§ As amended, considered.
§ *(2.15.) MR. FURNESS (Hartlepool)
I have taken the unusual course of moving an Amendment to a Bill 486 which has undergone the consideration of a Committee upstairs, because as I think I can show, the Bill will probably have a very prejudicial effect upon the timber trade of this country. It will probably so affect my own constituency. A very extensive trade has rapidly grown up at the Hartlepools with the Baltic ports and with Sweden and Norway. It will probably be claimed that consignors of the timber will have the option of declaring whether the timber shall be conveyed by machine weight or measurement weight, and it is true that the forwarder will have such an option, but at the best the change means an advance on the present rate of something like 20 per cent. The growth of the trade at the Hartlepools has been most rapid in the last few years—from 531 tons in 1852 to 85,724 tons in 1862; in 1872, 271,533 tons; in 1882, 332,258 tons, and in 1889, the last year for which I have a return, the total of the Hartlepool timber trade reached 406,992 tons. The whole of this trade has hitherto been carried on by computed measurement, the timber being purchased in this manner in Sweden or elsewhere, being so conveyed by steamer or sailing vessel, and the whole of the labour and conveyance at and from the port of arrival being so calculated. Now the Bill proposes practically that the carriage in the future, in order that the timber may have the benefit of the lower rate, shall be by machine weight. But when I inform the House that the foreign timber trade to the Hartlepools is a season trade carried on in the fine months from the time the Baltic ports open in May until early in October, during which period from eight hundred to one thousand trucks are daily loaded at the Hartlepools, it will be seen that it is utterly impossible to have the whole of this timber weighed, and when it is said that the merchant may have the timber forwarded by measurement weight under Clause 1, still that can only be done at an increased cost, equal, as I find from Returns supplied me, in some cases to 21½ per cent. I am sure hon. Members conversant with commercial life will know that an increase of even 2 or 3 per cent. in freight may, in these days of keen 487 competition, be sufficient to divert a trade into other channels. This is what is feared in the case of the foreign timber trade, and hence it is I move the Amendment of which I have given notice. To this I have been urged not only by the timber trade of the port and of various parts of the country, but also by the Chamber of Commerce and the Town Council of Hartlepool. I feel a reluctance to move such an Amendment to a Bill which has received the attention of a Committee, and the points of which have received the attention of eminent counsel; but I am afraid this particular part of the Measure has escaped that careful attention bestowed by the Committee on the Bill generally. I cannot think that it is intended to so seriously interfere with a trade carried on so successfully in the past. The North-Eastern Railway Company have never shown any opposition to the system of carrying timber by computed measurement weight, and it would be a very serious matter indeed for the timber trade if the Bill passes in its present form. It is relevant to the point to mention that the French Government some time ago imposed a duty on timber to be levied by machine weight, but after a very short experience they found that there were so many difficulties and so much delay accompanying this method of levy that after an examination by experts they decided in favour of computed measurement weight. That is what I propose by my Amendment—that the trade should be carried on as hitherto by computed measurement, to which I believe there is no objection.
§ Amendment proposed, in Class C, after the words "timber actual machine weight," to insert the words "or measurement weight."—(Mr. Furness.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (2.20.) MR. HANBURY (Preston)
I had supposed from the papers which have been distributed that the fight would have been between the home timber trade and the foreign timber trade, because we are told how very 488 much the home trade will suffer and the foreign trade gain under the proposals in the Bill; but I find to my surprise an Amendment introduced by the hon. Member, who tells us plainly that it is in the interest of the foreign trade. With regard to the whole question, I am bound to say that having, sat on the Committee for nearly 90 days I think, whatever our views, may be on the merits of the question, that the timber merchants certainly are the most enterprising and persevering body of traders of any that came before us, because while they admit that all other trades have come out rather well from the discussion which took place before the Committee, they, maintain that they alone have been badly treated. But the true state of the case is exactly opposite. The Committee, so far from knowing nothing, about the matter, broke their rule not to hear a case twice over, and heard the case of the timber merchants last year and this year. It cannot be said they did not go into the case thoroughly. Not only so, but the whole thing was, threshed out by debate in Parliament last Session, One of two things will, happen if this Amendment is carried. The hon. Member ask that a totally different system of carrying timber shall be adopted on this line from the system adopted last year by Parliament. For one line only is this change proposed as opposed to the rest of the lines. On the other hand, if this Amendment is to be adopted, then we must repeal everything that Parliament did in the matter last year. From that point of view alone the position is absurd. So far as I understand the matter, the timber merchants object, that the rates are raised, and that the alternative method of carriage they do not like, and they state that the home timber trade is threatened. The latter point has not been raised to-day, and I need not refer to it. But I must contradict the hon. Member when he says the Bill raises the rates upon timber as compared with the rates at which it is now carried. It is a remarkable fact that in all these papers circulated among Members nothing is adduced to show that foreign timber has suffered in any respect whatever. Nor is there any attempt to show that home 489 timber, as a whole, has suffered in any important respect. What the merchants do say amounts to an admission that the rates have been very largely decreased over long distances, but for short distances the rates for home timber have been increased. Now, how is that statement arrived at? Take the figures as they appear in these circulated papers. It is curious that, although they are dealing with the rates in the North-Eastern Railway Bill, these rates are not mentioned in these papers. Whether the North-Eastern rates are higher than the rates of any other line in the Kingdom for timber they carefully avoid mentioning, and all these illustrative instances are taken from the London and Northwestern, and Great Western, and other lines. They even go further, because they take special rates to special stations, they pick out short distances and stations where there is competition, and where the maximum rates cannot be charged because of competition, and because there are special rates under these special circumstances it is said these should be the rates generally for the whole of the timber trade of the country. The proposition is monstrous. They go even further, and in the comparison of maximum rates they are not correct. They say that the rate for timber at the moment is 2d., but no terminal rate is charged. But exactly the opposite is the case.
§ MR. HANBURY
TO these papers circulated freely among Members, some five or six of them signed by the Secretaries of the Home and Foreign Timber Associations. I am surprised that the hon. Member has not seen them. The figures, I say, are wholly misleading. They do not give the actual rates at present charged, and they ignore the fact that while they put in stational and service terminals to the new rates proposed by the Bill the railway companies have the right to charge terminals at present. The comparison is therefore wholly misleading. Now I come to another point raised by the 490 hon. Gentleman. Objection is not so much to the rate as to the option of sending timber by computed measurement weight or actual machine weight. The Railway Companies have no option; they must carry at whichever rate the timber is sent by the traders with whom the option lies. They object to the alternative system, and on what grounds? The hon. Member's Amendment is that timber, whether it is carried by measurement weight or machine weight shall go in the same class and pay the same rate. That supposes that in either case the same weight is carried by the Railway Company. That is assumed; why then the objection to the distinction allowed of sending by machine weight or measurement weight if the machine rate is 25 per cent. more than the measurement weight? We have it from evidence given by timber merchants that there is an enormous difference between the actual weight and the computed measurement weight. We were told by a witness that on 165 cubic feet of deals there was the enormous difference as between 2½ tons computed measurement weight and an actual weight of 3 tons 6 cwt. We had other and similar evidence. No wonder the timber merchants wish to adhere to the tape measurement, and do not like the alternative, for they are actually sending twice as much as the weight they pay for. We are met by the argument that it would be perfectly true in certain cases that the weight varies, and that is the very reason why the Committee and Parliament last year, and the Board of Trade previously, introduced the double system of sending, either by weight or by measurement. For this reason: I will take home timber. We had before us facts to show most conclusively that English elm when cut down weighs nearly one-third as much again as when the sap has gone out; and we introduced this double system for this reason: that the seasoned timber and the older English timber being, of course, a great deal lighter per cubic foot than the green timber, the trader, if he wished, might have the benefit of the lightness in a cheaper rate of carriage than for heavier timber. And I think it is a wise provision that the 491 man who sends light timber should not have to pay exactly the same rate as the man who sends green stuff. I say, therefore, why deny that man the option? We are told that it is the general wish of the whole timber trade that timber should be carried by weight only. Is that the case? ("No!") It is by no means the case.
§ MR. HANBURY
Then your case becomes very weak indeed, because you are then in this position: The Amendment which the timber merchants desire to introduce, if the hon. Member rightly represents his friends, would undoubtedly force the Railway Companies to carry everything at measurement weight, and nothing by machine weight.
§ MR. HANBURY
I am glad that has been dropped. What is the argument against this? In Scotland at the present moment timber is carried by machine weight, and that is the case also in Ireland and South Wales. Indeed, on this North Eastern Railway itself 43 per cent. of the timber—namely, pit props—is carried by machine weight. The hon. Member said that machine weight was found to be impracticable; that it was tried in France, and did not succeed; but there is no need to go to France. I have quoted instances in our own country where it has succeeded, and is being carried out, and we had witnesses before the Committee who said they had not experienced the slightest difficulty whatever, and that it was giving them great assistance. Those were timber merchants. I hope, therefore, I have shown to the House that the whole of the facts upon which the hon. Member has based his contention will not stand examination for one single moment. When he says the Committee has hardly done its duty to this foreign timber trade, I must again remind him that this timber trade has had exceptional opportunities given to it of appearing before the Committee. We twice heard them patiently—a favour granted to no other trade in the Kingdom. Therefore, I ask the House to support the Committee, the Board of Trade, and the House itself in its 492 action of last year, by not listening to the Amendment.
§ MR. STOREY
The speech of the hon. Member seems rather to have been directed to arguments which have not been uttered and to Motions which have not been made than to the modest Amendment which has been submitted. I beg the House to realise that this Motion has no relation whatever to the home timber trade. It has relation to the foreign timber trade, inasmuch as this Company deals with foreign timber, mainly from the Baltic. I desire the House to recognise that in connection with this Baltic trade, which consists principally of deal and battens, the custom for untold years has been to transact business by measurement, that mode being founded upon the common consent of all parties concerned, and upon the average established by a succession of weights. The transactions are ruled by the St. Petersburg standard of measurement, and that method has for years been found the most convenient. There has been no complaint from the persons abroad, nor from the merchants in the North-Eastern ports, nor from the people in the Midlands and in the South with whom we deal, nor from the Railway Companies or the shippers. The point my hon. Friend puts to the House—and I hope it will be considered in the interests of the trade—is that such a widely-ranged, convenient, and practical system of carrying on business ought not to be lightly interfered with by the House. Consider what our position in the North will be if you make this change. We must buy at the St. Petersburg standard, and sell at the same standard. Our merchants have their tables based accordingly, and by reference can immediately tell whether the nature of an offer is satisfactory. I hope the Committee possessed more knowledge than the hon. Member has displayed this afternoon with reference to the matter. If they did not, I do not wonder that they made this one mistake in their multifarious labours. That Committee has, of course, done much that is good. It has introduced advantageous and convenient changes; but it has also made this one alteration, of which all the parties concerned complain. There are Directors of the 493 North Eastern Com any here. I should like to invite my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Sir J. Pease), the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street Division (Mr. Joicey), and the hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Wharton), to say whether, in practice, the North Eastern Company has ever had reason to complain, and whether it ever has complained of the present system. I come now to the change which has been made. The hon. Member opposite asked, Why should the traders object to having the option? We never did object, and we do not now object to having the option. What we object to is this: the Committee say, "You may forward by the Railway Company either by machine weight or by calculated measurement weight. We estimate the machine weight at so-and-so; but if you exercise your option and send by the old calculated measurement weight, then we will put that weight at 21½ per cent."
§ MR. STOREY
The hon. Member talked about some difference between 2 tons 10 cwt. and 3 tons 6 cwt.; but the whole thing has been calculated for 200 years, and the average is known. The hon. Member may verify that fact by coming to Hartlepool or Sunderland, and taking from stock any number of battens and deals, and he will find that month in month out on different cargoes the average is 2 tons 8 cwt. The traders pay on 2 tons 8 cwt. in order to allow for the little variation which they know to exist. As I have said, we do not object to the option. If, however, you establish the machine weight, the North Eastern Railway Company will be the first to complain. My hon. Friend was quite right in saying that this is a season's trade. It happens during a few weeks in the year the ships pour into the North Eastern ports, and the North Eastern Company is pressed in order to get trucks ready for the conveyance of the timber to the South. If, then, that Company were put to the necessity of weighing each truck, the only effect would be to retard the delivery and to cause a restraint of trade. The point of the Amendment is this: We do not object to option, but we ask 494 that with the option the rate should be the same. I see the hon. Member shakes his head, and I will address a final argument in the hope that it will convince him. The rate the Committee proposed for machine weight was a fair rate. That is admitted, I suppose. If that be so, why, if I take the option of sending by measurement weight for the mutual convenience of my customers and myself, should there be added to the weight an additional 21½ per cent.?
§ MR. STOREY
The answer proves the utter ignorance—if I may be permitted to use the word—of the hon. Member as to the facts of the trade. I am certain if he went to Sunderland—and if he would not make a political speech we should be glad to see him there—I could convince him in an afternoon that he had been misinformed upon that particular point. There is no variation beyond what I have indicated. As I saw an expression of dissent on the part of one or two hon. Members when the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Furness) said there was this difference, may I read one sentence from what I believe to be a trustworthy letter. The writer, who has inquired into the matter, says:The rates at ten stations from West Hartlepool amount in Class I. to £6 2s. 7d., the maximum rates; as compared with £4 16s. 4d. in Class VI.My hon. Friend asks that we may have the option of sending either by measurement or by machine weight, and, if we exercise the option, that we shall pay at the machine rate which the Committee fixed and which they must have thought was a fair one. Under these circumstances, I sincerely hope that the House, in the interests of the North-East part of the country, will modify the decision of the Committee upon this very trifling point, and so maintain our trade on the basis upon which it is already established.
§ MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
My hon. Friend (Mr. Storey) has, speaking on behalf of the timber trade, told the House that there is no objection to the option. That, however, is not the case put before the Committee. The case submitted to the Committee 495 was essentially one of objection to the option; and the case the hon. Member raises is a different one. He says there ought to be no distinction between actual weight and measurement weight. I do not myself know anything whatever about the timber trade except the information conveyed to the Committee by the evidence not only of the timber merchants, but also by the Railway Companies; and, however much I might be disposed to accept the evidence of my hon. Friend below me, I cannot divest myself of the facts which were brought to our attention by the Railway Companies. And I believe every Member of the Committee will agree that the evidence conclusively disclosed a considerable difference between actual weight and measurement weight, and showed that measurement weight involved a larger actual weight than that ascertained by the machine. I will put a question to my hon. Friend. The object he desires can be obtained in two ways—either by lowering the measurement weight in Class VI., or by raising the actual machine weight in Class I. I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether he is prepared to accept an Amendment to raise the actual machine weight in Class I., and thereby put the machine weight and the measurement weight on a footing of equality?
§ MR. STOREY
The effect of that would be to increase the present maximum rates of the North Eastern, and inasmuch as we think those rates are high enough for the purpose, we should not agree to it.
§ MR. HUNTER
That brings the House to the real question. This Motion really relies upon the suggestion that the Committee have allowed too heavy maximum rates. Now, Sir, what is the fact? At the present time the maximum rate on the North Eastern for timber, for the initial distances—I will not trouble the House with long distances—is 2¾d. per ton per mile. In Class 1, about which the complaints are made, we have reduced the maximum rates from 2.75 to 2.2, or more than ½d. per ton per mile. If anyone has a right to object to that reduction, surely it is not the trader, but the Railway Company. Taking into account what appears to be proved 496 by the evidence as to the difference between the measurement weight and the actual machine weight, we have reduced the maximum rate on the actual weight from 2¾d. to 2d. a ton per mile, and the question is, ought we to have made any further reduction? I would point out that this is a question upon which the House can only form an opinion after hearing the evidence on both sides. In re-adjusting these rates the Board of Trade has proceeded upon this distinction. If the article was not enumerated in one of the old Acts, and was therefore chargeable at the highest maximum rate, generally 4d. a ton per mile, the Board of Trade paid very little respect to what may be called the vested interests in that maximum rate. When, however, an article had been specifically named in all the Acts, like timber, and a specific maximum rate had been assigned to it, the Board of Trade, properly I think, held the view that the burden was cast on the traders to show whether that maximum rate should be reduced. Well, the Board of Trade have reduced the rates to the extent I have mentioned, and I can only express my own opinion, after hearing all the evidence, that we should not have been justified in inflicting upon the North Eastern Company a larger reduction than that which has been made.
§ *COLONEL HILL (Bristol, S.)
Speaking on behalf of timber merchants, whose trade is an important one in my constituency, I may say that they do not consider they have had an opportunity of sufficiently stating their case, and they strongly protest against the Bill in its present form. They think their interests are so greatly affected by it as to render it necessary to bring in an amending Bill. I will not go into the merits of the question, and I will merely say that it seems to me there should not be much difficulty in so adjusting a table of specific gravities as to make measurement weights practically the same as the actual weights.
§ (2.55.) MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)
I want to enter into the general question of the effect of this Bill, but before doing so I should like to point out that we are in a peculiar position. As far as I know it has not been circulated, 497 and we are discussing a Bill that is not in the hands of any Member.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
There was scarcely any Amendment made in the Bill, and none of any importance.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE
I am afraid I cannot regard that as a sufficient reason for not presenting Members with a copy of a Bill which they are called upon to discuss. At any rate it is open to the right hon. Gentleman to lay the Report of the Committee upon the Table.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The Committee decide what to do with their Report. I have nothing to do with it.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE
Then the responsibility is cast upon the Committee. I only call attention to this particular point in order to remind the House what a little time is given hon. Members to discuss the large questions raised by these Provisional Orders in connection with the rates of railway companies. I do not wish to deny that the Committee upstairs have performed an arduous and valuable duty, but the questions which arise out of these Provisional Orders—and this is a type of the whole—are of such importance and of such general interest to the commerce of the country, that I chink the House itself should have a better opportunity of discussing them, and that we should not have them brought forward at the commencement of public business in this House and be almost smuggled through without any comment. Now, Sir, with regard to the Amendment, I think it has been fairly explained by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey). I attach great importance, and I am sure hon. Members generally will also, to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter), who is an expert in railway matters, and who has shown such great interest in the labours of the Committee upstairs. Nevertheless, I do think a substantial case has been made out by my two hon. Friends, which should induce the House to leave alone this particular branch of the timber trade, which at the present time is, at all events, a very large and important section, and affects not only the ports of entry but also consumers in the 498 Midland districts, who are the purchasers from these large and important firms at Sunderland and Hartlepool. I really would ask the Government and press upon the House to accept this moderate Amendment of my hon. Friend. I have only one word more to say, and that is that many Members of this House believe these various Provisional Orders have seriously injured numerous commercial interests in this country. That being so, we shall in future Parliaments, if not in this one, raise this and other questions with a view to the amendment of the whole law regulating rates and fares.
§ *(3.3.) SIR A. ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
Two points have been referred to by the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) on which I should like to say a word. Last Session I had charge of the Amendment on behalf of the timber trade, and I have to say that throughout this matter, in my opinion, the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks Beach), under difficult circumstances, did his very best to meet the wishes and requirements of the trade, and I may say just the same of the Department over which he presides. But although that Amendment was accepted under the pressure of circumstances, it was well known that it was not satisfactory, and it is equally unsatisfactory now. During this Session the parties interested in this great question have offered to meet the Railway Companies in friendly conference on this subject, and it has been urged that if that meeting had taken place even the Railway Companies might have been convinced that the dislocation to trade and the advantage given to competitors will in the end be injurious to the Railway Companies themselves. That meeting was refused, and I cannot help thinking that it indicates a by no means strong belief, even on the part of the Railway Companies themselves, in the validity of their position. The other point to which I wish to refer is with regard to the opinion of the trading community on this matter. Now, Sir, I can at least express the feeling of the Chambers of Commerce. The London Chamber practically unanimously entertains the strongest feeling against the Bill as it stands. The same observation applies to the 499 Hull Chamber, and I do not know any part of the country which, as an importing centre, has so large an interest in this question as Hull has. Well, Sir, there is another body whose opinions are always regarded favourably in this House. I refer to the large body of shipowners. They are distinctly opposed to the present proposals, and object in the strongest terms to a change in a custom which has proved beneficial in relation to the conduct of trade. The carriage rate will undoubtedly be affected, and a great change will be made between existing rates and the possible maximum rates in the future but the chief objection, at any rate a very strong objection, on the part of the commercial community is owing to the vast inconvenience and interference with trade which would take place as the result of this change. In the first place, we believe it will result in very great delay, which must tend to diminish profits. It will require a large expenditure by way of additional service in order to check the measurement by weight, and we believe it will lead to considerable fraud, which is practically impossible under the existing system, based as it is on averages; and we also believe it will facilitate those preferences which it is one of the chief objects of this Bill to put an end to. The timber trade does not object to the option, but they want a real option. The option now offered is distinctly penalised by higher rates if the system of computed measurement is adopted. If, then, the interference with the timber trade is going to be great under this Bill, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to show the same spirit as he has done previously, and bring in a remedial Bill to assimilate the legislation of last Session to the change in this Bill which we propose to make. We believe the interests of the trade demand this. The Chambers of Commerce and the shipping trade are practically unanimous on the subject, and the timber trade nearly so, and I trust that the opinion which has been so well expressed by the hon. Member opposite will also be endorsed by the vote of the House.
§ *(3.8.) SIR J. PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)
I feel sure that the 500 Duke of Richmond's Committee were anxious to do their best for the timber trade; but it seems to me that this Amendment, while it certainly affects parts of the country represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Sunderland and Hartlepool, actually operates adversely upon the rates and fares of the North Eastern Railway Company. The hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter) has shown that the old system of charges is to be done away with, and that a new system is introduced in order to assimilate—I think on very right and proper grounds—the railway charges of the United Kingdom, so that traders may know the scale of rates under which they are charged on every railway. My hon. Friend says he accepts the ½d. a ton per mile reduction which the hon. Member for Aberdeen says will be taken off the charges upon the standard weights of timber. Then my hon. Friend says the timber trade wants an option. It appears that they want a one-sided option, the option to send timber by measurement weight, as by that means a great deal more could be sent for the same charge, than if it were sent by actual machine weight. ("No, no!") It is all very well to say "No, no." I am speaking of the evidence which was given before the Rates and Fares Committee, and it is a notorious fact, and known in the trade generally. If there is nothing in it, why raise the question? What the Rates and Fares Committee say is that, this timber which is charged by measurement weight contains so much greater actual weight than machine weighed timber that it goes into another and higher Schedule. My hon. Friend says, "Give us the option to put it all into the lower Schedule," a sort of heads I win, tails you lose proceeding, which, I believe, he would be one of the last men to urge. These goods were brought into review like goods of every other class. The Board of Trade, in one of the cleverest, inquiries I have ever had anything to do with, which reflected infinite credit, upon the painstaking care of those two men who conducted it, Mr. Courtenay Boyle and Lord Balfour of Burleigh, passed with a wonderful amount of painstaking and care these Schedules which are now before the 501 House. In addition, the Duke of Richmond's Committee—a conglomeration of talent to which Parliament did perfectly right to refer these Schedules instead of dealing with the details itself—last year had this question before them, and they passed these same Schedules in the cases of nine railways. And this year, again, these Schedules have been before the Duke's Committee, who listened to the cleverest counsel at the Parliamentary Bar on behalf of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway and the North Eastern Railway, and heard the evidence of witnesses in the timber trade, and passed these Schedules again. I ask the House whether it is going to place the North Eastern Railway in a different position with regard to the timber trade from every other of those nine Railway Companies? An hon. Member suggested that all these railway rates which have been the source of so much painstaking and care should be revised again. I can understand that, and if you include all the railways again in another revision, I wish those joy and long life who are engaged upon it. But it is altogether unfair to attempt to apply conditions to one railway that you have not applied to nine others. I think the discussion to-day has shown how difficult and how dangerous it is for the House itself to go into these details, and how wisely they acted in placing the matter in the hands of a competent tribunal. Surely it would be far better to take these Schedules as they came to us from this tribunal than to endeavour to begin and mend them.
§ *(3.13.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I am anxious to put before the House my view of this question. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), who always puts his points with great clearness, has stated his case on this occasion in a very lucid manner. What is that case? It is that there is some terrible proposal in this Bill by which the whole custom of the timber trade in the North Eastern ports will be interfered with to the great injury of that trade, which is now carried on satisfactorily, and consequent injury to the North Eastern ports and the whole of the district. How does he prove that? He has absolutely 502 failed to show that there is any real ground for that fear. He has not attempted to show that the Bill now before the House proposes to increase the existing powers of the North Eastern Railway with regard to timber carried by measurement weight. The hon. Member for Aberdeen (Mr. Hunter), speaking as a member of the Committee, with a complete knowledge of this subject, was, if I may venture to say so, absolutely correct when he said that this Provisional Order proposed to lower the maximum rates which the North Eastern Railway have at present power to charge for conveying timber by measurement weight. Therefore it is absolutely impossible that the North Eastern ports or the timber merchants, in those ports should lose by the provisions of this Bill. What is the Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Hartlepool? It is not a mere alteration in rates, which, as the House is probably aware, vary with regard to the different railway companies. The alteration is one in the classification of goods, and that classification has, with very great care and labour, been so arranged by the Board of Trade as to be absolutely identical over the whole of the United Kingdom; and what the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Furness) really proposes is to alter the classification in the case of the North Eastern Railway, so as to give the North Eastern Railway a classification of goods, differing from the classification of goods for every other railway in the United Kingdom. Let me suggest to the House that there is great, advantage to traders in the uniformity which this system of Provisional Orders for railway rates and charges is intended to establish, and in its simplicity as compared with the present system. But it will be found in practice that there will be a very serious diminution of these advantages if you do not make the classification of goods uniform throughout the United Kingdom. Why should you make this alteration on the North Eastern Railway? What is asked—and the hon. Member for Sunderland characterised it as a modest request—is that the maximum charge for timber carried by measurement weight should be the same as that for 503 timber carried by machine weight. If the hon. Member will refer to the Report of the proceedings before the Committee or before the Board of Trade, he will find ample evidence to show the truth of what has been said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, and by the hon. Baronet who has just sat down, that timber carried by measurement weight is pretty regularly carried, so as to give a larger amount of timber to the same nominal tonnage than timber carried by machine weight, and that therefore it is fair that the rate per ton for measurement weight should be higher than that for machine weight.
§ MR. STOREY
I do not dispute that. But what I say is that this is a special trade in a special sort of timber, and consequently the right hon. Gentleman has not yet touched the main part of the argument, or made it apply.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The Amendment of the hon. Member for Hartlepool does not only refer to that special sort of timber—I mean to deals, battens, and boards—it deals with all classes of timber alike. But I will take the question of deals, battens, and boards, and I will say that the Provisional Order gives a very great advantage to them in providing that, instead of being classed as "light timber" at 50 feet to the ton, they will in future be calculated at 66 feet to the ton. That is a very material advantage to the particular class of trade to which the hon. Member for Sunderland has referred; and, therefore, it is an additional reason for believing that the proposal of this Provisional Order will really put the timber trade of the North Eastern ports in a better position than it occupies now. I must confess I am surprised that this proposal has been supported by the hon. Member for South Bristol (Colonel Hill) on behalf of the merchants of Bristol, and by the hon. Member for South Islington (Sir A. Rollit) on behalf of the merchants of London. What would be the effect of it, if carried? It would give the traders of the North Eastern ports a preferential rate for timber carried by measurement over the North Eastern; system as compared with the rates which this House has sanctioned for 504 every other railway, and would therefore give advantages to the traders in the North Eastern ports over the traders of Bristol and London. I must say that, though this Amendment has been characterised as a modest proposal, it appears to me scarcely to deserve that appellation. But I would venture to remind the House that three years ago this matter was thoroughly investigated by those two gentlemen whose names have been mentioned with no greater praise than they fully deserve. Last year the whole question was again investigated by a Joint Committee of both Houses, and this year it has been once more so investigated. An uniform classification of goods extending to hundreds of articles has been adopted throughout the whole of the United Kingdom. Rates have been fixed for the whole of the railways in the United Kingdom, and the only trade which appeals to this House against the decision of the Committee is the timber trade, and the only article in all that classification with respect to which any objection is made is the article of timber. It seems to me that this fact alone is sufficient to warrant a presumption that the timber merchants are unreasonable in their proposals. The House has left this matter in the hands of the Committee, and by such a tribunal alone could it have been properly decided, because no other tribunal could properly and fully hear all sides. I entreat the House, having taken the course it has, not to upset the decision which has been arrived at after labours extending over eighty days—a decision which has satisfied every trade and every community in the United Kingdom, except a portion of those who are engaged in the timber trade.
§ *(3.25.) MR. CRAIG (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
The President of the Board of Trade has made the statement that under the old system deals, battens, and boards were carried by measurement at 50 feet to the ton.
§ SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. The old legal classification was 50 feet, because they were classed as light timber. Under the new system the legal calculation is 66 feet to the ton. But, of course, under the old system 505 the Railway Companies could, if they chose, carry at 66 feet to the ton.
§ *MR. CRAIG
That is the point I wish to bring out. I have been connected with the timber trade for more years than I care to recollect—though I am not connected with it now, and am largely interested in the North Eastern Railway Company—and I say emphatically that as long as I can remember deals, battens, and boards have been carried at a measurement of 66 feet to the ton, and 2½ tons to the standard. But I go further, and corroborate all my hon. Friend (Mr. Storey) has said. Again, the timber we deal in comes exclusively from the North of Europe, from Sweden, from Norway, from Finland, and from North Russia. This timber trade must come in by our ports, for hon. Gentlemen may take it for granted that the ships will not go round by the Pentland Firth to get, say, to Liverpool or Bristol. The trade must come to Hull, or to the Wear, the Tees, or the Tyne. The traders of the North Eastern ports do not object to the carriage by machines weight as such; but the position they would be placed in is this—that if the timber were carried by machine weight the traffic would be so interfered with that it would be absolutely impossible in the summer and autumn to get waggons down and weighed and dispatched in time to carry on the business. Is it worth while to put the North Eastern timber trade to all this inconvenience for the sake of a little trifling uniformity? I have no objection to the system of uniformity, but it is possible that one practice may be convenient in one district or to one trade, which is not convenient in any other trade. It has been said over and over again that timber is taken at 50, but we have had it carried at 66. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) made a point about elm; but he forgot entirely that elm is carried at 40 cubic feet to the ton, because it is calculated that deals and boards are 65 per cent. lighter in weight.
§ *MR. CRAIG
We have put our case, and I assert that if you drive us to machine weight you will stop the traffic; you will stop the loading and 506 the unloading of great steamers; you will increase the cost of everything, and will do nobody any good.
§ *MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I have my self put down notice of Motion for the rejection of the Bill, but shall not move it after the discussion which has taken place. I desire to say, however; that I consider several of the provisions of the Bill extremely inimical to English trade, and that I shall vote for the Amendment.
§ Question put.
§ (3.30.) The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 148.—(Div. List, No. 116.)
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.