign railways is enormous. Let me give the House some statistics on this subject which have been prepared at the instance of the Board of Trade, showing the capital invested in English, Colonial, and Foreign Railways, and the 561 cost per mile of making them. The capital which has been invested in railways in the United Kingdom amounts to £801,000,000, the cost of construction has been at the rate of £42,000 per mile, while 18,864 miles are worked at a cost of 63 per cent on the receipts. In the Colonies £362,000,000 has been invested in railways, which have been constructed at a cost of £12,000 per mile. In foreign countries £3,288,000,000 have been invested, the average cost of construction being £16,400 per mile, as compared with £42,000 in England. Here are the figures concerning a few of these foreign countries. That in which the railways have been most expensive, next to our own, has been France. The cost of construction there has been £28,000 per mile, in Germany it has been £21,000 per mile, in Russia £15,000 per mile, in the United States £13,000 per mile, in India £13,000 per mile, and in Canada £12,000 per mile. So that it will be seen that English railways cost 50 per cent more than the next most costly railways—the French. Now, it will be interesting to the House to know the rates of dividends among the English railways. Preference dividends range from about 4 to 4¼ per cent. On the ordinary capital, amounting to about £300,000,000, the dividends are as follows:—£48,000,000 of ordinary Stock pays no dividend; £3,000,000 pays under 1 per cent; £14,500,000, above 1 and not over 2 per cent; £9,500,000, 2 and not over 3 per cent; £21,000,000, or nearly £22,000,000, 3 and not over 4 per cent; £70,000,000, 4 and not over 5 per cent; £65,000,000, 5 and not over 6 per cent; £60,000,000, 6 and not over 7 per cent; £3,800,000, 7 and not over 8 per cent; £1,000,000, 8 and not over 9 per cent; £1,228,000, 9 and not over 10 per cent; £30,000, 12 and over 13 percent; and £1,512,000, 15 per cent; or, on the whole, an average of 4¼ per cent.Now, it would be impossible, at this stage of the Bill, to give illustrations of the difficulty of making through rates and short-distance rates comparatively equal and just. But there is one illustration that has come before me which I will submit to the House, which will show, perhaps better than a long statement, how possible it is to have a long distance rate which may seem very low, but which is regarded by those who pay for the traffic as being very heavy. I hold in my hand a Correspondence, put on the Table on Monday night, in relation to 562 the rates charged for the conveyance of fish from Wick. The Wick fishermen complain of the high and almost prohibitive railway rates on their fish despatched to England. They say—Considering the continued low prices, it is utterly impossible for us now to pay 80s. per ton, as we are greatly handicapped with large quantities of fish coming from Norway, Sweden, and France, these fish being sent by steamer, and landed in London and other English ports, at 2s. per package, whereas we have to pay 9s. per package of a similar size by rail.They go on to say—On the other hand, if you make a reduction in the carriage rates we are confident it will not only largely benefit the fishing communities, but that it will likewise also largely benefit the Railway Companies and the consumers in England and all concerned. At present almost the whole of the autumn catch of herrings, which is the principal catch of the year, is salted for exportation to the Baltic ports. If sufficient encouragement were given by low carriage rates, several hundred thousand tons of the autumn catch of salted herrings would be sent in a fresh condition to the English markets. In this manner the glut in the foreign markets would be prevented, better prices would be obtained by those engaged in the fishing industry, the rolling stock of the Railway Companies would be more fully and more profitably employed, and a large quantity of cheap and nutritious food would be brought within reach of the working classes in the large manufacturing towns of England in these depressed times.The answer of the Railway Company to this is—My Directors (of the Midland Railway) considered the present rates very favourable to the trade of Wick and Pulteneytown, as upon reference to a schedule of rates, which I sent to the Board of Trade on the 24th of June, 1884, it will be seen that fish is carried from Wick to London, by special or passenger trains, a distance of 742 miles, for 65s. per ton in three-ton lots, although for the same description of fish from Leith to London, a distance of 388 miles, the rate is 60s. per ton.The House will see that you may have a rate for a short distance—even a very low rate—for, say, 50 miles, which, when multiplied fourfold, would be practically a prohibitive rate. Therefore there must be special rates for long distance traffic in order that the public may get the advantage at the centre of consumption. While I have complaints from the rural districts that foreign produce passes their door at half the rates the Companies charge for the same kind and amount of produce home-grown, importers are also complaining of the difficulty of distributing their produce owing to high rates. I remember a 563 striking illustration of this with respect to Australian meat. There has been within the last few years an increase in the importation of frozen meat from Australia, and when it conies to London by steamer the importers are anxious to distribute it all over the country. No doubt, in the large towns, the people are anxious to obtain the benefit of this cheap import. Well, the importers complain, and they substantiate their case, that they have been required, in the first place, to pay 50s. a-ton for meat sent from London to Liverpool, whereas American meat is sent from Liverpool to London at 25s. a-ton, or just half as much. It is clear that the railways gave a special rate to Liverpool; but they would not give one to Manchester, so the rate was 25s. per ton from London to Liverpool, and 50s. per ton from London to Manchester. As a result, the frozen meat was sent to Manchester from London viâ Liverpool at 25s. to Liverpool, 12s. back from Liverpool to Manchester, so as to save some 12s. 6d. or 13s. per ton. The evidences of this kind of anomaly are, I am sorry to say, too abundant. There is hardly enough consideration, I believe, on the part of Railway Companies of what is fair to the public. Where there are competing lines, or where the lines converge at competing points, there the rates are low enough. I do not know that they are not, in some instances, even too low, because there is some evidence that the able and astute managers of these railways—and I do not know a more capable and astute set of men, taking them as a class—are not quite sure whether, in some of these cases, they are making a profit or not. They only know what the result is in the end. Where there is no competition—where the railway has, practically, a monopoly, and there are no lines converging at competing points—the through rates are too high, and the local traffic is not sufficiently considered. Well, Sir, I have now said all that I need say as to the reasons for the introduction of this Bill. I may say that I regret very much that my right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Chamberlain) is not in his place to-night. I have received a note from him expressing his regret that, through indisposition, he is unable to be present here to-night. I should have liked to express to him my acknowledgments for 564 the great care and thought and attention he devoted to the subject during the time he was at the Board of Trade. When I took Office I found that a measure had been fully prepared by him, and a measure which, I am sure, must have caused him a great deal of anxiety and care. During the time I have been at the Board of Trade I have given as much thought and attention to the subject as I possibly could. I have had the assistance not only of officials of the Board of Trade, but of the Law Officers of the Crown, and of the Lord Chancellor, in considering how we can make this Bill most effective for its purpose. And I may say that though, in some important respects, it may differ from the measure of my right hon. Friend, yet all his important provisions are included in it. When he comes to compare this Bill with his own measure, I think he will find very little that was in his absent from this. We have made some changes, and some important additions, which I will state to the House, and which, I think, will commend themselves to the House for their usefulness. The present Bill does not deal with the question of safety. I thought it better not to include questions of safety in the Bill. There was a danger of overloading the scheme. The question of safety is one which, I think, should be dealt with separately; and, as a matter of fact, private Members have Bills before the House dealing with it—Bills which I consider will be well worthy of consideration in Parliament. I have confined my Bill to the question of rates and fares, and the business of the Railway Commission. We propose to introduce very important changes; and I must say I think it is only right that I should acknowledge that the Commission, though much fettered in its work, has earned the respect of the community. I should be very sorry if, in consequence of any changes we may make in the Commission, it should be thought that we do not sufficiently appreciate the services of the gentlemen who, during the last 13 years, have devoted themselves with so much care and courtesy and devotion to the business of that Court. I wish to speak in the highest terms of Sir Frederick Peel, who has presided over it. No one could possibly have discharged his duty with more painstaking, with more conscientious- 565 ness, and with greater determination to master every point of the cases brought before him, and no one could have been more anxious to show in his judgments a complete mastery of every detail. But in committing very large powers to the new Court—in enlarging the legal powers of the Commission—it has been felt that it is necessary that the First Commissioner, or the Chief Commissioner, should be a man possessed of legal knowledge and legal training, having the authority and standing of a Judge of the High. Court. It has been felt, Sir, that the effect of appointing a man of that standing will be to shorten the proceedings of the Court, to add weight to its proceedings, and to limit the number of appeals; and I think, on the whole, it will be found to be a measure of economy. The Bill is divided into five parts. The first deals with the constitution of the Court of Procedure of the Railway Commissioners; the second with the jurisdiction of the Court; the third with railway traffic; the fourth with canals; and the fifth with miscellaneous matters. Well, it is provided in the Bill that the Court shall be a permanent Court of Record. The uncertain tenure of the Commissioners hitherto has detracted much from the dignity and authority of their Court. The necessity for its being continued from year to year has been injurious to it. The powers of the Chief Commissioner will be exercised in England by one of the Judges of the High Court, nominated from time to time by the Lord Chancellor; in Scotland, by a Judge of the Court of Sessions, nominated by the Lord President; and in Ireland, by one of the Judges of the High Court, nominated by a like authority. The other two Commissioners will be laymen, practical men of business. In every proceeding before the Commissioners the Chief Commissioner is to deliver judgment; and on all questions of law his opinion is to prevail. The only difference between this clause and the clause of my right hon. Friend is that he proposed a trained lawyer, not making him a member of the High Court of Justice. I confess that this is not at all essential to the Bill, and no part of the principle of the measure. I have no very strong opinion with regard to it. I only take the best evidence I can possibly obtain. Nevertheless, I must say that it all 566 points to the appointment of a Judge to deal exclusively with this business. Of course, when the Railway Court is not sitting he may have time and leisure to devote to other judicial functions. In the next clause, as the House, no doubt, will have gathered, we intend to provide that the Court shall proceed to every locality where its services may be required, whether in England, Scotland, or Ireland. Of course, the English Judge will not preside elsewhere than in England. The lay Commissioners will sit in Scotland with a Scottish Judge, and in Ireland with an Irish Judge. Every order of the Commissioners shall have the force of a judgment. No appeal from the decision of the Commissioners will be allowed on any question of fact; but on questions of law an appeal will lie to a Superior Court of Appeal. Beyond this there will be no appeal, unless the Court of Appeal themselves direct one to the House of Lords. I come next to the question of complaints. Complaints may be made to the Commissioners by any Local Authority or body of traders or freighters. It is deemed very important that we should extend the locus standi, and make it as large as possible, so as to include all persons who have complaints to make. I will just read the clause dealing with this matter—A complaint of a contravention of section two of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1854, as amended by subsequent Acts, and a complaint under the principal Act, and any Act amending it, and under this Act, may be made to the Commissioners by (a) any local or harbour board, any council of a city or borough, any representative county body which may hereafter be created by an Act passed in the present or any future Session of Parliament, any justices in quarter sessions assembled, or any public local authority which now is or hereafter may be established under any general or special Act; or (b) any association of traders or freighters, or any chamber of commerce or agriculture, who shall obtain a certificate from the Board of Trade, that they are, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, entitled to make such complaint, without proof that the complainants are aggrieved by the matter complained of.It is impossible, I think, to draw a clause more comprehensively. As I have said, no appeal shall lie from any decision of the Commissioners upon any question of fact, or from any decision of the Commissioners, regarding the locus standi of a complainant. The Bill strengthens the power of the Commissioners very liberally, and in giving 567 such extensive powers the House will see the importance of the presiding Commissioner being a trained lawyer, whose decisions will carry weight and authority. Passing to another point, we extend the jurisdiction of the Commissioners to special Acts, and to all questions respecting tolls, rates, or fares; and we give them power also to award damages. Now, Sir, the Bill also provides that the public bodies may apply corporate funds, or may pay out of the rates the cost and expenses of any prosecution arising under the Act. Now, I come to the question of traffic, and with regard to the 24th clause I wish to point out that it is one of the most important clauses in the Bill. The 24th clause requires that—Notwithstanding any provisions that may be contained in any general or special Act, every railway company, within twelve months from the commencement of this Act, shall submit to the Board of Trade a revised classification of rates and charges, and a revised schedule of maximum rates and charges.I know it may be said by the Railway Companies that we have no right to require this from them; but I think anyone familiar with the Regulations of this House, from 1838 down to the present time, will see that the House has had the right to exercise this control. I will read the clause of the Act of 1845, and the Standing Order of the House is in the same spirit, and almost in the same words—And be it enacted that nothing herein contained shall be deemed or construed to exempt the railway by this or the said recited Act authorized to be made from the provisions of any general Act relating to such Acts, or of any general Act relating to railways which may hereafter pass during the present or any future Session of Parliament, or from any future revision and alteration under the authority of Parliament of the maximum rates of fares and charges authorized by the said recited Act.So that every Railway Company has contracted with the public and with Parliament that they shall, from time to time, be liable to such conditions as Parliament may see fit to impose. We provide also that, in framing such classification and schedule, the nature and grounds on which terminal charges are proposed to be made, and the circumstances under which they are proposed to be made, shall be fully stated. Well, Sir, when a Railway Company has sent in its new classification and schedule to the Board of Trade, what is to happen? 568 We have provided for that. We shall advertise, so that the Board of Trade may receive representations from any part of the country, or from anybody interested, against either the classification or the maxima. It was thought that the Railway Commissioners would be the right authority to receive, consider, and revise the new classification and schedules; but the more that comes to be considered, the more it will be found to be impracticable. The Railway Commissioners are a Court of Law; and as these matters will be matters of consultation, we think they can be done better without a man in a long robe, but that we should appoint assessors to argue out the questions which may arise. Accordingly, with great deference, we think the Board of Trade ought to undertake this work. The Board may appoint assessors to meet the parties, and when the difference is argued out it is provided that they shall frame the schedule of charges in the way they think just and reasonable, and submit them to Parliament as a Provisional Order. If unopposed, they would pass into law in the ordinary course; but if opposed, these Provisional Orders would be treated in the same way as other Provisional Orders, except that they would be submitted to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament; so that Parliament will have the schedule, classification, and maximum entirely under its control. Provision is also made for amending and re-adjusting from time to time these rates and maxima, and also for grouping rates and settling questions of undue preference. And in the matter of undue preference, we provide that where it appears desirable, wherever there are unequal charges, the burden shall be thrown on the Companies to show what is the reason of the inequality, and the Board shall take into consideration what are the justifications of any inequality. So that, on the proof of inequality, it will lie on the Railway Company to show that such inequality does not constitute undue preference. Well, Sir, I have stated something of the power of the new Commission with regard to the schedule, maximum, and undue preference. We also provide for annual Returns, bringing the canals under the same heading as the railways. We authorize the public authorities to expend sums of money for the purpose 569 of application to the Commissioners. Now, I come to a clause which is entirely new, and which may excite a little harmless ridicule, but for which I am prepared to take the responsibility. It has been found in the United States, notwithstanding that they give the Commissioners the same legal power and control as we propose to give our Commissioners, that there is room for something like negotiation—for the Commissioners or other independent bodies to arbitrate between Railway Companies and traders, to bring the two parties together, and bring them to something like an agreement. There is a very remarkable Report which has just been issued by the Bureau of Labour at Philadelphia. It is from the work on Railway Transportation by Mr. Hadley, head of the Bureau of Labour Statistics of Connecticut, who, I believe, has the honour of having started the scheme which I now submit to the House. I will read a few lines of it, if the House will permit me, to show precisely what the scheme is. He says—There is another class of Commissions of quite a different character, Commissions with little or no power to act, and simply established for the sake of securing publicity. The success of such Commissions has been in some instances surprisingly great. This was especially the case with Massachusetts under the leadership of Charles Francis Adams, jun. The Massachusetts Commission was established in 1869. At first a great many people were disposed to treat it with good-natured ridicule. It had really no power, except the power to report. But its Reports were strong enough to command respect and even obedience. The Commissioners were by no means infallible. Some of their theories were wrong. They were in favour of a partial State ownership of railroads, which could not have done what they expected of it, and would probably have proved a great misfortune. But the Commissioners had something better than correct theories; they had practical business sagacity. They abandoned courses which proved wrong; they followed up with successful persistence those which proved right. Gradually but surely they introduced improvements in accounting, which since 1878 have been further extended by the Commissioners of other States. In the same way they gradually compelled the roads to adopt safety appliances by educating public opinion to a point where it demanded such action. And in the same way they exercised a decisive influence on the policy of the railroads with regard to rates, leading them to develop their local business instead of confining attention to the through business,Now, what do we do? It is set forth in the 28th clause, and I hope Parliament will think it worthy of its consideration. It provides that— 570Whenever any person sending or desiring to send goods by any railway, is of opinion that the railway company is charging him an unfair or an unreasonable rate of charge, or is in any other respect treating him in an oppressive or unreasonable manner, such person may make a complaint to the Board of Trade. The Board of Trade, if they think that there is reasonable ground for the complaint, may thereupon call upon the railway company for an explanation and endeavour to settle amicably the differences between the complainant and the railway company. For the purpose aforesaid, the Board of Trade may appoint either one of their own officers, or any other competent person to communicate with the complainant and the railway company, and to receive and consider such explanations and communications as may be made in reference to the complaint; and the Board of Trade may pay to such last-mentioned person such remuneration as they may think fit, and as may be approved by the Treasury."I see this proposal is received by the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Richard Webster) with a smile; but it has met with success, and in America they have shown what can be done by mediation.The Board of Trade shall, from time to time, submit to Parliament reports of the complaints made to them under the provisions of this section, and the results of the proceedings taken in relation to such complaints, together with such observations thereon as the Board of Trade shall think fit.Now, the Report of the American Commissioners shows that there is nothing to which Railway Companies are so amenable as public opinion; and the Reports made from time to time of these complaints, and the way in which they are dealt with, will, I believe, constitute a very important mass of evidence, as to the way in which the railways of the country are managed, not only for the guidance of railway managers, but also for the guidance of Parliament, as to how it may have to deal with them in future. I have the strongest conviction that what has happened in America will prove to be our case here, and that by securing proper management you will do much to prevent the permanent interests of railways being sacrificed to temporary interests, and also secure the interests of the public. There is no necessity to appoint a Commission, because these complaints will be made to the Board of Trade, who will appoint an assessor or one of its own officers to hear complaints from time to time. It will not, of course, listen to frivolous complaints; and it may make rules and charge a small fee to prevent vexatious and unnecessary complaints, and the 571 result of this, I believe, will be to prevent a good deal of litigation, because when men having one object in view get together round a table to discuss any questions they generally arrive at a reasonable result. The last number of Bradstreet's Journal speaks of the almost unvarying success which has attended the work of the Commissioners, and the extension of it. Last year has been free from litigation, and it speaks of the good done by the Railway Commissioners in bringing the Railway Companies and the public together in friendly discussion. Having now submitted the Bill to the House, I must appeal to hon. Members on a subject of such importance, where such vast interests are concerned, to give this measure a patient and careful examination. We do not claim for it that it is incapable of improvement, and, no doubt, it will be in the power of hon. Members to discover and repair many defects in it. All I can say is that we shall welcome, from any quarter whence they may come, suggestions which tend to improve the measure which I now ask the House to read the first time. I believe there is no desire in the House or in the mind of the public to harass the Railway Companies, or to diminish their lawful gains; but there is a desire to regulate the monopolies they have enjoyed, so as to conduce in the future more effectually than in the past to the interests of the country and to the national prosperity.
§ MR. HICKMAN (Wolverhampton, W.)
I crave the indulgence of the House for a few moments while I address myself to some clauses of the Bill. I should like, first, to express my sense of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman for the great care and knowledge which he has bestowed upon this Bill, and the lucid manner in which he has placed its provisions before the House. If, therefore, I call attention to one or two points which it seems to me have been overlooked, I beg the House to consider that I do so not in a carping spirit, or with a desire unduly to criticize the measure. In the first place, I have not heard, in the course of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, much about canals. ["Yes!"] If the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with the subject, I am, of course, glad to be corrected. I will turn to the question of through 572 rates. I should like to see powers given to the Commissioners to declare through rates between points connected by two or three different lines, so that the public may not incur terminal charges three or four times over on the same traffic. There is another point to which I desire to call attention. I should be glad to see something done with regard to unequal rates between different districts. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that there will be power to deal with unequal rates as between different classes of traders; but we want, also, power to deal with unequal rates as between different districts. Well, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the difficulty which traders have in contending with and prosecuting their rights against powerful Railway Companies. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that it was proposed that persons having complaints would be able to make them to the Board of Trade, and that the Board of Trade would appoint assessors to stand between the Railway Company on one side, and the person making the complaint on the other; but I did not gather from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman that there was any power to enforce their decision.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
The permissive clause, under which the Board of Trade will report the result of its mediation.
§ MR. HICKMAN
Then, Sir, it would appear that the tribunal will be unable to decide questions of this character. If that is not so, I shall be glad to be corrected. The right hon. Gentleman said, in the course of his speech, that equal mileage rates have been found to be impossible, because, in some cases, there was sea competition; but I entirely fail to see why sea competition should make equal mileage rates impossible. It is, perhaps, impossible to make mileage rates on coal equal to those on articles of more bulk and greater value; but I submit that for equal distances and for traffic of the same character there might be equal mileage rates. Then the right hon. Gentleman says that other countries are complaining of the railway rates, and he mentions that complaints are now being made in the United States of America. But, Sir, at the present time corn is being carried from Chicago to New York at one-seventh of 1d. per ton per mile, and the rate for 573 iron from Birmingham to London is 1½d. per ton per mile, or more than 10 times as much as the cost of bringing corn from Chicago to New York. That, Sir, is not the only instance I could give; and if the right hon. Gentleman will examine the valuable Returns made by the hon. Baronet the Member for North Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson), he will see that in all cases—at any rate, as compared with the district which I have the honour to represent—foreign railway rates are lower to the extent of 40 or 50 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman said that English railways cost more to make than foreign railways; but I suggest that the explanation of that is that the right hon. Gentleman has taken the cost of a single tract in America and compared it with the cost of, say, a quadruple tract in this country. The London and North-Western Railway, to a large extent, consists of four lines; and it is obvious that the cost of its construction is more than that of a railway having only a single line. Having made these few observations, I beg to express my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for the very lucid statement with which he has accompanied the introduction of this Bill.
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON (Stirling)
The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has stated, in the course of his speech, that many exaggerated statements have been made, and many complaints with regard to railway rates which have not been substantiated. Sir, I think that any hon. Member who takes the trouble to examine the evidence produced before the Railway Commission in 1881–2 will find that many of the statements made then were very much of the same character as those to which the right hon. Gentleman has to-night alluded, and that when those statements were thoroughly examined they were found to be what I may call entirely bottomless. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen dissent from that statement. I refer them to the evidence and to the Report of the Committee, in which they will find my words fully borne out. But the right hon. Gentleman himself seems to have some belief in those statements. The right hon. Gentleman read a paragraph from a letter which he said had 574 been laid on the Table of the House from the Provost of Wick, and various other gentlemen connected with the fish trade in that district. The paragraph was to the effect that the Memorialists that, if sufficient encouragement were given by low carriage rates, several hundred thousands of tons of the autumn catch of herrings would be sent in a fresh condition to the English market. Now, if there were any Members of the Fishery Board here, they would, I think, be able to bear me out in saying that there is no such thing as several hundreds of thousands of tons of fish caught on all the Coast of Scotland together. But, if further proof is required, I hold in my hand another letter signed by the same gentleman who led the signatories of the Memorial—namely, Mr. Rae, Provost of Wick, dated March, 1885, and which is upon the same subject. Complaining of the exorbitant rates charged by the Railway Companies for the transport of fish from Wick to London, amongst other things he says that during the herring season—that is to say, the same time as is mentioned in the other letter, from about the 20th of July to the 6th of September in each year—"Almost the whole catch of herring, ranging from 100,000 to 120,000 barrels, is salted for exportation." Now, the difference between the two statements is that in one it is said that, with low rates, several hundred thousand tons of herrings would be sent from Wick to London; and, in the other, it is said that almost the whole catch of herrings, but ranging only from 100,000 to 120,000 barrels, is salted for exportation; whereas, if the carriage rates to the English markets were more reasonable, a large proportion of this would be sent fresh to the English capital. Now, Sir, what are those exorbitant rates? The right hon. Gentleman has told us that there is a special rate of 65s. per ton for 741 miles; but I will take the higher rate—the rate charged for smaller quantities—the ordinary rate, which is 80s. per ton. These same gentlemen, in a letter to which I have alluded, say that the cost of herrings on the quay at Wick is £3 per ton, and they complain that the carriage of these herrings is £4 per ton. The total cost of herring laid down in London is, therefore, £7 per ton. I will assume that each herring will weigh half-a-pound, and that will give 4,480 herrings 575 to the ton; the cost of the fish in London, therefore, including the carriage, is £7 a-ton, or 1,680 pence, and three-eighths of 1d. is the cost of every herring laid down in London. Where, then, is the enormous reduction which can be made in the carriage rates which will enable the fishermen of Wick to catch their hundreds of thousands of tons of herrings and send them in a fresh condition up to London? Well, Sir, there is a very similar statement in the document to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, and that is with respect to the carriage of codfish. The Memorialists state that the cost of codfish at Wick is from 9d. to 1s. each, and they complain that the rate for them is 11d. 2d.; but they do not tell us what is the average weight of these fish, and we shall, in consequence, have to arrive at it by calculation. Assuming the freight to be £4, there are about 69 fish in a ton, which gives for each fish the weight of about 32 lbs.; and, therefore, hon. Members will see that, at the rate complained of by these gentlemen, codfish are laid down in London at something less than 1d. per pound. If hon. Gentlemen know anything about their own housekeeping, they will perceive from this that the scarcity of fish in London is not due to any extravagance in the rates of carriage charged by the Railway Companies. I have gone into the details of those matters for the purpose of disabusing the minds of hon. Members, as far as I can, and for the purpose of explaining the letter to which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has alluded; and I have now merely to say in conclusion, as a Member of the Railway Committee referred to by him, that I am satisfied that the railway interest was not over-represented on that Committee. Out of the 27 Members of the Committee, only seven represented the railway interest. There were some Gentlemen who came there—I do not wish to speak particularly—with their minds made up that the Railway Companies were acting very improperly, and no evidence that we could produce was sufficient to disabuse their minds of that impression. But the minds of the majority of the Committee were disabused, and over and over again since then Railway Managers and Railway Directors have informed the Board of Trade 576 that that they were perfectly willing to do all in their power in support of a Bill based on the recommendations of that Committee, and they wish for nothing better so far as the railway legislation of the future is concerned.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
Sir, I desire to add to the acknowledgments already made the expression of my appreciation of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. I shall not occupy the time of the House for more than a few minutes, and I should not have taken part in the discussion but for the unfortunate absence of the late President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Stanhope). Sir, I acknowledge the very fair and kind way in which the right hon. Gentleman has intimated that he is aware of the labour bestowed on the preparation of the Bill by Members of the late Government. It is not my intention to criticize to-night the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman; but I think I may say at once that we on these Benches consider that the subject before us is one which ought to be discussed in a friendly and not in a Party spirit, and with the desire of producing a measure which will deal out justice to the Railway Companies, and which will, at the same time, confer benefits on the trade of the country. I am sure that hon. Members will bear in mind in discussing this question that it is one which on almost every point presents two sides, and that it will be most necessary to balance the scales of justice so as not to confer upon either parties a benefit to which they are not entitled. I may, perhaps, be permitted to say a few words only of a general character on some of the leading points to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred; and I do so very willingly, because it has been my good fortune to have to consider this question on both sides for some years. I have seen the working of this Commission from the point of view of the Railway Companies, and I have seen the working of the Commission from the traders' point of view; and, therefore, I trust that I shall, to a certain extent, be able to assist the House in their discussions on this Bill. I am exceedingly glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman state that he, and those who have assisted him—amongst others, the Lord Chancellor— 577 have come to the conclusion that it is right that this Commission should be presided over by a competent lawyer, and a lawyer who holds the position of one of Her Majesty's Judges. If there is one thing which has done more harm than anything else, it is the feeling that this is a tribunal where something "more than justice" can be obtained. It is hardly necessary to point out that "more than justice" means injustice, and that, both from the traders' point of view and from the point of view of the Railway Companies, a bold and firm judgment is required of matters of law which will command the respect of both sides. There is another most important consideration in connection with the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman, which must, I think, commend itself to the House, and that is the question of utilizing judicial strength. It will be remembered that for a very considerable portion of time every year the Commissioners have had practically nothing to do; and I think it would be a very great advantage to the country if the time of any Judge who presides over railway cases should be devoted to other business when such cases do not call for his services. There is another point which I ask the House most carefully to take into consideration; and that is, the question of assessors who are to sit in England, Scotland, and Ireland at the side of the Judge. Of course, I recognize to the fullest extent the great advantage of assessors, and I am quite sure that those who practise in those Courts in which assessors sit for the purpose of assisting the Judge, or before tribunals where an engineer has to be called in to assist a lawyer, or a lawyer called in to assist an engineer, must be convinced that this is a convenient form of tribunal. But I think that the right hon. Gentleman should consider whether it is always necessary that an assessor should sit, because there are a large number of cases which do not involve any questions of a technical kind at all. I speak in the hearing of many hon. Members who have conducted cases before the Commission, and I say that although there are cases requiring technical knowledge, there are a large number which depend entirely and solely on the construction of Acts of Parliament; and I submit to the right hon. Gentleman that it is worthy of consideration 578 whether or not there should not be power in the parties, or in the Court itself, to dispense with the sittings of assessors where it is deemed that their services would not be required. By that means it seems to me we may further utilize the Court, by enabling them to employ their time in other ways. I do not wish to discuss the question as to whether it is better that the classification should be settled by the Board of Trade or the Railway Commission. I quite agree that there is a good deal to be said for the Office presided over by the right hon. Gentleman, and I assure him that whatever were the views put forward by the late Government they were not final, and that the question was left for discussion. It is a most difficult question, and I agree that it is very desirable to have a preliminary discussion in the nature of a familiar forum where the parties can discuss their difficulties. I think all the Railway Companies will agree that a new classification is required; and I do not believe that anyone would contend that the classification which has grown up in Committee Rooms is of the kind which should continue. It must be remembered that the question of short-distance traffic is one of exceeding difficulty, because a mere mileage rate which might be proper for long distances would not do for short ones of a few miles. I have seen a rate as low as 3d. for a distance of four miles; but I have no doubt that many hon. Gentlemen will know that it is impossible to move a ton of goods under a cost of 1s. or 1s. 6d. That which requires very careful consideration is the adjustment of rates, both in the interest of traders and of Companies; because to a great extent, at the present time—and I can give chapter and verse for what I say—there is no doubt that the long-distance traffic has been the source of profit which has enabled the Companies to carry the short-distance traffic at all. Therefore, you will have to see that each description of traffic bears its own burden, and that it produces some remuneration to the Railway Companies for carrying it. But I quite believe that there will be no indisposition on the part of the Railway Companies to deal with that matter upon a proper footing. Then, Sir, I think that it will be necessary to give very careful consideration to the question of awarding damages. 579 Although I do not object to the principle, I may say that it has often been pointed out that the remedy for undue preference does not consist of necessity in lowering the rate paid by a particular applicant—it may consist in raising the rate charged to people about whom he complains. So far as I can see, if proper provisions are made, the question whether it is right for a Court presided over by a competent Judge to give damages is one well worthy of the consideration of the House; but I do not think it desirable at once to adopt the principle until we see a little more of the way in which it is proposed to be worked out. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has misunderstood the smile which passed across my countenance if he supposes that I was laughing at anything which he said. Nothing was further from my mind; I smiled at a remark of one of my hon. Friends, and certainly not at any proposal which he brought forward. I am as much as anyone in favour of negotiation, conciliation, arbitration, or anything which will bring the parties together; but I am not sure that it would be wise to take a step in the direction of holding over either party the power of public complaint, which might encourage the ventilation of grievances which have no substance in them. Still, with regard to this, I only say that the clause by which the right hon. Gentleman sets store is a difficult one; and I trust that it will receive the most fair and candid consideration from every hon. Member on this side of the House who takes part in the discussion. I shall not enter tonight on any discussion of legal mileage rates, or of the rates on foreign produce; but I should like to say that, although there may be very little difficulty—and I think there is very little difficulty—in dealing with the rates on foreign produce, as compared with the rates on home produce, if it be treated as a question of law, yet the matter has great difficulties when you come to deal with it on commercial grounds. It may be to the advantage of the community that there should be some power of carrying imported goods at cheap rates; but my only desire in referring to the subject is to keep before the minds of hon. Members the fact that this question of the carriage of home produce as compared with foreign will require the most 580 careful attention of the House. Having made these few observations, I have only to express the hope that the House will not think I have done wrong in simply calling attention to the particular points which interest us, and on which we desire to assist Her Majesty's Government. I do not intend anything like instruction to the right hon. Gentleman, whom I beg to thank for the very clear and interesting statement which he has given to the House.
§ COLONEL SALIS-SCHWABE (Lancashire, S.E., Middleton)
I should like to make a few observations upon this subject, which I believe is of great interest to the community at large, and which is most certainly of great interest in Lancashire. In that county we have found that our profits have almost, and in many cases quite, disappeared, and that wages have gone down; but the railway rates remain just as they were formerly, with the exception of a small reduction which has taken place since the Manchester Ship Canal Bill was introduced. Now, among the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mundella) for the present high rates, it is said that there has been considerable extravagance in the purchase of land and the construction of the railways; but if that be the case, I say it is no reason why the consequences of that extravagance should be made good by a tax on the trading community. If it be necessary to help the railways out of their difficulties, let it be done by some general tax. Then, again, we fail to see the justice of two rates, one for goods for exportation, and another for goods for the home markets. If it pays the Railway Companies, as apparently it does, to take goods for exportation from Manchester to London at 25s. per ton, we cannot see why they should charge 40s. per ton for goods to be sold in this country. It is certainly to be hoped that the Bill will carry out the object we have in view—namely, that the Railway Companies shall no longer be allowed to carry on their business to the injury of the mercantile community.
§ SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
I desire to make my acknowledgments to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mundella) for the very able and clear statement he has made with regard to a measure which is, perhaps, one of the most important that this House has 581 had to deal with. If anything were necessary to recommend it to the impartial consideration of hon. Members on this side of the House, it would be so recommended by the handsome and generous manner in which the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the labours of his Predecessors in connection with this Bill. I think that the speech of the right hon. Gentleman leaves little to be desired, in so far as it shows that he has realized the fact that the difficulty to be contended with is only to be met by a practical remedy. The right hon. Gentleman appears thoroughly to understand the difficulties which now exist with regard to rates which he calls obsolete, and as to the practice of Railway Companies, with local traffic, and with the rates—of which he gave us examples—for the conveyance of foreign stock and home stock. I wish to mention a point on which all those who are interested in this subject feel very strongly—namely, that in entering into a dispute with one of the Railway Companies before the Commissioners the persons interested are entering into a very unequal contest. We have had from the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton) an interesting statement with regard to the rate of the carriage and cost of fish brought from Wick to London; and there was at the conclusion of his speech one sentence which struck me as being of great value. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say, with reference to the Committee on Railway Rates which sat in 1881–2, that he wished for nothing better than that the railway legislation of the future should be based on the recommendations contained in the Report of that Committee. Exactly; I can quite understand that. It is a very natural suggestion; but I hope, after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that the whole of the remedies which will be provided for the evils which now exist will not be confined within the narrow limits of the recommendations of that Committee. That Committee did good service in bringing forward a good deal of evidence; but there are reasons why it is thought that the recommendations contained in their Report should not be accepted as a settlement of the question. It is quite clear from the feeling out-of-doors, which is both justifiable and has been justified, that, having regard to the 582 undue preferences which have been given and are given—undue preferences given not only between place and place, and between trade and trade, but also, in the way which comes most home to us, undue preferences as between our own and foreign produce—the time has come when it is absolutely necessary that this question should be grappled with boldly and settled. As far as can be judged from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, he appears to deal with every point which we have urged. It is not for me, without having had an opportunity of reading the Bill, to give a definite judgment upon the matter; but I am bound to say that, on the face of it, we have every reason to be well satisfied with the proposals of the Government. I say that the right hon. Gentleman appears to have grappled with the subject boldly, and to be anxious to deal with it effectually. The Railway Commission, as I understand, is to be strengthened by the appointment, as its head, of a Judge of the High Court. That, Sir, will undoubtedly have the effect of causing the decisions of the Court to be more effective, and received with more respect, not only by those who approach the Court as appellants, but by the Railway Companies themselves. When we come to the question of the Board of Trade being constituted as a special tribunal to settle, in the first instance, the nature and amount of terminals, and to settle the whole of the classification of all the railways—I do not desire to express any definite opinion, but it does seem to me that you are putting on the Board of Trade an amount of work which is so vast that it is somewhat doubtful whether they will be able to cope with it; and at this early stage I submit to the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman whether it might not be more effectually dealt with by the appointment of a Royal Commission for the sole purpose of dealing with the difficult questions of the re-classification of rates and terminals? The question as to the right of Railway Companies to charge terminals outside their maximum rates was before the Railway Commissioner quite lately. The contention of the trade interest was that the maximum rate includes within it the ordinary rate. The Railway Commissioner's judgment supported the traders' contention. That decision was 583 questioned, and the point is still sub judice. Whatever may be the result as between the traders and the Railway Company, the question of terminals must not at this moment be regarded as settled; and I am of opinion that the traders will not be satisfied with an arrangement which leaves the question of terminals an open one. I do not understand whether the Board of Trade will give what the Railway Companies now claim — namely, that they may have at every station on their lines the right of imposing a separate and definite terminal. It is the contention of the Railway Companies that they have the right to do this. Does the Bill give power to the Board of Trade that they are to determine, and that they are to publish in a Bill to come before this House, the whole classification of every rate of the Railway Companies, together with every terminal which the Railway Companies are to be allowed to charge at each station? I do not wish to say anything in a contentious spirit; but, having been interested in this question for a long time, I desire to make the matter as clear as it can be. At this late hour I have only to thank the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for the able way in which he appears to have grappled with the subject as a whole. After listening to that statement, I am induced to hope that when I have read the Bill I shall be able to give it my support.
§ SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)
Sir, I desire to add the expression of my satisfaction to that of other hon. Members at the comprehensive way in which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) has dealt with this question. I shall reserve anything I may have to say as to its provisions until the Bill comes forward for second reading. I should not have spoken to-night had it not been for two or three words which fell from the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir Richard Webster) with reference to the Railway Commission. I understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that the impression was abroad that the Court, as constituted at the present time, did more than justice, which was equivalent, in point of fact, to doing injustice. Now, Sir, having served on the Committee of 1881–2, before which Sir Frederick Peel was examined, I am bound to say that, 584 so far as justice is concerned, every decision of the Court which was impugned was fully justified by the evidence which Sir Frederick Peel gave before that Commission. Those decisions were justified not only as being consonant with common sense, but also as being in conformity with previous decisions of the Court of Common Pleas; and when we are told that the Railway Commission does not possess the full confidence of the public, I think I am justified in saying that it has the full confidence of the traders of the United Kingdom, and that, not because it has done more than justice, but because it has done equal justice. I thought it my duty to say this; but I will not at this late hour say anything else, except again to express my full concurrence in what has been said by my hon. Friend (Sir Richard Paget) on the opposite side of the House, that there is in this Bill a promise to all those who are interested in railway traffic that the grievances that have been felt will be remedied, and that a system will be created which will prevent the recurrence of similar grievances for the future. There are many other questions that have been raised in the long and interesting speech of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) to which I shall have other opportunities of adverting. As I said at the outset, notwithstanding my desire to do justice to the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced this important question, I should not have been induced to rise had it not been for the reference made to the Railway Commission.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I do not intend to go into the question of railway rates at any length at this late hour, nor to comment on the details of the measure brought so clearly and exhaustively before the House by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella). I am quite content that he has recognized the maxim of one of the late Inspectors of the Board of Trade, that if the State does not control the railways the railways will control the State; and that he has recognized that the interests of the public and the interests of trade are safer in the hands of the State and the Bodies that the State appoints as representatives of the interests of the public than they are in the hands merely of Railway Directors, The rea- 585 son that I have ventured to rise for one moment to ask the indulgence of the House to allow me to make one or two remarks is this—there is an omission in the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has himself referred to it; and it is because I am responsible for the measure to which he most kindly referred, and to which he drew the favourable attention of the House—the Bill for securing the greater safety of railway passengers and railway servants—that I desire to refer to that omission. I do not wish to detain the House for more than a moment; but I certainly do desire to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his decision as to the non-admission of clauses dealing with the question of safety. What are the facts? The Royal Commission which reported on Railway Accidents took an immense body of evidence, and gave us an elaborate Report about nine years ago.
§ MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not in Order in referring to matters which are not within the Bill. He is now speaking upon a totally different subject.
§ MR. CHANNING
I simply wished to draw attention to the fact that in the Bill brought before the House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain) in the Session of 1884 this question of public safety was dealt with; and I would, therefore, appeal on these grounds to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade to reconsider his decision, and to admit considerations of safety into the scope of his Bill.
§ MR. LIONEL COHEN (Paddington, N.)
I am sorry, Sir, to detain the House at this late hour; but I only wish to say a word or two. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mundella), I must say, has introduced his Bill in a most clear manner. For 20 days the Royal Commission on Depression of Trade has been taking the evidence of traders, many of whom feel aggrieved by undue preference been given by the Railway Companies to certain other traders or certain other districts. With three sheets of the memoranda of specific grievances of which they complain in my hand, I can state most emphatically that there is scarcely one of these grievances that will not be covered by the clauses of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman has brought forward. If the clauses of the Bill are 586 examined they will be found to deal satisfactorily with this question of rates, which is a most difficult one to touch. If it were dealt with in any other way than that the right hon. Gentleman proposes to adopt, as regards the general principle, I am satisfied that the result would be an utter failure. You must have an elastic system if you are to succeed. If you are going to fix a maximum or a minimum rate you will find that the circumstances of the country change so rapidly that you will have, in the course of time, to renew your legislation. It would then be impossible, without new legislation from time to time, to do justice to the interests of the traders and the railways. You must have some elastic tribunal that will have it in its power from time to time, without fresh legislation, to take cognizance of the circumstances of the development of trade and the other elastic circumstances which it is necessary to bear in mind. I am some what anxious with regard to one part of the Bill, because the right hon. Gentleman did not speak of it with that extreme confidence which I should have liked to see him exhibit—I refer to what I may call the conciliatory tribunal of the Board of Trade. It seems to me that in the clauses which give power to the Chambers of Commerce and other authorities and Local Bodies to be heard before the Board of Trade or Railway Authority, he did not allow any facility for the individual trader to appear before it; therefore, unless there is that tribunal of conciliation that he speaks of, the individual trader would have no locus standi. I remember an instance in which a trader was advised to appeal to the Commission; but he asked what power could he have against the Railway Companies? That was a farmer in the North of England. It is most important that there should be a tribunal like that referred to which will be easily open to the individual trader just as the public tribunal will be open to public bodies. So far as I can speak on behalf of the commercial community with which I have been connected, without pledging myself to all the minute details of the Bill, I think our best thanks are due to the right hon. Gentleman and to his Predecessor for their services in dealing with this question in so exhaustive, and, at the same time, so complete a manner.
§ MR. LANE (Cork Co., E.)
I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will value any expression of congratulation from hon. Gentlemen sitting on these Benches; but it is so seldom that we Irish Members have an opportunity of congratulating Gentlemen on the Front Bench opposite on the Bills they introduce, that I, for one, cannot deny myself the luxury of expressing my satisfaction at the very conciliatory and comprehensive manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has dealt with this question. As a Representative of an Irish constituency, and also as a member of a very large trading body in Ireland which has suffered from these differential rates that are given to English Companies and shippers of foreign agricultural produce, I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that though it has been challenged by an hon. Member behind him, he will find that in what he has said this evening as to the inequalities and preferential character of the rates charged by the Railway Companies, many hon. Members, particularly those from Ireland, will be able to corroborate him. They will be able to more than corroborate him, because I think, on the second reading of the Bill, we shall be able to bring before the notice of the House cases of most exorbitant charges on the part of the Railway Companies—such extraordinary charges as he probably does not dream of at the present time. With reference to his having been challenged in regard to the fish trade in Scotland, I certainly must admit that the hon. Member (Mr. J. C. Bolton) on the Bench behind the right hon. Gentleman went into figures to prove that the fish trade in Scotland is not handicapped to the very extraordinary extent that the statement in the Report read by the right hon. Gentleman would indicate; but I shall be able to prove—and other Members from Ireland will be able also to prove—to the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman that hundreds of tons of fish captured along the Irish Coasts in the fishing season are actually used as manure, because the railway rates from the different towns on the Western and South-Western Coasts are so prohibitive that it would not pay the fishermen and dealers in fish to send their takes to the English market. If 588 the steamers plying between these Irish Western ports and the English ports are not at hand when the large takes of fish occur in Ireland the fishermen absolutely consent to sell their fish by the car load to the farmers for manure rather than trust to the enormous charges of the Irish and English railways for sending their fish to market. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, when further considering this matter, to give his most careful attention to this question of the preferential rates that are being given to all kinds of foreign produce coming into this country. It is one of the greatest grievances that producers of the whole of the United Kingdom have to labour under, for this reason—that, as a rule, the Railway Companies have almost a monopoly of the carriage of goods from all the different parts of the country. Goods from Scotland must come on one or two lines, also goods from Ireland, and this likewise applies to goods brought from different parts of this Kingdom. But goods coming into this country from other countries have so many different ports of entry—Bristol, Liverpool, Southampton, Grimsby, Hull, London, and so on—that the competition between the railways to carry these goods from the different ports to the centres of commerce is so keen that it is impossible for some home producers to compete in the English market with the foreign supply on account of the preferential rates which the foreigner receives. There is another point on which I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to stand by the clause he referred to in the final part of his Bill—that is that particular part in which he requires the Railway Companies to send regular Reports to the Board of Trade. No matter what has been said by hon. Members who followed the right hon. Gentleman, I can assure him, as a trader myself, and one who has had a large experience in connection with railways, that there is no point on which they are more susceptible of influence than that particular point of publication being given to complaints which are made against their charges. There is no clause in the whole of the Bill which will be found to operate more to the benefit of the trading community and to the prevention of litigation—to the prevention of the Companies pushing traders to that extreme point of pressure when they have to resort to 589 litigation—than that part which requires justifiable complaints to be made public by the quarterly or annual publication of Reports. Of course, the hon. Gentleman who spoke from this side of the House is quite right in saying that it would be ridiculous for the Board of Trade to publish every trifling complaint sent down to them; but whoever is at the head of the Board of Trade should discriminate and make a choice of the complaints to be published in the quarterly or annual Reports. I should like on another point to ask a question—that is to say, as to the clause dealing with the cost of bringing these complaints before the Board of Arbitration. The right hon. Gentleman said the cost would be borne by the representative or other Body that would make the complaint to the Railway Commission. I should like to ask this—if these Bodies, or even if individuals, substantiate their complaints, showing just ground for them, and compel the Railway Companies to adopt the rates they demand, or to yield in any other respect to their claims, should not the Companies, under the circumstances, be compelled to pay the costs incurred, as in any ordinary case where a plaintiff obtains a verdict against a defendant? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will be good enough to inform us on that point? It would, I think, be a hardship upon the ordinary taxpayer if the cost of trying a case where a Railway Company presses unduly on one particular branch of trade is imposed upon the general community. While we shall all, I am sure, be very glad to see the local representative Bodies allowed to appear before the tribunal, many of us would be inclined to object to the clause, unless it were so drafted as to allow the costs to be charged against the Companies where they are proceeded against successfully.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
I do not wish to detain the House; but, as a Member of the Railway Rates Committee, I cannot allow the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton) to pass unchallenged. I think that a consideration of the facts and figures brought before that Railway Rates Committee will show that a large number of the charges as to the existence of preferential rates which were brought against the Companies 590 were proved. With regard to the representation of the railway interest on the Committee, I may state that an examination of the divisions will show that Railway Directors, on an average, formed a third of the Members who attended. It is almost unnecessary to say that those Gentlemen invariably voted in a body together. As to the extraordinary system of charging and carriage on some of the railways, the statements to which the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade referred are not altogether so apocryphal as the hon. Member seems to suppose. It seems to me probable, from very trustworthy information I have received, that the charges on the railway with which the hon. Member for Stirlingshire is himself connected—namely, the Caledonian—shows that the allegations are not ill-founded. With regard to the reconstruction of the Railway Commission, I think the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman will give satisfaction. It has always been considered that the legal element on the Commission is somewhat defective; the law element on the Commission should be of the highest standing to deal with such important questions as those which come before it. I think, however, it would be more satisfactory if the right hon. Gentleman could tell us, before going into Committee on the Bill, that the services of Sir Frederick Peel and Mr. Price will be available as Members of the now Commission. Speaking for the public generally—that is to say, the traders—I must say they have the greatest confidence in these two gentlemen. So far as I have been able to ascertain, they have acted in the most independent, impartial, and practical manner; therefore it would add to the satisfaction and confidence of the traders in the tribunal if the right hon. Gentleman were able to inform us, before going into Committee, that these gentlemen will form part of the Commission. With respect to this new duty of conciliation or arbitration, which the right hon. Gentleman has hinted at, I am glad to believe that he has, so far, adopted the suggestion made to him by the deputation that attended at the Board of Trade the other day. I am glad also to see that the right hon. Gentleman has been taking counsel with what has taken place in the United States of America. I may explain that there are various 591 kinds of Commissions in America. He referred to that in Massachusetts; but I would point out that, although that may be the best, there is a good one in Iowa, and another one in Illinois. As the right hon. Gentleman has not the Reports of these Bodies before him, and an account of their constitution, I would strongly recommend him to obtain them. For myself, I am strongly of opinion that it will be necessary to go a step further, and make this new Department of the Board of Trade something more than a Board of Conciliation and Arbitration. In the first instance, after having tried conciliation and negotiation with the Railway Companies, if the Board is satisfied that the Companies are acting illegally and unjustly, I think it should have the power to bring them before the Commission. That is a duty which I think lies upon the State to perform. Parliament has given to these Companies exclusive right and privileges; and I think it is the duty of the State to see that these rights and privileges are not abused or exceeded. I was not quite sure about the right hon. Gentleman's idea of giving the Companies power to develop trade. I think that is a power which is liable to very great abuse. No doubt, private traders do, in certain cases, work for a time without profit in order to create a business; but they have to sacrifice their own profits in order to accomplish this object. But the complaint against the Railway Companies is that they develop traffic in one part of the country at the expense of traffic in another part. I think it is altogether a mistake, and beyond the province of Railway Companies to develop, or rather to divert, trade out of its natural channel, which is the cheapest channel. When they attempt such a thing great mischief to the country is the result. Take the case of this fish traffic from Wick. I think the rate charged from Wick to London is a very reasonable rate. Hon. Members who represent Railway Companies in this House will be able to explain the principles upon which this charge is made. The charge from Wick to London, a distance of 784 miles, is 65s. a-ton, and from Leith 60s., so that for about one-half the distance we may say the charge from Wick is 60s. a-ton, and for the other half 5s. a-ton. The natural route for the carriage of fish 592 from Wick is by steamer, and such a steamer traffic would be developed were it not for this fact—that when a steamer is started to contend with a railway the Companies reduce the rate under that which is a paying rate to the steamer, so as to deprive the latter of the traffic. As an evidence of this, I need only point to the fact that between Dundee and Liverpool the railways have been carrying goods at a very low rate in order to drive off the route a steamer which has been competing with them. I think we are very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for dealing with this subject, and I am sure the House will give him every support in carrying through a measure which will put the traffic system of the country in a much more satisfactory position than it occupies at the present moment. As to the proposal for the classification of rates, I quite appreciate the convenience and desirability of simplifying the classification, and especially after what we have seen, from the Report of the hon. Member for Oxfordshire, Banbury (Sir Bernhard Samelson), has been accomplished on the Continent. I do not see why there should be any difficulty in bringing about the same results in this country. I do not know, however, that the Board of Trade is the best authority for this object. I think a small Royal Commission acquainted with trade and traffic, who would have the precedent of the foreign railways to go by, would be the best authority. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will soon proceed with his Bill, and be able to carry it to a successful issue.
§ MR. P. MCDONALD (Sligo, N.)
I join my hon. Friend the Member for East Cork (Mr. Lane) in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) in having introduced a Bill which, for the first time in railway legislation, will do justice to Ireland. It is a Bill that has been very much needed in Ireland; and though I do not propose to detain the House long, I desire to say a few words on the subject from an Irish point of view. The portion of the Bill that has struck me as being, perhaps, the most commendable is that relating to arbitration, inasmuch as I think that if a fair and equitable arrangement or agreement can be come to by both 593 parties, there will be an avoidance of litigation on the part of either the Railway Company or the public. Now, Sir, what we have mainly to complain of in Ireland is the high rates—the railway rates in Ireland are, I regret to say, much higher than they are in England. I have taken the trouble to go into the matter with some care, and I find that upon the leading lines in England first-class goods are carried at the rate of 1⅛d., while in Ireland we have to pay 1½d., or, in other words, something like 33 per cent more. That we should have to pay such an increased price for the carriage of our goods is certainly not just. But it is not merely in the case of goods that we are overcharged. We are obliged to pay for our passenger traffic more than is paid in England. In comparing the mileage rate, I find that on the English lines the average is 74s. 5d. per mile, while in Ireland it is 84s. per mile; the Irish Railway Companies, therefore, charge 10s. per mile more than the English Railway Companies do. But this is only one of the grievances we have in respect to our treatment by the Irish Railway Companies. The terminal charges in Ireland are most excessive; they are such as, if brought to light by the investigation which the right hon. Gentleman has foreshadowed, will astonish the English trading public. We have, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for East Cork, to complain very bitterly of the preferential rates. We claim that in justice to us there should be an equalization of rates—in other words, that there should be equal rates for equal distances. Preferential rates always have an injurious tendency towards some portion of the public, and an advantageous tendency towards another portion. In my opinion, public Companies should deal and act justly with all parties; that certain individuals should not be allowed preferential rates, while the general public are deprived of the advantages of such rates. In order to give you some proof of what I have said concerning preferential rates I will read to the House a letter. ["Oh, oh!"] Hon. Members need not be afraid. I will not detain them long. This is a letter which was read before the Select Committee on Irish Industries, which sat last year. It was written to the 594 Committee by Messrs. Dixon, Hughes, and Co., of Dublin, soap manufacturers. Writing to my hon. Friend the Member for Sligo (Mr. Sexton), by whom the letter was read to the Committee, they say—We beg respectfully to draw your attention to the evidence given before your Committee by Sir Ralph Cusack, Chairman of the Midland Railway Company, and also to the following facts. The Midland Company carry soap from Liverpool viâ Dublin to Westport at a through rate of 22s. 6d. per ton. This rate we have asked them to reduce, but they have refused to do so. We think this action of the Midland Railway Company, in thus carrying goods for the English manufacturers over their line from Liverpool to Westport for a lower rate than goods from Dublin, most unjust, if not illegal.The Chairman of the Committee, Sir Eardley Wilmot, asked mo, as being the witness on the occasion, what I thought of that; and my reply was—My view of that is, that if I were in the position of Messrs. Dixon, Hughes, and Co., I would not stop agitating till I had used every possible means by which such egregious wrong should be remedied. It is a matter of impossibility for this firm to hold their own against the English manufacturers, while the Irish railways are offering advantages to the one, and denying them to the other.I will only trouble the House with one more quotation, for the time is getting late; it is a letter from myself, bearing very strongly upon the question of preferential rates. It was as follows:—On my return from London, I again looked up the rates charged to my firm by the several Irish Railway Companies for the carriage of our goods, which are rated fourth-class. The anomalies which I discovered are so striking, that I am induced to submit to your Committee a few out of the many such cases. From Dublin to Belfast, a distance of 113 miles, the rate is 15s. per ton; and to Galway, 126 miles, it is 33s. 4d. per ton, or more than double for corresponding distance, both seaport towns. From Dublin to Clones, 93 miles, the rate is 21s. 6d. per ton; but to Bandon, 181 miles, and to Kin-sale, 185 miles, it is for each 27s, 6d. per ton, including the cartage through Cork City from one station to the other. Clones and Bandon are both inland towns. From Dublin to Cavan, 108 miles, the rate is 20s. per ton, while to Newry, 76 miles, it is 20s. 10d., or about 50 per cent more to the latter, though Cavan is an inland town, and Newry a largo seaport. From Dublin to Dundalk, 54 miles, the rate is 15s. 5d., while to Cork, 161 miles, or nearly three times the distance, it is only 17s. 6d., per ton, both seaports. From Dublin to Ennis-killen, 116 miles, the rate is 28s. 4d. per ton, and to Tralee, 206 miles, it is 32s. 6d., or nearly double on the Great Northern of that on the Great Southern. Enniskillen and Omagh are both inland towns on the Great Northern, the 595 one 116 miles and the other 142 miles from Dublin, yet the rate is equal to both places—namely, 28s. 4d. per ton. Londonderry and Waterford are both large seaports, distant from Dublin respectively 177 miles and 162 miles; the railway rate to the former is 27s. 6d. per ton and to the latter 12s. 6d. per ton. The rate to Newry, a large seaport, is, as already stated, for 76 miles, 20s. 10d. per ton; while to Kilmallock, an inland town on the Great Southern, it is only 20s. for 124 miles. From Dublin to Limerick, 129 miles, the rate is 17s. 6d. per ton; and to Portadown, on the Great Northern, it is 22s. 4d. for 88 miles. But the most remarkable case is one on the Midland line, and to illustrate it more fully I send you the correspondence relating thereto. In April last we sent two casks of whisky, equal in contents and weight, the one to Ballina, distant from Dublin 166 miles, and the other to Westport, on the same line, and distant 161 miles; yet the rate to the former, as you will see by letter marked No. 2, was 4s. 7d., and to the latter 8s. 8d., as per letter No. 1. On the 13th instant (July, 1885), we asked for an explanation of this discrepancy, and in reply (letter No. 3) were told 'that in one case the rates are competitive, owing to steamers coming to Ballina, and in the interest of Dublin firms the Company try to keep out the Scotch and English houses.' Now, as the Scotch and English houses do not send Irish whisky into Ireland, this alleged reason will not hold good; and still more so, in the face of the letter received from Messrs. Dixon, Hughes, and Co., which was read to the Committee on the day I gave evidence, and in which it was stated that the Midland Company charged 22s. 6d. per ton for carriage of soap to Westport, while the English manufacturers can send it over the Midland line to the same place at exactly the same rate.I have only to say, Mr. Speaker, that while such anomalies as these exist on Irish lines, and while preferential rates are being offered to traders in any one district for the advancement of the interests of those traders, justice cannot be done to the people of Ireland. Unquestionably, Irish industries are "Boycotted" for the furtherance of the industries outside Ireland. I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella), with the justice which seems to have prompted him in the introduction of this Bill, will see that anomalies of the nature I have pointed out, and which injure seriously the trade of Ireland, are removed.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I only desire to say a very few words. At this late hour (1.40), it is not desirable to discuss this Bill very much more upon its merits. I have to thank my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) for bringing it in, and I only hope 596 it will prove a solution of that long controversy in which many of us have been engaged. With regard to the Railway Committee of 1881–2, I must protest against the statement of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), that the railway men were in anything like over whelming force on that Committee—we were 7 to 27. We sat there with the patience of Job and the resignation of Saints, whilst all sorts of charges were brought against us for two years. My position was that of a large trader, as well as a Railway Director; and I think the recommendations of the Committee are not all embodied in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. I cannot agree with all the plaudits heaped upon the Railway Commission. I do not think it had the full confidence of traders, or of the Railway Companies. They have done their best, but they were weak—["Oh!"]—owing, no doubt, to the fact that they had no judicial head. I maintain that they were weak in their decisions, and I could give case after case in which they have acted in the weakest possible manner. The whole drift of this Bill is contained in Clause 24. The Company with which I am connected came to Parliament with a new schedule of dues, and a new classification; and that involved giving up, to some extent, the powers which they at present possess. Parliament threw the Bill aside for the reason, which I think was correctly described by the right hon. Gentleman, that it was not desirable for every Company to go in for a separate Bill. What I want to remind the House of is that, if there be complaints against railways, there have been still graver complaints against this House. This House has for years legislated with regard to railways in the blindest possible way, without having any great scheme of national policy before it. They have gone on granting or refusing, as the case may be, powers to Railway Companies; but they have not had before them any settled line of action for the development of great industries. The want of a settled purpose on the part of Parliament has resulted in great injury to the trading interests of the country. These things, however, are past, and cannot now be remedied. If railways are to be regulated, Parliament ought not to forget the interests of those who have subscribed the millions of capital. I see 597 hon. Gentleman from Ireland in their places, and I should like to call their attention to one paragraph of the Report of this Committee, of which nothing has been said this evening, and that is the paragraph which says that there came up a universal complaint from Ireland of the management of the railways of that country. The witnesses from Ireland desired that there should be almost one management of the railways of Ireland, in order that many of the anomalies of the Irish railways might be redressed; and, above all, that the management might be confined within narrower limits. I will not trespass further upon the attention of the House, the Committee of 1881–2 having exonerated the railway interest from the charge that it had betrayed the trust which the public has placed in it.
MR. MAGNIAC (Bedford, N., Biggleswade)
I only wish to make a few remarks upon one part of the Bill—namely, the part relating to arbitration, and to fortify the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in standing up against any attempt to whittle away his arbitration proposals, About two-and-a-half years ago I happened to be the President of the London Chamber of Commerce, and at that time I instituted an arbitration which has been very successful in certain trade cases. We are endeavouring to extend the principle, and have good hope that we shall, before many years are over, establish in London some such system of arbitration as exists in France, Spain, Germany, and, in fact, in every trading country in the world except our own. I do think that, with all the authority of a Government Department, a system of arbitration may be and will be established which will be of the greatest benefit indeed to traders. As has been said to-night, traders have been beaten in details by the Railway Companies. If traders are able to go into details with a Government Department, I feel confident the Railway Companies will be aware of it. I feel certain that very great disappointment, at any rate, will be avoided. Traders will be able to ascertain what their real position is, and they will be able to avoid the necessity of going into the Railway Court. I am glad that this Court is going to be made a Court of much greater authority than it has hitherto been. Mr. 598 Speaker, I do not think this debate ought to be allowed to close without some words in acknowledgment of the great labour bestowed upon the question of a re-adjustment of railway rates by the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bornhard Samuelson). In my opinion, that hon. Gentleman, if he has not influenced this Bill, is responsible for the direction it takes. Certainly, he has had a great share in directing public opinion on this matter in the right direction. The Report which the hon. Gentleman has made is the most extraordinary document I have ever seen with reference to any trade matter. I have no doubt many hon. Gentlemen have read it; but should there be some who have not seen it, I hope they will take the trouble to go over it; for from it they will see it is possible to have a reasonable system of classification of rates and charges. I will conclude by saying that I hope my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) intends to pass this measure. The Bill has met with much assent; but there are many of us who have known Bills brought in with quite as much approval as this Bill, and yet at a particular period of the Session they have been abandoned. I hope my right hon. Friend will not allow that to be done in this case, but that he will insist upon the Bill passing. The agricultural and commercial interests are intimately concerned in the matter; and I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that it will redound not only to his own credit, but to that of the Government, if he succeeds in passing, at least, a fair and satisfactory measure dealing with the great anomalies which exist.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered, to be brought in by Mr. MUNDELLA, Mr. ACLAND, and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL.
§ Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 138.]