§ Order for Consideration, as amended, read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill, as amended, be now considered."
§ MR. J. HOWARD
said, that, in the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), he had a Motion to submit in regard to this Bill.
§ MR. J. HOWARD
No; against it. He appeared there in the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire to oppose the Bill; and he begged to move, as an Amendment—That, pending the inquiry into Railway Rates and Charges by the Select Committee of this House, the Consideration of the Bill be postponed.1615 The original intention of the Bill was to make a new branch line, with power to increase the rates over such line. The Select Committee to which the Bill was referred refused the power of extending the line, but, strangely enough, consented to grant powers for increasing the rates. He wished to point out that if the decision of the Select Committee were confirmed by the House, the effect would be to increase the rates for the carriage of lime and manures, in the case of lots under two tons by 50 to 100 per cent, and in the case of lots over two tons by 25 to 33 per cent. A similar increase was allowed in the case of stones, bricks, coals, tiles, slates, draining materials, and iron. Another objection to the Bill was that it altered the classification of manures which was adopted in the Model Clauses Bill of 1845—the Model Act of 1864—and which was to be found almost uniformly in every Railway Act down to the present day. Another objectionable feature of the Bill, which had been confirmed by the Select Committee, was that it empowered the Company to raise the weight for parcels in certain classes of goods from 5001bs., at present the limit in nearly every Act, to two tons in certain cases, and four tons in others. The opponents believed that this decision was without precedent upon an opposed Bill, and it was tantamount to a general increase of maximum rates, pressing with great severity upon small farmers and traders. The Railway Company alleged that the Bill was required because they wanted money for the passenger service; and, forsooth, for that purpose they asked Parliament to impose an additional tax upon the farmer. The opponents submitted that, in the present condition of agriculture, it was very undesirable that the additional taxation proposed by the Bill should be imposed upon the shoulders of the tenant farmers. That the present rates were ample and sufficient for their purposes, and were remunerative, would appear from the simple fact that the net return of the Great North of Scotland Railway, on all the traffic of the line, was higher than that of the other Scotch railways. The following extract from a statement prepared in June, 1880, by the late manager of the railway, Mr. Milne, who held that office for 30 years from the beginning of the railway, was 1616 conclusive upon the point. Mr. Milne reports that—The net revenues amount to £29,000,000 for all the railways, and to £161,000 upon the Great North of Scotland alone, the latter being equal to an average return of upwards of 5 per cent on the Company's net expenditure of £3,000,000 (about £10,000 per open mile), as compared with only 4¼ per cent per annum on an average of all the Companies in the Kingdom—a striking result, to be explained mainly by the economy exercised both in capital expenditure and daily working. That the dividend on the ordinary Stock is no more than at present is accounted for, as formerly explained, by the duplication of that Stock under the Amalgamation Act of 1866, which converted or duplicated each £100 of the original Stock into £240, so that a dividend of only 1½ per cent on the ordinary Stock, as at present constituted, is equal really to a dividend of nearly 4 per cent on each £100 of the original ordinary Stock, and so on in proportion; and the high rate of preferential dividend, ranging from 5 to 10 per cent on some of the Guaranteed Stocks, also contributes to keep down the present state of dividends on the ordinary Stock.The average net return of Scotch railways, abstracted from the published accounts, showed that the dividend paid by this railway was greater than that paid by any other railway in Scotland. The Glasgow and South Western Railway paid 5 per cent; the North British 4 per cent; the Caledonian 3½ per cent. The average of the three leading Scotch lines was 4 per cent, while the Great North of Scotland and branches, including Strathspey and. Deeside, paid 5 per cent, and the average of the Highland and Skye and Sutherland lines was 4¼ per cent. It was not his desire, nor would it be necessary, to trouble the House with a large number of details. He would only point out that the real Object of the Bill was to defeat and reverse a decision or judgment pronounced by the Railway Commissioners, and confirmed by the Court of Session in Scotland, by which the Great North of Scotland Railway Company were required to convey all kinds of manures in the lowest class. The fact was, that for a good many years the traders and farmers of the district through which this railway runs had, in their innocence, believed that no Railway Company could be so dishonest as to impose charges beyond those to which they were legally entitled by their Act of Parliament. However, the farmers and traders at length had their attention called to the subject, and having been led to examine the Acts of the Company, they discovered the in- 1617 justice to which they had been subjected. At great expense they obtained a judgment to compel the Company to observe the law. For many years the Great North of Scotland Railway had greatly overcharged for coal, lime, and grain, as well as guano and artificial manures. The Company did not come to Parliament for power to enable them to refund the money they had unjustly abstracted from the pockets of their customers; but they came to the House of Commons new to legalize a system which was begun in injustice and dishonesty. He believed that these increased powers were, in reality, not put forward simply on behalf of the Great North of Scotland Railway alone, but in the interests of all the great railways in the Kingdom. As the opponents of the Bill very justly observed, in a Circular they had issued—It was difficult to see on what ground it would be possible to resist the claims of other Railway Companies to similar concessions.He submitted that the decision of such a question, fraught with important consequences to the small traders and farmers throughout the country, should not be given until the Select Committee on Railway Rates, which was at present receiving evidence upon this and other questions affecting charges by railways, should have made their Report to the House. Upon these, as well as upon other grounds, he begged to move the Amendment which stood in his name.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "pending the inquiry into Railway Rates and Charges by the Select Committee of this House, the Consideration of the Bill be postponed,"—(Mr. James Howard,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. PORTMAN
remarked, that, as he had had the honour of presiding as Chairman of the Committee to whom the Great North of Scotland Railway Bill was referred, perhaps the House would allow him to say a few words in answer to the remarks of the hon. Member for the County of Bedford (Mr. J. Howard). The Committee very carefully considered the question of the reclassification of artificial manures, and they were of opinion that the demand 1618 of the Railway Company for a re-classification was one that ought to be granted by Parliament. Ho would point out to the House that under their former classification they were carrying valuable artificial manures at the same rate as ordinary stable manures, worth, perhaps, 7s. 6d. per ton, whereas the artificial manures were worth from £2 up to £15 a-ton. He might remind the House that in the Clearing House Classification of 1852 guano was classed with grain, which was one class higher than the Bill of the Great North of Scotland Company proposed to fix. He would also remind them that the Royal Commission which sat in 1867 recommended the classification he had referred to as the basis to be adopted in Railway Acts of Parliament for the future. There were also several other cases in which Railway Companies had sought powers from Parliament for a re-classification of artificial manures, which powers had been granted to them. He might mention one case in particular which occurred as long ago as 1867—namely, that of the North Eastern Railway Company of England, which applied for power, and obtained it from Parliament, to put valuable artificial manures in a higher class than the ordinary scale of rates imposed for farmyard manures. He might add that the Clearing House Classification of 1852, to which he had already referred, placed guano in a higher class than the Great North of Scotland Bill proposed to place it in. Touching the question of differential rates, it was proved to the satisfaction of the Committee that this Railway Company were working their small parcel traffic at a dead loss to themselves, and the Committee accordingly gave them power to alter their differential rates, because, in the opinion of the Committee, there was no question that they ought to be allowed to have such a power. With regard to terminal charges, hon. Members would be well aware that terminal charges were sanctioned by every Railway Act in this country. He believed that an attempt was made some years ago by a Committee composed of Members of both Houses of Parliament to fix maximum terminal charges. That Committee—a very able Committee too—decided that it was not necessary, but most undesirable, to fix a maximum; but that the word "reasonable" in con- 1619 nection with terminal charges was a matter to be determined between the Railway Companies and their customers. If the House agreed to the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, they would, in all probability, postpone the matter indefinitely. They all knew the result of putting off a decision until a Select Committee of the House had time to present a Report. The Select Committee might report this year, or it might not. At all events, it was highly probable that some years would elapse before Parliament could act upon their Report; and he would, therefore, ask the House not to be led away by the reason assigned by his hon. Friend for his wish to put off the consideration of the Bill. He did nut think it would be fair towards the Great North of Scotland Railway to postpone the Bill, and he earnestly hoped the House would be induced to support the recommendations of the Select Committee, who had been appointed by the House to inquire into the merits of the Bill, and to reject the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire. One word more before he sat down. He wished to remind the House that if they sanctioned the Bill as it stood they would not be fixing a minimum, but a maximum rate. That maximum rate was one which it would be in the power of the Railway Company at any time, if they found their business falling off, to reduce without having to apply to Parliament for its sanction. They would have full power to reduce the rate of their own accord, and he believed they would be sharp enough to see whether a reduction was required in view of their own pecuniary interests. In regard to future legislation upon railways, he wished to remind the House that in the Bill they were now discussing there was a clause which provided that nothing in the Act should exempt the Company or the railways from the provisions of any general Act relating to railways, or from any future revision ea, alteration, under the authority of parliament, of the maximum rates of fares and charges, or of the rates for snail parcels. He hoped the House would be of opinion that the Select Committee had exercised a wise discretion in the matter. He really believed that the Committee had only done what was fair in the matter towards the Great North 1620 of Scotland Railway Company, and he believed the public would have great advantage in a better service of trains. For these reasons he trusted that the House would be disposed to reject the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
thought the opponents of the Bill were placed in a somewhat awkward position in the matter. Indeed, those who opposed a Private Bill always found themselves in an awkward position. If they objected to a Bill on the second reading they were told—" Oh, that is most unusual. For heaven's sake let it go upstairs, where it will receive every consideration." That argument was generally sufficient to defeat the opposition to the second reading of a Bill in a most effectual manner. Then, when it came down from the Select Committee, if any hon. Member presumed to oppose it he was at once told—" How can you ask the House to throw out a Bill which has already been carefully considered by a Committee?" Somehow or other these two arguments generally exercised a strong influence on the House. He had not a word to say against the Committee which had sat upon the present Bill. He was sure they had taken every possible trouble and care to arrive at a proper conclusion upon it; but he thought they had not had their eyes open—as had too often been the fate of hon. Members of that House—to the peculiar artifices of the Railway Companies and their general mode of dealing with Parliament. Now, what was the origin of this Bill? The Company first of all pretended to come to Parliament to make a new line, and upon that line they asked to be allowed to impose terminal charges. In their Bill the Company inserted what were called the Staffordshire Clauses, and they asked for powers to raise their rates along the whole of their line. The primâ facie ground for coming to Parliament was that they might have authority to make a new line. The Select Committee declined to allow them to make a new line, so that the prim facie ground of the Bill was destroyed altogether. The next ground, which was the real ground for coming to Parliament, was to raise the rates to the farmers of Banffshire and that neighbourhood, and they attempted to get from the House of Commons permission to do 1621 that which they had really been doing for a great many years illegally, and what they would still have been doing if the Railway Commissioners had not stopped them. The decision of the Railway Commissioners was afterwards confirmed by the Court of Session in Scotland; and thus, two judgments being against them, the Company, with unparalleled audacity, came to that House to ask the House to do what the Railway Commissioners and the Court of Session had pronounced to be altogether unjust. He would ask the House to consider what had been going on in a very large and influential Committee of that House. If any hon. Member had had the opportunity of reading, and had taken the trouble to consider, the evidence which had already been presented to that Committee, he would find that the Railway Companies were accused generally of making unfair charges, unequal charges, and unreasonable terminal charges. There had been mountains of evidence presented to the Committee already to this effect. He might be told that the case of the Railway Companies had not yet been submitted to the Committee.
§ MR. LOWTHER,
rose to Order. He wished to know if it was in Order for the noble Lord to allude to what was going on in a Committee upstairs?
§ LORD RANDOLPH CHURCHILL
thought the hon. Member who interrupted him must have omitted to notice that the Amendment submitted by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard) asked the House not to deal with the Bill at present, because a Committee was sitting at this moment upstairs on a question of Railway Rates. It was, therefore, a fair argument to refer to the nature of the evidence already given before that Committee; and he thought the general result of what was taking place upstairs was that they should be very careful how they proceeded in these matters, and how they consented to place unbounded confidence in the views of a small Committee of three or four Gentlemen, with, perhaps, only one really active man upon it in regard to railway legislation. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Portman), who was Chairman of the Select Committee, said that the value of arti- 1622 ficial manures was greater than the value of stable manure. But that had never been admitted to be a proper basis of railway charge. It had never been admitted that the value of any article should determine the price to be paid for the carriage of it. The hon. Member had alluded to the recommendations of the Royal Commission of 1857, and said that they were in favour of a different classification; but at that time there had not been the serious agricultural distress which had prevailed since, which rendered it almost a matter of life and death to the agricultural in-rest that the railway rates should not be raised. Then the hon. Member talked, also, of terminal charges. On all these points it was very unfortunate that they could not allude to the evidence before the Railway Committee, because he believed it would supply a large amount of valuable information which might determine the House in accepting or rejecting the present Bill. The hon. Member said that if the House consented to put off the Bill now they would put it off indefinitely. As a matter of fact, the proposal of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire would do no such thing. It would only put it off for one Session. There must be legislation next year, in order to renew the powers of the Railway Commission, or else the Commission would expire; and he did not suppose that the House of Commons would lightly consent to allow it to expire. And, therefore, after the Committee on Railway Rates should have reported, and the powers of the Railway Commissioners should have been renewed, it would be quite time enough for this Railway Company to come to Parliament for a revision of the rates they were now entitled to charge. But at this moment it would be imprudent and unjust to allow any Railway Company, in the absence of the information which was about to be placed before Parliament, to increase their rates, and to do what two legal tribunals had already decided they had not the power to do.
§ MR. EVELYN ASHLEY
said, the proceedings of the Select Committee on Railway Rates had nothing whatever to do with the question before the House; but he wished to say a few words as to the view of the Board of Trade on the present Bill. The question which arose 1623 was simply this—the Committee on the Bill upstairs had exercised its discretion, and, after a careful examination of the evidence and of the facts of the case, had given to this Railway Company powers which were by no means unusual, and were only the same as almost every important railway in the Kingdom had got. If hon. Members would look to the position taken by the Committee, they would find that the terminal clause in the new classification of artificial manures, and other provisions contained in this Bill, were provisions which had been inserted in almost all the Bills of the great Railway Companies for the last 10 or 15 years. At the end of the Bill the promoters inserted a clause to provide that any change of legislation which might modify the charges of Railway Companies should apply also to the Great North of Scotland Railway Company. Therefore, the question the House had to consider was this—was it going, because it happened that a Committee was sitting to inquire into a general question of railway rates—was it going to refuse the Great North of Scotland Railway Company, with the uncertainty of what the decision of the Committee would be, the privileges and powers which had already been granted to other Railway Companies, owing to the accident that the North of Scotland Company came to Parliament at the time the Committee on Railway Rates happened to be sitting. He humbly submitted that if they listened to what the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) said, and adopted the conclusion at which the noble Lord had come, and on that ground refuse to sanction the decision of the Committee upstairs, they would be actually prejudging the questions submitted to the Select Committee on Railway Rates before hearing the other side of the story. If the Report of the Committee on Railway Rates, when it was presented, should be found to invalidate what was done by the present Bill, future legislation would set the matter right.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
declined to enter into the subject of the inquiry that was going on upstairs, although he was a Member of that Committee, nor would he pretend to form a definite opinion upon the questions which had been placed before that Committee; but he would submit that there was this salient 1624 fact—that very grave charges had been made against the Railway Companies for charging rates in excess of the maximum rates laid down in their Acts of Parliament. It had also been stated practically before the Committee that Parliament, behind the back of the public as it were, had from time to time raised the maximum rates, and that although the Board of Trade was primâ facie bound to report in all such matters to Parliament, yet that hitherto Parliament had had no opportunity of saying whether such, charges should be made or not. Parliament had, however, an opportunity of saying, in regard to the present measure, whether, under existing circumstances and considering the grave charges which had been made, it would allow, in this particular instance, at this particular moment, a serious increase of rates to be made. He must say, without for one moment wishing to dispute the propriety of the view formed by the Committee on the evidence before them, but seeing that the Committee had not had before them the charges made against the Railway Companies generally in the Select Committee on Railway Rates, which would at some subsequent period be the subject of a Report to the House, he must say that it did seem only reasonable that further procedure in regard to the present Bill should stand over until the Report of the General Committee had been presented.
§ MR. WEBSTER
said, he should have been quite content to leave to the statements which had been made by the Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Evelyn Ashley), and by the hon. Member who presided over the Select Committee upstairs to which the Bill was referred (Mr. Portman), any defence of the Great North of Scotland Railway Company, who were promoting the Bill, if it had not been for the fact that certain charges had been made against the Railway Company by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard) and the noble Lord opposite (Lord Randolph Churchill), which he thought it necessary, in the interests of the railway, to deny. It had been said by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire that this Company had been acting in defiance of its own Acts of Parliament for a considerable number of years until they were brought to book by the Railway Commission. He hoped the House would allow him to 1625 explain how the matter was, and what the position of the Railway Company was. Owing to a misunderstanding between the Railway Company and the traders as to the construction of one of the provisions of its Acts of Parliament, a case was brought before the Railway Commissioners as to its meaning. Certain traders put one construction upon the clause, and the Railway Company put another. The Railway Commissioners decided that the Company were wrong; and, upon an appeal to the Court of Session in Scotland, the decision of the Railway Commissioners was confirmed. It was a purely a question of law, and the decision of the Court of Session and of the Railway Commissioners had nothing whatever to do with the matter now before the House. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire had also said that the Great North of Scotland Company were paying a higher dividend than any other Railway Company in Scotland. The hon. Member must have been greatly misinformed. This unfortunate Company was paying nothing upon its ordinary shares, and for the last half year there was a deficiency upon its preference shares.
§ VISCOUNT FOLKESTONE,
as a Member of the Committee who had sat upon the Bill, hoped the House would allow him to say a few words. He was bound to confess that, as the Representative of an agricultural constituency, when the Bill first came before the Committee he had almost made up his mind to prejudge the question, and to oppose any attempt on the part of the Great North of Scotland Railway Company to raise their rates; but when he came to hear all the evidence and everything that was to be said, both in favour of the Railway company and against it, he entirely turned round, and came to the conclusion that it was only fair the Railway Company should be permitted by Parliament to raise their rates to a certain extent as proposed by the Bill. He felt that although he represented an agricultural constituency, yet, at the same time, no agriculturist would wish to be benefited by what was manifestly unfair towards any other class. The Committee had evidence before them that the rates the Great North of Scotland Railway Company were permitted to charge had been settled as long ago as 1859, when guano and other artificial 1626 manures where almost, if not entirely, unknown. They had also evidence to inform them that dung and stable manures were allowed to be charged at the same rate as artificial manures, although the price of the latter was as high as from £12 to £15 a-ton, and there were none of a less value than £10 a-ton. They further found, from the evidence laid before them, that almost every other Railway Company in England, Scotland, and Ireland were permitted to charge differential rates for artificial manures, and they thought it only fair and right to permit this Railway Company to do the same. It appeared that the rates the Great North of Scotland Railway were permitted to charge were lower than those charged by any other railway in the United Kingdom; and, therefore, after very careful consideration, the Committee unanimously came to the decision that it was only right to permit the Company to have the provisions asked for in the Bill, so that they might be able to increase their rates, and not be compelled to charge lower rates than any other Railway Company. It had been said by the opponents of the Bill that the Railway Company were charging illegally increased rates some time ago, and that it was so decided when a case was brought before the Railway Commissioners. But the Railway Commissioners said the case was a very hard one indeed; and they added—Although we will not permit you to raise the rates, still we would recommend the Great North of Scotland Company to apply for a Bill to enable them to do so.He trusted that the House would not defeat this measure upon the consideration of the Report of the Committee, because he was quite sure that it was only fair towards the Company that they should have the power of increasing their rates. They were told by the noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (Lord Randolph Churchill) that it was a matter of life and death to the agricultural interest in that part of Scotland that the rates should not be increased. [Lord RANDOLPH CHURCHILL: No, no!] Now, these artificial manures were worth from £10 to and £15 a-ton, and the Committee allowed the Company to increase the rates by a very small percentage. Yet they were told that the result of such an increase would be to increase the price of artificial manures to 1627 the farmers to a very great extent. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) was a farmer on some part of this line, and the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard) had been put up by the hon. Member for Forfarshire to oppose the because the rates charged to the hon. Member were likely to be increased. The Committee had evidence before them as to the amount to which the rates paid by the hon. Member for Forfarshire and other farmers in that part of the world, Who farmed a similar quantity of land, would be increased, and it was shown that the additional charge would come to the alarming sum of 10s. 6d. in the course of the year.
§ MR. CRAIG
said, the claim had been put upon the ground that similar charges had been put into Railway Bills during the last 15 years; but he would remind the House that every Company came and increased the rates to the extent of 15 per cent in 1859. At that time they must have been perfectly well acquaint with the fact that guano and artificial manures were not classified with coal or grain, but with ordinary stable manures. They said nothing about terminals in 1859, although they must have been perfectly aware of how much would be required for terminals when they obtained a general rise of rates. He would not have taken part in that debate had he not observed that a desire to raise railway rates was an epidemic which was spreading far and wide. It began in North Staffordshire in 1880, and now they had this application on behalf of the Great North of Scotland. The rates in North Staffordshire had been very similar to this. The North Staffordshire Railway, for many years, charged above their maximum rates, and it went on with the consent of the traders, who were aware that they also charged below their maximum in many cases, and were, using that railway conscientiously for the development of the resources of the district. But they were assailed by a trader in 1878, and judgment was obtained against them. They had come to Parliament in 1879, just as that Company had done, in order to rectify and make plain that error in their Act which had led to the over-charge, and to obtain an increase of rates. The traders opposed that, and while they opposed it the Company were unable to obtain the increase 1628 which they sought. They thereupon held public meetings in the district, and agreed with these traders upon terms, and came in 1880 with an unopposed Bill and got what they wished. That Company ought to be required to do the same thing. They had charged more than their maximum, though upon less justifiable grounds, because there was admittedly an error in the North Staffordshire Act; but in that case there was none. The phraseology was such as to lead to no such misunderstanding, because manures were all classed together. He quite admitted that it was right to come forward and ask Parliament to rectify any errors; but when they considered that that Company came to increase the rate to the extent of 25 per cent in 1859, he thought it was too much that they should come forward now and seek another increase to the extent of 50 and 100 per cent under the cover of re-classification of those manure rates. Then, when they came to consider that this very thing that they were now re-classifying—artificial manures—was exceptionally high, they ought to pause before giving them this power. He did not think that any railway in the Kingdom charged as high for the carriage of coal as that Company. He might, perhaps, be allowed to observe this. In Ireland there were lines of railway being complained of as charging excessively high rates for manures and coal, and agriculture and trade suffered by consequence. It was stated that they were 1½d. per ton per mile for coal and l¼d. for guano; and that was said to be destroying the vitality of the agricultural industry of Ireland, and preventing the carrying on of trade. The complainants were petitioning for a reduction of both the coal and artificial manure rates. But here was an application by ate promoters of this Bill for 2½d. per ton per mile for coal and manure; and if they were to grant this concession to this Company they might depend upon it that all the railways in the kingdom would come and ask for the same thing. If there was to be a reclassification, let the whole question be considered. The present opposers of the Bill did not object to an increase for artificial manures, provided that they reduced the rates upon coal. He asked—What right had this Company to obtain a re-classification of certain goods with- 1629 out the traders having a word to say; and, in fact, they ought not to be allowed to do so without going into the whole question of re-classification. The hon. Member who sat as Chairman on the Select Committee (Mr. Portman) had referred to the patience with which the Committee had gone into that question. He did not dispute that at all. But there was one statement made by the leading counsel for the promoters which he thought was quite sufficient to shake the confidence of hon. Members in the decision of the Select Committees appointed to consider questions of this nature. It was stated that the Brighton Railway Company came to oppose an opposition Bill, and offered inducements for the rejection of the Bill by proposing to bring in a Bill to reduce their rates if the Committee would throw out that Bill. They did so upon this undertaking, and the rates were accordingly reduced; but three years afterwards they came and got the rise again. If there had been sound judgment on the part of the Committee they would not have necessitated this three years' disturbance of the tariff; but the fact was the decisions of Select Committees were notoriously uncertain and unreliable from well-known defects of such a course so hastily extemporized. He submitted that the Bill should go back, and that this Company should be required to allow the traders to come forward and state their case and agree with them upon terms, as was done by the North Staffordshire Railway Company, which was their only precedent.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
said, he found from a Circular issued that morning to hon. Members of the House that his name had been attached to a statement issued on behalf of the promoters of the Bill without his knowledge and contrary to his intention. He was anxious to show how the mistake occurred. The day after the Committee upstairs reported upon the Bill a meeting of persons interested in the questions contained in the Bill was held; and, being a Representative of the part of the country affected by the measure, he was asked to attend the meeting, and the Minutes of that meeting were drawn up. Some days after a printed paper was brought to him in the Lobby, which he imagined to be a printed copy of the Minutes of the meeting, and he signed 1630 the document under that impression. He afterwards found that it was not a copy of the Minutes of the meeting, but a printed copy of the Circular which had been distributed to hon. Members. He wished to add that he did not for a moment suggest that there had been any breach of good faith on the part of the Gentleman who brought the document to him to sign; but it was one of those unfortunate misapprehensions which occasionally did occur.
§ MR. PLUNKET
remarked, that it was extremely unusual, as the House well knew, to oppose a Private Bill on the consideration of the Report, after the whole of the circumstances connected with it had been inquired into by a Committee upstairs. In regard to the present Bill, since it was discussed upon the second reading, it had undergone considerable modification in order to meet the objections of some of those who were opposed to it. It then went before the Select Committee, and that Select Committee had unanimously reported in favour of it. He did not think—unless it should be shown that some very special circumstances existed in this particular case which vitally affected the Bill—that the House, after what had fallen from his noble Friend behind him, the Member for North Wilts (Viscount Folkestone), ought to reject the measure. The only exceptional circumstance pointed out by the opponents of the Bill was that there was a Committee sitting upstairs which was engaged in inquiring into the whole question of railway rates and charges. It was impossible now to go, in any detail, into the merits of the Bill, and it was only on general principles that the House could be asked to depart from its usual practice. In this case, the general objection assigned was that the Committee on Railway Rates might, some day or other, report in a way that would be unfavourable to some of the provisions of the Bill. If the Committee did so report, nothing would be easier than to alter the powers of this Railway Company in conformity with such a Report of the Committee; and he found that for that very purpose a clause had been inserted in the Bill—Clause 21—which ran as follows:—Nothing in this Act contained shall exempt the Company or the Railway from the provisions of any general Act relating to Railways 1631 or the better and more impartial audit of the accounts of Railway Companies now in force, or which may hereafter pass during this or any future Session of Parliament or from any future revision or alteration under the authority of Parliament of the maximum rates of fares and charges or of the rates for small parcels.As this clause met the only legitimate objection that could be raised, he thought it would not be wise to depart from the ordinary practice of the House.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, the railway interest had been so ably represented by the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, the Representative of the University of Dublin (Mr. Plunket), and by others in the course of the present debate, that he hoped he might be permitted to say a word on the part of the agricultural interest. He certainly was not able to say that the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard) had been put up to make this Motion by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), as his noble Friend (Viscount Folkestone) had said; but he was delighted to think that at last, upon an agricultural question, he was able to find himself in the same Lobby as the hon. Member for Bedfordshire. He tendered his thanks to the hon. Member for the course he had taken. He thought the hon. Member had done the agricultural interest good service upon this question; and after having heard all that had been said, and without wishing to prejudge the question, he did not think he should greatly err if he gave his vote in support of the Amendment. The ground on which he objected to the Bill was of the broadest and simplest character. He had received that morning a Paper purporting to be a statement in behalf of the consideration of the Bill. In that Paper he found the objects of the Bill enumerated, and the first was to raise the charges upon artificial manure to a higher rate than those charged upon farmyard manure. He thought that any Bill which proposed to increase the charges upon the farmers was quite sufficient to insure its own condemnation. It was the very thing which those connected with the agricultural interest did not want. They objected altogether to higher charges being placed upon agricultural produce, and on this ground alone he should go into the Lobby against the Bill.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
thought the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had not put the matter upon a proper ground when he said that it involved a contest between the railway interest and the agricultural interest. There was a question which concerned that House a great deal more, and that was the power of getting through the Business of the country if, by rejecting the unanimous decision of a Select Committee upon a Private Bill, the House, gave encouragement to the fighting out of these questions at half-past 4 o'clock in the afternoon. He entered a protest against the course now taken; the Committee upstairs had carefully gone through the whole of the evidence, and had now presented their Report; and if every interest which considered itself aggrieved by the decision of the Committee was to be encouraged to fight out the battle again on the floor of the House, there would be no end of such contests in future, involving a very great waste of time. Therefore, in the interests of the Public Business, he entreated the House to consider what would be the result of adopting the Motion of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard) and rejecting the Bill. Personally, he was quite satisfied with the statements which had been made by his hon. Friend behind (Mr. Portman) and by the noble Lord opposite (Viscount Folkestone). He did not believe that the increased charges which the Bill authorized the Great North of Scotland Railway to make would be detrimental to the agricultural interest; and he, for one, would vote, as he always intended to do—unless there were much stronger grounds than had been shown in this case—in support of the unanimous decision of the Select Committee upstairs.
§ MR. E. STANHOPE
thought he was entitled to make a remark, inasmuch as he was the first Member of the House to object to the provisions of the Bill on the second reading. The reason why he did not on that occasion press his objection, and go into the Lobby against the Bill, was that the measure at that time contained provisions for the construction of a new line, which, he thought, ought not to be jeopardized by an opposition to other provisions of the Bill. Since that time, the Bill had been before a Select Committee, and the provisions 1633 relating to the making of a new line had been struck out, so that the question the House had to deal with now was simply that which related to the increase of rates. He quite agreed with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary that the House ought to respect the decision of a Select Committee on a Private Bill. He respected, he hoped, as much as the right hon. Gentleman did the decision of a Select Committee, and especially that of a Committee which had so carefully considered the details of a Private Bill as this Committee had done. But, at the same time, he thought the House ought to reserve to itself the power of Considering and reviewing any proposal which affected the general principles upon which Private Bill legislation was to be conducted; and in this case there was an attempt to raise the railway rates and charges against the agricultural interest. He strongly objected to any such increase at a period of agricultural depression; and he would venture to urge another ground—namely, that in making provision for an increase of rates in the manner proposed in the Bill they were establishing a very inconvenient precedent. Upon these grounds, he was prepared to support the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard); and even if the general question were not at the present moment undergoing consideration by another Committee upstairs, he should be prepared to protest and vote against the provisions which had been included in the present Bill.
§ MR. BARNES
could not understand the support which the Secretary to the Board of Trade was giving to the Toll Clause of this Bill as being a usual one. For his own part, he might say that he had never before seen a Bill which sanctioned a charge of 3d. a-ton for coals and 2½d. for manures; and, on behalf of the Mining Association of Great Britain—the Coalowners'—of which he was President, he objected to the sanction of the House being given to such charges. It was important to bear in mind that the Bill not only affected manures, but that it affected coals also; and, on these grounds, he should support the Amendment of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard).
§ MR. MAGNIAC
regretted very much that he could not agree with the remarks 1634 which had been made by his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. It was quite impossible that hon. Members could sit there silently and see important precedents established, as they were established by this Bill, without raising their voices and exercising their power of voting against them. The statements made by his right hon. Friend, and by his hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade, were scarcely capable of being supported by the facts of the case. The Secretary to the Board of Trade told the House that the rates authorized to be charged by the Bill were the usual rates enjoyed by every other Railway Company in the United Kingdom. If that were so, for what purpose did the Great North of Scotland Company apply to Parliament at all? If they were entitled to make these charges already, there was no reason why they should come to Parliament at all. It was quite evident that the Railway Company had not got the power, and that hitherto Parliament had not given them the privileges they were asking for. His ground, therefore, for opposing the Bill was a very simple one. If the House passed the Bill, the precedent established by the Select Committee upstairs would be accepted; and he strongly protested against any fresh precedent being made, especially while there was a Committee upstairs engaged in considering the whole question.
did not wish to give a silent vote upon the question. He could assure the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard) that the views he had enunciated were fully discussed and weighed when the Bill was under consideration by the Committee upstairs. At the very commencement of the Sittings of the Committee, the question was raised whether it was competent or desirable for the Committee to go into the question of rates at all, as the whole subject of Railway Rates had already been referred to another Committee which happened to be sitting at the same moment. But it was pointed out to the Committee that they were bound to go into all the questions that were raised by the Bill before them, and that they were bound to decide, upon the evidence submitted to them, what the course of legislation ought to be in regard to this particular Bill. The noble Lord (Viscount Folke- 1635 stone) said that the Committee were unanimous. Now, he (Mr. Carpenter-Gamier) confessed that he had entertained considerable doubts upon the question of the classification of guano and artificial manures; and if anyone had moved to leave out the clause dealing with that question, he should certainly have had great pleasure in voting for such a proposition. There were several other important questions raised—such as terminal charges, the rates for small parcels, and other matters contained in the Bill, which had not been alluded to at any length in the present discussion. There was also another, and a wholly different, subject dealt with—namely, the propriety of sanctioning an amalgamation with another railway. His own opinion was that the raising of the rates on artificial manures was a very strong measure, and that it was scarcely warranted by the circumstances of the case. With regard to the question of precedent, it was said by an hon. Member opposite that the Committee were creating an inconvenient precedent. That was hardly the case, seeing that the precedent of the North Staffordshire Railway was allowed to be on all-fours with the present case. It was, however, impossible, in a short discussion like this, to go into all the complicated and difficult questions which were raised before the Committee; and he hoped the House would have confidence in the decision of the Committee, who had sat for many day hearing evidence, and who gave the whole matter the fullest and meat careful consideration.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 175; Noes 127: Majority 48.—(Div. List, No. 221.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered.
§ MR. WEBSTER
moved, after Clause 12, to insert the following new Clause:— (Terminal Station.)No station shall be considered a terminal station in regard to any goods conveyed on tie Railway of the Company, unless such goods have been received thereat from the consignor, or are directed to be delivered thereat to tie consignee.The clause was proposed by the promoters of the Company, but in the in- 1636 terests of the traders; and he believed there would be no objection to it.
§ Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.
§ MR. WEBSTER
said, he had further to propose, in Clause 12, page 8, to leave out the word "covering." This was also an alteration in favour of the farmers, traders, and others, using the railway, and not in the interest of the promoters. He proposed it, however, with their consent.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Bill to be read the third time.