HC Deb 13 August 1894 vol 28 cc785-800

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 22, after the word "mentioned," to insert the words— but the Board of Trade may, if they think fit, extend the said period of six mouths with respect to any complaints made to them during that period.

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


said, he only agreed with this Amendment so far as this Bill was concerned. Did he understand that this Amendment only applied to complaints arising under the Bill now before the House?


said, yes, that was so.

* MR. DODD () Essex, Maldon

said, he had no doubt this clause would be accepted by the House, but he desired to point out that it must he accepted as a compromise, not as to the whole matters in dispute as between the traders and the Railway Companies, but a compromise with regard to only a portion of the matters in dispute. It did not deal with two subjects which received special consideration before the Select Committee—namely, the question of risk notes and the composition of the tribunal which was to decide matters of this kind. The Committee reported that the question of the risk notes of Railway Companies required consideration and alteration, and also pointed to other matters equally needing revision. This clause, therefore, did not settle the dispute, but dealt with only one portion of the dispute. As to the method with which it dealt with this one portion, he could not say ho thought it altogether satisfactory to the traders. He did not now propose to go into details, but he could only regard the sub-section, which compelled the payment by the claimant within 14 days of the 1892 rate, as one which would work unfairly, and he thought that injustice would be done under the sub-section if it became law as they amended it on Friday night, on the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol (Sir M. Hicks-Beach). What would occur under that sub-section of the Bill as it stood was this: At present the 1892 rate was taken as the standard rate for traders. Presently an increase on the 1892 rate, which had not been challenged, would be taken as the standard rate; presently an increase on the increase, which had not been challenged, would be taken as the standard rate. Under those circumstances, he could not regard the compromise as altogether a happy one; but as it was important that the Bill should be passed through Committee that night, he should not ask the Committee to disagree with the clause.

* MR. TOMLINSON () Preston

said, he desired to support the remarks of the hon. Member who had just spoken. He thought they had a light to complain, and ought to complain, of the manner in which this great and important question had been treated by the Government. Last year the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade told them that a Committee was to be appointed in order to accelerate the dealing with this important question in the interests of the traders. They were told the Committee would only sit for a few days, and they would then make a Report, and that upon that Report legislation would be immediately proceeded with. Many of them were not satisfied with the Report of the Select Committee, and he thought that if the Committee itself and the terms of Reference had been widened they might have had a Report which would have proved a good basis for legislative action. The interests of traders all over the country were such as to require the Government to give them proper and fair and reasonable time to discuss this question in the House; as it was they were driven to the fag-end of the Session when many Members were worn out, and were not able to be present to give them their assistance on this question. Traders could not regard this as a satisfactory measure, and he would not have accepted this clause if they had not been driven into a corner by the Government. They were, however, obliged to accept it, as it was in the power of the Railway Companies to press them for those rates which, even by the admission of the Committee, were excessive. He accepted the Bill simply as being better than nothing at all, but he claimed to have an early re-consideration of the whole question. He hoped sufficient time would be allowed between this and the Report stage to enable them to fully consider the clause as amended, because he doubted very much whether the Amendment would quite harmonise with the clause.

* MR. CHANNING () Northampton, E.

said, he would like to take that opportunity of saying that the action he had felt himself compelled to take with regard to this Bill was largely due to the fact that this year he happened to represent, as their Chairman, the Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture, and it must be well within the knowledge of many Members of the House that the Central Chamber had passed many resolutions demanding a much more stringent clause than the present one, demanding legislation that would give the right of appeal to traders in the case of all rates, and that it had also passed resolutions in the present year condemning in the most emphatic way the inadequate Report of the Select Committee and condemning this Bill, which was more or less based upon that Report. He thought these resolutions of an important Agricultural Body, representing many farmers and many large societies of the country, had deserved a fuller consideration, and should have received a fuller consideration, from the Government and the House than they had. He must express a hope that before they parted with this Bill they would have some more definite assurance than that which had already been given by his right hon. Friend that this stopgap Bill was not the end of this question. With regard to the action of the Railway Companies in reference to this Bill, and the changes which they had managed to obtain in it, he ventured to say that a large section of the country would be convinced that the Railway Companies had, as usual, got the best of them in regard to the essential questions at issue. The Railway Companies had been enabled to assert their influence with the Board of Trade in a way prejudicial to the interests of the trade of this country, and had practically secured for themselves and for their shareholders greater consideration than even the very inadequate Report of the Select Committee of last year would have led the country to expect. He would like to point out what the situation was that had arisen. They were asked to afford this small relief to traders now, and they were asked to afford it on the strength of the Report which condemned in the most emphatic terms the whole policy and conduct of the Railway Companies in using the powers which Parliament and the Board of Trade most unfortunately placed in their hands. The Report made it perfectly clear that the Railway Companies entered into under takings with the Board of Trade which they violated by the outrageous increase of rates carried out at the beginning of 1893. He did say, therefore, that they must have an understanding with the Government that this stop-gap measure was not the completion of the duty of Parliament, and of the Government with regard to this question, and that when the question of the reconstitution of the Railway Commission came under the review of Parliament, as it must shortly, they would have an adequate and complete investigation of and decision on all these questions, and thus supplement what was imperfect and inadequate in the present Bill. He must take great exception to the Amendments which were rushed upon the House at the very last moment on Friday night, without being even placed on the Paper, at the instance of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol. He did not think it was fair in treating this Bill as an uncontested measure to have Amendments introduced——


said, he must draw the hon. Member's attention to the fact that he must discuss the clause as it was. He could not discuss how particular Amendments came to be introduced.


asked if he could not discuss the clause with the Amendment as it now stood?


said, the hon. Member could not discuss the manner in which Amendments came to be introduced to in the Bill.


said, be would discuss that portion of the clause in which the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol was embodied. Of course, it might be contended by the right hon. Gentleman that his intention was to provide for the case in which the existing rate might have been below the actual rate of 1892, and that in that case the Amendment would operate in favour of the trader, and that he would not be called upon to pay into Court the whole of the rate liable to be charged above the rate of 1892, but only to pay the rate which was actually being levied upon him and demanded from him by the Company immediately before the increase was made. So far that might be an advantage to the trader, but the words were liable to a very different construction and to a very different operation. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would take this opportunity of further explaining the intention of this Amendment, in which case the time of the House would be usefully occupied. The difficulty, he would point out, was this. They might have an increase made upon the rate of 1892. That increase might have been left uncontested by the trader. For various reasons he might not have taken some of the increases made last year before the Railway Commissioners under the powers of this Bill. In that case, if the Railway Company saw their way to make a still further increase on any class of traffic, under the wording of the clause as it at present stood, it was perfectly plain that the trader would be called upon to pay into Court, not the old rate of 1892, but the whole of the increase which, for various reasons, he might not have seen his way to challenge in the interval. The Railway Companies would, in fact, by the form of words now introduced into the clause, have a sanction for the increased rate as well as the rate of 1892. He did say that the Bill was objectionable enough already to the traders all over the country because of its fundamental principle, which introduced a sanction of the rates of 1892, and this mischief would be still more aggravated for the traders, if the Railway Companies were enabled, as the words might enable them, in case one of the increases of their rates was not immediately challenged under this Bill before the Railway Commissioners, and they made any further increases to secure, by a side wind, this result: that not only the rate of 1892, but the whole of the increase upon the rate of 1892 should be made unassailable and unquestionable before the Railway Commissioners. It was perfectly true that the Amendment only affected money paid into Court, but that might create a presumption against the jurisdiction of the Commissioners over the increase on the rate of 1892. Unless the explanation of those words was satisfactory, or unless words could be introduced which would remove and make wholly impossible the difficulty which had occurred to him in this connection, and which might operate very prejudicially to the traders in the future, he should feel it his duty to offer the most strenuous opposition to the further passing of this Bill.

* SIR M. HICKS-BEACH () Bristol, W.

said, he had no wish to go into the general question. They might discuss it that night and the next day also before they arrived at any common understanding or conclusion with regard to it. He had the honour to be a Member of the Committee which made the Report on which this Bill was founded. He concurred in that Report, which was supported by a very considerable majority, in favour of a limited discretion to the Railway Commissioners in dealing with the cases of increases of rates, and not throwing open all rates to question in the Railway Commissioners Court. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire and other hon. Members had questioned certain words which, at his suggestion, were inserted in the clause late on Friday night. He should have been very glad if he could have placed them on the Paper so that hon. Members might have seen them. But the fact was, that his own attention was only called to the wording of the Amendment which was to be moved by his right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University on Friday afternoon, so that he had no opportunity of doing so. What appeared to him, and what he believed also appeared to right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and to the experienced permanent officials of the Board of Trade, was that as the Amendment of his right hon. Friend stood it only had regard to those cases in which the Rail- way Companies had, as had often been complained, raised the rates of 1892 on the 1st of January, 1893, and that those who framed the Amendment had omitted to consider those cases of future increases which, of course, if made, would be subject to redress by the Court of the Railway Commissioners. Of course, as the hon. Member for Northamptonshire had just observed, supposing a rate existed at a certain point on the 31st December, 1892, was then raised on the 1st of January, 1893, and was subsequently lowered after that time, and then raised again to a point below that of the 31st of December, 1892, as the clause stood the traders would have been seriously damnified. Again, only a portion of their rates were raised by the Railway Companies on the 1st of January, 1893, when they endeavoured, as the Committee reported, to recoup themselves for certain diminutions which the Act of 1888 made in their power to charge in some matters by raising their previous rates on other articles on which they had the power to do so. But with regard to those rates which were not raised on the 1st of January, 1893? Supposing the Railway Companies were to lower them? No one would complain; but if, after they had lowered any of those rates, they afterwards tried to increase them, then it would be obviously unfair to call upon the trader, before his appeal could be heard, to pay into Court the rate calculated on a higher basis than that which existed at the time of the increase being made against which he appealed. That was the object of his Amendment. He believed the words as inserted in the clause carried out that without doing any harm to the trader at all. But he quite admitted the question was one of a complicated and difficult nature; and so far as he was personally concerned, if the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade should be advised by those who were very well qualified to advise him that any alteration of those words would be fairer to the traders or fairer to both parties, he certainly should raise no objection to them being altered. His sole object in moving the Amendment was to make the proposal of his right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University, who he thought was very capable of taking care of the Railway Companies, more favourable to the traders than it was in the shape he moved it. He believed it carried that out; but if it did not, it was perfectly open to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade to alter it later on.


I would like to ask my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol whether words to this effect would meet his view?


I do not think the hon. Gentleman is competent to do that.


said, he only wished to say, on behalf of the agricultural interest, that he did not think the agriculturists of this country were of opinion that this Bill was much worthy of their acceptance. They could not regard it as a complete, or equitable, or fair settlement of this question, and they would undoubtedly look to future legislation to remove those grievances and inequalities which they thought would still exist.

* MR. MUNDELLA () Sheffield, Brightside

said, he was responsible for the introduction of this Bill, and his name was on the back of it. He believed that the changes that had been made in the Bill, on the whole, made it a very fair and reasonable settlement of the question. The Bill now fairly carried out the recommendations of the Committee. He had looked at it very carefully, and he could not find that it in any way fell short of the Committee's Report. The hon. Member for Maldon (Mr. Dodd) had said that it failed to reconstitute the Railway Commission. They all knew why it did not deal with that question. The Committee itself made no recommendations on that subject, but there was no doubt that the Commission must be reconstituted. It was not satisfactory. He did not think it was satisfactory to gentlemen sitting on either side of the House, or to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol himself. When the first opportunity presented itself for the reconstitution of the Commission there was no doubt it would be so constituted as to make the Commission more acceptable to the traders and the community generally. But, with respect to the action of the Railway Companies in raising the rates, no one had suffered more than he had, and he resented their action as much as the hon. Members (Mr. channing and Mr. Dodd), but ho believed that, so far from this being a mere stop-gap Bill, it was a much more important Bill than Mr. Channing considered. If it was a stop-gap Bill, the gap it occupied was a very important one, and it was a gap that the traders themselves wanted stopping. The Board of Trade had received innumerable letters, memorials, and deputations urging that the increase made on the rates of 1892 should be subject to revision; and he believed it to be a great satisfaction to the traders to have that question finally settled. He could not recall an instance in which they demanded that the whole rates should be opened. What they desired was that the rates which were raised by the action of the Railway Companies—he might say the capricious action of the Railway Companies — on the 1st of January, 1893, should be subject to revision, and that they should be reduced. He believed that, so far from the Board of Trade being subject to the pressure of the Railway Companies, great pressure had been brought to bear by the Board of Trade on the Railway Companies themselves. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bryce) had carried through the negotiations with great firmness, and he thought the Railway Companies had really behaved at the last moment with considerable moderation and reasonableness. He believed the Bill, with the Amendments in it, would give satisfaction to the trading community; and with the operation of Section 31, which was constantly in operation and constantly doing excellent work in reducing typical rates, he believed the Bill offered a very important opening for the revision of any unreasonable rates to which the traders might be subjected.


said, that with reference to what had fallen from several hon. Members with regard to the Amendment settled on Friday night, he desired to assure the hon. Member for Northamptonshire and the hon. Member for Essex that what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol was perfectly accurate. This Amendment was introduced in the interests of traders, because it was plain that the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dublin University as it stood did not deal with one case in which they might be prejudiced. He did not think the Amendment was inequitable to the trader in the way in which his hon. Friends had pointed out, and he could assure them that it in no way affected the right of the traders, which was safeguarded under Clause 1. He would like to assure his hon. Friends that the words accepted on Friday had been very carefully considered; but he would, with those who advised him in this matter, carefully consider whether the danger which they apprehended could possibly arise; and if they were of opinion that it would arise, he would see what words could be introduced to guard against it. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire was entirely mistaken if he thought the Board of Trade had been influenced in this matter by the Railway Companies. On the contrary, the Board of Trade had put a great deal of pressure on the Railway Companies. The reason ho pressed the Bill, which was not all ho could desire himself, was because he believed that in the circumstances it was the most that could be effected, and that if it passed it would give a very substantial advantage to traders of which in the months to come they would reap the advantage.


said, he was surprised at the remark of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield that the traders would be quite satisfied to have the rates of 1892 fixed.


said, that what he said was, that all the complaints which reached him when he was at the Board of Trade was with reference to the excesses upon the rates of 1892, and that the applications to the Board of Trade were that those excesses should be reduced—not that the whole of the rates should be re-opened.


said, he must remind the right hon. Gentleman that at the deputation which waited upon him in one of the Committee Rooms, great dissatisfaction was felt that the Bill was so narrow in its scope, and that at that time he tried to pacify some of those who felt so strongly upon the matter by telling them that the Bill was so framed that it would re-open the whole question. He did lead them to expect that where the rate had been increased after 1892 it would be open to the traders to open the whole rate on the ground of reasonableness. They were certainly led to expect, when the Bill was brought in, that it would be open, under its provisions, to raise the question of the reasonableness of the whole rate.


said that, as Chairman of the Committee that investigated this matter, and as the one who drew up the Report, he desired to say a few words. He desired to point out that, the whole of the evidence was confined to the raising of the rates since 1892. He believed he was right in saying that there was no evidence whatever brought before the Committee in respect of any other rates than those that had been raised at the beginning of 1893. He thought it might be well worthy of consideration at some future time whether the operation of this Bill might not be extended. If it were extended, it must be after full inquiry as to the rates which existed other than those which were raised in 1893. But certainly it would not have been right for the Committee to have reported with regard to rates in respect of which there was no evidence before them, and which were outside the scope of the Reference. He was bound to say that the evidence in regard to those rates was not by any means complete.

* MR. CHANNING () Northampton, E.

said, he thought his right hon. Friend must have forgotten the last words of the Reference to the Committee, which gave them a perfect right to go into the whole question of the revision of rates.

MR. J. E. ELLIS () Nottingham, Rushcliffe

appealed very strongly to the President of the Board of Trade to scrutinise closely the words of the Amendment, because some words had crept into the Act of 1888 which had had an entirely unanticipated effect as against the traders and which had proved most dangerous to the interests of the traders. It must be borne in mind that the Rail- way Companies bad the most experienced legal assistance, and knew the effect of every word they suggested to the President of the Board of Trade. He believed the professional advisers at the back of the Railway Companies were far superior to those at the back of the President of the Board of Trade, and he thought, therefore, that the Government would do well to be careful as to the words they adopted. He regretted very much that the Government had thought fit to proceed with this Bill at this period of the Session, as it was a most important measure.

MR. BURNIE () Swansea Town

said, the Members of the Committee had consisted largely of Railway Directors and friends of Railway Companies, and yet an Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Banbury (Sir B. Samuelson) was accepted, and this clause was inserted, commencing, "The minimum the trader is entitled to." It was upon this provision that Parliament was basing its legislation. He did not agree in the censure that had been passed upon the Report of the Committee. He regarded it as an excellent historical Report, although he thought that the recommendations it contained were weak.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 2.

Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

MR. TOMLINSON () Preston

said, no doubt in some cases, perhaps in many, it might be an advantage to traders not to have the question of costs determined by the tribunal, but at the same time he regarded the provision as being a two-edged sword. He thought it an extraordinary thing that the tribunal could not be trusted to deal with the question of costs.

* SIR M. HICKS-BEACH () Bristol, W.

I do not think my hon. Friend is fair, if he will allow me to say so, in suggesting that this clause shows any want of confidence on the part of the Select Committee in the tribunal. That was not the point at all. It was alleged, and I believe it was very strongly felt by the traders, that, whereas the Railway Companies could afford to retain the services of the very best solicitors and barristers at the highest possible fees, the private litigant in many eases could not do so, and it was regarded as hard that such a litigant should have to pay the costs of the Railway Companies on a high scale if the decision happened to be against him. The Committee therefore considered that the rule which, I believe, obtains in our Committee Rooms upstairs should be enforced in this case. Whatever may be thought of the Railway Commissioners as a tribunal, I may say that they cheerfully accepted this proposal, and in fact approved of it in their evidence before the Committee.

* MR. DODD () Essex, Maldon

said, he considered the clause to be mistaken, inasmuch as it meant that if a complainant was ever so right, he could not have his costs. He preferred the ordinary English rule, that the man who won got his costs, while the man who lost had to pay them. The Report of the Committee, he thought, made it plain that the question of the composition of the tribunal, the Railway Commission, must shortly be considered, and that showed that the clause dealt only with a very provisional state of circumstances, and that the whole of this question would before long come again before Parliament. Under these circumstances, having expressed his own opinion on the clause, he would not vote against it.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

MR. BRYCE moved to insert the following clause:—

(Amendment of 36 & 37 Vic., c. 48, s. 14, as to division of rates.) The provisions of Section 11 of The Regulation of Railways Act, 1873, with respect to the power to make orders and failure to comply with such orders, shall extend to any rates entered in books kept in pursuance of Section 31 of The Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1888.

He said, this clause was necessary owing to an omission from the Act of 1888, and it had been accepted by both parties.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."


asked whether the clause would cover the objects of the clauses which stood in the name of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton with regard to the analysis of rates, private sidings, and so on?


said, it would. The clause was really based upon the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton. It had been very carefully considered by the Government draftsman, and by the representatives of the traders, who were agreed that it carried out the object of the hon. Member's Amendment.


said, he thought the clause would furnish a very valuable amendment in the law.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

*MR. CHANNING moved the insertion of the following new clause:—

(Duration of Act.) This Act shall remain in force till the 1st day of January, 1898, and no longer.

He said, if it were thought desirable that the measure should continue in operation after the period named it might be included in the Temporary Bills Act afterwards.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be read a second time."

MR. STUART-WORTLEY () Sheffield, Hallam

said, his right hon. Friend the Member for Dublin University (Mr. D. Plunket) had asked him to say that he hoped the Government would not accept this clause. It was not one of those proposals upon which the Railway Companies looked with favour, and he (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) hoped the House would limit itself to those Amendments which had been agreed to by both parties.


said, he must, refuse to accept the Amendment, not because the Railway Companies objected to it, but because he thought on its merits it was not a desirable proposal. He thought that the Debates that had taken place, and the opinions that had been expressed by the traders, would be a sufficient record of the fact that they had not accepted this Bill as one that was satisfactory to them. As to the suggestion of his hon. Friend (Mr. Channing), he did not think it advisable to overload the Expiring Laws Continuance Act with Bills.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

MR. BRYCE moved the following new clause:—

(Rebate on sidings rates.) Whenever merchandise is received or delivered by a Railway Company at any siding or branch railway not belonging to the Company and a dispute arises between the Railway Company and the consignor of consignee of such merchandise as to any allowance or rebate to be made from the rates charged to such consignor or consignee in respect that the Railway Company does not provide station accommodation or perform terminal services, the Railway and Canal Commissioners shall have jurisdiction to hear and determine such dispute, and to determine what, if any, is a reasonable and just allowance or rebate.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Clause be read a second time."


asked for an explanation of the differences between the proposed new clause and one on the same subject which had been placed upon the Paper by the hon. Member for Leicester (Sir J. Whitehead). He wished to know whether the words "at any siding or branch railway not belonging to the Company" were not rather ambiguous? Supposing a siding or a branch railway were leased by a Railway Company, would that be regarded as not belonging to the Railway Company?


The differences between the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Leicester (Sir J. Whitehead) and my own are only differences of drafting. The words "not belonging to the Company" have been used in other Acts relating to this matter, and would cover the case of a siding that was leased—that is to say, that such a siding would not be excluded. The clause has been accepted by those who represent the traders, and I think the form in which it has been drafted will be found to be the most convenient and the safest.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 356.]