§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *(4.0.) MR. P. STANHOPE (Wednesbury)
I rise for the purpose of moving,That this House declines to proceed with the consideration of a scheme for the revision of Railway Rates which is based upon the full recognition of the legality of Station Terminal Charges, with respect to which the Standing Committee on Trade expressly refrained from formulating any opinion.I have placed the Motion on the Payer because it is the only opportunity the House will have of dealing with the important question of the rates and charges of Railway Companies. I hope, with the indulgence of the House, that, in a certain measure, I may be allowed to deal with the question in a general spirit, and that my remarks may not be limited to this particular Bill. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has stated—not in this House, but in answer to a deputation—his belief that this House is not a very suitable place for discussion of the complicated details involved in these Provisional Orders, I quite admit that this 387 is so, and that it is desirable that all these technical questions should be submitted to the investigation of an ordinary Select Committee. The right hon. Gentleman himself proposes after the Second Reading of this Bill and of others of a similar character which appear upon the Paper to refer them to the consideration of a Joint Committee of both Houses. I think it would have been a more satisfactory course if the right hon. Gentleman had proposed to submit them to the Standing Committee on Trade which dealt with the original Railway and Canal Traffic Bill of 1888, of which Bill these Provisional Orders are the result. I believe that that Committee would be able to deal with these measures in a much more satisfactory manner than a Joint Committee; but if they are to go before a Joint Committee of both Houses, I trust the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that the Committee will be a representative Committee, comprising Members who have some knowledge of the question, and who can be trusted to do justice as between the Railway Companies and the traders of the country. I believe there is a disposition to appoint what are called unprejudiced gentlemen, which really means gentlemen who know nothing about the matter. Personally, I am of opinion that it is of the utmost importance that the subject should be dealt with by a tribunal possessing special knowledge. Perhaps I may be allowed to call to the recollection of the House the exact circumstances under which these Provisional Orders come before them. The Railway and Canal Traffic Act of 1888 threw upon the Board of Trade the duty of drawing up a scheme for the classification of railway rates and charges, which, when completed, was to be submitted to the consideration of the House. In the Standing Committee on Trade there was a divergence of opinion as to whether the Board of Trade was the best tribunal to deal with the matter. Some of us thought that a special tribunal would more satisfactorily deal with it, and that it would be wiser to appoint a special tribunal unconnected with any Governmental Department. I am quite ready, however, to bear my testimony to the skill, ability, and zeal with which Lord Balfour of Burleigh 388 and Mr. Courtenay Boyle, the representatives of the Board of Trade, conducted the investigation, although I am unfortunately compelled to differ from them in regard to the results at which they arrived. A long and careful inquiry was held in the Westminster Town Hall. Many able counsel were engaged to represent the interests of the Railway Companies and the great traders of the country; but, unfortunately, the small traders were not at all, or at all events quite insufficiently, represented. My contention is that the compromise effected as between the Railway Companies and the larger traders and manufacturers will be the cause of serious detriment to the small traders. The basis of the compromise is (1) concessions in regard to private sidings; (2) the principle of a graduated mileage rate for long distances; and (3) special rates for tram loads and truck loads. I, of course, am glad that the large traders and manufacturers have been able to wring some concessions from the Railway Companies; but the small traders have just reason to complain that the maximum rate should be charged on small consignments and for short distances. With respect to "smalls," the term by which small consignments are technically known, the Board of Trade-tribunal has not investigated the matter, or, at any rate, have made no alteration in favour of the public. The maximum rates for small distances have been enormously increased, and, if this Bill becomes law, the position of the small trader would be immensely damaged or irretrievably ruined. The special question dealt with in the Amendment is station terminal charges. To terminal charges for services, such as loading, unloading, and delivery, the traders take no exception, provided they are not paid for where not performed. The Railway Companies allege that the station does not form part of the railway system, that it is provided in excess of that system as a whole, and consequently that the extra charge ought to be allowed. But that station accommodation is provided as much for passengers as for goods, and I never heard of a terminal charge being made upon a passenger. The legal position is 389 somewhat difficult to describe. The Board of Trade tribunal say they find that the law on the subject was carefully set forth in the case of "Hall v. The Brighton Railway Company," in the Court of Queen's Bench, and that the Court allowed a terminal station charge. But that is not an absolute and definite expression of the law. The Railway Commission dissented entirely from the view of Mr. Justice Wills, and the Court of Session in Scotland took an entirely contrary view. I am told that the question will be brought before a higher Court as a test question upon an appeal in a case in which the Great Northern Company are concerned. The Board of Trade, however, accepted the decision in the case referred to. The railway system of this country has been built up by various Acts of Parliament, but many of them contain no reference to terminal station charges. The London and North-Western Company have 1,800 miles of system, but only 800 miles of it are, by the Act, to carry these terminal charges. Of the Great Western, out of over 2,000, about 900 miles only could claim power to charge terminal station charges under the decision in Hall's case. The Board of Trade tribunal in this matter have taken it upon themselves to decide what the law has not decided, and to make it universal over the whole railway system, and it will place upon the traders of the country a, binding and absolute obligation for all time which would add immensely to their charges. To show how it would affect small agriculturists and traders, I will read a letter from a well-known trader of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who says—I think it may be of service to point out that the Board of Trade proposals would be most unfair. Take Class C, in which grain of or over two tons' loads would be carried. The station terminals proposed are 2s. per ton—result, two tons would pay 4s., while eight tons would pay 16s. The cost to the Railway Company for the station terminals would be the same whether the load was two tons or eight tons, yet, while 4s. would be earned by the companies in one case, they would receive four times as much in the latter. To propose to give a Railway Company 16s. for placing a truck in position for loading and unloading with the value of the ground for the time allowed for each consignment seems to me to be absurd, and I am surprised that such a monstrous proposal should be dreamed of by the Board of Trade. There are many instances on the North-Eastern Railway where the grain rate for four-ton lots does not exceed 2s. per ton 390 altogether. No short-distance traffic would be possible if the companies get and exercise the powers proposed. If the companies could nut charge them for short distances they do not require them for long distances. Having, along with another trader, had the North-Eastern Rail-way Company before the Railway Commissioners on the question of their bay rates, and having got the total terminal service charges fixed at 1s. 6d. per ton as a maximum, and as they gave up their claim to station terminals, we are at present in the position of getting hay carried at 1s. 6d. nominally, but really only 1s. 3d. per ton, while, under the powers sought, hay is put into Class 3, where station and service terminals together will be 4s. 8d. per ton, or more than three times the present rate or charge.That is what a very practical trader says and probably other hon. Members may be able to give instances quite as striking. The President of the Board of Trade took a leading part in the consideration of the Railway and Canal Act of 1888 in the Standing Committee, and on this question of terminal charges, which some of us endeavoured to remove entirely from the purview of any tribunal that might be fixed hereafter, the right hon. Gentleman said—That there seemed to he an apprehension that Railway Companies would be able to make not only their existing rates and charges, but terminals plus those rates and charges, thus putting an additional burden upon traders.The right hon. Gentleman added—That was not his intention, and if there was any danger of that he would accept words to deal with the matter.I wish that the Committee had accepted that suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman, and that words to that effect had been inserted. In that case I should not be asking the Board now to express an opinion upon this most important issue. The Board of Trade has come to the conclusion that terminal charges are to be accepted as a legal charge, because Lord Balfour of Burleigh said in Westminster Town Hall—That it remains the law until it is upset; it remained the law when Parliament was legislating in 1888.Therefore, as the Grand Committee did not strike out the terminal charges altogether, it was taken by the Board of Trade as constituting a right on the part of the Railway Companies to make those charges. If the House of Commons was to do any good it surely ought to protect the interests of the smaller traders who were not represented in the inquiry that 391 took place. The Railway Companies have raised a cry of alarm in the matter. Sir Richard Moon at a recent meeting of the London and North Western Company predicted the ruin of the company if terminal charges are disallowed, and said it would he necessary to withdraw all proposals for the application of new capital. I hope that the House of Commons will not for a moment allow a threat of that kind to affect their decision. On the contrary, it is the duty of the House to do justice to the interests of the small traders who were not represented in the inquiry. I believe that the Railway Companies, who have always in the matter of rates pursued a most conservative course, would have been wise if in this matter they had taken a new departure and profited by the experience of the railways in America or Hungary where the zone system is in force, and had endeavoured to revive waning industries at a distance from the seaboard by encouragement in the way of low rates. The result would have been such a development of industry as would in the end have largely recouped the companies granting such facilities. I believe that the Railway Companies are conducted as a great monopoly in much too rigid and conservative a spirit, and it is only by the pressure of the House of Commons that they can be induced to make that reasonable progress in the matter of charges which the public have every right to demand. It is in that spirit that I move the Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, "this House declines to proceed with the consideration of a scheme for the revision of Railway Rates which is based upon the full recognition of the legality of Station Terminal Charges, with respect to which the Standing Committee on Trade expressly refrained from formulating any opinion,"—(Mr. Philip Stanhope,)
§ —instead thereof.
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *(4.20.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
In seconding the Resolution, I have only a few words to add to the able remarks with which my hon. Friend has introduced the sub- 392 ject. I do not intend to speak on behalf of the large manufacturers and traders, who are perfectly able to look after themselves, but I think that this opportunity, the only one which will be given to the House, ought to be taken, to let the Government know that there exists a very widespread feeling of anxiety throughout the country amongst agriculturists and small traders with reference to these Provisional Orders. I have no doubt that the President of the Board of Trade thinks that he has had already a fair quantity of Petitions and deputations on the subject, and that he has had a very troublesome question to deal with as between the great Railway Companies and the interests of the industries. But I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that he must only consider those appeals as a small sample representing the deep and widespread anxiety which prevails throughout the country concerning this question. I think that the reason why the Board of Trade has not received far more remonstrances has been principally owing to three causes. First of all, there is hardly an hon. Member who has not had his attention called during the last few years to the unfair railway charges and the unequal railway rates, and has not given his constituents serious and solemn pledges to obtain justice. Secondly, the careful and exhaustive examination which took place in 1888 went a long way to reassure the country, particularly the declaration of the President of the Board of Trade that in any classification of the rates the Companies should not be allowed to have maximum rates and, in addition to them, terminal charges. Thirdly (and speaking on behalf of the County of Gloucester) there has been a feeling of personal confidence in the right hon. Gentleman, which his well-spent political life in the county naturally inspired in all classes. It was felt that the interests, at all events, of agriculture were in good hands, and that we might safely, and with some confidence, await the result of the Board of Trade's proceedings. Prom time to time, too, the country has been assured by the right hon. Gentleman in speeches that these maximum rates were not, after all, anything to be greatly alarmed about—that, although they were put down as "paper" rates, which might legally be 393 charged, they were not rates that were intended to be charged! But the anxiety in the country is very great indeed. The Railway Companies are exceedingly strong and exceedingly able. They are an enormously powerful corporation, which is making a great outcry, and protesting that the new Schedule of Rates are going to bring on them ruin, devastation, and confiscation! We have heard this outcry before from other monopolists in days past. We know something of the rates of the Railway Companies in the west, but studying the figures of these Provisional Orders I can for the life of me see no reason for anxiety on the part of railway shareholders as to their dividends. I cannot see where the ruin comes in. The agriculturists are anxious specially about the milk rates. Every one will agree that this is a most important question from the point of view not only of the agriculturist, but of our great and dense populations that there should be a cheap and plentiful supply of pure milk. The rates originally proposed by the Great Western system were simply scandalous, and they have been reduced since last bummer 30 per cent. A farmer who now sends his milk 40 miles, pays 9d. for a tin holding 12 Imperial gallons, and 2d. for the returned empty tin, making 11d., or something under 1d. per gallon. A farmer sending his milk under the new maximum rates this same distance of 40 miles the charge will be 10½d., terminal charge 4½d., and return carriage 2d.—or a total 1s. 5d., instead of 11d., or an increase of 50 per cent. On distances not exceeding 100 miles, the present total charge of 14d. will be increased to 20½, or 50 per cent. It is the terminals that so largely increase the rates. They make all the difference. The milk trade has been growing steadily for the last 40 years, and we wish to know why these terminal charges have been introduced when they have never been charged hitherto P These are not the times when anything ought to be done to discourage agricultural enterprise by legislation of this kind. A reasonable limit of 10 per cent. over the present charges might have been left to the companies; but I protest against giving them such a limit as 50 per cent. in order to increase their charges on what is one of the necessaries of life 394 for the people. There is also the question of perishable articles, such as fruit, vegetables, butter, &c, to be considered. In future it is proposed, in the case of such perishable articles, to charge any quantity below 2 cwt. as 2 cwt.! I think that that is a most monstrous proposal, so far as the small farmer is concerned. We are looking forward to the development of allotments and small holdings as means of providing the country with increased supplies of milk, butter, vegetables and fruit; but it is proposed to put this block in the way, and to say, "Unless you send 2 cwt. you shall not be charged a reasonable rate." I am much interested in the question of how we are going to feed our growing population, and I cannot help thinking that the profits of the Railway Companies have been enormously increased in the past, and will be in the future, by the growing trade of the country, which they are really as interested as anybody in seeing developed. I hope, apart from political differences, the House will express such an opinion that the Committee will have courage to fix the rates and charges of the Railway Companies in a manner which shall be fair to the trading and agricultural interests.
§ *(4.30.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Sir M. HICKS BEACH,) Bristol, W.
In the year 1888 Parliament thought fit to impose a very severe and arduous responsibility on the Board of Trade. It is not possible to exaggerate the difficulty of the task imposed on the Board of Trade by Section 24 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act of that year. I am, of course, responsible for proposing it to Parliament; but I have very frankly to admit that if I had known what I know now of the extreme difficulty of the work I should have hesitated before I made such a proposal. It imposed not only the task—which in itself would have been sufficient—of codifying the railway rates and charges authorised by something like 900 different Acts of Parliament, and for 970 different Railway Companies; and of reducing chaos to order by enabling the trader and the agriculturist to know what services the rates were charged for, and whether they were legally charged—a thing which no man without 395 the most careful legal assistance and search can possibly tell under the law as it stands. This would itself have been a sufficient task for any Government Department; and that was really the original proposal of Government to Parliament. But in the course of the discussion on this matter in the Standing Committee, that Committee decided that the Board of Trade should do much more than that—that it should not merely codify the law; not merely, in plain language, deal with the existing powers of the Railway Companies under many Acts, but should also decide for the future what rates should be just and reasonable as between the companies and the public. Although I attempted to induce the Standing Committee to lay down some definite directions upon which the Board of Trade should act, though I saw at that time the extreme difficulty of the task imposed upon us, yet they were unwilling to do so, and both the Railway Companies and the traders, after consideration, preferred to leave to the Board of Trade the unlimited discretion conferred, and the Act was passed in that form. The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. P. Stanhope) has referred in just terms to the work done by Lord Balfour and Mr. Courtenay Boyle in this matter. Nothing could exceed the patience and ability which these two gentlemen displayed in the conduct of the inquiry entrusted to them, which lasted for 85 days, and they have had the matter under further consideration since that time. The result is the Provisional Orders now proposed to be read a second time. Of course, I was aware from the beginning, as I suppose everybody must have been, that it would be quite impossible that the decisions of the Board of Trade in such a matter would satisfy both the contending parties. We have been assailed, on the one hand, by those who have spoken on behalf of the greatest of our Railway Companies, as having confiscated their property. We are assailed to-day by the two hon. Members who have addressed the House as if we had done hardly anything for the traders of this country. Is it not obvious that the truth must lie somewhere between those extremes? We have endeavoured to act not as an administrative body, but as a judicial body, between 396 these conflicting interests. We have acted as a Court of First Instance in a matter, the gravity and importance of which it would be impossible to exaggerate. And now the decisions at which we have arrived, after the most careful inquiry, after hearing and re-hearing and considering and re-considering all that could be alleged, are before the House, and will, I hope, be referred to the only tribunal that can properly consider them—a Committee of both Houses. The hon. Member for Wednesbury has given us some credit. He has admitted that the large traders, and I think he might have admitted that all traders, will obtain in future very considerable advantages under this classification and schedule now proposed. He has admitted that with regard to service terminals he has no objection to our proposals. But he says that we have failed to deal properly with the question of "smalls," and that we have not lowered the maximum rates for short distances. I contest both of those statements. We have conferred upon traders this very considerable advantage in the matter of "smalls." At present, under the existing law, to which we have been bound to give consideration, the Railway Companies are entitled to charge whatever they think reasonable. We have limited that power in a very great degree; and with regard to maximum rates for short distances, or for any distances, if hon. Members will but give their consideration to the classification and the schedules, I am quite sure that they will see that the existing maximum rates have been very considerably limited in a long list of articles such as I cannot now detail to the House. That is the simple fact.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
No, in a large number. But the main point of the hon. Member's objection is that we have allowed the principle of station terminals. In the hon. Member for Cirencester's (Mr. Winterbotham's) remarks upon station terminals for milk and other perishable articles, he entirely omitted—as many others have done—to consider that actual rates ought not to be compared with maximum rates. That is a very elementary part of this problem, which does not even seem to have presented itself to the hon. 397 Member's mind. But more than this; he does not seem to have the least idea that at the present moment the Railway Companies are not compelled by law to carry milk or perishable articles at all by these quick trains, by which it is necessary in the public interest that they should be carried. The companies may refuse to carry them if they like; and they may charge whatever they choose for carrying them. What have we done? We have imposed upon them the obligation of carrying this species of traffic by these quick trains, often, no doubt, to the considerable derangement of their passenger traffic. We have imposed also the further obligation of carrying that traffic at moderate maximum rates—at rates which are admitted by the Central Chamber of Agriculture to have been considerably lowered since our proposals of last summer. This body says that the reduction on these rates ranges from 25 to 35 per cent. on full cans, and from 25 to 30 per cent. on empties; and the total amount of service station charges on each can has been reduced 32 per cent.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Quite so. The Chamber considers the rate still excessive. But in this matter it seems to represent the views of those persons who, like the hon. Member, wish to take the lowest rate at which milk is carried at present, and to compel the Railway Companies to carry it at that rate, with a small addition of 5 or 10 per cent. as a maximum. Who can say that the price of milk will not be very considerably raised in future? Milk is not an article—and I do not think it will be—which is the subject of competition from abroad. Who can say that the cost of conveyance may not be very materially increased as compared with what it is at the present moment? We have taken these matters into consideration; and in fixing a maximum we have adopted the figures named in the schedule, believing that the companies will work within that maximum, as they have hitherto done, for the advantage of the farmers and the public in building up a trade which they have established without any maximum at all. They will not be so foolish as to hinder or to stop the development of 398 such a trade, which they need not have established at all unless they had chosen. That is our view as to milk; but we are merely a tribunal of First Instance, and if hon. Members interested in the agricultural districts think we have not gone far enough in this matter, and that the milk rate should be still further reduced, their obvious remedy is to formulate their complaints on behalf of those who are concerned and petition this House, and these Petitions will be referred to the Committee, who will act as a final tribunal in deciding this matter; and if our proposals are too high they will reduce them. But the hon. Member for Wednesbury is not contented with that. He deals with the question of station terminals as one which ought not to be left to the Committee; and because we have admitted one principle to which he is opposed, though in other matters of equal importance we have done what he admits to be of great advantage to the trading public, he moves an Instruction which would kill this Bill. It could not be proceeded with if this Instruction were carried. What is the position with regard to station terminals? First of all, let me explain what they are. Station terminals are charges made for the use of accommodation at the stations and duties undertaken thereat before or after conveyance. The Standing Committee, I quite agree, did not express an opinion upon the legality of these station terminal charges. They left it open in the Bill to the Board of Trade to authorise them or not; but they distinctly pointed to their being authorised by directing the Board of Trade in determining them to have regard only to the expenditure reasonably necessary to provide the accommodation in respect of which the charges were to be made. But although they did not decide whether these terminals should be charged in all cases or not—they were perfectly clear that, if authorised, they should be specified and not included in conveyance rates. I do not think the hon. Member will deny that. There was a long discussion on this point in the Standing Committee. The hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester (Sir W. Houldsworth) proposed thatIn every case the maximum rates and charges should be deemed to include all terminal 399 charges of every description other than service terminals.It was pointed out that if station terminals were mixed up, as now, with conveyance rates, it would be very injurious to the interests of traders—first, because long-distance traffic would be compelled to pay a far larger proportion of charge for station accommodation than short-distance traffic; and, secondly, because traders who have provided their own sidings at considerable expense to themselves would be called upon to pay for stations in the shape of conveyance rates though they do not use the stations. Now, those two reasons induced the Committee to reject the Amendment of the hon. Baronet the Member for Manchester by a majority of 45 to 12; but, while they took this view, there certainly was in the Committee a strong feeling that the law should not give the companies both station terminals in all cases, and also their existing maximum rates. The hon. Member for Wednesbury has quoted some words of mine. What did I say? I said—It appeared there was an apprehension that the Railway Companies would be enabled to make not only their existing maximum rates and charges but terminals, plus their maximum rates and charges, thus putting an additional burden on the traders. That is not my intention, and if there was any danger in that respect I would accept words to amend it.No words were inserted; but I think I have acted up both to the spirit and the letter of the words I used in the Standing Committee. No doubt station terminal charges have been inserted in the Provisional Orders; but what are the facts? As far as legal decisions have gone, the law has decided that the Railway Companies are entitled to make these charges.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
I think any one who examines the different Acts on the subject will see that—if it be admitted that the decisions which have already been given were right—in the great majority of cases, at any rate, the law will enable the companies to make these charges. They do make them at present, and they are paid by the traders. Those were the facts with which I had to deal. I felt that, although for this reason it was just to accept the principle of station terminals, 400 yet, as the matter had not been decided by the highest Court in the land, there was a possibility that the legal decisions might be reversed. Therefore, I reduced the maximum conveyance rates in exchange for the advantage given to the companies by setting at rest any doubts which exist as to their right to make station terminal charges to such a large extent that I have been charged with confiscation by those who have not thought fit to see that by allowing station terminals I give them something in return. I maintain that it is to the interest of traders to have station terminals separated from conveyance rates. Very well, then, what is the way to deal with this matter? If I have not gone far enough in lowering the conveyance rates in exchange for the concession of station terminals, let the Committee go farther. The hon. Member for Wednesbury would debar the Committee from revising these rates at all. He has said, and said rightly, that this is no Party question. This is a question affecting the interests of the whole country, irrespective of political Parties. The Board of Trade and I myself have, in regard to these companies, discharged the work imposed upon us by the Act of 1888. I do not ask the House to read the Bills a second time from a personal or a Party feeling in the matter; but I do ask them to proceed with the measures in the interest of all the parties concerned—the traders, the Railway Companies, and the general public. I can conceive nothing worse than that after an exhaustive inquiry the question should still be hung up for consideration by some future Parliament. In the interests of the traders themselves, who are at present under a law which they cannot ascertain, and who are subjected to charges as to which nobody can tell them whether they are legal or not, it is highly desirable to have the law put in a plain and concise form. I should like to give the House an ocular demonstration of what has been done. In these two Bills there is a classification and schedule of rates of the whole of the Great Western and North Western Railways. Such a classification at present does not exist, and the rates are scattered through about 70 different Acts in each case. It must be desirable that such a simplification of the law as 401 that now proposed should be carried out. If the House does not approve the specific proposals of the Board of Trade in detail, cannot they trust to a Joint Committee of both Houses? I hope the hon. Member will not press his Amendment to a Division.
§ *(4.53.) MR. W. MCLAREN (Cheshire, Crewe)
The right hon. Baronet, in the course of his speech, referred to the question of the rates for the carriage of milk. I should like to say a few words on that subject, because I have been for the last year Chairman of the Special Committee of the British Dairy Farmers' Association, which has carried on almost entirely the agitation on this particular branch of the subject, and has obtained no fewer than four modifications of the proposed rates and charges—a much greater amount of success than any other trading company has achieved. We have devoted a great deal of attention to this matter, and have come to the conclusion that not merely are the rates proposed by the Board of Trade excessive, but that the whole method of charging is cumbersome and unworkable in the extreme as far as milk is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman said that the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment had not taken into account the fact that the actual rates cannot be compared with the maximum rates. I do not think the hon. Member could have overlooked so obvious a fact. We all know that we are dealing with maximum rates, and we remember that they are at the company's and not at the owner's risk. But I dispute the claim of the right hon. Gentleman that he has obtained important concessions on the point, because he has only proposed to lay upon these companies a statutory obligation to do what they are now voluntarily doing; and although it is true that the Central Chamber of Agriculture admit a reduction of 33 to 40 per cent. in maximum rates, which were put at 150 per cent. above existing actual rates, the fact is that the proposed maximum rates are still 100 per cent. above these actual rates. It is computed that 2 per cent. will cover the difference between owners and companies' risk, so that this point is not really worth considering. The right hon. Gentleman has told us that if we object to his proposal we can formulate our complaints, and can Petition Parlia- 402 ment. Well, we have recently Petitioned and Memorialised the Board of Trade. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Dairy Farmers' Association and several Chambers of Agriculture, especially the one in Cheshire, have offered to be satisfied if the present actual rates are increased by 25 per cent. and made the maximum, for we believe that will give an ample margin for contingencies, especially as some of the existing charges are considered too high. For the conveyance of 12 gallons of milk 25 miles the Railway Companies asked to be allowed to charge 2s. 8d. The Board of Trade said they must charge 2s. 3d., but they have now reduced that to 1s. 4½d.; but the present actual charge is 9d., so that there is an immense margin for further reduction. We specially objected to the method of terminal charges for the carriage of milk. The companies were at one time willing to abandon them, and proposed a system of charging by cans at an inclusive rate, and, therefore, I think they may now be reasonably expected to have a, rate per gallon which will include everything. By the present proposals there are no fewer than eight separate charges upon every gallon of milk conveyed by railway. There are the station terminals at either end—1½d. each, loading 1d., unloading 1d., loading of the empty can id., unloading ½d., the carriage of the full can and the carriage of the empty can. Every separate gallon of milk a farmer sends to market has these eight separate charges made upon it. These minute charges make the reckoning of the cost per gallon almost impossible, especially as some cans may be full and others half full. There is the terminal charge made per can, the charge per mile and the charge per gallon, two or three different ways of charging. Then in the Bill there is a most extraordinary provision under the head of perishable articles. Where a consignment is less than 2 cwt. the company is to charge as for 2 cwt., and the charge applies to milk as to other perishable articles. So that for sending a churn of milk the company may charge as if the weight were 2 cwt., they may charge per gallon by mileage, and there are certain terminals per can. It is impossible for the seller to reckon out the cost of the carriage of milk per gallon 403 when charged under two different, rates, to say nothing of three different charges sometimes. The station terminals are upon the can full or half full, large or small. Where the milk dealer or farmer has been in the habit of charging per gallon, he is now to be involved in arithmetical difficulties. The terminal charges will amount to 6d.; that is to say 1½d. at either end, 1d. at each end for service, and ½d. at each end for empty cans. At Paddington Station where the Great Western Company receive 2,000 cans of milk daily, the company will receive £3,000 a year for service that will not cost them more than £350, and for station terminals the charge is proportionally extravagant. There is this additional difficulty for service charges that loading a can of milk requires two men, and one of these is almost always the farmer's man, at the roadside station, the other man being a railway porter; so that while the farmer provides half the labour he pays the company for the whole. Practically this is what it comes to, for although it is urged by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade that service terminals are optional in practice, that is not so, because the farmer cannot keep his man waiting about the station to load, or waiting for the cans to arrive, he is dependent on the services of the railway servants, and for these the whole charge is exorbitant. Of course these are the maximum rates, and I do not for a moment forget that, but if they are to be reduced, as possibly they might be in every day working, then the farmer is landed in a complicated system of fractions and decimals, with which his arithmetical knowledge is unable to grapple, and there will be an endless source of irritation to all concerned. It is exceedingly important that whether the rates are reduced or raised there should be cheap carriage for such a necessary article as milk. Nothing is more important in agricultural produce to the health of people in large towns than that there should be a cheap supply of good milk available; but I know in large towns like Birmingham, Liverpool, and Manchester, the average supply of milk per head of the population gives an incredibly small quantity, and it is evident that thousands of people never use milk or 404 know what pure milk is. We ought to do all we can to help them to obtain from the farmers a good supply; but these rates the company are to charge, and if they charge anything approaching them, as I have little doubt but they will, will be almost prohibitive to the supply of milk to the poorer classes in our towns. I do not know why the charge on milk and perishables should be so greatly increased. The Railway Companies have raised objections to the Provisional Order that their charges are reduced, and various companies have had meetings of their shareholders and losses of thousands of pounds have been suggested; but if there is a general reduction in the carriage of other classes of goods why this excessive increase in the rate for the carriage of milk when this is an article upon which it is far more necessary that the rate should be reduced? I hope it may be found possible for me to move the Instruction which stands in my name when the Bills have been read a second time. It is—That with regard to the carriage of milk, the proposed rates shall be simplified, and shall be made a rate per gallon varying according to distance, which shall cover charges of every kind, including the return of the empty can.You have been good enough to tell me, Sir, that there is some doubt from a technical point of view, but I trust that when the Bills are read you will allow me to submit the point for your consideration, for I believe if I were allowed to move the Instruction it would be received with general assent. I do not wish unduly to tie the hands of the Committee but I do think we ought, in view of the importance of the subject to the population of our large towns, to indicate that whatever may be done in regard to maximum rates, the rates upon perishable articles, like dairy produce, should not be materially increased.
§ *(5.7.) SIR RICHARD PAGET (Somerset, Wells)
I regard this as the most important question that has come before the House this Session. A question which deals so intimately with the conduct of the trade in the agricultural produce of the whole of the United Kingdom is a question which may well be described as of the greatest importance. Hon. Members who have to deal with matters upon a large scale may not have brought their minds to appreciate 405 the vast importance of the slightest detail of railway rates when it has to be considered in connection with an industry struggling for existence. It is not easy to exaggerate the importance of this Bill, it is not easy to master the intricacies of the points raised. Let hon. Members take up the Bill and attempt to master its contents. Let them go through the clauses of the Bill itself, pass on to the Schedules, the different parts, the close and long array of various articles by the thousands, allotted to the different classes, and they will see the Bill deals with matters the difficulties in connection with which can scarcely be overrated. I was not at all surprised to hear the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade announce to the House frankly that had he realised for a moment the difficulties he was about to encounter in undertaking for the Board of Trade to settle this question of Railway Bates he would have shrunk from that duty. I had the honour of serving on that Committee to which my right hon. Friend has referred, and I have the strongest impression of the difficulty and delicacy of a duty which ought to have been referred to a Commission, or to have been placed before the Railway Commission. I am glad to add my testimony to the zeal and care with which Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Mr. Courtenay Boyle have conducted a difficult duty, but it is obvious, and if they were here to speak for themselves they would admit this, that at the commencement of their task they knew very little of what they were undertaking, but they learnt their work as they went. Their first suggestions though falling far short of the extravagant proposals of the Railway Companies were still, on subsequent consideration, largely modified, and now we have the last revise in this Bill. We have the opinion of the Board of Trade, and we are asked to decide whether we agree in that opinion or not. I think it would be more convenient if we had the evidence upon which that opinion was formed. As a matter of fact, however, no part of the evidence given during 85 days has been laid before the House. The public prints no doubt contained from day to day certain information connected with the inquiry, but still it is the fact that we are asked 406 to accept the conclusions upon the evidence, not having that evidence before us. In station terminals we are asked to accept a conclusion embodying a new principle; and upon what are we asked to do this? So far as my memory serves me in the course of those 85 days no open evidence was taken, no published evidence sent forth to the world, on the question of the method of arriving at these charges. I believe that a gentleman of great ability was asked to make a special valuation of the buildings at the railway station, but I have never heard of anyone having had the opportunity of seeing his Report. The evidence on which this conclusion is based has never been laid before the House. It will be convenient that we should be told what principle was adopted by this Committee of the Board of Trade in arriving at their conclusion. I was under the impression, derived from the President of the Board of Trade, that the endeavour was to approximate the maximum rates to the actual rates, and we have now before us certain proposals in the Schedules of a graduated mileage system for short distances and small consignments, and for long distances and large consignments, and all these we adopt. But I am bound to come to the conclusion on reviewing the result of the decision of this tribunal, that they do appear to me to have been more largely influenced by the large traders and large consignors over Long distances, and that the interests of small traders for short distances and for small consignments have met with much less favour at the hands of the Committee. I judge this not only from the clauses which have been alluded to dealing with the question of "smalls" and "perishables," but from the fixing of the minimum at 2 cwt. That is fixed as the smallest amount to be charged, so that a trader will be charged for 2 cwt., though his goods may weigh only 2lbs., and I notice the same thing under other heads. The Schedule as it stands is directly hostile to the interests of the small traders. Now these are the days when the yeomen farmers of England have a right to be heard. Quite recently I had the opportunity of hearing what their views are, as expressed at a meeting of a highly-representative character, attended by yeomen and other farmers. I found among 407 them men of great intelligence who had taken the trouble to go into the details of these proposals as they affected their industry, and the general opinion was, and I do not wonder at it, that which I have expressed. Looking around them what do they see? They see these great Railway Companies, the creatures of the State, with a great monopoly and a great success, with the value of their shares mounting from day to day, so that on the leading lines a £100 share is worth £150. They look at these things and then they look at home, and contemplate the difficulties with which their own industry is struggling, and they find those difficulties enhanced by the imposition of unreasonable rates of railway carriage, I say the small farmer has a right to be heard. It is a fact that the Railway Companies will not deny, that these companies possess at many rural districts an absolute monopoly, and when they have no station of any other company to enter into competition with them, a company can do what it chooses—the trader is at its mercy, and it is then that these maximum rates will be put in force. The maximum rates over long distances may be accepted, for as a fact that maximum has not been approached, but it is on the flow of trade from small holders, from small village or roadside stations, that these station terminals and these short distance clauses will press so heavily—will impose the power of charging rates which if charged in their entirety will bring ruin on the industry of the small farmer. It is urged the Railway Companies will not charge these excessive rates, but I am not assured of that. The late Mr. Grierson was one of the ablest of railway managers, a fair, and honest, and honourable man; but he distinctly announced as the guiding principle for railway rates was this, "Let the traffic pay as much as it will bear." This being the acknowledged guiding principle, what have we at these wayside stations in rural districts where there is no competition for the traffic? We have the maximum rates, plus the short distance clauses, plus the station terminals, the service terminals, and everything else, altogether amounting to a rate the company will have the power to enforce and will enforce if in their view the traffic will boar it. The principle of 408 station terminals about which so much has been said, is one that is indefensible in its present shape. I pass by for the moment the larger aspect of the question, taking note of what has been said by the President of the Board of Trade that the decision of what is practically an inferior Court—a decision not accepted by the traders—is naturally the only decision that now is recognised, and I ask how has the figure of 1s. 6d. been reached as the fixed terminals applicable to every station for every distance and for all sorts of traffic? We have not yet been afforded any statement showing how this was arrived at, and I can only surmise that it is following the practice of the Railway Clearing House, where the companies adopt a station terminal of 1s. 6d. in their arrangements inter se for their own convenience, and that this has been blindly taken by the Board of Trade as an easy way out of the difficulty. But see how it works in large consignments of hundreds of tons and in small consignments, to have this 1s. 6d. terminal on either end. In addition to the maximum short distance clauses is it not obvious that 1s. 6d. terminal imposed on agricultural produce, butter, eggs, milk, going from station to station for short distances, that this terminal charge will lead in many cases—
§ *SIR R. PAGET
I am glad to be corrected as to these terminals; but there are cases where for comparatively short distances the 1s. 6d. will be imposed as for long distances, and we have not been told the reason for this. There is a certain sweet simplicity about the arrangement that no doubt has been attractive. The farmers are strongly of opinion that the infliction of the terminal is in many cases the imposition of a new charge. This question has been so largely dealt with that I will not follow it up beyond saying that one of the objections taken the other day was this: that if Parliament passes the Bill in its present form it will seem to be a sort of indication to the Railway Companies of this kind—"You have not hitherto made charges for terminals, for return of empties, or for loading or unloading, and now these are set out as indicating 409 charges you Lave a right to make." What farmers fuel is that practically a change is introduced, and that which was not legal before is made legal now, and may militate against the agricultural interest. There are one or two other points upon which the views of farmers are entitled to be heard. There is the question of the detention of trucks or demurrage. It has been stated as within the experience of a, farmer that he was charged a 2s. rate on this account for detaining trucks a couple of days with hay or fodder, while hay coming from Holland is allowed to remain 14 days without such charge. Now, if this can be substantiated, I think there is reason to complain. I do not know if this is considered undue preference, but I should like the Attorney General to turn his attention to this with a view of getting more clearly at the law of demurrage; it is by no means so clear as traders desire it should be. The rates on perishables by passenger trains are directly against the interests of small traders, and then there is another point upon which the farming interest complain, that there is no distinction made in the carriage of fat and lean cattle, the rate being the same for both. They also complain of the charge for the cleaning of trucks. It has never been paid before, and they contend that there is no reason because Parliament has for the sake of preventing the spread of disease imposed upon Railway Companies the duty of keeping cattle trucks white and clean, that the charge should straightway be shifted on to the shoulders of the farmer. On the carriage of manure much might be said. Owing to the peculiar arrangement of the Schedule, large classes of manure which it is to the public interest—for everything that contributes to fertilising and improving the cultivation of the soil is of public interest—large classes of manure will be subject to an excssive rate. As a matter of public policy, everything that has to do with the cultivation and distribution of food should be considered and rates should be imposed to improve distribution, and a good case has been made out for asking the Railway Companies to make further modifications. Speaking on behalf of the agricultural classes, we have no desire to 410 despoil the Railway Companies, nor do we believe in the possibility of that despoilment. There was an article in the Economist the other day, in which the writer, after setting out the estimate of the companies that they would be subjected to an enormous loss, divided among eight or nine leading companies, of £380,000, proved by the clearest figures, and taking their own basis for calculation, that the loss could not be more than a quarter per cent on their dividend. This upon their own figures, upon which they are not likely to have erred. I do not deny for a moment that in many particulars this proposed legislation is very acceptable. It is the outcome of prolonged inquiry, and it effects a compromise between the traders on the one hand and the companies on the other. I, for one, should be most glad that differences should be put an end to, provided always we could secure such modifications as we have a right to ask. I should like to have heard a little more from the right hon. Gentleman as to the details of the concessions. He stated that the companies were in many cases being allowed the benefit of station terminals in return for largely reduced conveyance rates. But the trades of England wish to know the instances in which the rates have been reduced, and to whom the benefit has been given of being allowed to charge station terminals. The Joint Committee to whom the Bill is to be referred has before it a task of great difficulty. They have to act as a Court of Appeal from the opinion expressed by the Board of Trade after a prolonged inquiry of 85 days. I trust that, to prevent undue labour, the Committee may come to an agreement with regard to the points that are to be fought. I know that on some points the interests of the agriculturists and traders will be clearly defined and will be well placed before the Committee of both Houses. But I do trust, in the interests of all concerned, that we are approaching the time when this question may come to an end; but that can only be by those who go before the Committee determining to bring it to an end. If, however, they go with the intention of re-opening every question discussed before the Committee of Inquiry and the Board of Trade, then it will be hopeless and endless. I sin- 411 cerely hope that the points will be confined within the narrowest possible compass. It is a misfortune that the appeal in the case of Hall has not yet been decided, for it would possibly reverse the decision of the Queen's Bench. I regret, too, that the Returns promised by the President of the Board of Trade, of the actual rates of Railway Companies, have not yet been presented, for I think they would have been useful to us in this discussion. Altogether the case is one of extraordinary intricacy and importance, and those on whose behalf I have spoken think they have a right to have their objections heard and considered.
§ *(5.52.) MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
Sir, I think the House will arrive at a just conclusion as to the proper mode of dealing with this Bill and other Bills now before the House, by recalling the circumstances which led to their introduction. The Railway Rates Committee of 1881, appointed to investigate the complaints of traders, and especially of farmers, who alleged that they were overcharged for short distances on noncompetitive lines, ascertained that those complaints were well founded. In defence, the Railway Companies asserted that they were entitled to make an indefinite charge for station terminals. It was clearly shown before the Committee that in respect of long distance and non-competitive traffic the companies were not exceeding their maximum rates; and that the maximum rates in such cases were practically valueless. The Railway Companies could not charge anything like the maximum rates. The addition of station terminals provided by the Bill will have the effect of making maximum rates for short distance traffic equally valueless.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
The hon. Member does not understand the Bill. It reduces the maximum rates for short distances in respect of non-competitive traffic.
§ *MR. BARCLAY
I am quite willing to admit the rates may be lower, but it has been shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Wednesbury that with the addition of station terminals the maximum for hay would be higher than it was before. And in regard to milk, the hon. Member for Crewe has 412 shown that no benefit would result. Looking at the tables I find that the maximum rates for the lower kinds of fish, irrespective of station terminals, is £8 a ton from Forfarshire to London, while the existing rate for salmon is £4 a ton. I put it to anyone whether advantage will result from fixing maximum rates which the Railway Companies find it impossible to charge. These proposals, instead of redressing the grievances of the farmers, will have the effect of binding the burden on their shoulders. I do not think that this House intended by the Railway and Canal Act, 1888, to give the Railway Companies power to exact higher rates, but cases have been instanced in this Debate showing that farmers and others interested in short-distance traffic will not be in the least benefited by this Bill, but will have the grievances of which they complain imposed upon them under the sanction of an Act of Parliament. The question of station terminals in past times has been decided by the Courts of Law in favour of the traders. But the companies depend upon the recent decision in the case of "Hall." Traders are anxious to have a decision upon the point, because it is the keystone of the whole position with regard to short-distance traffic. The case of "Hall" was decided against the companies by the Railway Commissioners—a common sense tribunal, appointed by this House to consider railway questions. The traders carried that case to a division of the Court of Queen's Bench, hoping ultimately to carry it to the Court of Appeal so as to obtain an authoritative decision of the law, but a technical defect in the Judicature Act prevented the appeal. But so certain were they that the point at issue was an essential element in the question that they raised another case, that of "Sowerby v. The Great Northern Railway Company." The Railway Commissioners considered themselves bound by the decision given in the case of "Hall," and decided accordingly. An appeal has been taken against that decision of the Railway Commissioners, to the High Court of Appeal, and I am informed by the solicitor in charge of the case that it may be heard next Monday week. It seems to me that it is of the greatest importance that the House should have before it an 413 authoritative decision on the question of terminals by the Court of Appeal before it pronounces a definite opinion on these Bills. I do not suppose that the President of the Board of Trade desires to increase the legal powers of the Railway Companies. When the decision of the Court of Appeal has been given the House will be in a better position to judge whether the proposals embodied in this Schedule and in the various Provisional Order Bills before it ought to receive its approval. In any case, the Committee cannot sit on these Bills until after Easter, when, as I have already said, a decision in the case of "Sowerby v. the Great Northern Railway Company" may be expected. Therefore, I submit that we ought to defer these Bills for further consideration after Easter. If the decision is against the traders, we shall have to try and make the best of the Bills; but if in their favour it would be a very extraordinary circumstance that this House, which has been appealed to to protect the farmers, should, previous to the anticipated decision, legalise the grievance of which they complain I therefore respectfully move that this Debate be now adjourned for the purpose I have indicated, and I think it would onle be a fair and considerate mode of treating the representations of the farmers on this subject if Her Majesty's Government would assent to this course.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Barclay.)
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
If the object of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was merely to move the Adjournment of the Debate, I would suggest, with all deference, that he might have made that proposal without speaking at the length he has; but, as the Motion has been made, I would ask the House to consider the position in which the matter now stands. It is obvious that the Joint Committee of the two Houses to which these Bills are to be referred, and to which the Act of Parliament says we should refer them, will have a very long and difficult task before them. If they are able to 414 complete their task, and if the Bills to be sent to them are to become law within the limits of the present Session, that is about as much as will be possible. I submit to the House that if the course suggested by the hon. Member be adopted it would be doing its best to render it utterly impossible that these Bills, whether the House may approve of them or not, should become law this Session. I would further submit to those who object to the Bills that they will have ample opportunity when the Bills have been reported by the Joint Committee of discussing the present question over again, and of pressing their objections to the point of opposing their further progress. The hon. Member opposite has told us that in a fortnight or so he expects a certain decision will be given by the Court of Appeal on this question. All I can say is that he is a very sanguine man. He seems to forget that the law is full of delays, and that the decision he anticipates may be deferred beyond Easter; but, at any rate, if that decision is not given by the time the Bills are returned to us by the Joint Committee, it is still possible that the statements made to-night can be repeated. Therefore, I submit that hon. Members will be in no worse position than they are in at present if they allow us to proceed with the Bills at once. If they decline to do this they certainly will prevent our being able to pass these Bills into law, and thus may defeat the very object which they themselves have in view.
§ (5.55.) MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)
I will appeal to my hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) not to press his Motion for Adjournment. I have listened to a considerable part of this Debate. I heard the speech of the hon. Member for Somersetshire, but was unable to hear that of the President of the Board of Trade in consequence of my being engaged elsewhere. I may, however, say that while I agree with a good deal of what has been said, I think that the question under discussion is essentially one for the consideration of the Committee. I know of no question more difficult or more complicated, or which requires more careful investigation and judgment than that which it is now 415 proposed to submit to the Joint Committee, and I can only express the hope that these Bills will be sent before the Committee as soon as possible. After all, this is only a preliminary stage, and not the final one. The Committee will have power to deal with all the questions that have been raised as to terminals and maximum rates, and hon. Gentlemen who have spoken will be able to appear before the Committee and give evidence, as was the case in 1881. It is most important that the work should be begun as soon as possible, as the inquiry is likely to be a long, laborious, and anxious inquiry. With regard to the legal decision spoken of by the hon Member (Mr. Barclay), if that is given in a week or even in a month, or at almost any time this Session, it will be in sufficient time for the Committee. Complaints have been made as to the way in which the work has been done; but I must say that I give the utmost credit to the noble Lord who presided over the Inquiry, and to Mr. Courtenay Boyle, of the Board of Trade, for the very admirable manner in which they performed their task. I never knew a case in which a heavy and laborious inquiry such as that in which they were engaged was conducted with greater skill, knowledge, and ability, than the inquiry conducted by those two gentlemen. I ask the House to let these Bills go into Committee as soon as possible, because the whole of the questions affecting the interests of farmers and small traders—questions of station terminals and other terminals and maximum charges—can be dealt with by the Joint Committee. That Committee will doubtless be a strong Joint Committee of the two Houses, and this House should bear in mind that it is not likely to appoint on its Committee a number of gentlemen who are more favourable to one interest than the other. It will, doubtless, be a Committee that will do justice to all parties, and I think it is to the interests of this House and of all who care about the subject that these Bills should be sent to that Committee as soon as possible. I would point out, further, with regard to the question of rates—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman must recollect that this is a Motion for Adjournment.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
I was only pointing out that the Board of Trade exercise a very important influence in these matters. I hope the House will let the Bills go to a Committee as soon as possible.
§ *(6.1.) MR. GROTRIAN (Hull, E.)
This is a very important question, and it seems to me that we are in danger of not being able adequately to discuss it by the intervention of this Motion for Adjournment. As you, Sir, pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, he was unable to deal with points having a most important bearing on the questions at issue. I am in the same position. I hope the hon. Member will not press the Motion for Adjournment; but if he does, teat it will not meet with support, and we shall be able to resume the discussion after the Division.
§ (6.3.) MR. H. T. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
I was strongly impressed by the arguments of the hon. Member for Forfarshire, and agreed with him that there was good reason for the Adjournment of the Debate; but after the speeches of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Brightside Division of Sheffield. I feel convinced the more desirable course to pursue would be to send the Bills quickly to a Committee. Therefore, I hope the Motion for an adjournment will be withdrawn.
§ *(6.4.) MR. BARCLAY
After the expressions of opinion to which I have listened, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ (6.5.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
I am obliged to trouble the House with a very few words. I represent a constituency where the agricultural depression has reached its lowest depth. There the farmers manage to eke out a pre-carious existence by sending milk to the London markets. If this Bill passes into law that trade will be knocked on the head. An hon. Member opposite has rather understated the case. Now, a 12- 417 gallon tin of milk can be sent from Essex to London for 6d., but this Bill will make the charge 1s. 5d.
§ MAJOR RASCH
The Great Eastern Bill will enable the charge to be raised 140 per cent., to say nothing of the cost of returning empties. At the present moment there are absolutely no terminal charges, but if the Bill becomes law there will be a terminal charge of 6d. for each 12-gallon tin. The result will be ruinous to the Essex farmers, and London will be supplied with iced milk from Holland or else will have to depend on London milk produced under the most adverse and deleterious circumstances. The Essex farmers may be divided into two categories: those who are ruined and those who will be ruined by the passing of this Bill, for it will prove the last straw on the back of the agricultural camel. No doubt we shall have the usual procession of railway directors who will tell us that these charges are only a matter of form. But the President of the Board of Trade, in the Debate on the Cheap Freights Bill, admitted that the tendency of Railway Companies was, in course of time, to reach the maximum charges; and if such rates as these are put into the Bill my constituents will refuse to look on them as a matter of form.
§ *(6.9.) SIR HUSSEY VIVIAN (Swansea, District)
I do not rise to support the Amendment of my hon. Friend, nor to detain the House, except for a few minutes. We have heard a great deal about injury to the agricultural interest, but little has been said with reference to the hardships that will be inflicted on commercial interests. Looking to the district which I represent, I fail to see the justice of the proposals made by the Board of Trade. The Great Western Railway Company will be enabled, if they are carried, to charge on the South Wales portion of its system 35 per cent more than it charges on any other portion of its system. Why should that be allowed? It may be said the maximum rates were originally fixed so high because the railway was made at a time when the district was not so fully developed as it has since become; it is now one of the most important portions of the Great Western system, and there is no longer any 418 justification for continuing an exceptional rate. I admit that these details might be better discussed in Committee, but it must be borne in mind that if this Bill goes to a Committee upstairs as proposed the only other opportunity the House itself will have of discussing it will be on the Report and Third Reading stages, and it, therefore, behoves us now to bring forward those points which we deem to be of first importance. We all desire to acknowledge the great industry and ability displayed by Lord Balfour of Burleigh and Mr. Courtenay Boyle in the conduct of this most onerous inquiry; but, at the same time, human beings sometimes form opinions which the great majority of their fellows cannot agree with, and some such decisions have, I believe, been come to by those gentlemen. Reference has been made to the hardships likely to be entailed by the short-distance clause. In my district that clause will have most serious effects. I know of several instances in which not only a six-mile, but a 12-mile limit will be imposed. I could name a case in which the Railway Companies would be able to charge 12 miles for a 3½ mile journey. These are matters which will have to be thorougly sifted, and I, therefore, appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment. If he should press it to a Division and fail to carry it he would, I hold, defeat the very object he has in view.
§ (6.14.) MR. C. W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
I will not detain the House by going into the various points which have been raised; I wish to enter my protest in the firmest way I am able against that part of the Bill which deals with terminals. I am disappointed to find anything of the sort in the Bill. I had thought that after what occurred two years ago that question was dead and buried. But there is one detail in the Bill of some importance. The Railway Companies ask to be enabled to charge 1s. for every truck that is lime-washed or cleaned. I believe that that is an innovation.
§ MR. GRAY
The same reply might be given to every criticism. I entirely disagree with the proposal to enable 419 the companies to make it a special charge. It might just as reasonably be said that a person who rides in an omnibus or in a railway carriage ought to contribute to the dusting and cleaning of those vehicles. The speech of the President of the Board of Trade, who is in charge of this Bill, contained advances of a conciliatory nature, but my experience has taught me that, after speeches of this kind, when the Committee stage is reached, the right hon. Gentlemen who seem so conciliatory on the Second Reading, stiffen their backs against pressure, and we cannot induce them to bend to any extent to our wishes.
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
My hon. Friend forgets that the tribunal to which this question will be referred is entirely beyond my control.
§ MR. GRAY
That is what I was coming to. I have to decide whether I will vote with my Party or with the hon. Member opposite. If the Government will give me an assurance that they, as a Government, will use no undue influence in the Committee, then I will vote for the Second Reading with great pleasure. If Government influence is to be used in respect to the question of terminals and other charges, the traders and agriculturists will have very little chance of getting their way. If, however, the Committee are to deal with these questions with a free hand, then I hope the Amendment will be withdrawn.
§ *(6.19.) SIR M. HICKS BEACH
It is an important point that the hon. Member should know that the Committee will be distinctly a judicial tribunal, absolutely free from any influence on the part of the Government. My sole duty, when the Provisional Orders come back from the Committee, will be to carry out the decisions of the Committee.
§ *(6.20.) SIR J. SWINBURNE
I should like to draw attention to the milk question. The present policy is to get rid of the system of keeping cows in the cellars of London and other large towns—a system very apt to produce disease, for not only does it make the place unhealthy but the milk produced under such cir- 420 cumstances is far from good. Yet the effect of the passing of this Bill would be to encourage that system by making it impossible for farmers to supply London or other large cities with milk at a profit. I never in my life heard of terminals being charged for returned empties. I call that quite a new phase of railway extortion. I hope the President of the Board of Agriculture will give us his views on this subject.
§ (6.22.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I only wish before a decision is taken to point out to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, whose fairness and anxious attention to this Bill we all desire to acknowledge, that the question of terminals will go up to the Committee with his strongly expressed opinion in favour of terminals. I believe that those who represent agricultural constituencies have no objection to the recognition of the principle of some extra payment in respect of short distances, but we strongly object to the companies getting besides an additional allowance for such distances the power of charging terminals. Our complaint is that small traders in isolated districts are taken advantage of by the Railway Companies, and therefore the maximum ought to be kept so low as to protect these traders. I join with the hon. Baronet the Member for Swansea in hoping that the Amendment will be withdrawn, as a Division would prejudice our case before the Committee
§ (6.25.) MR. MARK J. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
I think that the sooner these Bills are sent to the Joint Committee the better it will be for all concerned. I can only say, with regard to the high rates contained in the Schedules, that hitherto traders in the South of Scotland have escaped these very high rates. We now send milk to London at 1½d. a gallon without any terminal charges. It is most important that these advantages should be continued, as, according to the charges in the Schedule, the cost of carriage will be 1s. 3d. a gallon—a considerable difference for the London consumer to sustain. I am in no way antagonistic to the interests of the Railway Companies. I know that theirs are enormous undertakings in 421 which many persons have embarked their savings. But still justice ought to be done, and therefore I advocate the sending of these Bills to a Joint Committee as soon as possible.
§ (6.27.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
I rise to express my views in response to the appeals which have been addressed to me from the other side of the House. Hon. members representing agricultural constituencies seem to be under a misapprehension. It is said that no terminals are charged at the present time; but it is forgotten that Railway Companies can charge anything they like for the carriage of milk, and they need not carry milk at all unless they like to to do so. Now it is proposed to make it obligatory to carry the milk, and the charges are limited to a certain maximum. As far as the Government proposals go, they are clearly a gain to the farmer. There may be objections of detail; but those who have such objections to urge, should make their voices heard in the Committee. I hope that they will do so, and their representations will receive every consideration. Expressing my opinion as an individual, I think it to their interest to send these Bills to a Committee.
§ (6.29.) MR. ESSLEMONT
Must those who wish to raise these points appear at their own expense by counsel before the Select Committee, or will it be at the expense of the Government?
§ *SIR M. HICKS BEACH
Arrangements will be made whereby all Petitions presented within live clear days of the sitting of the Committee will be heard. Further arrangements are already in progress between the Chambers of Agriculture and other bodies that all these interests shall be represented.
§ *(6.30.) MR. P. STANHOPE
With the permission of the House I will state the reasons why I think I may now withdraw the Amendment. I would, first, ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us an assurance that he will give us an opportunity of discussing the constitution of the Committee on some favourable opportunity, and before any decision is taken in the matter. I 422 understand from the assurances which have been given to the hon. Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Mr. Gray) that the Government is going to give an absolutely free hand to the Joint Committee, which will not only have an opportunity of discussing the amount of the maximum rates, and of the terminals, but will also be able to say whether terminals shall be charged or not. I hope the fact of my withdrawing the Amendment now will not be taken by the House as indicating any abandonment of the position I have taken up on the question, and that it will not be supposed that the House of Commons has come to a decision in favour of terminals, when, on the contrary, there is a great disposition to vote against them—a disposition of which we do not avail ourselves because we prefer to let the Committee have a free hand in dealing with the question.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.