§ Order for Consideration read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended (by the Standing Committee), be now considered."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL&c.) (Kirkcaldy,
said, he wished to complain of the suddenness with which this Bill had been presented to the House, and of the omissions in the measure, more especially the entire absence of any provisions for the protection of passengers. In the part of the country which he represented, it was the exception for a train to be up to time. In his opinion, passengers would be prejudiced by the passing of this Bill, for a great railway measure having been passed in one Session, it was unlikely that another great railway measure would be introduced next Session. Moreover, if passengers were at any future time tacked 435 on to this Bill, the tribunal set up by it was not the sort of tribunal which would be likely to administer summary justice as between the Railway Companies and the passengers. The process by which a remedy could be had against a Railway Company might be suitable for large traders, but was much too elaborate and expensive for people who sent small parcels only. Under that Bill there was nothing in the nature of a summary remedy for small grievances. The instances in which such a remedy was most wanted were in places where there was no competition. There was no provision, so far as he could see, in regard to the carriage of mails. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster General (Mr. Raikes) had told them that he thought arbitration an unsatisfactory manner of settling differences between the Post Office and the Railway Companies, and that he would much prefer that such questions should be referred to the Railway Commission. It was unfortunate, if the Government held that view, that they had not pressed it upon the Committee. He hoped they would yet put down an Amendment to give effect to their opinion, so that a Railway Company might be compelled to give to the inhabitants of Fife or any other part of the country such facilities as the Railway Commissioners might decide that they ought to have.
§ MR. NEVILLE (Liverpool, Exchange)
said, the hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) had stated some time ago that there was a general opinion that the Railway Commissioners would do more than justice to the traders who applied to them.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
said, that what he had said was that some traders had expressed the hope that they would have a tribunal where they would get more than justice, and that he had then pointed out that that would be injustice. He had always stated that in his opinion the Railway Commissioners based their judgments upon the principles of law.
§ MR. NEVILLE
said, he was glad to hear that explanation, which, of course, he entirely accepted. There was great confidence on the part of the House in the appointment of a Judge to work an Act of that kind; but, as a matter of fact and of history, what killed the 436 practical operation of the Act which preceded the creation of the Railway Commission was the extreme reluctance of the Judges to undertake the duties imposed upon them and their desire to cut down the scope of the Act. Ere would be surprised if under that Bill traders would have the same facilities for the settlement of their disputes as they had under the Railway Commission. The Bill was a retrograde step, because the Railway Commission was appointed in consequence of the breakdown of the attempt to administer the Act by the Judicial Bench. Now they were to have Commissioners who would sit as assessors; but they would be, to a great extent, overborne by the Judge who presided at the trial. He thought there should be some intimation of who the Commissioners were to be under that Bill. When the last Commission was appointed it was demanded by the House, and conceded by the Government, that the Commissioners should be named before the third reading.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
said, he desired to remind the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) that in 1873 the names of the Commissioners were announced before the Bill left the House of Commons on the morning of the day when the third reading was taken. If the same course had been followed in this case the names of the Commissioners would have been stated before the Bill left the House of Lords.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.)
said, he hoped the House would not think it necessary to go into any general discussion of the Bill at the present stage. He could assure both the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) and the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Neville) that the very points which they had raised were most carefully discussed and considered by the Standing Committee, and he only wished they had had the benefit of the assistance of those hon. Members, for he thought they would have been satisfied that full and ample consideration was given to the views they had put forward. With regard to the objection of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy that the Bill was insufficient because it did not deal with the question of passenger traffic, he 437 could only say that, in his humble judgment, the Bill was large enough as it stood. It contained matter of very great importance, and it had been strengthened and increased, not merely in bulk, but in application, by the Standing Committee, and he was quite sure that if there had been any attempt to deal with the question of passenger traffic it would have overloaded the Bill. So far as the question of public safety was concerned, he was already under a pledge to consider that subject with a view to legislation at the earliest possible moment. It would not be lost sight of so long as he occupied his present position. He could not accept the opinion of the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Neville) as to the failure of the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas. There were other reasons for that failure and the necessity for the transfer to the Railway Commission. Among them was the fact that the proceedings before the Court of Common Pleas were on affidavit. As to the names of the Commissioners, they were not in the same position now as the House and the Government were when the Railway Commission was first constituted. They had at present Railway Commissioners who had done their work with a very general amount of public confidence. Of course, it was obvious that one of those Commissioners—the Legal Commissioner—would not retain his office after the passing of this Act; but with regard to the other two Commissioners, he could assure the House that the Government, in considering the very important question of who should be permanently appointed, would very carefully consider the good work done by those Commissioners, and the confidence which had been reposed in them; and, certainly, if it should be found impossible, or any way inadvisable, to retain the services of the lay Commissioners in the future, the very greatest care would be taken that any appointment that might be made would in no way derogate from the status of the Railway Commissioners; which was not lowered, but rather heightened, by the provisions of the present Bill.
§ MR. H. T. DAVENPORT (Staffordshire, Leek)
said, he wished to call attention to the injustice under which the silk trade now suffered. A package 438 of silk was very valuable, and the bobbins in which it was packed were heavy. The value brought the package into a class highly rated; while the weight raised the charge under this rate. It was an insurance rate, but excessive, being paid on the dead weight of the package, as well as on the value. He hoped power was given by the Bill to re-classify goods and re-adjust charges, so as to meet that case.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
said, as representing a trading constituency, he took occasion to point out the injury that was inflicted on the public by the rates on short distances being immensely out of proportion to those charged for long distances. Of course, he was quite aware that Railway Companies could not carry at the same rate for long and short distances; but the difference against the latter was so excessive that it could scarcely be justified. Then the public suffered from terminal charges, which were comparatively a new impost. In connection with this Bill that subject deserved the consideration of the House. There could be no doubt that the country suffered from the fact that in the construction of our railways a great deal too much expense was incurred. Legal charges and land charges created a great burden, to the extent, perhaps, of £150,000,000 in the first instance more than ought to have been incurred, and from which trade and railways had continued to suffer.
§ MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
said, he believed the Bill had received an amount of consideration in the Grand Committee which had never been surpassed in the ease of any Bill before the House of Commons. The fitness of these Grand Committees to do good work had never been more convincingly proved to the minds of hon. Members than in this instance. The work of the Grand Committee on Trade might be an example to all future Grand Committees. No Party politics had been introduced, and the only consideration that had weighed with them was that of what was best for the interests of the country. If the business of the Grand Committees was conducted as it had been in this case, the principle of delegation would work most satisfactorily. He hoped the House would pass the Bill very much as they now found it. They had succeeded, by the principle of 439 give and take, in making it a really good and workable measure. He ventured to say, having had the honour to introduce the Bill of 1886, that the present Bill contained all that the former Bill did, and many other desirable provisions besides. It was a first step in the direction of the State control of railways, and a very important step, showing how far they might be able to go in future.
§ SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
said, he regretted that that longer Notice had not been given of the intention of the Government to proceed with the Bill that day; but he hoped all hon. Members would unite in passing the Bill through as quickly as possible.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ MR. HUNTER
, in moving the following clause:—Every action or proceeding which might have been brought before the Railway Commissioners if this Act had been in force at the time when such action or proceeding was begun, and is at the commencement of this Act pending before any superior court, may, upon the application of either party, be transferred by any judge of such superior court to the Railway and Canal Commissioners under this Act, and may thereupon be continued and concluded in all respects as if such action or proceeding had been originally instituted before that Commission,said, they were by this Bill making the Railway Commission a Division of the High Court of Justice, not in name merely, but practically by appointing a Judge of the High Court. All this clause proposed to do was to enable the Court before whom an action was pending, if the Court thought fit, to transfer it from the Division of the High Court in which it was to the Railway Commission. The clause had been moved in the Grand Committee, and 17 Members had voted for it and 17 against. The hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) had opposed the clause on the ground that it was too large in its scope, and to meet the objection of the hon. and learned Gentleman he (Mr. Hunter) was willing that the following Proviso should be added to it:—Provided that such transfer and anything herein contained shall not vary or affect the rights or liabilities of any party to such action or proceeding.An action would thus be transferable, 440 while the rights of the parties would remain the same as now.
§ Clause (Transfer of pending business from superior courts,)—(Mr. Hunter,)—brought up, and read the first and second time.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
said, if the Proviso bad been added to the clause when it was originally proposed by the hon. Member in the Grand Committee, it would have removed a great many of the objections he had made to it. If it was merely a question of trial, he did not object to the transfer; but, as originally framed, the clause did alter the rights of parties. If the hon. Member would agree to the insertion of the words "that such transfer" after "provided" he would have no objection to accept the clause.
§ Clause amended, and added.
§ Amendments made.
§ New Clause C.
§ MR. J. C. STEVENSON (South Shields)
, in moving the omission of the following Proviso from New Clause C:—Provided that no railway company shall make, nor shall the Court or the Commissioners sanction, any difference in the tolls, rates, and charges made for, or any difference in the treatment of, Home and Foreign merchandise in respect of the same or similar services,said, he spoke in this matter purely as a trader, and especially in the interests of facilities of trade between the interior of the country and foreign markets, by giving inland towns a choice of seaports for both imported and exported merchandize, for food supplies and raw materials inwards, and manufactured goods outwards. He approved of this Bill, as liberating trade from the arbitrary dealing of railways, by giving traders a stronger and more accessible tribunal; but this Proviso would fetter and impede existing trade, for it directly forbade the Commissioners continuing facilities for trade which, in the case of the Tyne, Hartlepool, and Sunderland, had lasted for more than 30 years, and which had been maintained by successive Parliamentary Committees when sought to be set aside by clauses in Railway Bills. He only asked that the Railway Commissioners should be free to try such cases, and to decide whether the equal rates for unequal 441 distances to these seaports amounted to an undue preference. The words of the Proviso would debar the Commissioners from continuing the present system, which had grown up in the interests of the public, and should not be rashly disturbed. No one could foresee the anomalies and difficulties which this change would involve. The words were not in the Bill when introduced into Parliament. Government were defeated in resisting them in the Lords, and he thought they were now yielding to the Protectionist sentiment that prevailed in many parts of the country, for it was only to imported produce that the Proviso applied. There would still remain the system of equal railway rates for seaports at unequal distances for goods exported. Why not, then, for goods imported, but because imported goods were, in the nature of the case, foreign merchandize? It was well known that imports and exports from any seaport went together. If liberty of choice of ports inwards was restricted, liberty of choice outwards was, pro tanto, restricted also. Cheap supplies of raw material from abroad were essential to industries which might otherwise be driven to the coast in order to save the railway rates altogether, and this Proviso meant that the nearest seaport should have a monopoly of the transit of imported goods—that was, of foreign goods. They hoped in this way to put the foreigner at a disadvantage; but it was really the home consumer that they hit. There were 18,000 tons of foreign butter a-year landed in the Tyne and sent for consumption into the interior. It was only by equal railway rates for the longer distance that this traffic could be continued to the North-Eastern ports, and a great disturbance of existing trade avoided. This prohibition of special import rates was a restriction on the tribunal as well as on the trade. These rates, like the special export rates, were adopted for the benefit of shippers and traders at the different ports, and their withdrawal must seriously affect the trade. This consideration applied also in the cases of the competition of Gloucester and Cardiff to the Midland Counties, of Liverpool and Barrow to the Lancashire towns, and of Southampton to London. It was the common interest of all classes in this Island to have the freest 442 possible intercourse with the seaports, and he thought the Bill in this respect must be regarded as a piece of Protectionist legislation. He begged to move the omission of the Proviso.
In page 15, line 19, to leave out the words "Provided that no railway company shall make, nor shall the Court or the Commissioners sanction, any difference in the tolls, rates, and charges made for, or any difference in the treatment of, Home and Foreign merchandise in respect of the same or similar services," in line 22, both inclusive.—(Mr. James Stevenson.)
That the words 'Provided that no railway company shall make, nor shall the Court or the Commissioners sanction, any difference in the tolls, rates, and charges made for, or any difference in the treatment of, Home and Foreign merchandise,' stand part of the Bill.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he thought that the Members of the Standing Committee would have in their recollection that the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. J. C. Stevenson) brought this subject forward at considerable length before the Committee, and that the feeling of the Committee was so strongly against him that he had not attempted to carry his Amendment to a Division. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) did not complain of the present action of the hon. Member, but he hoped the House would not encourage a lengthy debate on the subject, which had been exhaustively treated in the Committee. The clause, in the first place, provided that if the Railway Company made any difference of charge or treatment, the onus would be on the Railway Company of proving that such difference did not amount to an undue preference. According to the sub-section, the Commissioners were permitted in deciding such a case to consider, so far as they thought reasonable in addition to any other considerations, whether such lower charge or difference of treatment was necessary for the purpose of securing the traffic in the interests of the public, and whether the inequality could not be removed without unduly reducing the rates charged to the complainant. That was a Proviso distinctly inserted in the interests of trade, and it was completely governed by the Proviso to which the hon. Member had taken exception. He (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) contended 443 that although the Government were not responsible for the original insertion of the words, the power of the Commissioners was rightly governed by that Proviso. In his opinion—and he had fortified that opinion by the highest legal authority—the Proviso, as it stood in the Bill, did no more than assert what was the existing law. The hon. Member had frankly told the House that he asked the Proviso to be struck from the Bill because he wished to maintain an existing inequality. This Proviso was not intended as a protection of any industry at all, but that home and foreign goods should have equal treatment in equal circumstances. He hoped the House would adhere to the words of the clause, which possibly might not satisfy extreme advocates on either side, but was a fair and just compromise between different views.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he should support the clause in the Bill. The clause, with the Proviso, was fair and just, and without the Proviso it would be neither fair nor just. The hon. Member (Mr. J. C. Stevenson) seemed to think it was for the advantage of the consumer that fish caught outside territorial waters should be carried cheaper than fish caught in territorial waters.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, the views of the hon. Member, at any rate, implied the giving of a bounty to foreign fishermen against home fishermen. In regard to the Danish cattle trade, there was no objection to the North-Eastern Railway carrying Danish cattle at a certain rate, if they charged home cattle the same rates for the same service. If the London and North-Western Railway would carry a van load of meat from Liverpool to London, because it was American, at 25s. per ton, they should be able to do the same wherever the meat came from. That was really all they were contending for in this clause; and, in his opinion, so far from injuring any one, all that would happen would be that the Railway Companies would approximate their home rates to their foreign rates. Instead of the consumer suffering, he believed there would be an increased development of home produce, and facilities would be given to the home trade. He did not see that the principle of Fair 444 Trade was concerned; but if the Proviso was struck out they would be giving a bounty to the foreigner at the expense of the home producer.
§ SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE
said, when he was selected by a working-class constituency in that Metropolis, he gave a distinct pledge to oppose any legislation which tended to increase the price of the food of the people. Among the greatest interests involved in the Bill were those of the labouring poor of London and other large centres of population, and their first interest was to obtain food as cheaply as possible. Therefore, with regard to the Amendment before the House, he wished to ask the Government whether the portion of the clause proposed to be left out would have the effect of raising the price of the food of the people of Loudon? If it did, he could not oppose the Amendment of the hon. Member for South Shields. Hitherto, the Railway Companies had had great facilities for making undue charges or giving undue preference; but he was glad to say that the passing of this Bill would make a great change in that respect, because by the reform it proposed this matter would be left absolutely to the Railway Commissioners, who were to be presided over by a Judge of the land. But as to the clause as it stood, he must point out that its operation, if not amended, would very largely interfere with the supply of early fruits and vegetables, and similar commodities; and if the trade with France in these commodities were destroyed no one would be the gainer. One result of the words now under discussion would be that perishable commodities of this kind would not be sent over at all, and they could not be produced here; whilst nonperishable commodities would come over in French ships direct to the Thames, to the great loss of all the English working men employed at the outports and on the lines of railways. He believed that there was hardly a single outport engaged in this regular traffic that would not sustain injury.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
said, he thought if the hon. Member who had just spoken had been a Member of the Committee on Trade, he would not have confused the issue as he had just done. It was not in the slightest degree a question of the cheap- 445 ness of food. He would undertake to say, even as a result of the clause as it stood, if the Railway Commissioners decided that there was an unjust preference given to foreign produce in the case of the North-Eastern ports, that would not in the slightest degree affect the price at which these products would be delivered and sold in London. What was really at issue was the question of preference of a double kind. In the first place, there was the question of preference as between foreign and home production to the disadvantage of the home production; and, in the second place, what was, perhaps, a still more important issue was the question of preference as between one port and another. At the present moment, under conditions enforced by the Railway Companies, a distinct preference was given to the North-Eastern ports as compared with Hull. The only effect of withdrawing that preference would be that the foreign produce would go to Hull, where it ought to go properly, according to the geographical position of the port. He protested against those great monopolists, the Railway Companies, picking out certain districts, and then giving them an advantage. The Committee, he thought, was quite right in laying down the general principle that in the case of foreign produce—where, as they knew, all considerations of fairness had been distinctly violated—that in future it should not be permissible to make additional charges for home produce as against foreign. The hon. Gentleman had forgotten that the easiest and simplest way for the Railway Companies to deal with this clause was not to increase the rates for foreign produce. Ex hypothesi they already got a profit out of the produce they carried, whether from Newcastle or from Hull, and what they would have to do was to put the English farmer and producer on the same footing as the foreigner; and for the life of him he could not see why they should stand in the way of that.
§ MR. GROTRIAN (Hull, E.)
said, his contention was that, so far from the clause raising the price of commodities, it would in all probability have exactly the reverse effect. The clause would have the effect of saving the Railway Companies from themselves in regard to a great deal of their perverted action. The North-Eastern Railway Company 446 conveyed foreign produce between Hull and Manchester, a distance of 90 miles, at substantially the same rate as between Newcastle and Manchester, a distance of 140 miles. Now, either it paid the North-Eastern to carry the traffic over this long route of 140 miles or it did not. If it did, then it followed that the rate charged for the shorter distance was excessive. If the effect of the clause was to direct the traffic over the line of least resistance, it must ultimately be to the benefit both of the railway and of the country at large.
MR. MAC INNES (Northumberland, Hexham)
said, in supporting the Amendment, that reference had been made to the extensive discussions in the Grand Committee; but it must be borne in mind that the great majority of the Members of the House had no opportunity of following those discussions. No official report was furnished the House; and, from what they read in the public prints, from time to time, they could only gather a very meagre idea of the discussions which took place. He desired to say a few words with regard to the transit traffic. The House should understand what would be the result of the clause if it was carried as it now stood. The House was aware that a very large transit traffic was carried on between North Germany and the Northern ports of America. That traffic passed through the ports of Hull and Liverpool one way, and through Liverpool and Hull the other, and to meet the steamship owners engaged in the trade the Railway Companies connecting Hull and Liverpool had made special rates, and rates at a very low figure. By the clause that traffic would be absolutely killed and taken away, and the result would be that a large number of persons employed at the docks of Hull and Liverpool would be thrown out of employment. He ventured to say, with some experience of the question, that what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had said with regard to the result of the clause upon the Railway Companies and their rates was wrong. He (Mr. Mac Innes) had consulted experts upon this matter, and their distinct opinion was that the through traffic would be killed. In many instances the competition between sea traffic and land traffic was verysevere, 447 and in the South Wales traffic sailing ships had beaten the railways altogether. It had been said that the Railway Companies, representing £800,000,000, would approximate their home and foreign rates. He thought that would not be found to be the case. He believed that the Railway Companies were content, in the case of the transit traffic between Hull and Liverpool, with a return on their capital which averaged, say, about ½ per cent. Did the House imagine that the Railway Companies, for the sake of retaining that small profit on the trade between Hull and Liverpool, would reduce their rates throughout the country to that figure? No such result would happen. It was perfectly clear that the trade would be killed, and the country at large would suffer to the benefit of no human being, except possibly some few German shipowners. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham had omitted to consider how much the price of produce in Birmingham depended upon the competition of railway and sea traffic, as a large amount came by water to Gloucester. He thought also that there should be no doubt left as to the meaning of this clause. It was notorious that at present some of the ablest experts in England had considerable doubt as to the meaning of some of the clauses in the Bill, and he trusted that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would make them clear. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would acknowledge that he had given way on this point, and that he would explain why. The right hen. Gentleman had told them that some of the acutest minds in the country had been exercised on this subject, and that the House ought to accept their decision as final. Hon. Members could not forget that the matter was considered by the Cabinet, and that they came to a different conclusion. But the provision was supported in "another place" by those who were very much influenced by Protectionist opinions. No one would accuse the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) of any sympathy with Protection, yet it did seem to him (Mr. Mac Innes) that in some other instances, however ardent Free Traders might be on general questions, when their own industries, or ports, or constituencies were affected, 448 there was a good deal of Protection at the bottom of their discussions.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he could assure his hon. Friend (Mr. Mac Innes) that neither Sheffield nor its industry, nor he himself (Mr. Mundella), was in the least affected by this matter.
§ MR. CRAIG (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
said, that it had been pointed out more than once that the rates from Newcastle to Manchester, the greater distance, were no more than the rates from Hull to Manchester, the lesser distance; but none of the speakers had taken the trouble to explain how that arose. They spoke as if it had been done by some arbitrary fiat. It was said that it was brought about by the action of the Directors of the North-Eastern Railway Company. That was not so. It arose by virtue of an arrangement come to when the various systems of railway, now known as the North-Eastern system, were amalgamated and merged with the present Company. At the time the North-Eastern went to Parliament there were three separate Companies; and by virtue of the competition the rates from the interior of England to Hull, to Hartlepool, to Sunderland, and to Newcastle were identical and reciprocal. The goods coming from outside were also taken to the inland places at identically the same rates from all the North-Eastern ports. The people of the North said they would object to the amalgamation unless the system of identical rates was continued, and the Committee refused to fix mileage rates. Several attempts had since been made to upset the arrangement, but in every case unsuccessfully. It did seem an anomaly that goods should be carried a long distance at the same rate as a shorter; but it was not such an extraordinary thing when all the circumstances under which the system arose were considered. It seemed that something like a vested interest had grown up in the bargain, which the North-Eastern Company had faithfully and honestly carried out. This system of rates arose purely out of the conditions forced upon the Directors of the amalgamated rail ways in 1854 by the various interests concerned; and he appealed to the hon. and learned Attorney General whether, if the words of the Proviso were allowed to stand, it would be possible for any 449 Commissioners who might be appointed under the Bill to take such circumstances into consideration? If the hon. and learned Gentleman thought they might fairly be taken into consideration, he would ask him whether he would sanction the introduction of words that would secure that? Did the House and the Government know what were the gigantic interests that had grown up in consequence of the bargain made in 1854 with the North-Eastern Railway Company?
§ MR. GROTRIAN
said, there was nothing in the Amalgamation Act of 1854 which gave Parliamentary sanction to any such power.
§ MR. CRAIG
said, that it was quite true there was no clause in the Amalgamation Act of 1854 which embodied the bargain; but it was equally true that every attempt to upset the bargain, even although it was not in writing, had been unsuccessful. Would the Government or the President of the Board of Trade do nothing to preserve the interests which had grown up in virtue of that state of things? On the Tyne alone upwards of £5,000,000 had been spent in converting what was a mere dirty ditch into a gigantic estuary of the North Sea, on the banks of which they had works like Elswick, which, although belonging to a private firm, was equal to any dockyard in this country, and where they could not only build ships, but provide them with guns while they were being built. What had been done for the Tyne had been done on the security of the dues, which were now being tampered with through the clause. He was somewhat astonished at the remarks made by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain). He (Mr. Craig) was a trader, and every trader knew what would happen. If the rate to Newcastle was 25s. and to Hull 15s., the difference would not remain in the pockets of the Birmingham manufacturers, but would go into the pockets of the Hull shipowners, who would practically have a monopoly conferred upon them. The trade of the Tyne people would be injured. Besides that, the £5,000,000 had been borrowed in the confidence that the existing state of things would not be tampered with. Newcastle was not the only interest that might be affected. There were other large ports all round from which trade 450 might be diverted. He denied that the consumer in the inland town would be in the least benefited. If the Shipping Companies discovered that three ports out of four were knocked out of the race, they would immediately endeavour to appropriate part of the difference in the rates thereby created, and would do it successfully. He hoped that the Amendment would be agreed to.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
said, he felt bound to protest, as an agriculturist, against the Amendment. Clause C and Clause 7 were the essence and backbone of the Bill. It was said that the rejection of Clause C involved the question of Protection. But the agricultural interest were not asking for a duty on foreign wheat, but objecting to a bonus being given to the foreigner.
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON (Stirling)
said, everything proposed to be done by the clause could be done without it, and would be done even if the clause were omitted from the Bill. What was desired, he understood, was that all traders in this country and all trades should be placed upon an equality. That, undoubtedly, was the law, and, undoubtedly, should be the law. One hon. Gentleman had stated that the addition comprising what was known as Lord Jersey's Amendment did not alter the law. If so, he asked why should it be inserted? He was sorry that he could not say it was surplusage; for, although it was surplusage for the purpose for which it was professed to be required, it absolutely prohibited the consideration of any circumstances which would require carriage at low rate. [An hon. MEMBER: No, no!] Well, then, if it did not, what was the advantage of the clause? Why should it not be left out? He was afraid, however, that it was required for that particular purpose. Certainly, if the clause remained the Commissioners would be absolutely precluded from considering any other circumstances than the fact that the merchandize was of foreign origin, and that would prevent them considering the propriety of granting special rates for that particular produce. Under the Bill special export rates might be allowed; but special import rates could not, assuming, of course, that the article imported was of foreign origin. How would that affect the trade of the country? So far as the railways were concerned, he did not 451 think it mattered much, except in so far as they would suffer by any diminution of the trade of the country. Under the Bill he held that special export rates might be allowed, but that special import rates could not be allowed. If that were so, farmers would suffer, as they would not get their feeding-stuffs at the present low rates, while manufacturers, in the same way, would not get their raw material so cheaply, They would get a reduction in their export trade it was said, but they could not get more than at present. In fact, they were likely to get less. The reason of that was, because this clause would destroy all competition between Railway Companies. Take, for instance, the case of Hull and Newcastle. If this clause were passed, they were absolutely taking it out of the power of the Railway Companies to compete with each other between these two ports. They drew a hard and fast line below which the Companies must not go at any time, and that did away with the necessity of making the rates as low as if they had to enter into competition. Speaking from many years' experience, he knew that that must happen, if legislation was enacted which limited the power of competition between the Railway Companies, and that was what must follow from the adoption of this Bill in its present state. He hoped the House would make the Bill as good as possible, and would pass it as soon as possible, and allow it to become law.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER) (Isle of Wight)
said, he hoped they might be allowed to go at once to a Division; he must decline to enter again into these contests between the various ports. Those were matters which must be dealt with by the proper tribunal upon their own merits, and ought not to affect the decision of the House as to this clause, which was intended to deal with the general law. He could assure hon. Members who supported the Amendment that, in the judgment of the Government, they thought the clause would certainly not kill transit or cross traffie. Either those rates for transit traffic were remunerative, or they were not. If they were not remunerative, the loss ought not to be paid out of the home traffic, and the position of the Government was, that if Railway Companies could afford to carry 452 the transit traffic at such rates as the present, they had no right for similar services and under like circumstances to charge a higher rate for home traffic, simply because the goods had come out of a ship in the one case and a manufactory in the other. That was the principle which really had been recognized. It was in the matter of carriage alone that different circumstances could arise. He desired to give that distinct statement to the hon. Gentleman opposite, because the Government did not consider there was any fear at all of killing the power of competition, or the power of bringing in food cheap and taking transit goods at the present rates, if there was a distinct enunciation of the principle that Railway Companies should not be allowed to make good any loss which might arise out of such traffic by charging higher rates on the home traffic.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ COLONEL BRIDGEMAN (Bolton) moved an Amendment empowering Railway Companies to grant a lower rate to home parties than they granted to foreigners.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 15, line 22, after the word "merchandize," to insert the words "to the detriment of the former."—(Colonel Bridgeman.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he hoped his hon. and gallant Friend would not think it necessary to press this Amendment to a Division, as it was contrary to the intention and spirit of the clause, which was that no undue preference should be given to either side.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ New Clause D.
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON moved an Amendment to insert after "railway" the words "the less being included in the greater distance." He did not think the Bill ought to leave that House without the House itself knowing what they would be doing if they refused to insert those or similar words. He had tried to get the provision inserted when the Bill was before the Grand Committee, and had failed. The section in which he proposed to make the insertion pro- 453 vided that there should be no higher rate charged for carrying merchandize a short than was charged for a long distance. He entirely concurred in the provision; but he thought the clause was not sufficiently distinct in providing that the comparison should be made with traffic carried over the same portion of the line. No one could be so ignorant of railway matters as to be unaware of the fact that it was made more difficult and expensive to work some portions of a line than others, and if the clause remained in its present state, it might happen that a comparison would be made with a portion of the line easy to work and another portion where the traffic was conducted at a great disadvantage. He asked in his Amendment that the comparison should only be made with the same portion of the line.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 15, line 28, after the word "railway," to insert the words "the less being included in the greater distance."—(Mr. J. C. Bolton.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he thought the Amendment was unnecessary, as the matter would be left to the discretion of the Court or of the Commissioners. He could not believe for a moment that the Commissioners, if it were shown to their satisfaction that the cost of conveyance for a shorter distance was greater than for a longer distance on another line, would apply the words of the clause. He believed they would treat the Railway Companies with justice, and it was impossible to lay down any qualifications in this clause which would meet all the cases that might arise.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Amendments made.
In page 19, line 15, to insert the following sub-section:—"(7.) Every railway company shall, on the request of any navigation commissioners or of any clerk or collector appointed by such commissioners, give to such commissioners, or clerk, or collector, a true statement certified by an officer of such railway company of the quantity and weight of all merchandise, which shall have been unloaded or delivered at any wharf or premises of such railway company and weighed for the purpose of conveyance on their railway, the same having been conveyed in any boat or lighter
or gang of boats or lighters upon the navigation of such commissioners or any part thereof, upon payment by such navigation commissioners or their clerk or collector of the sum of one shilling for every such certified statement, and shall allow such commissioners or their clerk or collector to compare such statement with the entry or entries in the books of such railway company with respect to such merchandise."—(Captain Selwyn.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Other Amendments made.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now road the third time."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
said, he thought that before the Bill was read a third time, they should be told who the Commissioners were to be appointed under this Bill.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, he was afraid he had nothing to add to what he had already said on the subject. He thought the hon. Member was not present when, at the beginning of the Sitting, he replied to a Question by the hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter). He had nothing to add to what he then said.
§ MR. HUNTER
said, he thought that, before they consented to the third reading, the House was entitled to some more definite information upon the point, because the composition of the Commission was the most important part of the Bill. He did not see why the Government should hesitate to give them the desired information before they parted with the Bill. It was important that the continuity of the Commission should be maintained, if it was to receive the same measure of public confidence that had been reposed in it, and that if persons were appointed who were not familiar with the work, he doubted whether the Commission would be regarded with the same confidence as at present. He had, on the second reading, stated several objections to the Bill; but he was happy to say that by the labours of the Committee they had either been entirely removed, or considerably modified. Whereas when the Bill was first introduced, it would have been injurious to traders, he believed the contrary was now the truth. Several clauses had also been introduced which, while they did not 455 improve the Bill for the purposes of the traders, had given protection to the Railway Companies from perhaps imaginary dangers. The successful result had been very largely due to the marked fairness and courtesy with which the President of the Board of Trade had guided the Bill through the Grand Committee. In one respect the right hon. Gentleman conducted it in a manner that should be a model, because, although some clauses were proposed which were not within the scope of the Bill, and some were not acceptable to the Government, yet, throughout the whole discussion, the right hon. Gentleman left every Amendment and every clause to be dealt with by the Committee on its merits. The Members of the Standing Committee remained for a long time in a happy land, where Party distinctions were forgotten and the crack of the whip was unknown. He thought that the result had been that, after full discussion, the right hon. Gentleman had felt himself able to accept some changes which were introduced contrary to his wishes at the time. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to give them some definite assurance that, in the composition of the new Commission, care would be taken to maintain the continuity of the tribunal, in such a way that the public confidence in it would not be affected.
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON
said, he desired to add his testimony to that of the hon. Member (Mr. Hunter) as to the great courtesy and ability shown by the right hon. Gentleman during the whole time the Bill was in Grand Committee. He did not concur, however, in his other remark, that the Bill left the House with the entire approval both of the trading community and of the Railway Companies. He would admit, however, it certainly did leave the House in a better position than was expected; but it did not leave in the best position either for the Railway Companies or the trading community. He had endeavoured to-day to point out one difficulty; but he was afraid he had failed. But the Bill was going from them, and he hoped that in "another place" some attempt would be made to correct the mistakes which had been committed in this House. He thought the new tribunal would be as satisfactory as they could possibly expect; but he did not 456 approve of the withdrawal of the right of appeal to the House of Lords. He could not see for the life of him why, because a man happened to be a railway proprietor, he should be placed in an inferior position to any other trader in the land. He knew of no other trader other than a railway proprietor who was not allowed to appeal from one Court to another; but here, because a man happened to be a railway shareholder, he was precluded from the enjoyment of this privilege. That was not legislation in which the country, as a whole, would approve of, or, if it did approve of now, would not approve of for long.
§ SIR MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH
said, it was very agreeable to receive from the Member for Stirlingshire, considering the opinions he was known to entertain, so strong a testimony as to the value of the House of Lords. He would not, however, discuss that matter now, nor any of the proposals in the Bill. He wished to thank the hon. Member for North Aberdeenshire (Mr. Hunter) heartily both for the observations about himself, and also for the great assistance which the hon. Gentleman rendered to him and to the Standing Committee. As the hon. Member had remarked, this Bill was considered by the Standing Committee quite irrespectively of Party divisions. The Bill was the result of fair argument and discussion in the Committee, where opinions were expressed freely and the subject was threshed out, and he believed it would be satisfactory to the great interests concerned. He wished he could add anything as to the future of the Commission; but he had not communicated with the Members of the present Commission or his Colleagues in the Government. He fully concurred in what had been said as to the advisability of securing continuity in the action of the Commission, but he could not yet say who the two Commissioners would be. The House would remember that Sir Frederick Peel's position was technically higher than that he would occupy under this Bill. But he fully appreciated the principle of continuity, and would give his best consideration to what had been urged.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed, with Amendments.