§ [SECOND READING.]
THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. GERALD BALFOUB,) Leeds, Central
, in moving the Second 475 Reading of this Bill, said that its object was to facilitate the introduction and use of electrical power on railways, by enabling railway companies to acquire the necessary powers by means of Board of Trade orders, instead of leaving them to the more expensive and cumbrous process of coming to Parliament. Board of Trade orders already applied to tramways, and, in a modified form, to the case of light railways. The growth of the use of electric traction had been enormous, and more than half of the tramways in the country now used electricity. He was not prepared definitely to assert that a railway company could not, even without such an order, use electric power as a means of traction. The point was somewhat obscure, but in any case, if railway companies had the power, there were many other things relating to the introduction of electricity which could not be done without a Board of Trade order under this Bill, or without an act of Parliament. The first clause authorised a railway company to use electricity in addition to, or in substitution of any other motive power, to construct and maintain generating stations or other electrical works on land belonging to the company, to sanction agreements between the company and any corporation or person for the supply of electrical power, while permitting the company to subscribe to any electrical undertaking which would facilitate the supply of electricity to the company. It was certain that a company could not at present exercise such powers without special authority. He drew attention to a difference between the powers contemplated in Clause 1 and those in Clauses 2 and 3. Under Clause 1 a simple order of the Board of Trade would be a sufficient authority. Clause 2 contemplated the compulsory acquisition of land; and in such a case it was proposed that the Board of Trade order should only be a provisional order, and that the sanction of Parliament should be required for the purpose contemplated. Under the third Clause an appeal to the Railway Commission was allowed for the revision of fares, the provision of additional traffic facilities to the public by means of through booking or otherwise, and for the modification of any working agreement. Obviously the latter was not a power which could be given without 476 adequate safeguards. It was therefore proposed that in such cases a company should be at liberty to apply to the Railway Commissioners, and that without the consent of the Railway Commissioners the order contemplated by Clause 3 should not be effective. Clauses 4 and 5 were merely machinery. He thought that the Bill would be of great benefit in promoting the change, signs of which could already be seen, but which he believed would assume much greater proportions in the near future.
§ MR. BRYCE (Aberdeen, S.)
said the President of the Board of Trade had not exaggerated the importance of endeavouring to make provision for the application of electrical power to the existing railroads. The Bill marked a long step forward in the direction of legislating by delegation to an executive Department. That was, perhaps, an indispensable process, because it was impossible for the House of Commons to undertake directly the enormous mass of work which would fall upon it unless it delegated some of its functions to a subordinate authority, whilst retaining some power of control and overlooking. In the present case they went further than usual, because Clause 1 of the Bill authorised the Board of Trade to make orders for a large number of important purposes without first obtaining the sanction of Parliament. He presumed the orders would be published in the usual way and that they would appear in the volume of the Acts and Orders issued every year, so that there would be no difficulty about bringing them to the notice of the persons concerned. The powers, particularly in Sub-sections (c), (e), and (g), were undoubtedly very large, and it might be considered that they went further than existing precedents. On the balance of advantage, however, he thought the proposal of the Bill was a right one. He did not object to Clause 2, but he thought it right that an opportunity should be given of taking objection by way of petitions, against a Provisional Order Bill, where land was to be taken compulsorily. There was a flaw in Clause 3, which gave power to modify any working agreement although the modification was not agreed to by the other party. He hoped that Clause 3 477 would be used by the Board of Trade to require the companies, as a condition to obtaining the consent of the Board to the desired orders, to give certain additional facilities to the public. It was clear that if the company very much desired to have its orders confirmed, it would be in the power of the Board of Trade to impose conditions, for cases were sure to occur in which conditions in the interests of the public might properly be imposed. The safeguard afforded by that clause was evidently required, and the House would not wish to see it removed. There might be points in the Bill to be considered in Committee, but he was glad to think that the railroads would take steps, as was being done in America, to apply electrical traction, and in that way to work the light railway system in connection with the present railroads. It was clear that the full benefit and value of the light railroad system would not be obtained by this country until the light railways were worked in connection with the great arterial lines. When that was done the better it would be for all concerned, and especially for the agricultural and trading communities, who suffered so largely from the very heavy rates they had to pay for the carriage of produce. In that respect he believed the step contemplated by the Bill was a matter for congratulation to the country, and he was glad that the needs of the case were being appreciated. He hoped that the Bill would have a swift passage through the House.
§ MR. CALDWELL (Lanarkshire, Mid)
said he agreed with what had been said as to the importance and necessity of this Bill. He wished to point out, however, that he thought they might have gone a little further in Clause 2. At the present moment under the Light Railways Act the Board of Trade had enormous powers, and the right hon. Gentleman had unlimited powers to sanction light railways and to take land compulsorily. Surely under those circumstances they might trust the Board of Trade in matters of absolute necessity, such as giving power to take land for the purpose of erecting a generating station, It was necessary in many cases to have a generating station. Why should they interpose a Bill to confirm this when it might 478 cause an enormous amount of delay? He trusted the Board of Trade would get rid of this difficulty. They could hear the parties interested, and then there would only be one place to deal with them. The Board of Trade would find that by granting the Bill in this form they would be doing a great injustice, because they would be opening the door for some person to appeal and compel them to get an Act of Parliament merely because they were going to take a few square yards of ground. He hoped the Board of Trade would not stultify themselves by putting such power in the hands of anyone. Why not adopt the precedent of having a Joint Committee of both Houses? In a trivial matter of land for a generating station why should they run the risk of an inquiry in the House of Commons' and the House of Lords' Committees? Why not have a joint inquiry of both Houses? Really he did not see the necessity of having an Act of Parliament in a matter of that kind. He thought they might leave the matter in the hands of the Board of Trade with perfect confidence. In order to carry out the Act the Board of Trade would have to make rules and lay them before Parliament. That was a matter which the President of the Board of Trade would have to consider very carefully because those rules would have the effect of statutory enactments. He was not hostile to this Bill, but he wanted to see it working effectively.
§ SIR CHARLES RENSHAW (Renfrewshire, W.)
said there were hon. Members who would carefully scrutinise the provisions of Clause 2, in order to see that the owners of property were properly safeguarded. With regard to the first Clause of the Bill it contained matters which would receive every year greater attention, because it was becoming obvious to everyone that they were going to have enormous revolutions, not only in regard to railways but in other forms of locomotion. Whatever steps were taken he hoped the existing rights of the railway companies would be preserved. It was a fact that some of the railways were moving in the direction of electrifying some portions of their system without coming to Parliament. He hoped 479 that whatever rights the railway companies had under the existing law would not be taken away or impaired by this Bill. Under Clause 2 it would be necessary that power should be given to the Board of Trade, carefully protected by an appeal to Parliament, with a view of making it possible to carry out works which were absolutely necessary for the electrification of the line. He hoped that when this Bill was in Committee the proposals in Clause 3 would be dealt with so as to make it absolutely clear that these powers were to apply only to the electrification of railways, otherwise under this Bill they might create the greatest difficulty in the way of operating some of the large railways in the United Kingdom. He welcomed the Bill. He felt it was an indication that the Board of Trade recognised the public necessities in this matter, and he hoped the Bill would become law this session.
MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
said he was sure no one would object to the principle of the Bill. The measure would result in many public advantages, and one result, he hoped, would be a clearer atmosphere in some of our railway trains. There were one or two questions he should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade with reference to the Bill. Clause 1 enabled railway companies to subscribe to any company supplying electric power. It was quite possible that railway companies, who would be large users of electric power in the future, might obtain control of a company by purchasing a majority of the shares, and they would be able to place other consumers at a disadvantage. He thought some provision ought to be inserted to safeguard the rights of the existing electrical companies' shareholders and consumers in this respect. He also directed attention to the provisions of Clause 3 in regard to the power to vary the scale of passenger fares. The provisions in Clause 2 of the Bill were extremely generous to the individual. It protected the rights of property to an extent which he believed was entirely unnecessary. Under Clause 3, on the other hand, an order could only vary the scale of passenger fares and afford additional traffic facilities to the public on a railway company applying for an 480 order. He thought that in view of the great revolution which would take place and make considerable difference in the working expenses of railway companies, those who were interested in the matter from the public point of view should have the power of appealing to the Board of Trade to make such a revision as might appear to be necessary, and particularly that the company should afford additional traffic facilities to the public by means of through bookings or otherwise, or making up different systems, providing junctions, and so forth. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take these points into consideration, but at the same time he felt bound to say that, so far as the principle of the Bill was concerned, it was excellent.
§ MR. CHANNING (Northamptonshire,. E.)
said his hon. friend the Member for Renfrewshire might disabuse his mind as to railway companies being put in the leading strings of the Board of Trade. So far as he understood the Bill it was strictly limited to the electrification of the lines, and the powers proposed to be conferred were limited to that. He agreed with the hon. Member who had just spoken that the provision as to the taking of land in Clause 2 was almost more stringent than was absolutely necessary for the purposes of the Bill. Anyone who had studied the use of electric lines to supplement the great railways in the United States of America, especially in the neighbourhood, must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman most heartily on having introduced this Bill, which would undoubtedly tend to the more rapid development, not only of the railways which had been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South. Aberdeen but the general development of suburban traffic round great towns by means of electricity. He believed that the expenditure of running these trains meant a considerable reduction in the cost of traffic, and English railway companies would thus largely benefit by the facilities given under this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman was therefore rendering great service, not only to the public but to the railway companies. He gathered from the President of the Board of Trade that the orders would not be, when made, immediately laid 481 before Parliament but only presented in an annual report. He thought that was a matter they might take reasonable exception to. It was very important that these orders and regulations with regard to the safety of these lines, the changes in the scales of passenger fares, and so on, should be placed before Parliament, in order that the action of the Board of Trade should be open to the criticism of Members in that House. There were many regulations which it was most important, in the first instance at any rate, Parliament should be able to criticise promptly while there was time to modify them if necessary. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to assent to the proposal that these orders should appear in the annual report on railways. He himself thought it would be better that they should be laid separately before the House of Commons so that Members could challenge the action of the Board of Trade.
§ MR. HERBERT SAMUEL (Yorkshire, Cleveland)
said he thought it was a necessary and useful measure. As to Clause 3, which empowered the Board of Trade, on the application of a railway company, to "vary" the scale of passengers fares, he thought the Board of Trade would clearly not be asked to lower them.
§ MR. HERBERT SAMUEL
replied that it might happen, however, that the Board of Trade would be asked on certain grounds to allow a company to raise the fares or to cease running workmen's trains. Later on in the clause the power of appeal was given to the Commissioners against the decision of the Board of Trade, but that appeal was only allowed to any railway company affected by the proposed change. If the appeal was allowed to railway companies, why not also to the local authorities or other persons representing the public who might object to the raising of the fares. Of course, it might be said that the Board of Trade could be trusted to safeguard the rights of the public. If 482 they could be trusted to safeguard the rights of the public they could surely be trusted to safeguard the rights of the railway companies. If an appeal was desirable in the one case it was also desirable in the other.
§ MR. BRIGG (Yorkshire, W.R., Keighley)
said he felt intense astonishment at the extraordinary scope of the Bill, which remodelled many of the arrangements already made on many railways. Would the President of the Board of Trade include canals as well as railways within the scope of the Bill? They were in an indifferent position, suffered severely from the competition of the railways and he could not see why they should not enjoy the same privileges as the Bill would confer on the railways.
§ MR. GERALD BALFOUR
said he proposed that the Bill should be dealt with in the ordinary way by Committee of the whole House.
§ Bill read a second time and committed for To-morrow.