§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. MORTON (Peterborough)
I desire, Sir, to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, on the ground that this House ought not to grant any further powers to this Railway Company until the complaints of people who are obliged to use this railway have been attended to. I have selected 308 this line because it is the one which is of the worst character with regard to the accommodation it affords to third-class passengers, and not because I have any particular feeling against the Company. I am glad to say, with regard to the railways running out of London to the North and to the West—and even the Great Eastern Railway Company—have done a great deal to improve the accommodation of the third-class passengers; and against these railways I do not desire, therefore, to make any complaints. But I do complain of the railways running on the Southern side of the River Thames, and I desire to ask the House to reject this Bill. I have been informed that it was the opinion of a former President of the Board of Trade that it would be right to oppose a Bill of this kind at this stage on the ground that there are grievances that should be met; but I have other reasons. I can understand, of course, it being said that opposition of this kind is a novel and even an inconvenient proceeding, but the public have no other remedy. We are informed that the Board of Trade can do nothing to improve matters; we are told that the law can do nothing, and, therefore, we have a right to appeal to the House to remedy the grievances to which I refer. The case of another Railway Company came before the Westminster County Court only a few days ago, and this is what took place.His Honour: Why did you not decline to ride?Defendant: Because I wanted to get home. I appear here on public grounds.His Honour: The public must suffer from want of competition on this and other lines. The public have no remedy. We know no law which compels Railway Companies to have carriages of a certain kind.The same Judge was obliged to give a verdict against the defendants, but he very indignantly refused to allow the Railway Company any costs whatever, so that in the long run he punished them as well as he could. That case shows conclusively that the public have no remedy so far as the law is concerned against these great Railway Companies. I had intended to move the Instruction of which I have given notice; but, Sir, you have been good enough to inform me that probably it 309 would be out of Order. I am very sorry for it, because, undoubtedly, inquiry is needed in this case, and if it cannot be obtained in the way I propose, I trust some other method will be found in which we can investigate the grievance complained of. It is well to bear in mind that we have got a General Election coming very shortly, and we had a proof last Saturday of what the people of London think, at any rate, with regard to fair play. Both the right hon. Member for Midlothian and Lord Salisbury have reminded us that the people now generally have a vote, and I think that, with regard to Railway Companies and any other monopolies or privileges, the people of this country will insist upon having fair play. These grants of great powers to companies have not been made to put money into the pockets of speculators and promoters, but to be used for the benefit of the public. I admit that joint stock enterprise has done a great deal for the people of this country, and, so far as it is honest, I should wish to support it. The masses of this country travel, so far as they travel at all, third class, and I could read many letters which I have received complaining of their treatment. A gentleman living at Gravesend writes to say that while parties holding second-class tickets, if they happen to travel first class in first-class carriages, are allowed to pay the difference between second and first-class fare, those who hold third-class tickets, and happen to travel second or first class, are obliged to pay full second or first-class fare, and are not allowed any rebate on account of their third-class ticket. This is a grievance which ought to be removed by the Railway Companies without troubling this House at all. With regard to the accident near the Borough Market, the jury concluded, on the recommendation of the officer of the Board of Trade, that the accident was caused by using inferior and weak carriages between heavy and powerful carriages for third-class passengers. Only last week the South-Eastern Company, at great expense, brought over American carriages to this country; but they were first-class and not third-class carriages. I notice with regret that this Company 310 cannot find workmen in this country to build their carriages. But what I should like them to do is to treat their third-class passengers as the American Railway Companies treat their third-class passengers. As I cannot obtain the inquiry I wished to propose by my Instruction, I have a right to ask the Government for some expression of opinion on this matter, and to say whether they will do something to protect these third-class passengers. I should like the President of the Board of Trade to say whether, if his Department has any power to deal with a grievance of this sort, the Government will take some means to control these monopolies, upon which competition cannot now be brought to bear? The dividends and expenses of these Companies, especially on the south side of the river, are paid by the money received in third-class fares; and, so far as this particular railway is concerned, it seems to make large profits and to pay good dividends, and therefore there is no reason why they should not treat their third-class passengers, at least, with proper respect. Experience shows that the better treatment these Companies give to their third-class passengers the better their lines have paid, and I have no doubt that if this Company will treat their third-class passengers still better, they will find that, instead of being losers in any way, their profits would largely increase. For the purpose of getting an opinion from the Government on this matter, I beg formally to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Morton.)
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time and committed.