§ House in Committee (according to order).
§ Clauses 1 to 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 (Appointment of Additional Judge).
§ On the Motion of Lord STANLEY of PRESTON, Amendment made.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 7 to 9, inclusive, agreed to.
§ Clause 12 (Power to award damages).
THE EARL OF JERSEY
said, that as the noble Lord had given the Commissioners power to award damages which could not now be claimed, he had intended to move to leave out one year and to insert three years, so that the Commissioners might have power to go back three years before the complaint was made. He was willing, however, to agree to a compromise of two years, and he begged to move an Amendment to that effect.
§ Amendment moved, in page 5, line 25, leave out ("one year,") and insert ("two years.")—(The Earl of Jersey.)
§ LORD STANLEY OF PRESTON
said, that at present the Commissioners might declare practices illegal, but they had no power to award damages which might have accrued under such illegal practices in past years. Damages could only be recovered as the result of a separate action. It was thought expedient to consolidate these two operations in one clause, but it was only fair that certain limitations should be fixed to prevent actions after a lapse of time, and it was thought that two years would meet all legitimate complaints.
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, that if by this clause it was intended to transfer to the Commissioners after hearing complaints the power to give damages 1031 for a wrong which had been done or a breach, of contract, it seemed to him in all fairness that there ought to be no limitation other than that which, existed in a Court of Law. But if Clause 12 was to confer some right of giving damages where there was no cause of action, he was opposed to such a proposal, whether limited to one year or two years.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
said, he believed the clause was intended to give damages where there was no right of action at present. Where a man made a charge of undue preference, as the law at present stood, he could go to the Commissioners and say that the Railway Company was treating him differently from his neighbour, and ask them to stop the Company from doing so. But it was quite clear that the law gave him no right of damages for what had been done. He was of opinion that the clause would lead to a large crop of litigation, and that some Amendment was desirable to make clear what was intended.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HALSBURY)
said, that it was right that the matter should be made clear, and no doubt his noble Friend would explain what was intended. But he thought that the compromise which the noble Earl was willing to accept was desirable.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
observed that what they wanted to know was whether this clause did or did not give any new right of action.
§ LORD STANLEY OF PRESTON
explained that it was only a better and simpler form of procedure. It merely endeavoured to settle by one action before the Commissioners what must now be matter for two actions.
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, that he understood it was meant by the clause to give the Commissioners power to award damages where there was no cause of action. If it meant to give a right to damages, which did not now exist, in all fairness let the Clause specify that, so that their lordships might know with what they were dealing.
§ LORD HALSBURY
said that it was not the intention of the Clause to give any right of action that did not now exist.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clauses 13 to 24, inclusive, agreed to.1032
§ Clause 24 (Revised classification of traffic and schedule of rates).
§ LORD HENNIKER
, in moving the following Amendment, to insert:—And in every case those maximum rates and charges shall be deemed to include all terminal charges of every description other than charges for loading, unloading, collection, and delivery of traffic where such services are performed by the Company, and every Company shall state in such classification and schedule the nature and amount of the charges proposed to be authorized for loading, unloading; collection, and delivery of each class of traffic when such services are performed by the Company,said, that in bringing this matter forward he was in no way acting for himself. He had been engaged with various bodies of traders in the country for some time in dealing with this question, and his Amendment was supported by the Railway and Canal Traders' Association, by a Committee of Members of both Houses over which he presided, by the Lancashire and Cheshire Corporation, by the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and, in fact, by traders generally throughout the country. What the traders wanted was that terminals should be included in the maximum rates. They wanted a clause in the Bill not based on a technical decision, such as the decision of the Divisional Court on the subject, but a clause framed upon a decision on the merits. The traders claimed that since the decision of 1885, on which the clause was founded, they had had two other decisions in their favour. It might be said that those two cases were very small cases in the County Court, but the Railway Companies very well knew that they were brought forward as test cases, and the principle involved in them was exactly similar to that involved in the case decided in 1885. The smallness of the issue had nothing whatever to do with the matter. The trader who represented the body of traders in these two County Court cases had two statements of rates given to him. The first was that, for a distance of nine miles, he was to send at least a ton weight of iron, and for every 5001b. he was to be charged 8s. 4d. After the decision in the County Court the rate quoted to him was the minimum weight sent should be 5001b. at 2s. 4d. It could not be denied that such figures made a great difference in the profits of a trader. He did not wish to press his Amendment unduly in the House, but he appealed to the noble 1033 Lord in charge of the Bill and to the House to take this point into their most serious consideration. It was one of the most important points in the Bill, and he was certain that the traders of the country would never be satisfied unless something of the kind were inserted.
In page 9, line 6, leave out from ("company") to the end of subsection (1.) and insert ("and in every case those maximum rates and charges shall be deemed to include all terminal charges of every description other than charges for loading, unloading, collection, and delivery of traffic, where such services are performed by the company, and every company shall state in such classification and schedule the nature and amount of the charges proposed to be authorized for loading, unloading, collection, and delivery of each class of traffic when such services are performed by the company.")—(The Lord Henniker.)
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, he believed that what the noble Lord proposed was the law at present. He did not think the Railway Companies had any right to make a great many of these terminal charges. The Companies were in the position of insurers. When an article was given to them to carry they must insure its safe delivery uninjured, and they had no right to charge any sum of money for doing that which merely protected them from the consequences of injury to the chattel in the course of its journey. That was his opinion of the general law relating to railways. He would not, however, say that no terminal charges whatever were right, and he would remind their Lordships that there was one case in which it was decided on the terms of the Act of a particular Cmpany—the London and Brighton—that the Company had a right to make some of these charges. He thought that this Clause would, in effect, only declare the present state of the general law, though possibly that view would not be assented to by all lawyers. He spoke from his recollection of a case decided some years ago. There was, however, this difficulty, that if their Lordships accepted this Amendment, it would take away from the London and Brighton Company a right they at present possessed by statute. In the circumstances he hesitated to recommend the House to accept or reject this Amendment.
§ LORD GRIMTHORPE
said, he should have the utmost respect for the noble and learned Lord's authority if judicially quoted; but he understood that the noble 1034 and learned Lord was merely mentioning his recollection of the case. What was the name of the case?
§ LORD GRIMTHORPE
said, he declined to accept the authority of that Glamorganshire case as ruling the generality of English railways. He knew from experience that some of the older, and perhaps the newer, Welsh railways had clauses not in the common form. That of "Hall v. the Brighton Railway," and of "Kempson v. the Great Western," which was taken to be governed by Hall's case, was certainly in the common form. At least he had that morning asked that question of the solicitors of several Companies who came to him, and they told him it was so. The assertion that the Brighton decision turned upon a technicality was altogether unfounded. So far from that, the Judges of the Queen's Bench Division said that the contention of the claimant Hall was utterly unreasonable; and they carefully explained the three successive stages of legislation about terminals; first, where the Companies were supposed or expected only to provide the road, like canals; secondly, where they were to haul for carriers like Pickford, who for a long time did all the terminal work, and charged very much higher terminals than the Companies had over done; and, thirdly, the present state of things, where the Companies do everything and were allowed by their Acts to charge a reasonable sum for it, which the Railway Commissioners judged of in each case according to the accommodation provided. The Amendment would be a retrograde step, and would indict the greatest injustice on Railway Companies, who had expended many millions in erecting sidings, wharfs, and warehouses on the assurance of being repaid for their outlay by terminal charges. He remembered it being proved in a Committee that there were three miles of sidings at Hull occupied by coal waggons, because there ware no ships ready to carry them off. He thought that the Amendment was monstrously unreasonable, as the Judges had pronounced Hall's claim to be.
§ LORD HENNIKER
said, that the noble Lord who had just sat down took a too exclusively railway view of this question. No doubt, Railway Companies would like to charge rates in respect to their outlay upon stations; but when that outlay had not been reasonably incurred, surely no charge ought to be allowed in respect of it. Nothing unreasonable, so far as he could see, was asked on behalf of the trader. All that was asked was that he should not be compelled to pay for the mistakes of Railway Companies. Maximum charges should include everything necessary for carrying on the business of a railway. For extra service the trader was willing to pay.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
said, it would be perfectly competent for the railways, if the Amendment passed, to re-adjust their maximum rates so as to include terminal charges. It should be remembered that the provisions of different Railway Acts with reference to terminal charges were by no means identical. In some cases Companies had fixed low rates for short distances in consideration of the right to make terminal charges. It would be unreasonable of the Legislature to sweep away all terminal charges without paying regard to the different circumstances sanctioned by different Acts of Parliament. It would hardly be wise or just to lay down the hard and fast rule that in this matter of terminal charges all Railway Companies must be dealt with alike.
said, that in 1873 he was a Member of the Joint Committee of the two Houses out of which the Railway Commission sprang. That Committee went fully into all these questions, and reported that the law as to terminals was confused, and it recommended that Parliament should distinctly recognize not only service terminals, but "Station" terminals. It further reported that it was not advisable to fix a maximum, because it must necessarily be fixed at a higher rate than the actual charge. There was an expression of opinion, particularly on the part of the coal merchants, that it was not desirable, although terminals should be recognized, that a maximum should be fixed for them. This opinion of the Joint Committee was endorsed by a Select Committee of the House of Commons presided over by 1036 Mr. Evelyn Ashley, out of which the present Bill arose. No doubt, in some cases of short traffic, terminals added to the charges for conveyance would exceed the allowed maximum rates for conveyance; but it was obvious that if you prohibited terminals a Railway Company losing in that direction would be obliged to raise its charges in other directions. He hoped the House would adhere to the Bill as it stood and recognize terminals, subject to the discretion of the Railway Commission to ascertain in each case whether they were reasonable or not; and, therefore, he trusted that their Lordships would not adopt the Amendment.
§ LORD STALBRIDGE
thought the accusations which had been made against the Railway Companies in respect of their conduct in the case of Kempson and Hall were answered by the statement of the transactions between the litigants and the Companies, and the readiness of the Companies to correct the mistakes in the charges they had made. In short distances—say one of six miles from London—it would be impossible to make a rate that would cover terminal charges, inasmuch as those charges necessarily decreased with long distances; and, therefore, he hoped the Amendment would not be adopted.
§ LORD STANLEY OF PRESTON
said, that the noble and learned Lord opposite had stated so clearly what was the effect of the Amendment that he did not feel called upon to follow him. He entirely sympathized with the object of the mover of the Amendment, and recognized that he was acting for a powerful body; and it was in no spirit of antagonism that he was compelled to resist the Amendment. The question of terminals had given much trouble in the preparation of the Bill; he had received deputations on both sides; he had had personal conferences with the representatives of traders and of the Railway Companies, to see whether the existing difficulties could be removed; and he came to the conclusion that, on the whole, the best course was to take the decision of the Queen's Bench in Hall's case, as laying down in general terms the principles by which they were to be guided. An essential Amendment was made in the Bill before it was introduced, with regard to undue charges for terminals, which were supposed to 1037 be placed on goods for the sake of recouping undue expenditure on stations. In the determination of terminal charges regard was to be had only to expenditure that was reasonable and necessary to provide proper accommodation for the goods in respect of which the charge was made. Therefore goods were not to be made to pay for expensive passenger stations. This matter of terminals would have to be left to be fought between the parties concerned and the Board of Trade, with an ultimate reference to Parliament. In the majority of cases the rates the Companies would charge, oven if considerable terminals were added, would be well within their statutory limits; and it was only in respect of short distances that the question of terminals would arise. The Amendment went further than was intended; it would have the effect, he would not say of confiscation, but of injuring many Companies; and he therefore recommended their Lordships to adhere to the clause as it stood, coupled with the definition of terminals in the definition clause of the Bill.
§ Amendment (by leave of the Committee) withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 25 (Undue preference in case of unequal rates and charges, and unequal services performed).
THE EARL OF JERSEY
, in moving to leave out words which provided that whenever it was shown that—In the adjustment of the rates and charges of a railway company there is a difference in the treatment of British merchandize and foreign merchandize,said, the burden of proving that such difference in treatment did not amount to an undue preference should lie on the Railway Companies. He had taken the advice given by the noble Marquess on the second reading of the Bill, and had again brought this subject forward. This question of preferential charges and foreign bounties interested very deeply the traders and agriculturists of the country. It would not be necessary for him on the present occasion to quote again the numerous instances in which advantages were given by Railway Companies to foreign producers, to the enormous disadvantage of the home producer. Their Lordships would recollect that in some cases it was shown that 1038 British goods were carried at double the rates at which the Railway Companies carried foreign goods. Neither was it necessary that he should point out how very hurtful to the industries of the country the system of preferential bounties must be. The British trader who paid double the rate of the foreign trader was placed in a position of considerable difficulty when he got into the market; and the agriculturists of the country could not be satisfied with a system which carried English produce at 22s. 4d. while foreign produce was charged for the same distance 8s. 4d. It was against such a state of things that he moved the Amendment. The traders and agriculturists wished to have a fair field and no favour. The noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Bramwell) had stated, though not in so many words, that if Parliament attempted to regulate the interpretation which Railway Companies should put upon their Acts of Parliament, it was confiscation; that if equal terms were given to English and foreign goods it was Protection; that if the Railways did not offer these bounties the goods would go by sea; and that as the home producer must have the goods carried to his own district, it was only right that the Companies should charge him 20 times more than they did the foreigner. No one wished to confiscate the property of the Railway Companies, and they all acknowledged the great benefits bestowed upon the country by railways and the great ability which the directors had shown in their management; but he contended that Parliament had a right to inquire into the manner in which Acts were carried out. He denied that the Amendment would bring about anything in the nature of confiscation. Then with regard to Protection; if bounties were offered they were in the nature of Protection, and it was against this system that he protested. On another point of the noble and learned Lord foreign goods could not be carried to very many places by sea, and they had, therefore, to be carried by railway, yet these goods were charged a very much lower rate than English goods, so that the sea competitions argument fell to the ground. It was not right that the Railway Companies should be able to say that they would charge the trader what they 1039 liked because they had got him in their hands. He maintained that any preference granted upon the ground that the goods were foreign and not British was an undue preference, and that the injustice under which the traders now suffered would be increased by the Bill. At the present time undue preference was contrary to the law, but the clause now under discussion would legalize it. If they passed this clause as it now stood they would have declared that, in certain circumstances, foreign preferential rates might become legal. The greatest indignation was felt with regard to this matter all over the country. Agriculturists were not afraid of competition carried on upon fair terms, but they did object to having to pay extra charges on the carriage of their goods. They did not advocate Protection or confiscation, but that the same treatment should be dealt to them as to the foreigner. It was perfectly fair and reasonable that it should be so, and it would be to the permanent interest of the British public, whether consumers or producers.
In page 11, line 5, to leave out from "district" to "burden" in line 9.—(The Earl of Jersey.)
§ LORD WALSINGHAM
said, he supported the Amendment of the noble Earl, not only on account of the urgent necessity of such relief as it promised to afford to the agricultural industry, but on the ground that the clause, as it stood, would practically afford no such relief at all. He was quite willing to give the Government credit for the true and conscientious belief they had avowed that this clause, as drawn, would have the effect of putting a stop to undue preferences. He felt sure that that had been their honest intention in framing the Bill; but he was equally convinced that the wording of the clause must effectually defeat that object. This clause put upon the Railway Companies the burden of proving that a lower charge or difference of treatment in the adjustment of traffic rates, as between British and foreign merchandize, did not amount to any undue preference; and it proceeded to direct the Court having jurisdiction in the matter or the Commissioners, as the case might be, how they should interpret the word 1040 "undue." This Interpretation Clause distinctly sanctioned any degree of preference that could be shown to be necessary to secure the traffic in the interests of the public. Although the burden of proof justifying the preference on these grounds was nominally thrown upon the Railway Companies, he maintained that practically the burden of this proof would invariably be thrown upon those who suffered by its operation. He asked their Lordships what chance there was that any body of English agriculturists, scattered widely over the face of the country by reason of the very nature of their business, and, therefore, seldom able to combine successfully for any common purpose, would be able to refute the assertions of a powerful combination of Railway Directors armed with the usual kaleidoscopic phalanx of statistics, and contending that if an extra shilling per ton were charged on the conveyance of imported produce, new markets would at once be opened in other countries to divert our supplies? It was, unfortunately, too true that the agricultural interest was weak in Parliament as compared with other interests; and simply because a personal attention to the anxious business of the cultivation and management of land was incompatible with the urgent and tedious requirements of Parliamentary study. They had a right to ask that the Government of the country should not allow unfair advantage to be taken over our struggling industries by the more powerful factions whose pecuniary interests might on this point be at variance with their own. When they considered what proportion of the burden of taxation fell upon land, who would deny that the fees they paid were a heavy drain upon their resources, and were of no small importance to the National Exchequer? Arable farming, under the average conditions which subsisted at present in this country, was a slowly perishing industry, and it would not long continue to contribute heavily to the national taxation. Probably, next to tenant farmers themselves, no body of men in England were better acquainted with the extent and spread of agricultural depression than the Members of their Lordships' House. Several of their Lordships had told him in private conversation that they could 1041 not support the Amendment because they were Railway Directors. He would ask those who were interested in railway management where was the logic of reducing their rents as landlords by 5s. and 10s. per acre, and then, as Railway Directors, inflicting at the same time a tax which had been computed in the Eastern Counties at 14s. per acre for wheat and £4 18s. per acre for potatoes upon the process of sending their tenants' crops to the great central markets? He would quote a few words from a leaflet issued by Messrs. Watson, Todd, and Co., of the Midland Flour Mills, at Birmingham—As an acre of well-farmed land will produce four and a-half quarters or a ton of wheat, and as the farmer on the East Coast has to pay 22s. 4d. freight for his ton of wheat against 8s. 4d. for a ton of foreign from Cardiff, an equal distance to Birmingham, the farmer is Boycotted by the Railway Company, and compelled to pay a bounty of 14s. per acre, or a sum equal to a second rental, to get his acre of wheat to the consuming market. Also, as an acre of land planted with potatoes will produce seven tons, and as the difference between the English and foreign rates to the consuming market is 14s. per ton against the English producer, the East Coast farmer has to pay a bounty to the railway of £4 18s. per acre, in addition to what is paid by the foreigner, to send his acre of potatoes to the Birmingham market. Hence, if a farmer in the East of England grows 100 acres of potatoes and sends them to Birmingham, he pays the modest sum of £490 more freight than is paid by the foreigner on a like quantity, for an equal distance.He would further ask those of their Lordships who affected to snort at the faintest odour of Protection, as a horse shied at a fresh bear's skin, how it could be, in any sense, good policy to give an actual bounty to the foreign producer rather than to place the home producer upon fair and equal terms? In the one way they injured the consumer by diverting capital from home investments to a far greater extent than they benefited him by cheapening his necessaries. In the other, they strengthened, if ever so little, the tottering mainstay of the home prosperity and happiness of our rural population. The time might come—he did not say that it would—when the cry for some far more actual protection than this would arise from the great mass of the working men of this country; and when it came, how should they who employ them resist it? The men had the 1042 voting power which would enable them to insist upon it, and not only to carry it, but, contrary to former precedents, to secure their full and fair share of its advantages. Of course, the essence of the opposition to this equitable and harmless adjustment consisted in the plea that they must do nothing contrary to the interests of the consumer; and, therefore, they must not raise the rate of freight on foreign produce. They did not ask that it should be raised—they would be quite satisfied that the rate upon English produce should be lowered to the same figure; but if they declined to do this, the agriculturists asked that they would at least split the difference. Thus, by taking off from the home producer the same proportion by which they increased their charges to the foreigner, they would secure the whole amount for their shareholders as before. If it was answered that in this case the coasting steamers would secure a part of the present railway traffic, that exposed the shallowness of the plea for the interests of the consumer; the produce would reach him all the same, and probably at an unappreciably increased cost, which would be more than repaid by the increased purchasing and trading power which he would then share with the home producer. On these grounds he supported the Amendment proposed by the noble Earl.
§ LORD STANLEY OF PRESTON
said, he confessed to having a great deal of sympathy with the reasons that actuated the noble Earl in moving his Amendment; but he could not say that the conclusions arrived at by the Government last year were in the slightest degree shaken by the arguments that had been advanced. His noble Friend had spoken on behalf of the agricultural interest, an interest with which their Lordships were closely connected, and with which they at present deeply sympathized. But it had been his duty more than once to point out that the Government had not to consider the agricultural, commercial, or railway interests alone. The noble Lord left out some other considerations, which ought to be taken into account in dealing with so large a question as this. The Amendment of the noble Earl divided itself into two parts, and supposed a preference given to foreign over British 1043 producers, or to traders living at a distance over other traders. But he must ask their Lordships to consider this matter rather with reference to the provisions of the Bill than to any inequality of rates which might exist at present. The Bill said distinctly that whenever it was shown that any Railway Company charged one trader or class of traders in any district lower rates for the same or similar merchandize, or for the same or similar services than they charged other traders, the burden of proving that such lower charges or difference of treatment did not amount to an undue preference should lie on the Railway Company. It was admitted that such inequalities should not for a moment be allowed to exist unless there were strong reasons which, in the interest of the general public, rendered such inequality advisable as in other cases would be inadvisable. It was at the instance of the noble Earl who moved the Amendment that the Government accepted one of the largest changes made in the Bill of last year, with a view to strengthen the Court of the Railway Commissioners in a manner which would inspire the public with greater confidence. Were their Lordships now to withdraw from the Court, strengthened at the instance of his noble Friend, the right of saying whether different rates should be charged; and were they to lay down a hard and fast line which should leave no power to the Commissioners to take into consideration the subject of the clause? He was quite alive to the fact that foreign produce was carried past the door of the native producer on terms which made it impossible for him to compete with the foreigner. But the origin of the produce was not the only point which should be considered. As the whole clause had reference to preferential rates on whatever traffic could be carried, they must take into account other considerations that might have a great influence on the matter. He thought it was now tacitly admitted by all bodies of traders that persons dealing in large quantities and at regular intervals with the Railway Companies ought to be allowed certain advantages over those who did not deal in such large quantities and so regularly. A point which could not be put out of sight was this, that where a Railway 1044 Company had traffic to carry in large quantities, and at regular periods and under convenient conditions for its reception and carriage, that was an element which ought fairly to be brought before the Commissioners, and which in the majority of cases might form good ground why a preferential rate should be allowed. Another point was that the words "in the interest of the public" were inserted last year in order to show that where a Railway Company carried at different rates it must be not so much in the interest of the Railway Company itself as of the general public. Where there were two Companies running lines to any place, one of them might find that it could afford to carry traffic at a lower rate, although the actual distance might be longer. What conceivable advantage was given to the consumer if you laid down a hard and fast line to prevent the Commissioners from allowing that to be done? The tendency of such a course would be to throw the traffic into the shorter line, and it required no gift of prophecy to foretell that when the competing line was prevented from carrying the traffic, the Company which had got the sole command might not choose any longer to carry at as low a rate as before. Then there was another point. Although there was undoubtedly a very general opinion that this was a matter in which the agricultural interest was hardly dealt with, he must point out that the agricultural interest would be one of the very first to suffer if these preferential rates were absolutely prohibited. To do away with such rates would be to place the large towns in the same position as they would be if there were no competition between railways. It would prevent many of the great agricultural counties from sending their produce at anything like a paying rate to London and many of the large towns. If they laid down a hard and fast rule, and said that no preferential rates were to be allowed—
THE EARL OF JERSEY
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but I referred to foreign preferential rates.
§ LORD STANLEY OF PRESTON
said, he understood the argument of the noble Earl to apply to the general question of preferential rates, and he might be allowed to point out that if preferential rates were to be prohibited there would probably be loss, not gain, to the 1045 agricultural world. He always found that complaint was made only of the import rate. They all knew that in certain parts of the country it was cheaper for farmers to feed their stock upon grain imported from abroad than upon grain grown by themselves. But if the Amendment passed in its present form, it must be remembered that they did away not only with the import rates, but with all the preferential rates affecting the export traffic, which would have the effect of interfering with the trade of many large centres of industry, which, owing to the large quantity of goods they could place upon the railways at preferential rates, enabled them to compete with foreign producers. He was bound to say that, having considered all these questions, and having weighed very carefully the words of the noble Earl, the Government had come to the conclusion that, at the present time, it was not their duty to consent to any essential change in this matter. He had never disguised from their Lordships that he thought this was a question that would be very considerably ventilated "elsewhere," and upon which it was very desirable that the Representatives of the great ports should have an opportunity of expressing their opinion. He much regretted that he was obliged to give such an unqualified negative to his noble Friend; but he did not think that the considerations he had advanced in favour of his proposal, great though they were, were sufficient to outweigh the difficulties of the case. He must, therefore, ask their Lordships to adopt the clause as it stood.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
said, that his belief was that the words the noble Earl wished to introduce into the clause would either have no effect at all, or else would do a great deal more than he intended them to do. If they meant that in the adjustment of rates and charges the Companies were to charge, under the same circumstances, the same rate for British as for foreign merchandize, then nothing was effected, for that was unquestionably the law at present. The noble Earl could surely not mean that if the circumstances differed the Companies should charge the same rates; yet he (Lord Herschell) could see no construction possible other than one of those two.
THE EARL OF JERSEY
said, he quoted cases fram a Return laid on the Table 10 days ago, in which 50s. had been charged for English goods and 25s. for foreign goods carried under the same conditions.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
said, he did not know why that had not been stopped long ago. All he could say was that it could have been stopped any time since 1854, for the law said that, in the same circumstances, no higher charge should be made for British goods. If the law was clear enough already, he thought it was very unadvisable to add to it words which nobody understood, with a view to making it more definite. He certainly understood the noble Earl to contend that the Companies ought not to charge a person whose goods they were carrying a shorter distance a higher mileage rate than they charged a man whose goods they were carrying a longer distance. He thought the House had a right to know exactly what the noble Earl meant by the Amendment, for as the words stood they might mean that British goods were to be carried 100 miles at the same rate that foreign goods were carried 50 miles.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
said, it stood clearly to reason that the Amendment was one of a very important character, and helped considerably to define the clause, which, he contended, was at present somewhat vague and unreliable. He had always looked to every utterance of the noble Marquess at the head of the Government in the country with regard to agriculture with very great anxiety and interest. The country had always believed that with the advent of a Conservative Ministry came the time when agriculture would receive due and proper attention. In the speeches of the noble Marquess agriculturists had had many great and comforting assurances given them that if the Government were able in any way to afford assistance to their languishing industry, they would give them every possible support. This was a question in point, a question of vital importance to the agricultural community. They were placed in a position of rivalry of a fierce character with the foreign producers. They asked for no favour or protection, they only asked for consideration. The noble Marquess might 1047 scarcely be aware of the enormous interests concerned in this question. English agriculturists believed that they were handicapped and hampered in their industry by the powers the Railway Companies possessed of charging preferential rates. In this country higher rates were charged, both for passengers and goods, than in any other country in the civilized world. While the people were prepared to pay those rates they asked for fair and equal treatment. If this Amendment were carried it would carry joy throughout the length and breadth of the land, and agriculturists would feel they were saved from one of the greatest drawbacks under which they lay at present.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, he wished to recall their Lordships to the point raised by the late Lord Chancellor (Lord Herschell). He asked what was the distinct meaning of the Amendment put forward. He apprehended it was perfectly clear. It was that, in regard to the question of preference between traders at home, the Government would leave it to be decided by the Railway Companies; but as regarded competition between foreign and home produce, the noble Earl proposed to declare by his Amendment that no preference should be given to the foreigner over a British trader. The noble and learned Lord the ex-Lord Chancellor now stated that under the existing law no preference could be given to foreign produce. If that was so, what objection could there be to inserting this Amendment. If there had been no doubt in law on the point, there had, in fact, been much doubt, and this Amendment would remove it. The noble Lord in charge of this Bill had made a speech nominally directed against this Amendment, but nine-tenths of his arguments were beside the mark. He urged that Railway Companies ought to be allowed to have a difference of rates where the quantities carried differed materially. Nobody disputed this point, but it had nothing to do with this Amendment, which was aimed at securing that in future no preference should be given to foreign over British goods.
§ LORD SUDELEY
said, that the speech of the noble and learned Lord the late Lord Chancellor which had just been made, seemed to him to entirely upset 1048 their previous notions, as practically what he had stated came to this, that, in his opinion, what was now being done by the Railway Companies in giving preference to foreign goods, was absolutely illegal, if the goods were carried under the same circumstances, between the same towns. Unfortunately, another noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell) said that, in his opinion, this was not the correct state of the law. The difference between these great legal authorities showed how impossible it was for the small fruit growers and traders to know what to do, and how uncertain the state of the law really was. There could not be a more convincing proof of how necessary it was to support Lord Jersey's Amendment, and to make the clause as strong as possible. In regard to the argument of Wholesale v. Retail—namely, that the Railway Companies ought to be allowed to send large quantities, such as a train full or many trucks full, at a far cheaper rate than they could send small quantities, Lord Sudeley said that this was no doubt right if universal; but he maintained that it was carried out in respect to the foreigner, but was frequently not so in the case of the home producer. He would take the case of the Evesham district, with which he was specially well acquainted. There, during the season, whole trains full were made up daily for the Manchester and other markets, and yet (would the House believe it?) no concession whatever was made for large quantities over 12cwts. The market gardeners might send several trucks or a train full, but would have no special reduction. If the argument of large quantities were advanced in regard to foreign produce being carried (as it often was), especially from Liverpool to London, he maintained that the same principle ought to be carried out in its entirety in our home districts. In regard to the sea competition, he said there was a point which he thought was often lost sight of, and that was the fact that speed and time enters most materially into the question. There was, for instance an enormous quantity of flowers and fruit which came to London by train from France, and for which a considerably higher price was obtained, provided they arrived in time for certain markets. Being sent by sea, they would arrive several hours later, and being no longer 1049 as fresh as those which arrived by train, lower prices were obtained. This was a case in which the sea traffic argument was entirely fallacious, and yet he understood that, notwithstanding this, flowers and fruit were carried from Folkestone and Dover to London at lower rates than those at which the home producer could send them. It seemed to him that this was distinctly wrong, and showed how necessary it was to strengthen the clause, and he hoped the House would pass the noble Earl's Amendment.
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, he could not think that the effect of the Amendment was seen. If the words of the clause proposed to be left out were omitted, Railway Companies would be relieved of the burden of proof that they gave no preferential rates.
§ LORD STALBRIDGE
said, in some cases the Railway Companies were the means of benefiting agriculturists. Thus, last year, complaints were made that foreign hops were by means of preferential rates brought to the London market from Boulogne at a lower rate than the Kent farmers could send their hops to London. The South-Eastern Railway Company decided to cease giving these foreign hops preferential rates, and the consequence was that they were sent by sea and were able to be sold at 7s. 6d. less than when they were sent by the South-Eastern Railway, so that the Kent hop growers were in a worse position than before.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, he should support the Amendment. These preferential rates were also most unjust to British shipowners, and the shipping interest was at least as important to the national wealth and strength as the railway interest. The Railway Companies, under the authority of their Acts of Parliament, exacted high rates from British producers and manufac-facturers, which enabled them to offer preferential low rates to the foreigners from the port nearest to them, and thus to underbid the shipowners in the conveyance of foreign merchandize to the more distant port of its ultimate destination. They thus gave bounties to the foreigner not only against the British producer and manufacturer, but also against the British ship-owner. As an old Free Trader he protested against this.
LORD DE MAULEY
, who spoke amid repeated cries of "Divide," said the Bill with such a clause as this would be nothing but a Bill for the preservation of high rates. Rates ought to be distributed equally on the principle of the Post Office. At present charges were so different on different railways that the trader was bewildered by their variety. The agricultural interest only asked to be placed upon an equality with foreigners. The present system was neither fair trade nor free trade.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
The House I know is anxious to divide, and therefore I shall say very few words. But what I wish to impress upon the House is that, as far as I can judge from the debate, we appear to have been discussing that which is not really submitted to our consideration. I have heard speech after speech from my noble Friends behind me, dwelling upon the wrongs of agriculture, upon the abominable character of all undue preferences, upon the necessity of remedying the evil, and upon the hardships that will result if the evil is not remedied. I have heard all those topics dwelt on in eloquent and convincing language, and I have agreed with every word that I have heard. But I am my-self convinced that the language which we have put into the Bill is precisely the language by which to deal with the evil and by which the remedy ought to be applied. My noble Friends deny this; they say that by this language the remedy will not be applied, and they offer us words by which they affirm the remedy will be applied better. I have the deepest respect for my noble Friends behind me; I know how fully they represent the country on a great number of subjects, and I know how earnest they are in defence of the interests committed to their charge. But I do not think that I should go to them for the drafting of an Act of Parliament, and it is upon the drafting of an Act of Parliament that we are really going to vote in this Division. The clause in the Bill was considered very anxiously again and again by the Government last year, and what did we hear to-night? We heard the noble and learned Lord the late Lord Chancellor (Lord Herschell) stating that in the first place he was unable 1051 to understand the Amendment, and that in the second the only conclusion to which he could come was that it was either absolutely useless or that it would make the law work in a precisely opposite direction from that in which the desires of noble Lords were set. Then the noble and learned Lord opposite said that it appeared to him that the Amendment must have been suggested by persons opposed in interests to those behind me; and, lastly, I may say that these clauses were drafted in this House last Session under the light of the legal knowledge which this House possesses, and that a most important portion of them was carried by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Selborne), who took part in the debates. It is surely not unreasonable for the Government to think that this being the balance of legal opinion, however earnest we may be in desiring to carry out the objects of my noble Friends, and however keenly we may sympathize with all their indignant language—it is surely not unreasonable to think that we shall do better to trust to the language of the Bill than to the language proposed by my noble Friends behind me. I do not wish to go into the merits of the case, because I so entirely agree with my noble Friends as to its main principles that I should have nothing to add to what they have said. We all desire to prevent undue preferences while we know that some preferences must exist. A noble Lord opposite was indignant with us for discussing these preferences—preferences depending upon frequency and size and custom. But you cannot separate them; the Commissioners will have to deal with these preferences, and your clause is so drafted that it would exclude the consideration of them if it were passed as it stands. The matter comes to this, that if you wish no difference to be made between the treatment of British merchandize and the treatment of foreign merchandize because the one is British and the other is foreign, your wish is embodied in the law now, and will be still more strongly enforced by the present Bill, and the words which you propose will not add in the least to the stringency of the law. But if you wish to say that under no circumstances shall there be preference given to one side as against the other, if the one side is British and the other is foreign, that is a provision which would create an abun- 1052 dance of injustice, and which you would never be able to pass into law. I do not pledge myself to every word of this clause, but I hope that you will allow it, drafted as it has been, to go down now to the other House, where the traders and railway managers can meet one another face to face and discuss the subject. If other words can be added in the House of Commons which will accomplish the object which we have in view in a better way, I shall raise no opposition, not being bound to any particular phraseology. But with the knowledge which we have at present, the Government have no other course to pursue than to resist the Amendment and to support the clause as it stands.
§ LORD NORTHBOURNE
asked whether the noble Marquess would pledge himself that in future there would be no difference of treatment between British and foreign merchandize?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
As I have tried to explain, it is now the law, and the law will be still more strongly enforced under the present Bill, that no difference ought to be made between English merchandize and foreign merchandize because the one is English and the other is foreign. But it is quite another thing to say that under no circumstances shall one set of merchandize have preferential treatment over another because one set is foreign merchandize and the other British.
§ On Question, whether the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents 63; Not-Contents 69: Majority 6.1053
|Halsbury, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Spencer, E.|
|Cadogan, E. (L. Privy Seal.)||Wharncliffe, E.|
|Portland, D.||Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.)|
|Ripon, M.||Sidmouth, V.|
|St. Asaph, L. Bp.|
|Lathom, E. (L. Chamberlain.)||Aberdare, L.|
|Kilmorey, E.||Ashbourne, L.|
|Kimberley, E.||Balfour of Burley, L.|
|Minto, E.||Bramwell, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Castlemaine, L.|
|Powis, E.||Cheylesmore, L.|
|Romney, E,||Colchester, L.|
|Colville of Culross, L.||Lyveden, L.|
|Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Magheramorne, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Monteagle of Brandon, L.|
|Esher, L.||Poltimere, L.|
|FitzGerald, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bess-borough.)|
|Foxford, L. (E. Limerick.) [Teller.]|
|Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)|
|Harris, L.||Saltersford, L. (E. Courtown.)|
|Hillingdon, L.||Sandhurst, L|
|Hobhouse, L.||Stalbridge, L.|
|Hopetoun, L. (E. Hopetoun.)||Stanley of Preston, L.|
|Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Ker, L. (M. Lothian.)||Teynham, L.|
|Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.) [Teller.]||Thring, L.|
|Tweeddale, L. (M. Tweeddale.)|
|Lingen, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Grafton, D.||Chelmsford, L.|
|Marlborough, D.||Chesham, L.|
|St. Albans, D.||Clanbrassill, L. (E. Roden.)|
|Bristol, M.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.|
|Aylesford, E.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.|
|Brooke and Warwick, E.||De Mauley, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Dormer, L.|
|Dartrey, E.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)|
|de Montalt, E.||Harlech, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Howth, L. (E. Howth.)|
|Ferrers, E.||Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.) [Teller.]|
|Harrowby, E.||Kinnaird, L.|
|Innes, E. (D. Roxburghe.)||Lamington, L.|
|Lovaine, L. (E. Percy.)|
|Jersey, E. [Teller.]|
|Lucan, E.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Northbrook, E.||Northbourne, L.|
|Northesk, E.||Norton, L.|
|Ravensworth, E.||Ormonde, L. (M. Ormonde.)|
|Strafford, E.||Sherborne, L.|
|Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.||Shute, L. (V. Barrington.)|
|Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Halifax, V.||Sudeley, L.|
|Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Suffield, L.|
|Torrington, V.||Vernon, L.|
|Abinger, L.||Wigan, L. (M. Crawford and Balcarres.)|
|Arundell of Wardour, L.||Wimborne, L.|
|Zouche of Haryng-worth, L.|
§ Clauses 26 to 46, inclusive, agreed to.
§ Clause 47 (Definitions).
In page 20, after line 30 insert ("the term merchandize in this Act includes cattle, live stock, and animals of all descriptions, also every article whatever be its nature which is carried by railway or canal boat.")—(The Earl of Jersey.)
§ LORD STANLEY OF PRESTON
said, he was advised that all these were included by statute already; and if the matter were postponed until the report, he would give a reference to the section.
§ Amendment (by leave of the Committee) withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ The Report of the Amendments to be received on Thursday next; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 41.)