§ Motion made, and Question proposed "That a sum, not exceeding £184,484, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1908, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and Subordinate Departments."
§ *SIR F. CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said he wished to elicit some 136 further and decisive statement from his right hon. friend with regard to railway rates and charges made to the trading public. He was invited to introduce to his right hon. friend during the last twelve months two very important deputations. In regard to the first, dealing with owner's risk notes and the failure of the railway companies to grant fair alternative rates, a Bill was brought in to deal with the matter, and therefore he would not refer to it further except to express the hope that in the event of that Bill not passing his right hon. friend would hold out some hopes of the question being dealt with in the near future. The second deputation had reference to a combination, initiated in the last year or two, which culminated in a specific agreement between the railway companies in the month of January last, a combination which apparently had for its aim and object an agreement which operated compulsorily on the various companies not to continue to grant to the traders of the country the customary rebates which had been given from time to time purely as the result of a wholesome and healthy growth of competition. The preliminary objection which he took to the agreements that had been arrived at between the railway companies was that they were absolutely secret and inaccessible to the traders of the country. If the traders could obtain accurate details of the charges imposed upon them and the reason for those charges and their disintegration into their separate items, the Board of Trade could put into operation powers in existing Acts which would enable the traders to a certain extent to obtain from the Board of Trade or the railway companies such protection as was necessary. But that was extremely difficult. The policy which seemed to have been arrived at was the withdrawal of the agreements by the railway companies from the knowledge of traders and a determination upon their part to restrain the agents of the companies who were inclined to obtain business by the ordinary method of competition, namely, a reduction of the rate in the districts served by other companies, and to enforce on traders the full rates. The result of the agreements had been to drive up all the rates to the maximum and to deprive the traders of those concessions which they had originally obtained through the competition of 137 the companies. He saw in this the beginning of a combination of irresistible capitalism to control the interests of trade solely in the interests of vast groups of capital such as President Roosevelt had been opposing with splendid vigour in the interests of the general trading public of the United States. He urged the President of the Board of Trade in the same way to check this policy of secret, illicit, and illegal combination now at its inception. The traders only knew that the rebates and concessions which they had enjoyed for years had been withdrawn, and that rates wore being screwed up to the highest point which the Acts of the companies enabled them to charge. What they said was that the railway companies were adopting a secret policy of consolidation, and of endeavouring to withdraw themselves from the control of Parliament and the Board of Trade, as well as to obtain the advantages of amalgamation without coming to Parliament, and thus giving an opportunity of fair conditions being imposed, and they wore thus depriving the traders of the opportunity of obtaining the protection that they required. He asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not, under the powers he had got, insist on fuller publicity and accessibility being given to the items of railway rates. The right hon. Gentleman would recognise that he had some power in his hands to check the proceedings of the railway companies, although he freely admitted that more power would have to be given to him to deal thoroughly with the evil. What they asked was that power should be given to obtain the publication of and accessibility to the agreements between the railway companies, in order to enable traders to see how far, under the arrangements imposed upon them, they were being deprived of the advantages given under the Act of 1894. The whole of this policy was animated with and illustrated by the policy of the railway companies. Clauses had boon introduced into nearly all their Bills recently in order to obtain practically a monopoly of the cartage in connection with railway traffic. He might just allude to some facts which had recently come before the Royal Commission in regard to this question of cartage, and about the withdrawal of proper information about the rates and their details. It had boon 138 established on a number of facts that the rebates granted by railway companies to traders who did their own cartage themselves or through competing carrier firms were now considerably less than the amount of the charges made by the companies themselves as shown in the items of their station to station rates in respect of cartage services which the railway companies rendered themselves. They therefore wanted greater accessibility to the items of those rates, and he would ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he could not, under the existing Acts, adopt machinery and take steps which would enable him to check that course of conduct. He was informed that in some cases the rebates given were actually only half the charges which were imposed under the collection and delivery rates. That was a very serious thing. It was practically destroying competition, and setting up a preferential system by the railway companies who misused the powers given them by their Acts. The traders of the country would be deeply grateful to his right hon. friend if he signalised the holding of his office by checking this great abuse, and by securing what, he believed, was always the case in other countries, that they should have absolute access to the details of the railway charges, so that the traders might know exactly where they were in respect of all these questions. They asked that the right hon. Gentleman should employ, in regard to the railway companies, some of the same policy, some of the same reasoning which he had so wisely and properly adopted in respect of the wrong and oppressive covenants and agreements in force under the provisions of the Patent Acts which he was remedying in the present session. He invited the right hon. Gentleman to exercise his administrative powers as President of the Board of Trade to deal with this question in the same spirit as that in which he was dealing with the provisions of the Patent Acts. If he found that his powers were insufficient to enable him to deal with the established and recognised grievances of the traders, created by this unfair exercise of the powers of the railway companies, the right hon. Gentleman should not shrink from coming forward to obtain the fullest powers to deal with the evils.
§ *SIR CHARLES McLAREN (Leicestershire, Bosworth)
said that everybody connected with the commercial interests of the country would cordially congratulate his right hon. friend the President of the Board of Trade on the way in which he had administered his Department. He had never heard any complaint against him, and he had handled with tact and discretion the questions which had been left to his administration. Among other matters, he would like to refer to the speech which the right hon. Gentleman made at the opening of the latest tube railway in reference to the position of the Board of Trade as regarded railway questions. Great interest had been excited of late, partly through the Board of Trade, and partly through the Press, on a great many of these questions, and his hon. friend the Member for Northamptonshire had voiced the views, no doubt well founded, of a large section of the community. There was, however, a feeling that railway shareholders were being attacked by all classes of the community; that they were being attacked by the officials of the Board of Trade, and that they were being attacked by the public, who wished to have greater facilities at lower prices; and they had also been the object, which he did not at all condemn, of the very able and temperate appeal of the Member for Derby on behalf of the railway employees. He was quite sure that railway directors were not hostile to any of these classes. They were anxious to do what they could for the public, and they were more than anxious to do what they could for their employees. He saw that his right hon. friend, in receiving a deputation, stated that he was communicating with the various interests, and that he would not fail to boar them in mind. But there was one condition which was essential before the railway companies could do anything, and that was that they must have the money with which to satisfy demands. They must be placed in a position by which they could not only earn more money, but obtain more capital. The right hon. Gentleman was very well advised when he told the public that any legislation proposed by the Board of Trade, or any of their administrative Acts, would not be such as to frighten the investing public from putting their money 140 into these securities. He hoped as far as the Board of Trade was concerned that there would be no encouragement given to any proposal for a reduction of rates or fares, so long as the public were making these demands upon railway directors. He for one would be very glad if the railway companies could increase the wages of their employees and reduce their hours, provided the public were willing to give them a reasonably increased revenue by submitting to a reasonable increase in the railway fares. The question of shipping had boon handled by his right hon. friend. This had been for years one of the most delicate questions with which the House had had to deal. There was nothing but praise for the manner in which the President of the Board of Trade had consulted all the interests concerned, by which means he had succeeded in settling a large number of questions not only important to the traders, but to the shipowners of the country — questions of a quasi-international character, questions which had to be settled in order to put our shipowners in as reasonable a position in British ports as ships sailing under the flags of foreign Powers. His right hon. friend had settled all those questions, and he had never heard anyone give him anything but praise. He wished to say a word about the Blue-books which were issued by the Board of Trade and which contained a valuable amount of information on our current commercial position. He hoped his right hon. friend would continue to publish what was called the Fiscal Blue book, and he thought the staff of the Department could not give too much attention to the elaboration of the figures and analyses of the Returns. It must be the feeling on both sides of the House that the Reports ought to be of a strictly impartial character: that was to say, they should not be used purely for the promotion of views about free trade on the one hand and what was called fiscal reform on the other. They ought plainly to state the facts and leave to the common sense and intelligent criticism of the public the application of those facts and figures in support of or in opposition to the views then under discussion. In addition to those Blue-books there was issued every month a valuable White-book containing the Board of 141 Trade Returns of foreign trade. He thought that might be made more intelligible to the ordinary trader. In the first place there was not a good classification of our exports. They would find among the heads "steel and iron" exports, which included an enormous variety of goods for export, agricultural machinery, steam engines, textile machinery, and a number of other descriptions of articles; but what was required was amore elaborate sub-division or classification of those goods in order to make the Returns more useful to traders. If they turned to the countries to which our goods were exported, he was surprised that more attention had not been given to the matter. Canada, our premier Colony, for instance, in a largo number of the references was actually not mentioned at all, but was simply grouped under the head of "other countries." That was absurd, at a time when so much attention was being devoted to Colonial interests, and when Canada herself was doing all she could to secure in Canada British interests instead of American interests. He thought it was absurd that the official returns should make no mention of Canada at all, but that she should be grouped with such countries as Monte Video and Uruguay. When they turned to Australia, no information at all as to the several Colonies was given. He thought they ought to have in the case of each country, however unimportant it might be, and of each Colony, a proper statement where that was possible. One other fault he had to find with the White-book had reference to the system by which the value of exports and imports was stated. The value of exports was given f.o.b., that was "free on board" at the port of export; but the imports were entered at the price at which they arrived, and not f.o.b. at the port from which they had been exported, which meant that commission, freight, and insurance were added to the price. That was a totally misleading set of figures. The real value of goods was not what it was on board ship at Cardiff or Liverpool but their value at the port of destination. They were sold to a merchant in the foreign ports and the price of the freight and insurance should be added. The system adopted was not the right way of dealing with these figures, and whatever rule was adopted it should be 142 similar in each case. The present method made the value of the export trade less and the import trade apparently much greater than it really was, and those fallacies gave rise to wrong deductions. One half of the revenue obtained from shipping freights, insurance, and merchants' profits was excluded from the Blue-books. Although the Consular Reports published by the Foreign Office did not come within the scope of the Board of Trade, he believed the powers of that Department were wide enough to enable his right hon. friend to take some steps to assist British commerce abroad. If a Vote was asked for this purpose he felt sure it would be granted, and then the right hon. Gentleman could establish Board of Trade agents to take the place of the Foreign Consular agents, who were of very little use to British traders. They were often of German nationality and they did not take up the case of the British trader in the way the German representatives did. The right hon. Gentleman would do a great service to British trade if he would institute some system of trained commercial agents, thoroughly acquainted with foreign languages and commerce, to represent this country abroad. They wanted a class of men who would not turn up their noses at tradesmen and who would be prepared to put their shoulder to the wheel to further British trade. In spite of all drawbacks this country had succeeded in building up a splendid foreign trade. For the month of May only, our imports had increased by over £5,000,000, and our exports by over £9,000,000, as compared with 1905. This year for a period of five months our imports had increased £51,000,000 and our exports £43,000,000, of which £35,000,000 were manufactured goods. That meant an enormous prosperity in the trade of the country. It should be noted that this was trade carried on in a legitimate way, without any undue forcing up of prices, and resting upon a solid foundation, although we could not hope to always maintain prices at their present level. There was no reason, however, to suppose that we were on the eve of any very great slump such as had been witnessed in years gone by, due to speculative movements which had rushed up prices to a point which they had never reached before and ought never to have reached. With regard to raw material, of iron ore we imported 143 during the same period 153,000 tons as against 123,000 tons. That spoke volumes for the prosperity of the iron trade. The increase in the imports of wool was £21,000,000 as against £14,000,000; hides 197,000 cwts. as against 145,000 cwts.; boots and shoes £800,000 as against.£700,000;and hosiery and thread, which so largely affected the Midlands, £39,000,000 as against £33,000,000. Cotton exports amounted to £45,000,000 as against £37,000,000. Those figures showed that we were enjoying a trade boom, and this was particularly the case in the coal, coke, iron, and steel trades. The woollen and worsted trades showed £14,000,000 against £12,000,000, whilst coal and coke for the period of five months this year showed an export trade of 25,000,000 as against 19,000,000 tons two years ago. As for value the price received was exactly one-half more than the price received two years ago. What was true of our foreign trade was equally true of our home trade. When they got the figures 'of the census of production they would have something definite to go upon. There was no doubt that the consumption of goods by the working-classes and the middle classes in this country never was so great as today, and the working men of France, Germany, and Italy compared very un-favourably with English workmen as consumers of home products. As regarded fuel, clothing, furniture, and luxuries the English workman consumed more than the working man of any other country in the world except the United States of America, and employment and wages had never before been so continuously good as during the last three or four years. He desired to congratulate the Labour Party upon the way they had handled the difficult problems arising out of disputes between employers and employed. The establishment of a Conciliation Board had been of enormous value to our trade. In this way disputes had been prevented, more especially in the coal mining industry, and that had given confidence to coal owners, enabled them to sell forward, and permitted buyers to buy without fear of a stoppage of the collieries and the disastrous consequences which always followed strikes and lockouts. They had now established a system which for a long time to come would enable them to settle these disputes in a 144 business-like way. The result had been an enormous output of coal and an enormous increase in our export of coal to foreign countries. Some people looked upon that as not being any sign of prosperity and argued that it was wasting our national resources. But coal was one of the most highly manufactured articles produced in this country. It had no raw material behind it which had to be paid for; the only raw material was really the royalty which had to be paid to the landlords. In that respect it was not like cotton or the leather used in the shoe-making trade. In the case of coal it was labour from first to last, and, what was more, it was highly paid and mostly skilled labour. Out of every shilling spent on coal no loss than 10d. went in the shape of wages. Therefore it was an enormous advantage to this country to maintain and increase our exports of coal. Those engaged in coal getting and the skilled men about the engine boilers and machinery connected with mining had been earning incomes which, for the last two years, had been steadier than they had over been before. There was nothing that made more for the prosperity of England than the high price and the large exports of coal. There was no fear of the exhaustion of our coal supply; the Report of the Royal Commission which inquired into that question had put an end to all doubts on that subject. At the present rate of output there was a sufficient stock of coal to last for hundreds of years, and what they had to fear more than exhausting the coal supply was that coal might not be such a necessary article in the near future. They would probably find other forms of fuel taking the place of coal, and therefore he strongly advised the people of this country to get out of the bowels of the earth every ton of coal they could whilst the sun was shining on the coal trade. Coal was of no value at the bottom of a mine, but every ton of coal brought to the top represented 10s., which might be invested in works of public necessity, such as railways, bridges, and houses, and in that way they could turn the coal info a permanent source of profit for all generations to come. Therefore he hoped that no one would go away with the idea that the prosperity of the coal trade was in any way an injurious factor to the prosperity of the country. It should not be forgotten 145 that we owed much of our present prosperity to the prosperity of Germany and the United States. Those who read about this subject in some newspapers were rather inclined to think that because Germany and the United State were prosperous in trade that fact necessarily injured the trade of Great Britain. The real fact of the case, however, was that when Germany and America enjoyed good trade they were amongst our very best customers, and the high price of iron was due to the fact that Germany and United States, in spite of protective tariffs were bound to take our iron and steel in very large quantities. On the other hand, when Germany and the United States had bad trade they tried to under-sell us. He was not going into that question at present, but ho would point out that it was important for ensuring the prosperity of our trade that there should also be prosperity in foreign countries which, in spite of their tariffs, must be amongst our best customers. There were large questions in connection with the trade of the country which, after all, were far above fiscal disputes, and he hoped that the President of the Board of Trade would maintain the attitude of fairness to all sections of the community— labour on the one hand and capital on the other—which he had hitherto shown, and which ho was certain must appeal to the sympathy of all interested in the commercial and industrial welfare of the country.
§ *MR WARDLE (Stockport)
said he could not entirely assent to some of the statements made by the hon. Member for the Bosworth Division in his interesting speech. He was not quite sure that either the traders or the railway employees would agree with the statement that an increase in the rates and fares was the only way by which prosperity could be restored. There wore other ways, but he did not propose entering into them at present. He desired to call attention to two matters in connection with the practical administration of the Board of Trade. The first was the question of accidents on railways. He was pleased to notice that the enforcement of the Acts already in existence had had some effect in reducing the number of accidents on railways both to railway servants and the general public. That was striking 146 testimony to the fact that legislation in this direction had been in the interest of the whole community. In 1875, when the railway employees numbered 250,000 and the traffic was very much less than now, there were 765 employees killed and 3,618 injured in the movement of vehicles, while in 1901, when the employees numbered 578,000, there were only 416 killed and 4,243 injured, although the traffic had at least doubled in the interval. A matter calling for attention in regard to this subject was the form of the return in which these accidents were reported. It included those only resulting from collisions and the movement of vehicles and did not provide for the inclusion of certain other accidents, which, consequently, were never included in the totals made up by the Board of Trade. In 1904, for instance, of servants employed in warehouses and other places there were 32 killed and 10,590 injured. These accidents ought to be shown in the returns. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would arrange for the issue of forms in future which would show the whole of the accidents, and not simply those resulting from the movement of vehicles. The locomotives, carriages, and waggons on the railways in this country numbered 811,044, and 52,322 miles of single track and sidings, but at present there was not adequate provision for the inspection of the rolling stock and permanent way by Government inspectors. Accidents did sometimes result from the fact that engines and waggons were not properly looked after and repaired. Attention should be given to this point by the Board of Trade. There wore at present only ten inspectors to do the whole of the work, and obviously it was impossible for them to see that all necessary precautions were taken. In connection with the Home Office there were 165 inspectors of factories, forty inspectors of mines, and four inspectors of explosives, and, taking these figures into consideration, it appeared to him that a larger number of Board of Trade inspectors should be employed to look after railway matters While he was glad there had been a progressive improvement, ho thought something might still be done to reduce the toll of life which was annually paid in connection with the working of railways. The returns showed that accidents increased when there was a boom in 147 trade. He believed that was due to the longer hours the men wore employed in dealing with the traffic. He did not say that was the only cause, but certainly it was one of the causes. He wished to know whether the right hon. Gentleman could state what had been the result of his inquiries into the matter of long hours. On the 6th March when the subject was debated in this House certain promises were made, but personally he was convinced that the President of the Boare of Trade would not find a full solution of the difficulty with the administrative powers he at present possessed. Referring to superannuation funds for railway servants, he pointed out that there were sixteen of these funds, including that in connection with the Rail-way Clearing House. The funds were established by Act of Parliament and membership was compulsory. While he had not a word to say against the motives of those who promoted the funds, he wished to state that some inquiry into the management and control was necessary, for the benefits varied as much as between 60 and 100 per cent. Some of these were guaranteed; some were paid on the average salary of the whole service of the men; and some were paid on the average of the last seven years of service. One railway company had changed its payments to its annuitants no less than three times. When the railway companies were forced by Act of Parliament to make an actuarial valuation of their funds it was found that they were practically insolvent. What he proposed was that there should be a Committee of Inquiry to establish uniformity, so that every person employed by a railway company should pay the same contribution and have an equal benefit under the Act. This matter affected 85,000 persons. Certain manipulations of these funds had gone on from time to time. When they were originally established there was a periodical actuarial valuation, but that ceased to be made, the one exception being the London and South Western Railway Company, which had started their fund on a life annuity basis. But in 1896 there was a clamour amongst the employees of the L. & N. W. Co. for an increase of their pensions. An actuarial investigation was made, and the report of the actuaries stated that there was not sufficient surplus over to give 148 any additional pensions. And what happened? A committee which was appointed, largely from the chief officers of the company, decided to increase the pensions by 50 per cent., and as a consequence the fund was subsequently declared to be insolvent to the extent of over a million. The company had therefore to come to Parliament for a remedy for that state of matters. It was so with almost every one of these railway funds; they had been declared to be actuarially insolvent. It was part of the provision of the Act that the funds should be valued from time to time and that any deficit should be made good by the railway company. But the pensions had been increased in the case of the London and North Western Railway Company and the Caledonian Company at the instigation of the higher officials—many of whom had been given pensions calculated on the average of their salaries during their last seven years of service instead of over the whole period of their service. It was that which had caused such a drain on the funds. As an illustration there was the case of an officer in the Clearing House Fund who, after twenty-nine years membership of the fund, would have had a pension under the old scale of £953, but under the revised scale, calculating the salary during the last seven years of service, his pension was increased to £2,497, or an increase of 162 per cent. But that did not apply to all classes of men. Chief clerks, for instance, whose average salary was £193, under the old scale got a pension of £93, and under the new scale £100, or an increase of only 17 per cent. He believed that there was a maximum in regard to pensions in the Great Eastern and Great Northern Railway Companies' funds. What he wanted was that under these funds every employee under all the railway companies should be treated on a fair and equitable basis. It was, he contended, the duty of the Board of Trade to see that that was so. In many cases the railway companies were shifting the future liability for pensions to their employees when the existing funds were exhausted on to the shareholders. Therefore, for the protection of the shareholders as well as of the directors themselves, these funds should be thoroughly examined and put on a reasonable and sound basis. He trusted that the Committee of Inquiry would be established.
§ MR. SEDDON (Lancashire, Newton)
said he wanted to join in the chorus of praise to the right hon. Gentleman for the courtesy with which he had answered the many Questions put to him. Some twelve or eighteen months ago it was his duty to bring under the right hon. Gentleman's notice the conditions of the watch making trade. Both the public and the local manufacturers were at the mercy of unscrupulous foreign manufacturers, and he was glad that certain anomalies and injustices in the trade had been removed. There were two Acts of Parliament which affected their trade —the Mercantile Marks Act and the Sale of Hall-marked Goods Act; but there was no machinery to put those Acts into operation. He had watched carefully, but could not find a single penny was being used for the employment of inspectors to see that those Acts were properly administered. He believed that the President of the Board of Trade was anxious that those Acts of Parliament should be enforced in the interest both of the British public and of British manufacturers. Thousands of watches were sold annually under misdescription, and at present there was no one whose duty it was to protect the public against that fraud. He asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not see his way to appoint five inspectors —two for England, one for Scotland, one for Wales, and one for Ireland—to inspect places where gold and silver was sold. He did not know of any trade where there was so much fraud carried on as in the watch and jewellery trade, especially in connection with foreign imported goods. It was important that that trade should rot be lost to this country as such loss would be a calamity not only to our native manufacturers, but to the public at large. He maintained that by administering existing Acts of Parliament by ordinary methods the trade could be preserved to this country without any change in our fiscal policy. He was supported in that view by most of the chambers of commerce throughout the country—including the Chamber of Commerce of Coventry, the centre of the watch industry. He was not there to give a blessing on behalf of tariff reformers, but he thanked the right hon. Gentleman for attempting to do something in the interests of justice. He had a strong suspicion when he heard the chorus of praise of the 150 tariff reformers that the right hon. Gentleman was in danger from it. He thought to himself, "Woe unto you that all men speak well of," but he supposed this was the exception which proved the rule, and that the right hon. Gentleman was really guarding the interests of those engaged in the watch trade. The amount of fraud in the jewellery trade could be tested by hon. Members if they would walk down the Strand and look into the auction rooms. They would hear there watches described as of gold and silver which had no hall mark at all. This resulted in great injustice to the public, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see the urgency of dealing with this question. The Merchandise Marks Act was being used as a blind in order to defeat the intentions with which it was passed. He instanced the case of Swiss watches. The words "made in Switzerland" wore very often so engraved that one would have to have a magnifying glass to distinguish them, and they could easily be erased.
§ SIR J. BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
said he wished to associate himself with the praise which had been given to the President of the Board of Trade During the time the right hon. Gentleman had been in office he had shown imagination, sympathy, and courage, and what he had done had met with the strongest approval from the business community of the country. He desired now to encourage the right hon. Gentleman to take even a larger and bolder view of his duties, and he was led to do so by some words which fell from the Prime Minister when he last spoke at Plymouth, "the end we hold before us, that is to say the development of the resources of our own country to the utmost possible extent." He hoped the Prime Minister used those words after consultation with his colleagues, and he welcomed the declaration with intense pleasure. The right hon. Gentleman was the first Prime Minister who had ever made such a declaration. Ho (Sir J. Brunner) was not one of those who were afraid of a policy because it was new, and he did not believe they ought to condemn the Government for introducing any scheme which was for the benefit of the country. In regard to old age pensions, security of tenure for farmers, and the amendment of the land laws, they would 151 have his warmest support. They were now discussing the Board of Trade Estimates, and it was before that body that the consideration of these subjects would come. In the course of his recent tour with other representatives of this country on the continent he found that every other country gave the greatest attention to the development of the national resources as one of the objects of national policy. The same object was pursued in our own Colonies, and in his opinion it was the duty of statesmen to prosecute it. An objection was taken to the guarantee of the loan of £5,000,000 to the Transvaal, but similar loans had been given to other Colonies for public works. He remembered that he was called to order by the late Speaker when, referring to the Uganda railway, he said he was sick of this country spending money in all quarters of the world when we could not find money enough for own people. What we had done for our Colonies it seemed to him that we ought to do for our own people. As a result the Colonies had constructed their own railways, and their national debts were to a large extent represented by growing assets. During his visit with other Members of both Houses, including Lords Avebury and Brassey, to France, in December, 1903, he was interested to learn in Paris that the Credit Lyonnais drew up for the benefit of its customers a balance sheet of every civilised country, so that they might judge of their rentability, to use a French word. They heard, and it was a remarkable fact, that this country was the only one in the world which had no assets to set against the debt. That was, however, hardly correct, because in that calculation only the dead weight debt was dealt with. But, after all, the local loans debt against which we had assets was a mere flea-bite compared with the total debt, and therefore the statement was quite justified. He would support the Government if, in order to provide for public works, they pursued with courage the new policy of adding to our debt. It would be a wholesome and economic policy, because it would result in greatly increasing our national prosperity. Prussia's ownership of the railways had been the most potent means in the 152 production of her national prosperity. The last country which they visited was Prussia and the prosperity of that country during the forty-six years he had been watching it had filled him with admiration, and of late years he confessed with terror. He did not want this country to be beaten by Prussia, the United States, or any other country, and therefore he hoped that we might take a lesson from Prussia and mend our ways. Prussia had long considered that the development of the national intellect should be part of the national policy, and he was glad to see that in that matter we were rapidly overtaking that country. He urged the right hon. Gentleman to press forward the inquiries he was making, not only as regarded the purchase of railways, but with regard to all other public works. The cost of the transit of goods was higher in this country than in any other country in the world. He was convinced that if the country was persuaded to adopt the policy which had been shadowed forth by the Prime Minister, especially in the matter of procuring cheaper transit for English goods, it would bring much more prosperity to our manufacturers than any system of so-called moderate import duties.
§ MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
said he entirely agreed with what the hon. Baronet had said with reference to the development of the railway resources of the country. We had, in this country, however, no Minister of Public Works, which in his opinion we ought to have. We also ought to have a Minister of Commerce and a Minister of Railways. The President of the Board of Trade practically did all this work of the country and had no consultative committee. He had a Board consisting of himself and permanent officials and a body of gentlemen who never met, and he had therefore only the assistance of the permanent officials. It was extraordinary that in a commercial country like England we should have a Board of Trade that was practically non-existent, when all those countries who were considering these questions in competition with us had consultative Committees and Ministers of Commerce as well. As an Irishman it 153 might be thought peculiar in him to venture to criticise an English Department, but he desired to take that opportunity to protest against the whole system of permanent officials, because practically they governed the House. The President of the Board of Trade was sympathetic, and might desire to make some reform, but he was generally hampered by the permanent officials. We certainly ought to have a Railway Minister.
said it was not in order to discuss whether there should be a Railway Minister.
§ MR. FIELD
said he was always willing to obey the ruling of the Chair, but he would like to point out that if Mr. Deputy-Chairman was a committeeman he would immediately see that the railways had a great deal to do with the commerce of the country, and therefore he submitted that as they were controlled by the Board of Trade it was competent for an hon. Member to point out that there should be a Minister of Railways and Commerce.
said it was not a matter of administration but of legislation, and therefore it was not in order to discuss it.
§ MR. FIELD
said he was not discussing it, he merely made the suggestion. He was strongly in favour of the nationalisation of Irish railways, and he entirely concurred with the observations of the hon. Baronet the Member for Cheshire. He believed that in every country where the railways were nationalised commercial prosperity followed. There was no chance whatever of commercial prosperity in Ireland until the railways were put under different management. The hon. Baronet had spoken of the prosperity of Great Britain—he had not mentioned Ireland—being bound up with the prosperity of Germany and the United States. He had pointed out what was accepted by everybody with a knowledge of commerce, that the prosperity of one country was dependent on the prosperity of another, because unless the various countries were more or less prosperous they could not be customers by going from one country to another, which, of 154 course, was the basis of trade between different nations. He wondered whether it was want of sympathy or of intellect which led hon. Members to talk of the prosperity of Germany, the United States, France, and other countries, while they had never a word as to whether or not there was prosperity in Ireland. Surely, if Ireland were more prosperous it would be better not only for her but for this country. Ireland, moreover, was entitled to greater consideration by reason of the fact that she constituted that portion of the United Kingdom which most relied on the development of her resources for prosperity in the future. The hon. Baronet the Member for Bosworth had stated that to meet the demands made upon them the railway companies wanted more money, and that that could only be obtained by raising the passenger fares. He would tell the hon. Baronet one way in which the railway companies could economise, and that was by cutting down the enormous salaries which the managers and directors received.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
No, they do not. The directors have only £400, and in some instances only £300. [An HON. MEMBER: More than a Member of Parliament.]
§ MR. FIELD
Yes; more than a Member of Parliament, for Members of that House directed the affairs of the nation for nothing. It was one of the peculiarities of the British Constitution that the only men who were considered not to be worth a salary were the men who directed the affairs of the country. The whole of the railway companies of the three kingdoms were an absolute trust—just as much a trust as the denounced Steel Trust and the Standard Oil Trust in America. Indeed, there was no such trust in existence as that of the railway companies of the three kingdoms. There was £1,300,000,000 of capital in the railway companies of Great Britain, and about £40,000,000 or £50,000,000 in those of Ireland. These companies were one great trust; they met in conference at certain times; they raised the rates to the public, who were powerless against them. At the present moment they had in Great Britain the highest railway 155 rates of any country in the world except Ireland, where they were higher than in England, with the result that in Ireland commerce was greatly handicapped. He could not understand why hon. Gentlemen should talk of tariff reform and protection in face of the fact that the railway companies allowed preferential rates to foreign competitors who brought their goods to this country. He had been a Member of the House for fifteen years, and he served on the Select Committee which inquired into the subject of railway charges and rates. The Committee had reported, but in that House there was an imperium in imperio—railway directors and railway shareholders, who would not allow any reform of the railway system to pass through. Ever since then he had been asking questions of various Presidents of the Board of Trade and of Prime Ministers with regard to the preferential rates which the railway companies allowed to foreign competitors. Why was it that the hon. Baronet, and any railway director in that House in favour of fiscal reform, allowed the continuance of this preference to the foreigner? He asked the hon. Baronet and the railway directors in the House to request the President of the Board of Trade to appoint a small Committee to inquire into these preferential rates and to report to the House the facts laid before them. There was no competition between our railway companies; each had what was called its sphere of influence; the country was divided into geographical areas, and the rates were settled by the companies in conference. Another great grievance was that relating to consignments, a grievance particularly felt in the case of the moving of Irish live stock. The Stock Owners' Association, when they wanted a through rate for consignments, were presented by the railway company with a document which recited at length every species of casualty which was likely to occur, in order that the company might be absolved from anything like liability. In the view of many eminent lawyers the document was not a legal one, though it was covered by the term "reasonable," a word most difficult of legal definition. The result in Ireland, according to the witnesses who gave evidence before 156 the Departmental Committee, was the loss of about half a million a year. He hoped that the result of the Viceregal Commission would be the recommendation of the nationalisation of the railways in Ireland. It would be a most useful experiment, and, as the railways in that country now stood, the present was a most suitable occasion for acquiring and nationalising them. If the railways could belong to the State in India there was no reason why they should not belong to the State in Ireland. The hon. Baronet had spoken of preparing the return's of the trade of different countries and Colonies separately. If it was desirable that Canada and the Colonies of Australia should be separately returned, why should not the trade of Ireland also be the subject of a Return separate from that of Great Britain? At present they had no means in Ireland of finding out what were their exports and their imports. They had no separate branch of the Board of Trade for Ireland. He was not advocating a separate Board of Trade for Ireland; they had too many Government Departments already, and he hoped they would be able to manage their own affairs, without any English Department, later on. Another subject on which he desired to offer an observation had reference to speculations in foodstuffs and raw material, or gambling in "futures." He hoped that the President of the Board of Trade, particularly in the case of foodstuffs, would do what he could to prevent this speculation or gambling in "futures" on the Stock Exchange. One hon. Member had stated that owing to the action of the Labour Party, conciliation boards had been formed, with arbitration, which more or less obviated the necessity for strikes. In his opinion it ought not to be the function of the Labour Party to establish those boards of conciliation. He had conversed with an Australian on the subject, and he found that in most other countries it was the Government who organised the boards of conciliation and provided the machinery for arbitration. But this great commercial country was apparently far behind any other country in the world in the provision of such machinery. It seemed to be nobody's business to develop the resources of 157 England, Scotland, Ireland or' Wales. It was left to the President of the Board of Trade, who was an. extremely able individual, and had done all he could, but the machinery at his disposal was not sufficient. He trusted that the few points he had mentioned in regard to Ireland would receive consideration. He hoped that the time was coming when in Ireland they would be allowed to do their own business, and when that time came they would apply themselves to the problem of the nationalisation of Irish railways, and thus show this country a useful lesson in economy of expenses.
§ *MR. REES (Montgomery Boroughs)
said he desired to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to a small matter affecting the railway facilities in his constituency. As a rule he did not sympathise with the attacks which were made in the House upon the railways, most of which he thought very unreasonable, and he was bringing this question forward in the hope that the President of the Board of Trade might be able to put a word in at the right place, and not by any means in order to attack the Board of the Cambrian Railway, which under difficult circumstances maintained a very fair service, or the very efficient service of the London and North Western Railway. When they had the right hon. Gentleman as President of the Board of Trade naturally they did not expect to have any grievances of any kind left in Wales. He often wondered whether St. George or St. David really was the patron saint of the Principality. Representations, however, had been made to him by tradesmen in Newtown that when they forwarded goods to Liverpool they were often very much delayed on the way. They also complained that when they made claims against the railway company they frequently had good reason to be dissatisfied with the result. The claims made by them as a rule were extremely moderate and yet they had not been able to get satisfaction. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would see that the tradesmen of Newtown were well looked after in this respect in the future. He mentioned specific cases of delay in respect of fish, flowers, and other perishable goods. That was the particular matter 158 about which he wished to press the right hon. Gentleman to intervene for the protection of his constituents. The hon. Member for the Bosworth division had deprecated the idea of the railway fares in London being raised. He wished to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he had any power to force a railway company to carry on its business at a loss. He did not believe that any Government Department possessed any such power. [Cries of "Why not?"] The hon. Member opposite had referred to the amount of capital invested in railways and he had described the different companies as meeting together in secret conclave and making arrangements for the restriction of free competition. If they were really doing that then they were most inefficient people, for they utterly failed to accomplish their object. He found from a Return issued by the Board of Trade that the capital invested in railways in this country in 1905 amounted to £1,282,000,000 and that only £3 27 per cent. was paid as interest on the whole of that capital. Out of thirty-nine companies the stocks of only about nine stood a o. e par, and that was not a record of great prosperity. It seemed to him that they could not expect railway companies to carry passengers or goods at a loss, since they were business, and not charitable, institutions, and considering the amount of capital invested the return was very small indeed. The fact ought not to be overlooked that the proprietors of railway companies were not rich persons, because quite 60 per cent. of the shareholders held less than £500 of stock. Speaker after speaker in this debate had referred to the railway companies as rolling in prosperity, as if they had no competition to face. That, however, was not the case, because competition was very severe, and that was why the return on the capital invested was so exceedingly small. The hon. Member for Chester had referred to the nationalisation of railways, and he had mentioned in this connection that railways in India were State property. No deduction of any sort could be drawn from that in favour of the nationalisation of railways, because the capital in India belonged to Government from the beginning, or 159 when that was not the case interest was guaranteed, and the Indian railways were at once strategic and commercial.
I think I must rule out of order the nationalisation of railways, because that is a question which would require legislation, and the discussion of matters requiring legislation is not in order.
§ *MR. REES
said that on this subject he was following the example of other speakers, but he apologised for transgressing the rules of order as now laid down. All he wished to say on this point was that vast sums of money had been spent on the Uganda railway, and the Government might prevent such expenditure in future and conduce to the development of railways in British possessions by encouraging private enterprise instead of spending such a large amount per mile out of the public purse. The spirit displayed in the debate did not conspicuously encourage private enterprise. It had been stated by one hon. Member that the President of the United States in his message to Congress condemned great railway combinations. That was perfectly true, but he also equally condemned attacks upon property. That the law of the United States had proved to be amply sufficient to deal with the question of combinations was clear from the case of the Northern Securities. An hon. Member had complained that on the District Railway and upon the Tube Railways there were not enough trains and not sufficiently long trains running during certain hours of the day. It must be evident that it was impossible for railway companies to run trains during the day time of the same length and so frequently as they did in the early morning and in the evening. Such trains would be run at an enormous loss in London in the middle of the day. Unless those railway companies economised in the day time it would be impossible for them to pay any dividends at all. Many of the railway companies were actually carrying passengers at a loss at the present moment, and in sheer justice to their proprietors were bound to raise their rates. In conclusion, he 160 would like the right hon. Gentleman to inform the Committee whether he had any autocratic power to compel any railway company to carry passengers or goods at a loss?
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF TRADE (MR. LLOYD-GEORGE,) Carnarvon Boroughs
said that with regard to the grievance which had been alluded to by the hon. Member for Montgomery Boroughs he would undertake to have inquiries made into the matters referred to. He had received a letter from the hon. Member which presented the matter very clearly, and he would give it his attention. As the hon. Member was aware, his powers in these matters as President of the Board of Trade were not very great, but he would undertake to make representations to the railway companies concerned. But before he came to the general question of railways, he would like to reply on some matters of general interest which had been referred to by his hon. friend the Member for the Bosworth division of Leicestershire, who congratulated the country on the great boom in trade. The facts were very well known to the House, and he need not dwell upon them. There was no doubt that we in common with two or three other manufacturing countries had had a very considerable boom in trade, and the only observation he would make in regard to that was that, judging from the Returns given to the Board of Trade, this country, at any rate, had had a larger proportion of the international trade than almost any of our competitors in the market. In the Returns for the first five months of the present year it was matter for congratulation to find that, while the increase in import trade had been about a million, the export trade had increased by £20,000,000. Official reports indicated that the state of employment in the country was satisfactory, the building trade being the exception, as it often was, and several reasons could be assigned for it. Among other reasons was the fact that much building was carried on by speculative builders, who were dependent on the state of the money market. With a large demand for money for commercial development, the prices for materials went up, but eventually the building 161 trade would share in the general prosperity. So far as could be judged, though it was almost as difficult to forecast trade as to forecast the weather, the prospects were good, and there was no probability of reaction. He agreed that we had reason to rejoice at the prosperity in German and American trade, for it meant, as the Returns showed, a substantial increase of our export trade to those countries. Trade was good, with every prospect of continuance for some time to come. The percentage of unemployed workmen had gone down very considerably, and there had been a considerable increase in wages. He was glad to think that this increase of something like £5,000,000 in the year was not the result of any great disputes, but the result of accommodation and arrangement between workmen and employers. He was glad to think that workmen were participating in the general trade boom.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Yes, the liquor bill was not going up as a few years ago used to be the case as trade improved. Some sound criticism had been directed to the form and manner of the Returns issued by the Board of Trade. There was much to be said in favour of issuing a further series of fiscal Blue-books, and he quite agreed that these publications' should impartially put forward all available facts in relation to the fiscal controversy. In the monthly White-books on imports and exports it had been said much was lacking in regard to classification, and he had felt that himself. A Committee had been appointed under the Trade Census Act to consider this subject, and report to the larger Committee which would sit in the autumn. At the same time, it would be a mistake to be continually making changes in these White-books, because their value was for purposes of comparison, and if changes were made from month to month, or even from year to year, they would become so complicated and obscure as to become worthless to those who examined them, comparing year with year. The question of values of imports and ex-ports was an important one. The ex- 162 port values were estimated on the goods put on board; but the value of the goods brought in was not the value as they left the country from which they were exported, but plus freight, insurance, and commission, so that the figures on the face of the return as payments to a foreign country often included payments made to people in this country. It was worth while considering whether some improvement could be made in the Returns in this connection. He wished to say another word in regard to trade. His hon. friend had suggested that, instead of consuls, we should have agents in foreign markets who would be practically our trade and commercial representatives. That was a very big question, and one with which the Board of Trade was not solely concerned. But the Board of Trade by arrangement and in conjunction with the Foreign Office had done a great deal to improve matters in this respect within the last few months, and he hoped that they would be able to continue to do so. They also, as a result of what passed at the Colonial Conference, where attention was called to the fact that every other country but our own had trade representatives in the Colonies, had decided, after consultation with the Intelligence Committee of the Board of Trade, to set up a system of commercial agents, who would correspond with the consuls in foreign countries, and attend to the interest of trade in the Colonies. The Board of Trade would thus have reported to them what was going on in the Colonies, which were such valuable markets to us, and the Colonies would be kept informed of markets to which they could send their goods in this country. He trusted that it would be to the mutual advantage of the Colonies and ourselves to have representatives of this character, who would be doing their best for the development of our trade with them and of their trade with us. In the course of the last twelve months commercial missions had been sent to Germany, France, and Belgium, to inquire into the industrial conditions of those countries and get at the facts in regard to the wages paid to the working classes, their hours of labour, their food and other commodities consumed by them, the rents of their houses, and generally to 163 report on their industrial development. They also had made inquiry in regard to railways in those countries. He attached great importance to that, because the railways, in his opinion, had a great deal more to do with the development of countries than we were sometimes ready to admit. It would be of little use having these inquiries made abroad unless similar inquiries were made in this country, and the Board of Trade had taken steps to accumulate a great mass of facts bearing on social and industrial conditions at home. To the voluntary wages census the employers had responded liberally and well. The returns upon a similar census in 1886 only covered 1,500,000 workmen. The returns under the new census already received by the Board of Trade covered at least 3,000,000 of workmen. He attached very great importance to those returns, and considered that they would be of the utmost possible value when they came to consider many important questions relating to commerce and industry. Another step which the Board of Trade had taken was to institute investigations in great industrial centres throughout Great Britain and Ireland into the standard wages in the most important trades, the cost of living, the wages paid, the hours worked, rent of workmen's houses, and, indeed, all the facts that bore on the condition of the working people in those districts. The f acts when published would contain more valuable and more reliable information on matters of the greatest moment to the industries of the country than, probably, any volume hitherto published in this country. The work had been done very carefully by the most skilled investigators, and he could assure the Committee that it had been done impartially, without. any sort of view of proving this or that theory or idea. Once they started that principle, they vitiated the whole of the returns. Investigators simply inquired into the facts, and gathered them together in leaflets. Some newspapers wrote articles in regard to the state of the trade, commerce, industry, and labour here and there in the country, but those statements were believed everywhere except in the districts to which they were intended to apply. The Board of Trade had done their very best to get at the real con- 164 dition of things, and their report might be accepted without suspicion as absolutely impartial. He could not help thinking that the statistical side of the Board of Trade was exceedingly important from every point of view. It ought to be regarded as the Intelligence Department of the commerce and industry of the country, and should be as efficient as the Intelligence Department in war. As to the census of production, he had promised in passing the Bill last year that it should be conducted in away which would harass traders in a minimum degree. First of all, the Board of Trade had set up a general Committee which he thought was impartial and representative, but it was intended to appoint special Committees to deal with special trades, because he could quite understand that there might be trades which would not give information involving the divulging of trade secrets. These inquiries would really be conducted for the assistance of the different trades, and not to do them any harm. What was wanted was only to ascertain the actual facts. Now he came to the question of the railways. He agreed that no question could engage the attention of the House which was of more importance to the trade and industry of this country than that of railway transport. A question had been put to him in regard to owners' risks, which he could not answer without coining under the Chairman's condemnation. He only hoped that the Bill dealing with owners' risks, which had already gone through the Committee upstairs, would pass this session if the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London did not show a too eager desire to improve all the Bills introduced by the Government. He was sorry that the hon. Baronet did not show the same industry in improving the. Bills introduced by the late Government. As to railway rates and the rebate system on certain railways, his hon. friend knew his views on that subject. In so far as the arrangement was made for the purpose of destroying competition between the railway companies and of preventing rates being reduced to the trader, he thought it was a bad arrangement, because, after all, if the present system was maintained the public ought to get the benefit of it. 165 As his hon. friend the Member for North-ants had said, there were two possible systems to be adopted. We might have a system of railways run by private enterprise, or we might have a system, such as that which prevailed in Germany, in India, and in some of our Colonies, of State-owned railways. The advantage of the first system was that they got the competition between the railway companies, and that seemed to him to be one of the greatest advantages which ought to be derived from the system. The public ought, he thought, to get the benefit of open competition, but if the public were to lose all the advantage of private ownership, without securing any of the advantage of the public ownership, then he thought the people would have to reconsider its whole action towards the railway and transport system of the country. That was all he could say without trenching upon the domain of legislation; but in regard to administration, so far as the Board of Trade's jurisdiction could be exercised it would be exercised, he trusted, in order to prevent the railway companies depriving the trader of any advantage he enjoyed under the present system and to which he was entitled.
§ SIR F. CHANNING
inquired as to the subject of ensuring publicity for the agreements as to combination.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he would take steps, so far as he could do so. He had addressed communications to the railway companies as to the arrangements they had entered into; they had replied, and these replies had been published and were in the possession of the House of Commons. Any other point which the hon. Gentleman wished to put to the railway companies he; would lie glad to put. They had never denied information, and when a request had been sent by the Board of Trade he could not recall an occasion on which they had not given an answer which was consistent with the facts of the case. Coming to the important question raised by the hon. Member for Stockport in regard to railway accidents, he was sorry to say this was the worst year for five or six years, largely owing to the great accidents 166 of Grantham, Salisbury, and Arbroath. As far as accidents to railway servants were concerned, there had been a great improvement during the last few years. But still the number of accidents was deplorable, and he thought it was the business of the Board of Trade to do what they could to reduce the number. They had appointed a Committee to look into the question of either-side brakes and automatic couplings. He was sorry that the inspecting officer of the Board of Trade had come to the conclusion that the experiments in automatic couplings which had been made were not a success. Whether it was possible to find some other device which would protect the railway servants engaged in these dangerous coupling operations he did not know, but the Committee was still prosecuting its inquiries, which would take some time, because they involved practical experiments, not merely experiments with models.
§ *MR. WARDLE
inquired whether he was to understand that anything had been done by the Committee with regard to automatic couplings.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said he had no right to express a conclusion on the matter, but the inspecting officer had gone into the question and come to the conclusion that they were not a success. He regretted this and he was sure the railway companies did. These casualties ran into hundreds and thousands, and must cost them a considerable sum in the way of compensation, much more than they would have to spend in any device for preventing them. But the pecuniary consideration, he was sure, was the last view they took of the matter, because, after all, these men were in their employment, and he was sure they would do all they could to prevent casualties. Two or three suggestions had been made during the debate that the number of inspectors should be increased. He did not want unnecessarily to increase the number of inspectors, but if it could really be proved that an increase in the number would materially reduce the loss of human life he would be quite willing to look into the matter. He must say he thought 167 the Board of Trade inspectorate was understaffed. As to hours of labour, excessive hours had probably a good deal to do with some of the accidents which had occurred. They had a useful debate earlier in the session initiated by his hon. friend the Member for North East Derby, who brought forward a number of cases to prove that the hours of labour were excessive, and, he must say, oppressive on some of the railways of this country, especially on the Lancashire and Yorkshire, the Great Central, and the Midland Railway Companies. He had seen some of the managers of these railways, and they were quite candid about the matter. They did not deny the facts; they admitted the state of things, and undertook to do their best to reduce the hours of labour. However, that was not sufficient, and during that debate he promised that he would take further steps to bring pressure, within the powers that he possessed, to bear upon the railway companies substantially to reduce the excessive hours, and he said that if the powers he possessed were inadequate he would certainly come to Parliament to strengthen them. As a result he singled out some of the worst cases, and instead of demanding a return once every quarter, which came in very late, he asked for reports rather of special districts considered to be bad. In some of the worst cases three inspectors of the Board of Trade had been sent down to make inquiries. They did not go down merely on the complaint of railway servants. They went down to districts where they had good reason to believe that workmen were being worked excessive hours. They saw the men in the absence of their officials; and they saw the officials and obtained very full and frank statements. No names were taken down; and only a general note, was taken of the result of the inquiries. The result in some cases was rather bad. On the Midland, the Lancashire and Yorkshire, and the Great Central Railways the result was very bad. There was some substance in the excuse which the railway companies put forward. It was the difficulty they had of coping with the enormous increase in the trade of their districts, and especially in the coal trade. There were train loads standing for hours because 168 they could not get along, and they could not deal with the congestion. Sometimes they got stuck in places where the men could not get food. Major Pringle reported one case in which a man had been ten hours without food after he had been twelve hours on duty. Some of these cases were perfectly in human —men working for fifteen, sixteen, and, in some cases, seventeen hours. The railway companies pleaded that they had great difficulty in finding men. This year thirty-eight Army Reservists were recommended to the Midland Company, he thought it was, for employment. Of that number twenty-two did not reply to the communications sent to them, nine refused the situation because they were not satisfied with the wages, four were refused on account of eyesight, one could not be found, and only two were employed. That showed the difficulty of the railway companies. The real reason was that the men could get better wages in other employment. On the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway some of the cases were very bad. In Wigan during last winter 47 per cent. of the employment was in excess of twelve hours; in Accrington, 16 per cent.; in Goole, 23 per cent.; in Wakefield, 36 per cent.; and in Bury, 33 per cent. The Board of Trade had done their best in these cases, and they had received the utmost assistance from the Railway Company. In. Wigan the 47 per cent. had been reduced to 3 per cent.; in Accrington the 16 per cent. had been reduced to 1 per cent.; in Goole the 23 per cent. had been reduced to 4 per cent.; in Wakefield the 36 per cent. had been reduced to 8 per cent.; and in Bury the 33 per cent. had been reduced to 1.4 per cent. The Great Central Company had also met the Board of Trade, and in some of the worst cases, where there was a very high percentage before the inquiry, there was now hardly any excess at all. He wished he could say as much for the Midland Company. The reduction they had effected was not at all satisfactory. What the Lancashire and Yorkshire and the Great Central Companies had achieved ought also to have been accomplished by the Midland Company. He trusted they would not make it necessary for the Board of Trade to press them any further, or to take steps which they would be 169 bound to take under the powers given them and under the obligations cast upon them by Act of Parliament. He thought a strong case had been made out in regard to superannuation funds, but it was a matter upon which he must consult the Treasury and the other Departments concerned, because he rather thought the Registrar of Friendly Societies came in here. The inquiry to which the hon. Baronet the Member for Northwich had referred was being pressed on. He had always been impressed with the importance of railway transport in the development of the trade and industry of the country. He was not sure that the railway companies would not welcome an inquiry into the subject. Pressure was being brought to bear upon them to curtail the hours of labour, to reduce railway rates, to reduce fares, and to provide workmen's trains. There must be a limit unless the country was prepared to take the risk which these demands involved. Owing to circumstances for which the companies were not altogether responsible, the railways in this country had cost an enormous sum of money. The shareholders put their money into these investments, and they had to consider the return on the whole of the investments in the railway companies; he did not think that it was unfair to do that. Some companies were doing well, some badly, but if they took the average return on the whole of the companies, in his judgment it was not an extravagant one. He did not mean to say that the country had not a right to say that it must have these full facilities. We must have railway rates reduced, we must have the hours of labour, cut down to a certain point, we must achieve workmen's fares, we must put an end to the system which developed foreign countries at the expense of our own. He was certain that if all this was to be achieved for a great public purpose, it ought not to be achieved at the expense of the investor, because he was sure that it would not be in the interests of the country itself. Let them take the question of the shortening of the hours of labour, which was really, so far as he had been able to discover, not so much a question of the desire of the railway companies to get as much as they could out of the 170 men, as it was a question of their being able to get them to work up to a point at which other workmen could be put on. That resolved itself into a question of an increased number of sidings, increased accommodation, doubling the number of rails, increasing the rolling stock, and the supply of other necessary facilities which constituted the real means by which to reduce the hours of labour. These were all questions which meant more capital. The London and North Western had most successfully coped with the question of railway hours, but that was a rich company, able to spend money which other railway companies could not possibly afford; they could provide facilities and they could meet these demands; but many other companies could not. And that was why he said that he was not loth that these matters should be pressed; for he thought it absolutely monstrous that a man should work seventeen, fourteen or thirteen, hours a day, and he had it officially that a man worked twelve hours, the whole day, without getting any food at all. Surely these things were a perfect disgrace to a great industrial country like ours, highly developed and highly organised. At the same time, if these things were to be remedied, and the country made up its mind that they were to be dealt with as a great question of public policy, then the people who benefited by it ought to bear the burden, and they ought to be prepared to face it. They faced it in other countries. They faced it in New Zealand, in Australia, in Germany to a very large extent, and in Belgium, and we had got to face it here if the question had to be dealt with effectively. At the same time, until that was done, he thought that they must proceed cautiously, otherwise they would be preventing the accomplishment of the objects which they all had in their minds. That was why he was prosecuting inquiries into how these things were worked abroad. He would appeal to both sides of the House to approach these questions purely from the point of view of what was best for the trade of the country. These were not controversial matters, at least they ought not to be, for the moment they became controversial he was sure that much harm would be done, and 171 he would be very glad if they could be kept out of the region of controversy. Trade and commerce ought not to be a Party question; they ought to be able to approach these questions in a non-Party spirit, and he was perfectly sure that if that were done they would be able to accomplish what would be in the general interests of the country. Before he sat down he wished to reply to a question which had been asked in reference to the protection of the watch trade in this country. He had made inquiries with reference to the watch-making trade done in this country by persons abroad, and this was the kind of information which he got. We had in this country the provision that a gold watch made and sold by the British manufacturer was to be really gold, and not merely a thin layer of gold over base metal—not a covering of gold thinner than a wafer through which one could easily push the point of a pin. The British-made watch had to be of gold —the dome plates and all the essential parts of the watch had to be of gold; that was the law of the land. But a foreign watch, with this thin covering of gold over base metal in all the essential parts, could be sold in this country as gold. That was purely a fraud on the purchaser, and had nothing to do with the fiscal question; it was simply a protection of the consumer here against fraud, and all they had to do in that case was to see that the same measure of justice was applied to the foreign trader who came to this country as we applied to our own trader. That had been done since 1st June, and it had been left to this Government to do. They had not discriminated against the foreigner, but in future the same measure would be applied to the foreigner as to the British trader. The foreign trader who came here had to subject his watch to the same tests as were imposed upon the British-made article. Another question was with regard to inspectors. It was suggested that inspectors should be sent prowling around to detect these frauds.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that that was a different thing; the adulteration of food affected the health and life of the people, who must be protected. The Chamber of Commerce had made the same suggestion in regard to inspection as his hon. friend, but when they had come to consider it they saw that it was really impracticable. ["They changed their minds?"] They changed their minds. ["Again?"] He did not think again. They were dropping inspection, and the first thing they had to do was to prosecute in cases of fraud. He thought he had satisfied the deputation which he had received that all that could be done was to prosecute wherever there was a fraud of this kind, It was the duty of the Board of Trade to prosecute whenever a case was reported not merely in this country but abroad. In regard to articles of this character sold abroad as British goods he thought it was the duty of the Board of Trade to protect the British trader in those circumstances also. He was much obliged to his hon. friend for the very kind things he said about the administration of the Board of Trade. He had done the very best he could in the short time he had been at the Board of Trade for the trade and industries of the country. He thought that there was a great deal which could be done by administration to assist the commerce of the country, and that by means of obtaining information which would be of use to our traders with regard to what was going on abroad among our foreign competitors, with regard to possible fields of operation, and in regard to the protection of our trade and commerce, much could be usefully done in the promotion of our interests, and he would be very glad to do that work to the very utmost of his power.
§ MR. BONAR LAW (Camberwell, Dulwich)
said he was sure that he was only expressing the feeling of the House when he said that the right hon. Gentleman had no reason to apologise for the length of his speech, which was interesting throughout to all who heard it. It was quite true that the right hon. Gentleman had thrown out a challenge which 173 in other circumstances he would have been bound to accept. In dealing with trade the right hon. Gentleman had made remarks which were undoubtedly intended to show that our system was better than others as borne out by the statistics which he had obtained. The Committee would give him credit for saying that he did not wish to raise that issue at the present moment, because he thought that it could not be usefully pressed now.
§ MR. BONAR LAW
said the right hon. Gentleman had stated that the export of manufactured goods from this country was greater than that of any other country.
§ MR. BONAR LAW
said he had certainly thought the right hon. Gentleman did not mean to raise the question; he was willing to let it drop so far as the present discussion was concerned. There were other aspects of the subject which, from his own experience at the Board of Trade, he would rather speak about. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken at some length and with some interest about the efforts which he had made and was making that the Board of Trade should become the intelligence department of trade and commerce in this country. The right hon. Gentleman had said a great deal about the statistics of that department, and with every word that he had said in regard to these matters he thoroughly agreed. Indeed, he would far rather have at the head of this particular department a right hon. Gentleman who was constantly making demands for something to be done than one who did nothing and simply allowed things to drift. He was not going to pay compliments to the right hon. Gentleman, but, whatever else might be said about him, at any rate it could not be said that he had been doing nothing; for he had been doing a good deal in spite of the discouragements which had 174 been placed in his way. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would continue to realise that when every other country was organising its trade on the same principle as its Army, it was our business also to do exactly the same, and to see that we did not suffer in the competition. That brought him to what used to be considered a hardy annual when he was at the Board of Trade, for there never was a discussion on the Board of Trade Vote in which the question of appointing a Minister of Commerce was not raised. A great deal had been heard in the debates and otherwise about the appointment of a Minister of Commerce; but he thought that President of the Board of Trade was as good a title as that of Minister of Commerce. On the other hand, he was of opinion that for a country like ours, which depended more than any other country upon its trade, to have the department responsible for trade and commerce as a second-rate office was a disgrace to the country and not to be tolerated. It was no use talking to the right hon. Gentleman about that, because if he took any action in the matter it would look like asking for an increase in his own salary. It was, however, the duty of hon. Members to press the importance of the right hon. Gentleman's position on the Prime Minister and on the members of the Government. The Board of Trade stood constantly between capital and labour, but it stood in many instances where it had no power. From that point of view it was extremely important that the man who filled the office should have weight on his own account as well as weight in connection with the office he filled. It might be said that the department had been provided with good men in the past at a salary of £2,000 as compared with £5,000. He had not found that to be so in any other phase of human activity with which he was acquainted. For a second-rate office they might get a good statesman, but they only got his services while on the road to promotion, and such a man never came back to the office. This, then, was a question which the whole House might usefully press on the Government. In regard to the railways, when he represented the Board of Trade he found that everyone was ready to attack them and no one, 175 except the directors, was inclined to defend them. He had come early to the conclusion, and he believed that the right hon. Gentleman would be driven to the same conclusion, that it was his business in the public interest to protect the railways in the House rather than to stimulate the hostility which was so often directed against them. The right hon. Gentleman was right when he said at the opening of a tube railway the other day that railway companies could not be carried on to the best advantage of the public if they were carried on at a loss. Unless they caused the public to look upon the railways as a fair investment, they would not be able to get new capital, and, instead of improving, the railways would get worse, while the service would be seriously injured by the constant habit of nagging at them. The speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for East Northampton shire was an attack upon the railway companies because they had tried to make arrangements to save expense and remove unnecessary competition. The argument of all those who attacked the companies was that they were doing away with all forms of competition and injuring trade by taking away rebates. He could quite understand why the hon. Member for Leicester felt strongly upon that matter, because a system of rebates was not in the interests of the general trader. In respect of rebates, the big trader could put pressure on the railway company, and he received special advantages which gave him a pull over the smaller competitor; he used all his influence to prevent the company from making arrangements to reduce expenditure and thus to benefit everyone connected with the service. Where he lived in Scotland there were two railways, the Caledonian and the North British, and they both ran a service of trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow. He found that the trains went from both stations generally about the same hour, and they competed with each other in a way which was to their own disadvantage as well as to the disadvantage of the public. If the companies were encouraged to do what they could to reduce expense by saving unnecessary competition, more money would be available to spend on the general improvement of the system. 176 It ought, therefore, to be the duty of the representatives of the railwaymen, and he had pointed this out to the hon. Member for Derby, to prevent the companies from being attacked when no good service was to be derived to the public from the attack. The right hon. Gentleman would find that in some system of saving unnecessary competition lay the. best future for the railway companies. The companies' rates were fixed by Act of Parliament, and, if they could save expense in competition, they would be enabled to give better terms to traders all round, as well as to the travelling public, and have something to give their shareholders in the way of dividends to encourage fresh capital being put into the undertakings. Lately the right hon. Gentleman had been speaking about tube railways. These tube railways were a lesson to the House. When the measures establishing these railways were being carried through the House the President of the Local Government Board over and over again denounced the syndicates as monopolies that were being formed to take money out of the hands of the citizens of London, who ought, he said, to run these railways for themselves. But what did they find now? The tube railways were financially a complete failure. Did the right hon. Gentleman think that the London County Council would have managed them better?
*THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD, Mr. JOHN BURNS.) Battersea
said the right hon. Gentleman, he was sure unintentionally, had entirely misrepresented his views with regard to tube railways. He had always held the view that they would never be successful because they were not adapted to the peculiar form of traffic and to the habits of London people. He knew that on one occasion he suggested that intending investors had better be careful before embarking their money upon tube railways. No doubt the hon. Member would recollect that he stated that ten or fifteen years hence it would be found necessary on the part of the owners of the tube railways to sell them to the London County Council, or at least to sell some of them, for storm sewers.
§ MR. BONAR LAW
said they were attacked, he knew, by many hon. Members of the House on the ground that they could be more successfully carried on by local bodies, but the result showed that the reverse was the case. What the House, in the general interest, had to consider was that speculation was not the business either of the State or of the municipality. If they gave private enterprise a fair run for its money, if they had a failure here and a success there, then private enterprise would be. encouraged to undertake enterprises which were to the advantage of the public and run the risks. He thought that that in the end would be to the general advantage of the community.
§ *MR. McCRAE (Edinburgh, E.)
asked whether the President of the Board of Trade had made similar inquiries in Scotland into the hours which were being worked by railway servants on the Scottish railways. He knew that the right hon. Gentleman had had placed before him some flagrant instances of overtime worked in Scotland.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that there had been only one case in regard to the railways in Scotland where the hours of work were long. They had looked into the subject, and, if the answers to their representations were not satisfactory, the Department would certainly institute an inquiry on the spot.
§ MR. WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
thought the speech of the hon. Member for Dulwich furnished the most cogent argument in favour of the nationalisation of railways. The hon. Member had said that the reason why there could not be any reduction in railway rates and fares was because there were often two railways running into one locality, with the result that they had two trains going to the same place at the same time.
And, it being a quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the 178 Chairman of Ways and Means under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.