§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT (Islington, S.)
, in rising to call attention to the subject of Railway and Canal Rates and Charges and the conditions of Traffic, and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, the revised railway rates, charges, and conditions of traffic are most prejudicial to the industries and agricultural and commercial interests of the country, and this House urges upon the Government the necessity of dealing promptly and effectively with the subject by legislation, declaring unreasonable rates, charges, and conditions illegal, and establishing, in connection with the Board of Trade or otherwise, a cheap, simple, and expeditious mode of determining in case of dispute what are reasonable or unreasonable rates, charges, and conditions,said, he need hardly give an assurance that he did not regard this in any sense or manner as a Party question. It appealed to the interests and feelings of the community, and he brought it before the House with a sincere appreciation of the services rendered not only by the President of the Board of Trade but by his Predecessor and the staffs of their respective Offices. He would also say that he introduced the subject in no spirit of hostility to the Railway Companies, for though he thought they had made a mistake, there were mutual interests between the companies and the traders, and he hoped that in time the Companies would realise that it was to their benefit to give every facility to commerce, so as to bring about that increase of traffic which experience 1025 taught was the result of conferring these advantages. On this subject the mind of the country had been profoundly stirred. Some had said that it was a subject of interest; but he ventured to speak of it as a subject of the deepest anxiety, hence the agitation on the part of the Municipalities and the Chambers of Commerce and the commercial classes. The whole commercial community were unanimous on this matter. They recognised that in these days of competition the margin of profit was small, and that, therefore, every saving that could be legitimately effected must be secured. Then the consumer recognised that the cost of transport formed a material element in the cost of purchase, and was therefore largely interested in this question. He ventured to say that the State also was interested, and it would, he hoped, find a safe, a speedy, and a just solution of the difficulty. The object of the agitation which was got up years ago on the subject of railway rates, and which led to the passing of the Act of 1888, was not only to bring about revision, but also reduction, and the diminution in the maximum rates which was effected by the Parliamentary Committee showed that that was the case. When the Railway Companies proposed their new classification, to which great exception was taken, and which in many respects was felt to be preposterous, the feeling evoked showed that the object of the whole movement was to effect not merely the revision, but the reduction of the rates of the whole of the companies. Whatever might be said as to the various Committees which sat upon the subject, he ventured to say the whole House would regard the services of Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Sir Courtenay Boyle as having been of great value to the commercial community. The result of what was done was that a reduction was effected in the maximum rates, but experience had shown that what was intended in the maximum rates as a shield to the trader had proved a sword for injuring him. There really was some justification for the expression of the hon. Member for Aberdeen that maximum rates had proved to be a delusion and a snare. The hon. Member, he thought, had spoken of maximum rates as Parliamentary bayonets. He believed it was Cavour who said that you might do anything with bayonets 1026 except sit on them, and these rates were bayonets which the traders of the country declined to sit upon. They emphatically desired them to be removed. It was said that in addition to a reduction in the maximum rates some reductions had been effected in the actual railway tariffs. Well, those reductions had been comparatively few in number. The reductions had been chiefly in Classes 4 and 5, which were not the subjects of the greater and more important traffic. The reductions were few in the earlier Classes, somewhat more marked in Classes 4 and 5, and were in favour of places where there was a little traffic, and in the interests of the larger traders, and not of the smaller, who were not in a position to fight their own battle. He did not propose to trouble the House with a long statistical enforcement of the statement he had made as to the limited number of reductions effected, and the large increases which had taken place. The enormity of the increases, for he could call it nothing else, had become common property, they were all too familiar to the trading community; and he thought he might take it that the rebates and reductions which had recently, and only recently, been promised were a virtual admission that the tariff that was in existence on the 1st of January was in many respects an exorbitant one. He did, however, propose to give to the House one or two typical illustrations of the increases effected by the Railway Companies in their rates. He had with him a list prepared by the London Chamber of Commerce at great cost; it contained some 2,000 rates, and he found from it a series of increases in articles of ordinary commerce ranging from 15 per cent, in the case of mustard seed to no less than 334½ per cent, in the case of pelts and other goods. He would take as a further illustration one or two articles of household use. He would mention first petroleum—an article of great importance to the poor for lighting purposes. He found that whereas for 20 years the rate on petroleum had been 5s., from the 1st of January it had been 25s. per ton, so that, as this was a low-priced article, the cost had been nearly doubled. The House might be interested to know that the consequence was that a village in Hampshire was prevented from using petroleum, and was now in darkness. In 1027 like manner the Municipality of Walsall had been obliged to add 2d. in the £1 to the rates in respect of the manufacture of gas through the enhanced charge for the carriage of coal. In the grocery trade in Class 1 the rates had been advanced 4.3 per cent., and taking 20 large towns, the rates for one leading commodity had been increased 6 per cent., and a high authority—Mr. Rogers, of Sir John Travers & Sons—had stated that the increased tax on the grocery trade, according to his computation, would reach no less than £500,000. He could give other illustrations of the increased tax put on this trade, but, speaking generally, he might say that the enhanced charges had been from 35 per cent. to 40 per cent. As an instance of the audacity and rapacity on the part of the Railway Companies, an hon. Colleague had informed him that the Great Western, for the carriage of a pair of wheels and axles which were sent from Cardiff to Swansea, the old rate being 2s. 6d., had charged at the rate of 5s., or an increase of 100 per cent., and, not satisfied with that amount, the company sent in a new debit note charging the wheels as two tons, and demanding 18s., less the 5s. already paid, or an increase of 600 per cent., and when the wheels were sent back from Swansea to Cardiff a debit note was sent in for 13s. This was a fair illustration not only of the rapacity of the companies, but also of the confusion prevailing in their minds on this question of rates. It illustrated the extortion to which traders were subjected; but one would hardly have thought that a Railway Company would have made one of Her Majesty's Judges the subject of imposition. But he had a letter from one of the Judges, who spoke of a company having conveyed his luggage by goods train down into the country, and having not only charged him 25 per cent. on the old rate, but charged also for cartage, although the luggage had been carried to the station in his own carts. When this was pointed out the explanation was that the rate was "an inclusive rate for collecting, whether they did it or not," and on the Judge remonstrating, the traffic manager excused himself and his company on the ground that they had introduced the change to assimilate their system to that 1028 of other companies, with all their rates inclusive of collecting and delivery, whether they did collect and deliver or not. The Judge applied to the conduct of the company an expression well known in Courts of Law, although not to be found perhaps in the railway vocabulary. There had been large increases in the rates for coal and iron, agricultural produce, dairy produce, fruit, market garden produce, as hon. Members would testify in the course of the Debate. One hon. Member would deal with the case of Ireland, where the rates had been rendered exceptionally high, and where cheap railway transport was one of the most essential conditions to the development of the country. He was recently in Denmark, where the dairy system was carried to a great point of perfection owing to the admirable method of collection, which made the supply of milk to Copenhagen one of the greatest commercial features which could be imagined. The milk was collected and submitted to a process of purification in a manner which might well be imitated in this country. The supply and the condition of it were due to cheap transit, and he had been told that the one country in Europe that could and ought to become the rival of Denmark in the matter of dairy produce was Ireland, but that would be impossible whilst the railway rates remained as at present. Market gardening he was told was being ruined by the new rates. The whole timber trade had been disorganized. Speaking as a shipowner, for many years it had been usual in the timber trade to ship and deal with goods by measurement. Now machine weight had been substituted.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT
Yes, with the alternative of computing the charge by measurement, but in a higher class. The Railway Companies could not have thought their case a good one, because when it was proposed that they should meet the representatives of the trade with a view to coming to a satisfactory arrangement they declined. The increase in the rates for the carriage of fish was about 1s. per cwt., except from his own Port of Hull and the Port of Grimsby, about which ports there were doubts, and he gave the company the benefit of them. The increase in the case of the common sorts of fish 1029 was as great as in the case of the prime sorts—an obvious injustice, as there was 50 times as much of the former transported as of the latter, the common fish forming an important article of food for the poor. Moreover, in the case of the fish trade there was a new charge of 10s. a ton made on returned empties. One of the most important matters of trade, affecting 75 per cent. of the trading community, was the charge for small parcels of under 3cwt., known as "smalls." There had been an increase in the rate of 3d. per hundredweight. He need hardly speak of the importance to London and other great distributing centres of this particular branch of trade. The increased charge which had been made had resulted in great loss to the trade, for the rate had often exceeded the profit on the articles. He spoke especially of one particular consignment of goods from Newcastle to London. Then as to empties, which were formerly in Class 4, but were now in Class 5, thereby paying the highest rate which could be demanded by the companies. This inflicted an injury, especially on London, and upon many branches of trade there. On returned empties there was an enormous difference of from 1d. to 7d. per hundredweight, a matter seriously affecting the drug, wine and spirit, mineral water and other trades. There was another point he should like to dwell upon for a moment, and that was the question of preference to the foreign trader. One of the chief provisions of the Act of 1888 was to the effect that there should be no preferences given to foreign as compared with the home trade. This was not a question of protection. It was merely a question of justice to home industries and of regard for the best of all markets—namely, home markets. Those preferences used to exist to a large extent under the old system, and goods were absolutely brought, especially dairy and agricultural produce, from places like Hamburg on the Continent and carried by the railways at a less rate than goods produced at home could be sent from one place to another. Those preferences still existed to a great extent. In the sugar trade the preference given to the traffic from Hamburg viâ Gloucester was 9s. 7d. per ton. These preferences should cease to exist, and home producers should be treated on a fair and equitable basis. He could give many 1030 instances of matters of perhaps less, but still of great importance, in all of which the companies had gained and the traders had lost. For instance, they now carried 20 cwt. instead of 21 cwt. to the ton; a fraction of a cwt. or a fraction of a, 1d. was charged to the benefit of the company; the rebates were reduced in cases where the consignee performed his awn delivery. Their object was, as far as possible, to monopolise the service terminals in relation to delivery and the like. The new risk note was an onerous thing to the trader, as it imposed on the consignor or consignee the risk of transit; and this he believed to be contrary to the spirit of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1854. Now, what was the view of the companies in regard to these increased charges? They alleged that they were to be the judges of the amount of freight an industry would bear in relation to the imposition of rates. If anyone should be able to judge of that it should be the traders concerned, certainly not the people who fixed the rate. In this respect the companies had a giant's strength, and they used it like a giant. The country could not be surprised at the indignation which had been aroused, for it was based on the principle of self-preservation. That feeling it was that induced the traders to come to Parliament and ask for assistance in removing a great burden. The companies said they had not had time to revise the rates; but they had had since August, 1891, for the bulk of the rates, and for the through rates they had had since June, 1892. But even this excuse was not made until the agitation had occurred and a strong feeling had been aroused on the subject. Sir Henry Oakley, in his letters of January 7th, January 24th, and February 7th, did not speak of rebates in regard to rates prior to January 1st. The whole spirit of his letters was that of the impenitent thief, who prayed, "Oh, Lord, convert me, but not to-day." The action of the companies had been a constant course of procrastination. It was evident from Sir Henry Oakley's letters that the companies saw they had made a mistake, and that being so they ought to bear the consequences of it. Mr. Cawkwell, in his letter in yesterday's Times, admitted that an error had been made, and showed some disposition to make satisfaction for 1031 it, but it was a strange coincidence that that letter did not appear until Parliament was about to be moved on the subject. It seemed from first to last of the agitation that pressure had been necessary to obtain from the companies what they ought to have conceded as a matter of justice to the traders—what they ought to have conceded gladly in their own interest for the development of trade. It was said that time was required to adjust the special rates, and that if time was allowed that readjustment would take place. But what were the prospects in connection with the revision? He would give one or two figures to show what, had been done in the way of revision, and he would ask whether the rates as revised were just or unjust. In the case of agricultural seeds, from Hull to Carlisle the old rate was 22s. 6d. per ton, at the company's risk. From January 1st the rate was 33s. 1d. per ton; and the re-revised rate now proposed was 29s. 10d. at the owner's risk.
§ SIR A. ROLLIT
said, it was mainly on the North Eastern. The revised rate would be an increase of 33 per cent. on the original rate, and the carriage would be at the owner's instead of the company's risk. In another case of carriage from Andover to Mitchelkener the old rate was 7s. 6d. per ton; the rate on January 1st was 14s. 4d.; and the re-revised rate 13s., an increase of from 40 to 50 per cent. In the case of straw in bundles carried from Andover to Dimpleton, the old rate was 12s. 6d.; the rate on January 1st, 23s. 5d.; and the re-revised rate 16s. 2d. Again, the re-revised rate for vegetables from Snodland, in Kent, to London was quite 30 per cent, above the old rates. As far as could be judged, the most recently revised rates were from 15 to 30 per cent. in excess of the old rates; and that would not be acceptable either to the House or to the country. He would pass on to the next point—namely, what were the proposals of the traders. No doubt, a temporary adjustment could easily be made, but owing to what had transpired the controversy had assumed an acute form, and the traders now distinctly challenged the right of one party to a bargain to fix the rate for the other. They challenged the statement that the 1032 companies were the best judges in their own interest of what a particular industry would bear. They said that neither the company nor the trader ought to define the terms of the bargain for the other. Nemo debit. … was an old principle which was as true to-day as it was in old Roman times. He did not believe that either the House or the country would now accept an order of "as you were" from the companies. The object of the commercial crusade which had taken place on the matter of railway rates would be thrown away by any such permanent arrangement. If such an arrangement were made after what had passed, what security would there be for a settled state of commercial affairs, enabling bargains to be made with confidence, when there had been such a disposition on the part of the companies to take advantage of the traders? Maximum rates which had been proposed as a shield had been used as a sword against the traders, and the traders must now find some other shield. That was one of the conditions on which they entered upon the present stage of the controversy. Then, if neither party, as he submitted, was to be the judge in his own case, what tribunal—for there must be a tribunal—should be elected for the purpose. It had been suggested as a remedy that there should be a reduction of the maximum rates all round on the percentage system, but that, he thought, would be a violent, and, in many respects, an unjust, and far from a beneficial arrangement. Then it had been suggested that the State should become the owner of the railways, and so imitate other countries. He might say here that he regretted that the opportunity afforded for doing this in the 21 years after the passing of the Act of 1846 had not been availed of. The problem, no doubt, was a difficult one to deal with. He regretted that the experience of other countries in regard to haulage had not been gone into at the inquiry. But if the remedies to which he had referred were impracticable at present, he would ask whether the Railway Commission was a tribunal capable of dealing with the matter? On behalf of the commercial community he answered that it was not, as the private trader would not be able to bear the expense of fighting a great monopolist company 1033 before it. What was wanted was a tribunal which would be as accessible to the small as to the large trader. They might judge of the value of the Railway Commission by looking at the figures which showed the extent to which it bad been resorted to. In 1889, 15 persons had resorted to it; in 1890, 28; in 1891, 28; and in 1892, 22. The cost of the Commission he found to amount to £400 for each occasion on which it sat. Then they had to add to that the cost of the Judge who sat ex-officio, and the registrars and so on, which made it a most costly and inevitably a most dilatory tribunal, utterly unsuitable for commercial purposes. If proceedings were taken before the Railway Commission after endeavouring to settle a case amicably there might he some difference. If, as in the case of other Courts, each Commissioner sat alone, the tribunal would be bettor, but it was an anachronism at present for the trial of these cases. This was a case in which some speedy, summary, and effective form of arbitration would be the best mode of dealing with commercial matters. In these days of telegraphs and telephones accounts could not be kept open and books unclosed. There must be some expert treatment of commercial matters — some treatment which would bring about a settlement speedily and effectually, and at the same time at small expense. Clause 31 of the Act of 1888 convoyed a suggestion as to the form of tribunal the traders desired. That clause, in the United States law, enabled an attempt at amicable adjustment between the companies and the trader, and it had been attended he believed with very good results. It did not, however, in this country come under the definition of jurisprudence. The Board of Trade might arbitrate and report to the Railway Commission the result of its attempt to bring about an amicable adjustment, and require that tribunal to carry out its wishes, but for his own part he would give power to the Board of Trade itself to enforce what it believed to be just. Another suggestion was the appointment of an arbitrator or umpire to adjust disputes between the traders and the companies. If the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade saw any difficulty in this, he would remind him that the Provisional Orders Acts them- 1034 selves embodied the Board of Trade Arbitration Act of 1884, so that the whole machinery was at present in the hands of the Board of Trade if they cared to exercise it, and if Parliament sanctioned that course being taken. Clause 31, too, gave the President the opportunity of procuring expert aid to obtain an amicable adjustment. Why should not that aid take the form of an umpire or arbitrator capable of deciding cases? It would be said that this would make an undue demand on the Board, and that a Government Department so large would be an evil. In France the Department was a large one, and it accomplished all this. It gave them the best illustration of the State controlling the railways as distinguished from owning them. Even the evil—and he granted that it was an evil—of an enlarged Department of the State would be less than the evil which was oppressing the traders at the present moment, and with which the President of the Board of Trade and his staff was incapable of dealing. There was a provision in the Act of 1883 which justified his suggestion. That measure authorised the Board of Trade to act judicially between the traders and the Railway Companies in regard to the determination of service terminals. Why should not that principle be applied to questions of rates and preferences? The right hon. Gentleman must not anticipate that he would have millions of cases before him. There would be some test cases at first for determination, but the number requiring hearing would be comparatively limited. It had been said that there was but one step between the policeman and politeness. He ventured to think that if the Board of Trade were made the policeman there would be a great deal more politeness on the part of the companies to the traders, and much less need for requisitioning the services of the policeman. In addition to the question of procedure there was a matter of law which he thought would also require attention. The traders would not now be satisfied to be protected merely by maximum rates. In his opinion, every rate ought to be a reasonable rate. The maximum rate might still be retained in order to show traders what was the worst they could expect. It would, at least, be a basis on which they might 1035 make their bargains. But why should a rate which, though generally reasonable, was in a particular case unjust and unreasonable, be enforced against a trader? He thought it should be taken that the maximum rate should be primâ facie a reasonable and proper one, but subject to reduction in particular cases. There was a precedent for this in the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1854, under which a special contract might be made between the carrier and the trader, but if its terms were unreasonable such contract might be held to be void by the Judge who tried the case. There was also a precedent in the Act of 1888. Sub-section 31—the adjusting section—of that Act assumed the possibility of rates being within the maximum, and yet unreasonable. The cases which were to be referred to the Board of Trade were cases of dispute within the maximum. Maximum rates were creatures of the Statute Book. The old Common Law required that in the case of carriers who, more or less, had monopolies, that their rates should be based on reason and justice. The Railway Companies were carriers and, as such, should be made subject to the principles of the old Common Law. He was aware that the subject was one which was very difficult to deal with in the time at his disposal. It had been the subject of years of investigation and consideration. It was complex and technical, but there were others in the House who, like his hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hanbury) had had practical experience of the Commissions and Committees which had sat on the subject, and would be able from their knowledge of various branches of trade to contribute that practical information which was so essential to the House in dealing with the question. He concluded by asking on behalf of the traders for the help of the Government and for relief from Parliament. He put to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that it was the duty of statesmanship to solve quietly and safely problems which the traders might otherwise attempt to solve by more violent and less advantageous methods. He felt that if that which the traders believed to be just were done it would conduce to the commercial prosperity of the country; it would relieve traders and others of a very heavy bur- 1036 den, and would further the best interests not only of the community but of the Railway Companies themselves. He moved the Resolution of which he had given notice.
§ SIR J. WHITEHEAD (Leicester)
seconded the Motion. He said he should like to recall to the House one or two of the points which had led up to the controversy lately carried on between the traders on the one side and the Railway Companies on the other. It would be within the recollection of a large number of Members that in the first instance there was no intention whatever to confer a monopoly on the Railway Companies. The Railway Companies, as originally constituted, were to be toll takers. They were not to be sole carriers but competitive carriers. Parliament, however, had little doubt that each company would have a monopoly on its own line, and it attempted to restrict the charges by fixing maximum rates. That was the condition on which the lines were allowed to be laid. It was soon found that the maximum fixed was far too high, and, in point of fact, was no check whatever on the Railway Companies. But there was at that time a check on the Railway Companies, inasmuch as there was competition of a real character. From and to certain points there was competition by sea; there were the old carriers still competing for the light and short distance traffic; there were the canals, which were strong competitors for all kinds of goods; and, moreover, the Railway Companies had not at that time combined to keep up rates, so that there was effective competition in rates between the companies themselves. Somehow or other, by a stealthy and persistent policy continued over a great number of years, the conditions of the competition which then existed were now entirely gone. They were gone mainly in consequence of the efforts which had been made by the Railway Companies to bring about amalgamations, and to buy up and put down competition. Within quite recent years docks had been bought up, and they were being bought up whenever opportunity arose, so that the freight charges could be controlled by the Railway Companies. The canals had been largely acquired by the Railway Companies with the view of stifling com- 1037 petition with their own lines. Already over 1,200 miles of canals had been acquired by the Railway Companies, who to-day held the most important links between the Northern and Southern navigations. In point of fact, they had secured what was popularly known as the neck of the bottle. A process of the amalgamation of the different lines had also being going on, so that there were now very few small lines, as there were very few large ones, the small lines having been absorbed by the large ones. He believed he was correct in saying that the London and North-Western Railway alone consisted of no fewer than 51 different systems. In his judgment, one of the duties of the House of Commons in the future would be to take care that no amalgamation between Railway Companies should take place unless under conditions favourable to the traders. One was bound to recognise the fact that the Railway Companies were now all pulling together. Their combined aggressiveness when before the Board of Trade showed that such was the case, whilst their united action in raising the rates on the 1st January proved beyond question that the defence afforded to traders and agriculturists by competition in times gone by had been destroyed. If further evidence were needed it was to be found in the replies given in the House of Commons by the President of the Board of Trade to the questions which had been addressed to him on the subject. The right hon. Gentleman's answers, and the letters he had read, all tended to show that no Railway Company could do what it liked of its own volition, as all the large companies were banded together. The protection originally afforded to the traders and agriculturists of the country had, it seemed to him, been broken down by the deliberate, long-sustained, and clever—he ventured to say too clever—policy of the companies. Not only this, but the Railway Companies had invented a new system in the shape of station terminals, and had succeeded in getting them allowed by Parliament. They had at the same time secured enormously high powers in regard to rates. He should like to remind the House that they had obtained those powers by means of promises which they had not kept. They prevented opposition to the proposals they made in 1038 1889, by representing that the proposed revision related to maximum powers only, and did not touch the actual rates. They even went further, and said they had no intention of raising the actual rates. They urged that they required a margin, and over and above the then existing rates, in order to provide for serious emergencies, such as an advance in coal, an advance in iron, a possible advance in labour, and a possible shortening of the hours of labour. Since the companies secured these powers under the maximum charges, no emergency such as was then contemplated had arisen, and yet they had availed themselves of such powers to the full extent. The companies said that when the schedules of rates were issued on the 16th December it was not intended that they should be permanent. But why did they not say so at the time? They knew that the rates they proposed would be distinctly injurious to trade and agriculture, but they did not say they were merely provisional, until there was a universal outcry in the country, and the Board of Trade began to put some pressure upon them. Even now, the concessions made by the companies were only of a very partial character. To some extent they were bending to the storm, but they were not doing so with a good grace. He would give the House one or two examples of the way in which companies had, under the pressure of the Board of Trade and the traders, amended these rates, and he might say he had been very careful to verify his figures. He found that the charge for conveying agricultural seeds in bags from an important centre of agriculture, Andover to Overton, under the old rate was 5s. 6d. per ton, that under the new rates it was 10s. 10d. per ton, and under the revised rates, after the application of pressure by the Board of Trade and the traders, it was 9s. 7d. per ton. From Andover to Southampton the old charge was 5s., the new charge 11s. 7d., and the revised charge 6s. The charge for straw in bundles from Andover to Wimbledon was formerly 12s. 6d., whilst under the new rates it was 23s. 5d., and under the revised rates 16s. 2d., while from Andover to Nine Elms the old rate was 14s. 2d., the new rate 16s. 10d., and the revised rate also 16s. 10d. He returned to agricultural seeds, which from another point of view had been referred 1039 to by the hon. Member opposite. The concessions were only of a very partial character. Agricultural seeds from Chester to Carlisle under the old rate was 21s. 3d.; under the new rate 30s. 7d.; but under the revised rate 27s. 7d. Iron tanks and cisterns sent from London to stations on different lines average per ton under the old rate 33s. 3d., under the new rate 55s. 6d., and under the revised rate 45s. 8d. It was proposed on one occasion to send 13,000ft. of timber from Ledbury to High Wycombe, and while it was found that the old rate would have been £244 18s. 10d., the new rate had been raised to £523 18s. 8d.; and after a good deal of discussion between the timber merchant and the Railway Company they eventually said that they would take the timber for £390 7s. 11d. It seemed to him that his was a case in which an arbitrator might be brought in, as had been suggested by his hon. Friend. There were, however, thousands of cases in which no adjustment had yet been possible, or had even been attempted. The scale of charges which came into force on January 1 still remained in force. For example, the increase to one firm alone in the empties which they sent over one line amounted to £2,500 a year. The increased rates for "smalls" to the typical stations which were mentioned by Sir George Findlay during the Board of Trade inquiry were these:—In Class I., south of the Thames, the increase was 40 per cent.; in Class II. the increase was 37¾ per cent.; in Class III., 34½ per cent.; and in Class IV., 25 per cent. The increase of rates for the lines running North was not so great as in the South, but still they were very considerable. Those figures had been forwarded to the Board of Trade more than four weeks ago; they were also sent to the Railway Companies, but no remission of these figures had been given except in regard to two rates on the South-Western system. As to the preference given to foreigners, he said that great difficulty was experienced by the traders and agriculturists in obtaining information from the Railway Companies. He had received a letter from a correspondent in Cupar, Fifeshire, showing that the North British Railway Company had been overcharging him. He applied to the secretary to supply par- 1040 ticulars of the charges for haulage, motive power, use of wagons, loading and unloading, covering and uncovering. The Company refused to give the information though they were obliged to do so by the Act. The correspondent then wrote to the Board of Trade, but the Department stated that they had no power to settle the dispute, and suggested that he should resort to legal measures. It was not surprising that under these circumstances there had been a falling off in the receipts of the Railway Companies, and that trade throughout the country was suffering. The Returns of the Railway Companies showed a considerable reduction in the amount of their revenue, although some portion of the decrease might, perhaps, be attributed to the rebate which they proposed to allow when the rates were finally settled. It was evident that the Railway Companies were acting either in total ignorance of the wants of the traders of this country or that they were fully aware of the effect their action would have upon that trade. In his opinion, the Railway Companies were acting upon a well-thought-out system. The evidence given before the Joint Committee of the two Houses of Parliament showed that the Directors and Managers of Railway Companies were fully aware that they were already exacting all they could from the trading community for the carriage of goods, and that it was not their intention to increase their rates. In the face of such evidence as that he should like to ask the House what they thought of the statements that had been made by the Chairmen of the different Railway Companies at the annual meetings which had been held during the last month, that they had given no pledge that the rates should not be increased. The great difficulty that the traders were in was that they had no power to compel the Railway Companies to fix reasonable rates. The Board of Trade had power to mediate, but not to arbitrate; they had power to advise but not to determine. The Railway Companies were quite aware of that fact, and unfortunately they were in a position to do exactly what they liked and to raise the rates up to a maximum, which went far beyond any practicable charge. The Railway Companies would continue to charge excessive rates unless Parliament interfered in the matter. It appeared to 1041 him that the time had arrived when that House should, not in the interest of the trader or of the agriculturist alone, but in the interest of the general community, determine that in the event of any dispute arising between the traders and the Railway Companies, the decision of the question should no longer be left to the irresponsible discretion of the Railway Companies; and he hoped that the Board of Trade and the Government, who must have realised the very serious aspect which this question had assumed and the feeling that had arisen with regard to the matter throughout the length and breadth of the land, would come to the conclusion that some check ought to be put upon the companies by legislation.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the revised railway rates, charges, and conditions of traffic are most prejudicial to the industries and agricultural and commercial interests of the country, and this House urges upon the Government the necessity of dealing promptly and effectively with the subject by legislation, declaring unreasonable rates, charges, and conditions illegal, and establishing, in connection with the Board of Trade or otherwise, a cheap, simple, and expeditious mode of determining in case of dispute what are reasonable or unreasonable rates, charges, and conditions,"—(Sir Albert Rollit,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR A. HICKMAN (Wolverhampton, W.)
said, he supported the Resolution because it was just, expedient, and practicable. If there existed a natural competition among the Railway Companies there would have been no need for this Motion, but the Railway Companies were banded together so that, no company could reduce a rate without the consent of the others. The London and North-Western, the Great Western, and the Midland stretched from sea to sea, their capital amounted to hundreds of millions, but the conduct of the business of each company was practically out of its own hands. It had been admitted by the managers that when they had been satisfied it would be right to reduce a rate they could not do it because the companies would not consent. A company had power to 1042 raise rates, but it had no power to reduce them. This state of things had come about from a fear of a war of rates. What was wanted was a tribunal which should emancipate the Railway Companies and enable them to reduce rates when they saw they ought to be reduced without running the risk of a ruinous war of rates. The natural consequence of a great monopoly was that the monopolists neglected all opportunities of reform. During the last 10 years operating expenses had been reduced by one-half in the United States simply by improvements in the rolling stock, but in this country operating expenses had increased. He was interested in iron works in the United States which were charged rates less than half those that the Railway Companies of this country said would be confiscation. A railway manager had told him that he had tried an American bogey wagon on which 25 tons could be moved with the same motive power as it took to move 10 tons with the ordinary English wagon. A mineral train of 1,500 tons was drawn in the United States at the same cost as one of 200 or 300 tons in this country. Here a traveller could enjoy all the luxuries of a sleeping car at a less rate per mile than was charged for coals. Competing trains were run at the same times when one would accommodate the public. The stoppage of this competition between Wolverhampton and London would save £5,000 a year. No trader in his senses would dream of taking a case before the Railway Commission. The Liverpool Com Trade Association had gone to the Commission against the London and North-Western Railway Company, which charged for the carriage of corn 8s. 3d. from Cardiff to Birmingham, 173 miles, and 11s. 3d. from Liverpool to Birmingham, 98 miles. An injunction was granted against the Company, who simply raised the rate from Cardiff. The Association commenced a similar suit against the Great Western, and this time the Railway Company won. Questions of costs came in. The traders were allowed but two counsel and two guineas a day for expert witnesses. The companies were allowed three counsel and from 25 to 12 guineas a day for witnesses. What was wanted was a tribunal which should say that if a company could 1043 run 173 miles for 8s. 4d. it should be compelled to charge less than 11s. 3d. for 98 miles for the same traffic. Wine was carried from Dieppe to Wolverhampton for the same as from London to Wolverhampton. It cost less to bring corn from Odessa to Birmingham than from the Eastern Counties. It cost less to bring iron to London from Belgium than from Staffordshire. There was abundant precedent for what was proposed. In the Act of 1873 the Railway Commission were empowered to fix reasonable charges for terminals, &c., and in the Provisional Order Acts of last Session the arbitrator appointed by the Board of Trade was authorised to settle what should be paid for services at stations, collection, delivery, retention of wagons, loading and unloading, coupling and uncoupling, &c. All that was asked was that those powers should be extended to rates, and then only if the rates were unreasonable. It was quite absurd to suppose that the arbitrators appointed by the Board of Trade would act unfairly towards the Railway Company. A clear case of unreasonableness would have to be made out before the arbitrators would act. He asked the House to release the Railway Companies from the bonds against which they themselves dare not struggle, and to set free the springs of trade and agriculture in peace.
§ SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID (St. Pancras, S.)
said, he did not think it was right that all the speaking should be on one side. The House of Commons was always willing to hear some one on the other side of the case, and he therefore ventured to make a few observations, because he happened to be a Director of the railway line which had been honoured with more words of compliment than any of the other lines of the United Kingdom—namely, the Loudon and Brighton Railway Company. In order to show the House that the Railway Companies did not deserve all the hard words used by his hon. Friend the Member for South Islington (Sir Albert Rollit) he would speak plainly as to what had occurred at his Board. Within 10 days after the 1st of January, when they found that the proposal of fixing maximum rates had produced not only a feeling of irritation but some unfairness towards various trades, the Board of the Brighton line assembled and gave instructions that the whole of 1044 the rates should be revised in order to meet all legitimate demands. Their general instruction, given within 10 days or a fortnight from January 1st, was that all rates were to be taken as far as possible on the level of the old rates. In the case of the Brighton Company that meant that 4,500,000 of rates had to be entirely revised. He found that in the two months that had just elapsed there had been 84,960 Minutes, so that the House would see how few the Minutes had been to revise 4,500,000 of rates. And the Brighton Railway was not a goods railway in the ordinary sense of the word. It was mainly a passenger railway. But even that passenger railway had 4,500,000 of rates, and that being so the House would understand how much more difficult and how much longer must be the task of the London and North-Western Company with 30,000,000 of rates. He could only say on behalf of the Company he represented that they were determined to satisfy all legitimate complaints of traders, and the managers of that railway, and he believed of all other railways, were working as hard as men could work to grapple with their task. He now came to the question of fixing the maximum rate. The Member for North Islington (Sir Albert Rollit) had said that the original movement with regard to railway rates was intended for reduction, and not for revision; but he would like to point to the evidence taken by the Committee in which it would be found stated by many traders that they did not wish to reduce the earnings of the Railway Companies through a fresh classification. At the meetings of the Railway Commission he, in common with others, had advised that under the circumstances of the case it was better for the Railway Companies to lose, as they would lose largely by the revision of rates, rather than give any fair cause of complaint to traders. That principle was generally accepted at the Railway Association, and therefore hon. Members would see that all their complaints against the companies were not thoroughly justified. The fixing of the maximum rates as a temporary measure was, in his opinion, a mistake. It was committed avowedly as a temporary measure by the managers, who had said, and had said truly and honestly, that they had not had time to go 1045 through all the rates to revise them. The increase in the rates was not to be more than 5 per cent., and though it might be unwise from some points of view to make any increase, still the statement of the hon. Member for South Islington, that from 15 to 20 or 30 per cent. was intended as permanent increase, was absolutely wrong. Whatever hon. Members might say, the Railway Companies were traders as well as the traders themselves. He might be told that they were traders with a monopoly, but that was true only to a limited extent, for there was carriage by water as well as carriage by rail. The hon. Member for South Islington had said that the trader should fix his own rates and not the Railway Company.
§ SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID
I took down the words of the hon. Member at the time. He said, "The railways consider they ought to be the judges as to what tax industry should bear, but I say the trades should be the judges."
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
What I said was that the trader having a knowledge of his own trade was better qualified to judge, but I added that neither the railway nor the trader should be the judge in the case.
§ SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID
said, the hon. Member had used the words he had quoted in the early portion of his speech, but half an hour later when he came to the tribunal the hon. Member modified his statement, and said that neither should be the judge, but that the Board of Trade should step in, and, according to the modern theory of the Conservative Radical, that the Government should settle everything. It was perfectly obvious that the Railway Companies were traders just as much as the traders themselves, and any company which did anything to reduce its business must be cutting its own throat; while, as had been stated and re-stated over and over again, a rebate would be allowed in every case from 1st January. Consequently, it was not quite fair to say that Railway 1046 Companies were inflicting a loss on the trading community. It could not be said that the trader suffered loss if the money was returned. It had been stated that the London and North-Western Company, through their Deputy Chairman, had been induced by the pressure of the hon. Member's Motion to publish the letter to which reference had been made. It was only fair to that gentleman—whom he (Sir Julian Goldsmid) did not know—to say that was not so. What happened was this: At several meetings of the Railway Commission it was discussed in what form the announcement with regard to the rates should be made, whether in a general form or a special form, and it was eventually decided that it should be in a special form. Many of the Railway Companies had had prepared their papers ready for publication, and, therefore, it was not because of the pressure of the hon. Member that the letter of the London and North Western was published, but because it was thought to be right that the intentions of the company should be made known as soon as possible. It might be thought that these intentions were not published soon enough. In the case of the Brighton Railway Company the information was divulged in the middle of January.
§ SIR JULIAN GOLDSMID
said, the first notice had been published in the middle of January and another notice was published in the middle of February. He had been a party to the preparation of those notices, and he therefore spoke with authority on the matter. He thought the other Railway Companies had made a mistake in not publishing notice of their intentions as soon as possible, but it was obvious that the companies had not méant to maintain these maximum rates, because 20 railway managers had been occupied day and night in revising these rates. He said, therefore, that if reasonable time had been allowed to the railway managers, all the rates complained of would have been subjected to careful revision. In the particular case of the 1047 Brighton Railway Company, he believed their book would be ready on the 17th of this month, and he could assure the House that the labour thrown upon the small number of railway servants competent for this work had been very great indeed. His hon. Friend the Member for Islington (Sir Albert Rollit) had talked about the Railway Companies intending to maintain the increase in the rates amounting to 15, 20, and 30 per cent., but there really was no intention on the part of the companies to maintain such increase. He trusted, therefore, that the fears of any trader which might have been raised by that statement would be abated when he knew that the over-charge would be returned when the revision of the rates was completed. His hon. Friend had also contended that the Board of Trade should fix not only the maximum rates, but the rates themselves. How far would that principle be applied? He was afraid that on this principle they would soon go back to what had been tried and found wanting when the prices of many commodities were fixed by Act of Parliament. It was better that the railway management should be left to the companies themselves, as was decided by the House of Commons years ago in the time of Mr. Disraeli. If the House believed, as he asked them to believe, that it was the intention of all Railway Companies to meet all the reasonable demands of traders, he thought they would come to the conclusion that there was no reason for passing this Resolution. So far as the Brighton Railway Company was concerned, they had reduced the rates for vegetable produce even below the amount they stood at in former times, and so much so that several growers of vegetables in their districts intended greatly to increase their production. He mentioned that to show that the lowering of rates was even most beneficial to both sides. He ventured to say, without any authority from the Railway Companies, but simply from the knowledge he possessed on the subject, that this proposal to appoint arbitrators to settle the 250,000,000 of rates was perfectly absurd and impossible. It was far better to allow these arrangements to be made under the pressure of public opinion, and under the natural desire of all Railway Companies to stand on good terms with 1048 their customers. He knew that considerable pressure had been brought to bear in this matter on the President of the Board of Trade; he knew that the right hon. Gentleman took a deep interest in all that was under his control; and he believed, also, that the legitimate desires of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the railway rates would be met as far as possible by the Railway Companies.
§ MR. FREEMAN-MITFORD (Warwick, Stratford)
said, that as the Representative of a large agricultural district, he wished to touch upon a few points that had not been dealt with in the course of the Debate. Agriculture had been altogether left out in the cold in the remarks of hon. Gentlemen. The hon. Baronet who had just spoken had urged upon them to leave this matter to the Railway Companies. That was very much like giving advice to the lamb to leave it to the wolf whether it should eat it up or not. This fresh attack on agriculture by the Railway Companies had been made at a most unfortunate moment. Agriculture was at its last gasp, and the Railway Companies had now got it by the throat and were determined apparently to shake the little life that was left out of it. Few people who were not connected with agriculture could realise the importance of this question to the small fanners. The farmer was a very patient person—he had been long-suffering in the past, especially in this matter of railway rates—but there must be an end to even his patience, and his powers of endurance. In the district he represented the Great Western Railway Company exercised something like an omnipotent monopoly; and some of the rates which that company charged were such as to make it absolutely impossible for the farmer to carry on his business. With regard to milk, the Midland, Great Northern, and the London and North-Western Companies had retained the old rates of 1d. per gallon up to 100 miles, making no charge for the carriage of empties. The Great Western charges 1¼d. for the same distance, and charges also for empties. The company relieved the milk 1049 contractors of London of the cost of the carriage for empties, and charged it on the farmer, the very last man who could stand any further burden being placed on him. The hon. Member for South Islington (Sir Albert Rollit) had stated that the additional tax upon the growing of garden produce in the neighbourhood of London, owing to these railway rates, amounted to 30 per cent. Would the House believe that the rates for garden produce from Evesham to Manchester had gone up from 15s. 10d.to 23s. 4d.? Evesham was the centre of a large market gardening industry; it had often been called the Garden of England. Its garden produce went to Manchester and to other large towns, and the effect of the rates of the Great Western Company was that an additional tax of no less than £3 per acre was placed on every yard of land these farmers cultivated. Was that condition of things to be tolerated, and were they to trust themselves to the Railway Companies who had imposed these rates as suggested by the hon. Baronet (Sir Julian Goldsmid)? He thought it was absolutely impossible to expect the farmers to stand the conduct of the Railway Companies much longer. If these rates were to continue—and so far as he could see in the case of the Great Western Company, they had absolutely no guarantee that the rates would not be continued—the last death blow would have been given to agriculture in the district which he represented. He deprecated altogether that this discussion should assume anything of an academic form; they did not want the history of rates, they wanted remedies sharp, short, and decisive, which would relieve the farmer from the terrible imposition which had been put upon him by the Railway Companies; and unless that imposition was removed from his shoulders, he must be absolutely and entirely ruined. It was in that belief that he humbly asked the House to support unanimously the Motion of the hon. Member for South Islington.
§ MR. D. R. PLUNKET (Dublin University)
Mr. Speaker, I desire only to occupy the time of the House for a very brief period. I certainly feel, speaking as a Director of one of the great railways, very much as my hon. Friend the Mem- 1050 ber for South St. Pancras (Sir Julian Goldsmid) felt, as one standing in rather a difficult position on the present occasion. I am sure, however, that the House will on that account all the more hear patiently the few observations I have to make. Now, Sir, there is no doubt that the discussion of a matter which is really a question, or ought to be a question, of commercial arrangement between the companies and their customers, has been, by the prevailing excitement of the last few weeks, worked up into a form which was truly described by my hon. Friend who moved this Resolution as a crusade against the Railway Companies. Many hard things have been said. I cannot resent the hard sayings of my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and who has introduced himself so favourably to the notice of the House by his first appearance as a debater. He struck very vigorously against the Railway Companies. I will not use one word of recrimination or of discourtesy with respect to the President of the Board of Trade or to those permanent officials of that Department, for both the Railway Companies and the public have entire confidence in their impartiality. Further, I feel, in the present unfortunate condition of trade and agriculture, it is but natural that those who imagine themselves to be pressed hardly by the action of the Railway Companies should feel very keenly and bitterly any burden which they think is unnecessarily placed on them. But such feelings have arisen mainly from a misapprehension of the action of the Railway Companies; certainly there has been an entire misapprehension of their intentions. But I shall not go into that matter at length, because the announcement made by the President of the Board of Trade during Question time has put an entirely new complexion on this controversy, and has to a great extent deprived the Motion before the House of its pressing importance. The President of the Board of Trade stated to - day at Question time that it was his intention to appoint a Committee for the purpose, I understood, of inquiring into the working and results of the revisions of rates which have taken place, and inquiring whether any further steps 1051 might be necessary. I can only say, speaking for the railway with which I am connected—the London and North Western—and I believe for all the great Railway Companies, we shall welcome that inquiry most heartily, and we are confident that it will have the effect of relieving us from a great deal of misapprehension which at present prevails upon this important subject. It also, to a certain extent, knocks the bottom out of the operative part of the Resolution which has been proposed. I do not know whether it will be pressed by my hon. Friend who introduced it, because I do not suppose the House of Commons is going to declare that the Railway Companies have been guilty of all the enormities which he charged them with, and proceed, further, to decide what legislation shall be taken in order to deprive them of the authority and power they have now of fixing their own rates. I do not think they will seriously urge that proposition in face of the inquiry that is to take place for the purpose of investigating these very charges, and of considering, I understand, what kind of legislation, if any, should follow. You have heard of hanging a man before he is tried; but to hang a man, and then, at a considerable distance of time after this operation, announce that you are going to institute a trial into his case, would be one of the most extraordinary propositions for this Assembly to adopt. The position of the London and Northwestern Railway Company is stated in the letter which was published a few days ago by The Times, signed by Mr. Cawkwell, our Deputy Chairman. I wish to say a word or two following up what has been said by the Member for South St. Pancras. I regret that that letter was not sooner published.
§ MR. PLUNKET
I was myself in favour of publishing it, but I do not want to go into that. All I say is, that the policy embodied in that letter was the policy which had been resolved upon long before, but its publication was delayed for various reasons which I did not myself assent to. The case made by 1052 that letter is this: that in the vast majority of the cases in which exception is taken to the rates as they are now or have been, that exception is taken under a misapprehension; that it was for want of time that those rates which are most complained of were not then or have not since been set up in the position which they are intended permanently to occupy. Whether it was wise or not to adopt the course the great companies have done of starting their new rates upon the maximum instead of building up from the old rates I will not now discuss. But, as is well-known, all the great companies have pledged themselves in every case where the rate is revised to date back the revision of that rate to the 1st January. I desire to say a few words on a letter which has this day been sent to the Board of Trade, which will explain the views the London and North-Western Railway Company take upon one matter in which they happen to differ—as also does the Great Western—from the other great companies. As that letter will probably be published to-morrow, I should like at the same time that the explanation of our conduct should go forth and the grounds on which we acted should be stated. The letter says—It is understood that some of the companies, with a view of establishing a general principle of revision, have suggested that in no case should a rate be raised so as to exceed by more than 5 per cent. the corresponding rate prevailing in 1892. The North-Western Company, while concurring in any arrangement which would conduce to a fair and moderate course of dealing between the company and their customers, think that to lay down a hard-and-fast line would be neither practicable nor desirable in all cases. In some cases, where goods are of high value, such as £50 or £100 a ton, in addition to the rate of 1d. or 1½d. per hundredweight would, while amounting to a higher percentage, really not affect the cost of the article or provoke any opposition from the trader, while other traffic could not reasonably bear any increase even to the moderate extent named. Another objection is that such a suggestion would go far to nullify in many cases the uniformity and simplicity gained by the codification of the maximum powers of the company which has been the result of the prolonged labours of Parliament and the Board of Trade upon the subject, and the introduction of another standard would, in addition to, if not in substitution for, a reference to a few Acts of Parliament, involve individual reference to the many millions of actual rates existing in 1892, access to the records of which would, to the public, be difficult, if not impossible.1053 Now let me say one word on the charge of bad faith so often alleged against the various companies. It is said that whereas they pledged themselves there would be no raising of the rates, in point of fact many of the rates have been raised, it is said that a pledge was given that there should be no raising of the rates. Well, if any such pledge was given, it must have been given in the sense that the whole result of the revision would not end in a raising of the rates, because at every period of the transactions between the companies and the public, before the Committee and before the Commission, again and again did they claim the right, in certain cases where it would be fair, to raise the rates, though not, of course, those which were to be lowered by force of Act of Parliament. On the other hand, the Board of Trade always seem to have contended that that must not be done upon any great scale, but that it might be done to a certain extent was certainly conceded. To show this I will read one short paragraph from the Report of Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Mr. Courtenay Boyle. On page 69 of that Report they say—In determining the figures in the Schedule we have had regard to the highness of the present non-competitive rates, and, on the other hand, to the fact that the companies will probably have to rely more on increase in traffic than on the raising of their non-competitive rates to recoup themselves from any loss they may sustain by deprivation of the right to charge specially high rates, as are now in some instances in force.From this it is evident that increase in traffic was not the only way which was contemplated of recoupment. It was intended in certain cases that a raising of other rates might be permitted, though not to any far-reaching extent, and that was the view, I know, which was accepted at that time by the great Railway Companies. Now, one word more. It has been hinted here this afternoon that after all there have been no great remissions, no great reductions made by the Railway Companies in the previously existing rates. It is contended that it has been altogether a one-sided endeavour on the part of the 1054 Railway Companies to raise the rates wherever they could. Unfortunately, at this moment I have not got by me the figures on this subject from my own railway, but I have here the figures which were sent the other day by the Great Western Railway to the Board of Trade. The officers of that company tell me that these figures only give a partial statement and illustration of the reductions made, but they say they have submitted to the President of the Board of Trade 33,000 specimen cases of the reduction of rates from 24 stations only, and that they have, since January last, arranged 872,864 exceptional rates, all far below the maximum charges which they are by law allowed to make. [Mr. MUNDELLA was understood to ask if they were below the charges of last year.] I understand that a great many of them are. There seems to be some misapprehension also as to what the loss to the great Railway Companies would really be if all the reductions following upon the Act of 1888 were to be enforced, and there was to be no recoupment by raising other rates. I can state confidently that as regards the London and North Western the net loss would not fall short of from £80,000 to £100,000 a year, and the Great Western authorise me to state that in their case the loss would be as great, if not greater.
§ MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said that the Members representing agricultural constituencies had their drawers full of complaints from agriculturists in this matter. He recognised that it was because agriculture was in a depressed condition that the loudest complaints came from them, but complaints also came from commercial men. That there had been a large and important increase in the charges made by the Railway Companies was beyond dispute. There had been no misapprehension as to the figures—the bills sent in by the Railway Companies had been forwarded to Members by their constituents—but the Railway Companies were under a misapprehension when they thought the traders would bear the rates they put on. He would not weary the House with details, but would take one case—and that by no 1055 means the worst—out of the large number that had been sent to him. He had a letter from a man who said he was dealing in pigs, the only thing any money could be made out of by farmers in these times. He stated that prior to the 1st January, 1893, he sent 10 pigs from Ely to Stratford and London for 10s., but the present rate was 22s. for five pigs. The writer wound up a practical, if not altogether grammatical letter, by saying he "had now discontinued sending pigs to London, though they were now in nice condition." The same state of things occurred in almost every branch of agriculture. It was said that as the Railway Companies were about to meet the traders in a conciliatory way this Motion was unnecessary. He was sorry to say that from the letter of his friend, Sir Henry Oakley, he was not satisfied that the companies were going to meet the traders in this conciliatory way, for Sir Henry wrote that the companies were unable to accept without qualification the suggestions of the President of the Board of Trade. He submitted that the facts were sufficiently well-known to the House without any further Committee or Inquiry; and that when there was a dispute as to whether a rate was reasonable or not, it must be settled by some tribunal. They were all agreed that the Railway Commissioners were an impossible tribunal, but he suggested that they had in the Board of Trade a cheap and simple Body which would be able to act as arbitrators between the public and the Railway Companies when there was a dispute, and to settle what was a reasonable rate. They had recently had an Arbitration Act which provided a simple mode of enforcing awards when there was a dispute between private people. When the arbitrator made his award that award was enforced by the ordinary Courts just as if it was an order of the ordinary Courts, and he suggested that when the Board of Trade had made an Order deciding whether a rate was reasonable or unreasonable it should also be enforced by the ordinary Courts. This would be a simple and expeditious mode of dealing with the matter. They asked that this Motion should be adopted by the House so that the Board of Trade might deal directly, speedily, and cheaply with disputes 1056 between traders and the Railway Companies.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I am very sorry to stand between the House and many hon. Members who wish to discuss this question. We have only three hours for the discussion—a very inadequate time certainly—and as my right hon. Friend opposite (Sir M. Hicks-Beach) will, I am sure, desire to follow me, I shall, therefore, detain the House but a very short time in order that I may not do him injustice. We need not go into the history of the question. The Act of 1888 and the work which was done by the Commission and the Joint Committee under that Act was of an excellent character, and was of the highest importance for the future dealing with this question. It is impossible to over-estimate the skill and ability brought to bear by the Commissioners in the work they did in the revision and classification of the railway rates of this country. It was not a light task to get rid of more than 1,000 Acts of Parliament, all contradicting each other in the conclusions they arrived at, and to reduce the whole of the railway rates in this country into a Code in 35 Acts of Parliament. It is to be regretted that the Railway Companies, when called upon to publish their rate books, should have come to the resolution practically to claim the maximum charges. It is an unprecedented thing. I know that in doing so they claim to be within their rights; technically they are within their legal rights, but they have inflicted an amount of hardship and discouragement upon the traders of this country that I think they are now becoming fully alive to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), whom we are always glad to hear, made the very best case he could on behalf of the Railway Companies, and the hon. Baronet who has also spoken for the Railway Companies stated that the companies anticipated a storm, that they bowed to it, and that it passed over their heads. I could have wished that my right hon. Friend (Mr. Plunket) before he sat down would have announced that the London and North-Western was as 1057 willing to be as liberal, even now, in its dealing with this question as many other Railway Companies had been. He has said that the London and North-Western and the Great Western were not willing to limit their increases, where increases were possible, within the limit of 5 per cent. But other great companies are willing to do so, and why should not the London and North-Western and the Great Western? The right hon Gentleman spoke of the vast number of reductions made by the Great Western. But reductions of what? Reductions from the charges that were fixed in the rate books on the 1st January? And if they are those revised charges of to-day, are they as low as the charges of last year? Are they not very much higher than the charges of last year; and if they are, is it keeping faith with the public? Now, the understanding before the Commission was that there was to be no general raising of rates, and many traders and Trades Organisations withdrew all opposition from before the Commission and the Committee on the understanding given by the Railway Companies that their rates would not be touched. One Association—the Agricultural Traders Association, I believe—opposed the Railway Companies. The Railway Companies placated them, and said, "We are not going to interfere with you;" and on the understanding that their rates would not be raised, they withdrew their opposition. Now, however, they find that, after they have had their rates revised, they are subjected to an increased taxation of 6.61 per cent. by the Great Western and 8.33 by the London and North-Western. There is, therefore, some ground for some of the hard words that have been used in this controversy. My right hon. Friend spoke of the agitation having been worked up, and he said that nearly the whole of it was due to misapprehension. There is no doubt that some part of it is due to misapprehension, but on the whole it has not been a worked-up agitation. If the right hon. Gentleman was inside the Board of Trade for one day he would no longer believe that this was a manufactured agitation. We are inundated with complaints. And who are the complainants? Why, nearly all the Local Authorities of the Kingdom. 1058 There have been great meetings of merchants in all the great centres, such as Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham, &c., and these meetings of merchants and traders call upon us to come to their assistance and point out to us the mischief that would accrue to trade from the present state of things. It is the duty of the Board of Trade, of course, to do what it can to relieve traders from hardship, it was never intended, never anticipated, that they would be subjected to. Hon. Members have spoken of how certain traders will be affected by these rates. I have been told that in one trade alone—the grocers—if these rates are maintained, it would amount to something like a new impost of £500,000 a year. But I was never more interested and impressed than I was by a deputation representing market gardeners and small cultivators and hot-house cultivators from Essex, Bedfordshire, and various counties which waited upon me last Wednesday. Nothing is more satisfactory than the remarkable development which is going on—development of a most desirable kind—in this country, and the increase in the amount of land which is being brought into cultivation for vegetable produce and market gardening. There is nothing more striking than the amount of labour these businesses employ. One of the deputation said that he cultivated 500 acres of land, and paid £4,000 a year in labour; another said that he cultivated 90 acres and paid £1,000 a year in labour; another said he cultivated 120 acres and paid £3,800 a year in labour; and another said he cultivated six acres, mostly under glass, and he paid £1,000 a year in labour. And these men came to me in a state of thorough discouragment, not knowing what would eventually become of their trade owing to the enormous rates and the competition of foreign producers. The members of the deputation were affected very largely in respect of the increased cost of manure and every kind of fertiliser, and they complained of the increased charges. It is no use, therefore, thinking that this agitation is a fictitious one; it is a real and substantial impost upon industry and agriculture, but especially upon the small trades of the country. The House will hardly believe the immense burden and strain this agitation 1059 has been on the Board of Trade since 2nd January. It has taxed the energies of every man in the Railway Department, and others have been brought in to assist the staff of that Department in discharging the duties cast upon it by the agitation, and, for my own part, nobody will be more glad than I to be rid of it. Now, I want to ask the House to let us deal with this question in a thoroughly practical spirit. I have been putting pressure upon the Railway Companies, and I have put as strongly in writing as I could what I was quite sure would be the inevitable result of a persistence in this policy on the part of the Railway Companies; and that if they did not reduce the rates, it would not be the Board of Trade that they would eventually have to deal with, but the House of Commons. I am glad to say I have had some indication that the Railway Companies are not quite so much banded together as they were a week ago. I have received letters from different companies—the London and Brighton, the Midland, the London and South Western, the Great Northern, the London and North Western, the Great Eastern, the North Eastern, and the Great Western.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
No; none from Ireland yet; but we will deal with all railways on the same footing, I hope. [The right hon. Gentleman here read a letter he had received this day from the London and South Western Railway Company, which stated that strenuous efforts were being made to remove any cause of dissatisfaction. The Directors were fully determined that no action on their part should injuriously affect the public, and they had given instructions to their officers with regard to rates which were to remain at the figures in operation at the end of 1892, and as a general rule applicable to goods traffic, no increase should, unless in exceptional circumstances, exceed 5 per cent. on the old rate. The rates which had hitherto been below the ordinary level had been increased in order to recoup the company for losses.] Every one of these letters pledges the companies, except the Great 1060 Western and the London and North Western, that if they do in any case recoup themselves to any extent it shall never exceed 5 per cent.; and that whatever rebate is made, it shall date back to 1st January this year. Well, this is a very considerable concession which has been made by the Railway Companies, and some of them claim that it will not bring them back to the rates of last year, but that they will be considerable losers thereby. And now I will ask my hon. Friend the Member for Islington not to withdraw his Motion, because with this part of it I agree—To call attention to the subject of railway and canal rates and charges and the conditions of traffic; and to move that, in the opinion of this House, the revised railway rates, charges, and conditions of traffic are most prejudicial to the industries and agricultural and commercial interests of the Country, and this House urges upon the Government the necessity of dealing promptly and effectively with the subject.I accept that part of the Resolution, and I hope the House will pass that portion of it unanimously. But the hon. Gentleman himself said that we must proceed safely and cautiously on this question. If we were to pass the whole of the Resolution to-night, what would be the effect? The effect would be that the companies would not proceed with their reductions; the whole matter would be thrown upon the Government the whole question of the reduction of rates would have to wait until such time as we could set up a new tribunal, and what the traders have a right to expect would be postponed indefinitely. We accept the Resolution of the hon. Gentleman up to that point; but the Railway Companies demand time to make their reductions, and I must say they have some claim in that respect. The House should not be ungenerous or vindictive. Let us give them the time they ask for to revise their rates, and then when we have seen the revision we can investigate the result, and, if necessary, proceed to deal more effectually with the whole question of railway rates. There is another reason why I ask this. Reference has been made by several speakers to the Railway Commission. The Railway Commission is probably the most expensive Court that was ever set up in this country. When traders 1061 go into that Court they have to meet the combined Railway Companies with unlimited purses, and assisted as they are by the ablest counsel. Now, I think the time has come when we ought to consider whether we cannot re-constitute that tribunal, or make it more effective. I do appeal to my hon. Friend to let the House show a united front on this question by passing unanimously that part of the Resolution I have accepted. I do not think that any Member of this House charges the Department over which I have the honour to preside with any neglect of duty in this matter; and although we have not compulsory powers, if we are backed by a united House of Commons, the Railway Companies will not be too strong for us, whatever their policy may be.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH (Bristol, W.)
I entirely agree with the observations with which the right hon. Gentleman commenced his speech—that it is a misfortune, not only to the House but to the country, that this Debate has been curtailed within the limits of three hours. No subject can be of greater importance, no subject can more urgently require discussion. And I am convinced that if we had had a full evening for the Debate, such a voice would have gone out from all sides of the House of something more than discontent with what has been done by the great Railway Companies of this Kingdom as at any rate to convince them that they cannot safely abuse the powers given them by Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman has been good enough to say that he desired to leave some time for me to address the House. I certainly do not complain of the time he has taken up by his observations, for I do not wish to criticise anything he has said. What is the state of affairs before us? We have heard the case of the Railway Companies presented by two highly-skilled advocates—my right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University and the hon. Member for South St. Pancras. They practically admitted the case of the hon. Member for Islington. They admitted that in the exercise of the powers which the Railway Companies possess under recent legislation they 1062 had made a very serious mistake. The question that we are asked to-night to decide is what this House is to do. That appears to me to be a matter of very grave difficulty, and I think the right hon. Gentleman has been right in his view that we ought to content ourselves on this occasion with an affirmation of the mischief which has been done, and with distinctly throwing upon Her Majesty's Government the responsibility for promptly and effectively dealing with the matter, instead of attempting to indicate the precise manner in which it should be dealt with. Let me for a moment refer to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington. What it amounts to is this: a reversal of the whole policy of Parliament in past years with reference to railway rates. The policy of Parliament in past years, from the very commencement of railway legislation, has been to fix maximum rates within which the Railway Companies might work by voluntarily dealing with traders, and not to fix the actual rates to be charged upon the railways. Under that system the whole of our great internal trade and commerce has grown up—especially through the special rates, settled, as hon. Members know, purely by voluntary arrangement between the two parties. What the Railway Companies have now done is this: They were compelled by Parliament to lower a certain number of their class rates; they have done so; they have raised others of their class rates, but they have abolished a very large proportion indeed of their special rates. I do not wish to apply a strong epithet to the able men who control our railways; but if I was talking about anybody else, I should say that no more foolish policy could be conceived than that adopted by the Railway Companies. Why they could not content themselves with raising some of the class rates, which they could have done, while they lowered others, and retaining the special rates as they were, to be revised, if revision was necessary, at their leisure, I have never been able to understand. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington proposes to give compulsory powers in some way or another to the Board of Trade, or an official appointed by the Board of Trade, to decide what shall be 1063 the actual rates charged by the Railway Companies within their maximum powers. That is, as I have ventured to state to the House, an entire reversal of the policy which Parliament has hitherto pursued. It may be necessary; but, if so, it ought only to be adopted by the House after complete and exhaustive inquiry, and this House cannot be too careful in selecting the tribunal which shall be entrusted with such great issues, involving as they do millions of pounds—issues of the greatest importance not only to railway shareholders, but to the trade and commerce of this country. I think the right hon. Gentleman has taken a wise and prudent course in accepting the first half of the Resolution as a declaration by the House of its view of what has passed, and as making it binding upon Her Majesty's Government to deal promptly and effectively with the subject. I think he has also been wise in his proposal to appoint a Committee, which, I hope, will endeavour, in a business-like and practical spirit, to find some solution of a difficulty which has vexed and troubled trade throughout the length and breadth of the country.
§ MR. W. A. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)
said, he would trouble the House only for a moment in consequence of an observation which fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University. The right hon. Gentleman stated that the Committee which was proposed would be a Committee to inquire into the results of the revision of maximum rates. He himself understood no such thing, and would be no party to any such inquiry. They had sufficient knowledge of the subject, and that portion of the Resolution which the Government had accepted pronounced a definitive judgment on that subject. As he understood, the only question which was to be referred to the Committee was the question which had been put by the late President of the Board of Trade, i.e., the question of the remedy for the evil, which the Government acknowledged and which the first part of the Resolution declared. Upon that understanding he would earnestly recommend his hon. Friend to be content with the result of 1064 the discussion, and to accept the offer which had been made by the Government.
COLONEL NOLAN (Galway, N.)
said, he only wished to point out that Ireland had been very much neglected in this Debate, and he was very sorry to find that while the English Railway Companies were making overtures to the President of the Board of Trade, none of the Irish companies had done so. He quite agreed with the President of the Board of Trade that where there was a grievance they ought to leave the matter to him. He hoped the Motion would be withdrawn, and he also hoped that when the right hon. Gentleman came to regulate the matter he would not forget Ireland.
§ MR. J. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)
said, there were two classes of persons who had been interested in this discussion—the railway shareholders and the traders; but he regretted that there was not in the House a Representative directly connected with the workmen on the railways, because, after all, their interest was closely connected with the question of the fixing of rates. The important measure before the House for the shortening of the hours of railway servants, which he thought would be a most excellent thing to accomplish, would, to a large extent, affect the cost of the railways, and he hoped it would not be long before they bad in this House a Representative of the railway workers.
§ MR. DUNBAR BARTON (Armagh, Mid)
said, he only wished to detain the House for a moment in support of what the hon. Member for Galway had stated. He had that day received a telegram from the Lord Mayor of Dublin, the Chambers of Commerce of Dublin, Belfast, Cork, and Armagh, and the Mayor of Deny, asking him to bring before the House the fact that they deeply felt the injury to the trade of Ireland caused by the increase of rates, and he earnestly pressed upon the right hon. Gentleman the great grievances of Ireland in this respect which all parties suffered from.
§ MR. P. STANHOPE (Burnley)
said, having had the advantage of following 1065 this question for some years in this House, he might be permitted to say that both the late President of the Board of Trade and the present one had spoken in terms of so much satisfaction of the legislation of the late Parliament that he confessed he was rather amused to find them so sympathetic with the Motion by the House. While he accepted the unanimous verdict of the House, he must reserve his opinion and his complete liberty of action, and he hoped hon. Members would do the same, and not give away the case of the traders in consequence of the action of the Board of Trade.
§ SIR M. HICKS-BEACH
May I say one word on the observations of the hon. Member in explanation? I have never at any time said that the Act of 1888 was intended to reduce the actual rates. What I have said was exactly what the right hon. Gentleman said to-night—namely, that it was intended to simplify the law, and enable traders easily to discover the maximum rates that could be charged.
§ MR. TOMLINSON (Preston)
asked whether the Railway Companies would be entitled to appear by counsel before the Committee, or whether it would be an ordinary Select Committee, who would take evidence in the usual way?
§ SIR ALBERT ROLLIT
The Debate has served a useful purpose; and after the statements from the two Front Benches and the promise of a Committee after Easter, I think I ought to be satisfied.
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
To add after the word "That," in the Main Question, the words "in the opinion of this House, the revised railway rates, charges, and conditions of traffic are most prejudicial to the industries and agricultural and commercial interests of the Country, and this House urges upon the Government the necessity of dealing promptly and effectively with the subject.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put, and agreed to.1066
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, the revised railway rates, charges, and conditions of traffic are most prejudicial to the industries and agricultural and commercial interests of the Country, and this House urges upon the Government the necessity of dealing promptly and effectively with the subject.
§ SUPPLY—Committee upon Monday next.