HC Deb 25 February 1897 vol 46 cc1107-15

On the Motion that this Bill be read a Second time,

*SIR CHARLES DILKE (Gloucester, Forest of Dean)

said he did not propose to divide the House upon the Motion, but to state briefly the reasons why the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants opposed the Bill, with a view to going to a Division if necessary on Tuesday next, when it had been arranged that an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill should be moved. The clauses of the Bill to which the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants objected were 37 and 38, Clause 37 being the Savings Bank clause and Clause 38 being similar to a clause inserted in the North British Railway Bill, the Second Reading of which the House had already passed. With regard to the latter clause, he understood that the Great Northern Railway Company were willing to insert into their clause a somewhat similar amendment to that which the North British Company consented to insert into their clause. As to the Savings Bank clause, the House had already allowed some other railway companies to establish savings banks of this kind, but there were many persons who entertained strong objections to the course which the House had taken, perhaps without sufficient consideration. In the Tyne Act of 1890 the then Chairman of Committees introduced very carefully-guarded clauses with regard to the accounts of those societies and their management. Those clauses had since been introduced into an Act promoted by the London County Council, and if it were deemed necessary to guard the rights of the men in the case of public bodies like the Tyne Commissioners and the London County Council, surely it was even more necessary to do so in the case of private companies. He was of opinion that the carefully guarded clauses introduced by the right hon. Gentleman should become for the future statutory clauses to be introduced in all measures of this kind. The general objection of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants to the Savings Bank clause was one which was worthy of brief consideration by the House. The men stated that they had no desire to invest their savings with the company, because they objected to their employers being in a position to obtain knowledge of what they deemed to be their own private business. The men also pointed out the bearing which that knowledge might have upon the rate of wages and upon strikes in certain circumstances. Personally he did not like those savings banks clauses in railway Bills. They were not the object or purpose of a railway Bill. ["Hear, hear!"] Railway companies came to Parliament for statutory powers to take land, and not to be made provident societies or savings banks in relation to the people in their employ. He should not divide the House against the Second Reading of the Bill, because he admitted that the principle, having been sanctioned in previous Acts of Parliament, it might not be quite fair to a particular company to divide against a general Bill of theirs upon grounds which applied only to clauses. He did not at all pledge himself not to divide the House on the Instruction, but it seemed to him that the Second Reading was the proper occasion to state briefly the objections he had taken to the extension of this principle, and, at all events, to put the matter in the possession of the House.

MR. JOHN ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)

said he did not rise to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but to make one or two observations from a somewhat different standpoint from that of the right hon. Baronet. Those who had followed the history of legislation with regard to railways would know that it had been of a very gradual but surely widening character; and whereas the object of these commercial companies in coming to Parliament in the first instance was a very simple one—that of obtaining powers to take land and charge tolls, for the transit of goods and passengers—now it had widened out into all sorts of different matters. He confessed he watched with considerable jealousy this widening of the area of legislation with regard to matters which he believed had better be left to be settled between the parties themselves. It seemed to him extremely doubtful how far the House was wise, in a particular Bill of this kind, in allowing these powers, which were not directly related to the particular object of the existence of the railway. As to the Instruction on the Paper he thought the railway companies would be wise in allowing all parties who might be legitimately affected by the Bill before the House to have a full opportunity of going before the Committee and stating their case.

*MR. F. W. FISON (York, W.R., Doncaster)

thought that on this occasion the right hon. Baronet had got a rather poor ease against this railway company. Two clauses only in this Bill, which was a long one of some 74 clauses, were objected to. The first of those two clauses, 37, gave the Great Northern Railway Company power to establish a savings bank. He would point out to the House that this was a purely voluntary savings bank. No single person in the employ of the Great Northern Railway Company was compelled to contribute to the bank; no condition of employment was laid down with any servant of the company that he should belong to the savings bank; no fines could be deducted from any money any servant might have in the bank, and, in fact, no deduction whatever could be made from any depositor's account in the bank. The depositors' accounts, he might mention to hon. Members, became a first charge on the undertaking after the mortgage and other debts and interest on debenture stock, and he ventured to say that, in the present condition of things and for some years to come, that was about as safe an investment as anyone could wish to have. But there was no novelty about this proposal of the company. Already some 14 railway companies possessed similar savings banks, and he rather regarded it as a reflection on the Great Northern Company that they had not sooner brought this proposal forward. From the Official Report of Friendly Societies for 1895 he found that in these 14 railway companies' banks there were, roughly speaking, 30,000 depositors, £2,200,000 deposited, and the average deposit per depositor was £75. The Registrar of Friendly Societies reported that those banks show an increase in the amount due to depositors, in the number of depositors, and in the average of each deposit account. The right hon. Baronet said that many of the railway men objected to put their money into these banks. Well, they had a curious way of objecting, because he found that in 1895 there was an increase of over 25,000 in the number of depositors—["hear, hear!"]—and they put in an amount of £171,000, and the increased interest they got on the deposits was nearly £9,000. ["Hear, hear!"] He would further remind the House that the Registrar of Friendly Societies had to give an opinion upon the sub-clauses of this section, and he had it on that official's authority that the only amendments he required were unimportant verbal ones which could be inserted in Committee in the usual course, He thought the persons who might object to these savings banks were the shareholders, because the shareholders undoubtedly had an increased charge put upon them by the increased rate of interest paid to the depositors; but this Bill had been submitted to their shareholders, and had been most favourably received. He thought he knew a little more than the right hon. Baronet of what the Great Northern men thought about this matter. At King's Cross, no single objection, not a single complaint, had been received from the men in the service as to the establishment of this bank, and when last December he publicly stated at Doncaster, where there were several thousands of railway men, a large portion of whom were in the employ of the Great Northern Company, that it was contemplated by the directors to found this bank, the way the statement was received showed how thoroughly the men appreciated the action of the Board. He now turned to the Superannuation Clause, 38. The right hon. Baronet had pointed out that he would not object to this clause, because the Great Northern Railway Company were prepared to make arrangements which would not be compulsory on the men. The Great Northern Railway never intended that it should be compulsory, and he thought a moment's reflection would show that it could not be compulsory. The clause was to enable the railway servants serving under a Joint Committee of two railway companies to obtain, if they wished, the benefits of the Superannuation Fund. It was perfectly obvious that it would be impossible for one of these companies to force all the joint servants into its own Superannuation Fund. This fund was divided into two portions. There was the portion consisting of salaried officers, who were in receipt of £80 and upwards a year. In those cases the fund was compulsory. They contributed 2½ per cent. of their salaries, and the company added 2½ per cent., and they got the advantage of the 5 per cent. at accumulated compound interest. The second portion which might be said to consist of the workmen of the company, was not compulsory. No workman who received less than £80 a year was compelled to belong to the Superannuation Fund. It was purely a matter of option. They contributed one per cent. and the company added one per cent. In 1893 there were in this second class 2,627 workmen; in 1894 the number rose to 2,885; and in 1895 to 3,556, or an increase in the optional class of 35 per cent. in two years. It was perfectly true that there was a sentimental side to this Bill. It was perfectly true that they hoped, by the establishment of this bank, to bind still closer those friendly relations of their men to themselves, which had always been so prominent in this company. He was proud to say so, because he thought anything that that House could do to bring together employer and employed would best tend to the future glory of their great commercial reputation and enterprise.


thought this Bill was an exemplification of a very great and a growing abuse of statutory powers. A large Corporation such as the Great Northern Railway Company obtained exceptional privileges and advantages for the purchase of land and for a monopoly of the carrying trade upon certain conditions, and these conditions this railway company, like many other railway companies, had systematically and lightly disregarded. Among these conditions one of the most important was that, having obtained certain powers to carry out works, they should complete those works within a limited period; that having obtained rights over certain property they should exercise those rights and satisfy the owners of the property. By the non-fulfilment of these conditions the service of the public was neglected, and the interests of owners and occupiers seriously injured. This he had described as a gross and growing abuse of powers granted by Parliament, and he took the opportunity offered to point out to the House the injustice such Bills as this often inflicted. As far back as 1892, in a Committee upstairs, Sir H. Oakley, the general manager of this company, informed the Members that the suburban traffic to the City had been the trouble of their lives, and that they had been in the throes of suggestion for the last year or more. He said the company were carrying the public very badly indeed, that the trains were overcrowded every night and morning, and they could not help it; the difficulty of dealing with this suburban traffic was a burden on the minds of the managers. This was perfectly true in 1892, and it was a great deal more true now, and anybody who travelled on the line by the morning and evening trains could testify that the condition of things was perfectly disgraceful. In compartments constructed to carry ten persons there were to be found from 12 to 20 persons crowded together, and this, not only in the third, but in the first class carriages. It was not a question of getting a seat on this part of the Great Northern line, but every morning and evening it was simply a struggle for standing room in any form and in any place. In the year 1883, the suburban traffic on the line was reported to be 14 millions of passengers annually. In 1886 the total had gone up to 17 millions, and in 1891 it was 22½ millions, and it had been increasing ever since. Lord Colville, who was Chairman of the company in 1894, said that further provision would have to be made for the conveyance of the enormous suburban traffic, increasing at the rate of a million passengers a year. On these representations the Great Northern Company in 1894 obtained from Parliament very considerable powers to purchase land and to raise new capital for the construction of new lines, especially in the neighbourhood just north of London, in the district called Finsbury Park. They had widened the line in part, but still the traffic had to pass through, as it were, the neck of the bottle, and each year passed without further work being estimated for. They had given notice to occupiers that they were liable to be bought up at any moment, and yet, through 1894, 1895, and 1896 this company had done nothing. The present Chairman of the company, at a meeting held in the present year, stated that the suburban traffic was increasing at the rate of 1½ million passengers a year; and from month to month the difficulty of dealing with this traffic increased. And yet this company, having raised the capital it had power to raise, and having the money in hand for two years, had not moved a single stone to carry out the work it stipulated to complete in three years. The company had not done its duty to the public and not even to its own shareholders; it had inflicted grievous injury on owners and occupiers of property, who had all this time a sort of sword of Damocles suspended over them in the shape of a Schedule, and could not deal with their property, for, of course, no one would deal with it when there was the possibility of the company stepping in and taking possession. The shareholders, too, had good reason to complain, but with these he was not now concerned, his complaint was, that companies having obtained exceptional powers neglected to carry out their work within the stipulated time, and at the end of the time came to Parliament again, as the Great Northern Company did now, for an extension of time for work which they had had ample time for completing, but with which they had made no advance since 1894. It was no use attempting to divide the House on this matter, and he did not propose to do so, but he seized the opportunity to point out the grievous injustice many of these Bills covered, often not properly brought to light in Committee rooms upstairs.


said he did not think the objection could be fairly urged against this Bill that it was a widening of the scope of Railway Bills, and certainly the Savings Bank Clause was not new. Such banks had been established by other companies, and clauses to this effect inserted in Bills. The reason for the clause was that the directors wished the security of those investing should be as good as could be, and it was necessary, therefore, to place before preference and ordinary stock interest, payment of the money deposited in the savings bank. Why the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants should raise objection he could not understand. His hon. Friend (Mr. Fison), had very clearly put before the House the advantages that would accrue to railway servants. As to the objection raised by the last speaker that year after year railway companies came to Parliament for powers to acquire land and did not complete work, it must be borne in mind that these great works were extremely difficult to carry out. Some of the work had been done between King's Cross and Finsbury Park, and anyone who travelled over that part of the line would recognise how heavy and costly the work was. He could not admit the logic of the hon. Member who, admitting the necessity for the work, yet objected to the Bill for the purpose of carrying out the work.


said he had pointed out that the company had had the money for years, but allowed the time to lapse without attempting to complete the work.


said the hon. Member had mentioned the date 1894, and it could not be expected that works of this extensive nature could be executed in the short space of 2½ years.


remarked they were not begun.


said a beginning had been made, but the work had to be divided into sections, and the section to which the hon. Member's remarks referred would be the next work to be undertaken.

MR. G. C. T. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

said the section of the line to which reference had been made was within his constituency. He urged the company to proceed with their work with all possible dispatch. Two and a-half years might not be a long period in the history of a railway company, but it was a fairly long period for ordinary mortals to suffer from the extreme inconvenience to which passengers were subjected by the overcrowding on the line and at the stations near Finsbury Park. He was a little surprised to hear the remark from the other side that it was not the business or object of a railway company to look after its servants and see that they had facilities for thrift and other means of improving their position. It seemed to him in these days that the putting in of a clause of this kind for the promotion of thrift and better habits on the part of the working classes ought to be one of the highest aims of great employers of labour. Railway companies had enormous advantages given them, as they had such large staffs of workmen; and surely the House ought to encourage them in every possible way to provide for the sickness and old age of the workmen in their employment.

MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)

asked whether, in the event of a workman being dismissed for his connection with a strike, he would receive any benefit from the savings bank?


Yes, certainly.


inquired if there was any statutory obligation to that effect. A second question was, Would a man who was dismissed for his association with a strike receive any benefit at all from the provident society connected with the Great Northern Railway, to which he might have contributed liberally for years?


Does the hon. Member mean the Superannuation Fund?




said there was a rule in connection with the Superannuation Fund by which a member practically got back his money. As to whether there was a statutory obligation he was afraid he could not answer.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.