HC Deb 27 May 1897 vol 49 cc1397-404
MR. W. E. M. TOMLINSON (Preston)

moved: — That it be an Instruction of the Committee that they insert provisions requiring the promoters to publish for the use of traders, on such terms and conditions as the Board of Trade may direct, any sectional or other railway maps constructed for the Railway Clearing House, indicating the different lines of railway and the distances along the same. He said he did not think that it would be desirable for him upon that occasion to go at any length into the history of the Railway Clearing House. It was originally formed as a voluntary association in 1842. It performed the, necessary work of breaking up traffic which went over more than one line of railway and apportioned the proceeds arising from it among the various companies interested. The Railway Clearing House formed one of the links that bound the great railway companies together for their united advantage. It was inevitable that as time went on the great railway companies would be fused into one body, and he had no objection to offer to the Railway Clearing House upon that ground. For some years past Airey's railway maps, showing in miles and chains the distance between the different stat ions and junctions on the railways of Great Britain, published by Mr. John Airey of the Railway Clearing House and certified by the railway companies, had been in general use by traders and had been procurable by them through the booksellers. In 1896 complaints were made by the traders that they could not obtain these maps, and in answer to a question asked by the hon. Member for Denbigh Burghs, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, said: — I am informed that Mr. Airey, clerk in the Railway Clearing House, has been allowed to compile, publish, and sell various maps relating to the railways of the United Kingdom, that in 1894 it was considered by the Committee of the Clearing House undesirable that such business should be carried on by a clerk without control, and the Committee therefore, by mutual arrangement, took over from Mr. Airey his plant and paid him a considerable sum for the loss of his business, which is now the property of the Clearing House. I am also informed that the Committee do not propose in the future to publish for public use any maps beyond those of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. If this decision of the Committee is adhered to, I shall regret the loss of information which is of decided advantage to the public, for although the distances between stations are continually subject to variation, by the alteration of a junction or the opening of new routes, stations, or junctions, and although distance tables are prepared by all companies in compliance with their obligations, the advantage to the public of such practical and intelligible maps as have hitherto been published by Mr. Airey must be considerable. I have no control, however, over the decision of the Clearing House Committee. The withdrawal of the maps, which were the only ones of the kind obtainable by the public, and which had been of the greatest possible assistance to traders, rendered it impossible for them to ascertain, in the case of through traffic, which had to pass over more than one line of railway, whether the railway companies concerned were or were not exceeding their powers of charging, and also made it impossible, without having reference to the companies' rate books, to ascertain the real distances between any two stations or places. The railway companies did not set out the distance travelled over the system of each company, which might be a party to a through route, and the rate-books frequently omitted even the total distance from the place where the book was kept to the point of destination on another company's line. In July, 1896, he himself had asked a question on the subject in that House to which the President of the Board of Trade had replied as follows: — I am in communication with the Railway Association with reference to this matter, and it is engaging their attention at the present time. The Statute (i.e. the section of the Regulation of Railways Act 1873, which requires the railway companies to keep for public inspection at each of their stations a book showing inter alia the distance from that station to any place to which any rate is charged), to which my hon. friend refers imposes a penalty for a contravention of Section 14, and it is, of course, open to any person aggrieved to institute proceedings. I cannot compel the companies to do more in the way of publication of distances than the law demands. The distance tables referred to are compiled by the companies for their own use, but they are, no doubt, valuable in assisting the companies to compute the distances for insertion in their rate books. In January last, in reply to a further question asked by him the President of the Board of Trade gave the following answer: — I regret that the correspondence with the Railways Companies' Association has not led to any satisfactory result. The association hold that the question of the publication of these maps is one for the consideration of the Committee of the Railway Clearing House. I cannot hold out any hopes that the Government will undertake the preparation of such maps. The maps had been provided by the Railway Clearing House, and had been drawn up from information supplied by the railway companies, who now sought to minimise the value of them. Although under the Act of 1894 every railway company was under an obligation to give information as to its distances and rates, it was not bound to give the distances which goods had to be carried over other lines. These maps supplied the traders, in a convenient and ready form, with the information they desired on the subject, and, moreover, enabled them to select the best route for their traffic. This question did not come upon the railway companies as a new one, and, although they had not seen their way to concede this extremely reasonable request, he hoped that, now that the opportunity presented itself, the companies would reconsider their decision. Personally he had no desire to act in any hostile way towards the railway companies, because he believed that their interests and those of the traders were identical. He did not see what the companies could gain by pursuing a policy of mystery and concealment in the matter. He begged to move the Instruction which stood in his name. ["Hear, hear !"]

*MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)

, in seconding the Motion, said that it appeared to him that the Railway Clearing House could hardly be considered merely as a railway companies' institution. It partook in some degree of the character of a. national institution, and had to deal with interests other than those of the railway companies. The course taken by the companies in suppressing these maps was wholly inconsistent with the recent policy of railway legislation. When the Act of 1894, was passed, an Amendment was expressly inserted to require the companies to keep for inspection all the rate books of 1892, which would enable traders to prove their case and check new demands. The withdrawal of these maps was impolitic, and would provoke further action as to railway charges. ["Hear!"]

MR. J. W. MACLURE (Lancashire, Stretford)

said that this Bill had been promoted by the committee of the Railway Clearing House merely for the purpose of enabling them to carry on their own business more conveniently, and the Measure had nothing whatever to do with the public. In these circumstances he regarded the Instruction as irrelevant to the objects of the Bill. Every railway company might refuse to give the information upon which the maps were based, and, therefore, it would be absurd for a Select Committee of that House to require the Railway Clearing House to furnish these maps when they had no power to compel the railway companies to give them the necessary information for preparing them. Moreover, the maps were frequently most misleading, owing to the changes that were daily taking place through the construction of new lines and now junctions. He hoped that the House would not accept the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman. ["Hear, hear!"]

SIR JOSEPH PEASE (Durham, Barnard Castle)

, while of opinion that railway companies ought not to withhold any necessary information from traders, desired to point out to the hon. and learned Member for Preston that this Bill had nothing whatever to do with railway rates. It was simply a Measure for the incorporation of the Railway Clearing House. He agreed with the hon. Member who had just sat down that these maps were most misleading. ["Hear, hear!"]


said that, while he was in entire sympathy with the hon. and learned Gentleman who had moved the Instruction, he thought that the House ought not to call upon the Railway Clearing House to do that which was impossible for them to perform. ["Hear, hear!"] There was nothing in the Instruction which would enable the Railway Clearing House to call upon the railway companies to furnish them with the necessary information for drawing up these maps. The only result of this Instruction being carried would be that the promoters would withdraw the Bill, which had been introduced for the wise and proper object of providing for the incorporation of the Railway Clearing House. It was all very well for the hon. Gentleman to say that this information was of no real service to the traders, and that it might be of a misleading character. Perhaps the traders might be allowed to judge. ["Hear, hear!"] The railway companies had formed their opinion, as they had a right to, but the traders had formed an entirely different view. They thought that the information would be of a valuable character, and that it might guide them in their operations and put some kind of check on the charges of the railway companies. He thought they might dismiss the argument that the information was not of a character that would be valuable to the trading community. Believing, as the Board of Trade did, that this information was of value, they had made more than one effort to induce the companies to publish it, but he regretted to say that up to now the information had not been given. He hoped that the companies would very seriously consider the speech of his hon. Friend and the speech of the hon. Gentleman opposite, which he had no doubt could be supported from all parts of the House. ["Hear, hear !"] He thought if the companies did not give the information, they would be doing themselves a great disservice. The interest of the railway companies was to render all the assistance they could to trade. In doing that they were serving their own interests. Under all the circumstances, he hoped his hon. Friend would not persist in pressing this Instruction. It was an Instruction which could not possibly be worked. He thought time ought to be given to the companies to reconsider the matter between now and the Third Reading. If the railway companies still declined, his hon. Friend could take such action as he thought proper on the Third Reading of the Bill.

*MR. MELLOR (York, W. R., Sowerby)

was afraid that if the hon. Gentleman gave way to this suggestion, he might lose his hold upon the Bill and the machinery to carry out what he desired to promote. There was hardly a Member of the House who had not had a letter from his constituents on this matter. He believed that throughout the country there was a widespread belief that these maps were very valuable. It was urged that the maps might be misleading, but surely the traders could judge for themselves. ["Hear, hear !"] When the railway companies came to that House to ask for Parliamentary powers, that House might well say, "You are placing yourselves in a very different position from what you were in, and, while we grant you these powers, you must do something for the public in return." ["Hear, hear !"] What was the reason why the companies would not give them these maps and this information? Strong pressure had been put on the companies to give it. At one time the information had been given. Then it was said these maps were incorrect. But if the people thought they could get information out of them they should have them. What was the real grievance? The railway companies were advised that if the maps were published, the Assessment Committees would get them as well as the traders, and that the position as to rating would be altered. He did not believe that a company got any benefit from refusing information such as this. The best plan was to be open with the public, the traders, and the Assessment Committees. It was said that if this Instruction were carried there was no machinery to compel the companies to give this information, but if the Instruction were carried, the machinery would soon be provided.


said he thought it was a new departure to pass any such Instruction with regard to a private Bill. The railway companies would gladly give any information that might be required. [Cries of "No, no!" and an HON. MEMBER: "They don't !"] They were now asking the House to do that with regard to the railway companies which they would not do with regard to other associations. They would not attempt it, for instance, with regard to the banking companies, and he objected to a penal clause being inserted in these Bills. It was hard that documents which were copyright should be, under compulsion, given to the public.

MR. JAMES BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

was glad to observe that the hon. Member who had just sat down had not adopted an attitude of absolute hostility. He understood him to say that the railway companies would not be unwilling to do what they could. Under these circumstances, the House would be unwilling to force on an Instruction which might involve the loss of the Bill. The President of the Board of Trade had suggested that the matter might stand over until the Third Reading, and with that view he begged to move the adjournment of the Debate. ["Hear, hear !"]


said that the course suggested by the right hon. Gentleman would be entirely satisfactory to him. He did not desire to press hardly upon the railway companies, but was quite willing to give them time to consider in what form they could give the information.

MR. R. W. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)

trusted the hon. Member for Preston would carry the Instruction to a Division, so that there might be some security that the Railway Clearing House would, in consideration of the large powers they sought, perform that duty to the trading community which they ought to have performed long ago.


said that the hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to the question of the adjournment of the Debate.

MR. T. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in the event of an amicable arrangement not being arrived at, he would, on the Third Reading, support an Instruction such as that they had been discussing?


did not think it was right he should be asked to give such an undertaking, or that it was right he should give it. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not desire that the railway companies should consider this question under any threat at all. He had expressed the opinion of the Board of Trade in terms which could not be misunderstood, and thought he had said quite sufficient.


said that he would endeavour, with his hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Mr. Murdoch), to bring the subject fairly before the Railway Association, of which he was a member. His own view was that if the trader wanted this information, he was perfectly welcome to it. It could only be given, however, by the united railway companies publishing an authentic map, such as was described by the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Instruction.

Debate adjourned till Monday 28th June.