HL Deb 13 February 1845 vol 77 cc348-51
Lord Hatherton

presented a Pe- tition from the Company of Proprietors of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Navigation, complaining of the disproportion which existed on the different lines of railway between the rates charged for the transmission of goods and those imposed on passengers. The noble Lord said he had given notice to his noble Friend the President of the Board of Trade of his intention to present this Petition, as the subject of it had excited great attention amongst the manufacturing and productive classes of the midland and adjacent counties, where the circumstance to which it alluded had occasioned much discontent and many complaints; the persons whose interests were thus affected, stating that the railway companies were carrying on the traffic branch of their trade at a great and certain loss, there being a difference of no less than 1,200 per cent. between the charges imposed upon passengers and those imposed upon goods. When the first Railway Bill was in progress through Parliament, namely, that for constructing the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, not a word was said in the Committee on the Bill respecting the charges to be made for passengers, traffic being the principal object then in view, and so little being known of the matter as regarded the conveyance of passengers. The secret, however, soon became known, that passengers were the first objects to be considered; and their accommodation was the first thing studied, the railway company having from that time the strongest aversion to the carriage of goods. Indeed, it was only in consequence of the engagements they had previously entered into in their original charter, and, in order to conciliate the interests that were involved in the question, that they consented to carry any goods at all, though they did so at a ruinous loss. He had already stated that the disproportion between the charges on goods and passengers was no less than 1,200 per cent. in favour of the former, the charge being 1d. per head per mile for passengers, whilst it was 1d. per ton per mile for goods; and as twelve passengers with their luggage weighed a ton, there was consequently a difference of exactly 1,200 per cent. in the two charges. He doubted whether the carriage of goods was less expensive than that of passengers, the only observable difference in regard to the latter being the greater cost of the carriages used for carrying passengers as compared with that of luggage trucks; whereas, on the other side, there were the expenses incurred by the railways for the keep of horses and carts, and the cost of men for the collection and distribution of the goods, all of which rendered this branch of their business more expensive than the passenger portion of it. Such being the case, it must be a matter of wonder how the railway companies could afford to meet the expenses to which the carriage of goods necessarily subjected them;—they were only enabled to do it by raising the cost of transit to the passengers. It was this of which the canal companies complained. They did not complain of the new rivalry which had sprung up in the carrying trade of the kingdom; but what they did complain of, and with justice, as he (Lord Hatherton) conceived, was, that it was an unfair rivalry, and they certainly did call upon Parliament to devise some means for preventing the railway companies from charging passengers with the losses they sustained by the carriage of goods. The immediate effect of the system to which the petitioners referred would be to make passengers pay the whole cost of the carriage of goods throughout the kingdom, and the next result would be to drive all the carrying trade from the canals. Such being the case, he felt authorized in calling upon his noble Friend opposite, the President of the Board of Trade, to direct his attention to this important subject, with the view of providing a remedy. The complaint made by the petitioners was not a new one. When canals were first constructed, the road-carriers complained of the same system having been adopted by their new rivals; and the Legislature introduced an enactment into the Canal Bills to the effect that the canal companies should not be at liberty to raise their tolls after having once lowered them. They were only to be enabled to do so by the consent of Commissioners appointed to regulate this branch of traffic. The clumsy machinery thus constituted was soon abolished, and another mode of checking the canals was adopted, which had likewise suggested itself to the petitioners in question; namely, of enacting that when the tolls of a railway company were lowered, they should all be lowered equally throughout all its branches. He only threw out this suggestion for the noble Earl's consideration. He knew that the subject would excite the attention of the railway companies and of travellers. He knew, moreover, that the noble Earl's attention had been called to the subject generally; and he hoped he would take the circumstances he had referred to into his consideration.

The Earl of Dalhousie

was by no means surprised at the complaints of the petitioners, nor at their desire for some relief. At the same time, the House was aware the Government had no authority, nor did the Department over which he presided possess any, to interfere in the matter. There were involved in it questions of great importance both to the commercial and productive classes, and also to the travelling part of the community, and the Government would not fail to give it a due share of attention. Beyond that, he was sure his noble Friend would not expect him to say anything.

Petition read and ordered to lie on the Table.