§ SIR BERNHARD SAMUELSON (Oxfordshire, Banbury)
I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade what progress is being made, by the intervention of the Railway Department, or so far as it is within his knowledge, by direct negotiation, in the re-adjustment of rates of carriage on the railways to which objection has been made by traders and agriculturists?
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. A. J. MUNDELLA,) Sheffield, Brightside
Perhaps the House will allow me, in replying to this question, to read a letter I have received from Sir Henry Oakley, the Chairman of the Associated Companies. It is as follows:—
§ "The Railway Companies Association, London,
§ 7th February, 1893.
§ Sir,—The Railway Companies observing the question of which Sir Bernhard Samuelson has given notice, desire me to submit the following, statement—
§ 'A Committee of Goods Managers has been sitting at the Clearing House four days a week since the beginning of January, considering and dealing with the complaints received by the Board of Trade, or direct from Trailers or Public Bodies.
§ A Committee of General Managers has also been sitting, and has met deputations of Traders as desired.
§ The subjects which have been already dealt with are very numerous, comprising nearly all the most important Agricultural materials or products, hardware, holloware, and any description of manufactured and a large number of miscellaneous articles.
§ The mode of dealing with them has, speaking generally, been:—
- (a.) By adopting lower class rates for some articles when carried under certain conditions, or
- (b.) By restoring special rates in force prior to 31st December, 1892, or
- (c.)By granting special rates approximating to those in force last year.'
§ The general regulations have been modified in some particulars to which objection was taken.
§ Beyond this joint action each Company is dealing in a similar spirit with its local Traders, and according to the reports I have received, with generally satisfactory results.
§ You will see that the action indicated in my letters of the 7th and 24th January has been, and I can assure you that it will continue to be, followed up with all possible energy, and, if it is desired, I will undertake to report progress to the Board of Trade from to time.
§ The Companies do not undervalue the magnitude of the task before them, but they claim from the Board of Trade and from Parliament a reasonable time in which to perform it. Already the strain on the Goods Staff of the large Companies and the amount of overtime labour involved has caused several valued and experienced officers to break down in health.
§ I am, &c.,
§ (Signed) H.OAKLEY.
§ Sir Courtenay Boyle, K.C.B.,
§ Railway Department, Board of Trade."
§ I can only express the hope that the daily negotiations between the Board of Trade and the companies may have such a result as to render Parliamentary interference unnecessary. There are still grave complaints and grave dissatisfaction throughout the country and I hope, therefore, the companies will persevere with their task of bringing the rates within reasonable limits.
MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
Does the communication just read by the right hon. Gentleman apply to the Clearing House and railways in Ireland?
§ MR. MUNDELLA
No, Sir. I think the rates in Ireland are in excess of the rates in England, and all communications respecting them will be dealt with in the same way as the English rates.
§ MR. A. C. MORTON (Peterborough)
I wish to ask whether, if the companies do not make satisfactory arrangements with traders and agriculturists, the Government will introduce a Bill dealing with the matter?
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I think we had better wait until the occasion arises. I have no doubt that if the companies do not make satisfactory arrangements interference will be necessary.
Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to keep the House informed from time to time of the progress made with the negotiations?
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I have asked Sir H. Oakley to furnish us from time to time with information, and I shall take care that the matter has my attention.
§ MR. T. M. HEALY (Louth, N.)
Cannot the right hon. Gentleman suggest to the Railway Companies that the House may compel them to give hack by way of rebate the excess on their charges, as this might quicken the pace of revision.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I have received communications from Railway Companies who have endeavoured to readjust their rates, informing me that they have dated back their rebates from the beginning of the year. I believe all the Midland Companies' contracts so date back.
SIR J.WHITEHEAD (Leicester)
Have not the nine great Railway Companies had since August, 1891, to prepare their new schedules?
MR. POWELL WIILIAMS (Birmingham,S.)
I should also like to know whether the readjustments, as far as the right hon. Gentleman has had experience of them, are satisfactory to himself and to the traders?
§ MR. MUNDELLA
The readjustments, as far as they have gone, are on the whole satisfactory. There is a vast volume of rates which are lower than the old rates, and of these we hear nothing. It is true that the companies have had since August, 1891, to reconsider their rates; but there are several hundred million rates, filling, I believe, 30 or 40 large volumes, and the revision of them is an enormous task. I think it would have been better if the companies had had a little more time to complete the task; and undoubtedly they might have approached it in a very different spirit. Still, I hope that time will now be afforded them to complete the work.
§ MR. BURNIE (Swansea, Town)
I beg to ask whether the right hon. Gentlemen will endeavour to impress upon the Railway Companies that no other settlement will he satisfactory that does not within a reasonable time bring the rates back to what they were before the last revision?
§ [No answer was returned.]