§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Mundella.)
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON (Stirling)
, in rising to move an Amendment, said, he would have to claim more than the usual indulgence of the House, for, in addition to the other difficulties of his position, he had the misfortune to be a Railway Director. He feared that it was a too common opinion amongst hon. Members that on railway questions it was quite impossible for a Railway Director to see that the question had two sides. He could assure hon. Gentlemen who held that view that there was not one amongst them more convinced than he was that the prosperity of railways and the prosperity of traders were inseparably connected, and that injury to the one by mismanagement or misconduct must reflect adversely on the other. It was in that spirit that he approached the consideration of the Bill now before the House, as well as the lucid speech with which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Mundella) introduced it on a former occasion. The right hon. Gentleman had attached to his Bill a Memorandum, which stated that the principal object of the Bill was to perpetuate the Railway Commission created by the Railway Regulation Act, 1873, to alter its constitution, and to enlarge its powers. He was confident that if this Bill became law in the form in which it was presented to the House, whatever might have been the intention of its framers, the main result of the legislation would be very different indeed from that represented by the right hon. Gentleman. He should like to say a few words on that much abused tribunal, the Railway Commissioners' Court. That Court was handicapped from the outset. It was thought that it was established, not to do legal justice between railway shareholders and railway traders, but to protect railway traders, whether they 381 were legally right or legally wrong; and he was sorry to say that that opinion, whether justly entertained or not, had received some additional force from the remarks of his right hon. Friend in introducing that Bill. His right hon. Friend stated that the jurisdiction of the Commission had been considerably limited and its usefulness circumscribed since its appointment by the action of the Courts of Law. That was as much as to say, if he might interpret these words, that the usefulness of the Commission consisted to some extent, at all events, in its power of overriding the law. It was to be presumed that the Superior Courts gave correct decisions. He wished to express his own views of the Railway Commission Court. He had been interested, directly or indirectly, in many cases brought before that Court, and he was always struck by the intelligence of the Commissioners, by their evident desire to master the facts of the case that came before them, and he had never heard anyone suggest the slightest suspicion of its impartiality. So convinced was he of the honourable way in which the Commissioners had acted that he had voluntarily proposed that they should be selected as arbitrators in preference to anyone else in a great railway case, being convinced that they would do their best to master the intricacies of the question, and might be depended upon to give an honest opinion. That course was taken, and those who adopted it had no reason to regret having done so. If the existing Commission was handicapped, so would the proposed Body be, because although it might be strengthened and in one sense improved by being made perpetual, it would still be handicapped, unless the right hon. Gentleman gave the House such explanation as would do away with the impression that it was not to be a Court to do strict legal justice between suitors, but to protect traders wherever the law failed to do it. The Court would never have the confidence of the public unless the same rights were granted to railway shareholders when they pleaded before it in the capacity of shareholders as would be granted to them if they pleaded before any Court in any other capacity, and unless they had as full rights as were granted to every other suitor. That Bill contained provisions to enable every conceivable 382 combination of traders or agriculturists, or associations of men who called themselves traders, or Corporate Bodies, or County Authorities, whatever they might be, to prosecute—or he might rather say to persecute—Railway Companies. The Railway Companies did not object to those powers being granted to combinations of traders and associations of agriculturists, or to any number of men, under whatever name they put themselves, provided they were to pay their own expenses; but they objected, and objected very strongly, to the provision enabling Corporate Bodies and Local Authorities to bring actions against Railway Companies, although they were not themselves interested in the matters complained of, and to charge the costs on the ratepayers. The Bill provided that the Commission should make the costs follow the event if they so thought fit; but it was well known that the Railway Companies were, in many cases, the largest contributors—often enormous contributors—to the rates in the districts through which they ran; and thus they might be prosecuted on some frivolous pretext, and might have costs awarded to them by the Court, and yet have to pay them in the form of rates practically out of their own pockets. His right hon. Friend had given the Honse an interesting retrospect of railway legislation; but, unfortunately, he began with the year 1854. But the legislation of 1844 had a most important bearing on that question. At that period an Act relating to railways was passed based on the Report of the Committee that was presided over by the present Prime Minister; and the Act itself was introduced into the House by that right hon. Gentleman. It provided the mode in which the revision of railway rates under the authority of Parliament should take place—namely, that the railway should have existed for a certain number of years, and that it should have been earning for three consecutive half-years a dividend of not less than 10 per cent; and, further, it provided that if Parliament undertook to revise the rates, Parliament should at the same time guarantee that that revision should not entail a loss on the Railway Companies. Again, in 1865, the legislation which had provided that the revision of railway rates should take place after 21 years (a clause in a subsequent Act said 16 years) was considered by the 383 Commission of 1865 to which his right hon. Friend had referred. That Commission adopted the recommendation of the Committee of 1854 that Parliament should take no steps that should give rise to the suspicion that they intended in breach of good faith to interfere with privileges which they had already granted. Moreover, in 1867, it reported that the railways which were in existence in 1844 were outside the powers of Parliament with respect to the proposed revision, and that they could only be dealt with, if Parliament required to deal with them at all, by paying them compensation. Now, there was no doubt that this clause, to which he had frequently referred, bringing all railways dated subsequently to 1844 under the provisions of any Act which this Parliament might subsequently pass, might be held applicable to some of those railways which were then existing; and in view of that the opinion of the Royal Commission, so much lauded by the President of the Board of Trade, was worthy, at all events, of some consideration. This Commission went on to say that all future railways should be conceded on the condition of being subject to a reduction of the maximum rates and tolls where, after 15 years from the passing of the Act, the profits should exceed 10 per cent. That was a confirmation of the opinion of the Committee which sat in 1844, and by this House, which passed the Bill founded upon that recommendation of the Committee in the same year. For his own part, he was no lawyer; he was only a very plain man; but he thought that it would be most unjust for that House to deal with railways which were in existence before 1844 without paying them full compensation for the losses they would certainly sustain by this proposed legislation. He did not like to use the word "confiscation" because it was an ugly one, but no other word would satisfactorily express his view of the result of the proposal contained in this Bill. It might be legally right; it might be that the Attorney General and other learned Members of that House would be able to show that technically the Railway Companies to which he referred had forfeited their rights by accepting the clause in question; but he was sure that the public would hold that they had accepted the concessions they had obtained 384 from Parliament to make railways on condition of receiving the privileges which were conferred by those Acts, with the belief that those privileges should not be withdrawn, unless compensation was given for them in some shape or another. All that the Railway Companies desired was that they should be treated in an equitable and an honourable manner, and that they should not be compelled to place their whole property at the mercy of Parliament, who was to have power to deal with it without consulting them. The right hon. Gentleman, however, had lumped all the railways together, including those representing a capital of £48,000,000 that had never paid a dividend at all, those which had never paid a dividend exceeding 3 per cent—old and young—some which had not even earned a penny—and said the whole of them must submit to such reduction, only he called it remission, in their rates as Parliament chose to impose upon them. The right hon. Gentleman did not speak very highly of the Committee which sat in 1881–2; and the impression he (Mr. Bolton) received from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks was that the railway interest was more than fully represented upon it. [Mr. MUNDELLA: No!] He was glad to hear the disclaimer. The right hon. Gentleman said that out of the 27 Members of the Committee nine were Railway Directors; but the fact was that only seven of its Members were Railway Directors, and his (Mr. Bolton's) pecuniary interest as a Member of the Commission was not less than ten times as great as a trader as his pecuniary interest as a railway shareholder; indeed, two of the Railway Directors who sat on it were more traders than railway shareholders. The right hon. Gentleman, when the other night he indicated that seven railway men were more than a match for 20 traders, paid the former an undeserved compliment. The result was due to the facts which they had before them, and were able to prove to the other Members of the Committee. What were the grounds for this legislation? The President of the Board of Trade said he was over whelmed with complaints of unfair and unreasonable charges, and in some instances he called them exasperating charges. But the Committee of 1881–2 had to deal with similar exasperating charges, and after listening to 385 and examining all the complaints which could be brought before them, they declared that some specific instances of overcharge appeared to have been established, but on the whole of the evidence they acquitted the Railway Companies of any grave dereliction of their duty to the public. The number of transactions which were included in a year's business of the Railway Companies of this country, the revenue of which was some £60,000,000, rendered it a certainty that at some time or other during the year there would be improprieties committed. The Committee of 1881–2 also reported that no witnesses appeared to complain of undue preferences to individuals, such as were frequent during the years preceding the Act of 1854. Did that not speak volumes for the management of the railways? The right hon. Gentleman had said he was overwhelmed with evidence of inequality; but with one exception he gave no instances by which they could test the correctness of these charges. The case he mentioned was the charge for the carriage of fish from Wick to London. The distance between the two places was 750 miles, and the charge by the quickest train for fish was 3–8ths of a penny per lb. Was there anything exorbitant in such a charge for such a distance and at such a speed? His right hon. Friend referred also to foreign traffic, and he might say that there was no secret about the special rates granted in 1877 for foreign traffic. It was a fair question whether it was in the interest of the country at large or not that these special provisions in favour of foreign traffic should continue, and that was a question, he respectfully submitted, that this House at the present moment was not in a position to judge of. But there was an immense amount made of this traffic, which was of no value at all. He could not speak so well of the Newcastle traffic; but he could speak of the traffic in Scotland, where it was said they had been grave offenders. They had carried American cattle or beef from Glasgow to London at little more than half the price which their rate-books showed was to be charged for home-grown beef. But they were well convinced that there was no homegrown beef to be carried from Glasgow to London. The rate for this American beef from Glasgow to London was merely part of the through rate from New York to London, and whether the 386 meat went direct to London or viâ the Clyde made no difference to the Glasgow grower of meat. But they were well convinced that there was no homegrown meat seeking transport from Glasgow to London, and they put it to the test. From the 1st of April or the end of March they determined to have only one rate for the conveyance of meat from the Clyde to London, and they made that rate the same as that which had hitherto been charged for American meat. The result was that 83tons of American beef, in lots of 30, 20, and 29 tons, were sent to London, while only 2 tons 2 cwt. 3 qrs. of home-grown meat were forwarded. The special rate of 45s. was only charged for lots of one ton, and there had not been one single lot of home-grown meat sent at this rate, the whole of it having been sent in lots of 4 or 5 cwts. His hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) had told the House that the Caledonian Company, of which he (Mr. Bolton) was the Chairman, had ill-treated the traders of Dundee, inasmuch as they had run off by low charges a steamer which was trading between Dundee and Glasgow, and had then advanced the rates. His hon. Friend also stated that the Caledonian Company had also made the shipping rate from Dundee to Glasgow so low that Dundee merchants were able to send their goods to Glasgow and to New York viâ Liverpool cheaper than if they sent them direct. His hon. Friend promised him some clue by which he might examine the correctness of his statement; but he was sorry to say he had not done so. He had, however, made inquiries, and he could not find that at any time a steamer was plying between Dundee and Glasgow, and if no steamer ever plied he presumed no railway could ever run it off the route. There was no justification for these reflections. The fact was that freights from New York appeared to have reached their lowest point. In some cases pig iron was carried free, and corn was brought both to Glasgow and Liverpool for nothing. With reference to an observation by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, that liberal results followed a liberal policy, he wished to remind him that before the Midland Railway Company abolished their second and reduced their first- 387 class fares, a small Company with which he was connected had already done the same wherever they were able to act for themselves. He had always been an advocate of low opposed to high rates, and he entirely approved of the action of the Midland Company; but they all knew that this "liberal policy" had not been approved of by Railway Managers. There was no question more disputed, and there was this certain, that a "liberal result" had not always followed a "liberal policy." The dividend paid by the Midland at the time they made the change was higher than it had ever been since. Where, then, was the "liberal result" of the "liberal policy?" Then they were told that they were to be kept out of evil by a Board of Conciliation—that was to say, the Board of Trade was to act as the go-between. They were told by the President of the Board of Trade that the Railway Commission in America, which was somewhat similar to the Railway Commission established in this country, had been very successful, and that the Boards of Conciliation had also been very successful. His (Mr. Bolton's) information did not entirely agree with that of the right hon. Gentleman. He found that in the State of Iowa the attempt to regulate the rates had led to a cessation of railway construction and the withdrawal of capital from the State. In New York he found that it was asked that the Board of Conciliation should have some means of compelling the railways where there was no conciliation. The result of the Bill, if it became law, would be that Railway Directors and Managers would be kept in such a continual state of harassment and hot water that their life would be one which no one would voluntarily undertake to live. No escape was provided for them by the Bill. Clause 24, which he thought was the most important clause in the Bill, provided that the maximum charges should be revised if they were found to be excessive. Even though they happened to be excessive at one time it did not follow that they would always be excessive, and the Board of Trade would have nothing to guide their action except the complaints of traders who thought they were being overcharged. It was said that the Board of Trade would not listen to frivolous complaints. But how were they to know that they would be so? Com- 388 plaints were frivolous when they had been examined and found to have no foundation. They had, however, no guarantee that complaints which were in reality frivolous would be so considered by the Board of Trade, and it would be necessary for every Railway Company to keep a staff who would have nothing to do but to meet these so-called complaints. He had much more to say, but, owing to a severe cold and hoarseness, he could not complete his task. He would simply add, in conclusion, that the Railway Companies had no desire to shirk this Bill. They desired to have this matter settled, but they desired to have it settled on reasonable and equitable terms, and not in accordance with the terms which this Bill proposed in these clauses. The clauses to which he had been referring they must oppose to the utmost, because they believed that if they were carried as they stood they would have confiscation—neither more nor less. There were many other matters which they must also oppose; but they were quite willing to trust them to the Committee, where they would be able to state their case, and he believed convince hon. Members of its justness when they had stated their case. It would be for the House, in its wisdom, to decide whether or not the policy on which the Railway Companies had been carrying on their business was in the interest of the people of this country or to their disadvantage.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "while this House desires legislation with the object of securing uniformity of classification for merchandise conveyed by Railway, the consolidation of the toll powers of Railway Companies, and such other modifications of the existing law as experience has shown to be useful and necessary, including the establishment of a strong and permanent Court with special powers over Railways and Canals, it is not prepared to sanction any compulsory interference with or diminution of those powers of earning revenue granted by Parliament to Railway Companies upon the faith of which eight hundred millions of capital have been expended, and upon which the security of that capital depends,"—(Mr. Joseph Bolton,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. E. STANHOPE (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)
said, that the concluding 389 words of the speech of the hon. Member, which was evidently delivered under great physical difficulties, encouraged him to hope that the hon. Member did not intend to press his Amendment to a division. He believed, speaking in the interest of the object which the Railway Companies desired to attain, that to take a division on that Amendment at the present stage of the Bill would completely defeat that object. The hon. Member approved of the greater part of the Bill, while objecting to one or two clauses of it; and a division taken on the Amendment would raise a false issue, and convey to the country an erroneous view of the opinion of Parliament on the subject. He regretted that he was unable to be present when the right hon. Gentleman opposite introduced this Bill. He was especially sorry that he was not able at the time to express his sense of the fairness with which he had brought the matter under their notice. The position of the President of the Board of Trade was an exceedingly delicate and difficult one. He could not hope to please both the traders and the Railway Companies, and the only resource open to him was to endeavour to steer his course in a way consistent with justice and sound principle. In the speech of the right hon. Gentleman he detected—as far as he could judge from reading it—every do-sire to comply with that principle which he had just laid down. He himself, so far as he had any personal interest, approached the Bill, not from the view of a trader, but rather from the view of a railway shareholder. It seemed to him that, at the present time, shareholders and traders both had cause to complain of the existing state of things. The traders had causes of complaint, many of which he had no hesitation in saying were legitimate causes of complaint. But, besides that, hon. Members knew the circumstances in which the trade of the country had been carried on for the last few years. It was no wonder, therefore, that the traders, finding that no profit was derived from their business, should endeavour, in the strongest possible way, to secure some relief from the difficulties under which they were placed. The Railway Companies also had good cause to complain of the present state of things. He was persuaded that the Companies, knowing that they possessed a monopoly, were prepared to submit to 390 those just restrictions which the wisdom of Parliament and the interests of the country might desire to impose upon them. On the other hand, they had an absolute right to call on Parliament to take care that there should be no interference with the responsibility of the Directors in carrying on their affairs, and no interference with the just rights conferred upon them by Parliament. They also had a right to say that the tribunal to which questions affecting them were to be intrusted should be one which should command their confidence. In his opinion, what was wanted in this matter was a tribunal which should be cheap, convenient, efficient, and accessible. First of all, it ought to be accessible and cheap; and he believed the President of the Board of Trade would agree with him that, if it was to be cheap, it must not sit at Westminster—[Mr. MUNDELLA: Hear, hear!]—where the atmosphere was impregnated with the traditions as to large counsel fees before Private Bill Committees. He did not wish to prevent eminent counsel from appearing before the Court; but he should like these cases to be determined in some place nearer the Temple, where people who did not want to pay heavy fees could pay moderate fees; and this result could only be achieved if the Court no longer sat at Westminster. He hoped that care would also be taken to regulate the procedure of the Court. It would not do to give the Court general power to sit where it liked; but it might be desirable to lay down instructions as to the conditions under which it should sit locally. There were many cases where it might be desirable to hold a local inquiry, and the rules of the Court ought to be sufficiently flexible to enable it to detach one of its members to take evidence locally. For the same reason he objected to multiplication of appeals. He was glad to see that there was in the Bill some restriction on appeals, and it might be well to go a step farther, since the Court was to be a strong one, in which the legal element was adequately represented, and make the decision of the Court of Appeal final, without any right of recourse to the House of Lords. The present Court would require to be reconstituted. He did not desire to depreciate the services rendered by the three distinguished gentlemen who now constituted the Railway Commission. They entered upon their 391 duties at an exceedingly difficult time, and they had to create the procedure of their Court under circumstances of great opposition. Traders and the community generally, and even Railway Companies, were indebted to them for the manner in which they had discharged their duties. But the time had come when, as its powers were about to be largely extended, and looking to the importance of the cases which were likely to come before the Commission, and the eminence of counsel habitually retained in such cases, the Commission required to be strengthened and reconstituted, and, above all, it required to have a legal Chief Commissioner. Appeals would thereby be diminished, and greater confidence would be placed in its decisions. But then he parted company with the Government. The Bill proposed that the Chief Commissioner should be a Judge of the High Court, selected from time to time by the Lord Chancellor in England, and the Court of Session in Scotland. He was, however, strongly of opinion that it was desirable to have a special legal Chief of the Commission, and not different Judges at different times appointed ad hoc, for besides legal points, questions would arise involving a knowledge of railway management and railway business, and it was important not only to have a good lawyer, but a man who would devote his time to the study of questions of this kind. It was suggested that it would be well to ask one of the present Judges to accept the Chief Commissionership; but he had come to the conclusion that on the whole the best thing would be to adhere to the present constitution of the Commission, and have a man of legal attainments who would give his whole time to the work. It might be urged that this would involve great waste of time, as there was not enough work to keep the Commission occupied all the year. But the time was coming when Private Bill business would no longer be done by Parliamentary Committees, but by some outside body, and it would be well if, in any appointments that might be made to this Commission, the right was reserved of casting upon the Commissioners the duty of taking their share in any business of this kind that Parliament might think fit to commit to them. It was proposed by the Bill to extend the jurisdiction of the Commissioners in various directions, and on most of these points 392 hon. Members would be all agreed. Many of these extensions of jurisdiction had been long recommended; but some were still open to controversy, and among the latter was that relating to the rates and charges of Railway Companies, to which the hon. Gentleman opposite had devoted the greater part of his speech. Supporting the President of the Board of Trade, as he did, to a large extent in his views with regard to this Bill, there was one thing to which he must take exception. The right hon. Gentleman, as soon as he found that certain clauses were not palatable to the Railway Companies, appeared to have resorted to the plan of stating that they were all the work of his Predecessors. Now, that was most objectionable.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. MUNDELLA) (Sheffield, Brightside)
said, that was not quite correct. When the deputation waited upon him and spoke of the statesmanlike character of the Bill, he felt that he could not honestly accept credit for the work of his Predecessor, and so he stated that the Bill was not the work of one side of the House, and that there was scarcely an operative clause for which he was not indebted to the right hon. Gentleman opposite.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would allow him to conclude what he was going to say. The right hon. Gentleman stated that all the clauses which affected Railway Companies were practically the work of his Predecessors.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, he had the right hon. Gentleman's words as they were reported. The late Government never presented any Bill on this subject to Parliament; and, so far as he knew, the late Cabinet never agreed to the provisions of any Bill whatever on the subject. This was not a question affecting the government of Ireland, and therefore the Members of a Cabinet might be allowed to have independent opinions upon it. But if this style of argument was going to be pursued, there would be an end to that confidence between the Members of an outgoing and the Members of an incoming Government which had hitherto been of so satisfactory a character. He had to complain that confidential memoranda of his, marked as confidential, had been shown by the 393 right hon. Gentleman to people outside the Department in order to prove that he (Mr. Stanhope) was in favour of certain proposals
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
said, that his assertion was that this deputation were shown his confidential memoranda without his leave, and he would venture to say such a thing had never occurred before in the history of the relations of the two Parties, But he passed from that personal matter to state the manner in which he had approached the question. When he left Office he was on the point of receiving a deputation on the subject, representing both traders and Railway Companies, and there were three points with regard to jurisdiction brought under his notice — first, the classification of rates; secondly, terminal charges; and, thirdly, undue preference. He felt that in regard to the classification of rates there was the strongest ground of complaint on the part of the traders, who desired a simple and uniform classification, which, indeed, the Railway Companies were not unwilling to grant. It was recommended by Mr. Ashley's Committee to the House. Everyone must see its primary importance. That Railway Companies should have the means by alteration of the classification to increase their rates was a matter that required very watchful attention. But if there was to be uniform classification of rates, how was it to be achieved? This must be left to some tribunal like the Commission that would be able to deal with rates on a uniform system. With regard to the question of terminal charges, he thought that no one would deny that it was in an utterly unsatisfactory condition. He believed that there was litigation pending with regard to some of these terminal charges. Not that it mattered very much which way it was decided, since, in his opinion, the present condition of terminal charges was unjust to both parties. On the one hand, there was no doubt that there were many cases in which the Railway Companies did not receive that adequate remuneration for the services which they had rendered to which they were justly entitled; while, on the other hand, it would be absolutely monstrous, if the Com- 394 panies were enabled universally to levy terminal charges in addition to the maximum rate permitted. The House would also recollect that in the case of many of the Companies there was considerable doubt whether they could levy any terminal charges at all. Under these circumstances, he was confident that the House would agree with him that it was absolutely necessary that some power should be taken to control and regulate this possibly enormous addition to the charges of the trading community. The direction in which it had seemed to him that that regulation should proceed was that there should be a judicial tribunal, and it had been his own intention to have made such a proposal. Some hon. Members thought that Parliament itself was perfectly competent to deal with this matter, because in the case of every Railway Bill it was open to Parliament to review the conditions of the contract. In his opinion, this was altogether inadequate to meet the necessities of the case; and if they wished to deal with these terminal charges at all they must be brought before a judicial tribunal. Under the Act of 1873 the Railway Commissioners had at the present moment in the case of terminal charges power to declare what were reasonable charges. He would have liked to have seen that power largely extended, and the Railway Commissioners allowed, after hearing both parties, to deal with the matter in the way that they thought satisfactory to the Companies and to the traders. But the proposal of Her Majesty's Government was very different. They had adopted the method of calling in, not the Railway Commissioners, but a Department of the Board of Trade, who were to draw up a scheme for the purpose of regulating the classification of rates and charges, and also of dealing with maximum rates and terminals. He had the strongest objections to that proposal. He would be the last, for his own part, to say anything against the present officials of the Board of Trade. These officials had again and again had to perform very responsible and in many cases novel duties, and had done so with satisfaction; but he objected to their being employed in this matter, because, in the first place, they had no real acquaintance with the details of railway management and were unqualified to lay down such charges; and, in the second place, they were not the 395 proper body to deal with the matter; they were not a judicial body. If the Board of Trade was to decide these questions, what became of the Board of Conciliation? The 28th clause had a direct bearing upon this question. He would look hopefully upon the action of this clause; in his opinion, that was all that anyone could do. But it seemed to him to be killed by the 24th clause. For these reasons he hoped that the House would pause before it intrusted the Board of Trade with any such powers as were suggested. With regard to the question of undue preference to foreign goods, that was actually the centre of the conflict. In some cases where these rates were levied the Railway Companies did get sufficient advantage from them to make it worth their while to continue them; and he was sure that whatever happened there would continue to be an agitation, and in many cases a just agitation, against them. They had seen that there had been many meetings with regard to this matter held on behalf of the Railway Companies. He regretted deeply that the first opportunity had not been taken of saying that by some joint arrangement among the Companies themselves after a reasonable time this undue preference to foreign goods should cease. If it were gradually abandoned he was sure that all acerbity would come to an end, and the question would be settled upon a basis just and generous to all parties. He was glad that the Government did not propose substantially to alter the Act of 1854, which laid down in the clearest possible terms the law as to undue preference. All that that Act wanted was that it should be boldly and justly administered by a competent tribunal. From what he had said the House would readily understand that he was going cordially to support the second reading of this Bill, and he hoped that it would be read a second time without a division. Looking at the aspect of affairs in general, there was considerable risk to the Bill, and he earnestly hoped that the Government would lose no time in pressing it forward in Committee. There could not be a greater evil for Railway Companies and for traders than that a matter of this character should remain open after having been once raised, and they should endeavour that it should be settled as 396 soon as possible with justice to all parties.
MR. MAGNIAC (Bedford, N., Biggleswade)
said, he must congratulate the Railway Companies on the change in their front as shown by the Amendment of his hon. Friend. He thought, however, that a good deal of the language which had been used as to confiscation and robbery in connection with this Bill was to be regretted. This subject was one of great importance to the large class of market gardeners, who, in many cases, felt that upon this Bill depended the continuance of their income. The right of Parliament to deal with this question had been contested by an hon. Member; he had not gone quite so far as some of the legal gentleman; but he thought on this point some confusion had arisen, particularly as to the Act of 1844. The days of buying up railways on the expectation that they would pay 10 per cent had now passed away; but the right of Parliament to interfere was beyond all doubt. This point was always raised when any monopoly was attacked. It had been truly said by a well-known writer in The Times, who signed himself "B," that no Act of Parliament could bind, any subsequent Act, and one Parliament could not bind a future Parliament. The railways had taken their Acts with all their contingent liabilities. There was one very important principle in the Bill upon which he wished to make a few remarks, and as to which Lord Grimthorpe had helped him, although perhaps he did not intend it. The noble Lord said that by the Railway Clauses Act—Clause 86—it was provided that rates must not only not exceed the maximum, they must be reasonable. In dealing with undue preference, they would find that clause of the greatest value. It was a safe rock on which to stand. The complaint of the traders and agriculturists was not that the maximum rates were exceeded by the Companies; the complaint was that the Companies charged differential, preferential, and secret rates. That was the gravamen of the charge. The law ought to be perfectly simple and clear, and if any blame fell on anyone it should not be on the Court but on that House for not framing the Act clearly. He did not know that a lawyer was required on the Court—he meant absolutely necessary. He would admit that, in deference to public opi- 397 nion, it would be better that they should have one lawyer; but what he did deprecate in the strongest manner was that provision in the Bill which made two non-legal members of the Court dummies sitting alongside the lawyer. He did not know why there should be this difference. He thought a tribute was due to Sir Frederick Peel and Mr. Price, who had discharged the business with an extraordinary degree of success. He did not understand there was any complaint against them by the public or the Companies, although, as to the latter, sometimes complaints were heard. ["No!"] Well, some hon. Members in that House attended meetings, and could judge for themselves. They knew that Railway Companies revelled in law proceedings. ["Oh!"] If a Director would stand up and declare the total spent in law proceedings it would be frightful. When one knew the enormous sums that were spent by Railway Companies in this way he was irresistibly driven to the conclusion that there must be something wrong, and he was glad to think that the Bill would put a stop to that state of things. After all, who was it wanted a double appeal? It was not the traders at all. He contended most strongly that one appeal was ample. There was a most excellent provision in the Bill, and that was the provision for transferring rating cases to the Railway Commission, although he thought that the proposal might be improved by allowing the Court to make the final order instead of referring it back to Quarter Sessions. As to the classification of rates, the traders contended that they did not know what rate they had to pay for their goods, or what other people paid, and the consequence was they had no protection whatever against unreasonable and preferential charges. The Chairman of the London and Northwestern Company the other day informed the shareholders that they had rates for dealing with 2,000 articles, and that they had a list of 20,000,000 of rates applicable to goods carried by this one railway alone. That was an answer to the question of the hon. Member for Stirlingshire, "Why they wanted legislation?" He defied any man to find out beforehand in 20,000,000 of items what the rate was for any goods he might have to send. And that might be multiplied indefinitely for every railway in the King- 398 dom. Although the interest of the traders was so paramount, he thought some means of accommodation might be found with the Companies. In his opinion it was not absolutely necessary that the Board of Trade should fix the rates. That was one of the points objected to by the Railway Companies, and he believed upon that point agreement could be come to. He did not see how, without some better indication of the principles which should guide the Commissioners, they could fix the rates and terminals. He thought there should also be some term stated within which the rates should remain unchanged and untouched. The most important part of the Bill, in his view, was the 2nd section of Clause 25, referring to preferential rates. That seemed to involve the whole case of the traders; and he felt certain that if the words of that clause were retained they had much better have no Bill at all. He believed that the law as it stood was amply sufficient to cover any cases that might possibly arise; and he hoped the Government would consent to expunge the 25th clause, in order that the law might not be altered to the great detriment of traders and agriculturists. In the Conciliation Clause he took a strong and even a paternal interest. The principle of that clause was established in 1881 when the London Chamber of Commerce was founded; one of the principal objects of its formation being to promote arbitration in trading disputes. The application of that principle had been attended with considerable success. Several cases had been decided at a cost which to a lawyer or a Railway Director would appear ludicrous. At a cost of £28 13s. 8d. a case was decided where an enormous sum of money was at stake and a principle of considerable importance involved, and the outcome of the matter was that in the City there was a list of 400 or 500 traders who were at hand ready to deal with cases of arbitration and conciliation. Public opinion, he believed, would do a great deal more than law in these railway disputes. Only within the last few weeks the Directors of several Railway Companies had met a considerable number of traders in the part of the world in which he lived, and had been endeavouring to ameliorate their respective relations. He did not say that that was propter hoc because 399 post hoc, but it was a curious coincidence that the printing of this Bill should have been followed in so striking a way by the conferences he had alluded to. Turning to the provisions relating to canals, he observed that canals formed a considerable part and represented a considerable share of the £800,000,000 of capital about which Railway Directors were in a state of so much concern at present. A great deal of that money had been spent in buying up canals. What for? For the benefit of the public? Not a bit of it. These had been bought up for the purpose of shutting them up to evade competition. That was not a proper state of things. The difficulty existed in other countries, where it arose, not as in England from the disuse of canals, but from their absence. In France a Commission of Inquiry had recently been sitting, which recommended the construction of canals in connection with the Loire, Rhone, and other rivers. He trusted that the Railway Companies would meet traders and agriculturists in a fair spirit; and he was sure that if the Companies accepted the Bill and treated their customers in a reasonable spirit, their own interests would be served as well as those of the community, and something might be done to arrest the decline now unhappily going on of our commerce and agriculture.
§ MR. HICKMAN (Wolverhampton, W.)
, in supporting the second reading of the Bill, said, that it was in the interest of both parties that some settlement of the present difficulties between the Railway Companies and the traders should be come to. It could not be to the interest of the Railway Companies that their customers should feel that they were oppressed and unjustly treated. It was intended when great powers were given to Railway Companies that there should be maximum rates which the Companies should not go beyond; and the words of the principal Acts were "including every expense incidental to conveyance." But it had been held that these maximum rates did not include stations or the salaries of clerks engaged in the conduct of the traffic. The question of what should be covered by the maximum rates should be settled both in the interest of the Railway Companies and of the traders. It was not right that Railway Companies should be able to charge 400 three or four times their maximum rates in respect of their provision of stations and clerks. The question of terminals ought to be settled, and this Bill provided an excellent tribunal for the purpose. The Railway Directors and shareholders said that this meant confiscation. But if they had got a good case why should they be afraid of submitting it to an impartial tribunal? What tribunal could be fairer than that to which the schedule of rates would be presented under this Bill? Why, the rates would in the last resort be submitted to that House, and decided upon by it; and it could not be supposed that that House would do anything unfair. Then there was the question of undue preference. The hon. Member for Stirlingshire had said that there was no longer any undue preference as regarded individuals. But what traders complained of was not undue preference as between individuals, but as between one district and another. Take, for instance, the action of the Midland Railway Company. They carried coke from Staveley to Northamptonshire—a distance of 84 miles—for 3s. 4d. a-ton, while they charged 3s. 10d. for carrying it from Staveley to Wolverhampton—a distance of only 65 miles—so that the rate, which should only be 2s. 10d., if the coke was carried at the same rate as from Staveley to Northamptonshire, was really 1s. a-ton more than it ought to be. This difference of 1s. a-ton made all the difference between profit and loss to the traders. Nor was this a solitary case; there were a great number of other cases in which the rates from Wolverhampton to London and other points were proportionately much larger than the rates charged between other places and the same destinations. This Bill would, he believed, provide a means for preventing this injustice being done to the district he represented; nor was this Bill only for the good of traders, but it was for the good of Railway Companies as well, for at present Railway Companies were in many cases unable to reduce rates when they wished in consequence of the combinations and confederations into which they had entered with other Companies. An instance of this was afforded by the inability of the Midland Railway Company to reduce their South Staffordshire rates in fulfilment of the promises they had made before obtaining access to the 401 district. The only real competition between railways now was as to the passenger traffic. According to the London and North - Western Company, their passenger traffic paid 4s. 4d. per ton per train mile, while their goods traffic paid 6s. 6d. per ton per train mile; and in a recent case a Railway Company proposed to charge a constituent of his at the rate of 7s. 3d. per ton per train mile for sending two truck loads of goods from Wolverhampton to London—or at nearly double the rate charged for a whole passenger train. Railway Companies could not be surprised if traders, under these circumstances, felt sore; and it was their interest in the long run to meet the traders before an impartial tribunal, when the case on both sides might be fully considered. No doubt, the Bill might require some amendment; but, on the whole, it was a most able, impartial, and statesmanlike effort to deal with a most difficult question, and he appealed with confidence to the House to pass it by a large majority.
MR. JACKS&c.) (Leith,
said, he rose for the purpose of supporting the Bill as a trader. He was sure, seeing that so much of their railway legislation was almost ancient history, it was positively refreshing to get a practical measure brought forward to deal with the evils of which traders so justly complained. The hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton) referred, in sitting down, to the exasperating cases of which the President of the Board of Trade complained. He (Mr. Jacks) would take the liberty of pointing out to the right hon. Gentleman that if he could see his way to insert a clause or make provision in the Bill to compel the Railway Companies to make a return of a ton per mile rate, the same as was made in every country in the world except our own, it would, do away with these exasperations, because it would enable the trader not only to judge between the rate which he paid to his railway and the rate which was charged by other railways, but also to form a comparison between the rates charged by British railways and those charged by railways on the Continent. The advantage would be not only to the trader, but also to the Railway Companies, because it would enable them to control their expenditure; and, he was bound to say, a provision could be made and carried out 402 without any expense, because he felt sure there was no competent railway manager in Great Britain who had not the information in some form or other. His hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire said very strongly that the interests of the Railway Companies were the interests of the traders. As a matter of sentiment, he supposed there was no one in this House who did not agree with him; but how did it come out in practice? Was the hon. Gentleman aware that while 12 years ago the minerals of this country paid 16 per cent of their cost, now they paid 24 per cent? He knew the reply the hon. Gentleman suggested. It was the fall of the prices. But, he would ask, whilst raw material had fallen something like three times—take the case of iron and heavy articles—how had the rates varied? Twelve years ago the rates were 23 pence per mile; now the cost was 21.1 pence—a difference of 8 per cent. as compared with between 300 and 400 per cent. He could quite understand the reply of Gentlemen connected with the railway interest. It was, where is the dividend to come from? In his opinion, the cause of these rates was the excessive cost of British railways as compared with the railways of other countries. Ten years ago British railways cost £34,000 per mile on the average. Now they cost £42,000 per mile. What had they got to show for that as compared, for instance, with the United States, which 10 years ago cost £9,000 per mile, as compared with £12,000 per mile now? Or France, where the respective costs were £30,000 per mile and £27,000 per mile? The difference was easily explained if they looked at the extravagant way in which he thought the railways in Great Britain were managed. He would refer to one glaring case. They would find an illustration in the Devonshire Report of the enormous sums that were paid by railways for creating money, and that was the London, Chatham, and Dover Company, which in order to raise £16,000,000 had to pay £3,000,000. There were other instances equally glaring. Then there was another cause, and that was that from being carriers the Railway Companies had greatly changed their character and become hotel-keepers. Taking one of the best managed Railway Companies in the Kingdom, the North Eastern, they found a 403 large hotel put up at York, at an expense of £250,000, which only paid 1 per cent on the hotel itself. That bad naturally to be spread over the workings of the Company. What he had risen chiefly to emphasize was the question raised by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. Magniac)—the question of canals. In this country there were about 2,430 miles of canals, of which there was known to be in the possession of the Railway Companies nearly 1,700 miles, altogether independent of the mileage which they controlled. How were these canals used? They were not used at all. In France there were 3,500 miles of canals, upon which £30,000,000 had been spent, and a Commission appointed by the Chamber of Deputies reported some five years ago to the effect that they found it was utterly impossible to carry on the trade and commerce in France without canals, because the rate per ton per mile by railway was something like double that by canals. The experience in the use of canals in the United States was of a somewhat similar kind; and in France there had been the practical outcome that a few years ago the Government voted £40,000,000 to create and develop new canals. That was a very different policy from the policy pursued by the English Railway Companies, who spent money to buy up canals, not to work them. The consequence was that for the money spent by the Railway Companies in buying the canals dividend had to be provided out of the legitimate railway traffic. The amount of money invested in British canals was nearly £60,000,000. No one knew what the Railway Companies had paid for the canals which they bought; but, taking it at the proportion of what they held, it would be about £20,000,000, and upon that sum no dividend was paid from the working of the canals, but had to be provided out of the working of the railway traffic. The next point, he thought, was a very serious one for traders. It was, that during the last 12 or 15 years the gross earnings of Railway Companies had increased by 20 per cent. Shareholders knew pretty well that the dividends had not increased in anything like that ratio. But where had the money gone to? To accommodate the public, said the hon. Baronet the Member for Durham (Sir Joseph Pease). But they 404 accommodated the public in the United States of America, and they did not pay anything like the same amount of money. The increased cost was only £3,000 as against £8,000, and the proportion was increasing every day. Therefore he thought the traders as represented in this House ought to do everything they could to facilitate the passing of this Bill, which seemed to be the only practical and real effort that had been made for some time to grapple with this question. He would respectfully press on the President of the Board of Trade to endeavour to give effect, and useful effect, to these two points—namely, to have a ton per mile rate on the material that was carried over the railways for the purposes he had named, and to see that the canals were so used that traders could have access to their rates the same as they could have to the railways; and, if necessary, he would almost say, the Government might themselves interfere and buy up the canals. He did not forget the lecture they got from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to proposing votes of money, but he would very respectfully submit that this was not a waste of money; but an investment. With all deference to the present and past Governments, he thought the House had been asked, and very probably might be asked at some future time, to make investments which would not be so good as these canals, besides the enormous benefit and gain to the British manufacturer and trader in assisting them in the difficult and tremendous task now laid upon them of competing with those nations which brought all these natural characteristics of their country into play.
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS (Lancashire, S. W., Newton)
said, he did not think he should have intervened only that with one exception he was the only Member of the Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons which sat in 1872 who was now a Member of that House. In that capacity he wished to state how very much he sympathized with those who had spoken about the canals, because that was a question which was brought before the Committee, and no Committee was ever more unanimous in its recommendations on the subject. One of the most important of those recommendations was that, except in special circumstances, no canal from that time 405 should be allowed to be bought by a Railway Company. The result was, unhappily, not what they expected, because he believed that hardly any Committee which had the matter brought before them ever paid any attention to it, but allowed the canals to be bought up as they had been bought up before. He was one of those who thought that the interests of the Railway Companies and of the traders ought to be considered identical. The Companies would act wisely if they were to reduce the rates so low that they would not be felt to be oppressive, and traders would do well not to be unreasonable in their demands. Those engaged in the mining interest, for example, were looking round to see how they could benefit themselves; and no doubt some things which they recommended would have that effect, but not all. One point was to get rid of royalties paid to the landlords. He had received deputations himself on the subject. He did not mean to get rid of royalties altogether, but to diminish them. It was said that these royalties were fixed at the time when the mining industry was prosperous, and when the owners of the soil could get anything they asked for, but that the times had changed, and therefore some alteration should be made in the matter of royalties. The traders in the same way said that if they could get their goods carried at a less rate they would make more profit. He should be very glad to see this question properly settled, and he quite agreed with many of the points raised by his right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade. He thought that these questions of undue preference were altogether wrong. There was a great deal of misrepresentation in the country upon the subject, which in his opinion ought to be settled by an independent tribunal. He quite agreed with his right hon. Friend in what he said about maximum rates and charges. The settlement of maximum rates and charges by such a Department as the Board of Trade would not prove satisfactory. He did not think it was the province of a Government Department to undertake any such duty, and so strongly did he object to the clause that dealt with the point that he would rather not see the Bill carried if the Government retained the clause. He did not think that sufficient stress 406 had been laid upon the question as to what were the fair rights of the Railway Companies. This was not a new question. The matter had been sifted before Committees over and over again, and they should bear in mind what those Committee had reported and the language they had used. The Report of the Committees of 1844, of 1855, 1856, and 1857 with regard to the rights and privileges of the Railway Companies ought to be present to the minds of hon. Members when they came to deal with a question of this kind. He also urged that the Report of the Joint Committee of the Lords and Commons in 1872 upon this subject should be considered in connection with this Bill. It was proposed to transfer the settlement of the question of maximum rates to the Board of Trade; but he should like to know on what principle the settlement was to be brought about, and by whom? He saw nothing to guide the advisers in this matter. What the right hon. Gentleman wanted to do was, in order to satisfy the traders, to cut down the maximum charges of the Railway Companies. This, he submitted, would not only not benefit the traders, but it would at the same time shake the confidence of those who had invested their money in railways. He would assume that Clause 24 as it now stood had been placed in the original Acts of the great Railway Companies. That was to say that, although there was a miximum rate fixed, it was to be subject to the revision of the Board of Trade in five, 10, or 15 years. If such a provision as that had been placed in the original Acts of the Railway Companies he should like to know how much of the £800,000,000 now invested in railways would ever have been subscribed? By adopting this clause the House would be placing a large amount of capital in a different position to what it was before. He was perfectly willing to extend the powers of the Court of Commissioners and to put that body on a much better footing; but all these questions of undue preference should be relegated to some competent tribunal, but not to the Board of Trade. He thought the Board of Trade was the most incompetent tribunal that could possibly deal with such a matter. That Board was not qualified for doing it; it had not the practical or legal knowledge, and it had not the officers who could do 407 it. [Mr. MUNDELLA: Who has?] It was for the right hon. Gentleman to discover that. At all events, there must be some person of legal knowledge in the tribunal that had to do with such an amount of property. He was quite certain that it was for the interests of the traders and the Railway Companies that they should meet each other half-way, because their interests were identical. The Railway Companies had in these times of distress lowered their rates in a great number of cases in order to meet the pressure put upon their customers, and on the other hand the traders were perfectly willing that the rates should be raised in better times. He was ready to do anything in his power to remove any friction that might exist; but he should be sorry to create any ill-feeling bypassing a measure containing such a clause as that to which he had referred.
§ MR. JOHNSON-FERGUSON (Leicester, Loughborough)
said, that the prevailing opinion in the House seemed to be that some legislation was necessary; and, therefore, the most useful thing to do was to point out what appeared to be defects in the Bill, in the hope that the President of the Board of Trade would be able to see his way to devise a remedy for those defects in Committee. He recognized in the Bill an immense advance upon the Acts of 1854 and 1873. The first defect that occurred to him, on glancing through the Bill, was that on questions of the legality of tolls, rates, and charges, there was to be an appeal from the decision of the Commissioners. Hence a fruitful source of contention would be opened, for experience showed that Railway Companies would always exercise their right of appeal where such existed, and carry their disputes to every Court to which it was possible for them to appeal, and, in the position in which Directors stood as trustees for the shareholders, perhaps they were bound to do so; but he wished that in Committee the right hon. Gentleman would see his way to include this question of legality of tolls, rates, and charges, with those other two classes of questions upon which the decison of the Commissioners would be final. Another point was the difficulty of obtaining through rates from Railway Companies. He knew of instances where repeated applications 408 for through rates had been refused for years, and in one instance they had been refused altogether, to the considerable inconvenience of traders. By the Act of 1873 one Railway Company had the right to demand a through rate from another Company over whose lines it wished to send traffic, and could call in the aid of the Commission to enforce the right. Only by a roundabout method could traders obtain through rates; but the trading community would not rest satisfied until it was recognized that they had a right of demanding from two or more Companies whose lines formed direct communication between two places a through rate, and of appealing to the Commission if the demand were refused. On a point in relation to the classification and revised schedule of charges he would draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the immense importance of insisting that terminal charges should be clearly specified. To give one instance where he might give many, he would mention that between two Lancashire towns goods when sent by bleachers were charged 3s. per ton, and when sent by manufacturers 7s. per ton, and the difference was justified on the ground of its being a terminal charge for work done by the Railway Companies in the case of the manufacturer, but which the bleachers did for themselves. Then he hoped that in the revised schedules the greatest clearness, breadth, and simplicity of classification would be insisted upon to prevent such a confusion as had arisen in regard to the conveyance of wire netting. Between Manchester and Liverpool, while hardware was charged 2¼d. per ton per mile, wire netting was charged 4d. An ordinary individual would say wire netting was included in the term hardware; but while the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company admitted the classification, the North-Western Company declined to accept that view, and insisted that it should be included in the rates charged for fish, feathers, furniture, and other goods for which they could make an exceptional charge. Then a point upon which he hoped there would be some modification in Committee was the time by which the revised rate would come into operation. Under the Bill it was proposed that Railway Companies should have 12 months from the 1st October next to draw up a sche- 409 dule of rates and charges and submit it to the Board of Trade. Any objection would be considered, and then when an agreement had been arrived at between the Railway Company and the Board of Trade a Bill was to be brought into the House fixing these as the legal charges for the Company. At the very lowest computation this could not be accomplished under two years. Considering the enormous interests, the fierceness of foreign competition, and the difficulty our trading classes found in successfully meeting that competition, he earnestly hoped the President of the Board of Trade would see his way materially to reduce the time within which these revised charges would come into operation. But the most important objection he had was to Sub-section 2 of Section 25, in reference to the consideration allowed to the Commissioners in deciding whether a lower rate granted to an individual was an undue preference, to consider whether that rate was necessary to secure the traffic in respect to which it was made. He would illustrate the effect of the clause by instances within his knowledge. Taking two seaports where the Railway Companies were competitors with sea carriers—Swansea and Liverpool—he found that the rate for tin plates from Swansea to Liverpool was 12s. 6d. per ton; but Manchester was 30 miles nearer Swansea than Liverpool, and on the same Midland line, and yet the rate was £1 a-ton. Thus, the Midland Company carried tin plates through Manchester and 30 miles further on for 7s. 6d. a-ton less than they carried them to Manchester. Then, again, the Midland table of rates at Loughborough Station showed that the Midland Railway carried foreign corn from West Hartlepool at 11s. 8d., while the rate for English corn was 16s. 8d. Again, coal from the Leicestershire colleries was carried to King's Lynn for export for 2s. 9d. per ton, a distance of 106 miles, while the same coal, carried to a town 30 miles distant, on a direct line from the collieries to King's Lynn, paid 3s. per ton, and to a place 80 miles distant the charge was 6s. 4d. per ton. The result was that the coal was absolutely delivered to manufacturers near the seaports in Belgium and Holland at a less charge than it could be delivered to the English competitors of those foreign manufacturers 410 at places situated not much more than one-half the distance from the collieries of even the port of exportation. It seemed to him absolutely necessary that if that clause was to be retained in the Bill it must be modified by some such provision as this — that if the Railway Companies did give exceptionally lower rates than their maximum rates they must not be allowed to charge for a shorter distance on the same line in precisely similar circumstances a higher total charge than the reduced total charge. He thought it was admitted that if this question was to be settled it could only be done by a wide and bold measure; and he certainly congratulated the right hon. Gentleman on the breadth and statesmanlike view he had taken of this question. Hon. Members who were actively engaged in the management of Railway Companies derided and disputed their complaints. He would tell the hon. Member for Stirlingshire that, though he might have disproved the instance given by the hon. Member for Forfarshire, one class of goods was for years carried from Manchester viâ Garston and Paris to London at a lower rate than any of the Railway Companies would carry it. On the 1st of January, 1883, the charges for different classes of goods from Manchester to every town in the United Kingdom, with the exception of London and the Hull ports, were arbitrarily advanced without notice being given to the traders interested. The rates were not nominally raised, but the whole of these goods was transferred from one class to another, for which the legal rates were considerably higher. The result was that for months those branches of trade interested in these goods were completely disorganized. Although he believed the Railway Companies had yielded to the representations of the parties engaged in this trade, and had one by one transferred the goods back again to the class in which they originally were, the arbitrary raising of the rates entailed a large amount of inconvenience to, and a very considerable loss on, these traders. With the knowledge of these cases before them, he maintained that they would not be justified in dealing with this question in any other way than in the firm and comprehensive manner in which the President of the Board of Trade had 411 attempted to deal with it. While feeling grateful to him on behalf of the trading community for the introduction of the measure, he sincerely hoped that when they reached Committee the right hon. Gentleman would recognize the importance of the points to which he had drawn particular attention, and that he might be enabled to propose Amendments himself dealing with them or to accept Amendments proposed by others.
§ MR. PLUNKET (Dublin University)
said, he did not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman who had just spoken into the particular cases referred to. They would more properly be dealt with when they reached Committee, and it would be occupying the time of the House somewhat unnecessarily to endeavour to thresh them at that stage of the proceedings. He desired, therefore, to state the grounds on which he supported the Amendment which had been brought forward by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton). The position in which he (Mr. Plunket) wished to stand before the House, as being himself a Director of one of the great Railway Companies, was this—they were generally favourable to the Bill. They were sincerely anxious that this question should be settled as soon as possible. It was neither for the advantage of the Railway Companies themselves, nor the public, that these matters should be the subject of perpetual agitation, and therefore they were most anxious to co-operate in every way with any Government which brought forward a Bill with the bonâ fide intention of settling the question on an equitable basis. He would say at once that, so far as the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was concerned, he was sure that that right hon. Gentleman was personally anxious himself to deal with this important subject in this spirit, and that he had shown every possible courtesy to the Railway Companies. He had risen for the purpose of asking the right hon. Gentleman to give them some satisfactory assurance that the parts of the measure to which they most strongly and honestly objected on behalf of the vast number of shareholders of Railway Companies of the Kingdom would be modified. They were certainly as much entitled as any other class in the country to obtain protection for their capital; and, in the great anxiety on the part of 412 the Government to settle this question once for all, their property should not be exposed to what he believed would be the very serious loss to which it would be liable if this Bill were passed in the form in which it now stood. There was a great deal of the Bill of which he most thoroughly approved. For his own part, he was not going to say a word against the Railway Commission as now constituted. He was sure that the Members who composed that Body were able men, who conscientiously performed their duties; but the Commission was appointed some time ago, and the business now was too serious, too grave, and too important, and he was heartily glad to see that, in the Bill, it was proposed to strengthen the Commission. There were many other points on which he thought the provisions of the Bill, with some slight amendment, would produce results for the mutual advantage and benefit both of the public and the Railway Companies. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Stirlingshire, as placed on the Paper, exactly expressed the position which they took up. Their contention was, that this House should not be prepared to sanction any compulsory interference with, or diminution of, those powers of earning revenue granted by Parliament to Railway Companies, and on the faith of which £800,000,000 of capital had been expended, and on which the security of that capital rested. They had been accused of using strong language at the meetings of shareholders which were held to discuss the Bill; but, speaking for himself, he must say that, as the clauses on one or two points stood at present in the Bill, a great deal of that language was perfectly justified. It was complained of as very rash and strong language to say that this Bill, as it stood, might, and probably would, mean confiscation; but if they took two or three provisions of the Bill together, they had very high authority for saying that they would amount, in fact, to confiscating the property. In that connection he cited Clause 13, which provided that complainants could obtain a certificate to bring their case forward against the Railway Companies. Again, Clause 24, which, was the central clause of that part of the Bill, provided for a compulsory revision of rates and charges whose maximum had already been fixed by Acts of 413 Parliament; and, on the faith that that maximum would not be disturbed or dealt with by compulsory revision, vast sums of money had been invested. The Joint Committee of the Houses of Lords and Commons, which sat in 1872, and was presided over by Mr. Chichester Fortescue, in their Report said it was a serious question in respect to periodical revision of railway rates, upon what principle that revision was to be performed. And the Report went on to say that if it was to be purely arbitrary, and if no rule was to be laid down, the power of revision would amount to the power to confiscate the property of the Railway Companies. What he desired, therefore, was that some assurance should be given that the clauses—particularly that relating to compulsory revision—should not be allowed to stand as at present, but that some precaution should be taken to prevent the confiscation which was feared. Therefore, he did not think it was an unreasonable request that he now made to the President of the Board of Trade, when he asked that right hon. Gentlemen to give them some assurance of that kind. Those proposals were entirely new. As far as he was aware, it had never before been suggested by any serious authority that a compulsory revision of that character should be enforced. An hon. Member who had spoken said that those proposals were the result of many Committees or Commissions—he thought the hon. Gentleman gave the number of them as 12 or 13; but that was merely the argument post hoc ergo propter hoc. Those proposals followed, indeed, the Reports of those Committees and Commissions; but, so far from the proposal of such a compulsory revision of rates being the result of the Reports of any of those Committees and Commissions, he believed that it was not recommended in any of them; and he called upon the right hon. Gentleman to say whether the Report of any Commission supported that new principle. He said that such a drastic measure as that should not have been proposed until every other means had been exhausted, until the Railway Companies had proved themselves utterly unwilling to come to fair terms on those subjects, But now, without any preparation, or any suggestion on the part of any tribunal or any Committee or Commission that ever in- 414 quired into the matter, that measure had been brought in at once to give in the widest and most stringent manner the power of compulsory revision of rates. He did not wish to trespass on the time of the House. He appealed to the President of the Board of Trade to give them an assurance on that subject. He, for his own part, was most unwilling that there should be a division on the second reading of the Bill. The Railway Companies were desirous to enter upon its future stages in the most friendly spirit with the Government; and if such an assurance as he had asked for was given by the right hon. Gentleman, he, for one, should be heartily glad to render all the assistance in his power to have that question finally settled. But if the discussion of the measure was to be carried on in the spirit shown by some of the assailants of the Railway Companies, if they were to be told that the clauses of the Bill as they stood were iron-bound and hard-and-fast provisions that could not be changed, if there was to be no protection afforded to the Railway Companies from that confiscation which they feared, then he could only say that the Directors of those Companies would, in duty to the shareholders, whose trustees they were, feel it to be their duty to offer every opposition in their power to the enactment of such clauses.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir CHARLES RUSSELL) (Hackney, S.)
said, that he thought that his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) had every reason to be satisfied with the result of the discussion, because, with the exception of the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Dublin University (Mr. Plunket), who had avowedly appeared as advocates of the railway interests, there had been little fear expressed that the general provisions of the Bill were calculated to injuriously affect the interests of the Railway Companies, while there had been a very marked expression of opinion, on the part of speakers on both sides of the House, in support of the main scope of the Bill. His hon. Friend (Mr. J. C. Bolton) seemed to think that the President of the Board of Trade had sought somewhat to disparage the recommendations made by the Committee 415 to which reference had been made, known as Mr. Ashley's Committee. His hon. Friend, however, in doing so, could not have carefully considered the recommendations of that Committee, or compared those recommendations with the Bill, because, if he had done so, he would have seen that, with the exception of the 24th clause and the clauses pointing out its scope, the main substance of the Bill was, in fact, an endeavour to carry out the recommendations of that Committee. For instance, the uniformity and classification of charges, the question of terminal charges, and the publication of the terminal charges; the suggestion that the Railway Commission Court should be made perpetual; and the further suggestion that all questions relating to traffic by railways and canals should be under the jurisdiction of the Railway Commission Court—all these, and others, were dealt with by the Bill, following the suggestions of the Committee of 1882. Now, no one, in the course of the debate, had thrown any doubt upon the legal competence of Parliament to deal in any manner which in its wisdom might seem right with the whole question of Railway Rates. It was the undoubted right of Parliament to deal as it might think right and just with that or any other question. But it had been suggested in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Stirlingshire, and in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Dublin University, that there was no moral right in Parliament so to deal with these matters. He (Sir Charles Russell) wished shortly to point out the reasons why he thought that suggestion was by no means well-founded, and that it had both a legal and a moral right to do so. In the first place, one fallacy seemed to run through the arguments of all those who represented the railway interest. It had been assumed that the consequence of this Bill becoming law would be likely to be a general reduction of existing rates. He wished to suggest that one of the great objects sought to be accomplished, apart from the question of reduction, was reclassification, it being admitted on all hands that existing classifications were virtually obsolete, and were not symmetrical, and, further, that they should be made easily accessible to the whole public. But he was not desirous of 416 avoiding the further point—namely, that not improbably, on this Bill becoming law, there might be a reduction, and, therefore, a revision, as to the amount of rates. Was it not within the moral competence of Parliament to deal with that question? He thought it was. As had been pointed out by the hon. Member for the Biggleswade Division of Bedfordshire (Mr. Magniac), in the Railway Clauses Act of 1845, Section 86, although there were certain maximum charges which it was within the power of the Railway Companies, in certain events, to charge, still they were not absolutely entitled to charge those maximum charges at all, because the section said that the maxima "shall also be reasonable." But he wanted to point out further that, in 1845, the persons representing the railway interests had very clear notice given them, although it was unnecessary from any point of view that they should have the notice, that Parliament, by conferring certain powers on Railway Companies, was not making a Parliamentary contract by which its hands were to be absolutely tied, and was not to be perfectly free, always within the lines of justice and equity, to deal with railway affairs in the way that the interests of the general public demanded. And if that was the principle upon which the granting of these powers originally rested, it was equally within the competence of Parliament, if the interests of the public demanded a revision, to make such revision. Express attention was drawn to this matter by Mr. Stuart-Wortley in 1845, and on his Motion a Standing Order was passed, declaring that nothing in this Act—the Act of 1845—contained—Should be deemed to exempt Railway Companies from the provisions of any General Act relating to railways which may hereafter be passed during this or any future Session of Parliament.To which Lord Howick, now Lord Grey, proposed to add—Or from any future revision and alteration, under the authority of Parliament, of the maximum rates, fares, and charges authorized by this Act.And with that addition the Resolution was adopted by the House, and became a Standing Order. One very eminent person, who had written to the Press under the signature of the second letter 417 of the alphabet—his distinguished and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell)—had given an interpretation of that Order which, coming from so eminent a man, he ventured to think was extraordinary, because the noble and learned Lord said it was quite true that nothing in "this" Act contained should be taken to exempt the Railway Companies from future revision; but he should be surprised if his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir Richard Webster) did not agree with him (Sir Charles Russell) that the Resolution he had quoted, in the form in which it was recorded as a Standing Order, was not an intimation of the will of Parliament that Railway Companies were subject to the possibility of having their Railway Rates revised at any time, if the need of the public required it, always subject, as he had said, to justice and equity. But the matter did not stop there. Every single Private Railway Bill since that period had contained this clause; and although he had seen it stated that there were several Railway Acts of an earlier date, he doubted very much if there was any Railway Company which had not, as part of its system, a portion of line built under the authority of an Act or Acts containing this clause. He wished, also, to call attention to the fact that the Railway Companies themselves had not on previous occasions urged this claim of vested rights, in consequence of the powers granted to them by Parliament. If they had vested rights, was it proper for Parliament to sanction the construction of competing lines? Again, the owners of canals had not complained of their vested rights being interfered with by the construction of railways which would compete with them, and which, in many cases, annihilated them, and without any compensation. When Railway Companies found it to their interest to get their Parliamentary powers altered or extended, they did not hesitate to take steps for that purpose. For example, the Great Northern Railway Company obtained from Parliament power to increase their charges for the carriage of coal. He trusted that he had clearly shown that the 24th clause of the Bill and the clauses connected with it were not only within the legal, but also within the moral, competence of Parliament. He would now refer to some of the criticisms which had been made, more or 418 less in detail, on the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the late President of the Board of Trade (Mr. B. Stanhope) showed too much acerbity when he alluded to the present holder of that Office. Indeed, he believed that the right hon. Gentleman would on reconsideration come to the conclusion that in his remarks he was not generous, nor altogether fair. The right hon. Gentleman said that when the present President of the Board of Trade found that certain provisions of this Bill were not popular with the great railway interest, he endeavoured to shunt the unpopularity caused by the provisions contained in the measure upon that right hon. Gentleman. In his judgment there was not the slightest foundation for any such statement. When the Bill was introduced, and when it met with very general acceptance in the House, his right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) gave every credit to his Predecessor in Office for the efforts he had made to deal with this complicated and difficult question. He (Sir Charles Russell) understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that at some later period his right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) discussed in public what his Predecessor in Office had done in this matter. The debate on the introduction of the Bill occurred in the early part of March; but in view of the charge which had been made, he (Sir Charles Russell) was surprised to have his attention called to the fact that, on the 17th of February, in a speech delivered at a public meeting at Sheffield, the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Stanhope) plumed himself on his labours, and, after referring to its drafting, stated the main provisions of the Bill he had prepared. Yet the right hon. Gentleman now said his Successor in Office only learnt his particular views on this subject from a private Memorandum. Why, with regard to the charge, the public report of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was the only memorandum that his right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) had referred to. [Mr. E. STANHOPE: No, no!] With regard to the proposed tribunal, it ought to be such a Court as, in the opinion of the community, would be an efficient and a dignified Court. He did not know how such a result could be more satisfactorily arrived at than by having for its legal head a person who would also have the 419 dignity and the status of a Judge of the High Court. He quite agreed that the question of the revision of rates at fixed periods only was well worth the consideration of the House. But no one contemplated a perpetually recurring revision. His right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dublin University asked whether there was any authority for any recommendation of a Committee on that question. The answer to that was, first of all, that no one suggested that the Railway Companies, to any considerable extent, although they might have the power to do so, charged the maximum rate. He believed that 75 per cent were special rates, and rates which were not carried up to the maximum. Then, with regard to the question as to whether there was any Parliamentary sanction for the suggestion of revision, he might say that Committee after Committee had reported upon the necessity for fresh classification, and the matter had also been dealt with in Bills brought in by several of the Railway Companies. Was it not clear that, in the classification of rates, the shifting of some goods from a higher to a lower rate necessarily involved a revision of the rates? They could not have a Bill dealing with classification without interfering, to a certain extent, with the revision of rates. But he did not base the case for the Bill upon that ground. He based it upon the broad ground that the law was in an utterly unsatisfactory state. His hon. Friend (Mr. Magniac) and his hon. Friend the Member for the Leith District (Mr. Jacks), and also the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Newton Division of Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), were very emphatic in speaking of the necessity for dealing with the Canal Question. His right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade felt that necessity fully, and he would be most willing to accept a suggestion from anyone who had any experience in the matter as to how the Bill might deal with that subject. His right hon. Friend would put his own Amendments on the Paper in connection with that point; and he (Sir Charles Russell) was sure, as he had stated, that any suggestions from anyone in a position to make them would be fully considered. The state of things with reference to the questions of canals was not creditable to the country. It 420 was quite true that the Committee of 1872 reported unanimously against the Railway Companies being allowed to buy the canals; and the Statute of 1873 prohibited the purchase of canals by Railway Companies. It was equally true—indeed, it was notorious—that there were Railway Companies which had not bought in the name of the Company, but had got hold of the shares of Canal Companies, and, having got hold of them, had placed them in the names of the nominees of Railway Companies. That was a state of things which, if it could be dealt with satisfactorily, ought to be dealt with. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Assheton Cross) was the only Member, in addition to the two hon. Members who represented directly and avowedly the railway view in this matter, who objected to this classification and revision. These were the observations which he had thought it right to offer. Many of the criticisms obviously referred to matters which could be dealt with in Committee. He had, he thought, however, submitted reasons why the second reading of the Bill should be agreed to.
§ SIR RICHARD WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
said, that he had taken considerable interest in that question. On the Motion for leave to introduce the Bill, he stated that, so far as they were concerned on that side of the House, there was every desire to meet the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman in a perfectly fair spirit; but he also said that it seemed to him that any measure of this kind must be founded on justice, because it would be exceedingly wrong to endeavour to pass any remedial measure of this kind if the measure was simply brought in for the purpose of redressing grievances from which traders were suffering, without considering what was due to the Companies themselves. There could be no lasting settlement of the question unless the interests of both parties were fairly regarded. With, perhaps, one exception, he thought there was no part of the Bill which might not, at any rate, be allowed to pass the second reading. The first and most important part of the Bill was that which dealt with the Railway Commissioners' Court, and the remedies to be given to traders with respect to grievances which did undoubtedly exist. He believed that nearly all the traders required 421 could be given to them without any injury being done to the interest of the Companies, and could be given by virtue of provisions quite apart from the much-debated 24th clause. He would therefore suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that it would be well worth his consideration whether they should not have that clause taken out of the Bill, and have it brought in as a separate measure. ["No, no!"] He would give his reasons for that; and he might say that he desired to approach the matter strictly from an impartial point of view. With regard to the Commissioners' Court, he had had the great advantage of practising on many occasions before that tribunal, and he wished to be allowed to pay his tribute to the courtesy, the ability, and the great application shown by every Member of the Commission whenever any business was brought before them. It was quite impossible to overrate the excellent manner in which they had endeavoured to do their duty; and he was sure that every member of the Bar who had practised, and every applicant or respondent who had appeared before them, had come away from the Court with the feeling that every Commissioner did his utmost to consider the question raised from every point of view. He was anxious to say that much, because he was one of those who had maintained that the tribunal ought to have a legal President. He advocated that view in the interests of the traders quite as much as in the interests of the Railway Companies, as it was only by having a strong trained lawyer at the head of the Court that they could have matters kept within a moderate compass, and evidence rejected that was not material to the particular questions discussed. He was perfectly certain that if they could have five years under one system, and five years under the other, the traders would be among the first to advocate the appointment of a trained lawyer to preside over the Court. In connection with this part of the matter, he wished to point out that he had never suggested that he should like questions of facts in these cases to be decided by lawyers only. What he had maintained was this—that certainly more than half the cases which had come before the Commissioners were mere questions of law. He quite agreed, 422 however, with all hon. Members who had spoken from that point of view that it was most important that those who sat to decide questions of fact should be in an equal position with the legal member of the Court, and he saw no reason why there should be an appeal on questions of fact. Some of his hon. Friends thought there ought to be an appeal upon matters of fact; but if they had a skilled tribunal it ought to be left to decide matters of fact, even although it might possibly go wrong sometimes. He would prefer to have the Court presided over by a Judge, because he desired that it should be a Court thoroughly respected and of equal authority with one of the divisions of the High Court; and when the Commission was not sitting the country could have the services of the Judge in one of the Courts. As to undue preference, he was in favour of enlarging the jurisdiction of the Commission as far as could be done on the lines of the Act of 1854. Clause 18 of the Bill got rid of the difficulty which had been felt, as to whether the Commissioners had power to interfere, where the only cause of complaint was illegality of charge, and Clause 25 put upon a Company the burden of proof that a charge involved no undue preference. No one who had studied the question from the traders' point of view, as well as from the Companies' point of view, could doubt that grouping would be a very great advantage to traders He (Sir Richard Webster) himself had been engaged in litigation, in which it was shown that not merely a shilling, but even a penny or a halfpenny, in rates would determine a contract. By grouping together the traders in a district, although one who was nearest a port would not be personally benefited, the public would benefit, and the traders would benefit, through not being allowed to compete with each other. Some hon. Members had suggested that there should be equal mileage rates; but he (Sir Richard Webster) did not think that anybody who had any real experience of the matter could come to any other conclusion than that equal mileage rates, compulsorily applied, would be a very great misfortune to the trader and the country at large. Besides, grouping was wholly inconsistent with equal mileage rates; and all authorities were agreed that equal mileage rates 423 were practically unworkable. He did not admit that Railway Companies had spent money iniquitously in litigation, and that they had created fictitious stock to meet that expenditure; and a study of the auditing of railway accounts would show that that was impossible. The change to be made by the Bill would probably not diminish the engagement of counsel; and he did not think that, in that respect, traders would gain much from a pecuniary point of view. Having thought over the matter most carefully, he thought it would be unwise to encumber the Bill, which otherwise contained many good provisions, by any compulsory clauses, such as Clause 24, which was regarded from some points of view as a clause which would reduce the maxima of charges. It was true that anomalies existed which Railway Companies had shown themselves willing, to a great extent, to redress; but these anomalies were mainly due not to the facts that the maxima in particular classes were too high, and that the classification was imperfect. If it were made clear to the Companies, as it ought to be made clear, that this was not an attempt to cut down maxima rates and charges, and unfairly to rearrange goods within these maxima, a great part of the objection to the Bill would disappear. Railway Companies had not been unwilling to deal with the subject themselves; they had introduced Bills last year, and it was not their fault that they were not proceeded with. He thought that in a Bill which had so much good in it in regard to the Railway Commission and undue preference—provisions which, in themselves, gave so extended a measure of protection to traders—it was unwise to burden it by what was almost a separate piece of legislation. To insert in Clause 24 the provisions necessary for the guidance of the tribunal would occupy the House a long time, and it would endanger the Bill to press the clause without such directions. No one denied the competence of the House to legislate as it would, and no one would deny that the House had sanctioned a scale of charges upon the faith of which money had been invested; and it ought not to interfere with that scale unless it were shown to be a failure, or to be based upon a wrong principle. It would, therefore, be desirable to drop the clause, which gave 424 rise to the greater part of the opposition to the Bill, for the sake of passing the portion which would really bring great benefit to traders. By removing the clause, and bringing it forward as a separate measure, the Government would get rid of the greater part, if not the whole, of the fair opposition to the Bill. The more one looked at Clause 24, the more impossible it was to see how it was to be worked out to the satisfaction of the traders without doing or contemplating some injury to the property of those who had invested money on the faith of previous Acts of Parliament. The question of terminal charges was a separate one, and he quite agreed that it ought to be distinctly stated what the terminal services were. A contest had been long going on between traders and the Railway Companies as to the right to charge terminals. Ever since 1845, in the case of short distances, when the rates were unremunerative without terminals, terminals were added. More than one judgment had recognized the right to make these charges, and the right was upheld by the Court of Appeal. That question, and the maxima of terminals to be charged, might well be dealt with in the Bill; and he saw no objection to some provision being made for terminal maxima being laid down, and for terminal services being classified. Irrespective of classification, there might be a fair discussion as to what were the maxima which might be applied to terminal charges, and he did not believe that any Company would object to a limit being fixed. That part of Clause 24 might, at all events, be satisfactorily dealt with by legislation. In approaching the question he desired fairly and honestly to strengthen the hands of the Government, in order to produce a workable Bill. It would be a very desirable thing if the Bill, which it was admitted was, to a great extent, the production of both Front Benches, should ultimately pass into law, and without entering upon the contentious matter of Clause 24. He trusted the House would see there were, in the earlier part of the Bill, as in the latter part of it, matters well worthy of consideration, and which ought to form the basis of sound and useful legislation; and from that point of view he trusted the Session would see a most useful tribunal made permanent, strengthened in its authority, and producing a feeling of 425 relief and justice in the minds of traders who might appeal to it without in any way interfering unfairly with the interests of the railways.
§ SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
, said, he thought that the position of the Railway Companies, as regarded their disputes with the public, was much exaggerated, and, as he had said before, very much the offspring of a want of system in the legislation connected with it, and which had prevailed for many years past. The public thought their interests were served by the encouragement of competing lines; but so soon as the new lines became a success they arranged terms with their older rivals, so that the public did not get the benefit of competition. If Parliament had at first laid down some system of railway development a great many bad lines would never have been made; but, owing to the large number of duplicate lines, traders were paying double the rates for transport they need otherwise have done. The principle, however, which had been adopted was this—"Let us have as many competing lines as possible;" and the result was, as in the case of a competing line which had recently been sanctioned, no sooner was the line completed than the managers met together and the same rates were charged as before. It was not true, as hon. Members had said, that Railway Directors were unwilling to meet their shareholders or their customers. He (Sir Joseph Pease) had been a Director, he believed, almost longer than any Member of that House, and he knew of scarcely any instance when Directors had refused to meet deputations either of traders or proprietors. When the right hon. Gentleman the late President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Joseph Chamberlain) suggested that the Companies themselves should bring in Bills dealing with the question, no fewer than seven Companies responded to the invitation. He was sure those Companies had no desire to increase their tolls, or to act unfairly to the public, as they had shown in their willingness to introduce Bills of their own, though he was ready to admit that the question would be better dealt with by one rather than by many Acts of Parliament. A good deal had been said about Canals; but it ought to be remembered that the Canals might 426 make arrangements with each other and with the Railway Companies which would prevent the public from gaining by the supposed competition. A great deal of the present agitation had, no doubt, risen owing to foreign cattle and corn being carried at lower rates than English cattle and corn; but nothing Parliament could do would be of any avail so long as the rates of Steamboat Companies were not also dealt with. If any man ought to take a fair view of the question it was himself; because he was more largely interested as a trader than as a Railway Director. Railway Companies and those they represented had a right to ask from Her Majesty's Ministers with regard to the Bill what construction they placed upon Clause 24? If it was to be construed into raising one universal and general classification, and rates were not to be confiscatory, but were to be such as would give Railway Companies the power of earning a dividend in decent times, as they now possessed, then he, for one, wished the Bill God-speed, and no railway man in his senses would at all oppose such a view—that was, if it simply meant consolidation. If it were to be construed by the Board of Trade into a classification and consolidation which did not mean confiscation, then there would be no reason to oppose the second reading of the Bill. But if it meant that, in their wisdom or their unwisdom, they were going to give the Board of Trade the command of the whole position, and to do everything it pleased, then he thought that that was contrary and detrimental to the public credit and interest, and to the interest both of railway shareholders and of railway traders. Another clause to which he wished to call attention was that which referred to the constant revision of rates. He had asked the opinion of many persons upon this point, and he found that they put no confidence in this clause at all; it would be a constant source of irritation between traders and shareholders, and was, he believed, desired by no one—the rates once fixed should remain till Parliament again thought right to take up the general question. Another point was the very large number of people who were allowed to bring the Railway Companies before the Commissioners. He did not want the number to be restricted; but he thought that there ought 427 to be some precaution adopted, such as requiring some deposit to be made, so as to avoid frivolous cases being brought forward. With regard to the Conciliation Clauses, no confidence whatever was felt in them. Either the railway charges were right, or they were wrong; either the Commissioners could deal with them or they could not; but, by this provision, every small trader could come before the Commissioners and have a gentleman sent down who had no authority except to report to the Board of Trade. It was true that there had been Councils of Conciliation; but that had been where both parties had chosen an umpire. On these the right hon. Gentleman had served; but both parties had selected him. The gentleman who was to be sent down was only a reporting officer, not an arbitrator; if a charge made against a Company had anything in it, it ought to be dealt with by an authoritative tribunal. With regard to what had been said as to secret rates, he contended that a reply was to be found in the Report of the Committee of 1881, which said that there was no such thing. A list of passenger fares was put up beside the booking places, and merchandize rates were also put up, though whether that was of much service there was considerable doubt, since Bradshaw itself was easy in comparison to some of these rate-books. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consider the points which he had referred to. For his part, he heartily wished the whole question settled. It had kept railway officers and Railway Directors busy for several years past; and he prayed for a fair and an immediate settlement.
§ MR. LIONEL COHEN (Paddington, N.)
I think the commercial aspect of the case is that which we have chiefly to look to, and that we should study the prosperity of the country as well as that of the railways themselves. We must remember that at the present time the railways of the country occupy the place which in former centuries was held by the high roads; and if it had been contemplated that such a vast traffic was to arise, it would probably have been thought the duty of the State in this country, as it has been in other countries, to retain this property in its own hands, and to expend from the resources of the Empire the funds necessary to maintain it, receiving the rates in re- 428 turn. In the position in which we now stand, it may be fairly stated that the whole of this legislation is called for by the various asseverations which have been made on behalf of trade—namely, in the first place, that the trade of the country has been crippled, or, at any rate, has not obtained its highest development in consequence of excessive charges, and that if the charges were lowered our goods could be produced cheaper and circulated with greater facility, so that the home trade of the country would be considerably improved. In the second place, it is alleged that differential rates operate in favour of the foreign producer, who thus has the advantage of lower rates both in his own country, where the railways are the property of his own Government, and in ours also. Thirdly, it is asserted that canal competition has failed to remedy either of the grievances I have mentioned, the canals being either under the control or else the absolute property of the Railway Companies. The fourth grievance pressed upon the Government is that the operation of the Railway Rates tends to confer an advantage on certain districts of the country to the disadvantage of other districts, and to twist, as it were, the trade of the country away from its natural course. To assimilate the rates which prevail abroad and the rates which prevail in this country—the Railway Companies in this country being subject to influences which do not operate abroad—might really assume something of a confiscatory character, and it would be ignoring all the facts if we were to attempt to equalize our railway legislation to the level of railway legislation abroad. What is complained of by the traders is not so much the high scale of the rates as their inconsistency and want of classification, as well as the want of facilities given by the Railway Companies for the development of the trade in a particular locality. I think I shall be able to show the House that these complaints do not proceed from one branch of the traders only, but that they are universal. I do not know whether any hon. Member has taken the trouble to peruse the evidence which has been given before the Royal Commission on the Depression of Trade; but it will be found that not a single witness, except in the shipping interest, was examined in reference to 429 Railway Rates who did not complain of some act of injustice on the part of the Railway Companies, not so much in regard to the rates, although they were onerous and prohibitory in some cases, as to the inconsistency of such rates. Sir Lowthian Bell was examined on behalf of the iron trade. He is a Railway Director himself, and he admitted, in speaking of the small amount of railway extension projected for the current year, that the London and North-Western Company are not promoting a single mile of railway, although we have not yet arrived at a point at which railways cover the country. Probably that arrest of railway enterprize is, as the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Joseph Pease) suggested, due to groundless fears arising from the inception of this Bill. Mr. Smith, a Director of the Barrow Hematite Iron Company, who are served by the Furness Railway system and the London and North-Western Railway, pointed out that the rates are inconsistent with those which prevail in other districts—such as Middlesbrough and Wales—which are served by the Midland Company. That result was owing to the fact that there had been a combination between the Railway Companies which served the district which prevented the due effects of competition from being realized. Mr. Smith told the Commission that although there had been a considerable modification of the Railway Rates during the last two years, they will not compare with those charged elsewhere, nor will our rates compare with those imposed abroad, and that trade is thereby so much handicapped against the foreigner, because in moving our materials we pay much more for the services rendered than they do abroad. The next witness was Mr. Donaldson, who came from the Cleveland district, and who said that if the transit facilities from Cleveland had been increased by land as much as by water, the prosperity of the iron trade of Middlesbrough and the country generally would have been enormously increased. The Cutlers' Company from Sheffield said that, notwithstanding the number of railways which converge upon Sheffield, they have been of very little advantage to the trade of the town, owing to the onerous rates which prevail in reference to railway transit. The witness who gave this evidence also said 430 that for the purpose of carrying on the heavy goods traffic it was necessary to preserve water carriage, but that, unfortunately, it had been absorbed by the different Railway Companies. Another witness gave evidence from the important firm of John Brown and Company, and his statements were to the same effect. Next came a witness who complained of the preferential rates charged for the carriage of goods across Yorkshire to Liverpool. One extraordinary statement made by another witness was that Manchester goods packed for the foreign trade were charged 25s. per ton, while the charge for the home trade was 40s. Distinction was thus drawn between the Manchester and London trade and the Manchester trade through London; and to meet this absurd system of differential charges a practice had been introduced to take goods out of the docks by water, and forward them on lorries. Can there be anything more absurd than such a system, and is there any wonder at the traders of the country complaining of it? There were also witnesses from Manchester, from Galashiels, from Preston, and from Bradford. The last complained of the differential rates from Hull and Liverpool to Wakefield, Halifax, and Leeds, the rates being 1s. 6d. less than to Bradford. The next witness, Sir Joseph Lee, a manufacturer of alizerine, told the Commission that it cost more to take alizerine from the banks of the Thames to Manchester than it cost to convey it from Germany. I should like hon. Members to take up this book, and another which will shortly be published, and to read the statements which they will find there from representatives of all classes of traders. The next class of witnesses examined by the Royal Commission were the agricultural witnesses. A farmer from Northumberland said that he had plaintively remonstrated again and again with the Railway Company as to the excessive amount of the railway charges on agricultural produce; but he added—It is of no use; they have no opposition; they have it all their own way, and we cannot force them. I have tried to bargain with them; but that also is of no use. It would cost me more to send cattle to Liverpool than it costs people to send them from Chicago and New York.These are matters which I certainly hope the Bill of the Government will remedy. 431 Another witness—a tenant farmer from the Isle of Ely—said that the Great Eastern Company charged him 2s. a-ton more from Ely to London than from London to Ely; and he further showed that the charge for foreign produce from London included dock hire, and collection from the ship or wharf in London; so that foreign produce carried from London was taken from the ships, and conveyed down to the country at a considerably less rate than the English farmer is required to pay. There are many more statements; some of them, if possible, even stronger than those which I have given to the House. We had statements from two Gentlemen who were sent out to America in connection with the Duke of Richmond's Commission. One of them—the Secretary to a Farmers' Club—complained greatly of the way in which the Worcestershire farmers are handicapped by the imposition of heavy Railway Rates, and he stated that the trade in corn has gone from Coventry, because it was impossible to send corn from Evesham to Coventry, in consequence of the rates charged by the Railway Company who have succeeded in diverting the trade to Birmingham. The next question is the question of cattle. We had a witness from Darlington who told us that home cattle are charged at the rate of £5 19s.—3d. for a small truck; while foreign cattle are only charged £5 8s. From Darlington to Manchester the sums paid were respectively £3 7s. for cattle, and £2 14s. 2 for sheep; whereas the charge for foreign cattle was £2 8s. 6d.; and for foreign cattle and sheep indiscriminately £2 4s. 3d. No history, I suppose, would be complete without an Irish grievance; and the Commission had before them a feather merchant from Cork, who complained that that trade had been totally destroyed by the operations of the Railway Companies. His theory was that the railways should be purchased by the State; but, under the present circumstances, I do not think that would be a practical remedy, or one that is likely to be resorted to by the Government. This witness was examined after the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) had brought in his Bill, and he said he was a strong advocate of that measure, on the ground that it would assist private 432 traders to help themselves. Among the witnesses there was also a gentleman who formerly had a seat in this House, Mr. W. J. Harris, now a farmer in Devonshire. He told the Commission that the Railway Rates are relatively unfair and absolutely oppressive. A farmer from Bishop Stortford spoke of the advantages which the foreigner possesses in the carriage of cattle and timber, and he pointed out that the farmer lost 6s. 9d. per acre in consequence of the differential rates. There was also a witness from the coal trade at Wigan, and another from Durham, both of whom complained not of the rates being excessive in themselves, but of their being unfairly in favour of the foreigner. We had also the evidence of the hon. Member for West Wolverhampton (Mr. Hickman), who has given to the House the effect of his own statements. A summary of all this evidence tends to prove that a good case is made out for this Bill in the interest of commerce, of trade of every kind, and of agriculture. It is absolutely essential that some change should be made; and the only question is whether the Bill, which I hope will be read a second time by the unanimous voice of the House, will meet the wants of the traders, and get rid of that oppression at the hands of the Railway Companies which is the worst evil they have now to guard against. I do not think that there need be any apprehension of unfair treatment towards the Railway Companies themselves. In France the same system proposed to be introduced into this country already exists. The evidence of some of the witnesses who brought these facts before the Royal Commission has not yet been published; but it has been placed in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade before the Recess, and he would see that in France there is a Conseil Inférieur to determine the rates which are to exist on a railway, and, once determined, they cannot be raised for 12 months; although they can be lowered. They do not become operative, however, until they have received the assent of the Conseil Supérieur. The Railway Companies in France do enjoy a certain amount of prosperity; but they are subjected to restrictions very similar to those proposed to be imposed upon our Railway Companies by this measure. 433 I believe that the fears of the Railway Companies with regard to the Bill are greatly exaggerated, and that they will have no cause to regret that they should be asked to contribute, even by means which they may regard as a grievance, to the passing of a measure which has for its object the improvement of the declining industry of the country. I come now to one part of the Bill to which I cannot extend the same meed of approbation and satisfaction which I have given to other parts of the measure. I refer to the 2nd section of Clause 25, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will give his attention to that particular clause. At present its terms are doubtful and ambiguous; and I am somewhat afraid that under the operation of this section the Railway Companies would be able, to a great extent, to override the beneficial relief which I believe will generally be given by the measure. There ought to be some more stringent definition of the term "undue preference." The 2nd section of the clause says—In deciding whether a lower charge does or does not create an undue preference, the Commissioners may, in addition to any other considerations affecting the case, take into consideration whether such charge is necessary for the purpose of securing the traffic in respect of which it is made.That is a very doubtful and ambiguous section; and I am afraid that under its operation the Companies may get rid of much of the beneficial relief extended by other sections of the Bill to the public. Undue preference consists of three things—not only of that ordinary kind of preference of one trader over another, which, if it does exist at present, the Railway Commissioners have ample power to deal with, nor of that undue preference of the foreigner over the Englishman, which I believe to be a just cause of legislation, but it consists also of that undue preference, such as I have alluded to in the case of Worcestershire, where the farmer was compelled to send his corn round in a particular direction, because it was more economical to the Railway Company to carry it in that way. Now, I do not think that Clause 25, to which I refer, will enable a grievance of that kind to be met. I have only one word more to say, and it is in reference to the composition 434 of the new Railway Commission. No doubt, there are a good many Members of this House who would naturally have some sort of professional attachment to a legal tribunal; but I hardly think that feeling is shared by the commercial classes of the country. On the contrary, I remember that not long since, when the Chambers of Commerce were called upon to consider some questions, they approved of the composition of a tribunal for settling trade disputes, which should consist of the two elements, both legal and commercial; and the suggestion I would make is that the commercial representatives should not have subordinate, but concurrent authority with the legal representatives. Nothing certainly has hitherto occurred which should give to the legal Body any vested right in connection with the settlement of these commercial questions. In reference to this particular Bill, I think the Railway Companies have endeavoured to prove too much, because they have attempted to establish that they have acquired a monopoly which it is impossible for Parliament to give to them—namely, that, irrespective of all circumstances of trade, and of the fluctuation in the value of all things which might occur, the rates they are entitled to charge should be fixed for all time. Of course, Parliament, omnipotent as it is, has the power to fix what the rates should be; but unless some consideration is displayed towards those who are engaged in commerce the trade of the country may die out, and then there will be nothing left upon which to pay rates. It is, therefore, quite obvious that the rates could not have been decided for ever at the time the Railway Acts were framed. I think the Railway Companies, in the outcry they have made against the Bill, have lost sight of the certainty that any reduction made in the rates at which traffic is carried has always hitherto led to a revival of trade itself. When they speak of the difficulties of the trade, and the necessity of fixing differential rates in favour of foreign countries, they lose sight of the fact that the volume of the home trade is far greater than that of the foreign trade, and that much more advantage is to be obtained from it than from twisting it in favour of any Continental trade. So far as the new Railway Commission is concerned, I am certainly in 435 favour, at any rate, of giving some trial to the conciliatory tribunal which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to introduce; and I trust that the Amendments which may be made in the Bill, after it shall have been read a second time, will have the effect of removing the prejudices which are now entertained against it by the Railway Companies.
§ SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)
I must confess that the debate has, on the whole, very much gratified, whilst it has surprised me. It has presented a remarkable contrast between the tone adopted by hon. Gentlemen representing the railway interest in addressing the House to-night, and that of their speeches to their shareholders. It will be in the recollection of hon. Members that circulars of a most inflammatory character have been issued by the Railway Companies to their shareholders, and not to their shareholders alone, but to the debenture holders. The circulars were drawn up in terms calculated to alarm them in reference to this Bill, and which I cannot but describe as greatly exaggerated. One would have supposed from these circulars that the entire interest of the railway shareholders was to disappear, and that even the interests of the debenture holders were not to remain intact. All that seems to-night to have resolved itself into the question put to the President of the Board of Trade to define the meaning of the 24th clause. Now, I must confess that if I had been in their place I should have felt disposed, before issuing those circulars, to have addressed myself to the President of the Board of Trade, and have asked him what has been asked to-night—namely, what is really intended by the clause in question? I believe before the debate closes that my right hon. Friend will be able to give us a perfectly satisfactory answer to that question. I shall be very much astonished if he does not give an answer which even the Gentlemen who have been so much alarmed will consider satisfactory. I will take the liberty of anticipating the speech of my right hon. Friend so far as to say that I shall be much surprised if his answer is not that it is far from his desire by that clause to do anything to injure the Railway Companies, and that its intention is not to effect a general reduction of the maximum rates which Railway Com- 436 panies have power to charge, but simply a revision and re-adjustment of a nature which the Railway Companies themselves have admitted to be absolutely necessary. They have admitted that the classification should be revised; that the various provisions of the innumerable Bills which have been passed should be consolidated; and it is impossible that there can be a revision of the classification without a revision of the rates accompanying it. Then, if that revision is to take place, the only question remaining—and it seems to be a question to a great extent between the two Front Benches—is, by whom is it to be made, and when? It has been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Horncastle Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) that the Railway Commission would be a more fit tribunal for that purpose than the Board of Trade; while by my hon. and learned Friend the late Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) it has been urged that the clause had better be left out of the Bill altogether. I should like to point out that I have always understood, and believe it to be an admitted axiom, that legislation, administration, and judicial decision should not be in the same hands; and if you refer this question to the Railway Commission you will run counter to that admirable and well-established maxim. As to the suggestion of my hon. and learned Friend the late Attorney General, that the clause should be left out of the Bill altogether and another Bill introduced, I have further to point out that we have already tried that plan in previous Sessions, and have failed. The question is one which is, no doubt, of importance. The Railway Companies themselves acknowledge that a different classification is required, and they acknowledge it in a practical way, because they adopt an altogether different classification when dealing among themselves. Another thing which they may adopt is the principle of mileage rates. No one, with any common sense, would propose equal mileage rates; but there may be a system of mileage rates diminishing with the distance, which would be advantageous both to the Railway Companies and to the traders. A system of that kind prevails on the Continent, and especially in Germany. I have in my hand a little book, which gives the 437 mileage rates adopted in that country. From this little book, which contains only a very few pages, a trader can calculate for himself the sum he will have to pay for the conveyance of his goods, no matter what the description of the goods may be, from any one station to any other station in Germany. I may be told that it is possible to do these things in Germany, but that they cannot be done in this country; but I have in my hand another document—an English document—which gives a table of rates agreed to at a Conference of Railway Managers, and known as the Normanton Scale, which forms the basis on which certain railways act in the case of goods passing over more than one railway. That, also, is a scale of mileage rates. One objection made to Clause 24 is that no directions are given as to the principle upon which the Board of Trade is to act in revising and arranging the rates; but I think, as is the case now with the Continental railways, it may be possible that by bringing the Companies and traders to a Conference, in the presence of the Board of Trade, an arrangement may be arrived at which will simplify very much the work of the Railway Companies themselves, and which the Railway Directors would be able to understand. I doubt whether, at this moment, they really understand the principle—if there be such a thing as principle in it—upon which the Railway Managers carry on the traffic of the country. If this 24th clause be the only bone of contention between the Railway Companies and my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella), I am prepared to tell my right hon. Friend that I am expressing the views of many traders, that if any other alternative mode can be found by which a clear and intelligible system of classification can be introduced for effecting the object contemplated by the 24th clause we shall not be sticklers for that clause, because this matter of maximum rates, after all, is of very little consequence to the great majority of traders. Nobody looks into a Railway Bill in order to ascertain what is the maximum rate a Railway Company is authorized to charge; but what we do care about is what we are actually charged. A bare statement of the maximum rate that may be charged would be of little or no use, 438 and the whole matter might just as well be left alone if it is to end there. If we are to have maximum rates at all, they ought to be maximum rates for single packages, for small consignments, for truck loads, and for train loads. We ought to have maximum rates adapted to different circumstances; and unless we get this, as far as the trader is concerned, maximum rates can only be looked on as an appendage to re-classification. Therefore, I say that, as far as the 24th clause is concerned, it is really a question more of machinery than one of actual consequence as bearing upon the interests of the traders. Then, if the 24th clause be the only bone of contention, I hope I may, to a certain extent, have anticipated the views of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, and in that case I think we may almost say that we shall have no division on the second reading of the Bill. But having taken a considerable amount of interest in the question, as representing, to a certain extent, the traders, since it happens that I am the President for the year of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, I ought, perhaps, to add one or two words on the subject of the Bill generally. The first matter with which I shall deal is the constitution of the Railway Commission as proposed by the Bill. For my own part, I see no reason why the Railway Commission should not be allowed to continue to exist as it is constituted at the present moment. I believe that the traders are thoroughly satisfied with it. I do not think they care whether additional dignity be conferred upon it or not. What they want is a readily accessible tribunal which shall be cheap and expeditious. If it can be shown that by putting a Judge at the head of that tribunal those objects can be better accomplished we would gladly accept the proposal; but there is one object which we are most anxious to secure, and it is this—that, whoever is at the head of the Commission, the main element of the Commission shall not be destroyed, and this can only be effected by retaining at least two of the Gentlemen who are now upon it as Members of the new tribunal. If that is done another condition would be also necessary—namely, that the three Gentlemen forming the Commission should be co-equal, and that, at most, the Judge should only be primus 439 inter pares. It cannot be expected that the other two Commissioners should consent to sit with him merely as assessors. The powers of the lay Members of the Court and of the President should be equal, and they should have an equal right of expressing their judgment whenever there might happen to be a difference. Of course, superior dignity would naturally attach to the President of the tribunal. We should be satisfied if the Commission were constituted as at present; but if it is to be changed, we think it is necessary that, at least, two of the Commissioners, who have now acquired such great experience, should not be shunted, but that in the future the public should continue to have the benefit of their experience. It is not necessary that I should say more in reference to the constitution of the Commission, as the details will be left for the Committee stage; but I am anxious to express my approval of the extension which the Bill proposes to give to its jurisdiction. The 18th clause possesses, in my opinion, very great value; but I should be glad to see some little alteration made in it. That, also, will be a question for the consideration of the Committee; but I may indicate my sense of the direction which I think the alteration should take. Hitherto the Railway Commissioners have only had the power of ordering the law to be carried out upon the cases submitted to them; but it has been beyond their jurisdiction to award damages. Now, I think that if they find that the law has been broken, and that damages are due, they should have power to award damages. That is not, as I understand, provided by the Bill; but it is certainly a provision which, I think, ought to be made. With regard to the question of appeals, I take it that we are all agreed, and that the 15th clause has met with universal acceptance. No appeal is to be granted on a question of fact; and there is only to be one appeal on questions of law. The late Attorney General pointed out just now that, in particular cases, the traders would not be satisfied with this limitation; but I venture to say that for one case in which dissatisfaction would arise there would be hundreds in which the traders would rejoice to know that this is the law, because they are most anxious that they should not be dragged from Court to 440 Court. Then, reverting to the 24th clause, I must say that, as it stands, I look upon the Board of Trade, in these matters, as a tribunal of conciliation just as much as I should if the word "conciliation" were expressed in the clause. What we think will happen with regard to the 24th clause is this—that Railway Companies will send in a revised classification, with tables of charges and rates, and traders who have a knowledge of the matter will be consulted; an attempt will be made to reconcile the views of both parties, and it is only in the last resort, where either the traders or the Railway Companies are unreasonable, that the Board of Trade will exert its authority and prepare a schedule of rates. But when they have done this the matter will not be finally settled, because it will be necessary that the rates and classification should receive the assent of Parliament, and Parliament will represent the Railway Companies as much as the traders; and if Parliament finds that either the classification or the schedule of rates is unfair to the Railway Companies I have every confidence in its justice. I do not believe that it would pass an unfair schedule, even with the high recommendations of the Board of Trade. Then there is the 25th clause, which deals with the question of undue preference, as in the case of unequal rates and charges for equal services. Now, I think that clause might be compressed into four or five lines. The 2nd sub-section of it, if my right hon. Friend will allow me to say so, is, I think, a very unwise one. I hope that he will be induced to give it up. I am sure that the traders will do their best to throw it out. I am equally averse to the next sub-section, which deals with the question of grouping. I do not believe it is possible to draw a clause with respect to grouping which would work better than the law as it now exists. Grouping is a most difficult question to deal with. It is very difficult indeed to say whether grouping does or does not produce an undue preference. Perhaps I may be allowed to give an instance which is within my own knowledge. The raw materials with which certain manufacturers have to deal are carried at mileage rates; but when those materials have been converted into finished products they are 441 carried at grouped rates. It is impossible, under such circumstances, that some advantage should not be given to one manufacturer over another; but it is a very difficult case indeed to deal with. The law as it stands is that no undue preference should be given by group rates. In some cases it would be fair to allow them, and in others it would be proper to reject them; and I see no reason for the sub-section introduced into Clause 25 dealing with the question of group rates. The only other clause on which I desire to say a word is Clause 28, which deals with the question of complaints to the Board of Trade of improper charges by the Railway Companies. With regard to that clause, there seems to be a great difference of opinion to-night; some set great value on it, while others think it cumbrous and unworkable. I confess that, personally, I have great faith in the clause. I believe that it will prevent a great deal of unnecessary litigation, and that it will be of advantage to all concerned, whether they be Railway Companies or traders. The business of the Railway Companies is carried on by servants, and to a great extent by irresponsible servants; and I am afraid that some Railway Managers pay more attention to the possibility of filching a little traffic from a neighbouring Company than they do to serving the permanent interest of their employers. I think that clause will, in the long run, be found of great benefit to all parties concerned. In my opinion, too much importance has been attached to the question of the canals. I am not speaking about canals accommodating vessels able to carry 2,000, or even only 500 tons, such as those which are to be found in America. I can fully understand the utility of canals of that kind; but I speak of the wretched little waterways which we have in this country, and which would never be able to compete successfully with the great Railway Companies. The Canal Question is, in my opinion, of altogether secondary importance. There is just one more matter to which the attention of the President of the Board of Trade should be called. At present the Railway Companies say sometimes that they are common carriers, and at other times that they are not, just as it happens to suit their purpose. Great Railway Com- 442 panies refuse to carry coals unless they are sent by the coal proprietors; and in other cases they will not carry coals between one station and another. There have been cases in which Railway Companies have refused to carry bricks between certain stations. I think there ought to be one universal rule that every Railway Company in the Kingdom is a common carrier to all intents and purposes, and is bound to carry all goods which can be carried without injury. I do not find anything in the Bill to that effect, and it is an omission which ought to be supplied. I cannot sit down without thanking my right hon. Friend for the great trouble he has taken in the preparation of the Bill; and I thank also the President of the Board of Trade under the late Government for the share he has had in its construction. The little passage of arms which we heard to-night between the two right hon. Gentlemen will, I am sure, be soon forgotten. At any rate, it will not be remembered by the traders; and I believe the time will come when even the Railway Companies will regard the passing of this measure, which is the joint work of both right hon. Gentlemen, with deep gratitude and satisfaction.
§ MR. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
I hope that the House will allow me, coming as I do from a district which is largely interested in this question, to detain it, even at this late hour, for a very few minutes. I wish to impress upon the House the experience we have gained and the difficulties we have had to encounter in the district of Liverpool in dealing with the Railway Companies. During all my business experience we have been endeavouring to induce the Railway Companies to treat the large traders of the Port of Liverpool with fairness and with reason; but it was not until a few months ago, when the Manchester Ship Canal was brought to the front and when there was danger of competition, that we were able to bring the Directors of the railways which converge upon Liverpool to reason, and to secure that our representations should receive every attention. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment to-night—the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton)—spoke of the 25th clause as being confiscatory, and he strengthened his remarks by alluding to the pro- 443 visions which have been placed in all Railway Acts since 1844, when the policy was recognized of this House retaining a power to revise the rates. Now, there is no doubt that the House of Commons has a right to revise rates, though, if the question stood simply on that ground, the House might have to consider whether there might not be compensation due to the Railway Companies by reason of any change the House might see fit to make by any such revision. But if the House will allow me to go back to that date of ancient history—namely, 1844—and to regard what was in the mind of Parliament at that time, they will see that a direct notice was given to the Railway Companies to the effect that the House of Commons had a right to revise both the classification and the rates at any time it might think fit to do so. If I may be permitted, I will read an extract from the Report of a Select Committee of this House which was made in 1846, after the introduction of this clause for the revision of all rates. The Committee reported to the House that—Whilst your Committee express their regret that the public interests were so little consulted in the arrangements with railways for so long a period, they see with satisfaction the commencement of a better system in consequence of the Sessional Order of this House. Both in this and in the previous Session clauses have been introduced into all Acts relative to railways either for the construction of new lines, or the extension of old lines by purchase, reserving the power whenever it shall be deemed necessary to revise and regulate the scale of rates and charges; and as nearly all the great Railway Companies have either obtained, or applied for, Acts for the construction of new lines or the extension of old lines, they have thereby enabled Parliament to place them under such control and supervision as it may be deemed expedient to adopt; and they hope that means for securing the public against oppressive or expensive charges may yet be adopted.That all the Railway Companies have been brought within the operation of the Act of 1884 is clear; because the bulk of the Companies that existed at that time have been either amalgamated or bought up; and when these amalgamations took place one of the conditions of the amalgamation was that this power of revision and of considering the classification of rates and tolls should be conferred upon Parliament. I feel that the great community with which I am connected is very much indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board 444 of Trade (Mr. Mundella) for introducing this measure; and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not listen to any suggestion to omit the 24th clause. If the House does not take this opportunity of settling the rates and their classification by Act of Parliament we know very well that we shall have the matter postponed in all probability for years to come, and the great value of the Bill will be lost. There is no desire, I am sure, to trench upon the rightful charges of the Railway Companies; but we cannot forget that 40 or 50 years have elapsed since the first Railway Act was passed, and a vast change has since come over the commerce of the country, and a number of articles produced or imported that were then unknown. Many alterations have been made, pretty much at the discretion of the Railway Companies, and this is the first time that the traders have had an opportunity of going before a tribunal and placing their views fairly before it. The proposal in the Bill is a very reasonable proposal, merely creating a machinery to assist this House in considering the matter itself—merely enabling a Body to make a Report which should come before the House, when it would be for the House to say that the Report was justified or not. There is another clause upon which I wish to say a word—namely, that which relates to the question of undue preference. Now, undue preference has hitherto been placed, or rather considered, too much in the light of a question between individual traders. I do not believe that the Railway Companies do show any preference between traders. I believe that, as a body, they act fairly between trader and trader; but there are many ways in which undue preference may be shown. It has been shown by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton) that, as regards the importation of foreign meat and foreign goods, they are generally charged a less rate than the same goods produced at home; and I maintain that the same class of goods sent from one town to another, no matter where its place of production might be, ought to be carried by the Railway Companies at equal rates. There is no reason why goods brought from America, or from Hamburgh, should, when they reach Liverpool or Hull, be carried to any inland town at a less rate than the farmer 445 or producer at that town has to pay for the conveyance of his goods. Let me take a particular instance. It is not fair that steel produced in Sheffield, and required for the construction of ships at Liverpool, should be charged one rate, while steel sent from Sheffield to Liverpool for exportation, and intended for the construction of the ships abroad, should pay another rate? Why should a different rate be paid for British material required for home manufacture than that which the foreigner who desires to import it from England has to pay? So far as I read the 25th clause, it appears to me to contain a mere pitfall for traders. It speaks of undue preference for "the same, or similar goods," and "the same, or similar services." Those are very ambiguous terms. What are similar services in the case of goods which come from foreign ports, in connection with which there is a through rate, and which are to be sent to some place in the interior? What, in such a case, are to be regarded as similar services? There is another sub-section in Clause 25 which says, that in deciding whether a lower charge does, or does not, create an undue preference, the Commissioners may, in addition to any other considerations affecting the case, take into consideration whether such charge is necessary for the purpose of securing the traffic in respect of which it is made. That makes the whole matter very easy for the Railway Companies, who will at once say—"Unless we charge the foreign producer less than the home producer we shall not secure the traffic, and, therefore, we are justified in making a reduction." What we should do is this. The Bill proposes to constitute an able, impartial, and excellent tribunal; and the clause should be so drawn that, whenever it is shown that a Railway Company is affording undue preference to any place or trade, or to any article, it should be left to that tribunal, untrammelled and without any conditions or restrictions, to hear the evidence and decide on the matter whether there has been any undue preference or not. There are many ways in which undue preference may be shown, and there is one which adds a very large sum to the cost of carriage in this country—I mean the system of railway agency. The Railway Companies have made terms with the carriers who formerly carried by the 446 high roads. They have given to these firms a considerable rebate, amounting, I am told, to 3s. a ton, by way of commission upon the railway charges; and I happen to know that, in many instances, these agents, for the purpose of securing the business, have divided that rebate which they receive from the Railway Companies with the senders of the goods. Surely, that is an indirect means of affording an undue preference. I hope that the clauses will be so drawn, when the Bill leaves the Committee, as to prevent undue preference not only between different individual traders, but between the community at large. I do not advocate equal mileage rates; I think that is an impossibility; but where two towns are equi-distant from a third town, there ought to be some means of bringing the circumstances of any difference of rates and charges before the Commission, and of letting that tribunal decide whether any reason exists for giving preferential rates to one town over another. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade will persevere with the measure as it stands, and will be prepared to strengthen it in Committee.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS (Southwark, Bermondsey)
I rarely take part in a railway debate; but I feel called upon to do so on this occasion, considering the very important facts which have been put before the House. I think the House ought to consider the matter very carefully before it interferes with the £800,000,000 of capital invested in railway enterprize, on which, I believe, an average dividend of 4 per cent is paid. Now, I think it is a matter for serious consideration—it is not worth while to go into all the particulars, which are better adapted for Committee—but I think it is a matter for grave consideration whether the House has intelligently made up its mind upon the second reading of a Bill which deals with such enormous interests—interests so extremely divided that I am told a very large part of the saving classes of the country have invested their capital in railway undertakings. Are we, then, to pass so important a measure without full and adequate consideration, or, at any rate, with something beyond the pitiful and peddling debate we have had to-night? There has been a very ominous combination between the two Front 447 Benches on this occasion which seems to bode no good. We have heard amicable words—of course with the necessary amount of vinegar infused into them—pass between my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and his Predecessor in Office. But I heard with some astonishment that there were secret communications that had been indecently revealed. I should have thought that in a matter of such deep public interest there could be no secret communications at all; and if the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Stanhope), who I see is asleep, had developed something which was likely to be useful in the national interests, I should have imagined that he would not be so mightily particular about its being communicated by his Successor. The fact is, that this is a matter of the gravest interest; and, as I said before, when I see the two Front Benches united upon any general line of action, I am disposed to believe that the public interest is likely to suffer, and is in danger of being sacrificed either to a panic, or to the cupidity of the traders and agriculturists. The hon. Member opposite the Member for North Paddington (Mr. L. Cohen) has been merciful to the House. He had before him the whole of the evidence which had been given before the Royal Commission upon the Depression of Trade; but he had read voluminous extracts from that evidence, and the gloomy views expressed in it are only what we might have expected. The inquiry, however, shows that the intelligence of the witnesses must have been incomparably higher than the intelligence of the Commission. I would warn the House against the inexpediency, in a crisis like this, of sacrificing, or running the risk of sacrificing, an enormous interest which has been created in favour of the saving classes, in order to assist in allaying a temporary panic among the trading classes. I certainly believe that the panic itself has been mightily exaggerated. I am quite ready to admit that the Manchester cotton spinners are badly off, and if the time were suitable I could give a reason for it. I believe, further, that the coal and iron industries, except in the case of intelligent men like my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Sir Bernhard Samuelson), are suffering, and I think a good case could be made out to show 448 that the agricultural interest is in a state of great depression; but the depression is either temporary or remedial. I do not believe that the great mass of the industry of the country is in a state of depression. I find that pauperism is decreasing; that the deposits in the savings' banks are increasing; and that, on the whole, the extra penny of Income Tax produces as much as it did before. Of course, I shall be told that the officials at Somerset House look after it more sharply than they did. That, no doubt, is one of the explanations the panic-mongers are always prepared to offer; but I believe that one of the most mischievous things which has occurred in this country is the incessant declamation about the depression of trade, and that if the facts were really known it would be found that the public at large have been gulled. I am compelled to conclude that we ought to look with a certain amount of caution at the expedients which are unquestionably resorted to in order to maintain a rapidly declining prosperity. [Cries of "Question!"] With all my heart, I will come to the question at once, and I think that I shall considerably astonish some people. I am neither a Railway Director, nor do I own any notable quantity of Stock; I have a little Debenture Stock; but that would be quite safe, even if the country Gentlemen robbed the railways of all their dividends. I speak, therefore, as one who is in an absolutely secure condition, and able to speak as a disinterested person. I say, then, that we ought to consider seriously before dealing with the matter in a way which may result in the destruction or injury of an interest which is so widely distributed—more widely, I believe, than anything which is known in the shape of property in this country except Consols, whether the adoption of a Bill of this character would seriously affect Railway Stock. I have been told that about 25s. a month is the average receipt of every railway shareholder. The hon. Member for Stirlingshire (Mr. J. C. Bolton) and other hon. Gentlemen who are large shareholders in Railway Companies have spoken in the interests of those Companies; and having these serious facts before them, I think the House might hesitate and determine before they took action whether the course they are asked to adopt is likely to influence interests which are so widely dis- 449 tributed and so markedly advantageous to the country. I think it likely that a good deal of panic has been raised by the Chairmen of the various Railways, and I cannot help noticing that even the proposal of my right hon. Friend, following upon the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who substantially agrees with it, has brought about a panic among the holders of stock which is certain to be taken advantage of by the bulls or the bears on the Stock Exchange, and which might yet bring about a considerable diminution in the resources of the holders of railway stock. How does it come to pass that the Railway Companies, with £800,000,000 of capital, only divide, as I understand, 4 per cent a-year? It is a very small dividend for a trading company, with all sorts of risks and with every conceivable contingency for diminishing the dividend—[An hon. MEMBER: They have a monopoly]—I admit the monopoly, and I will say a word about that presently. The Railway Companies are trading companies who are involved in all sorts of risks and who have a constant necessity for keeping their stock in good condition. It is extraordinary that such trading companies find themselves unable to divide all round more than 4 per cent a-year. I fancy that any hon. Gentleman engaged in business, after deducting, as is always done, 5 per cent on the capital employed in the business, would think 4 per cent a very small margin of profit. Then, how does it come to pass that 4 per cent is the average dividend upon English railway stock? I think it is due to the action of Parliament. Indeed, I am perfectly certain that it is. If the Railway Companies had been carrying goods and carrying passengers like the American railways, even when we know that the American stock is well watered, and if they received the same profits, there would be little to complain of. I have been in America myself, and I have been a spectator, although I had nothing to do with it, of the railway management of that country. The Railway Companies might, I think, have made provision for the reduction of rates and charges payable for services rendered if it had not been for the action of Parliament itself. What has Parliament done? In the first place, it has exacted prices for land which are abso- 450 lutely unreasonable. Hon. Gentlemen in this House and noble Lords in "another place" sold their votes for compensation. [Cries of "No!"] Hon. Gentlemen who say "No!" are not old enough to recollect it. [Cries of "Question!"] You want to know how it comes to pass that railway stock does not pay a reasonable dividend. [An hon. MEMBER: No; we do not want to know.] Of course you do not want to know, because you are bound to continue robbing them now, just as you robbed them before.
§ MR. THOROLD ROGERS
Upon your ruling, Sir, I withdraw the expression at once, so far as the present generation is concerned. [Cries of "Divide!"] If hon. Members will only be patient, I am trying to explain how it comes to pass that railway stock has been injured and railway dividends have been so small, while, at the same time, the railway charges have been high. It must be borne in mind that there has been a vast amount of legal charge borne by the Railway Companies. That legal charge has been referred to more than once; and here I cannot help saying that although, no doubt, the expenses of prosecuting a Bill before a Parliamentary Committee upstairs are very high, I altogether differ from the right hon. Gentleman as to the value of our Parliamentary Committees. I never heard any person connected with railways express the slightest doubt that a Parliamentary Committee was the most just and fair, and, on the whole, the most useful tribunal we could have. I have heard Members who represent the railway interest allege that nothing could be more injurious to that interest than to talk of the Parliamentary Committees—Committees appointed by both Houses—as anything like a subordinate institution. I have sat on many of these Committees myself, and I have got very little more than trouble for my pains; but I am convinced that all the Members of this House and all the Members of the other House who have devoted themselves to that kind of work have done the greatest service to the country and to their fellow-beings. Well, as the property of the Railway Companies has been created in this way by Act of 451 Parliament, is it just for hon. Members opposite and others to seize this opportunity, when we are talking about the rights of other kinds of property created in a much more doubtful fashion, for reducing the rights of this particular property by an Act of the Legislature, simply because they believe that, certain interests being depressed, it is necessary, in consideration of those interests, to rob others? I think that this question is one which calls for the gravest possible consideration. Though, for one, I am perfectly prepared to support the second reading of the Bill, I shall, as a matter of duty, and as bearing on a question that I have constantly followed out in my work upon Committees upstairs, watch every part of the Committee stage of the measure, with the view of preventing a large mass of Her Majesty's subjects from being deprived by some operation of the law of their dividends, in consideration of the interests of manufacturers, traders, and agriculturists.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. MUNDELLA) (Sheffield, Brightside)
I think the whole House would regret, whether they are traders, manufacturers, or agriculturists, to do anything which would bear unfairly on the dividends of railway shareholders. The object of the measure we have now under consideration is not to depreciate the property of any class of the community. It is rather to make those great highways, the railways, as Mr. Cardwell once said, as free and as useful to the people as the Queen's highway, and to make them as accessible, as useful, and as valuable in promoting the best interests of the community. I have very little to complain of in the criticisms which have been passed upon the Bill. There has been a great deal in the debate this evening which is a source of gratification to me. My hon. Friend who introduced the Motion (Mr. J. C. Bolton), of course, did so in a speech which put as strongly as possible the side of those who represent the Railway Companies in this House. In that Resolution my hon. Friend expresses his willingness, and, indeed, his eagerness, to see the very kind of legislation which this Bill aims at accomplishing. His Resolution says—That while this House desires legislation with the object of securing uniformity of classi- 452 fication of merchandize conveyed by railway, the consolidation of the toll powers of Railway Companies and such other modifications of the existing law as experience has shown to be useful and necessary.Well, that is exactly what we are seeking to effect by this Bill. We are seeking for that uniformity of classification; we are seeking for merchandize to be conveyed in such a way as to secure the advantage of the community; we are seeking for the consolidation of the toll powers of the Railway Companies, and for such other modifications of the existing law as experience shows to be useful and necessary. There is nothing in the measure before the House that is contrary to the spirit of my hon. Friend's Resolution; and as for the apprehensions which he has expressed, they are not warranted by anything within the four corners of the Bill. My hon. Friend, in his opening statement, complained that the Railway Commission was not intended to do justice between the litigant parties with whom they have to deal; but that what was really desired was that it should really do injustice to the Railway Companies, and promote the interests of the traders, and that something which I myself had said in introducing the Bill warranted him in making that imputation. Now, what was it that I said? What I really said with respect to the Railway Commission was that we propose to give it more extensive powers, that its powers hitherto have been too restricted; that the jurisdiction of the Commission has been considerably limited since its appointment by the action of the Courts of Law; and that, through the power which those Courts possess of limiting the jurisdiction of the Commissioners by prohibition, and certiorari the usefulness of the Commission has been impaired, but that, nevertheless, they have really done good service to the community, I am at a loss to know what my hon. Friend finds in that statement that is a reflection on the Railway Commission. We acknowledge, as has been handsomely done on both sides, the great services which the Commission has rendered; and we are only anxious that the Commission should do further service. The right hon. Gentleman who preceded me at the Board of Trade (Mr. E. Stanhope), if he will allow me to quote his words, said that—The Commission has done excellent service; but what we have to complain of is that it has 453 not enough power, and it would do more if it had greater power.That is precisely the object of the Bill, to which I think the House has given a most favourable reception. My hon. Friend (Mr. J. C. Bolton) objects to Local Authorities having a locus standi before the Commission. I should like to ask on what reasonable ground can an objection be taken to the proposal made in the 13th clause that Local Authorities should have the right to appear before the Railway Commission, although they may be directly suffering damage? My hon. Friend complains that the Board of Trade proposes to give certificates to those local associations—associations of traders or agriculturists—which are not Corporate Bodies. Now, it is well known that the Chambers of Agriculture are not incorporated societies, and there ought to be some guarantee that they are bonâ fide associations when they come before the Railway Commissioners to prosecute their claims; and in order that some half-dozen persons should not call themselves a Chamber of Commerce or of Agriculture, it is considered necessary that the Board of Trade should give a certificate that they are a proper Body to prosecute their complaint before the Railway Commission. I cannot, therefore, see on what ground my hon. Friend could object to that.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I am glad to hear my hon. Friend say that he does not object; but my hon. Friend said that the Local Authorities might come before the Commission and put the Railway Companies to considerable expense, and that, after all, the expense would have to come out of the rates, whereby the Companies would probably have to defray them.
§ Mr. J. C. BOLTON
What I said was, that I did not care how many of these associations were entitled to prosecute the Railway Companies, provided they had to pay their own expenses; but I objected to the right being conferred on Corporate Bodies to prosecute the Railway Companies at the expense of somebody else.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
My hon. Friend stated that the Railway Companies paid the larger part of the rates, and the result might be the Railway Companies 454 would be prosecuted by the Local Authorities, and, in any case, would have to pay the larger part of the costs awarded against the Local Authorities. There never was a greater mistake than that. The Railway Companies only pay a little over £1,250,000 out of some £40,000,000 of rates, and no Local Authority would go before the Railway Commissioners without paying their fair share of the costs. I take the sum paid from a letter which appeared in The Times yesterday, and in which the writer states the sums which have been paid in parochial rates and taxes by the Railway Companies during the last 13 years. The contention, therefore, of my hon. Friend cannot hold water; and, so far from taking exception to a locus standi being given to these Bodies before the Railway Commission, I hope that the House will stand at least by that clause. My hon. Friend also objects not only to Clause 17, which extends the jurisdiction of the Commissioners, but to some of the other clauses of the Bill. I do not propose to detain the House at any length to-night. For my own part, I am prepared to say that I believe the 1st section of Clause 78, which empowers any person sending goods by railway to make a complaint to the Board of Trade if he thinks that he is being oppressively or unreasonably treated, is one of the most valuable provisions of the Bill. All the communications which I have received upon the subject tend to convince me that the establishment of such a Commission, which is not in reality a Commission, and which does not confer any considerable power upon the Board of Trade, but simply enables them to investigate complaints and endeavour to arrive at an amicable settlement, will have a better effect than any amount of litigation that may take place. A similar plan of Commissions is adopted in America, and is alluded to by the President of the Republic of that country in his last Report, of April 2, upon the Labour Question, as having had an important bearing upon the question of Railway Rates. He says that the usefulness of such Commissions has been fully proved in the labour disputes, and he adds that the exceeding good which has been accomplished by these Commissions has been recognized by many of the States, and although possessing little more than ad- 455 vising power, they have exercised a most salutary influence. He says, further, that he believes more good has resulted to the trading people of America, and to the Railway Companies, from the institution of these Commissions than from the expenditure of millions of money in litigation in that country. I come now to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. E. Stanhope) who preceded me in the Office I have the honour to hold. I can assure the House that I refer to it with extreme regret. I think the right hon. Gentleman made observations which were not only unusual, but which I think he will see were wholly unwarrantable. When I entered the Office—I think in the month of February—I found no secret Memorandum, no confidential communication from the right hon. Gentleman, but I had placed in my hand a Railway Bill—simply a Railway Bill. [Mr. E. STANHOPE: A final revision.] Yes; I have seen no other. I have seen no other communication whatever, except the sixth and final draft of a revised Railway Bill which had been circulated to the late Cabinet.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. It was not marked "confidential." It came to me as the sixth and final revise, as settled by the Cabinet. Before I ever made any reference to that measure, either publicly or privately, almost before I had an opportunity of considering its contents and provisions, the right hon. Gentleman himself went to Sheffield and addressed an audience there, stating that he was about to bring in such a Bill immediately. The right hon. Gentleman made a long speech, detailing the provisions of this secret and private Memorandum. That speech was made three weeks before I introduced my Bill; but when I did introduce it I felt it was only due to the right hon. Gentleman—as I felt ashamed to take upon myself the credit which did not belong to me—to make a full acknowledgment of the valuable services rendered by the right hon. Gentleman. I did not, however, shrink from my own responsibility. For every word and clause in the Bill I am responsible. Further than that, I explained in this House, in a speech which 456 I have before me, the difference between the provisions of my Bill and of that of the right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman can see himself, as to the 24th clause, of which he speaks of my having made a secret revelation, that a few days ago I explained the change which has taken place in drafting between the Bill I introduced to the House and the measure the right hon. Gentleman himself proposed. I showed that we had changed those who were to consider the classification of rates from one party to the other. I consulted the Railway Commissioners, and they themselves felt they were not the right parties to take over legislative powers, that legislation was not their function, they being a Court of Law. They felt that the questions of the classifications and the minima were questions to be settled by business men as business men with each other, and that all that was necessary was that there should be some intermediary to bring these people together, and to say in what class, A or B, certain rates should be put, and so on. I hope it is unnecessary for me to trouble the House any further with any personal matter. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there was no intentional or unintentional discourtesy on my part, and that I have been all along only too anxious to acknowledge every assistance I have received from him in this matter. I have received assistance from him again to-night in the very valuable speech he has delivered, and I very much regret that he should have indulged in any ebullition of the kind we have witnessed. I regret it the more, because, here, I hold in my hand a speech of his making exactly the same announcement as that I made myself, which speech was delivered almost a fortnight before I began the consideration of the question. The right hon. Gentleman considers there is legitimate cause for complaint on the part of the traders. My hon. Friend (Mr. J. C. Bolton), however, will not admit, and in his speech did not admit, that there was any kind of complaint on the part of traders which justified the bringing in of the Bill. With great respect to him, a well-known Railway Chairman and Director, I say that I do not believe Railway Chairmen and Directors are aware of the amount of justification there is for the complaints made by the traders. I believe 457 the anomalies that exist only want bringing to light. I believe that if we only once could get the light of public opinion turned on them, we should have them more than half-redressed immediately. I do not want to weary the House, after 12 o'clock at night, with a long statement of cases; but I think we have numbers of cases, all of them of an indubitable character, showing the extraordinary and unreasonable nature of the railway charges. The complaints made cannot be untrue, and I fail to see any reason why cases of this kind should happen. I hold in my hand a letter from a constituent of my own, who has dealt largely in cattle in Yorkshire. He states that if he goes into the Newcastle market and buys two lots of cattle, one British and the other foreign, he will have to pay something like 40 per cent more for the carriage of the British cattle then he does for the carriage of the foreign cattle to Wakefield, Chesterfield, Sheffield, or wherever else he may have to send them to. What reasonable justification can there be for such a state of things as that? It is useless to say that this is part of a through route. If the Rail way Companies were bringing cattle from Sweden and Denmark on their own steamers, and then carrying them into the heart of the country, there might be some justification for the difference in the rate charged—there might be some reason for charging a lower pro ratâ rate from the one district. But that is not the case. The Danish steamers bring the Danish cattle to the Newcastle market, just as the British farmer brings his cattle there. The only difference is, that on one side of the water the foreign cattle are put into the lairs, and on the other side the British cattle are put into the market. The foreign cattle are taken out of the lairs, and are put into the market, and if they are sold, they are carried at a certain reduced rate. If not sold, they are taken back to the lairs, whence they can be removed into the interior at the reduced rate. I do not wonder that this has proved exasperating to a good many people. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Leicestershire made an excellent speech to-night with respect to the necessity of through rates where there are a number of Railway Companies. The constant complaint is that because 458 there are two or three Railway Companies intervening between point and point, therefore you cannot get through rates, and you have the most unreasonable rates prevailing, something like toll-bar charges at various junctions. Why should that be so? Here is another complaint — from Mr. George Broomhead, who does some farming. He says—I received a truck of coprolites from Cambridge at a place near Sheffield, a journey of 128 miles, and the cost of bringing this in a truck only containing nine tons of this material was £7 2s. 6d.£7 2s. 6d. for bringing nine tons of a fertilizer from Cambridge to within a short distance of Sheffield! A complaint was made to the Railway Company, but what is their answer? They say that the coprolites had to pass over three railways—namely, the Great Eastern, the Great Northern, and the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire. The coprolite dealer says that in consequence of the excessive cost of carriage, his trade has greatly fallen off, and he is about to turn his mills into cement mills. Surely that is a question of classification, and one of the things that requires dealing with under this Bill. That is, however, a matter which I think my hon. Friend wishes us to take out of the Bill, and to leave entirely in the hands of the Railway Companies. I have a series of letters from different firms. I have received complaints from a firm at Staveley which spends £250,000 a-year on railway rates. They complain that because goods pass over two or three different railways, exorbitant tolls are levied; whereas, if they passed over only one railway, the toll would be considerably less. Now, all this has to be dealt with, and the circumstances are exasperating to the trading community. Here is a complaint I received only two days ago from Alderman Smethurst, of Bury, in Lancashire. He is a large consumer of indigo. He has been accustomed to get his indigo by way of London; but, recently, he has imported it from Calcutta to Liverpool. What do the Railway Companies charge for the carriage of this indigo? At one time he imported 45 tons of this indigo in chests, and he was charged £1 6s. 8d. per ton for its carriage—a distance of 36 miles—from Liverpool to Bury. But if he had sent 45 tons of American meat, 459 a much, more difficult thing to handle, much less solid, and much, more difficult to pack, from Liverpool to London, it would have cost him 25s. per ton. It is £1 6s. 8d. per ton from Liverpool to Bury for indigo; and the result, this gentleman tells me, is that he is actually carting his indigo by road, as being a cheaper means of carriage than by railway. And it must be borne in mind that in this case there is only one railway concerned—there are not two or three lines to be traversed. I understand they are also carting cotton yarns over the same route, because of the unreasonable railway charges. I call it most extraordinary that, with the wonderful railway facilities we have in this country, we should have complaints of this description constantly made. It shows the great need there is for some such measure as that now before the House. Now, the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Plunket) gave a very excellent and a very general support to the Bill. He has, however, expressed an objection to the substitution of a Judge to act as President of the Court. He prefers a lawyer to a Judge. I stated, when I introduced the Bill, that I had no strong preference in the matter. I am only anxious that whatever can be done shall be done to secure the very best possible results at the cheapest rate. The statement made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir Richard Webster)—and he has contributed valuable speeches on this subject on both occasions it has been before the House, and we are always glad to hear what he has to say on the question, seeing that no one is fairer and more impartial or more judicial in his communications to this House—the hon. and learned Gentleman, I say, stated that it would be to the interests of suitors and the Railway Companies, and would give brevity to the proceedings and conduce to confidence in the decisions, if a Judge were appointed, instead of a trained lawyer. I have never found a lawyer getup in the House to advocate the other view. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made a suggestion which I do not doubt may be a valuable one—namely, that the Railway Commission should do something towards relieving the House of its present railway business. That is a question entirely for the House, and is, 460 I am afraid, much too large a one to introduce into a Railway Bill. I feel that whatever the Commission that is appointed may be, and however we may feel it desirable to utilize it for other purposes, we could not at this stage, or, indeed, in this Bill, do any such thing. As I understood the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he is quite in favour of our undertaking the duty of classification and revision of rates, or of adjusting the maxima. But if he is so, I would ask how it is to be done? Is it to be done by the Commission, or should it be done through the medium of the Board of Trade? I confess I believe the Board of Trade is a better medium for its accomplishment, and until there is a strong opinion shown in the House against it, I shall maintain that view. The question which has attracted the greatest attention to-night is the question of Clause 24. My hon. Friend who moved this Resolution is afraid of what he calls the confiscatory effect of the clause on the dividends of the shareholders and the profits of the Railway Companies. I may say at once I am sure it was not contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. E. Stanhope), and that no such result has been contemplated by the Board of Trade. The main object of that provision was to bring about that classification and that readjustment of rates which was so strongly recommended by the Committee of 1882. It is a sine quâ non, if you are to have this business properly done, that there shall be a new classification. I do not attach—I never did attach—that great value to Clause 24 which some hon. Gentlemen do in this House. I do not think it will affect traders much, although some of them seem to think that it will. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Forwood), who regarded it as the great central principle and the great advantage of the Bill, does not concur entirely in that proposition; and, perhaps, I was a little too strong in the way I put it. The fixing of the maximum rates will not, in my opinion, make any great difference in the rates at which the Companies can perform their services for the carriage of traffic; but it will prevent many of those anomalies and injustices which bear so hardly at present on every section of the community. It will prevent that friction which 461 everyone desires to see prevented; and I believe the sooner the question is settled the better for the Companies and the public. It is with a view to such a settlement that we desire to see a good classification and a suitable maximum arrived at. If I can do anything before we enter into Committee, having due regard to the interests of the Companies, to meet the just susceptibilities of those concerned, and to relieve them of their ideas of confiscation, I shall be glad to meet them half-way and consider how we can bring about reasonable, fair, and just results to the traders without involving injury to the Railway Companies. On the subject of canals, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, I believe great mischief has been done to the trading community by the engrossing of the canals by the Railway Companies. I think there are few matters about which the trading classes have more right to complain than the way in which the Railway Companies have strangled, so to speak, the canals. We were the first country in the world to begin the canal system. An enormous sum—from £40,000,000 to £60,000,000—was spent on them at the beginning of the century, and with what result? Why, that canals are to-day, in this country, to a large extent, idle; a great many of them, are in a state of disrepair; many of them are silting up. Even where that is not the case the Railway Companies have, directly or indirectly, got their hand upon some section of the canal, and have so prevented the whole system from working satisfactorily and to the advantage of the community. I feel that the clauses in the Bill dealing with canals are not adequate for the work to be done; and I hope, before we go into Committee, to put clauses on the Paper which will, as far as possible, meet the necessities of the case. Individual canals are too much under the restriction of the Railway Companies, and are not put on their proper footing in the traffic system of the country. It is a strange thing that it is in this country alone that there has been no kind of improvement in the system of hauling on canals. On the Continent they have introduced endless chains and tug steamers, and you can see canals actively at work for 500 miles—for instance, from Bohemia to Hamburg. You can see them being utilized 462 with the greatest possible benefit. In this country, on the other hand, canals seem to have become almost obsolete, and there has been no kind of progress in respect of them. Some remarks have been made by hon. Members in various quarters of the House as to Clause 28; but I will tell the House that merely to institute a Railway Commission to lay down rules as to railway charges and then to leave the public to litigation would not be of much use. I do not want to say hard things of the Railway Companies; but I would point out that with their immense capital it would require no great effort on their part to lay aside £20,000 or £30,000 for litigation. ["No, no!"] At any rate, the Railway Companies will not be so susceptible to the inconveniences of litigation as the trading classes, even when represented by Chambers of Commerce, and such like institutions. I know very well that it is one thing for a Railway Company to defend a law suit, and another thing for traders, whether represented by Chambers of Commerce or Associations, to bring an action against a railway. What we want to do is to get rid of friction and litigation, as far as possible, and we believe that will be best effected by Clause 28. In my opinion the mere introduction of this Bill has accomplished good results. My hon. Friends know very well that the Companies have been very much more ready to meet their clients than heretofore. ["No, no!"] Yes; that is so. Already some considerable concessions have been made. In the South Staffordshire district, for instance, considerable alterations have taken place in the rates. The Companies are meeting the trading community in a much more reasonable spirit than they were accustomed to do formerly; and I believe that if you can only get a thorough discussion of the question in this country, if you can only get plenty of light thrown on the matter, the grievances complained of are already more than half-redressed. I believe that if we can only have such an investigation and Report as is provided for in the 28th clause, we shall get rid of more than half the difficulty which the community now has to face. The right hon. Gentleman opposite the Member for West Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) spoke of the Board of Trade as the very worst Body to undertake such 463 an investigation. He has a very bad opinion of the Board of Trade. He complained of its having done too little. The Board of Trade has done nothing as to Railway Companies, except to act as a means for laying down the law. But there are many who hold a different opinion. Mr. Samuel Laing, who sat in this House for many years, and spoke on the subject of railways with as much authority as anyone, has written an excellent article in The Fortnightly Review for April which distinctly points to the necessity of more Government supervision over the railways than we have had hitherto. He says he is most anxious that this control shall be placed in the hands of a Body which shall be represented by a Cabinet Minister. He says that all parties would then feel confident that no arbitrary or repressive action would be taken against them, at any rate, knowingly, as no Minister will dare do anything that cannot be successfully defended in the House of Commons after full debate and discussion. He says the Board of Trade is clearly the proper Department for exercising this general sort of supervision between the railways and the public; and then he goes on to state the reasons why. I would call attention the more to this because of the view taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol. This is one of the most enlightened articles that has ever been written by anyone connected with the Companies; and the writer takes a contrary view to the right hon. Gentleman, and says that the Board of Trade is clearly the proper Department for exercising this general sort of supervision between the Companies and the public. It already has a staff of officials and Inspectors well versed in railway matters, and it could easily add assessors thoroughly acquainted with the question. The writer has none of the apprehensions of my hon. Friend behind me as to the operation of the 24th clause. He says—Since the above was written, Mr. Mundella's Bill has been introduced, and so far as I can judge, as a first impression, it seems very much to follow the lines I have indicated. I, for one, do not view with any alarm the mediatory and arbitrating powers being vested in the Board of Trade.But, then, this is not anew thing. That the Board of Trade should undertake this work was recommended as far back 464 as 1852 by one of the most important Committees that ever sat in this House. In 1854, in introducing his great measure to the House—the Railway and Canal Traffic Act—Mr. Cardwell said that this was one of the recommendations of the Committee on which no fewer than live persons who had filled the Office of President of the Board of Trade had sat. He said that this was one of the points upon which there had been perfect unanimity. He concludes with these words—I will not read the whole of it—And that where a complaint arises that any Company has violated any of their obligations, provision shall be made for the hearing of this complaint.Well, Sir, that admirable speech of Mr. Cardwell's foreshadowed how needful it was to meet the evils of the railway system that then existed. It is 32 years since Mr. Cardwell stood at this Table to introduce his measure, and it is rather a lamentable thing to consider how much remains yet to be done to make our railway system as effectual for public service as he—in one of the most admirable speeches that was ever made in this House on the subject—held it should be. There is nothing more that I ought to trouble the House with at this late hour of the morning. I can only say that though the hon. Gentleman behind me seemed to think that liberal dealing with the public by the Railway Companies had not resulted in liberal result to the Companies themselves—well, I am bound to say that the Midland Railway Company are not of my hon. Friend's opinion. The Companies that have adopted the cheap passenger system that was adopted by the Midland Railway Company some years ago, and the Midland Company itself, have reaped great advantage from the system, while the public have reaped untold advantage. What has happened within the past three or four years? The Parcels Post has been instituted—not by the goodwill of the Companies, for they drove rather a hard bargain with the public—["No, no!"] Yes; and the late Mr. Fawcett thought it was a hard bargain. They exacted, I think, 55 per cent of the whole receipts from the public. What has been the result of the introduction of these interesting facilities and this cheapening of the method of communication? Why, within the past 465 year 26,000,000 parcels have been conveyed by the Post Office, bringing in receipts amounting to nearly £600,000. The Railway Companies have received nearly £300,000 from the Post Office. And what effect has it had upon their own parcel traffic? Why, the receipts from it have not diminished at all. The Companies are competing with the Parcels Post—I have been astonished to see some of the changes they have made in their rates in Sheffield. I find there has been a reduction of from 50 to 70 per cent in the rates for the conveyance of some of the parcels as compared with former charges; and yet, though the public have derived great advantage, the Companies have not diminished their own receipts. We all know the great advantages that have accrued to the public from the great facilities that the Parcels Post has given. I believe that just in proportion as the Railway Companies in carrying their traffic deal fairly with the public they will find they confer benefit on their shareholders. I hope the House will allow this Bill to be read a second time without opposition, so that it may be considered in Committee. This is not a Party question as between one side of the House and the other; and I, therefore, trust we shall do all we can to pass the measure during the present Session, and thus confer an immense benefit on the trading community.
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON
I wish to ask for an explanation from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) to enable me, if I possibly can, to save the House from the trouble of a division. It I am to understand from the remarks which he made that regard will be had to the statutory power of the Railway Companies to appear before the Railway Commissioners, I shall then be perfectly satisfied with the discussion which has taken place, and shall ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I do not think that I can add anything to what I stated in the few remarks which I have already made. I cannot at this moment be called upon to state categorically what I intend doing, and how I intend to meet the views of the Railway Companies; but I can say this—that I will do my best to make such an arrangement with the Railway Companies as will re- 466 move those apprehensions of confiscation to which they give utterance, but which it is difficult to believe they really entertain.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time," and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.