HC Deb 04 November 1908 vol 195 cc1218-20
MR. HOOPER (Dudley)

I beg to ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he will obtain and lay upon the Table of the House particulars of the combinations or other mutual arrangements for working traffic, enforcing rates, withdrawing rebates, pooling receipts, abolishing inter-competition, and establishing community of interests in one way or another which have been entered into since 1905 by various railway companies in Great Britain; and whether the Board of Trade have taken the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown, and are now prepared to state whether all or any of these combinations or arrangements are such as require for their validity the approval of the Railway and Canal Commissioners, under Section 25 of the Railways Clauses Act, 1863, and amending enactments thereof.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman possessed any authority to compel railways to work at a loss, or at rates of profit far below the average return upon capital employed in other contemporaneous enterprises.


replied that he should like an opportunity of studying the latter Question in order that it might have the answer it deserved. In regard to the Question on the Paper, the right hon. Gentleman said: I fear that is would be impracticable to attempt to collect particulars of all the various arrangements among railway companies which my hon. friend has in mind, which are probably very numerous. The Railway and Canal Commission only have power to review such agreements as are entered into under the authority of special Acts of Parliament incorporating Part III. of the Railways Clauses Act, 1863, or containing provisions similar to those of (Section 25 of that Act. It hardly appears necessary to consult the Law Officers of the Crown on this point which I am advised is not open to doubt. As, however, stated, in reply to my hon. friend the Member for Stockport on the 15th inst., the working of such arrangements will be most carefully watched, and should experience show that they operate detrimentally to the public interest, His Majesty's Government would not hestiate to take or to propose to Parliament the measures required by the situation.


asked whether the right hon. Gentleman was aware that many of these Bills were granted by the House for the purposes of competition as was distinctly stated by the promoters upstairs, and that since this pooling arrangement between the Great Northern and Great Central facilities granted to traders had been withdrawn.


The hon. Member ought to give notice of that Question.

MR. WALTERS (Sheffield, Brightside)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the serious inconvenience caused to passenger traffic on some of the main lines by overcrowding, as the result of combination which has led to dispensing with a number of trains?


I shall be glad to receive any evidence of injury to public interest arising out of such of these combinations as may possibly not require Parliamentary legislation.


May I have another shot at the right hon. Gentleman? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Bills granted by Parliament deliberately for purposes, specifically stated, of competition have been contravened?


These are grave matters of a most intricate branch of law, and I should not be doing justice to the House if I attempted to give my opinion without the advice of the Law Officers.


How can the right hon. Gentleman form an opinion without having an opportunity of seeing these agreements?


said his answer applied only to such agreements as those with which they were familiar.