§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir MICHAEL HICKS-BEACH) (Bristol, W.),
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it will not be necessary to detain the House at any length with regard to the past history of the subject, or to adduce many arguments in defence of the principle of the Bill. The particular phase of the Railway Question proposed to be dealt with in the Bill has been for a good many years more or less before the public. Hon. Members will recollect that in 1854 an important Act of Parliament dealing with it became law. The object of that Act was to 1832 compel Railway Companies to give reasonable facilities to the public, to secure uniform treatment of their customers, and to oblige them to forward through traffic without delay. The administration of the Act was entrusted to the Court of Common Pleas; but that was found to he unsatisfactory, and in 1873, after an inquiry, the existing Court of Railway Commissioners was instituted for the purpose of dealing with these questions. In 1882 the Railway Rates Committee, presided over by Mr. Evelyn Ashley, recommended, among other matters, that the Railway Commission should be made permanent, and that a further extension of jurisdiction should be conferred upon them. Year after year since that time my Predecessors at the Board of Trade have brought forward measures dealing with those recommendations; but, unfortunately, hitherto those measures had not received the sanction of Parliament. In 1886 a Bill on this subject was brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), then President of the Board of Trade. That Bill was identical in principle and very similar in details to the measure now before the House, and, after ample discussion, it was unanimously read a second time. Therefore, I do not think it necessary for me to waste the time of the House this evening by repeating arguments in defence of a measure the principle of which has been already affirmed. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir George Campbell) has given. Notice of his intention to move a very formidable Amendment at this stage of the Bill. He asks the House to affirm—That no Bill dealing with the Railways will be sufficient and satisfactory which does not deal with the passenger traffic and the public convenience and safety, and especially which does not settle on broad lines the question whether Railways enjoying a monopoly of particular routes or districts have a claim to protection against competition, or whether there is to be free trade in Railways as in the United States of America.I am afraid if we were to wait until a measure which, in the opinion of the hon. Gentleman, would be "sufficient and satisfactory" was brought forward, it would be tantamount to postponing railway legislation altogether. We do not pretend that this Bill contains in itself a complete settlement of railway legisla- 1833 tion. But we think it preferable, instead of attempting to deal with the question as the hon. Gentleman proposes, to take up, in the first place, that part of it which has received most consideration during the last few years, and which we believe to be most pressing for solution. That seems to us a more practical way of dealing with the subject than the one which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy asks the House to sanction. Our object in proposing this Bill is, shortly, to secure publicity and fairness in the conduct of our railway and canal traffic, to let the public know what they are charged, and why they are charged, and to give them better means than they at present enjoy of getting unfair charges remedied. To that end we propose, first, to reconstitute and make permanent the Railway Commission Court, rendering it more easily accessible and enlarging its power for the determination of disputes. In the second place, we propose to provide for the revision of the traffic charges of Railway and Canal Companies, and an amendment of the existing law relating to undue preference. Thirdly, we propose to bring canals under a control similar to that to which railways are subject, with a view to their being more efficiently worked and developed—among other things, prohibiting their acquisition by Railway Companies. I think these objects will recommend themselves to the consideration of the House. I will deal, in a few words, with the last of the three heads into which I have divided the main provisions of the Bill—namely, that which relates to the Canal Companies. I do not think it necessary at this stage to detain the House with a description in detail of the Canal Clauses which we propose to include in the Bill. But there is one point to which I would like to direct the attention of hon. Members. We propose, where a canal has been abandoned, to enable the Board of Trade to make a Provisional Order, vesting it in any person, or body of persons, or in a Local Authority. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. P. Stanhope) desires to enlarge very widely that suggestion of ours. He intends, as I understand by the Notice he has placed upon the Paper, to ask Parliament—To encourage and authorize the constitution by local authorities of Public Trusts for the development of the existing system of Canals.1834 I should be very willing in Committee to consider any sugestion the hon. Member may make for the extension of my proposal to canals which are insufficiently utilized through the deliberate and wilful neglect or misconduct of those who control them—in fact, to consider a kind of penal clause for dealing with those cases in which canals have passed under the control of Railway Companies, and have been managed in a very unjust and unsatisfactory manner. That, I think, would be a very fair subject of inquiry by Parliament, or in Committee on this Bill. But, to any such proposal as the hon. Gentleman has placed on the Paper, I think very fair objection may be made. It does seem to me that it would be most dangerous, as far as the ratepayers are concerned, to give the Local Authorities free and unlimited power to enter into speculations and adventurous enterprizes of that kind with regard to the construction and management of canals. I think we may take useful warning from what has happened in another country in this matter. I do not know whether hon. Members are acquainted with a Blue Book which contains not only interesting information, but has also the merit of being very short—namely, the Report of the Inter-State Commission on the American Railways. Hon. Members are aware that corporations and public authorities in the United States have frequently taken a very active part in railway enterprize. The United States Inter-State Commission give their opinion upon the result of that action. They report as follows:—So serious has been the evil of bringing worthless schemes into existence and making them the basis for an appropriation of public money, or for the issue of worthless evidences of debt, that a number of the States have so amended their constitutions as to take from the Legislature the power either to lend the credit of the State in aid of corporations proposing to construct railroads or to authorize municipal bodies to render aid, either in money or credit.The Americans have suffered from the abuse of what if properly limited and guarded, may be a very valuable power in the hands of a public authority, and we should take care that in our desire to utilize this power, we profit by the example of what has happened in America. Now I turn to the other portions of the Bill to which it is necessary for me at this stage to direct the attention of the House. In place of the 1835 existing Railway Commission, we propose a Commission consisting of two permanent Members and one legal Member—who will be president—to be an English, Scotch, or Irish Judge, assigned to the position for five years in each of the three Kingdoms respectively. This proposal has been made, not merely on the ground of economy, though, having regard to the probable amount of work to be performed by the Railway Commision, and to the amount of time which we understand to be at the disposal of the Judges in Scotland and in Ireland. I think that very strong reasons might be urged in favour of it from that point of view. But we also believe that such an arrangement of the Court will increase its legal weight and authority, and minimize the amount of appeals. Further, we propose to give the public easier access to the Court than they have at present, through the clause authorizing Local Authorities and other bodies to appear before it without proof of their being aggrieved. We also hope that the expense to suitors will be less, owing to the sittings being held at the High Court of Justice, or at Edinburgh, or Dublin, as the case may be, instead of at Westminster. Then the jurisdiction of the Commission is to be increased, and will no longer be subject to interference by prohibition from the Superior Courts; while on questions of fact and locus standi there will be no appeal from their decisions, and only one appeal on points of law, except by leave of the Court. The new Court will take over all the jurisdiction of the present Commission, and all business which, at the commencement of the Act, is pending before them. In addition, we propose to enable them to enforce compliance with certain provisions of private Acts which are beneficial to traders and the public; to hear and decide complaints as to the legality of rates and tolls, and to enforce payment of so much as they consider legal, notwithstanding that such facilities may be in contravention of agreements; to award damages to aggrieved parties; to make orders on two or more Companies to execute works; to hear rating appeals when transferred to them, and to require public Bodies to contribute to works which they may order to be executed by the Railway Company. Then, Sir, there are two minor clauses to 1836 which I ought to allude, the first of which is intended to explain and amend the law with reference to group rates, while the second is what is known by the name of the "Conciliation Clause." We have thought, following out the views of the right hon. Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield, that there are probably a considerable number of people, both among traders and among Railway Directors, sensible enough to prefer settling their differences in some other and cheaper way than by going to law. We, therefore, propose to give them the option of a kind of voluntary arbitration in such cases under the auspices of the Board of Trade. That proposal, as I have said, we inherit from the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella). I know that when the proposal was first put forward it was received with some little ridicule, especially by members of the legal Profession; but I think that the right hon. Gentleman may take credit for it, since the plan has worked well in the United Slates. We have strong testimony to that effect from the Report of the Inter-State Commission, who say that—This method of disposing of complaints is believed by the Commission to be more useful than any other, because its tendency is towards the establishment of desirable relations between the carriers and those who must be their customers.And now, Sir, it remains for me to say something upon the two most important clauses of the Bill—the 24th and 25th. The 24th clause proposes that the Railway Companies shall submit a classification of goods and schedule of rates to the Board of Trade, who are to give due publicity to them, and consider any objection which may be made. If, in the end, the Board of Trade can agree with the Company, the classification and schedule will be confirmed by Provisional Order; if not, the Board of Trade will report their opinion to Parliament, and in the next Session shall, if requested by the Company, and in any case, may introduce a Bill embodying that opinion, which Bill is to be referred, if opposed, to a Select Committee or Joint Committee. I need not dwell on the advantages which will result both to the general trading public and to the Companies from the clause. On the one hand, it will be of 1837 immense advantage to the public to know—which they do not at present—what they have to pay, and why they have to pay it; and, further, there can be no doubt that publicity in these matters will tend to produce uniformity of charge. On the other hand, there will be an advantage to the Railway Companies. I believe they suffer very much from the doubt and suspicion which the secrecy in which these matters are now left engenders, and it can be no injury to them to get rid of classifications which, by the lapse of time, have become absurd, or of maximum rates which they never think of levying. It has been urged upon me by a deputation of traders, and in the course of discussion in this House, that under this 24th clause the Railway Companies will gain too much, because the clause legalizes terminals. But, as I understand the clause, it does nothing more than practically repeat, with a very considerable limitation as to station accommodation, what is now the law as declared by the latest and most authoritative decisions of the Courts, and it is in accordance with the Reports of all the Commissions and Committees which have investigated this particular matter. No doubt, the clause does propose to legalize terminals; but in doing so, it compels a reconsideration and remodelling of the whole scale of charges, with the certain result that, whereas now the public pay terminals without knowing what they are for, in future they will know precisely what the charges are and what are the services for which they pay. The 25th clause is one of great importance and difficulty. Its object is to prevent undue preference, without depriving the public of the advantage of competition. It throws upon the Railway Companies, whenever it is shown that they charge one trader or class of traders lower rates than others, the burden of proving that such lower charge does not amount to an undue preference. I think it is obvious that that will be of immense advantage to the trading public, for this reason; when it is felt and known that any preference will have to be justified, that fact will certainly tend to limit the number of cases in which preference will be given. The clause enacts that, in deciding this question, the— 1838Court having jurisdiction in the matter or Commissioners, as the case may be, may, so far as they think reasonable, in addition to any other considerations affecting the case, take into consideration whether such lower charge or difference of treatment is necessary for the purpose of securing, in the interests of the public, the traffic in respect of which it is made.It also provides—That the Court or Commissioners shall have power to direct that no higher charge shall be made to any person for services in respect of merchandize carried over a less distance than is made to another person for similar services in respect of the same description and quantity of merchandize carried over a greater distance on the same line of railway.These clauses are governed by a further provision which, as hon. Members are aware, was inserted in the Bill in "another place," forbidding any difference to be made in the treatment of British merchandize as compared with foreign merchandize. That appears to me, and I am supported by high authority, nothing more than a statement of the existing law on the subject, if it means, as I understand it to mean, that no difference is to be made on account of the place of origin of the merchandize. There has been much controversy, and I have no doubt there will be a good deal more, upon the provisions of this 25th clause; but I think we may congratulate ourselves that the field of controversy is considerably narrowed as compared with what it was some years ago. I suppose that no one who has paid any attention to this subject will now contend, on the one hand, that equal mileage rates are possible; and, on the other, I imagine that the most ardent and zealous advocates of the Railway Companies will admit that they must take into consideration, in fixing their charges, something besides the maximum sum which they can legally impose consistently with securing a particular traffic. Our proposal is that equal rates should be charged for equal services; but it is perfectly obvious that difference of treatment is and must be justified by difference of circumstances. What I should venture earnestly to submit to the House is that, that in legislating on this matter, we should take care not unduly to narrow the effect of that proposition. Very much of the trade of this country has been created, and is continued, on the faith of special rates. I dare say that there 1839 are cases in which such special rates are objectionable; but, on the other hand, there are cases in which they are greatly to the advantage of the public. Is it not clear that, without special rates, London would be confined for her railway borne coal supply to the Midlands, and for fresh milk, fish, and vegetables to the counties bordering the Metropolis? Without special rates the manufacturers of Lancashire would be confined to the Lancashire coal fields, and industries situated at a distance from the sea board, such as the hardware trade of Sheffield and the Cleveland iron trade, would be placed at an immense disadvantage in the foreign markets. It seems to me that no one who has really looked into this question will think it is one that is simple and easy of solution. For my own part, I confess that I was never more struck with the difficulty of it than in reading that part of the Report of the American Inter-State Commission, which describes the immense difficulties they had met with, and the numerous exceptions they were compelled to make in carrying into effect the law against undue preference passed by the Congress of the United States. Sir, I think that the rule of equal treatment of all customers embodied in our existing legislation should, by all means, be maintained; but I feel that that just principle, like every principle, must not be pushed beyond its legitimate limits, and that we should act most foolishly and most dangerously to the industries of great towns and whole districts in this country, if we excluded from consideration altogether the element of competition. I do not wish at all to put forward these views in any unreasonable spirit. I trust that no hon. Member will suppose that I am influenced by any feeling of obstinate adherence to the precise methods which Her Majesty's Government have proposed for dealing with this important question. I am much too sensible of the extreme difficulty and delicacy of defining the law of this matter not to be ready to welcome, aye, and to invite co-operation and criticism from any quarter of the House. I am glad to think that it is generally recognized that this is not a question merely between Railway shareholders on the one side, and the rest of the public on the other. Railways have given us conveniences and facilities which have 1840 become indispensable to us, and, in the interest both of Railway shareholders and of the public at large, we ought to try so to regulate them as to develop to the utmost extent the aid which they can give in the production of wealth in this country. There is no business so interwoven with so many of our great interests as the Railway business. There is none on which mistaken legislation might so injuriously affect our great industries or the welfare of our mercantile and manufacturing; communities, or so interfere with the intellectual and social intercourse of the people, or even with the comfort of everybody in our everyday life. I am glad to think that on this matter, there has disappeared what I believe was a feeling of very unreasonable alarm, which two years ago pervaded much of the Railway interest. We have had evidence to show that in place of that feeling we now have a willingness and a desire to co-operate with everyone else in arriving at a solution of this great and important question, I hope that we may be successful in dealing with it this year. It will probably be universally felt that the settlement of it has been already too long delayed, and, in conclusion, I would only say that as far as I am personally concerned, I feel that if such a settlement can be satisfactorily carried out it will be due much less to any action of my own than to the fact that I have inherited the advantage of the labours of my Predecessors. But I do feel most strongly that all of us must be thankful to have any part, however small, in the satisfactory work of bringing to a wise and just solution, a controversy which is so full of the deepest interest to the industrial welfare of our country. I beg to move the second reading of this Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a second time."—(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)
§ MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
I rise at once to acknowledge the very handsome manner in which the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade has referred to the share I have personally had in promoting legislation on this question, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the fact that he has to deal with circumstances so different from those which fell to my own lot two years ago. The 1841 calm and peaceful atmosphere which seems to prevail on the question now is altogether pleasing in contrast to the experience which I had when I first introduced the measure to the House. The Bill is practically the same measure as that which was presented in 1886. It has come, it is true, from "another place," and I cannot say that it has not suffered somewhat in its passage through that "other place;" and I cannot say that it has gained as much as the public generally think it has from the alteration in the preferential clause. I very much doubt whether the Amendments which have been made really add anything to the force of that clause, or have made it any stronger. Two years ago I had to encounter an agitation which affected every Railway shareholder in the Kingdom, and which was directed at the various employés and railway servants of the Companies in England, and which seriously depreciated railway property on the Stock Exchange. Quiet has now returned, and they are ready now to come to an arrangement with their adversaries. They have learned a lesson, and are now of opinion that it is not necessary that a settlement of the question should be longer delayed. With respect to any changes which have been introduced into the measure there are some, I hope, which will be rectified in Grand Committee, because this measure, being so complex, so technical, and so important in its details is one that it is almost impossible to deal with in a discussion in this House, and is essentially one for consideration in Grand Committee. The first thing that strikes me on examining the Bill is the fact that the clause relating to Railway statistics has been taken out altogether. In the Bill as I presented it to the House in 1886 and as it was introduced into the other House last year, there was a clause requiring the Railway Companies to furnish from time to time such statistics as might be required by the Board of Trade. That is a very important provision, because in this country we have no such thing as Railway statistics at all, and a total absence of information to enable the Board of Trade to arrive at any conclusion as to the cost of the traffic, the mode in which it is conducted, or whether any portion of it entails a loss to the Companies, and had to be made up by higher rates upon other portions. In a Report prepared 1842 upon this subject the writer extols the scientific manner in which the Indian Railways are dealt with in this respect, and recognizes the extreme skill and ability with which everything is done. He complains, however, that no opportunity is afforded of comparing the cost of the Railways there with that of the railways of other countries, in order to ascertain if the same results could be arrived at at a less expenditure. I have only mentioned this matter in the hope that the right hon. Gentleman will support me when the Bill goes before the Grand Committee in getting the clause restored, as that is, in my opinion, essential if we are to settle the matter properly. I am sure that this will be found to be necessary if the present legislation is to be successful. With respect to the Commission, I am in favour of persons being assigned specially to this work, and I should prefer to see a Judge appointed expressly for the work rather than a Commissioner having jurisdiction in the whole of the United Kingdom. I think it would be better that we should have one Judge exclusively employed in dealing with these matters than that we should have different Judges assigned from time to time, one in England, one in Scotland, and one in Ireland. I now come to the Classification Clause, the 24th, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred. I am bound to say that I think that that clause has suffered severely in its passage through "another place." The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the present classification as being absurd, and it really is so. The classification is absolutely absurd, and the rates are such as no Railway Company would ever dream of charging. Therefore, to retain them is simply to frustrate the object this Bill is intended to promote. In the Bill, as it was brought in, one of the sub-sections provided that the Board of Trade should consider the classification and schedule, and any objections thereto, which might be lodged with them on or before the prescribed time, and should communicate with the Railway Company, and the persons who had lodged objections for the purpose of arranging the differences which might have arisen and of setting the principle of classification in such manner as will appear to the Board of Trade to be reasonable. The clause, as it now came 1843 down, contained an Amendment of a very insidious character. It ran as follows:—The Board of Trade shall determine the classification of traffic, which, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, ought to be adopted by the Railway Company, and the schedule of maximum rates and charges applicable to such classification, which it would, in the opinion of the Board of Trade, be just and reasonable to substitute for the existing maximum rates and charges of the Railway Company as upon the whole equivalent to such existing maximum rates and charges.The words are "as upon the whole," and they are words to which I entirely object. The Board of Trade are to substitute for the existing rates—Charges that upon the whole are equivalent to the existing maximum rates and charges.Those words, I maintain, absolutely put an obligation upon the Board of Trade to see that the new classification shall not be on the whole in any respect lower than the old and obsolete maximum classification which would, I maintain, operate adversely to the interests of trade. Having said so much upon the question of classification, I will now proceed to say a few words on the question of the preferential clauses. I know that there is a strong feeling in respect of this question of preferential rates, and that it is a most difficult subject with which we have to deal. I do not think that the Amendments which have been made have practically improved the Bill, and I confess that I prefer the Preferential Clause, as it appears in the Bill proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson), to either that in my own Bill or that in the present measure of the Government. It is very hard to convince a trader or dealer or an agriculturist, when he has to deal with such anomalies as this. He goes to the Newcastle market, and there he buys on the wharf two or three trucks of English cattle. He then goes to the wharf, and there he buys two or three trucks of foreign cattle. Then the trucks of both are attached to the same train and sent to the same destination—Leeds, Sheffield, Chesterfield, or any other place; and the foreign cattle are carried for 30, 40, or it may be 50 per cent less charge than the English cattle. [Cries of "Hear, hear!"] I did not say that to catch a cheer from the agricultural Members; but I feel that it 1844 would be altogether impossible to convince any ordinary person that that is a fair and reasonable mode of dealing with the traffic, or that it is an undue preference given to one class of traffic over another. I do not think that the attempt on the part of the Railway Companies to get rid of the competition of sea communication is one that we ought to foster. My belief is that the Railway Companies have no more right to deprive steam vessels of their legitimate traffic than they have to give a preference to any particular industry. If this Preferential Clause would have that effect, I think it is only right that it should be altered. I cannot see why the Railway Companies should so lower their rates as to extinguish sea competitions, in order that they may afterwards raise their rates, for that is what it practically comes to. If they can carry foreign traffic at extremely low rates, they must do it either at a profit or a loss. If they did it at a profit, they can do it certainly for the short distances at the same rates. If they do it at a loss, they have no right to do so at the expense of the shorter distance internal traffic. It seems to be unreasonable that the foreign trade should be so fostered that the internal traffic is made to pay for the traffic from the outports, in order that the latter kind of traffic may be carried at an unreasonably low rate. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for what he said about the Conciliation Clause. He will be surprised to hear me say that I think that is the most important clause of the Bill. I do not take credit for being the author of the clause, although the right hon. Gentleman says that he borrowed it from me. I myself must admit that I borrowed it from America, where it has worked most admirably. Mr. Adams, a most able American statesman, who was one of the first to devise the system in Massachusetts, after it had been in work in that State for 10 years, said that the Commission was established in 1874 as a medium, or species of lens, by which the otherwise scattered and powerless rays of public opinion could be concentrated into a focus and brought to bear upon any Corporation. The system in America has been attended with such great success that the effect has been to secure its adoption by every State in the Union, and now they have an Inter- 1845 State Commission, from the Report of which the right hon. Gentleman quoted, which has worked admirably, the result being a saving of 100,000,000 dollars on the traffic within recent years, as compared with what the state of things was 10 years before. It is to this clause, I think, we must look for our future remedial measures. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that individual traders, or even bodies of traders, would hardly dare to go into Court against a powerful Railway Company. I should like to see agriculturists, or even ironmasters, take the London and North-Western, or the Great Western, or any of the other great Railway Companies into Court. There would be a tremendous array of the gentlemen of the Long Robe; the expenses would augment enormously day after day. The Company would take the case, if the decision went against them, from Court to Court up to the House of Lords, and the total costs that would be accumulated upon the poor trader would be enough to deter him from ever again entering into such litigation. I believe this clause will throw an entirely new light on the whole Railway Question. We want more experience; we are not in possession of sufficient facts to enable us to lay down a hard and fast rule; but we want some Court to which the trader, however humble he may be, may come and make his statement, have his case thoroughly investigated, and the report of it made public. That would throw more light upon the matter, and would bring public opinion to bear on the action of the Railway Companies more than anything else. I see the hon. Member for East Norfolk (Sir Edward Birkbeck), who takes so much interest in the Fisheries Question, in his place. Now, there exists among our fishermen a deep, and probably well founded, belief that they suffer from the extravagant charges of the Railway Companies. I have had a number of sale notes sent to me by dealers and consignees of fish, showing that the Railway Companies absorb nine-tenths of the whole proceeds. It is very difficult to arrive at a conclusion whether the Railway Companies are levying an unjustifiable charge, whether they can do it, or whether it is the fault of the market. But, under this clause, the trade, if they wish to make a representation, can go to the 1846 Board of Trade, state their case, have it thoroughly investigated and reported upon. In that case the Railway Company complained of would be brought face to face with the fishing industry, and a reasonable decision would be come to without any unreasonable expense being incurred. I spoke the other night on the question which was raised by the hon. Baronet as to a Fishery Board. I alluded to the cost of transit on the Continent. Nothing is more striking than to find within 400 or 500, miles of this country what the price of transit is. I have not been able to obtain precisely the figures I want, but I find that the cost of transport, including packages and ice, per 100 kilos, or 2¼ cwt., from Ostend to Coire, 400 miles, is 16s. 6d. I find that the price of fish in the summer in the Engadine was—turbot, 2 francs 50 cents per kilo, or 2⅓ lbs. to 3 francs 50 cents; salmon, 3 francs 50 cents; pollock, 2 francs to 2 francs 20 cents; haddocks, 1 franc to 2 francs 50 cents; soles, 2 francs 50 cents to 3 francs; and whiting from 1 franc to 1 franc 50 cents. Comparing that price with the prices paid in my own house during the summer, I find that there was scarcely any difference between the price of fish at Ostend and in London, although, in the carriage to London, ice and packages were included. I come now to the very important question of the Canals. I certainly expected to have heard something rather stronger from the right hon. Gentleman to-night with respect to the Canals than we have heard, because last Friday night there was a somewhat academic discussion on the State purchase of the Railways. The right hon. Gentleman entirely discouraged the idea of a State purchase of Railways; but I heard with great pleasure what the right hon. Gentleman said on the question of the State dealing with canals. According to The Times of Saturday last the right hon. Gentleman said that hon. Members who introduced the questionWould do much more good towards attaining, the objects they have in view if they were to devote their attention to the possibility of the State acquiring the Canals of the country. To work the Canals would not require a great deal of stock or a large staff. The carriage upon the Canals would always be carried on by private carriers, and they might be purchased at a reasonable cost. Parliament has tried, but 1847 hitherto vainly, to prevent Canals passing into the hands of Railway Companies, and I believe that there is a strong desire among the authorities of our great towns that some further step should be taken to preserve the competition of our artificial water-ways.Now, such a statement, coming from the President of the Board of Trade, and from an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, is very significant, and, in my opinion, a statement of the highest importance. I am bound to say that I should be glad to see the Government screw up their courage to deal with that question. I believe there never was a time when they could deal with the Canal Question with so much advantage to the country as now, and if it is to dealt with at all it is to be dealt with now. I know it is said that Canals cannot compete with Railway Companies. If that be so, I should like to know how it comes about that out of 3,760 miles of Canals the Railways obtained possession of one-half and the control practically of three-fourths? If they could compete with them, why should they have bought them up and keep hold of them and consent to pay enormously out of their own revenues in order to provide dividends for the Canal shareholders? An old friend of mine, who then had more experience of Canals than any other man in England, told me a short time ago of a particular Canal connected with, or under the control of, one of the great Railway Companies, with, of course, a Board comprised of a certain number of Railway Directors, and, whenever any movement was made in the direction of additional enterprize on the part of the Canal Company, down came the Chairman of the Railway Company and said—"Why do you wish to do this? You have got your dividend, what more do you want? We cannot allow this thing to be done." The consequence is that, year after year, the Railway Company takes from its revenues a considerable sum and pays it over to the Canal proprietors, in order to keep the Canal in a moribund condition. Then, again, it may be said that the Canals cannot compete with the Railway Companies. Let me mention the case of the Aire and Calder Canal, which has been competing most successfully with the Railway Companies, is doing excellent work, and carrying considerable traffic from South to West Yorkshire and elsewhere. They are carrying it at rates far below that which 1848 any Railway Company would over quote for the same distances. These Canal Companies have improved and deepened their Canals, they have put on steam tugs to draw the barges, and they have a new kind of vessel by which the coal is put into the barges. The boats run down to the barges, and then the whole of the ship's bottom is raised by hydraulic power, and the coal is put on board unbroken and carried with the greatest possible advantage. On the Shropshire Union Canal the North Western Company contemplate the building of several light locomotives by means of which they propose to get rid of the horse work, and to run a train, so to speak, of barges by these light locomotives, which will be placed on rails laid on the canal side. The fact is that the Railway Companies have entirely deadened all enterprize on our water ways, with the result that the heavy traffic of our inland towns has been especially handicapped. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will have the courage to deal with this question when the Bill gets in into Committee. It has been foreshadowed as within the range of possibility that the Government may purchase the canals, and I should like to see the Minister who would have the courage to do it. I believe it will redound greatly to his honour and credit, and be of advantage to the country. The purchase could be effected now at a very low cost, and I think that a provision ought to be inserted in the present Bill enabling him to do so if he likes. There would be no necessity for giving the Railway Companies any compensation for taking the canals out of their hands. There could be no injustice, because the Railway Companies have acquired them in opposition to the spirit and intention of the Legislature, and not with a view of facilitating enterprize. On the contrary, they have put a stop to enterprize in opposition to the spirit of our legislation, and altogether in opposition to public policy. I therefore think the time has come when we may look forward to a considerable development of canal enterprize if we once get them free from the control of the Railway Companies. What is wanted is some uniformity of management, the spending of a little money upon them, and a little enterprize; and then the water ways of 1849 England will be just as useful to the heavy industries of the country as are those of France and Germany. I only propose now to refer for a moment to the remarkable results of cheap transport in this country. Perhaps I can give no better illustration of this than that which I gave two years ago—namely, that of the Parcels Post. Two years ago the Parcels Post carried 300,000 packages a-year. I believe that this year the number has been increased to 300,000, and 55 per cent of this traffic goes to the Railway Companies. Instead of the railway parcel traffic having fallen off, I am told that it has actually increased. That is an illustration of the sort of bargain the Railway Companies succeeded in making with the late Mr. Fawcett when he was at the head of the Post Office. As I have said, the Railway Companies get 55 per cent of the traffic, and they do not collect, invoice, book, or deliver the parcels, but have simply to carry them. They have nothing to do but to receive them en masse, and carry them to their destination. The Railway Companies will probably receive this year for their service from £400,000 to £420,000 from the Post Office. But will the House believe it? the Post Office have already found out that the bargain they made with the railways is so bad that they can carry the parcels cheaper by means of the old stage coach than they can by railway. Every night there may be seen leaving St. Martin's-le-Grand an old stage coach with a driver on the box, and a guard with pistols in his holsters, the roof laden with parcels, on its way to Brighton, a freshly laden coach coming back the next morning. Yet the whole of this traffic could go down in a van with very little trouble. I am told by the Postmaster General that the Post Office are saving £1,500 a-year by means of that one coach, and that they contemplate adding more coaches to run between Manchester and Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester, and other large towns. I think I could not give a better illustration than this of the employment of the old stage coach in preference to the railway in order to show what sort of a bargain the Post Office made with the Railway Companies. There is another Bill down on the Paper to-night for second reading in reference to this question. This is altogether a matter for Committee, and as the right hon. 1850 Gentleman has said the question is not a Party question, I believe it is not even a railway question, and although the railway shareholders will in my opinion be benefited in every possible way by regulation and control, it is a question of the rights and convenience of the public. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to allow the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) to be read a second time and sent to the Committee together with this Bill. My hon. Friend has given more thought and pains to this matter, perhaps, than any hon. Member of the House, and I confess that I myself am very much indebted to him for information with regard to it. There are some clauses in his Bill which, I think, are even better than those of this Bill, and they might, I believe, with advantage, be placed side by side with them, in order to allow the best provision and enactment to be subtracted from the two. For instance, the Bill of the Government does not provide for through rates, but the Bill of my hon. Friend does that. The Government Bill does not provide for undue preference being decided as a question of fact. Now, I think the absence of that provision is likely to lead to many appeals which, after all, is what is dreaded by the trader. I am of opinion that undue preference should be dealt with as a question of fact, and not as a question of law, which would have to be sent from Court to Court for decision. Then the present Bill would give a double appeal, while that of my hon. Friend would allow only one appeal to the House of Lords, and I think that a single appeal ought to be sufficient. My hon. Friend's Bill provides that wherever a higher charge is made to some traders than others, the proof that the charge is not prejudicial shall be laid on the Railway Company. I think that a just clause, because it has been ruled by the Commissioners that a trader cannot proceed unless he can prove damage sustained from the fact that another person's goods are being carried at a lower rate than his own. No one can hold, I think, that a man who pays the higher carriage is not at a disadvantage, although he may not be able to prove that he has suffered loss thereby. I trust, therefore, these considerations will receive attention at the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, whom I can 1851 assure that we on this side of the House will use our best efforts to further the passage of his measure, in the hope that we may pass this Session an Act just and satisfactory to the traders, the Railway Companies, and the people of this country.
§ SIR EDWARD BIRKBECK (Norfolk, E.)
said, that everyone must be glad at the prospect of the proposed legislation on this important subject being carried through Parliament in the course of the present Session. He thought from an agricultural point of view the present system of railway rates had operated most hardly and unfairly upon the farmers of the country. Under the present system a farmer might see foreign goods taken by the Railway Companies at extremely low rates, hurried past his farm, and yet find that when he sent his own produce to market he had to pay double the rate charged to his foreign rivals. When he saw the way in which the British trader was thus boycotted, he regarded the action of the Railway Companies as nothing short of a scandal. He was glad to hear that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) was going to give the Government every assistance in passing the Bill into law. He hoped that the House would stand firm with regard to the question of preferential rates, because he believed that there were few trades in the country which had not been affected by the present system. A most remarkable letter had reached him from an estate agent, who said that, desiring to send some English timber to London, he had to pay 24s. 2d. a ton, whereas if he brought American timber from London to the same railway station he would only have to pay 8s. 6d. a ton; the letter also went on to say that, if he wanted foreign timber, it would be brought at 8s. or 9s., and that if he wanted English timber the Companies would charge him the full rates. He was quite sure that his hon. Friend the Member for the St. Ives Division of Cornwall (Mr. Bolitho) knew full well what had taken place in the past with regard to foreign potatoes sent to London as compared with potatoes and other vegetables grown in Cornwall. If any one could have any doubts at all about the Bill he had certainly his doubts with regard to the officials of the Board of Trade, who he 1852 believed would be awe-struck by the officials of the Railway Companies. The railway interest he feared would be all powerful with the Department, and this might result in the traders not getting justice. His right hon. Friend had said a few words with regard to the fish rates. He (Sir Edward Birkbeck) was sure that all would agree that it was a matter of great importance that good and wholesome food should be distributed in the large towns in the United Kingdom at such prices as would allow the poor to buy, and at such rates of carriage as would allow those engaged in the fishing industry to increase the supply. There had been no opportunity of discussing the provisions of the Bill which he had introduced, to deal with the question of fish rates, but he pointed out that those Members who opposed the making of fair and cheap rates for fish conveyance were making a great mistake, and further that the Railway Companies would find it very much to their advantage to carry fish on those terms. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella) had alluded to the question of the Bill going to the Committee on Trade. No doubt it would be sent to that Committee, and he trusted that some of the clauses of the Bill which he had himself introduced for the regulation of fish rates would be included in the measure. He believed it would be of great advantage, and personally could see no reason why that course should not be adopted. A case had come to his knowledge of the sale last year of 523 packages of fish, where the gross sum produced was £194 3s. 6d., and the amount of railway charge £143 3s. 9d., or 74 per cent. This was not an un- common case, and he could give numbers of instances of the same nature where the fishermen got little or no return for the fish sent to market, owing to the charges of the Railway Companies, and not only that, but they frequently made a loss upon the sales. Within the last 10 days 100 tons of fresh herrings had been sold as manure at Lowestoft instead of being sent to the various towns where they would have been of great use to the poor. Again, in July, 1886, 1,000 tons of herrings were thrown overboard in consequence of the railway rates. A gentleman had written to him from Penzance to say that during two days of last year 39,000 mackerel were 1853 thrown into the sea from 10 boats in consequence of the railway rates, which prevented their being sent to the London or any other market, that 40,000 mackerel were sold for manure, and that at St. Ives, and another town, 45,000 mackerel were destroyed on the same night. He had received a letter from the Island of Harris, on the West Coast of Scotland, to say that some fishermen had been out for two or three days, and having sent a consignment to Manchester the produce of the sale amounted to 8d., while another poor man only received a ld. stamp as the result of his catch. There was one Railway Company against which he did not wish to say one word, and for which he had the highest regard, the Great Eastern Railway, because, he believed, they were doing their utmost for the district through which the Railway passed; but the House would be aware that they supplied salt water to the inhabitants of London in three gallon barrels; the water was obtained at Lowestoft and brought a distance of 117 miles, delivered in casks weighing 40 lbs. to various parts, the casks being afterwards collected, and the whole charge was 6d. Yet, when it became a question of sending up the cheaper kinds of fish for the poor in the large towns, they charged such oppressive rates that it was impossible that the fish could be sent. In many instances foreign fish were conveyed at very low rates, while the poor English fisherman was crowded out of the market. A statement was made the other night by the hon. Member (Mr. Mundella) speaking on the subject of foreign importations, that they were not of any importance, but, as a matter of fact, in the first three months of this year there had been a considerable increase in the importation of foreign fish.
§ SIR EDWARD BIRKBECK
said, he was confining his observations to fish brought from abroad, the importation of which was increasing very largely, and he would say that unless our Railway Companies consented to meet the fishing industry in an amicable way by granting reduced rates, he feared that the foreigner would take the greater part of our fishing trade. He was sure that the masses in our large towns required a reform as regards the question 1854 of railway rates, and no one knew that better than the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade, for he had been told so yesterday by those who distributed fish in London amongst the masses—namely, the costermongers, who said that the poor in the large towns felt a very deep interest in this question, and pressed the right hon. Gentleman very strongly to do his utmost in regard to cheap traffic by trying to persuade the Railway Companies to do justice to the fishermen as well as the poor of the United Kingdom. He (Sir Edward Birkbeck) hoped that this Bill might be the means of causing the rates for the carriage of fish to be reduced, although he had grave doubts as to whether it would have that effect. He believed that as regards the fisheries of the United Kingdom nothing short of the Bill introduced by himself would meet the question, and it would be a very serious thing to those hon. Members who refused to vote for cheap rates for carriage of fish, because they would find out at the next General Election that the fishermen as well as the "masses" in London and other large towns would plainly speak out their mind upon the subject.
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON (Stirling)
said, they had heard to-night with great pleasure the speech of the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade, and he thought, if the same spirit which actuated that speech continued to influence him during the course of the Bill through the House, there would be no difficulty raised on the part of the Railway Companies. Of course they did not entirely agree with everything that the right hon. Gentleman had said that evening. For instance, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the maximum rate being perfectly useless. Generally speaking, it was useless for long distances, but maximum rates for short distances could not be so described. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to attach considerable importance to the clause known as the Conciliation Clause, of which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bright-side Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) was the author. He was sure it would be very satisfactory if that Conciliation Clause should work as it was hoped, and expected it would work. He had had in foreign countries some experience of similiar legislation, and he was satis- 1855 fied that the results of that clause would be to add further expense to the settlement of disputes which might be raised. In the United States of America it had not been found to act, or give such uniform satisfaction as had been looked for. He remembered that not long ago in the Report of a Committee in one State it was alleged that they found their duties perfectly useless, and that they did not see how they could be of any use to the public unless they were furnished with compulsory powers. However, if the Conciliation Clause did act as it was hoped, he was sure that no one would be more gratified than those connected with railways. He had heard with great satisfaction the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of preferential rates. He thought that no man could say that the mere fact of an article being foreign should entitle it to any preference over another article; and he was thoroughly convinced that it was in the interest of railways as well as the public that where goods were carried on the same conditions and under the same circumstances they ought over the same line of railway to be carried at the same rate. He thought there could be no doubt that when this Bill came before the Standing Committee it would be shown to demonstration that the idea of doing away altogether with special rates would mean ruin to many cities and towns in the Kingdom. He would not go into the details of the matter, which he thought would best be placed before the Committee. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Mundella) was very much enamoured of railway statistics. [Mr. MUNDELLA: No, no!] Well, then, he was desirous of obtaining railway statistics, and he thought by means of them he would be the more able to lay down bard and fast rules. The right hon. Gentleman had expressed his general approval of the Bill on the ground that it was a fac simile of a Bill which he himself introduced; but as he went on he showed that the two Bills were very dissimilar indeed, and he found many things very different, and which he did not like as well as the provisions of his own Bill. One thing, however, he was clear about, and that was the advantage of conferring greater powers on the Board of Trade. He (Mr. J. C. Bolton) had always found the officers of the Board of Trade remarkably courteous, and desirous of doing everything they 1856 could in the interest of railways and o the public; but he had never yet discovered that they were awe-struck at the sight of railway officials as, he thought, the hon. Baronet opposite alleged; he had found them possessed of considerable knowledge of the matter with which they had to deal, and, generally speaking, very desirous of applying that knowledge in the interest both of the public and the railways. But his right hon. Friend went on to support his argument in favour of giving increased powers to the Government Department by a reference to the result of bargains made between the Post Office and Railway Companies, by which he said the Post Office were losing an enormous amount of money. His tale about the stage coach was perfectly new to him. He was in no doubt that it was quite correct notwithstanding, and he assumed that it was due to some quarrel between the Post Office and the Railway Company. But he had this to say, that it was a very poor support of the argument for handing over the management of Railway Companies when the Post Office made such a bad bargain as that. His right hon. Friend had given the rates charged in this country for fish; he had given the charge from Ostend to Coire, and he stated that the rate for 100 kilos, or 2¼cwt., was 16s. 6d.—consequently the charge per ton was about £8, and the distance about 350 or 450 miles.
§ MR. J. C. BOLTON
said, it made no I difference to his argument. The very highest rate charged by the Railway Companies from Wick to London, a distance of 756 miles, was £3 15s. a-ton for small quantities, as compared with £8 a-ton, including ice and packages, from Ostend to Coire. An enormous deal had been said about this fish traffic. The right hon. Gentleman told them he was overwhelmed with complaints from the North of Scotland as to the oppressive charges on the carriage of fish, many of which were well founded. What were the well-founded charges? The charge which met with the approval of the right hon. Gentleman was £8 a-ton for 450 miles; and the charge of which he disapproved was £3 15s. a-ton for nearly double the distance. The charge for fish was 75s. per ton, and that he had told the House was the 1857 highest charge made from Scotland and for small quantities. The charge from Wick to London for three-ton lots was 60s. a-ton, and it would be found that this amounted to 0 32d. per lb. He had taken the trouble to obtain the price of fish for three years in the North of Scotland and in London. First of all, he would take the case of herrings. These were sent to London in barrels weighing 222 lbs., and usually contained 666 herrings; that was three herrings to the lb. He found that the average price for the three years, 1884, 1885, 1886, in Wick, was 18s. 6d. per barrel, and the carriage during those three years did not vary, although it was a little less now; he found that the carriage was 7s. a barrel, and that the market charges in London amounted to 1s. 9d., making a total cost of 27s. 3d.; that was equivalent to 1½d. per lb., or ½d. a fish. He also had the opportunity of ascertaining the price paid in London by the large consumers of fish. He found, on the average of three years, that the large Railway Hotel Companies in London paid for their herrings at the rate of 4.83d. per lb., or a little more than 1½d. per fish. He must leave hon. Gentlemen to imagine what became of the difference between what the fish cost when it left the market and what was added to it before it arrived on the consumer's table. He had also some particulars with respect to cod. He found that at Wick, during these three years, the average price of a cod of 14 lbs. was 1s. 7½d., or a fraction over 1d. per lb., and the carriage of the cod during those three years was 5½6d; that the market charges were 1.83d., and that the total cost of a 14 lb. cod when it left the market was 2s. 2½43d. From the same sources he found that the average price paid for cod at the great railway hotels in London during this time was 5s. 3⅝d.—that was to say, there was a difference between the cost of the fish when it left the market and the price paid for it at the hotel of 3s. 1d. That sum disappeared somewhere between the market and the railway hotel. Hon. Gentlemen might suppose that these prices, being some years old, were not the price of to-day. He had taken the trouble to ascertain the prices at fish shops in London. He had gone, not to the biggest shops in Bond Street and 1858 elsewhere, but to the outskirts; and, about a month or six weeks ago, one fishmonger sent him the long list which he held in his hand, and the price asked for cod fish was 1s., 1s. 3d., and 1s. 6d. per lb. Then he went to another fishmonger, who said he would supply it at 1s. 3d. and 1s. 6d. a–1b.; and he went to a third, who told him his price was 8d., 10d., and 1s. a–1b., and he also said that his price for herrings was 1s. 6d. or 2s. a-dozen, or nearly 2d. each. Another fishmonger told him that his price for herrings was 1s. 6d. and 2s. a-dozen, and a third one named 2s. a-dozen, and no abatement. Would hon. Gentlemen compare the prices charged by Railway Companies for fish from the extreme North of Scotland, keeping in mind the difference between the cost when it left the market, and its price when it reached the consumer's house? The highest charge, as he had already pointed out, was 0.4d. per 1b., but that was for small quantities by fast trains; for larger quantities, but not by slower trains, the charge was 0.32d. per 1b. Supposing the contention of the hon. Baronet the Member for East Norfolk (Sir Edward Birkbeck) carried into effect, or that he had availed himself of the opportunity he had about a fortnight or three weeks ago of getting his Bill read a second time—supposing that Bill had been before the House, it would have been seen that the rate which the hon. Baronet proposed as the actual charge for the fish for the distance of 756 miles would be ¼d per 1b., or, strictly speaking, 0.24d., whereas the charge of the Railway Companies was 0.32d. If that Bill had been carried, by the time a man had consumed 12 1bs. of fish he would have been richer by 1d. But, taking the shorter distances, the hon. Baronet's Bill provided for a distance of 50 miles, to be charged for at the rate of 4d. per cwt., which was equivalent to 6s. 8d. a-ton. He did not think he could bring a stronger case against the Railway Companies than that. For a short distance, say 50 miles, the maximum rate would be charged, in all probability, say, 4d. per ton per mile, or 16s. 8d.; and, if so, under the Bill of the hon. Baronet, the shipper of fish would get it carried for 50 miles for 10s. a-ton less than he now paid, and the consumers would get their fish at 1/20d. per lb. cheaper. The 1859 hon. Baronet said that foreign fish was sent over to London at low rates, and that the poor old fishermen were crowded out of the market. But was foreign fish sent here by railway? He imagined that it came by ship, and, if so, that the bulk of it would be brought by British steamers; but, whether English or foreign, he imagined that the Scotch ports were open to English as well as foreign vessels. It was not so far from the North of Scotland to London as it was from Norway to London; and he remembered a speech, not long ago, attributed to the hon. Baronet, in which he said that foreigners were getting advantages in railway rates for fish. All he could say was that, if such was the case, it was entirely unknown to him, and he was quite certain that there was no preferential rate for foreign over British fish from any place in Scotland. He noticed very recently that a complaint was sent up to the Board of Trade from Wick, which was signed by a gentleman holding some official position there. The complaint of that gentleman was that they were undersold in the English market by fish brought from Norway and Sweden. Could there be anything more absurd or more perfectly ridiculous than that? Why, the vessel which took the fish from Norway and Sweden could as easily take it from the North of Scotland, and thus undersell the Railway Company. What had led him into this long explanation of the fish trade was the persistent demands made to have relief from oppressive rates charged for fish from Scotland. He thought he had shown that the very highest charge was 0.4d.; that the difference between the rate proposed by the friends of the fisherman was, at the utmost, ⅙d. less; and that for large quantities from the North of Scotland the difference would only be ⅓d. less; and, therefore, the oppression under which they were alleged to rest would not be removed by the Bill of the hon. Baronet.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, N.W.)
said, he thought that no Bill of greater importance to the agricultural interest than that which the Government was now asking to be read a second time had ever been introduced into that House. He was delighted to hear the statement of the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Bolton) that he agreed that there should 1860 be no preferential rates as between English and foreign goods. The hon. Gentleman stated that distinctly, and he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) wished to emphasize it because, coming from a man of his high authority on all railway questions, he thought they might be encouraged to believe that, at any rate, they would be able to embody in the Bill such a provision as would prevent in future any undue preference being given to foreign goods. The three questions to which agriculturists attached most importance were, no doubt, in the first place, preferential charges; in the second place, terminal charges, which they hoped would be modified and regulated by the Bill; and, thirdly, the question of overcharge for the carriage of goods from one small station to another, which ought to be got rid of. They were not asking for equal mileage rates; but when they found how they were handicapped, and obliged to use their own carts simply because the railway rates were prohibitive, he thought the agriculturists were entitled to know that the Bill would help them in this matter. The hon. Member for Stirling had produced a statement with regard to the cost of fish, and he had shown the enormous profits which the middlemen were making in the trade. The same thing occurred with agricultural produce, and if they looked at meat, bread, butter and milk, and compared the price at which they were sold with that which was obtained by the producers, it would be seen that some people were making a large profit while the farmer was working at a loss. He was, therefore, glad that the hon. Gentleman had thought it right to introduce that question into the discussion. It was one which at the present time certainly required very serious consideration, because the prices obtained by those who sold to the consumers were out of all proportion to those paid to the farmers. It was, indeed, manifestly unfair that agriculturists should be handicapped to the extent of having to pay for the carriage of all their goods in this country half as much again as the rate charged upon foreign goods. This was a system which ought, and, as he hoped, would be put an end to. With regard to the tribunal before which railway cases were to be brought, he ventured to hope that it would be found effective, and one to which the public 1861 might appeal in cases of necessity without the extravagant expense to which they had hitherto been put. He also hoped that the tribunal would be able to deal efficiently with railways which ran into the same town, and, perhaps, into the same station, whose trains started two or three minutes before the trains on the other lines arrived; and also with cases where one had to walk a distance of half-a-mile or so because two Rail- way Companies could not agree, and move his goods from one station to another at serious cost. With regard to the question of Canals, he pointed out that in his part of the country they suffered great inconvenience for all the Canal Companies were becoming bankrupt. There was a water communication from the sea at Littlehampton to the Thames. It was most useful to the district through which it passed, which was not touched by Railway Companies; but it did not pay, and was offered for a moderate sum of money. He now under- stood that there was a probability of the Government taking up this question and acquiring certain Canals. All he would say on this point was that he thought their action would come a little too late, as many of the Canals had stopped, and this was to be regretted, because a great water way to the Thames was a thing of the greatest use and importance. He thought that in this matter they ought to have followed the example of Germany and Austria, where the Canals had been kept up in the interest of the State. He was glad that it had fallen to the lot of his right hon. Friend to introduce this Bill. Of course, the Committee stage would afford an opportunity of going more closely into the details of the measure, where it would be the duty of every Member who knew the wants and requirements of the agricultural interest to see that the rights of the farmers of the country were honestly dealt with and properly maintained.
§ SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)
said, he had no intention of continuing the desultory discussion which had arisen, except to say that he had in his hand the result of an inquiry made two or three years ago with regard to the conveyance of fish from Edinburgh to London. What had been charged for that? He found the figures were for conveying herrings by railway from Edinburgh to London 60s. 1862 to 68s. per ton, according to the quantity taken. The cost of conveying herrings on the German railways for the same distance would be from 23s. 8d. to 26s. He could quote similar examples with regard to other articles of consumption—the difference being equally striking. It would not be profitable to pursue that argument, for no one in the House would take upon himself to insist upon legislation involving a reduction of rates below those which the Railway Companies were actually charging, and were empowered now to charge, provided they were bonâ fide rates, and not preferential rates. He said nothing of the policy of charging high rates. He thought the Railway Companies would find it to their advantage to lower their charges for goods as they had reduced them for passengers. Before going to the provisions of the Bill, he should like to say something on the question of statistics and the question of the purchase of the Canals. He wished they had the statistics as regards the Canals and Railways. He had a conviction that the purchase of the Canals by the Government would not redound to the advantage of the Revenue; but it was difficult to justify that impression, because he was unable to find any statistics in regard to late years. The last Return moved was before 1870; and they found whilst there was, if anything, an increase of the tonnage carried on the canals, there was a very large diminution of their income from the time that Railways were established and became general. It seemed to be the greatest possible difficulty for the Canals to compete with the Railways. Mention had been made of the Aire and Calder Canal; but the circumstances were peculiar. They must not draw any conclusion from the profitable working of that Canal, which was rather in the nature of an improved navigation than a Canal properly so called. On the other hand, in the upper reaches of the Thames, and even a short distance above London, there was scarcely any traffic, because it was impossible for the navigation to compete with the Railways. He thought it would be very dangerous, without careful inquiry, for the Government to purchase the Canals; and it would be deluding the nation to suggest that any great result was likely to accrue. The cost of the purchase of the Canals would 1863 be the smallest item. When they had purchased the Canals they would have to increase their depth and width, so that they would he able to accommodate vessels of large size if they wanted them to compete with Railways, and that would be equal to the reconstruction of Canals. In this country they were in a peculiar position. They had ranges of mountains of considerable altitude, running North and South and from East to West, and in order that these Canals might be carried through these ranges works of great extent were necessary. It would not do to compare the Canals here with the Canals in Holland, Belgium, and North Germany, where there was a dead flat extending almost from Holland to the frontier of Russia. That warning he thought it right to give, especially as there was an idea throughout the country that much might be done by purchasing Canals. His opinion was entirely opposed to it. He thought they must rely upon Railways. Upon the whole, he thought that the Bill would work advantageously. There were, however, some portions of it with which he was not altogether satisfied. He believed that those traders who had come into contact with the Railway Commissioners would say that, speaking generally, the decisions of the Commissioners had been just, and he saw no reason why so great a change should be made in the tribunal as was contemplated by the Bill. But, however that might be, of this he was certain—that it would not do to appoint one Judge for England, another for Scotland, and another for Ireland. It would not do to have the possibility of three different decisions being given under similar circumstances. Traders of the three countries had to compete with each other, and the law ought to be the same throughout—at any rate, so far as railway traffic was concerned. He thought that there should be power on the part of the traders to require through rates, and the Commissioners ought to be able to grant through rates on the application of the traders as well as on the application of the Railway Companies. The claim of the traders for damages might, under the Bill, extend back for a period of two years. That he considered altogether insufficient. He cited instances of Railway 1864 Companies delaying to redress the claims of traders for long periods, and giving way at last, and he saw no reason why the statutory limitation of six years should be so greatly curtailed. With regard to appeals, everybody knew how apt the Railway Companies were to drag traders with comparatively small means into Court after Court. In his opinion there should be but one appeal, and the question of undue preference should be considered a question of fact, of which the Commissioners should take cognizance as a jury. As to the question of grouping, he had occasion to inquire into that matter, and from his own personal experience he was able to say that the Railway Companies were not always just. They grouped in many cases the articles that were manufactured, and they did not group the raw material from which the manufactures were produced. With regard to the clauses dealing with classification, he agreed that the Companies had a right to demand reasonable rates; but to enact that the maximum rates should be equivalent on the whole to the present rates would simply be to delay the settlement of the question. That was, however, a question for discussion in Committee. He did not think that those who insisted on station terminals being entirely forbidden were acting in the interests of the traders. In his opinion, it should be the aim of those who were charged with the new classification to split up as much as possible the charge for service on the railway, always taking care, of course, that the total charge was a reasonable one. After giving some instances of undue preferential rates in South Wales, and between Gloucester and Birmingham, he concluded by urging that the Bill ought to be read a second time, and, if it were improved in Committee and passed this Session, the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade might be congratulated upon having accomplished a good work. He would say nothing about the provisions of his own Bill, the differences between which and that of the Government had been so fully explained by his right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), and would only appeal to the Government to offer no opposition to its second reading, in 1865 order that it might be referred, along with the Government Bill, to the Grand Committee on Trade.
§ MR. GROTRIAN (Hull, E.)
said, he wished to deal with this question from the point of view of the public as against the great railway interest. In doing so, he recognized the disadvantage of his position, having regard to the fact that the latter was so well and ably represented in the House, while the Lobbies were invaded by a great array of talent in the persons of gentlemen whom he had met in the Committee Rooms of the House when railway questions were the subject of inquiry. The hon. Baronet the Member for East Norfolk (Sir Edward Birkbeck) had expressed the hope that the Government would be firm on the question of preferential rates; he ventured to go further, and hoped that they would stand firm with regard to the 25th clause of the Bill, and also in regard to other matters in which it was desirable that the public interest should be protected. Clause 25 provided that whenever it was shown that a Railway Company charged traders in any district lower rates for the same charged similar services than they charged to traders in another district, the burden of proof that such lower charge did not amount to undue preference should he with the Railway Company. He wished to call attention to the words "any district," because it was of importance where a district was on the line of a great Railway Company, and where that Company had an absolute monopoly, that the traders in it should be protected against undue preference. In one place where undue preference was given against an individual trader it might be called retail preference, but wholesale preference where it was given against all the traders in a district. Unless the Railway Commissioners had power to deal with this matter, it would be in the power of a great Railway Company to set up one district and suppress another, because they could so arrange their rates that one district would obtain an absolute preference. The district of Hull which he had the honour to represent was an illustration of this system, and it was situated on the North-Eastern Railway. The rate from Hull to Leeds, a distance of 51 miles, was 7s. 11d.; from Hartlepool to Leeds, a distance of 72 miles, it was 7s. 11d., and from New- 1866 castle-on-Tyne, a distance of 93 miles, it was 7s. 11d. also. There might be a difference of a penny or two, but the rate was substantially the same from the three places. The North-Eastern Railway Company owned the Tyne Dock, and the Docks at Hartlepool, and, of course, they had a large pecuniary interest in fostering the trade at these places as against Hull, because they had invested millions sterling in the Docks mentioned; but he argued that, from the point of view of the people, it was necessary that they should be protected against this system. Again, from Pontefract to Hull, a distance of 42 miles, the rate was 7s. 6d. a-ton; whereas, from West Hartlepool and Newcastle respectively, distant 81 and 101 miles, the rate was 8s. 4d. a-ton. Now, there was a difference there in distance of 59 miles; it was 59 miles longer to Pontefract from Newcastle than from Hull, while the only addition to the rate was 10d. Take Brancepeth, which was 106 miles from Hull, and the charge was 14s. 7d.; it was 5s. 10d. for 30 miles from West Hartlepool, and 5s. for 21 miles from Newcastle—now, there was a difference there of 76 miles as against Hull. When they wanted to go North, and the distance there was against them, there was an addition of 8s. 9d. for 76 miles; but when the Northern ports—Newcastle, for example—wanted to come South they carried 59 miles further for 10d. extra. A table which had not been disputed had been laid before the Select Committee on Railway Rates and Fares of 1881, which showed that the charges one way averaged 1.323d. per ton, per mile, and that, in the other direction, they were from Hartlepool, .947d., and from Newcastle on-Tyne, .867d. per ton per mile. So that it would be seen that Hull was deprived of the advantage of its geographical position by the system which now prevailed, and the trading ground which naturally belonged to the town of Hull was reserved to the North-Eastern Railway Company and its Docks. It was alleged that the tribunal of the Railway Commissioners was always open; but he said that the public had no chance against combining Railway Companies with their experts and wealth. As well might a starving man be told that a grand hotel was open to him; and it was, therefore, incumbent on the Government to protect 1867 the public by giving them easy access to this tribunal, and investing the Commissioners with such powers as would enable them to give redress in such cases as he had described. The Railway Companies could hardly be expected to do other than protect their own interest to the best of their ability, whether it was to the advantage of the public or not, and therefore it was that the latter looked to the Government for protection. He pointed out that in recent years the Railway Companies had in many cases acquired Canals, or sections of them, over which they exercised control. They had not, however, used them for the purposes of traffic, but had allowed them to silt up, and thus deprived the public of the advantages which those works had afforded in previous years. He ventured to say on this point that if this acquisition were not restricted or controlled, the Canals ought, at any rate, not to be allowed to become useless by silting up. There were, no doubt, two sides to the question of fish traffic, and it had been very ably dealt with by the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Bolton), although he thought the illustrations of the hon. Member, were not absolutely conclusive when he compared the market prices with those paid at the hotels belonging to the great Railway Companies, for it only sowed that the hotels were extravagant in paying so high a price for fish. He again urged in the interest of the public, and especially in the interest of the Division which he had the honour to represent, and which bad suffered so long under the present system, that the Government would take care that the 25th section of the Bill, with its subsections, was carried without any modification in the interest of the Railway Companies. It was stated by a deputation which waited on the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade on Friday last from the Northern parts that they wished to be protected from the competition of Hull, and it was alleged that the Railway Company came under a Parliamentary obligation to continue the rates which prevailed in 1854. But he distinctly challenged that statement, because he had not been able to find any clause of an Act of Parliament which justified it. If, however, there was such a clause, it was, in his 1868 opinion, time that the injustice involved should be removed.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
said, he gladly acknowledged the spirit in which the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade had approached this question; and if he (Mr. Hunter) made some severe strictures on certain clauses of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman would understand that his objection was not to the purpose he had in view, but to the manner in which it had been carried out. He admitted, with regard to a number of secondary and subordinate matters, that there were some excellent clauses in the Bill; but with respect to the all-important matters that affected the trader in connection with the railways, the Bill, so far from being an improvement of the existing law, impaired, weakened, and went far to destroy the safeguards which the law had thrown around the traders, and it also seriously impaired the efficiency of the tribunal which had been appointed to deal with questions arising between the traders and the Railway Companies. The three vital points in the Bill were the constitution of the Railway Commission, the question of maximum rates, and the question of undue preference. The proposed change in the Railway Commission was one for which the right hon. Gentleman had produced no authority at all. He had followed in the footsteps of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella); but that right hon. Gentleman had no authority for the change, for which there was no reason whatever, while there was every reason against it. Up to 1872 the Court of Common Pleas—a most powerful tribunal from a legal point of view—had discharged the duties now performed by the Railway Commission; but in consequence of the public dissatisfaction which had been expressed a Commission was appointed to inquire into the working of that system. That Commission proposed that the jurisdiction of the Court of Common Pleas should be transferred to a tribunal in which the lay element should preponderate. That was the peculiar merit and advantage of the Railway Commission. No one who had any experience of the working of the Railway Commission could enter- 1869 tain any doubt of the enormous value of the change that was made in the law by the substitution of the Railway Commission for the Court of Common Pleas. The public were at a great disadvantage in their contests with the Raiway Companies in regard to the long purse, and even, to a great extent, in respect of their inferiority of knowledge; the Railway Companies possessed an enormous advantage from their possession of highly skilled expert witnesses. In these contests the Railway Commission was invaluable. They were not without some authority as to the constitution of the Railway Commission. In 1881 a Select Committee containing a large number of Railway Managers was appointed to inquire into its working. The Committee sat two years, and took an enormous quantity of evidence, and the conclusion that all except the Railway Managers arrived at was that the present constitution of the Commission should be maintained. In these circumstances he was at a loss to understand on what ground the Government, entirely disregarding the recommendation of the Committee, proposed that a new constitution should be adopted. It was proposed to substitute for the existing Commission a single Judge and two persons representing the lay element. He expressed his conviction that the inevitable result of that constitution would be that the lay element would gradually degenerate and become less important, and that by and by the Government would come to the House, and say the assessors were unnecessary, and they would once more go back to the original tribunal. The Railway Companies were in favour of this change. They would have been extremely ignorant of their own interest if they had opposed it. He did not charge the Railway Managers with being hostile to the traders. Their doctrine was that all interference with them was mischievous and pernicious; and, as was laid down in an excellent book by Mr. Grierson on the subject, they ought to be allowed to charge whatever they liked on any class of goods—and that Companies "should charge what the traffic would bear." Not only did they adopt that as the sole principle of their charges, but they made the Railway Manager the sole judge of what the traffic would bear. Railway Managers opposed the Com- 1870 mission, not because it did not carry out the law, but because it did carry out the law. What they desired was that there should be no law at all, or if there was, that it should be a dead letter, and if it was one or the other, it would be equally satisfactory to them. This Bill, in so far as it altered the constitution of the Railway Commission, was what Railway Managers in their hearts desired, for they knew that the effect of that alteration would be to drive applicants away, and to secure for them that independence of control they desired. There was another powerful influence at work in regard to this matter, and that was the influence of the Board of Trade. He had found from experience that the officials of the Board of Trade were hostile to the views of the traders. When the Committee was appointed in 1881, the Board of Trade used its influence to prevent the hon. Member, who caused that Committee to be appointed, from being Chairman; and the result was that by a narrow majority the Secretary of the Board of Trade was elected to the position. All through that inquiry the whole energies and efforts of the officials of the Board of Trade were directed to one aim and end, and that was to forward the views of the Railway Companies, and to defeat the views of the traders. Sir Thomas Farrer, though an exceedingly able and conscientious public servant, gave evidence which was the echo of the Railway Managers' views. He even supported preferential rates in favour of foreign produce. While he said this, he recognized the honesty, the capacity, and the intelligence of those officials. It was only natural that they should hold the same views as the railway officials, with whom they were brought constantly in contact, while they seldom had an opportunity of hearing the traders' side of the case. There was another influence at work, and that was the attitude of the Legal Profession. From the first moment it was proposed to establish a lay Commission the Legal Profession exhibited great hostility to the proposal. No doubt there was a prejudice on the part of the Legal Profession against any tribunal which did not give predominant power to the legal element. The last Government might have settled this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) might have settled it in 1871 1884, if he had been content with a moderato and sufficient Bill, if he had not attempted ambitious flights; because all that was wanted was to perpetuate the Commission in its present form, and to extend the jurisdiction on two points. The Commission had, no doubt, been a great advantage to traders; but, on the whole, it had failed, and for this reason, that if a trader complained to the Railway, Commission of rates being excessive, the Commission might determine that the terminals were excessive, but they could not touch the question of mileage. The consequence was that, after going to the Railway Commission to ascertain the terminals, the trader must begin an action in the ordinary Courts in respect of the whole charge, of which the terminals were only a part. That was only one illustration of the difficulties and inconveniences with which the present system was fraught. There was one very unfortunate mistake in the Act of 1854. He thought it was Section 6 that provided that there was no remedy except by injunction. The effect of that clause was that no damages could be recovered in a case of undue preference. The Commissioners were limited to an injunction. A trader obtaining such an injunction might confer upon the district in which he resided a certain amount of benefit, for an injunction was extended on the principle of equality to all in the same trade; but the cost of obtaining it would be more than any single trader would care to risk. So far as the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade dealt with the question, it had the heartiest support of those traders. With regard to the second of his three points—he referred to the maximum rates—he was afraid that his opinions differed from the opinions of many traders. The idea of classification of rates had something seductive about it, and it had caught the imagination and fancy of traders; but there was nothing of solid advantage to them in it. In the first place, the time had not come when any classification of rates could be fairly attempted as between the trader and the Railway Company. The only point of importance in the old Act was that maximum rates were rates fixed by contract between the traders and Railway Companies, and the traders were entitled to say to the Companies—"You, having 1872 agreed to those charges, should not charge more, whether reasonable or not." But it was a totally different matter at the present moment, when they did not know whether the maximum rates included payments for station services or if they did not. A case had been alluded to by the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade on this subject, but the decision come to in that case was merely the judgment of a Divisional Court, and was not accepted by traders as one which was general in its application. One of the most unsatisfactory points in the present law was that the appeal was to a Divisional Court and not to the Court of Appeal. Under the Act of 1854 the appeal lay to the Court of Queen's Bench or Common Pleas in banc, which generally consisted of four Judges, and was a very different sort of tribunal from a Divisional Court. He would have been more satisfied if the Government had been content with extending the jurisdiction of the Railway Commissioners, and giving an appeal to the Court of Appeal, which virtually now corresponded to the old Court in banc; and had they negotiated for a new basis of maximum rates they would have done better. But as they stood now, they were at best a delusion as a protection to the public—he meant the rates established now for the first time by the Board of Trade or other public authority, because they necessarily were fixed at a sum which would compensate the Companies even in the worst of times, and were, therefore, obviously too high for ordinary times. He must also express his entire concurrence with the hon. Baronet the Member for North Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) as to the insertion in "another place" of a provision that the new maximum rate should be equal to the old. He regarded as a great defect in the present Bill the absence of any provision for a truck rate. The maximum rates were all on the basis of so much per ton per mile, and 500 lb. was the smallest quantity taken at the truck rate. The great fault of the present system of railway management in England was that the Railway Companies were carrying their trucks almost empty at an enormous less to themselves. The House would hardly be prepared for the astonishing facts that could be established as showing the small quan- 1873 tities of goods carried per truck, and the great loss entailed for the dead weight the engines had to draw. It had been ascertained upon the Brighton Line that the average load per truck under the present system in Great Britain was one ton per truck, each truck being capable of carrying eight or ton tons. Mr. Findlay, on the London and North Western, had had a night's work taken out at Euston, and found that the average truck load was only 1 ton 13 cwt. It was impossible that a system of that sort could be either for the benefit of the Railway Company or the trader. If a truck rate was established, as it had been in America, the result would be that goods could be carried more cheaply to the public, and with more profit to the Railway Companies. In carrying coal from the North to London the Railway Companies were satisfied with receipts of 4.4d. per truck per mile, including the back haulage. That was the rate from the nearest coalfield; but from Durham the rate was only 3.10d. The meaning of that really was that the Companies could grant a truck rate of 6d. a truck a mile at the outside for comparatively short distances; or, in other words, that goods could be carried at 1d. per ton per mile. On the great Philadelphia and Reading Railway he found that the average receipts for all classes of goods, including the most expensive, to be under ½d. a ton a mile. His surprise at that discovery was removed when he found that the average load was from 11 to 13 tons. As regards the question of undue preference, he desired to say a few words. It had been very unsatisfactorily dealt with in the Bill, for there was a clause in it somewhat ambiguous in its terms, but which substantially came to this—that although a rate might be unequal and injurious to the person complaining of it as a preferential rate, it should be authorized for the purpose of securing traffic in the interests of the public. If any effect were given to that, it must destroy the meaning of undue preference, for this reason—that no Railway Company would give a rate of the sort out of malice, or for the purpose of injuring any particular individual, but for the purpose of securing traffic, and therefore he did not think the addition of the words "in the interests of the public" made the slightest difference. He thought it 1874 would have been wiser if the Government had not touched the subject of undue preference at all. The law as enacted in 1854 was somewhat vague, but it had been explained by the Court of Common Pleas; and, on the whole, the decisions given under the existing statute had been satisfactory enough. He therefore regretted that the Government should have introduced into this measure a clause, one effect of which would be to destroy the law as to undue preference as it now existed. He believed preferential rates were based on an entirely mistaken policy. He was obliged to the House for having listened to him so long. He made these remarks in no hostility to the Government who introduced the Bill, or to the Bill itself. He trusted, however, that when it reached the Committee upstairs, to which it was to be sent, the Government would approach that Committee in a fair spirit and without any foregone conclusion. If they did approach it in that spirit the suggestions which had been made that evening from both sides of the House would receive due consideration, and he believed that when the Bill passed the Government would be able to congratulate themselves on passing a measure which would mark an important epoch in the history of railway legislation.
§ MR. NORRIS (Tower Hamlets, Limehouse)
said, that with regard to the preference rates there were really two sides to the question. It was a matter of vast importance that produce which came into the country through our Southern ports, for instance, should be sent up to London in a fresh state. The preferential rates in some instances were very important, and therefore, as representing a Metropolitan constituency, he must say that though he was an advocate of the farmer's interests he saw the necessity of looking to the effect on the supply of the people in this great Metropolis. He would venture to point out to the House that the interests in this matter were mutual. He should like to have heard in what way it was proposed to make up the constitution of the new Railway Commission, as everything depended upon the interpretation which would be put on the words "undue preference." Speaking of Southampton, with which he was connected, produce from the Channel Islands was arriving every 1875 night, and had to be sent up forthwith to London, and it was necessary if this trade was to continue that it should be treated on special lines. He was very much surprised when an Amendment was moved in "another place" to alter Clause 25, because it had appeared to him that the broad lines on which the clause was originally drawn were fair alike to the Railway Companies, to those who dealt in agricultural produce, and to the great population of the Metropolis. Now, a great deal would depend in the future on the way in which this produce was rated. No doubt there would be certain arrangements for through rates, and the Companies might be able to evade the spirit of the Act. He thought, therefore, that they should hear from the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) in what way the question of undue preference was to be determined. No doubt there would be considerable difficulty in adapting the law to all cases; but his contention was that there were two sides to every question. The Southern ports to which he had referred, and all other ports of the country, of course, were desirous of increased facilities for transmitting goods to London and to the great markets; the shipping interest was also very largely interested in the question of railway rates. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had given an instance of the hardship it must be to a dealer who might be purchasing cattle at Newcastle or Hull to find that the Railway Companies charged a lower rate for the carriage of foreign cattle than they charged him, the local dealer. This, no doubt, was a great hardship; but he was of opinion that rates might be fixed which would be fair to all parties. As he had said, a great deal would depend upon the constitution of the Commission.
§ MR. SHIRESS WILL (Montrose, &c.)
said, there was one clause in this Bill which he thought would be welcomed, at all events, by that class of traders whom they might describe as the smaller class. There were large traders and there were small traders; large traders had many Representatives in that House, but the small traders were not so favourably situated. They were scattered all over the coun- 1876 try, and they might be found in such constituencies as that he had the honour to represent—a group of five industrial boroughs. He was glad to see that the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade had seen his way to introduce into the Bill the provision, commonly called the "Conciliation Clause," which his Predecessor had inserted in his Bill of 1886. The hon. Member who had addressed the House some time ago, the Member for East Hull (Mr. Grotrian), had drawn a sad picture of that tribunal, the Railway Commission, as it now existed. The hon. Member had described how costly it was; but perhaps his picture was a little overdrawn. Be that as it might, there was, at any rate, some truth in his allegation. It was not every trader who could afford to run the risk of paying £150 or £300 costs in order to redress any grievance he might consider he had. Therefore, it was extremely desirable, now that they were revising the Commission or the Court which was to deal with these matters, that some means should be provided which would enable the small traders to bring up for investigation in some cheap form any grievance which they might consider they had. Now, it seemed to him (Mr. Shiress Will) that that purpose could not be effected by listening to suggestions which he had heard made outside to the effect that jurisdiction should be given to inferior tribunals in this matter in order that small grievances might be considered. That seemed to him to be outside the range of what was reasonable in so important a matter as this, and therefore it was that he thought that a middle line was extremely welcome in the provision which enabled the trader, be he a small trader or a large trader, when he thought he had a grievance, to make his complaint to the Board of Trade. Now, by the clause referred to, the Board of Trade was not set up as, nor was it intended to be, a judicial tribunal. It was not intended that costs should be incurred either by the Railway Company or by the person complaining. It was not intended that solicitors should be heard or that counsel should be heard; but it was intended that, in an amicable manner, as the clause phrased it, the matter should be looked into by the Board of Trade. If the Board of Trade thought that the 1877 complaint was unreasonable—and probably many complaints would be made of an unreasonable kind and unworthy of investigation—the Board of Trade would take no further steps in the matter; but if, on the other hand, they should think that there was something in it which called for an answer, then the Commission would be empowered to require an answer from the Railway Company, and to endeavour to arrange the matter amicably between the parties. But then it was said by his hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Bolton), in the course of his most able and pointed speech, that a clause of that kind was likely to be of no good unless they made it compulsory. He said the experience of America was that such a provision did not prove to be of much good, because it was not compulsory. Well, but the hon. Gentleman, whose experience was entitled to great weight, was at variance in his conclusion with the American Commission which had been referred to by the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade. The Americans thought the provision was satisfactory and of use; but what he (Mr. Shiress Will) wished to point out was that though there was not, in terms, in it anything that could be called compulsion there was something in it which went very near to that, because it laid down that if the Railway Companies, having been applied to by the Board of Trade for an answer, should fail to make a reasonable answer and to enable an amicable settlement to be arrived at, and should conduct themselves in an unreasonable manner, regard being had to the circumstances and nature of the complaint and to the possible remedy, the Board of Trade were to be at liberty to report the matter to the House; and no one could believe that any one of the great Companies in the country would be willing, even if they were disposed to be unreasonable, at their own risk to have reports made to the House of that kind on matters which they might with perfect ease themselves have redressed. Therefore, he thought that, in the interests of the small traders, this clause would be of the greatest advantage. But there was another respect in which it would also be of the greatest advantage. He had been going to say he knew, but, at all events, he might say he believed, that a large number of 1878 complaints that small traders were in the habit of making were complaints that were ill-founded; but then it must be remembered that they had the greatest possible distrust of the Railway Companies. They knew that which had been described by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) in the course of his able speech—they knew the long purses of the Railway Companies, and knew their power to employ the best evidence and the best lawyers, and to have their cases tried in the best way; and, therefore, the small traders were not unnaturally disposed to distrust the Railway Companies, and to believe that they would be treated in a high-and-mighty fashion, and that the best would not be done for them. But the moment Parliament put before these people some means by which they could take their grievances and carry them before an impartial Department like the Board of Trade, and have a weighty and authoritative opinion given upon them, then they possessed the means of settling any difficulty, and of satisfying everyone who might be otherwise hard to please. There was another matter upon which he should like to say one word, and that was the now Court to be constituted under the present Bill. The change, they knew, had long been impending; but he was sure that no one who had practised before the present Railway Commission would have anything but words of respect and esteem for the present Chief Commissioner of that Court, whose patience, whose ability, and whose good temper had been exhibited from first to last during the existence of that tribunal. And, if they were to have a change, he desired to make this remark. He thought it required further consideration whether it was wise to have not one but three Judges connected with the Commission—that they should have one Judge trying a case here to-day, and if, next week, the Commission had to go to Edinburgh, they should have another Judge, and if, the following week, it had to go to Dublin, they should have a third Judge there. How were these Judges to reconcile their judgments? They had no means of discussing in concert the principles of railway law which they would have to adminster. Were they to bound each by the earlier decision of the other? Were they to be 1879 at liberty each to reverse the decision of the other? It did seem to him that in order, as it were, to give fair play to the Three Kingdoms, this three-cornered tribunal had been created; whereas a much better plan, and a plan more calculated to produce unity of decision and uniformity of practice, would be to have one Judge going with his jury, so to speak—that was, the two Commissioners—to Scotland, if need be, and to Ireland, if need be, and so carrying on one continuous Court, which he (Mr. Shiress Will) believed would be a more consistent as well as a more enlightened course of practice. He was very glad that one bugbear had been eliminated, so to speak, from the discussion, and that was the fear that used to be expressed on the subject of classification. It used to be said—two years ago especially—how unfair it was that railways, who had raised millions upon millions of capital upon the strength of Acts of Parliament which had fixed their maximum rates and tolls, should be obliged to submit themselves to the Board of Trade or to any other tribunal in order to have these rates and tolls reduced or revised, and their classification re-arranged. Well, at first sight, there seemed to be a great deal in that, but on examination they found that the difficulty was not so great. In the first place, what was the maximum of the great Companies? There were, for instance, the great Railway Companies that came into London, and they had together there some five or six, and in some cases even nine, different Acts of Parliament fixing the rates and tolls chargeable, and in each of them they found different maxima and different classification. The great Companies themselves, some six years ago, brought into Parliament each of them a separate Bill, and asked Parliament to re-classify all their several rates and re-fix all their maximum rates. When it was remembered that the Board of Trade, as a Public Department, was well qualified to hold the balance very fairly between the different Railway Companies and their shareholders and the public, and when it was considered that they had no purpose to serve, except to make the Railway Companies prosper, while, at the same time, being fair to the public, he felt quite sure that no one could pretend to foresee that any unfairness would be done, either to the Com- 1880 panies and their shareholders on the one hand, or to the public on the other. The interests the Board of Trade would have to safeguard would not be the interests of one class, whether that class were the Railway Companies or the public, but it would be the interests of the whole country. Our national life depended on it. It depended on fairness to the Companies, as well as to the public, and the moment the Board of Trade, or any other Department, or this House, did anything unjust or unfair to a great industry commanding £800,000,000 of capital, that moment would commit a mistake which would prove very difficult to be remedied. And now just one word as to the question of undue preference, which his hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen had referred to at considerable length. The hon. Gentleman appeared to distrust the clause as it stood in the Bill, but he (Mr. Shiress Will) had better hopes of the clause. He trusted that it might not be open to those suspicions that the hon. Gentleman had very properly called attention to, because, if there were points that were open to suspicion, it was only right that they should be pointed out now, so that when they went into Committee on the Bill, if there was anything wrong, it might be set right. But he was not able to follow his hon. Friend, especially when he gave the go-by to these words—When a lower charge is found to exist, the Court may, so far as they think reasonable, take into consideration whether such lower charge is necessary in the interests of the public.His hon. Friend gave the go-by to the words "in the interests of the public." It seemed to him (Mr. Shiress Will) that those words were everything in the clause. They never could have now-a-days equal mileage rates all through the country. That idea had long since been exploded, and now nobody, not even the most active opponent of the Railway Companies, would stand up and argue for equal mileage rates all over the country. The Act of Parliament spoke very properly of undue preference, and, therefore, these clauses were intended not to protect the Railway Companies in making a preference in their own interest, or in the interest of some trader, or in the interest of some class of traders, or in the interest of one town against another town, or in the interest of one district of the country against 1881 another district—no; what was there pointed at could only be justified on the ground that it was in the interest of the public at large. Of course, the words of the Act in this connection would receive further consideration, but it seemed to him that in those words they would have an ample safeguard that the interests of the public would be protected, while, on the other hand, the interests of the traders would not be neglected, whether as individuals or classes. But this clause was also to be commended for another thing—namely, that it put upon the Railway Companies the burden of proof wherever there was a difference of charge—the burden of justifying the preference. For these reasons he ventured, speaking on behalf of a community which took considerable interest in the Bill, to welcome the measure, and he trusted that with its passage through the Grand Committee before which it would have to go it would be much improved, and would ultimately become a lasting benefit to the country.
§ SIR ROPER LETHBRIDGE (Kensington, N.)
said, he desired to say only one or two words at this stage of the Bill with reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter), and from the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Montrose (Mr. Shiress Will), who had addressed the House on the subject of preferential rates. He ventured to think that very few would agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen in wishing that Her Majesty's Government had omitted altogether to deal with this question of preferential rates. The House had listened with evident interest, and he thought with great sympathy, to the eloquent speech which had been delivered by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for North-West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), and especially to those portions of his speech in which the hon. and gallant Baronet dwelt on the great injury which had been wrought by these undue preferential rates on the agricultural industry of our home counties. On that point he ventured to say that the opinion of the country was, on the whole, fairly made up; and for his (Sir Roper Lethbridge's) own part—and he was sure he spoke for a large number throughout the country—they would 1882 hail with the greatest pleasure this measure, if it only succeeded in dealing with this question of undue preferential rates. But, as a Metropolitan Member, he felt bound also to add that there might be, and probably would be, some danger when they came to the Committee stage of the Bill, lest in their sympathy with this industry, and in their desire to put an end to these undue preferential rates, they fell into an error in the other extreme. There was, indeed, a danger lest they should desire to make this Bill something of a protective Bill. We had hitherto, by these preferential rates, protected the foreigner. It should be no part of our duty to protect either the foreigner or any portion of our home industries—let us now go in for Free Trade entirely. The vast population of this great Metropolis required and demanded to have its supplies of food, of fodder, and other things of that sort produced at the cheapest rates, and carried at the cheapest rates that could ultimately be brought about; and it was the duty especially of Metropolitan Members to take care that this Bill, while it put an end to all protection of the foreigner of which just complaint had been made, did not fall into the other error of protecting other industries, and thereby increasing the cost of supplies to the population of the Metropolis.
§ MR. BOLITHO (Cornwall, St. Ives)
said, he supposed that a very large number of hon. Members of the House were more or less interested in the prosperity of the Railway Companies; and, therefore, it was very satisfactory to find that from all sides of the House much sympathy with the Bill had been expressed. He hoped that that sympathy betokened that there was much sagacity on the part of hon. Members who were owners of railway shares. At any rate, he tried to think that that was the case. His object, however, in rising was simply to say a word or two with reference to the remarks which fell from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stirling (Mr. Bolton), who seemed to think that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) had found a mare's nest upon the question of the carriage of fish from Ostend. He should leave his hon. Friends to fight the battle out between themselves; they were both 1883 well skilled in such warfare, and he had no doubt that each of them would tell a very good tale; but if the hon. Member for Stirling were present he should claim him as an ally and as a brother in arms. The hon. Member showed to the House that from Wick to London fish was carried at the rate of 60s. per ton. The distance from Wick to London was something like 750 miles. Now, he (Mr. Bolitho) wished the House to understand that the fishermen in his district, the district of Mount's Bay, laboured under a greater disadvantage, although they were only distant from the Metropolis some 320 miles. For that comparatively short distance, as compared with the distance from Wick to London, the fishermen were charged no less than 70s. per ton for the carriage of their fish. The House would, therefore, see the very grave disadvantage which the fishermen of that district laboured under. It was quite true, as the hon. Baronet the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) had shown, that the system which at present prevailed was full of anomalies. The anomaly of the case he had introduced did not end there; because, although from Mount's Bay to London, a distance of 320 miles, they were charged at the rate of 70s. a-ton, from Plymouth, which was 240 miles from London, or 80 miles less, the charge was 45s. a-ton; relatively the prices were 7s. 6d. a-ton from Plymouth, and 8s. 4d. a-ton from Penzance. He (Mr. Bolitho) thought he had shown conclusively that, in the first place, the fishermen of his locality were charged immeasurably more than the fishermen of the North were charged, and that they were handicapped in comparison with those who sent fish from Plymouth. That was a circumstance which the House ought to take into consideration. Bearing in mind the length of the debate, he would not further occupy the time of the House, except to state most emphatically that he entirely disagreed with the remarks which fell from the hon. Gentleman who said that the question of carriage was a most infinitesimal question compared with the price of fish. In the summer months, in a month from this time, they would have no doubt on the Coasts fish of most excellent quality, and a good deal of that fish, in all probability, would be thrown back into the 1884 sea simply because it could not be conveyed at a low price to the Midland towns to be consumed by the masses of the population. He was inclined to think that the House would see that justice was done in the matter, and that the masses of the population in the large towns were not deprived of their just means of acquiring cheap food, and, further, that the fishermen, a class of mon whom they all esteemed, should get as much money as possible for their produce.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
said, there were one or two points upon which he had a few observations to make. In the first place, he wished to direct attention to the clause relating to damages. He did not quite understand what was in the mind of the draftsman when he framed the clause. Was it merely intended as a clause of procedure, or what was its purpose? The analogy to a clause of this kind which occurred to him was the provision by which the Court of Chancery was enabled to deal with the question of damages. In former times, as was well known to many hon. Members, if a suitor in Chancery required damages he had to go to a Court of Common Law. But when the Court of Chancery was empowered to give damages the jurisdiction was not limited. There was no limit as to the amount of the damages to be granted; the Damage Clause in this Bill, however, did not give the full relief in the way of damages to which a suitor ought to be entitled in case he made out his case. What he should have thought would have been the object of a clause of this kind was to give a suitor before the Railway Commissioners the same power of obtaining damages before them as he would have if ho brought an action-at-law. Again, he was anxious to know how it was proposed that the damages should be ascertained. The Railway Commissioners did not sit with a jury. Was it intended they should pursue the course of the Chancery Division; and, if so, was it intended to provide them with the means of making inquiries as to damages? The Grouping Clause had been already alluded to. He entirely approved of the system of grouping, because if they had a general system of dealing with railway rates grouping was a necessity. The clause as it at present stood, however, would require consideration, be- 1885 cause he was very much afraid it might be held to prevent the continuance of certain systems of grouping which were already in existence. But in reference to the point some Amendments would be proposed in Committee, and, therefore, he need not trouble the House any further upon it. He now came to the Canal Clearing House Clause. In considering the clause, they must remember that half the Canals of the country belonged to Railway Companies, or were under the domination of Railway Companies. He presumed that the object of the clause was to enable traders on canals to have something like a system of through rates, but he observed that the clause was entirely permissive—the Canal Companies might establish a Canal Clearing House. Assuming that the Canal Companies did establish a Clearing House, what would be the position of affairs? The Clearing House established under this clause would be subject to the Board of Trade, and would have to act under the regulations framed by that Department. But the Railway Companies would have a clearing-house, to which all the Companies would have access, and where all the rates would be dealt with. That establishment would be entirely under the Companies' control. He did not think that was an arrangement which would prove of benefit to the traders. He had long entertained the opinion that the present Railway Clearing House was too large and too powerful a Body to be left exactly on its present footing. It was a Body by which the Railway Companies were, to a certain extent, for certain purposes fused together in one great monopoly, and he held that a great Body of that kind ought not to be above the control of the public. He had on previous Bills endeavoured to frame provisions which would enable them to bring the committee of the Railway Clearing House under control. The suggestion he had to make was that there should be some public officer—either an officer of the Board or Trade or someone connected with the Railway Commissioners—whose duty it should be to attend the meetings of the Railway Clearing Committee. This officer should know what the rules were by which the traffic was dealt with in the office, and should see that such of those rules as were of public importance 1886 should be published, so that the public should know on what rules their traffic was dealt with, and should be able when necessary to plead against the Railway Companies the existence of the rules. The public had every right to know how the traffic was dealt with. He knew that some hon. Members who represented the Railway Companies were sometimes disposed to ridicule the view he had suggested; they said that the clearing house was so complicated an institution that no member of the public was competent to deal with it. He thought that that was all the more reason why some such system as he suggested should be adopted. The complexity of the subject did not alter the fact that the public were interested in having the railway traffic fairly dealt with. There was only one other question he desired to refer to, and that was really the kernel of the Bill, the question of undue preference. He believed he expressed the unanimous opinion of the traders of the country when he said they would not be satisfied if the provision allowing Railway Companies to charge preference rates remained in the Bill. They would not be satisfied unless the Companies were absolutely prohibited from creating an undue preference, and they were not unreasonable in asking for such a prohibition. He entirely agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) that the present law did prohibit any undue preference, and that the clause as it now stood, so far from putting the trade upon a better footing, rather relaxed the law. These were the points upon which it occurred to him necessary that he should address the House. Of course, there were several minor points deserving of notice, and no doubt Amendments would be framed to several of them. If he and others did not deal with those points now it must not be supposed that they considered them unimportant to the traders. Personally, he could not help expressing some degree of regret that it was thought necessary to carry this very important Bill to a Grand Committee, because it dealt with interests of various kinds, and it was quite impossible that the Grand Committee on Trade to which the Bill was to be referred could combine all the elements it was desirable 1887 should be represented upon the Committee to which the consideration of such a measure was referred.
§ MR. J. C. STEVENSON (South Shields)
said, he desired to approach the subject from the point of view of the seaports. These had a common interest with the inland towns, and as a maritime country, dependent on our supplies from foreign countries, every restriction of the free competition between seaports and between the connecting railways must mean dearer food for the people of the inland districts. There seemed to be a feeling that their needful supplies reached those inland districts too cheaply, and that they should be deprived of their advantage of competitive access to the ports on opposite sides of the island and to ports competing with each other on the same parts of the coast. The effect of abolishing the so-called preferences could only be to restrict the traffic of the railways, and to make them charge more for what was left. It would not benefit the Northumbrian farmer if the competition rates between Hull and Manchester and the Tyne and Manchester were prohibited. He would still pay what he paid now for sending his cattle to Manchester. There was a flavour of Protection in the arguments used on the other side; and he was glad to notice that the hon. Member for North Kensington (Sir Roper Lethbridge), as representing a Metropolitan constituency, seemed to perceive the danger of increased cost of food. It was not because it was foreign produce that it was differently treated, but because it came over sea, and the same consideration would apply if it came over sea from Ireland. They must not destroy the system of through rates, combining the land and the sea transit. There was no monopoly of the sea, and there should be free competition among the seaports. The coasting trade was the best check on the railways. The Metropolis got the benefit of the very low freights by sea from the North - Eastern coal ports to London. The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Grotrian) had complained of the equal rates from Hull and Newcastle to the inland towns. That was the condition of the formation of the North-Eastern system in order to secure the competitive rates which prevailed before the amalgamation. Three separate lines competing with each other 1888 were then thrown into one system, and for 30 years the competitive rates had been adhered to. And the Tyne was not to be deprived of the advantage it had enjoyed for 30 years. On that had been built up a large trade, and great improvements had been undertaken by the Harbour Commissioners. The Corporation of Newcastle had spent large sums in providing for the Danish cattle trade, all which was in the interest of the inland towns. The contrary policy, if carried out, would give every seaport a monopoly of its own district. Parliament, on the contrary, should encourage the freest competition in ports and railways for the benefit of the whole community, and he warned them of the mischief which might arise from a contrary policy. He would quote the views of the American Inter-State Railway Commission, whose Report had been already referred to in the debate. Speaking of exceptional rates, the American Commission said—They were given in many cases as a means of building up a long-haul traffic that could not possibly bear the local rates, and which consequently would not exist at all, if rates were established on a mileage basis or on any basis which as between the long and short haul traffic undertook to preserve anything like relative equality.They also said—This method of making rates represents the best judgment of experts who have spent many years in solving problems of railroad transportation, and its sudden termination without allowing opportunity for business to adapt itself to the change would, to some extent, check the prosperity of many important places, render unprofitable many thriving enterprizes, and probably put an end to some long-haul traffic now usefully carried on between distant parts of the country.He was glad to gather from the speech of the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade that he was not insensible to those considerations, and he trusted that nothing would be done to disturb the course of the great trades of the country, or to alter a system under which trade had been greatly extended, and on which the prosperity of many districts must continue to depend.
§ MR. NORTON (Kent, Tunbridge)
said, that he represented a Division of the County of Kent which was probably more interested in this subject than any other part of the country. Hitherto his constituents had been very prejudicially affected by the existence of 1889 preferential rates for the carriage of hops, and they hoped from what they had heard to-night that they might probably get the matter remedied when the Bill reached the Grand Committee. There was, however, one point in which they were more deeply interested, and that was the conveyance of fruit. It was obviously to the advantage and interest of all the large towns of England that they should be supplied with fruit at a cheap rate. About every other year probably thousands of tons of fruit were wasted, because the producers were unable to get it to the large towns in the Northern and. Midland counties; and what they hoped the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) would be able to do for them, was to afford facilities for a much cheaper transit of produce from Kent to the various large centres of population. The difficulty up to the present had been that of getting through London. A large proportion of the fruit was sent to Covent Garden; it was there unpacked and repacked and sent off again to the North of England. Hon. Members would easily understand that, in hot weather especially, fruit was damaged to the extent of 40 or 50 per cent during such a process. His constituents argued that they had a very large supply of fruit, valuable for consumption in the large towns, and they thought it not unreasonable to ask Parliament to afford them facilities for the transit of the fruit to districts where it was most required. He had not been nominated a Member of the Grand Committee which would have this Bill under its consideration. If he had been, he thought he should have been able to produce abundant evidence upon this point. He trusted, however, that the right hon. Baronet would take the question into his serious consideration, and see that on the one hand justice was done to the public generally, and that on the other hand justice was done to the producer. Fruit was a most costly crop to produce. The people were told by the late Prime Minister—the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone)—that the making of jam was a profitable employment. Unfortunately, owing to the difficulties he (Mr. Norton) had enumerated, the Kentish growers had not been able either to supply fruit to the manufac- 1890 turers in London nor had they been able to supply to the more important parts of the country. The other day a deputation waited upon Lord Salisbury, and he (Mr. Norton) hoped that the deputation would take the opportunity which presented itself in the consideration of this Bill to bring this matter before the consideration of the House of Commons. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade would turn his attention to this matter, and do his utmost to ensure that proper facilities of transit should be afforded to the people of Kent.
§ MR. HARRIS (Galway, E.)
said, that the people of Ireland suffered greatly from the arrangements existing between the Railway Companies. The Great Southern Railway and the North-Western Railway ran as far as Athlone, and the arrangements they made with one another and with English Companies resulted in this, that goods were carried from Manchester to the town in which he resided at a lower rate than goods could be brought there from the City of Dublin. The two great Companies tried to get a connection with the English Companies, and were in the habit of underbidding one another in order to get an advantage. There was another very serious matter connected with the practice in his part of the country, and that was the connection between the Grand Canal and the Midland and Great Western Railway Companies. In former times goods were carried at a much lower rate that at present. The arrangement between the Canal and the Railway Companies was such that both of them charged an equal tariff. That did very well as far as light goods were concerned; it did very well for the Railway Company; but in the case of heavier goods, where there was no great pressure of time, the trading interest unquestionably suffered. In his locality there were also valuable limestone quarries, and other natural resources, in respect to which cheap carriage would be of immense advantage. As Railway Companies were monoplies, he maintained that in this Bill, as in other Bills, there should be a direct and general rule laid down by which merchants could get goods carried pro rata according to distance, and without being subjected to the influence he spoke of. There was another matter he desired to 1891 bring to the attention of the House, and that was the combination between the Great Western Railway Company and the Limerick and Waterford Company. Owing to this combination, the passenger traffic on the Shannon had been destroyed. Formerly, a very large passenger traffic was carried on from Athlone to Killaloe and the result of the combination between the two Companies was that the Company which was created for the purpose of meeting the convenience of a very important town on the Shannon, the Portumna Company had to become bankrupt because the traffic by which it hoped to live was destroyed. This circumstance might not be generally known to the Members of the Government; he could hardly expect that it should be, as the seat of Government was so far away from the district. But it was very necessary to draw the attention of the Government to these matters to show how much they in Ireland suffered from the want of supervision, or the want of some rigid and strict rule, or from some form of officialism which would protect the public at large in their interests as regards canal, river, and railway traffic.
MR. STAVELEY HILL (Staffordshire, Kingswinford)
said, he asked the House to allow him to say a few words in reference to one question only, and that was the constitution of the Court to be created under the Bill. It was a singular fact that, though the question had been mentioned by three or four speakers who had taken part in to-night's debate, he had not heard from any of them any commendation of the mode in which the Court was to be constituted. The subject was alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bright-side Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for North-West Sussex (Sir Walter B. Barttelot), and by others; but they alluded in terms of no commendation to the Court which would be thus formed. The matter was of the most vital importance, because, whatever might be said with regard to what questions should, or should not, come before the Court, whatever might be said as to the mode in which those questions should be left with the Court, it was of the most vital importance that the Court before which these questions were to be raised 1892 should be most competent to deal with the questions, and to command the attention of those who were clients or suitors before the Court. The Amendment made by the Act of 1887 in the constitution of the Court of Railway Commissioners was practically such as to almost create a new body of Railway Commissioners. The Railway Commissioners created under the Act were called the appointed Judges, and there was added to them in England, Scotland, and in Ireland three Judges of the Supreme Court, who were to sit as ex officio Judges. That constitution was altered in "another place," and the Bill now came down to the House containing the proposal that the Court should be constituted of two lay Commissioners, two men experienced in railway matters, and of a third Commissioner, who should sit with them, and who should be one of the Judges of the Superior Courts, and who, when an English case was under consideration, should be a Judge of the Superior Courts of England, of Ireland in the case of an Irish case, and of Scotland in the case of a Scotch case. Thus they would have two permanent Judges, and the third member of the Court would vary according to the country in which the case arose. The Judge of the Superior Court would be President of the tribunal; so that, while they would have the two junior members of the tribunal fixed members, they would have the higher member of the Court a shifting Commissioner. The effect would be that there would be no continuity of judgment, there would be no distinct course of proceeding laid down in the Court, that which might be held to be the proper course of proceeding in England might not be held to be the proper course of proceeding in Scotland or in Ireland; so that they would have no continuity of judgment at all. He ventured to say that a more absurd idea was never brought forward than that the head of a Court should be shifting, and that the two junior members should be fixed members. Such a course must lead to evils such as he had anticipated. He might be asked what he should suggest as the proper constitution of the Court. If so, he should say that, if they wished to have, as was stated by the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter), a judgment pronounced by a Court of competent 1893 jurisdiction, they must have as the Chief Judge a man of judicial training, not of judicial prejudices, if he might use the phrase, but experienced in railway matters, who would be a man free from the trammels of judicial decisions, ready to give decisions in accordance with law, and having a thorough knowledge of the principles of law—ready to give a free opinion upon all the great questions relating to rates and other matters which would be brought before the Court, and whose decisions would command the attention of suitors, not only because they were judicial decisions, but because they were decisions in absolute accordance with all fairness as between trader and Railway Company. One of the great questions which would be brought before the Court would be the question of how far they could increase canal navigation and canal carrying powers without doing any injustice to the money which had been laid out in railway enterprize. He believed that they might increase with benefit to traders canal navigation, and do that also without in any way damaging railway interests. These matters must be settled by a Court having full knowledge of them. He should suggest that they should have as the supreme Judge of the Court of Commissioners a man such as he had described. They must have, as the other two Judges, two practical men, and he thought this was a fitting opportunity for adopting the mode of appointing the Judges, which had long had many advocates in the City of London and other mercantile centres. It might be very well indeed that the Board of Trade should select two gentlemen well conversant with railway matters, and give them a retaining fee—say, in England of 500 guineas per annum, and in Scotland and Ireland of 200 or 250 guineas per annum. Those gentlemen might be well known engineers, or persons acquainted with trading matters, and they might always be available to assist the tribunal whenever they were wanted, just as assessors now sat in the Court of Admiralty. Thus they would have persons appointed by the Board of Trade who would sit when called upon at a fee of so much a day in addition to their retaining fee. He thought that, by this means, they would have a tribunal in which people would 1894 have very great confidence—a tribunal which would command the attention of persons interested in the decisions. Certainly, he believed that it would be difficult to suggest a more unsatisfactory tribunal than that which was proposed by the Bill.
MR. MACDONALD CAMERON (Wick, &c.)
said, he represented a constituency deeply interested in this Bill, and they were disappointed that no clause had been introduced which would be likely to improve the facilities of the fishermen in the North of Scotland for getting their fish to the Southern markets at a cheap rate. He had hoped, looking to the condition of things in the North and West of Scotland, and to the dimensions which the agrarian agitation had assumed in that part of the country, that the Government would have considered it their duty to do everything they possibly could to encourage and stimulate the fishing industry. He hoped when the Bill went into Committee that the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade would consider the advisability of introducing clauses which would have this object. At the present moment the fishing industry in the North of Scotland was in a very depressed condition—in a more depressed condition than it had been for a great number of years. There was a clause of this character in the Bill of the hon. Baronet the Member for East Norfolk (Sir Edward Birkbeck). No doubt fish could be sent, as had been stated during the debate, from Wick to London for 75s. a-ton by passenger trains and 50s. a-ton by goods or slow trains. But in consequence of arrangements which, in conjunction with his constituents, he had made for the carriage of fish by steamer, the rate had been brought down to 40s. These rates, however, were hampered by so many restrictions as to make them much less satisfactory than they seemed to be. He was convinced that by better arrangements four times the quantity of fish might be brought than now reached the London markets. A railway waggon generally weighed five, six, or seven tons, and would carry seven or eight tons. Now, in America, the railway system of which he had personally investigated, a waggon weighed about 9½ tons, and would carry 30 or even on occasions as much as 40 tons. It was obvious, therefore, that for the 1895 purpose of the conveyance of goods our railways were by no means so economically managed as they might be. He had received a letter from one of his constituents who was intimately acquainted with the fishing industry, stating that a rate of 30s. per ton for fish would pay the Railway Companies, would enable dealers to send four times the quantity of fish to market, and would practically help the fishermen employed all the year round. The writer added that nearly everyone connected with the fishing trade in the North was either bankrupt or on the verge of bankruptcy; and under these circumstances he appealed to the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade to introduce some clause into the Bill which would have the effect of helping the fishing industry; because on the prosperity of that industry depended at the present moment the maintenance of law and order in the Highlands of Scotland.
§ SIR WILLIAM HOULDSWORTH (Manchester, N.W.)
said, he desired to express his approval of the Bill now before the House, and the approval of the large community which he represented. He also had authority for saying that he expressed the views of a large association of towns round about Manchester, which had very carefully considered this Bill and watched its fortunes during the past three years. They were now in the main satisfied with the measure; but, at the same time, there was no doubt that there were very important Amendments which it would be necessary to deal with, especially in the 24th and 25th clauses, with regard to the constitution of the Commission; but he confessed he did not feel the objections which had been raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen, opposite (Mr. Hunter), nor the criticisms of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Staveley Hill) who sat below him. If he understood the suggestion of his hon. and learned Friend aright, he thought it was a suggestion which would not receive the approval of the trading and industrial community. It was that a gentleman learned in railway business, and to some extent representative of the railway interest, should be the President of the Railway Commission.
§ SIR WILLIAM HOULDSWORTH
Well, he must confess that they, in the industrial communities, were rather suspicious of having men on the Commission who were "acquainted with railway matters." He did not think they were selfish enough to wish that they should all be partizans of the trading community, although they wished to be represented. But they wished the Commission to be a fair Commission, and he thought that, considering that they would have as President of the Commission a Judge learned in the law, and, as he understood from the Bill, that they were to have one Commissioner who was acquainted with railway matters, and, he presumed, another Commissioner who had some knowledge of the interests and sympathy with the feelings and wishes of the traders, he thought that the Commission as proposed by the Bill would be a very fair Commission. He was not quite sure that he should not be disposed to suggest, unless there were some difficulty in carrying it out, that instead of three there should be five Commissioners. He was not quite sure that three would be a sufficiently strong body to deal with the very important questions which, in the earlier stages of the Commission, would come before that Body. But the important matter which he thought would have to be dealt with in Committee was the question of terminal charges. It was, he believed, the only serious and difficult question which was left to be thoroughly threshed out. He did not think it was dealt with in the Bill in a manner which would commend itself to the opinion of the industrial and trading community. There were very sound reasons for considering the position of terminal charges. No doubt, there was a claim which might he fairly made by the Companies on the trading community who used the railway for the accommodation which was given in the station or terminus; but it seemed to him that the Railway Companies had brought upon themselves an amount of criticism by their action with regard to these terminals, and they were responsible for having created in the public mind a very grave suspicion as to the 1897 fairness with which they had dealt with the public in regard to these terminals. He had with him a very long list of terminal charges with which he would not trouble the House, but the figures were extremely remarkable. To take a few of them—in the case of the Great Eastern Railway, where the maximum rate was 7d., they had a terminal charge of 1s. 2d. On the London and North-Western Railway, where there was a maximum rate of 15s. 6d., the total rate was 31s. 8d., the difference being the terminal charge. On the North-Eastern Railway the total rate was 38s. 4d., the legal rate being 19s. 7½d., and the terminal charge being nearly as much—that was to say 18s. 8d. So that the House would see that the maximum rate—the rate which was entered on the list that the trader saw—was a rate which was wholly and entirely misleading, which gave the trader no information whatever as to the amount he would ultimately be charged. There was a very strong feeling that whatever the Commission might think it right to do in including terminal charges in the maximum rate, that those charges ought to be included in the one rate, and should not be allowed to be a separate charge. On that point they should inquire what was the opinion of those who had considered the subject very carefully. He believed he was in opposition to a great authority in that House on the subject—the hon. Baronet the Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson), who, he believed, thought it would be advisable to keep the terminal rates separate from the maximum rates. But that was not the opinion of the great mass of the traders of the country. What they wished to know was, when they sent their goods from one station to another, in one sum the amount they had to pay for haulage and the station accommodation they received. The great advantage of that would be that, when they brought their grievances before the Commission, the Commission would be able to compare one charge with another in a very much simpler and more satisfactory manner than they would be if these charges were kept separate. He thought that the Bill could be amended in Committee; but, at the same time, he wished to express the opinion that the points which would have 1898 to be fought in Clauses 24 and 25 would be very important ones. They were not at all satisfied with the position in which undue preference stood in Clause 25. They thought that they were entitled to be perfectly safeguarded against anything like undue preference; and he trusted that when the Bill went upstairs, careful consideration would be given to these two clauses. He was sure that, if the measure were amended in the direction he had indicated, it would not only be of very great service to the industrial community, but would save an amount of friction and ill-feeling which existed at the present moment between the Railway Companies and the traders in this country, whose interests were, after all, united and one, and he believed would enable the Companies and the traders to live on better terms with each other than they had hitherto done.
§ MR. MACINNES (Northumberland, Hexham)
said, that no one could rise on that (the Opposition) side of the House without recognizing the generous tone in which the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had introduced the second reading of this Bill. Almost in his opening words the right hon. Baronet had acknowledged that he inherited the measure from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bright-side Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella), and by that acknowledgment he at once removed this discussion from the sphere of Party politics. Tins was another of the many measures which had come before them that Session of a non-Party character. Considering the extremely complicated nature of the subject, whatever their opinions might be, they must, at all events, be glad that they were able to discuss this question fairly, frankly, and dispassionately, and without the slightest reference to Party feeling on either side. There was no doubt, he presumed, that they would agree to the second reading of the measure, and, therefore, that the Bill would pass from their cognizance here to the Grand Committee upstairs. That Grand Committee itself was an experiment in which they were very much interested. They, or most of them, looked forward with much interest to the working of that Committee, and, at the same time, they felt that the Bill was now passing away from them. The majority of them here 1899 in the House would have very little further opportunity of dealing with the details of the Bill, and by the time it came back again to the House from the Grand Committee, other questions of great importance would be before the country and the House. It was very possible, therefore, that that would be the only opportunity on which those of them who were not Members of the Grand Committee would be able to say a few words on this subject. The right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade, in his opening remarks, said, and said most truly, that there was a great difference of opinion on this subject. They noticed the remarkable calm that prevailed, not only in the country, but in the House that night. Well, both the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield and the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade commented upon this calm as a happy augury for the prospects of the Bill in Committee. The right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade had said that the Railway Companies were a goad deal wiser now than they had been in the past, and he (Mr. Mac Innes) thought the Companies, and those who had to do with them, would be equally ready to acknowledge that statement. As men grew older, they did not always grow wiser; but it seemed to him that in this matter the collective wisdom of Parliament had grown greater since the subject was first discussed, so that if the Railway Companies were wiser, he thought public opinion outside was also wiser than it had been. That had been remarkably illustrated by the discussion they had had that night. In years gone by they could scarcely have sat here for hours discussing the question of railway rates without constant reference to that old exploded theory, as they had now happily come to regard it, of equal mileage age rates. But it was well to remember that the theory of equal mileage rates was not exploded in a day. It had taken 20 years for the general community to become impressed with the fact that a system of equal mileage rates was impossible. it was over 20 years since the Commission, which sat under the Duke of Devonshire to consider the question, came to that conclusion, and since that time Members of Governments and 1900 every President of the Board of Trade, and all experts, and everyone who had any knowledge of railway matters, had come to the conclusion that whatever equal mileage rates might be in theory, in practice they were an absolute impossibility. The moment they acknowledged, as it had been acknowledged that night by everyone, that the system of equal mileage rates was an impossibility, they had made a great step forward. By that acknowledgment they surely acknowledged the principle that special rates were not objectionable in themselves. What the house did say—and here he took it there was no difference on either side—was that these special rates might be so adjusted that there would be no undue preference. No one on either side of the House desired that there should be any undue preference. Three parties were interested in this question—the consumer, the producer, and the carrier, and neither of those wanted to see undue preference. All either party wanted was the adoption of some system which would be just and equitable; and he was happy to think that not only had they got so far as to acknowledge the equity of the principle of special rates, but that on both sides of the House there had been an acknowledgment that these special rates had not been brought about through greediness or caprice on the part of the Companies, but through the necessity of the situation. They had been reminded by the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Stevenson) that this country was an island. Really, in those discussions, some people were apt to forget how at every turn the railways were met with sea competition. That was not a time, at the second reading of the Bill, to enter into details upon these points; but it certainly was very tempting to take up one point after another and meet the question of varying rates dependent upon sea competition, but that clearly was a matter for the Committee, What he did hope was that the Grand Committee to which this Bill was about to be referred, would take note of two expressions which had fallen from the two Front Benches. He trusted the Committee would take note of the words of the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade, in which he said that any settlement must be just and fair and reasonable, and, further, that 1901 any settlement must be public. Publicity was of the very essence of any settlement. Everything like an idea or a suspicion of secret rates was most disadvantageous, and absolutely to be avoided. He hoped, further, that the Grand Committee would take note of the words which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield, and recognize how "complex" this question was. He thought those who had followed this debate, and had listened to the passage of arms between the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield on the one hand, and the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. J. C. Bolton) on the other, with referance to the charges for fish, would feel how puzzling and perplexing the question was; and he (Mr. Mac Innes) hoped that the Grand Committee would recognize what the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade on the one hand, and the Chairman of a great Scotch Railway Company on the other, had put before them—namely, the great and complex character of the fish traffic, and that the subject was not one to be dealt with on the first blush. He trusted also they would remember the other question as to the fish traffic, which had arisen between the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Edward Birkbeck) and the hon. Member for Stirling. The hon. Baronet opposite had used stronger language than had fallen from anybody on that (the Opposition) side of the House; and, were it not so desirable to avoid Party politics, one would have been entitled to notice how, at any rate, the allusion to Boycotting farmers had not come from the Opposition side of the House. A pamphlet had been circulated among Members which had been the subject of much controversy in the newspapers, and which he (Mr. Mac Innes) ventured to think had been very little understood by the editors of those newspapers that had commented upon it. In that pamphlet, which bore the signature of an important firm which was ably represented by an hon. Gentleman who had long had a seat in that House, the Boycotting practices of Railway Companies and the bounties given to foreigners was spoken of. That discussion, however, had demonstrated the fact that the Railway Companies gave no special favour to foreigners, and had 1902 no special antipathy to English farmers. There was one point alluded to by the ex-President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella), and he was the only Member who had spoken of it to-night, although it was possible that they would hear a great deal of it in future, and that question was one which the country would ask when it came to read this debate—what was to be the outcome of all this? He (Mr. Mac Innes), believed that the general expectation was that there would be a levelling up on the one hand, and a levelling down on the other. The right hon. Gentleman the ex-President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Mundella) had alluded forcibly to that which was a very common argument. He had repeated the argument that either the special through traffic was carried on at a profit or at a loss. Obviously, there could be no possible case for carrying it at a loss. If it were carried at a loss, there would be a loss on the working expenses which would have to be paid out of the higher rate charged to the local trader. That dealt with the question of loss; but the question of profit was by no means so clear, and he wished the House to take notice of that point, because again and again they were told that it was the higher rate charged to the local trader which enabled Railway Companies to carry through traffic at a low rate, and the continual cry was for levelling down and levelling up. But, however well that might sound in theory or practice, it would be impossible, in many instances, to level down these through rates. Here they were not speaking merely theoretically. They were not putting a case hypothetically, because the thing had been tried again and again. An instance was brought before his notice quite recently, where, at one of those competitive posts, low railway rates had been arranged so as to compete with the sea traffic. After a time, owing to a change of policy or owing to representations from important interests in the locality, that competitive rate was dropped, and what was the result? Why, that the whole of the traffic passed away. The Railway Company lost the slight profits that accrued from that through traffic, and the tendency, of course, was to increase the burden upon the local traffic. That was an argument which was well worth the consideration of the Grand 1903 Committee. Now, to-night, they had heard a great deal about the interests the producer, and they had heard a great deal about the interests of the carrier; but it struck him that, with few exceptions, the House had not heard much about the interests of the consumer, and, after all, his interest was the largest interest of all. The railway shareholders were a large body and the traders were a large body; but they were not to be compared with the consumers, whose interests had been very little alluded to that night. The consumer had a claim upon the House which they must not neglect, and the working men of this country had a claim upon the House which hon. Members must not overlook. He should like now to allude to the particular point of transit rates, which had again been the cause of much animadversion in the country. It was contended that low rates for transit services were necessary; but how did they work? There was a vast traffic between North German ports and America. The direct route would obviously run, if there were a canal, right through Great Britain. Well, they knew that to-day, whatever the future might bring forth, there was no such canal; but English shipowners trading from Hull on the one hand, and from Liverpool on the other, came to the Managers of the Railway Companies and said—Why should not English ships carry this through traffic through our country to the benefit of the English trading community and of our railway traffic? That foreign produce we could carry through England, to the benefit of our English shipping industry and of our numerous armies of dock labourers on either side of the Island. That, again, was a point worthy at least of the consideration of the House; and in all the discussions which had sprung up with reference to this question, it seemed to him that they were sometimes losing sight of the fact that all competition within moderation was to the benefit of the consumer. In the pamphlet he had alluded to, the writer spoke of the action of the railways in closing markets. That was a new idea, that the action of the Railway Companies closed markets. The Railway Companies had rather been inclined to believe that the result of their action was to open markets, and to extend the area for which markets could be supplied, to 1904 the enormous benefit of the population of our large towns. The right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade had spoken of the great calm which had prevailed over the House that night. Well, he hoped it would continue to prevail. He trusted they were on the eve of settling the question, which, undoubtedly, was ripe for settlement. One thing, at all events, he did trust, and that was, when the Grand Committee met upstairs it would discuss this matter in all its bearings, and that the Bill would return to the House in such a shape as to leave no manner of doubt about the interpretation to be placed upon any clause, and, in particular, that there would be no doubt whatever about the interpretation to be put upon the 24th and 25th clauses. If the House would allow him he would call particular attention to this point, for he had taken down the words used by the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade, and they seemed to him rather striking coming from the author of the Bill and a Member of the Cabinet. The right hon. Baronet had used the words "and if it means as I understand it to mean." Now, the House earnestly hoped that when the Bill came back from the Committee there would be no doubt as to the interpretation to be placed upon the clauses. The clauses should be so worded that they might have no manner of doubt as to what the Committee did mean as to this vexed question of undue preference. They further trusted that the Grand Committee would go to this question with an open mind. The hon. Baronet the Member for East Norfolk (Sir Edward Birkbeck) had said that they would hear a great deal about this question at the next Election if it were not soon settled. They all of them knew that, and he himself (Mr. Mac Innes) had frequently had to deal with the subject as a Railway Director before his constituents. He knew that, if he was thinking only of the next General Election, he would not say much about this Undue Preference Clause; but he did trust that every Member who was going to serve on the Grand Committee would enter upon the work with an open mind, and would not consider that the question of special rates was as simple as it might appear on the first blush. He trusted that they would remember 1905 the epithet attached to it by the right hon. Gentleman the ex-President of the Board of Trade—namely, that this was, indeed, "a most complex question." The discussion to-night had been carried on by hon. Gentlemen who had studied the question, and who know all its bearings. When it was taken up outside the House, however, hon. Members knew perfectly well that it was by no means so easily understood. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wick (Mr. Macdonald Cameron) had alluded to the experience of railways outside this country. Well, he (Mr. Mac Innes) wished very much that hon. Members would study the working of the railways, not only on the Continent, but also in the States of America. The hon. Member had spoken very favourably of his experiences in America in regard to the working of their railways, and in regard to the traffic on those railways. Many of them had not had the advantage which the hon. Member had had of travelling in that country; but they knew something about travelling in their own country. He (Mr. Mac Innes) knew what it was to stand on the foot-plate of an express engine journeying upon one of our English lines; and he must say that, from what he heard and read of American railways, that he did not think any train in America would travel as smoothly as a train on one of our great lines leading from any of our termini in London. The hon. Member had also spoken about the cheaper rates at which produce was carried on American railways. When they talked of America, they thought of the Report of the American Commission on this matter, and while there was much instruction to be gained from its perusal, it was impossible to open the pages of that Report without at once seeing that there were many points on which we could not willingly accept the American system. We read there that America had 108 roads, comprising 11,066 miles of railway, in the hands of receivers. When we remembered that we had only 19,000 miles of railway altogether, we saw that something, at least, was to be said for our system of management on this side of the Atlantic. Then, in the Report of the Commission, they heard a good deal about systems prevalent there about which nothing whatever was known in this country. They saw a 1906 great deal about personal favouritism, and of that nothing was known in England; and also of very low rates being charged for the purpose of creating an apparent volume of traffic so as to bolster up the credit of a railway company or prepare the ground for arrangements with a rival, and certainly nothing of that was known in this country; and they read also of managers of Railway Companies thinking more of their personal interests than those of their undertakings, which was also unknown in this country. He would recommend hon. Members to read the Blue Book on American Railways, because there were many in the House who thought that the attitude of the Railway Companies with regard to special rates could not possibly be justified. If they would go through the Blue Book they would see the principles which had guided thoughtful men in dealing with these difficult questions. They would see the principles upon which the American Railway Commission had acted; and if the Grand Committee to which this Bill was about to be referred would only carry out the spirit of that Report in the Blue Book, which argues everywhere that questions affecting Railway interests should be administered in perfect equality and fairness, he, for one, had little doubt that at the end of the Session the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade would have the satisfaction of feeling that he had been the means of carrying a Bill which was of great benefit to the country.
§ MR. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
said, he was glad to find from the speeches they had listened to to-night that this most important subject was now ripe for legislation. They, in the country, had been complaining for a long time of the charges made by the railways for the carriage of their various agricultural products. They thought, and he believed they thought rightly, that it was very unfair to the agricultural interest that foreign produce should be carried past their very farms to the markets at a less rate than that charged for the carriage of the produce of these farms. Speaking generally, supposing a bullock were brought from Antwerp to London, no more was charged than was demanded for the carriage of a bullock from Colchester, or a station a little below it, to 1907 London. That, he maintained, was handicapping the Eastern Counties' farmers. When railways had their present great powers given to them, rendering them practically monopolists, he was quite sure that the agricultural interest never dreamed that such a state of things as that would occur. They knew that foreign wheat was carried from one side of England to the other at a cheaper rate than that at which English wheat could be sent from point to point in England—perhaps a distance of only 50 miles, that was to say foreign wheat would travel at a less price 100 or 150 miles than English wheat could be carried 50 miles. This sort of thing was crushing the last spark of life out of the English farmer, and he was quite sure that no hon. Gentleman opposite, however desirous he might be that the British consumer should have agricultural produce at less than cost price, would be bold enough to stand up either in this House or any public platform in England, and say that it was fair that foreign goods should be charged by the railways far less than the goods of the home producer. The point which had been raised on more than one occasion that night—that with reference to Section 2 of Clause 25—was, perhaps, after all to the farmer the most important point in this Bill, and he sincerely hoped that in Committee that particular part of the measure would be most closely looked into. For his own part, he was afraid that there was a door open in that particular section to undo a great deal of the benefit which was found in other parts of the Bill. What he had always understood from agriculturists in connection with the subject of this Bill was that they asked for no favour, and that they were determined to have, if possible, just the same scale of charges for their produce that the foreigner got for his, and that, he thought, was a perfectly fair demand on the part of the agriculturists. Why the foreigner should be treated differently to the English farmer, he failed to understand. Another point which had been taken up was that of terminal charges. Well, of course it would not do to have the rating put right, and then to have terminal charges left to the tender mercies of the Railway Directors. He was afraid of Railway Directors. Railway Directors in the past had not shown very much gene- 1908 rosity to such poor little people in the country as farmers, and he would rather tie the hands of Railway Directors so that they might not be able either by terminals or in any other way to act unfairly to the agricultural interest. He did not want to be unfair to the Railway Directors or shareholders; but all he asked was fair play between the two parties. The part of the Bill which referred to canals had been also alluded to to-night, and that was a part of the Bill of some interest. It was a great pity that canals in some parts of England had almost, if not entirely, gone out of use. Canals ought to be useful in conveying the produce of the land from the producers to the consumers. Many hon. Members on the other side of the House—the Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) in particular—were anxious that a great deal of land which was now uncultivated should be cultivated. Now, one of the difficulties—there were others which he would not go into to-night—which stood in the way of uncultivated land being cultivated, was the difficulty of getting agricultural produce from the producers to the consumers. He had no doubt that in many parts of England canal transit would remove that difficulty very largely; but if they let the Railway Companies have the power of doing what they liked without canals, he was afraid they would never see the canals developed or put to their legitimate uses. He should like to see in many parts of England not only the existing canals used, but fresh canal enterprizes started. He believed there were many parts of England where canals might be extended. They knew that on the Continent the small proprietors used the canals for taking produce to market, and he thought that in many parts of England the same thing might be done. if English land was to be cultivated with any hope of profit, they would have to go in for some new system to meet the altered circumstances of the day, and he was rather inclined to think that that system would be, to a great extent, the cultivation of small portions of land; but then they would never make them answer until they get some means of conveying the produce of these small occupiers or proprietors to market. Nothing would be more suitable, where the geographical position of the country would allow of it, as a means of con- 1909 veying the agricultural produce of the farms to the towns than water transit. The Railway Companies were afraid of a competing canal in the vicinity of their lines; for his part he thought Railway Companies should not have the power of shutting up canals; it was a great mistake to allow Railway Companies to become possessors of canals, for they had got quite enough power without that. If they allowed the Railway Companies such an entire monopoly as to drive out of existence all other means of conveying produce, they were entirely in the hands of those Companies. He hoped the House would do all it possibly could to prevent, at any rate, the agricultural interest of the country being entirely in the hands of railway monopolists. As he had said before, he wished to be perfectly fair with the Railway Companies, but they were much stronger, or they had been in the past much stronger, than the agriculturists, and when an agriculturist had had a grievance, and had asked himself whether it would be worth his while to go to a Court of Law with a railway question, that agriculturist, if he were wise, had decided that it would not be to his interest to go to law. He (Mr. Gray) trusted that there would be some tribunal set up which would be within the reach of the smallest agriculturist, or, if they liked, peasant proprietor. He did not believe that any Railway Company ought to escape from the consequences of its action merely because it was rich, merely because it was able to have the best legal advice at its fingers ends, while little traders would probably be ruined by going to law with such a great antagonist. There must be some tribunal which would be open to the smallest trader of the country, and they must try and stop any further power being obtained by Railway Companies, so that the English agriculturists should not be handicapped by being charged one price, while the foreigners competing with them were charged another and a lower price.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL (Kirkcaldy, &c.)
said, he was convinced that this Bill, so far as it went, was a good Bill, but that altered in certain respects it would be a better Bill. At present the Bill seemed only to touch the fringe of the subject; the real question was 1910 whether the Railway Companies were to be monopolists or subject to competition. It seemed to him that in respect to railways, whenever there was competition the public was well served, but whenever there was no competition the public was badly served. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) alluded to the subject of competition in reference to preferential rates; he said they must bear in mind the question of competition. His impression was that the right hon. Gentleman used that argument rather in favour of preferential rates than against them. He understood the right hon. Gentleman's argument to be that Railway Companies must in certain cases, on account of competition, carry goods cheaply; but that, on the other hand, where there was no competition they should be allowed to carry goods dearly. His (Sir George Campbell's) argument was rather the other way; the Companies, he thought, ought to be obliged to carry goods as cheaply as they did when there was competition. He did not intend to move the Amendment he had put on the Paper, but he wished to urge the view expressed therein upon the House. The terms of his Motion were—That no Bill dealing with the railways will be sufficient and satisfactory which does not deal with the passenger traffic and the public convenience and safety, and especially which does not settle on broad lines the question whether railways, enjoying a monopoly of particular routes or districts, have a claim to protection against competition, or whether there is to be free trade in railways as in the United States of America.He was persuaded that, as the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade acknowledged, no settlement of the subject would be satisfactory which did not deal with the convenience of passengers as well as with trade rates. The subject of trade rates had been put in the forefront for the reason that trade rates were paid by the great commercial communities. Great commercial authorities pressed the subject on the attention of the Government and the public, whereas the passenger community were notun ited to the same extent as trailers were; they were not able to push their case as traders were; but, at the same time, it seemed to him that passengers representing the public were at least 1911 deserving of consideration. Again, where there was competition, passengers or the public were well served, while where there was no competition, but absolute monopoly, there was a good deal of carelessness, a good deal of tyranny, and a good deal of greed on the part of Railway Companies. The public, as passengers, suffered inconvenience in consequence of irregularity of trains, and from other things in regard to which there was practically no remedy. Hon. Members would recollect the declaration in the Ascot case. It was decided in that case that the Railway Company was not bound to run ordinary passenger trains, but might run as many special trains with special fares as it liked. There was another instance in which passengers suffered inconvenience, namely, where Railway Companies did not run together for the benefit of the public, as on the line from Richmond to Windsor and Ascot. It was very necessary that they should decide whether Railway Companies were to be monopolies or subject to free competition, as they were now in the United States. He might give many examples of the benefit arising from free competition in railways. He spoke from practical experience, and asserted that when there was competition, as there was in regard to various lines to Scotland, the railway traffic was of the best. He had travelled by railway in many countries, but he did not think there was any railway accommodation which would equal that between London and Scotland—between London and Edinburgh and Glasgow. But when they came to the monopolies in the South of England they were badly and dearly served. In the North of Scotland, where the Highland Railway had a monopoly, the service was extremely bad. Indeed, wherever there was a monopoly they were badly served, but where there was free competition the public were well served. It seemed to him that, in regard to the regulation of railways, there were two systems, either of which might succeed. One was complete Government control, and the other was free competition. He complained that there was no efficient Government control, and that there was not free competition. In the United States of America there was absolute free trade in railways. In that country there was not only a 1912 great deal of strong legislation controlling railways for the benefit of the public, but the State encouraged the making of railways on every hand. Any man or set of men who desired to set up a railway were entitled to do so. He very frequently saw adverse criticisms of the management of railways in America, and there were many abuses, but he maintained that there was no country in the world in which, considering the great distances to be covered, the public were so well and cheaply served. That was the result of free competition. In this country it was not settled whether railways were monopolies or whether there was free trade in railways. What happened when a new Company desired to establish a competing line? They had to fight the matter before a Private Bill Committee. He did not desire to say a word against Private Bill Committees; he believed they were honest and, to a certain extent, efficient tribunals; but in regard to this matter of free trade in railways, there was no rule whatever by which they could be guided. A new line was met by opposition, not on the part of the public, but on the part of owners of existing lines, and the difficulties were so great of fighting already existing lines that it was often found to be practically impossible to withstand the opposition. A large portion of the existing lines were practically monopolies. Take the case of the line from London to Brighton; in a similar case in America there would be two or three competing lines. The influence of the Brighton Company was so great that it was impossible to establish a competing line, and the result was that the public were suffering, to a very great extent, from the monopoly of the Company. The right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade had alluded to the action of that Company with regard to the carriage of parcels, and had told them that, in consequence of the exactions of the Company, it paid the Post Office to run four-horse coaches between London and Brighton for Parcels Post purposes. The Brighton line was making there a monopoly. There was the same state of things in the North; the Highland Railway was a monopoly. The carriage of fish depended upon railways in the North, and the other day another line from Glasgow was proposed. He did not know the reason why that line was 1913 thrown out; there might be good reasons for it, but he knew that it was bitterly opposed by the existing Highland line; and that that opposition had considerable effect in bringing about the defeat of the proposed competing line which would have done so much for the fishermen of Scotland. It was high time the question was decided whether railways were to be monopolies or subject to most strict Government control. If not monopolies they ought to be exposed to real free trade, and it was only in this way that the public would be efficiently served. In Belgium and Germany the railways were owned by the Government, and they were run with economy and great advantage to the State. In France the railways were monopolies, and not under Government control, with the result that the railway service was the worst in the world. In America there was free competition, and in those parts of England and Scotland where there was free competition the best railways in the world were found. As he had said, he would not move the Motion of which he had given Notice; but desired to urge the view embodied in it upon the serious consideration of the Government, and of the House generally.
§ MR. JARVIS (Lynn Regis)
said, he had the honour to represent a constituency which might be very materially affected if any difference were made in the existing system. He represented a constituency which was dependant very much upon the prosperity of agriculture, and which was equally dependant upon the success of its shipping, its docks, and its export and import trade. He believed that this Bill was an honest endeavour to abolish the anomalies which might exist in the present system of railway rates, and it was also the desire of Her Majesty's Ministers to improve the condition of all those who lived by the cultivation of the soil. The agricultural interest was one which sorely needed relief in any form, and he thought that if hon. Members had studied the pamphlet which had been referred to in the course of the debate, they could not but be struck with the figures that were adduced by the publishers of that pamphlet. In the debate in the House of Lords one noble Lord (Lord Jersey), in supporting an Amendment, which was adopted in that 1914 place, quoted the pamphlet in question at great length, and he argued from it that, whereas English produce was carried at the rate of 22s. 4d. per ton, foreign produce was carried the same distance at the rate of 8s. 4d. per ton, and therefore he maintained that the carrying of foreign produce at a cheaper rate than English produce was an undue preference which should not be allowed in this country. The noble Lord (Lord Walsingham) who seconded the Amendment also maintained that it was absolutely useless for landlords to reduce their rents to the extent of 5s. and 10s. per acre when, as Railway Directors, they might be taxing their tenants with 14s. per acre in the case of wheat, or £4 18s. Od. per acre in the case of potatoes. He (Mr. Jarvis) did not say that these figures were correct; but what the agriculturists said was that, if it was impossible to reduce their rates to the level of the foreigners, then the rates of the foreigners should be raised to the level of the rates which they were now called upon to pay. But the complaints upon this point Were not only confined to agriculturists. He had had letters from some of his constituents upon the point, and with the permission of the House he would give the effect of a letter from a gentleman who dealt very largerly in pottery from the Staffordshire district. His informant showed that, whereas he had to pay 28s. 4d. per ton for carriage from Staffordshire to King's Lynn, the same goods were carried by railway to Hull, and then by sea to Amsterdam for 15s. a ton. The gentleman gave other statistics with which it was not necessary to trouble the House; this example perhaps would be sufficient. Let them consider for a few minutes how the traders could be benefited by the abolition of what were called preferential rates. The Railway Companies maintained that if they were not allowed to charge special or preferential rates the trade would be driven on to the sea. From an agricultural point of view, agriculturists might like trade to be driven on to the sea, for it would have the effect, possibly, of creating a rise in freights; and whatever might have a tendency to create a rise in freights, might also create a rise in the price of agricultural produce. The low price of agricultural produce now was the chief cause of the agricultural de- 1915 pression at the present time. But the trade being driven on to the sea would have this bad effect—that one would not be able to control the ports to which that trade would be driven. The trade would be driven to the nearest port, and, therefore, the smaller ports would necessarily suffer. The hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Grotrian) gave some very interesting statistics upon the distance from Hall of some of the largest manufacturing towns, and if he (Mr. Jarvis) might be allowed to give one example, he would give an example of how trade might be driven away from the port in which he was deeply interested. The Midland Railway Company offered low rates for shipment of coals from the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire collieries to the port of King's Lynn. That rate was 2s. 9d. per ton. They offered the same rate to the port of Boston, which was nearer the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields by some 20 miles. Now, if these rates were abolished, and the Railway Companies were not allowed to make special or preferential rates for their export and shipment trade, the trade would be driven from the port of King's Lynn to the nearer port of Boston. In fact, he very much doubted whether it would not be driven from both ports, and whether Hull and Grimsby would not reap the benefit of all the trade. Under the present system, all the ports on the East coast were able to compete for the trade in Manchester manufactured goods. The same rates were quoted from Manchester to all the ports on the East coast—to Boston, to King's Lynn, to Harwich, to Hull, to Grimsby, and to Newcastle. If the Railway Companies were not allowed to grant the same facility to all these ports equally, the trade would be driven to the nearest port; and in this instance, in all probability, the whole of that trade would go to Liverpool. Therefore, hon. Members would see that he felt, in considering this question, that he had a very great responsibility, because, if the Railway Companies were not allowed to charge special rates, the constituency which he represented—although it might gain to a certain extent on the agricultural interest—would suffer from the loss of its trade as a seaport. There was another point in the Bill. There was the London trade to the sea coast ports, and there were 1916 special rates quoted between London and the ports on the East Coast. In the 25th clause, as he understood it, if there were regular rates quoted between seaports and, they would say, London, the Railway Companies would be obliged to quote the same rates for any places lying between London and those ports. The trade, therefore, would be driven to London, because it would not be worth while for the Railway Companies to lower their rates to any extent, and the trader who lived, say, half way between London and a given seaport, would not reap the advantage which he might expect, because the trade would be driven to London, and he would still have to pay the railway rate from London to the place in which he might be trading. Therefore, as he understood the matter, the seaport in that case would materially suffer, and the trader would not reap any corresponding benefit. From the opening remarks of the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), he rather gathered that, under Clause 25, Railway Companies would not be called upon to entirely give up the system of granting special rates; and, therefore, possibly the fears, which he believed he shared in common with many hon. Members of the House upon the subject, might be dispelled. But he knew that it was impossible to legislate for one class at the expense of another, and, therefore, he asked for certain advice upon the subject; and he trusted that, before the Bill passed through Committee, he might receive information which would dispel the fears he had recently had upon this point. He was aware that the railway interest was very powerful, and he was aware that any legislation that might damage that interest without creating a corresponding benefit to any class, would actually be harmful to the whole community. He trusted, however, that the proposals which Her Majesty's Government had made in this Bill would be of lasting benefit and permanent good to that honest, hardworking class who lived by the cultivation of the soil, and, at the same time, would not be any disadvantage to any other branches of trade.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)
said, he had hoped to have been able to obtain an opportunity of raising, by a definite Resolution, the important ques- 1917 tion referred to in the Motion standing in his name; but having regard to the lengthy nature of the general debate, and the very advanced hour of the evening, and particularly to the great desire of the Government, in which he cordially shared, to advance as rapidly as possible the progress of the measure now before Parliament, he did not propose to move formally his Amendment. Further-more, the right hon. Baronet the President of the Board of Trade (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) had in his speech, by anticipation, referred to the special proposals with which he (Mr. P. Stanhope) was identified, and in some particulars had made considerable concessions, while with respect to the whole question, he had expressed his willingness to see it thoroughly discussed in the Grand Committee. He would not enter at all into the arguments which had been advanced from one side or the other with respect to preferential rates upon Railways or terminal charges. Important, as it undoubtedly was, to arrive at a settlement of those questions, he personally feared that public expectation of great results—proceeding out of their solution, or a consequent substantial reduction of tariff—would be sadly disappointed, and he believed that if the Bill contained no other provisions but those which dealt with this branch of the question little would be done by it towards placing the trading and industrial classes in a more favourable and commanding position with respect to their power for effecting considerable reduction of freights. It was only the other day that he had occasion to hear the arguments of one of the leading Railway Managers of the Kingdom, in respect to the effect of the Bill as it stood on the point of the restriction of the power of charging preferential rates, and the argument of that gentleman was, that it offered to the Railway Company two alternatives, either to level down to the lower rate, or to level up to the higher one, and that, having regard to the interests of their shareholders, it was probable that the Railway Companies would adopt the latter alternative. Consequently, it would appear that if anything really drastic was to be accomplished in the direction of general reduction of rates, it was hardly to be found within the limits of the measure as it stood, or within the explanatory 1918 statements of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. No doubt the Bill, with certain slight modifications, would theoretically remove the objections of the agricultural community and trading class, who had to compete on their home market with foreign imports, for it would apparently put their competitors on the same level with themselves; but for the reason he had stated, it was more than doubtful whether the consumers might not eventually be rather sufferers than otherwise by the changes proposed, unless some serious competition or moderating influence were brought to bear upon the future policy of the Railway Companies. But there remained yet the very large and important question of great English manufacturers of the inland districts, who, in these days of active competition, had but a very narrow margin for competing abroad in neutral markets with the industrial products of other countries. To them it was a matter of vital importance at what rate their raw material could be deposited in their factories and their manufactures could be placed on board ship, and in these particulars, that they should be, generally speaking, in as favourable a position as their foreign competitors similarly situated at a distance from the sea-board. Upon that point the grievances were glaring, and of the greatest urgency. Their existence had been recognized by various Committees of Parliament; but the Bill in its present form would do nothing whatever to remedy them. In spite of the very complete exposure before the Select Committee of the House of Commons, in 1881 and 1882, of the decayed state of the Canal system in the country and of the extent to which it had been absorbed by the Railway Companies, the Bill only proposed in the Canal Clauses to arrest the course of the evil, but in no sense did it make any suggestion or include any provision to neutralize some of the very disastrous consequences which had already resulted. From the most recent Returns which it was possible to obtain, he found that out of a total of 2,970 miles of Canal and navigable waterways, in connection with the great estuaries of the Thames, Severn, Mersey, and Humber, which might be regarded as the natural water highways of the industrial 1919 districts of England, of which extent 838 miles were river navigation in the hands of public trusts, no less than 1,229 miles of the remainder were already in the hands of Railway Companies, and that, therefore, more than two-thirds of that part of the Canal system could not be said to have a real existence, and the remaining one-third had, generally speaking, been either rendered powerless by isolation, or had been reduced to the verge of extinction. He thought it would be generally admitted by the House that that condition of things was one respecting which it was not merely sufficient to say that the evil should not be allowed to go further, and that, therefore, the Canal Clauses in the Bill which dealt with the matter were practically of no value to the traders. If substantial relief was to be afforded in any way whatever to the heavy trades of the country, it must proceed upon the general principle of the gravitation of each kind of commerce towards its natural channel. Heavy manufactures of steel or iron and coal and mineral traffic in general were necessarily, by their very nature, an unremunerative traffic to Railways, and could only be rendered the reverse by the fact that Railway Companies were able, by the maintenance of their monopoly, to earn a profit by the imposition of an exaggerated tariff, and were naturally destined to proceed by Canal routes to or from their port of shipment. It had been abundantly proved by independent inquiries, not only in England, but on many parts of the Continent, that traffic of this character could be remuneratively conveyed by Canal for less than one-third of the cost at which it could be remuneratively conveyed by rail. In a very remarkable Report made by Mr. fonder in 1882 to the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce, he saw it was set forth that one-third of 1d. a-ton per mile would pay for transport, including a fair interest and sinking fund on capital, by Canal, and that the same traffic could not be conveyed by Railway for less than nine-tenths of 1d. Those conclusions were fully confirmed by the official Reports of Belgium and of France; but in Belgium and in France the establishment of these startling truths had been followed up by the immediate application of remedies. France possessed 1920 nearly 9,000 miles of Canals, of which about 2,000 miles had been constructed within the last 10 years by the State, and the whole cost of the Canals had not been much under £100,000,000 sterling. Belgium had made even greater progress in that direction; and from a recent official Statement of the Department of Public Works it was shown that there exists in that small country 1,200 miles of Canal, seven-eighths of which belonged to the State. Germany was also making most vigorous efforts with the same objects, and great works for the canalization of the Elbe, Weser, and the Rhine, in which both State and Municipality had participated, and the contemplated canalization of the Oder and the Spree, which would bring Silesian coal into competition with English coal in Eastern Germany, would show that while they were apparently entirely asleep as to the importance of that subject, their most formidable industrial rivals on the Continent of Europe were eminently awake. He had listened with very great interest to the suggestion of his right hon. Friend the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield (Mr. Mundella) for the purchase of the Canals by the State; and he was agreeably surprised at the degree of approval with which that proposal was in a recent debate referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He (Mr. P. Stanhope) would not discuss, at the present moment, the obvious advantages or disadvantages of that suggestion; he could only say he believed that, certainly for the time, the necessities of the case might be successfully met by a less heroic and less centralizing measure, and by the insertion in the present Bill of clauses devolving upon Local Authorities the effective agency of the duties and responsibilities of the State with respect to Canal development; but, in any case, it was evident that their long continued neglect of that important question had already produced disastrous consequences to their inland industries. When it was seen that many great firms were unable to compete, by reason of their distance from the seaboard, in neutral markets with foreign competitors, and were transferring their operations to more convenient localities upon the coast, when great manufacturers like Messrs. Cam- 1921 mell, of Sheffield, Messrs. Nettlefold, of Birmingham, the Dowlais Company, and many others whom he could name, had already adopted or were contemplating that step, it was surely time to open the eyes of the public to the serious peril of the position in which the towns of the Midlands of England would be placed unless prompt action was taken. There were many competent authorities who believed that unless steps were immediately adopted there would be a great depopulation of those districts, involving enormous suffering upon the artizan class for the removal of their families, and great loss and depreciation in those house properties in which so much of their capital and economies had been directly or indirectly invested, and with results, perhaps, calamitous to the reduced and impoverished remnant of the ratepayers. The general propositions which he therefore desired to establish to the satisfaction of the House were—First, that it would not suffice to arrest the action of the Railway Companies in the direction of acquiring Canals, but that it would also be necessary to wrest from their grasp such portions of the Canal system already under their control as might be essential to its further development; secondly, that for that purpose it was not possible, nor was it desirable, in the public interest to leave the development of the Canal system to private enterprize, but that it should be devolved upon independent popular authorities or Public Trusts, fostered, as in the case of harbours, by advances from the State, and whose operations would be conducted not with a view to the promotion of a speculative interest, but solely to the advantage of industry and trade of the district of which the Trust would be representative. The Return made to Parliament in 1870, in illustration of his first proposition, showed to what a languid and expiring condition the Canal system of the country had been reduced. The construction of new Canals had practically ceased, and two-thirds of the existing ones had passed into the hands of Railway Companies, who had expended no less than £11,000,000 or £12,000,000 in the purchase of those Canals, a totally unremunerative investment, except in temporarily paralyzing a competing route. In fact, the policy of the Railway Companies seemed to have been to establish 1922 such a record of the results of the Canals under their administration as to discourage their use and the promotion of every kind of enterprize for their development. Thus, it was seen that in the case of the Oxford Canal, whose revenue as an independent Company was £89,000 a-year, was now in the hands of the Railway Company reduced to £24,000 a-year. The revenue of the Coventry Canal under similar conditions had fallen from £35,000 to £7,700; and the Birmingham Canal Navigation, which in 1845 paid 130 per cent on its capital, did not now pay the guaranteed interest while in the hands of the Railway Company; and many Canals under Railway control, from the fact that the inefficient supervision which, no doubt, theoretically was supposed to exist under Sections 11 and 16 of the Act of 1873, had either been discanalized or had been allowed to become entirely obsolete for the requirements of traffic. It would appear that the powers proposed in Clause 36 of the present Bill were not nearly sufficient for accomplishing the objects which the supporters of the Canal interest must naturally have in view. Nothing short of a power to compulsorily acquire, on equitable conditions, such portions of the Canal system at present in the hands of the Railway Companies for the purpose of re-establishing the independence of the Canal system would really be effective for the public objects in view. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had spoken hopefully upon the point, and such a suggestion had been made before; and he was in a position to quote an eminent Railway authority in his support, who had admitted the force of his contention and its reasonableness under certain conditions. The hon. Baronet the Member for Hythe (Sir Edward Watkin), the Chairman of several great Railway Companies, in his evidence before the Railway Companies Amalgamation Committee in 1872, used these words on page 452 of the printed evidence—If it can be proved that the advantage of a navigation which Parliament has given to the public has been taken away, I think it will be quite reasonable for people to say—'You shall give up possession of this thing if it is not properly used.'",All that he (Mr. P. Stanhope) would propose would be to give legislative effect 1923 to that frank admission of an eminent Representative of the Railway interest, and unless that was clearly done he did not think the Bill as it stood would be of any use whatever in connection with the re-establishment of the independent Canal system, of which he had shown two-thirds of the whole length were already in the hands of the Railway Companies, and the remaining third was impotent for either good or evil. Passing on now to his second proposition, he would remark that the promotion of independent Canals had, since the initiation of Railways, almost entirely ceased. Some few of the older and more opulent Canal Companies, like the Aire and Calder Navigation Companies, had, no doubt, under very special circumstances, increased the carrying capacity of their several enterprizes; but those cases were very few in number, and they bore a ridiculously insignificant proportion to the Canal system as a whole, and had no practical importance in view of the urgent requirement of a very large development of that system. The single instance in recent times, which might be referred to, of the successful initiation of a new scheme of Canal development in competition with Railway Companies was furnished by the Manchester Ship Canal, which, under almost insuperable difficulties, had been able to obtain an Act of Parliament and to find the necessary capital; but the experience of the Manchester Ship Canal was one which should teach Parliament a lesson. There was an enterprize warmly supported by the great towns of Manchester, Warrington, and Salford, and by the most important industries of the districts affected, which was promoted for the purpose of giving relief to a trade which could be reckoned by millions; and yet, in spite of the almost universal popular sympathy with the project, so powerful was the position of the Railway interest in Parliament and the financial world that it took more than two years of time to obtain the sanction of Parliament; over £100,000 in hard money, representing a much larger sum on paper, were expended in Parliamentary contests, and it required the combined exertions of the great houses of Baring and Rothschild to place, I believe not very successfully, the necessary capital. The result, so far as the Manchester Ship Canal project was concerned, was 1924 naturally to largely increase its capital. Promoters who took great risks expected to receive adequate remuneration. Great interests, both of landowners and others, had to be mollified by engagements of a substantial nature, and the speculative character of the undertaking involved a corresponding cost which would doubtless largely affect the contract price and the capital cost of the undertaking. The Railway Companies, no doubt, believed that the experience of the promoters of the Manchester Ship Canal would not encourage similar enterprize in other localities; and they reckoned with confidence that if they did not succeed in the case of the Manchester Ship Canal, they, in any event, had given a quietus to private enterprize following in its footsteps. Furthermore, besides the almost insuperable difficulty which private enterprize would have to overcome in the direction of Canal development, it would be, he contended, an unsatisfactory principle to allow the great Canal system of the country to be in the possession of uncontrolled private Companies. It was true that under the clauses of the Bill now before the House great restrictions were placed upon the direct acquirement of Canals by Railway Companies; but the experience of the Bridgwater Canal, and, more recently, of the Regent's Canal, was sufficient to show that there were indirect methods of accomplishing that object; and, even assuming that they were rendered by the Bill more circuitous and difficult, there were few who would dispute that the ingenuity of the Railway interests would scarcely be found insufficient to discover the means of accomplishing it. The same process which had for 40 years been pursued by the Railway Companies with regard to Canal Companies would inevitably continue if Canals were left in the hands of private Companies. They would either be starved into submission, or cajoled into surrender, and the effect would therefore be merely to confirm a monopoly which, in the interest of the trade of the country, should be restrained and rendered less prejudicial to general interests. His contention, therefore, was, that in order to give full development to the Canal system it was necessary to authorize and encourage, for that purpose, the action of Local Public Authorities in the direction of the great 1925 principle of co-operation, by the constitution of Public Canal Trusts. In the case of the Manchester Ship Canal, the Corporation of Salford actually voted a contribution to the capital of the Company, and be believed the town of Manchester was inclined in the same direction; but it was shown in the case of Salford that no power existed authorizing a Corporation to subscribe to the capital of a private Company, and that was a principle to which he thought he House would justly adhere; but as a result it rendered it impossible, under the existing law, for Municipalities or Local Authorities to take practical steps for the advancement of such an undertaking. They were not entitled at present to take part in the promotion of a Public Trust, and they possessed no defined power under statute to take the initiatory steps for Government sanction for such a purpose. The scope of his Amendment would cover all those purposes; but he limited himself to suggesting that, in the present Bill, clauses should be introduced solely laying down such general principles as would allow Municipalities, new County Authorities, or such other Local Bodies as might be desirous of joining together in a Public Trust for Canal purposes to be authorized to take the preliminary steps for that object, of course reserving their final scheme when elaborated, both with regard to the constitution of the proposed Public Trust, and with regard to the undertaking which it was formed to carry out, for the sanction of the Government. No doubt, his proposal to interfere with the Railway monopoly would excite indignation in the Railway world, and it was perfectly true that powers conferred by Parliament upon Railway Companies could not be revised by Parliament beyond a limited extent without a charge of confiscation. There existed, however, positively no engagement whatever on the part of Parliament not to prejudice the monopoly of the Railway Companies by an active encouragement of competing routes of Canal, and the effect of such a competition upon the policy of the Railway Companies had been absolutely startling. Previous to the Manchester Ship Canal, by an arrangement between the Canal Companies and Railway Companies to keep up prices of transport between Liverpool and Manchester, the charge 1926 was nearly 3d. per ton per mile as against one-third of 1d. a-ton per mile, at which, under normal conditions, it had been shown that Canal traffic could be profitably carried. After the sanction by Parliament of the Manchester Ship Canal enterprize the Railway Companies' charges came down with a run, and they were destined to fall still further, in proportion to the progress made with the works of that great enterprize. Even assuming that in many cases the popular demand for a Canal had not yet taken practical form, it was perfectly certain that the existence of a power on the part of the Municipalities and Local Bodies to promote such an enterprize to compete with the Railway Companies would exercise a moderating and salutary effect upon the Railway tariff; but on all sides they had proof that those Canal developments were urgently needed. Numerous Petitions had been sent up to that House, and many of the important inland towns of Lancashire, Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, &c., and, in fact, wherever Canal development was possible, had pronounced strongly in favour of this new departure. As a general policy the constitution of Public Trusts for works of that character had been eminently beneficial. The great navigations of the Mersey, the Clyde, the Tyne, and the Tees had in the hands of Public Trusts been extraordinarily developed. The shipping of Liverpool had, during the 20 years between 1861 and 1881, increased 59 per cent; of the Tyne, 85 per cent; and of the Clyde, 105 per cent. From the Acts passed by Parliament in the year 1861 for the construction and improvement of harbours, and especially the Harbour and Passing Tolls Act of that year, may be dated the enormous development which had taken place in the harbours of the country. Most of the private harbours had passed now into the hands of Public Trusts, money had been in a large number of cases advanced to such Trusts by the Public Works Loans Commissioners at low rates of interest, and a Treasury Minute of last year, while setting forth certain necessary restrictions as regarded the advances of such money, admitted that the Harbour and Passing Tolls Act of 1861 had largely stimulated harbour construction and, under proper securities, had been a most useful expenditure. As a matter of 1927 fact, the Manchester Ship Canal Company, in its latest Act of Parliament, had taken powers to transfer its undertaking to a Public Trust, and it would be very much in the public interest that such powers should be exercised. By the adoption of the principles which he had ventured to discuss at he feared somewhat an inordinate length, at that advanced hour, and by the incorporation in the Bill of the necessary clauses to establish them, he firmly believed that an enormous impetus would be given to Canal enterprize throughout the country. Already districts which were adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal, both in Lancashire, Cheshire, and in North Staffordshire, had manifested their keen desire to be placed in communication with that great navigable waterway. The Canal system in connection with the Thames, the Humber, and the Severn was capable, at a comparatively moderate expenditure, of being rendered available for the higher purposes of commerce, and nearly all the towns of the Midland district whose volume of trade in heavy manufactures was of any importance had associated themselves with the general ideas which he had the honour to advocate. Taking Birmingham as the central point of a great industrial district, no less than three important projects for Canal communication with the sea had been carefully examined by the Corporate Authorities, and the artizan population, whose prosperity depended upon the maintenance of the commercial and industrial success of the great manufacturing centres, were becoming perfectly conscious of the way in which the results of their labour were at present prejudiced by exaggerated freights for the import of the raw material used in manufactures, and for the export of those manufactures to foreign countries to which they had to yield in consequence of the present intolerable monopoly of the Railway Companies. When they saw it was possible for the manufacturer of Lièege, for example, to send his goods to Antwerp for 2s. a-ton, while a distance about equivalent from Birmingham to Liverpool was charged 10s. a-ton, it did not require a very elaborate mental effort to prove that our heavy manufacturers of the Midlands were subject to an impost of no less than 8s. a-ton before they arrived at the port of shipment, which, in these 1928 days of keen competition in foreign markets, was equivalent to a bounty of corresponding amount in favour of their foreign competitors, and was generally amply sufficient to exclude them from profitable rivalry. Although he might have spoken in this matter in a tone which might be regarded as hostile to the Railway interest, he frankly did not believe, from some acquaintance with Railways in this country and elsewhere, that the policy of independent Canals competing with Railways would act to the serious prejudice of Railway Companies. It was merely the division of bulky and non-perishable goods from Railways to their natural channel by Canal, and the Railway Companies as carriers would naturally largely avail themselves of these waterways, and their lines would be free from a traffic which could not but at present seriously encumber them and must add considerably to the wear and tear of permanent way and material. In any case, he would submit that it was not a question that admitted of any delay whatever. The opportunity offered by the Bill before the House might perhaps not be, as contended by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, the most favourable mode that could be offered for the purpose of dealing with it; but experience of legislation in that country would appear to convince most people that, unless every occasion, however inadequate, was seized for pressing forward those great public questions, their consideration might be defered for a period which, in the present case, could only be highly dangerous to their commercial supremacy. Foreign nations were far a head of them in the matter; and in their case, no doubt, the State had generally accepted the responsibility and urgency of the development of Canals; but if private enterprize had proved to be, as he thought he had been able to substantiate, totally unable to keep pace with the advances of other countries in that direction, it was now surely the moment, when new local life was about to be infused into the country by the great expansion of popular Local Self-Government, when it should appear opportune to afford to our municipalities and local representative institutions the possibility of undertaking, in a form sanctioned by experience and through the operation of Public Trusts, which 1929 for so many useful purposes had been so eminently beneficial, and the power of accelerating the reconstitution and of advancing the development, under guarantees for their independence, of the great waterways of the country.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Commitee on Trade and Agriculture.