HC Deb 29 April 1903 vol 121 cc873-900
MR. LOUGH (Islington, W.)

said his object in laying this subject again before the House was to bring the work upon which they had been engaged for so many years to a satisfactory conclusion. The London County Council and other local authorities were deeply interested in the question of workmen's trains, but owing to the difficulties which surrounded it they had been able to make only slight progress for many years in giving any reform. He therefore to-night made a suggestion in the shape of the Resolution which he had placed upon the Paper, which he hoped would commend itself to the House. He asked that a Committee might be appointed to inquire into the working and the administration of the Cheap Trains Act, 1883, and to report whether any, and, if so, what, Amendments were necessary to improve the service of workmen's trains in the Metropolis and elsewhere, and to secure the provision of the accommodation required by workmen by all railway companies.

The Cheap Trains Act, upon which this Resolution was founded, was an Act which was generally misunderstood, because the condition of the railways had so entirely changed within the last twenty years. Many of those interested in workmen's trains thought that the Act of 1883 established the necessity for running these trains, but that was not the only object of the Act. One object of that Act was to relieve the railway companies from liabilities on certain conditions. Previously to the passing of this Act the railway companies were liable to a passenger duty of 5 per cent. on all their tickets, and the Act was very favourable to the companies in the respect that it relieved them from this huge responsibility. At the time the Act was passed they were paying a passenger duty of £700,000, and if that duty had I continued to be payable they would now be paying £1,250,000, but as a matter of fact the amount now paid was £300,000 or £350,000 a year; therefore the railway companies had a relief, which went to the benefit of their revenue account, of something like £1,000,000 under the Cheap Trains Act of 1883. Now, if they had this relief it was important that the conditions under which it was obtained should be observed. On of those conditions was that sufficient accommodation should be given for third-class passengers at a fare not exceeding one penny per mile. He mentioned this fact because Members could hardly credit without it the fact that the railway companies, twenty years ago, were reluctant to make even such a concession. If it had been to the benefit of the companies one would have supposed that they would have reduced their fares without any stimulus, but that was a thing that the companies never did, and yet the third-class fares at a penny per mile, which was forced upon them, were most profitable to them. The second condition under which that relief was given was that proper and sufficient accommodation, by means of workmen's trains, should be furnished where such service was required. This was the obligation to which he desired to direct attention. That was one of the conditions on which this great relief of passenger duty was given, and while the companies had been most anxious to have that relief they had not fulfilled the conditions under which it was given.

The machinery of the Cheap Trains Act was most cumbrous. It was true that the Board of Trade could, if satisfied that there was not sufficient accommodation, order the company to provide it, but the company might insist upon taking the matter before the Railway Commission, which was a most expensive tribunal. The Cheap Trains Act provided that this accommodation by means of workmen's trains should be provided before eight o'clock in the morning and after six o'clock at night, but those provisions had become antiquated, and were not suited to the classes they were intended to benefit. The return journey by the workmen was not now performed after six o'clock in the evening. The longest part of that Act provided for cheap rates for the use of His Majesty's Forces, and in all respects save one the Act had been a great success. The part which dealt with workmen's trains was the only part in which it had been a failure, and it was in that respect that he desired to get it amended. During the twenty years since the passing of the Act there had been a total change in the time required. Workmen could no longer live near their work, and it was necessary that they should be carried to and from their work every day at times suitable to them.

The solution of the housing question rested, to a great extent, on suitable provision being made by the railway companies for the conveyance of the working classes, and that was shown by the Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, which said— In the public interest railways must carry workmen at whatever they can afford to pay. Nobody denied that circumstances had changed and that these cheap workmen's trains had now become an absolute necessity. A Return in London was issued every year by the London County Council showing the number of trains which carried workmen in and out every day in the year. When the Act was passed, on the Great Eastern there were only twenty-three workmen's trains; they now ran 112. The London and South-Western then only ran twelve; they now ran seventy-five. The Metropolitan ran only twelve; they now ran seventy six. The District only ran eight or nine; and they now ran sixty-nine. That proved the tremendous growth in the demand, and also that some efforts had been made on the part of various companies to meet it. There came into London every day 801 workmen's trains, and 177 half-fare trains, or a total of 978 cheap trains, and the House would gain some idea of the enormous magnitude of the question when he told them that over the whole country something like 100,000,000 workmen's tickets were issued every year.

It might be argued that the statements he had made showed that there was no difficulty in meeting the demand, and no room for this Motion, but the fact was that the development of the service had really created new and great difficulties, and it was for that reason that he thought that the House might be able to do something to smooth the way in certain respects by consenting to this Committee. The workmen's trains had been furnished very unequally. There was no adequate service except on a few of the lines. For example, the Great Eastern gave a much better and more efficient service of workmen's trains than any other company. But the result was that at stations served by that line, a state of congestion arose which rivalled that of London itself. In the districts of Tottenham and Edmonton and other places the rates were as high as in London, and the death rate was quite as high, and the condition of these colonies of workmen on the Great Eastern system was as bad as it was before they moved out of London at all. It was a curious thing that most of the complaints had been made with regard to those companies which, at the first blush, would seem to have done their best in these Services, but the fact was that workmen had been tempted to live in these districts because the service existed, and when the population increased that had given rise to great difficulty.

On the Great Eastern and the London and Tilbury line there was a most disgraceful overcrowding. So great was it that it was a common thing for small boys, telegraph messengers and the like, to be put up on the hat racks and carried in that way because the number of the trains was totally inadequate No separate accommodation was made for women, and the overcrowding was a disgrace to civilisation. This resulted in many people coming up to work an hour or two before it was necessary. There were other forms of tyranny with regard to these services of workmen's trains; for instance, his attention had been drawn to a ticket which was issued for one of these services. These tickets were issued by the week in bundles, and upon the particular ticket which he had in his hand there was a mark which showed that it was available only for one of two trains, and if the person who had it did travel by any other or get his money back.

When these matters were considered, hon. Members would be bound to agree that, even in face of the service that was given, there was no adequate accommodation. What was the reason for these evils, and how were they to deal with the difficulties which he had described? There were only certain railways which furnished the accommodation, and a great number of railways in the north and west of London furnished no trains at all. While the Great Eastern Railway gave 120 trains a day, the Great Northern Railway only ran twelve trains a day; the Midland five, and the Great Central none at all. Though the congestion existed only in one part of the suburbs, the other districts round London were inaccessible to workmen, even if the houses were built, because they had no travelling accommodation. No company would argue that they should not supply a train where the workmen were, but they might well argue that here was a case where the workmen were not, and that was the point to which he wished to come—that was the problem he wished the Committee to solve. The suggestion which he desired to make was that before eight o'clock in the morning railway companies should be compelled to issue workmen's tickets by ordinary trains; so that, if only twelve or twenty tickets were wanted they could be furnished, and thus the traffic might be gradually developed, which might presently warrant a special train for itself as provided by the Act of 1883. That suggestion had been made before, and that suggestion he now repeated. The Act only spoke of trains; he spoke of tickets. When he made this suggestion to the House before, there was a distinguished representative of the rail way companies present, who was now in the House of Lords, but who then moved the rejection of the Cheap Trains Bill of 1900. That gentleman, Mr. Jackson, in the course of his speech, said with regard to that suggestion— If that suggestion had come before me on a former occasion, I would have given it what I will give it now, the most favourable consideration. And he went on to suggest that the solution of the difficulty might be found on that basis. Not only had speculative promises been made to consider this matter, but certain companies had already adopted this system. The South-Eastern and Chatham line already issued tickets at workmen's rates, available by all its trains up to eight o'clock, and the Great Western Railway had adopted the same system, issuing workmen's tickets up to 7.30. Under those circumstances, it was ridiculous to say that the railway companies could not meet the Committee if such a suggestion was made.

The experience of those who were interested in this matter showed that the difficulties raised by the railway companies had been much exaggerated. In one case the London Reform Union had brought an action against the Great Northern Railway Company, and had convinced the Railway Commissioners that a service ought to be given, but the Railway Commissioners were so struck by the arguments of the company that they only made a provisional order for six months that two trains should be supplied. When the trains were put on the passengers were counted, and it was found that in the first train there were 250 passengers, while in the second there were 449 who travelled every day, and when those figures were worked out, the average daily receipts per train mile of those two trains was found to be 52.75 of a penny, a result which showed that these two trains were more profitable than the ordinary third class traffic of the Company. Indeed so profitable were they, that at the end of six months no suggestion was made to take them off, and the service, has been continued to this day.

The Manchester Corporation had made an inquiry of the same kind. The railway companies round Manchester also objected to put on cheap trains, and the Manchester Corporation made an inquiry into the rates which the companies round Manchester charged for third-class season tickets issued for the year, and they found that the season tickets were issued at .176 of a penny per train mile, while the average by workmen's tickets worked out at .263 of a penny per train mile, so that the companies really would find these workmen's trains much more remunerative than the service which they furnished at the present time. The House therefore need not hesitate to bring pressure to bear upon the railway companies and he might point out that there were precedents for it, because whenever a new Tramways Bill passed the House, a model clause was forced from the company to give that accommodation which he now asked should be furnished by the railway companies. All the new Tube Railway Bills for London, which have recently been passed by this House, contain such a clause. He thought that was some evidence that the course they were suggesting could be adopted by the railway companies without injury to their other arrangements. If new companies could afford to do it why could not the old ones?

He had only to add that the Resolution, in his opinion, was an exceedingly moderate one. All they did was to ask for an inquiry. There had been no inquiry for twenty years, and if they had one now it would be open to the companies to state their views and difficulties after the workmen had made their claims. He had every hope that the result of such an inquiry would be to find a solution of the difficulty and help to solve other great social problems. He hoped that the Amendment, which he admitted was not conceived in any hostile spirit, would not be pressed. He was simply asking for accommodation which could be given without the necessity for running new trains, while the Amendment asked for new trains to be run. He appealed to the President of the Board of Trade, who had shown his sympathy in this matter, and who was placed on the horns of a dilemma, having on one side the railway companies and on the other side the working classes, to give favourable consideration to the Motion.

CAPTAIN NORTON (Newington, W.)

said that in seconding the Motion he desired, in the first instance, to dissociate himself altogether from any wish to see anything unfair in the slightest degree urged against the railway companies. He fully realised that those people who had invested their savings in these companies, under the aegis of the Government, had as much right to protection from the House as those who travelled by their lines. But he thought the House would realise that, owing to the change which had taken place since the Act now in operation was passed, it was desirable something should be done in the interests of both the railway companies and of the working men throughout the country. When the first Bill dealing with that question was brought before the House of Commons, by no less important a personage than that great statesman, Sir Robert Peel, he said that nothing but hard necessity would induce him to derive income from locomotion, and he added that the poor man's labour was his capital, and to tax him for bringing it into the market seemed to him impolitic and unjust. He took it there was a great necessity for something to be done, because, bound up with this question of cheap transit, were the questions of housing, wages, and hours of toil, which could not possibly be dissociated from it In dealing, therefore, with the Resolution, they were really dealing practically with the basis of all their great social difficulties at the present moment. He knew it was urged that, because a certain number of people were obliged to live near their work, there would be no relief so far as housing was concerned. But he thought quite the contrary was the case. The fact that men employed in given trades must live in the vicinity of their work made it all the more desirable that those who could live a certain distance away should be induced to do so. The complaint which they had to make against the Board of Trade was not that it had not closely followed the letter of the law, but that it had not made any sufficiently strenuous attempts to assist the working classes in this direction, and that it had not taken the initiative, although the Royal Commission on Housing held that it was its duty to do so.

In regard to this very problem the last occasion on which His Majesty the King spoke, prior to his ascent to the Throne, he stated that he felt the deepest personal interest in the question, and even the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom they were now told to look upon as the good fairy of the Conservative Government, had stated that the only solution of the difficulty was the finding of sites so that the people could live outside London. One of the reasons why they considered that this question should be now dealt with was to be found in the different action taken by different railway companies. As had been pointed out by his hon. friend, the Great Eastern Railway Company took a man out to Enfield and back, a distance of twenty-one and-a-half miles, at a cost of Is. per week, or 2d. per day, while on certain other lines serving the same district the charge was two or three times that amount. He was well aware that the Great Eastern Company was exceptionally placed and had to deal with a very large traffic. It could therefore make it pay. But why could not the other railway companies also make it pay? That fact alone showed the necessity for an inquiry into the position of each company, so that each case might be judged on its merits.

His hon. friend had alluded to the fact that twenty years had elapsed since the question was first dealt with. In that period the growth of London had been altogether extraordinary, and the population had increased at the rate of 40,000 or 50,000 per annum. Between eight and ten thousand houses were built in the London area every year, and, seeing that within the last decade the addition to the population of the Metropolis had exceeded the population of the capitals of either Ireland or Scotland, surely it was time that they tackled the question. In the town of Leicester, where also there had been an abnormal growth in the population, the difficulty had been dealt with in great measure by the very excellent tramway system which had been established there. But in London there were other difficulties to be faced. New trades and occupations had grown up, and now-a-days large numbers of women and young girls, mostly the wives and daughters of well-to-do mechanics, were engaged in certain trades in the Metropolis, and crowded into the City every day. It was of supreme importance that better accommodation should be provided for them. When they reflected that a large proportion of the population of London earned only about £1 a week, and that many even had to pay one-seventh of their income for railway tickets, it must be realised that something ought to be done for them. Some of the railway companies had met their responsibilities fairly; others had not. His hon. friend had referred to the Tilbury case. Now, that particular company, at a time when it was neglecting its responsibilities, was getting as much as £9,000 per annum out of the abatement of passenger duty. He was reminded that they were not doing very much even now. They had traded on the fact that there had been certain difficulties with reference to bridges and level crossings, which had brought them more or less into conflict with the local authorities, and consequently the working classes were placed in a most difficult position. Those who knew anything of London life knew that these classes had a terrible struggle for existence. They had neither the money nor the eisure to enable them to combine in order to bring their case under the notice of the Board of Trade, while the local authorities shirked the duty because they knew they would be forced to go before that expensive tribunal, the Railway Commission. Certain objections were usually urged by the railway companies against doing what they were asked to do. First, they said they could not put on more trains. That was perfectly true, so far as certain railway systems were concerned, but might not a solution be found in the direction of putting on more coaches to certain trains. It had been shown that that would not be unprofitable, because undoubtedly third class traffic was a source of great profit to the companies. He frankly acknowledged that the companies' expenses had increased of late years; that they now had to pay higher wages for shorter hours, and that in addition the travelling public demanded much better accommodation in every form than was required twenty years ago.

The companies suggested that they were sometimes called upon to run trains into the wilderness, into new districts, in the hope that traffic might arise. He did not think, however, that that was altogether the case. The majority of the complaints put forward were not open to that criticism. He would like to refer to cases which had been brought under his notice. The first was with reference to the train service from Thornton Heath. The last workman's train from that place to London Bridge was 7.2 a.m., and to Victoria 7.14. The people of the district made an appeal to the London, Brighton and South Coast Company asking for weekly tickets, monthly season tickets, and third-class season tickets, but the company refused to grant any one of the concessions. It was also asked that the workmen's tickets should be made available up to 8 a.m., the same as on the London and South-Western Company's line, but that concession was likewise refused. He was informed by the persons aggrieved that the Member for the Division (Mr. Ritchie) had been approached in the matter, but had replied that he could not do anything. Now he would give them a case from the country. It was in the Rhondda Valley, where there was a large congestion of population. Yet nine miles off 1,300 houses were vacant, and although the Barry Railway Company had been appealed to again and again to run a cheap train morning and night in order to enable people to occupy those houses, it had so far turned a deaf ear to all representations. Another objection raised by the company was that persons who were not entitled travelled by the workmen's train. To his mind that was one of he reasons why they should have an investigation. It was not impossible to overcome the difficulty. It had been done in other countries. In Belgium the working man could travel within the twenty-five miles zone on a weekly ticket for the sum of 1s. 8d., and he could travel a distance of eight miles for the sum of 1Od. per week. Special facilities, too, were provided for the carriage of his bicycle. The men who took advantage of those tickets had to prove they were manual labourers working under the direct on of others. He did not say that a similar system would be suited to this country, but in France a plan obtained which might be made applicable here. There only men travelled by these trains who were not taxed upon more than 2,000 francs (or £80) a year. These were men in practically the same position as non-payers of income tax in this country. There were undoubtedly large numbers of men here who ought to have the privilege of travelling by the cheap trains who were not engaged in manual labour, for instance, shop assistants, clerks, etc.

Again, he thought something might be done to cheapen the cost of appeals. He could not agree that railway and tram companies stood on practically the same footing in this matter, because it should be remembered that tram lines travelled over public property and paid no rates. But he was fortified in all he had said by the fact that he had the Prime Minister on his side. Some time ago, when this matter was under discussion, he wrote some letters to the Press, and one appeared from the Prime Minister pointing out, in connection with the housing question, that his view was that the solution was to be found in the improvement of locomotion. The right hon. Gentleman referred particularly to radiating causeways or thoroughfares. Of course, they could not wait for the establishment of these, as many years must elapse before a system of that kind could be developed, but in the meantime the pressure in London in regard to the housing difficulty was enormous, and he ventured to urge that the Government might very reasonably grant an inquiry, which would place things on a fair basis, both for the railway companies and for the workers, until an ideal system could be developed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the working and administration of the Cheap Trains Act, 1883; and to report whether any, and, if so, what, Amendments are necessary to improve the service of workmen's trains in the Metropolis and elsewhere and to secure the provisions of the accommodation required by workmen by all railway companies."—(Mr. Lough.)

MR. STUART-WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

said he was sure the House would recognise the moderation of the tone in which the Motion had been brought forward and the adequate recognition of the great difficulty in the way of anything like a very drastic treatment of the subject. So far as he was qualified to speak for the railway companies, he might say that they really courted inquiry on this question, and the only point was as to the conditions under which the inquiry should take place, what should be the terms of reference, and what matters should be taken to be assumed and pre-judged before the inquiry was entered upon. For that purpose it was necessary to have regard to some of the difficulties which the inquiry would have to face at its start. The hon. Member who brought the Motion forward had spoken as if it were the fact that the remitted passenger duty had found its way entirely into the pockets of the railway shareholders. But that was very far from being the case. Nearly the whole of it went into the pockets of the passengers. He believed that the difference between the actual amount remitted and the sum which found its way into the pockets of the passengers was infinitesimal, and even that small advantage was more than absorbed in the reduction of fares for the carrying I of His Majesty's forces at low rates, and in the provision of workmen's trains.

The hon. Member for Islington had complained that the machinery under the existing Acts was cumbrous. If that were so the railway companies were not to blame, but it was, of course, a proper subject for enquiry. With regard to the complaints of overcrowding and the necessity for issuing season tickets or tickets for short periods, they ought also to have the full facts investigated. Then, as to the failure to start workmen's trains right up to eight o'clock in the morning, looking at the statute he did not see there was any obligation on the companies to do anything of the kind. Next, with regard to the comparison drawn between the mile receipts for ordinary and for workmen's trains, he did not think the figures quoted to the House should stand unchallenged, because it should be remembered that the receipts were worked out with regard to the whole system, and that while some parts of lines cost, for construction, but a small sum per mile, another piece of line might have cost at least £1,000,000 sterling. The railway companies had more than endeavoured to fulfil their statutory obligations in this matter. His information was that the Great Eastern Company, which had been required by Parliament to run five workmen's trains, had really run 189 trains; the Brighton Company, which was required to run none, nevertheless ran sixty-nine; the Central London Company, which was required to run "a sufficient number," had run fifty-five; the South-Western, which was required to run none, had run 133; the North London, required to run one, had run thirty-nine; and the Metropolitan, required to run two, had run 100; and so forth. If that was the spirit in which the companies had met their obligations, it was a sufficient guarantee that they would do all they could to assist the House to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion to the inquiry. The suggestion which he had to make, and which he hoped would be received in the friendly spirit in which it was submitted, was that after the words "amendments are" in the Motion the words "reasonable and" should be inserted, thus instructing the Committee to report what amendments were reasonable and necessary to improve the service of workmen's trains. This would prevent the inquiry being obliged to go into such suggestions as that people should be carried at the rate of 4d. for forty miles, or that the companies should be required to exploit and develop, at their own risk, new districts of a purely speculative character.

He moved the Amendment.

Amendment proposed— After the word 'are,' to insert the words 'reasonable and.'"—(Mr. Stuart-Wortley.)

MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)

congratulated his hon. friend both on the moderation of his statement and on the way in which it had been received by the representatives of the railway companies. He wished to point out that the question of providing workmen's trains was only a part of the subject. They must all recognise that their railway accommodation had become quite inadequate to carry the great and increasing traffic which had been thrown upon it. The question was one of the first importance to the railway companies themselves; it was a question which involved great expense, and, above all, it was a question which affected the condition and the health of the poorer part of the population. It might, therefore, be thought worth while to consider whether a larger scope might not be given to the proposed inquiry. He was not going to make any Motion to that effect, because if it was done it should be done at the suggestion of the Government. They were now approaching an era as important in the matter of communication as that which arose between 1830 and 1846, when the foundation of the railway system was laid. They had brought a new motive power into action, electricity, which was beginning to compete with steam, and which, in some countries, had reached a far greater development than that which had taken place here. In Lombardy, round Milan, and in Boston, in America, there had been great development of the electric system of communication, such as was quite unknown in England, but nevertheless, owing to the development of additional traffic the railways had not been seriously affected. What was wanted in England was a system under which provision should be made for long distance travelling at high speed with few stoppages, and also for traffic with frequent stoppages, which latter could best be done by electric trams. He did not himself believe that these means of rapid and cheap communication would be the ultimate solution of their difficulties on this question; he looked more to the transfer of industries from the crowded cities to healthier surroundings, where towns could be laid out in more healthy conditions, but he believed that more rapid means of travel would be a partial remedy. He suggested, therefore, that it might be desirable that the inquiry should be empowered to go into the larger aspects of the question, so as to cover, for other communities, a field similar to that being covered for London by the London Traffic Commission.


said the question of facilitating communication between great centres of population and the country districts was fully recognised as one of enormous importance, and he also recognised that it had an important bearing on the subject immediately before the House. At the same time he thought it would be a pity to mix up the greater question with the narrower, but undoubtedly germane, question of the amendments which it might be desirable to introduce into the Act of 1883 with the view of doing what they could to solve the problem by means of that legislation. There appeared to be practical unanimity in the House with respect to the advisability of an inquiry of this kind. He entirely agreed. It was twenty years now since the Act was passed, and he thought it was high time there should be an inquiry. At the same time, he should like to say on his own behalf that he did not think too much should be expected of the inquiry which the hon. Member proposed. He did not think, as a matter of fact, that experience had shown that the administration of the Act had been a failure. He did not think hon. Members could point to any case, for instance, where a primâ facie case had been made out of insufficient and inadequate provision of trains by a railway company in which the Board of Trade had not immediately expressed its willingness to inquire into the subject, and, where inquiries had taken place, they had, in the vast majority of cases, resulted in an order being made, and being loyally observed by the railway companies, for the provision of a larger number of workmen's trains. If they took the last five years alone there had been 38 applications under the Act, and out of these all but seven, he thought, were successful. The hon. Member who moved the motion himself bore witness in effect to the successful working of the Act, because he told the House that there were now no less than 801 workmen's trains running daily into the Metropolis, and that 100,000,000 workmen's tickets were issued every year. It might be that the problem still remained to be solved; but what these figures showed was not that the Act of 1883 had not so far been successful, but rather the enormous magnitude of the problem, and he suggested that it was not to the Act of 1883 alone, or to an Amendment of that Act, that they could look for a final or satisfactory solution of this problem. He was sure, and he thought any inquiry would prove, that in a large number of cases it was really physically impossible for the great railway companies to do more than they had done. They must look for the solution of this question to the development of other forms of traction. As regarded the Metropolis, the question was already before the Royal Commission; and he trusted that a great many of the matters which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen would wish to see inquired into, as they affected every large centre of population, would be inquired into. As regarded the Metropolis, it was to tramways, tube railways, and other means of communication they must look for a final, or at all events, a more satisfactory, solution of the problem. But, as he had said, he recognised that there were a great many matters which, after twenty years experience, might be usefully inquired into. He was not prepared, however, to say off hand that he should concur in the suggestions made by the hon. mover of the Amendment, though, of course, those suggestions were matters which it would be proper to bring before the inquiry which was about to take place. Both the mover and the seconder of the Motion appeared to think the merits or demerits of a company could be measured by the number of workmen's trains that it ran. That was a most misleading criterion. It was not, under the existing law, the duty of a railway company to provide accommodation for a traffic that did not exist, or for a speculative traffic. While he was not prepared to assert it might not be desirable that in some way or another means should be taken either to induce or to compel railway companies to provide for a traffic before that traffic existed, to provide speculatively, if that were done he was most distinctly of opinion that it ought not to be done at the expense of the railway shareholders. Various ways might be suggested. Local authorities might be empowered, where they considered it was desirable to encourage a traffic, to make a grant-in-aid to the railway companies. Or the owners of house property might make arrangements with the railway companies, by which the tenants of houses owned by them should be taken to and from their work at very low rates. But, in any case, having regard to the bargain which was entered into between the State and the railway companies in 1883, if the railway companies were to be compelled to run trains before those trains were likely to be remunerative, some means should be found by which the burden ought not to fall upon the shareholders. That was one of the matters which he thought might very properly be inquired into by a Committee. There were others which suggested themselves to him, but, in view of the unanimous feeling shown on both sides of the House, he did not think it was necessary that he should take up the time of hon. Members further. He would only say that the Government gladly and willingly accepted the Motion.

MR. BRIGG (Yorkshire, W. R. Keighley)

said he desired to bring before the notice of the House one of the seven applications which had been refused by the Local Government Board, and he would then leave it to the House to say whether some further inquiry should have been made. The case he alluded to was that of a town where it was thought necessary to have an inquiry held by the Board of Trade. Many Bills had been introduced for cheap trains, but none had ever come to anything. In the case he referred to he advised the parties to make an application to the Board of Trade to ascertain if something could not be done. There were about 1,000 persons going to work every day who were concerned, and the price for travelling was about ½d. per mile. This might be considered low, but compared with other countries it was about one-half more. In this case, the Board of Trade held an inquiry and the railway companies were represented. It was very conclusively shown that the workmen were wanted, and that the high coat of the train fare had a very serious result in reducing the number of apprentices, because, as they would have to begin with very low wages, the railway fares made it almost impossible to allow those boys to travel to and fro in order to learn a trade. It was also shown that if the railway companies lowered the fares it would in the end have the effect of benefiting the companies. The whole matter was submitted to the Board of Trade, and they came to the conclusion that nothing could be done. He had great pleasure in supporting the Resolution before the House for the purpose of having a further inquiry into this matter in order to facilitate better communication between towns and country places.

MR. CLAUDE HAY (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said if there was such unanimity in the House of Commons, and outside as to the necessity for an inquiry into the working and administration of the Cheap Trains Act, surely the Board of Trade, who were in possession of all the information upon the question, need not have waited for a Motion in the House in order to come to the conclusion that this matter was ripe for inquiry. The same inaction had characterised the Board of Trade in regard to the necessity for an inquiry into the question of the London traffic. That was a matter which was urgent in the highest degree, but it was not until the antiquated procedure of the House of Commons had brought the matter to his notice, that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade discovered that the question was so urgent as to become the subject of a Royal Commission. He regarded with some suspicion the adjective introduced into the Motion, for he knew that in practice the word "reasonable" very often became unreasonable. The Motion before the House was one which affected not merely workmen, but a class who were no better paid than mechanics, namely, clerks. He hoped the Committee to be appointed would be careful to see that no definition was accepted which would exclude the clerks, who deserved as much as workmen the benefits of cheap transit. The point which the right hon. Gentleman for Aberdeen had raised, as to whether this Commission should not take a much wider scope, was one which he begged the House to further consider. He was aware this was a very great subject, but if it embraced the various subjects which had been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, they would gain a lasting advantage from having before them materials to decide what measures were necessary to get the railway companies to do something to remove congestion from our towns. He hoped that not much more than a year would elapse before a substantial improvement was made in the law in regard to cheap transit for the working classes.

MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)

said he wished to say two or three words to remove some misconception which he thought might otherwise arise from the speech of the mover of this Motion. The question affected the London suburban lines far more than the Trunk lines converging on the Metropolis. He had the honour of being the Chairman of a railway company in London which carried the largest number of workmen—he referred to the District Railway. This railway ten years ago only carried, of its 45,000,000 passengers, 3,000,000 workmen under the Cheap Trains Act. The policy had recently been instituted of encouraging the workmen to travel by extending the time for booking, by giving them the opportunity of travelling by every train run by the Company up to eight o'clock, and by permitting them to return, not after six o'clock, when the trains were congested, but practically at any time of the day. It was more convenient to have the workmen coming back even in the middle of the day than to have them crowding into the trains at busy times. The trouble was that everybody wanted to come home at the same time. There would be no difficulty at all if the period of return home were only extended over a longer time. The result of this sound economic policy was that, instead of carrying 3,000,000 workmen under the conditions of ten years ago, the company last year carried 10,500,000 of workmen over the District Railway alone, the average cost being a trifle over three farthings each. He wished to point out to some of his friends who so warmly advocated cheap fares that this meant that the railway company practically worked for twenty-seven minutes for each working man passenger, for this was the average length of his journey for three farthings. If they asked any working man to work twenty-seven minutes for three farthings he would refuse to do so. He thought, however, that the Committee ought to consider the interests of the shareholders to some extent. He knew railway shareholders were not very popular with some sections of his hon. friends, and shareholders in other industries appeared to receive far more sympathy. The time might perhaps come when Parliament would fix by statute the price of the commodity sold by some of the industrial limited companies with which some of his friends were acquainted. His right hon. friend the Member for Aberdeen had referred to the traffic in the city of Boston, but he had omitted to state to the House, probably by oversight, that there was no fare in the City of Boston under 5 cents, or 2½d. If the right hon. Gentleman happened to be a shareholder in the railways he had mentioned he would find that the policy of running competitive cheap trains had not been the success; which he had anticipated. The Board of Trade had acted wisely in not widening the scope of the inquiry. Many hon. Members held the view that the principle of favouring a particular class, of the community was not a very sound one. On the District Railway prosperous meat salesmen at Smithfield, fruit buyers at Covent Garden, and even members of the Bar claimed to be bona fide workmen. He asked hon. Members 'to compare this class of passenger claiming to travel an average distance of four miles every morning for ¾d., with the shop girl who had to get to business in Regent Street or a City warehouse by 8.30 in the morning. She was not earning anything like the wages of the class he had mentioned, and yet she was compelled to pay from l—d. to 1¾d. for the same commodity which the railway company was obliged to sell to the workmen at ¾d. Parliament never attempted in the Cheap Trains Act to tell them what a workman was, and if the Committee which had been promised attempted it they would not get their report for many a long year to come. He thought railway companies would have to consider whether the fair and democratic system adopted in the great cities of America, in Vienna, Budapest, Berlin, and Paris is not the right one—namely, to charge a uniform rate for everybody—not to favour a particular class or pander to any section of the community, but to say that everybody shall travel at the tame rate. There was no defence or equitable ground for the present system of carrying 10,000,000 people at ¾d. and put the balance of the cost of working the railway and giving to the shareholders what hon. Members said they ought to have, namely, a moderate return on passengers who could, many of them, not so easily afford to pay a higher rate.

MR. NANNETTI (Dublin, College Green)

congratulated the mover of the Motion upon the unanimity with which his proposal had been received. He wished to know if the term "elsewhere" meant that the inquiry could be extended to Ireland. He urged that the scope of the inquiry should be so enlarged as to allow the advisability of extending the provisions of the Act to Ireland. As an Irishman, he was anxious that the benefits of this Bill should accrue to Ireland, and there was no place in the United Kingdom which required cheap trains so much as the city of Dublin, where the death-rate was nearly as high as any city in the United Kingdom. This was largely due to the overcrowding of the people in the slums of the city. The reason was that they had not the advantage of the provisions of such an Act as this. He appealed to the President of the Board of Trade to extend the scope of the inquiry, so as to enable the Committee to consider the advisability of extending the present Act to Ireland.


said it might seem a little ungracious in the general harmony which prevailed to question the policy of the Motion when a public Department had so readily acceded to the request of his hon. friend. This question raised an important point of principle. The Motion was founded on the suggestion that the existing machinery was inadequate to afford full information to Parliament of the working of the existing Act, and that therefore some further investigation must take place in order that reform might be effected. He did not want in the least degree to mitigate the feeling of congratulation so generally expressed that this Motion had been accepted by the President of the Board of Trade, but he would point out that his hon. friend the Member for West Islington must not congratulate himself too much on the position he now occupied. He was to have a Committee, and when at some time or other the scope of the investigation had been sufficiently widened to take in all the topics suggested, there would no doubt be a report, and if that report proposed some reform in the law, owing to the congested condition of Parliamentary business, the remedy would be thrown over for an indefinite period. He wished to point out that under the existing statute, if the Board of Trade had the courage to apply it, they had a complete remedy for the present state of things. The President of the Board of Trade had indicated the embarrassed position in which he stood owing to the machinery of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman did not seem to have read one of the main clauses. He adopted a construction of one of the sections according to which the railway companies, of their own motion, might throw the duty of inquiry on the Railway Commissioners, and oust the function of inquiry which the statute properly cast upon the Board of Trade. As he himself understood the section, the railway companies had no such right. The Board of Trade had complete control over the investigation which the travelling public demanded.


indicated dissent.


said the words of the section were— The Board of Trade may make such inquiry as they think necessary, or may, if required by the companies, or any of the companies concerned, refer the matter for the decision of the Railway Commissioners—— Therefore, it was a power given to the Board of Trade to refer the matter to the Railway Commissioners if required.


May I ask the hon. and learned Gentleman the meaning of the word "required?"


said the word "required" in that context meant "requested." If Parliament had meant to say that at the request or requirement of a railway company the powers conferred on the Board of Trade were to be displaced it would have used the word "shall" instead of "may." From the acceptance of the Motion by the President of the Board of Trade, he was entitled to infer that the Board considered that insufficient trains were provided, and that inquiry was necessary, and if that was so why did not the Board of their own motion direct that inquiry should take place? Why was Parliament left to move in this matter? He only hoped that this inquiry would give some satisfaction to those interested in the matter, but he would point out that the responsibility of the Board of Trade was not taken away by this. If the inquiry was protracted for months, or it might be years, the evil would exist. He knew a case where a disastrous accident occurred to one of these trains. A number of passengers were killed and a large number injured, and the jury appended to their verdict that the gravity of the accident was largely increased by the gross overcrowding of the train. Why was there not in that case an inquiry directed by the Board of Trade?


It does not follow that the proper cure for that is to run more trains, nor does it follow that that would be possible.


said the statute gave the right hon. Gentleman power to indicate when the trains were to be run, the fares to be charged, and the stations at which the trains were to stop.


I do not wish to bandy words with the hon. and learned Gentleman, but it may be physically impossible between seven and half-past seven to run more than seven trains, and there may be a larger number of workmen anxious to travel than trains can be provided for.


said that was possible, but did the right hon. Gentleman investigate this particular case? That was a purely hypothetical solution which the right hon. Gentleman had stated. Under the Act of Parliament the right hon. Gentleman had sweeping, powers, and his responsibility was not discharged by casting the labour of investigation on a Parliamentary Committee.

MR. WYLIE (Dumbartonshire)

congratulated the hon. Member for West Islington on having stuck to his point, and on the able manner in which he had brought it before the House. The travelling facilities provided for workmen, in view of the conditions of modern life, were of vital importance These facilities were very much bound up with the question of the housing of the working classes. In the county which he represented the question had been very well solved. The two railway companies which served the district were carrying, workmen conveniently and comfortably at the rate of 1d. for thirteen miles, and. he had it on the best authority that the companies were making a handsome profit out of it. Therefore, there need, be no fear that the shareholders would suffer.

MR. JOHN BURNS (Battersea)

said, the House of Commons was extremely indebted to the hon. and learned Member for South Leeds for his intervention in this debate, and for giving the benefit of the experience he had gained in another quarter. Under the Act the Board of Trade had powers which should have been exercised long before this Motion was put on the Paper. It might seem ungracious to look a gift horse in the mouth, but he thought the gift which the President of the Board of Trade had offered might have been given much sooner. He held that overcrowding was a test of insufficiency, whether of trains or platforms, and he saw no reason why third-class passengers should be compelled to travel twelve, fourteen, and sixteen in a compartment, when the first-class were wholly empty, and the second-class only half full. The example of two railway companies, who, in the case of overcrowding, permitted girls and women to get into first and second class carriages in which there was room, might be followed by other companies. The Board of Trade might also impress upon the railway companies that cheap fares pay. Whilst the Committee was inquiring, he hoped the Bills for the extension of electric tramways, promoted by the London County Council and other local authorities for the public convenience, would be supported and not opposed in the short sighted way they had been in the past. He trusted that one result of the discussion would be to instigate the railway companies to do their duty, and that some hon. Members who persistently opposed the Tramway Bills of the London County Council and other local authorities, promoted for the public convenience, would cease from that opposition in the future.


said that with the permission of the House he wished, in response to an appeal made to him by the hon. Member for Staffordshire, to say that the statement with regard to the Great Central Railway Company not running workmen's trains, although literally true, was explained by the fact that they had no suburban traffic, and therefore no facilities for giving the accommodation to which he had referred. He had promised the hon. Baronet to make this explanation, and he very gladly did so.

Ordered, That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the working and administration of the Cheap Trains Act, 1883; and to report whether any, and, if so, what, Amendments are reasonable and necessary to improve the service of workmen's trains in the Metropolis and elsewhere, and to secure the provision of the accommodation required by workmen by all railway companies.