HL Deb 27 May 1892 vol 5 cc5-12


Order of the Day for the Third Reading, read.

Bill read 3a.


My Lords, I move an Amendment in Schedule, Class C, after "timber actual machine weight," to insert "or measurement weight." My Lords, if I had not for some years had my attention drawn to the increasing depreciation in the value of timber, or rather the increased difficulty of selling it, I should have hesitated to bring forward such an Amendment as I pro- pose after the amount of cold water that has been poured upon it. In the first place, the noble Lord, who represents the Board of Trade, told me that the timber merchants had no case, and I had better not take it up. After that another noble Lord, who sat upon your Lordships' Committee, wrote to me that some of the statements of the timber merchants were most inaccurate, and others irrelevant. He desired me to read the evidence which had been given before the Committee. I did so, and after having made some observations to him, the only thanks I got was to be told that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Now, my Lords, the grievance complained of by the timber merchants is that round timber is sacrificed to square by the substitution of machine weight for measurement, and that also by the diminution of fifty feet to forty feet measurement to the ton in the case of several kinds of timber, while sixty feet of deals, battens and boards may be charged as one ton, the effect will be to drive out of the market the round timber, which is British timber, in favour of the foreign timber which all comes square, especially deals. Now the noble Lord who objects to the statements made by the timber merchants represented them as not unanimous. Virtually they are unanimous. There is only one of the timber merchants who was examined by the railway counsel who was in favour of machine weight; otherwise all the timber merchants, whether engaged in the British trade or the foreign trade, object to machine weight and prefer the old established measurement weight. The noble Lord who was a Member of the Committee also objected that it had been proved that the measured timber contained from twenty to thirty per cent. more timber than machine-weighed timber. If this were so it might justify some difference in the rates; but out of the eighteen sundry rates given in the letter of the timber merchants, ten of the rates on round timber are double those on the square timber, and the remaining eight vary from nearly double to half as much more—that is to say, in the proportion of three to two; in the case of the Great Eastern Railway out of sixteen rates, five are double, and the rest about half more; out of seven rates on the Great Western Railway one is double; one Midland rate is quoted which is more than double; one out of five Great Northern rates is nearly double; and out of fifteen London and North-Western rates two are more than double, and the rest about half as much more. It is impossible after that to deny that round timber is not sacrificed to square. Besides this, the timber merchants complain of another injustice that is done to them: new terminal rates have been added of 1s. 6d. at each end, making 3s. Now, my Lords, timber bears rough handling, and it is not right or fair that the same terminal rates should be charged for timber as are charged for fresh fruit, casks of ale, and other articles which do not bear knocking about. Not only that, but the timber does not require warehousing, and fresh fruit and other goods do require to be put into a warehouse. The timber merchants also have always been in the habit of loading their own trucks, so that it is difficult to say what the Railway Companies do for this money that they are now going to charge. The same noble Lord, who I do not see now in the House, also said to me that it was not much good reading the evidence: he had seen the witnesses in the box. Although your Lordships' Committee-men are not as intimidating as the Judges, I have no hesitation in saying that the railway counsel, who practise before Parliamentary Committees, are every bit as intimidating to a witness, and equally as confusing as any Old Bailey practitioner. One of these cases in which they intimidated a witness, was that the Railway Companies put forward the Clearing House Regulations which are not in accordance with Acts of Parliament, and their counsel so confused one of these witnesses as to make him say that if something was in that book it would be right, when he meant if it was in the Act of Parliament. Then another objection which is made to this Amendment is—why is it only made in the case of the North-Eastern Railway Company. Well, my Lords, it is Sir Michael Hicks Beach, the President of the Board of Trade, who is answerable for that. Either at the end of last year or the beginning of this, he told a deputation of timber merchants that if they would get the House to revise the North-Eastern Company's rates that would be a ground for revising the other rates; and the North-Eastern Railway Company was chosen, not by the timber merchants, but by Sir Michael Hicks Beach. I am also informed that the North - Eastern Railway Company's system is one of the most compact in the country, and that it includes all the county of Durham. So that the objection that was made in the House of Commons lately that it would be putting the North-Eastern Railway Company in an unfavourable position as regards other Railway Companies has very little weight in it, as it has nearly the monopoly of its district. My Lords, I wish to say something as to Her Majesty's Government. The present Government is not justified, as any other Administration might be, in bearing hardly upon the timber merchants, because it was this Administration which, in 1874, passed the Plantation Rating Act, which, whilst it placed a new tax upon timber, also increased the Income Tax which, in most cases, followed the higher assessment put on woods. Now 1874 was the last year, of agricultural prosperity, and if the Government had waited a little while it could not have proposed a fresh tax upon plantations that were not able to bear it. My Lords, that Act had been brought forward by a Liberal Administration once or twice before; it was passed by the present Administration, and it would certainly go far to justify those journalists who say that Conservatives always steal Liberal measures. I wonder whether my noble Friend behind me (the Earl of Kimberley) would acquiesce in that view! The noble Earl is much too candid to say so, because it is a great mistake into which the Conservatives have fallen. The real fact is that the Liberals adopt the tactics of some savages who leave poisoned meat behind them in their tracks. So the Liberal Government when they go out of office leave poisoned Bills in pigeon-holes for the Conservative Government to pass, and alienate and offend its own supporters. My Lords, I have had occasion to see the figures received from a great number of persons, amongst others from the late Duke of Bedford, showing that plantations do not pay, but are a dead loss. I asked the late Duke of Bedford how he accounted for plantations not being taxed out of existence, and he said to me—not, as I expected he might have said, because they were valuable shelters, because they were valuable coverts; but he said because timber had become unsaleable. I will only detain your Lordships five minutes more. I wish to inform the noble Marquess of what one of his most valued public servants wrote on this subject—I mean the late Ambassador to France. He did not write when he was Ambassador there, because the French have no timber to export, except what grows in Corsica, and that they keep for their dockyards; but he wrote it between the time of his coming back from India, and going to Paris— The forest, whose umbrageous beauties bless The traveller with an undisturbed sensation Of joy and peace, may to its owner be Mainly a troublesome anxiety; To him that forest represents, not trees Whose hospitable boughs diffuse a dim Delicious languor, but those foes to ease Figures fatiguingly precise and prim, Which he must reckon up by twos and threes To hundreds, thousands. Not enough for him That two and two make four! He has to strive That practically two and two make five. I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will insist upon imposing these new rates, and so burdening British timber? My Lords, I move the Amendment of which I have given notice, in the Schedule in Class C, after "timber actual machine weight" to insert "or measurement weight."

Moved, Schedule, Amendment proposed in Class C, after ("timber actual machine weight") insert ("or measurement weight.")—(The Lord Stanley of Alderley.)


My Lords, I am at a loss to know what Amendment the noble Lord has moved; he has not mentioned it in his speech, and there is nothing on the Table.


The noble Lord has circulated the Amendment. "Schedule, Amendment proposed in Class C, after ('timber actual machine weight') insert ('or measurement weight')."


I certainly hope your Lordships will not concur in the Amendment which the noble Lord has moved; but what misled me in thinking the noble Lord had not moved an Amendment was that, following very closely all his remarks, there was no portion of his speech, so far as I could hear, which touched on this Amendment in any way whatever. I hope your Lordships will not agree to this Amendment. This timber question has been considered most fully; it was considered by Lord Balfour and Sir Courtenay Boyle at the Westminster Town Hall two years ago, and the Provisional Orders were founded upon the evidence which was brought before them. Those Provisional Orders were brought before the Joint Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman last year and this year, and which sat for a period of sixty-eight or seventy days; and I can conscientiously say, having had some experience as a Chairman of Committees, both in the other House of Parliament and in this House, that I never presided over a Committee who paid more attention to the subjects brought before them, and who were actuated more decidedly by the desire of doing ample justice to both parties who came before us, when we had to decide upon what were very often very difficult and critical questions. We were assisted in this very much by Lord Balfour and Sir Courtenay Boyle, and with regard to the timber question—though I am free to admit we were not always unanimous upon other questions, but it was very seldom that we had to resort to a Division—on the timber question, when it was brought before us both last year and this year, we were unanimous in the conclusions and the decisions to which we came. But, my Lords, the timber trade were also heard. They were heard, first of all, at the Westminster Town Hall; secondly, they were heard last year by the Joint Committee; thirdly, they were heard by Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Lord Balfour, and Sir Courtenay Boyle in the autumn; and, fourthly, they were again heard by the Joint Committee of this year, over which I had the honour to preside; and, as I have told your Lordships, we were unanimous on each occasion. Now, my Lords, the noble Lord proposes that with regard to the North-Eastern Railway Bill we should take measurement timber out of Class I. and place it in Class C. He has not shown us any reason for this. But I will tell him why measurement timber is put in Class I and not in Class C, Class I. being the higher charge; because measurement timber is not so accurate as machine timber—that is to say, whereas forty feet with the bigger timber is allowed for a ton, and, I think, fifty feet for the smaller kinds of timber go to a ton, it does not follow that, because the measurement is covered, therefore it should only represent a ton in weight, inasmuch as some timber being heavier than others, what would be forty feet to the ton in one sort of timber would not accurately represent a ton in other sorts. Therefore the measurement timber was kept in Class I. because you could come to a much more accurate calculation as to the real weight. The noble Lord mentioned the various companies—the London and North-Western, the Great Eastern, and so on. I did not quite follow him there, because those Bills are not now before us; but the noble Lord must forgive me for pointing out that the powers of the North-Eastern Railway Company were very much subtracted by the action of the Committee. The two principal Acts which relate to the North-Eastern Railway are an Act passed in 1854, and an Act passed later, in 1858, called the Stockton and Darlington Railway Act. By the original Act the Company were able to charge, for a distance of twenty miles and upwards, a toll of 2d. a mile, and for less than twenty miles 2¾d.: and for the use of carriages and engines in addition, the Company were able to demand and receive a reasonable sum for loading, unloading, &c. But by the Stockton and Darlington Act the toll for timber was 2¾d. for over ten miles; and under that Act there is no limitation whatever to the charge which they make and for the services which they may render; therefore they might for the present charge any amount for terminal services in the case of timber. Now we cut that down, because we fixed the terminal charge at 1s. 6d. in place of the toll which they might exact if they thought fit, and we considered that we had cut down the powers of the North-Eastern Company as much as it was right and fair to do, and that the timber trade was dealt with fairly and justly by us. And, my Lords, there was a gentleman representing a very large company of timber merchants, who came before us and told us that he preferred the alternative; that he liked to be able to send his timber either by measurement weight or by machine weight, as suited him best at the time. Now, my Lords, I shall not go into the question of the decrease in the value of timber; I do not think really that is a matter which concerns this Amendment; nor shall I follow the noble Lord—I did not really quite understand him—when he talked about pigeon-holes and questions which were left behind by one Government and taken up by another. If my noble Friend below (the Marquess of Salisbury) likes to answer that I shall be happy to leave it in his hands. But there is one point in the noble Lord's remarks that I must protest against—that is that Parliamentary Counsel are in the habit of intimidating witnesses. Now I have a very large experience among the Parliamentary Counsel, and I am bound to say that I think no inquiry can be carried on by any body of gentlemen more properly, with more gentlemanlike feeling, and with more desire of giving the Committee all the information which they require, than is the practice now with the Parliamentary Bar, who I believe to be an honour to the profession which they adorn. My Lords, I have nothing more to add, but I do ask your Lordships not to agree to the Amendment of the noble Lord.

Amendment negatived.

Bill passed.