§ Which Amendment was, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—[Mr. Mond.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the word "now" stand part of the Question." Debate resumed.
§ Mr. F. W. LAMBTON
The debate that we had on Wednesday last was short, and I am sorry it was not brought to a conclusion in one day, as the arguments advanced on that occasion have been forgotten by now. I wish to treat it, first of all, as a railway proposition and then as a question of Parliamentary procedure, and on both these grounds I must announce my intention of voting against the second reading of the Bill, because I do not think it is a good railway proposition and I do not think it is a good proposition with regard to Parliamentary procedure. The Secretary of the Board of Trade told us that questions of railway amalgamation should be judged on their merits and should not be condemned without close and careful consideration. Another proposition that he has laid clown was that he wished to make this amalgamation proposal a model of the other amalgamation proposals which are on foot in the country. He wished, so to speak, that the Committee should put its own stamp on these proposals. I submit that these are contradictory propositions. If the Bill ought to stand on its own merits we ought to vote for or against it on the merits of the Bill. We ought not to be told by the President of the Board of Trade that the Bill should be sent to a Committee so that the Committee may put its own stamp upon it. With regard to the merits of the proposal the three hon. Members who spoke in favour of the Bill were very loud in their praises of the railway companies for their frankness and boldness in coming out into the open, and we were solemnly warned by the President of the Board of Trade against doing anything which might drive them into underground vaults and subterranean channels where their noble aspirations would fade away into thin air. Personally I am no great admirer of secret societies or of underground tactics generally, and I do not impute any tactics of that sort to the railway companies, but there is no reason why you should give them great praise for coming before Parliament, because the reason is quite obvious. The right hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of the Bill 800 also stated that they were frank and came boldly before Parliament and asked for something which they might have without coming to Parliament at all. Then he said:—We have come into the open. We recognise who is our master in this case, and where lies the supreme power, and we come boldly conscious of a good case to ask from the supreme power that which we know will be ours with the greatest possible security if we get it from the supreme power.That is why these railway companies behave so nobly and so openly in coming to get the sanction of Parliament for something they said they can do without coming to Parliament. The reason why they ask for the sanction of Parliament is that it will give them supreme power and control over these matters. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke in favour of the Bill told us quite fairly and frankly what the companies expect to gain by the Bill. He said the Bill was framed for the private advantage of the companies, and it would be to the advantage of the three classes connected with railways, the passengers, the traders, and the workers.
As regards the private advantage of the companies, I need say nothing. They are quite capable of speaking for themselves, and I have no doubt we shall hear to-night what those private advantages amount to. I myself have no grudge against any railway company, certainly not against any of these three. The Great Northern I have travelled on for half a century now with great comfort and convenience, and I hope to continue to do so. I do not think it is necessary for them, or for either of the other two companies to obtain these excessive powers from Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman who asked for these powers said he would safeguard the interests of the public, and at the same time provide for better equipment and better management of his own railways. I think there is one provision in the Bill which will not either add to economy or efficiency, and that is that there are to be 37 directors of these companies, and that any single one of them may hang up the whole of the proceedings, when there is any dispute, until it goes to a standing arbitrator. The right hon. Gentleman compared this amalgamation with other amalgamations, and said it is no new thing. After all, this company, if it becomes a working union, will not be a greater matter than that of the North Western or the Great Western. He pointed out that the mileage of the Great Western is higher than the proposed mileage 801 of this proposed amalgamation. The North-Western capital is about £100,000,000, and this amalgamation will be £117,000,000, but this is on an entirely different footing from any others. These three companies, if they are united, will cover a great portion of England, and will monopolise the whole of the Eastern counties north of London. They will monopolise and control traffic along the East Coast from London to Berwick. At the present moment the North-Eastern Railway has facilities in the journey to the North. I do not know what view the North-Eastern Company takes of these proposals. There is no petition from them I know, but I should be rather doubtful as to the advantage which this will bring about to the North-Eastern Railway. I have no doubt they oppose it, but even if they supported it it would make the case worse, because they have a monopoly now, and to add this would be a scandal which Parliament would not stand.
The hon. Member for Grimsby spoke in favour of the Bill, and cast great scorn upon those who opposed it who did not come from what he called the zone occupied by these companies. The hon. Member for Newcastle spoke against the Bill, and the hon. Member for Grimsby said, "You are only people who live on the Tyne or the Tees. You have no right to be heard against the Bill." I have a petition here which came from the North on behalf of the Chambers of Commerce of Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Middlesbro', and the Hartlepools, and all the great district served by the North-Eastern in that district, and they strongly oppose this amalgamation. They point out how the trade of that district will be injuriously affected by the combination. They also allude to a subject which is not exactly a railway matter, the owning of ships by these railway companies. Under this Bill the whole of the East Coast, from the Thames to the Humber, will be under the control of one company, owning many docks and a large shipping fleet, and we fear that on the North-East Coast the facilities hitherto enjoyed by traders and by some coasting ships will be refused. There is a good deal of complaint now about preferential rates given by some of these companies to foreign produce. When these great combines of 117 millions are also allowed to own great fleets of ships trading to foreign ports they can bring foreign produce at rates which will compare most unfavourably with the rates which they grant in 802 their own district. There is no provision in this Bill for maintaining the rights of traders in the district to obtain the same rates as foreign produce will get.
I would like to point out that this monopoly also results in a geographical monopoly, by which they will be able to keep out any possible competition in the future, either of a public or private nature. Take the North-Eastern Railway, for instance. I know of a case in Northumberland. There we are entirely in the hands of the North-Eastern Railway. Look at the geography of Northumberland and you will see the North-Eastern Railway entirely embraces that country. Five-and-twenty years ago there was an endeavour to make a line through the centre of Northumberland from Newcastle towards Glasgow, instead of going right along the coast from Berwick to Edinburgh. We got that Bill a second reading. We went to Committee upstairs, and the usual thing happened. The North-Eastern came down with counsel, who were naturally more important than ours. The Committee listened to the strong battalions, and our railway Bill was thrown out. The North-Eastern was told they must make a line in place of the projected line. They made a small loop line, very well designed by the engineer, and strategically as effective as the lines of Torres Vedras. That line prevents any possibility of any further line from either Scotland or England unless they tumbled through the Cheviot Hills. If you grant monopolies in the geographical districts of the Eastern Counties you establish a monopoly which no one will be able to break through.
The hon. Member for Grimsby and the hon. Member who moved the second reading of the Bill alluded to the great value of the fish traffic, and how important it was that the people should have cheap fish and an abundant supply of fish. He pointed out that this proposal would lead to abundant fish. I do not think that is the view of persons who trade in fish. I have a petition here from the National Sea Fisheries Protection Association. They say that in the fish trade, which affords a food supply for the poorest of the people, over 12,000 tons were landed of over eleven millions in value. They object strongly to this Bill being passed. They object to it not only because it is an amalgamation, but because they think they will lose some of those facilities they already enjoy. One of the strongest reasons against this amalgamation is that it increases the danger of the hardship they 803 suffer from owners' risk rates. I introduced a Bill—the Railway Contracts Bill—to deal with owners' risk rates. I thought that was a good Bill. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City said that it was a good Bill, It passed the second reading without a Division, but owing to circumstances over which I had no control it went no further. These owners' risk rates, as they are worked by most of the companies, are a great hardship on traders, and I think they are particularly a hardship on traders in the fishing districts.
Not only does this association petition against the Bill, but there is also the petition which hon. Members must have seen of the dealer in Billingsgate who passes £500,000 in rates to the railway companies. He also is under a great apprehension that the passing of this Bill would do away with the facilities hitherto existing, and that the supply of fish at owners' risk would be taken away from them, and that the risk would have to be carried at companies' risk rate. Owners' risk rate, if carried out under competition, is not so bad, and is all very well for fish and other perishable produce if the trains arrive to time With competition there is some hope that will take place; but under amalgamation, where there is no competition, trains with fish have only to arrive late two or three mornings in the week to compel traders to send it at companies' risk rate, which is nearly double. Traders consider they are not safeguarded by the clauses or Instructions added to this Bill. Talking about Grimsby, let me mention that the owners' risk rate from Grimsby to London is 30s., and the company's risk rate 52s. 4d. for fish. The company carry foreign meat at company's risk rate for 25s., and foreign meat is carried from Birkenhead also at 25.s., while fish is charged 52s. 4d.
Those sort of grievances, I maintain, are not remedied by any of the clauses put in by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in this Bill. The Bill does not safeguard the interests of the traders in that respect. I submit nothing has been shown by the President of the Board of Trade in the Instruction he is about to move or in any of the clauses that any facilities will be given under this new combination. The only safeguard he has put down is one hardly worth the paper it is written upon, namely, that no charges are to be increased because of or on account of this amalgamation. I do not think hon. Members below the Gang- 804 way are satisfied with the promises as to workmen's clauses. As to that point, I do not know so much. With regard to the clauses and Instructions which have been put down, I do not think they adequately safeguard the passengers, the traders, or the workmen, and on that account I shall vote against the second reading.
With regard to Parliamentary procedure, I think we are asked to do a very curious thing in being asked to pass the second reading. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade has told us he wishes the Bill to go to a Committee, so that the Committee may place its own stamp upon it; that is to say, he think this Bill is not a good Bill as it stands. He puts down clauses in order to make it a presentable proposition; but does he think this is a presentable proposition to inquire into the whole railway policy and to produce a scheme to be brought before Parliament? Why should they do so on this particular Bill? The right hon. Gentleman is trying to force this Bill through Parliament, and we ordinary private Members are simply pawns between the railway directors and the President of the Board of Trade. We are told we are free to vote on this Bill, and we are told the Bill has not many merits, but that it is necessary to send it before a Committee to receive the stamp of approval of that Committee. We knew what the result will be when it comes back to the House. In those private Bills we are told we must send them to a Committee, and when they come back we are told, "You ought not to discuss them or not to cast reflections upon your private Committee which has sat upstairs."
Therefore the control of Parliament over these matters is almost absolutely taken away. I would like to read some remarks made by the Lord Chancellor a day or two ago in the appeal case in reference to the telegraph monopoly. He said:—This appeal is in admirable illustration of the danger to which the great interests of this country are exposed by the slovenly manner in which public Acts of Parliament are expressed, and the still worse way in which private Acts are expressed.I think this is a warning which we ought to take to heart. This Bill before us is a slovenly Bill, and the clauses added to it are so slovenly that we should not do our duty if we send the Bill upstairs to be considered by a Committee and do not consider it ourselves down here. Surely we are capable of forming an opinion down here as to whether the Bill is good and ought to pass the second reading or not. This sort of passing from the House of Commons to the Committee, and from the 805 Committee back again, is the way to produce the slovenly Acts to which the Lord Chancellor referred. I ask hon. Members who have any respect for private Members' right in this House to object to-night to this form of procedure.
We have been told by the President of the Board of Trade that this question of the amalgamation of railways ought to be inquired into by a Committee. Why does not he appoint a Committee for that purpose? There is no use in using that argument to induce us against our will and conscience to vote for the second reading of a Bill we do not wish to have. We may lose our independence, judgment and action altogether in this House if Bills are carried in this way. Private Members have lost almost all, arid now it is hardly worth while being a Member of this House at all. The whole business of the House is carried on now in a bureaucratic manner. When we do get a chance on a private Members' Bill or a private Members' night of dealing with a matter we are told to refer it to a Committee, or are put off in some other way which does not give us an opportunity of expressing the opinion of the House. If the opinion of this House had been expressed on Wednesday night the Bill would not have passed its second reading. It would have been defeated. I hope the House will not change its mind. It is a Bill which will establish an enormous monopoly, and which must be injurious to the great interests concerned, and which I hope the House will refuse to sanction.
§ Mr. SAMUEL ROBERTS
My hon. Friend behind me spoke against this Bill for his own district in the North of England. I am glad to have the opportunity of representing the views of a large city of the Midlands—Sheffield, with a population of 450,000, which is served by all three of these companies. The view of the Chamber of Commerce in Sheffield is that it would be to the public advantage, and to the advantage of the trade of the city, that this Bill should become law—with one small proviso: There is a small railway called the Sheffield District Railway, which is only about four miles long, and they would like some assurance that the facilities granted over this short line of railway are not diminished by the amalgamation. I think that that proviso will probably be met by the railway companies concerned. The view of these gentlemen whom I represent is this: They are much more likely to be served well by a fairly strong combination, as this combination would be, 806 than they are when served, as at present, by three companies, which are all more or less starved for money and have no money to spend for the development of their business and to meet the requirements of traders. They see this—that the revenues of the railway companies of this country have gradually diminished all round and the working expenses have gone up, and that in consequence of that they are starved for money, and that they would be much more likely to obtain money from the public if this strong combination goes through. The alternative they see is this: Secret arrangements and agreements between these companies. You cannot stop people making these agreements, as the right hon. Gentleman very properly pointed out in his impartial speech which he made the other night. Far better let us have the agreement above board with the safeguards and clauses which the right hon. Gentleman proposes for this Bill.
My hon. Friend behind me says that these safeguards are of no avail. Let us examine what they are. First of all there is the important Instruction which the President of the Board of Trade proposes to move, providing that the public interest should be represented before the Committee by counsel, through representatives of the Board of Trade and any other public Government Department, and that there is to be made a special Report to this House stating distinctly the advantages and disadvantages which would result to the interest of the public and to passengers or traders using the railway concerned, also the safeguards which are considered necessary to be placed in the Bill for the protection of special and general interests. Then we have the first clause providing for the maximum rates. This, in my opinion, is a very great concession to get from these railway companies, because it provides that the railways are to be treated as one railway, that the maximum rate is to apply only at the commencement of the journey, and that then the rates are to go on as if the railways were one railway. At present, when traffic is transferred from one of these railways to another the maximum rate is put on again when the transference commences, and traders have to suffer in that way. This is a very valuable concession. I do not know exactly the value in money, but it is a large amount.
As to passenger fares and rates charged I think the clauses proposed to be put in 807 this Bill will provide that there will be no increase in the passenger fares or rates charged by reason of the passing of this Bill. An appeal to the Board of Trade and to the Railway Commission will provide ample security. Then comes the very important clause as to facilities which provide that any of the authorities specified in section 7 of the Railway Traffic Act of 1888 may represent to the Board of Trade that the facilities in any district as regards either passengers, goods, or minerals have been unreasonably diminished as compared with the year 1908. Then the Board of Trade may call on the joint committee of the railway for an explanation and endeavour to' settle the matter amicably, and if it is not settled amicably they are then to make a complaint to the Railway Commissioners, who may order the joint committee to restore the facilities. Now, if hon. Members refer to section 7 of that Act, they will find that the public authorities who may make this complaint are "any borough or county council, or any chamber of commerce, or any urban or rural district council." "Any" of them. I think my hon. Friend is a little wrong in saying the public are not sufficiently provided for in enabling them to make proper complaint to the Board of Trade in regard to this matter. Then there is the clause with regard to servants. That is, "if during three years after the passing of this Bill any servant of these Railway Companies is discharged on account of the passing of this Bill, or by reason of its passing, then he is to have compensation." At present he is discharged, and he gets no compensation at all. You cannot, as I said, compel these companies not to make private agreements, but if they make private agreements the "discharges will take place without any compensation at all. I want my hon. Friends below the Gangway to realise that.
Perhaps I may be allowed to say—though it is no concern of mine—a few words on behalf of the shareholders of the railway companies. The right hon. Gentleman very truly stated in his impartial speech—if he will allow me to say so—that a large part of the capital in these railway companies is paying dividend at the present time. Three-fifths of the capital in the Great Central Railway is paying; no dividend at all, and taking the capital of the three railway companies at £117,000,000 there is not 3 per cent.
§ Mr. S. ROBERTS
The hon. Member will have his chance to reply afterwards. It may be said that these people advance their money on their own risk, and have no claim for compensation or consideration from this House. I do not agree with that. The money has been advanced for the public benefit. The public have received benefit, and are receiving benefit, and a large part of these people are receiving no interest on that money. I think myself they have a claim. If you calculate the loss on capital, say, in the last 15 or 20 years in the railways of this country, you will find, as most of us know very well, that shares have diminished enormously, especially ordinary railway shares. The shareholders are very much poorer to-day than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Yet this money has been devoted to the public service, and the public benefit. The railway companies were created, and have their standing by this House, and I think they have some claim on our consideration. There is one point I should like to put forward. I do not know what you would say, Sir, as Chairman of Committees, but since I have been in the House I have always taken it that it is a general rule that a Bill of this character has primâ facie a right to be read a second time. [Cries of "No!"] Yes, this House is not a tribunal to go into the minutiœ of this Bill. [A Voice: "The policy."] The policy, perhaps the general policy, but we are not the proper tribunal. The proper tribunal is a first-class Committee upstairs. The right hon. Gentleman proposes that this Bill should be referred to a Hybrid Committee with full power to go into every detail. Especially I should like to notice again that the Instruction which he proposes to move is: "That the Board of Trade, and any other Government Department, shall be represented by counsel and witnesses so as to be sure that the public interest is properly provided for."
And then they are to make a special report to this House, so that hon. Mem- 809 bers who have any doubt can, if they are not satisfied when that report comes, vote against the third reading of the Bill. For these reasons I sincerely trust this House will not refuse a second reading to this Bill, but that they will trust to this Committee which the right hon. Gentleman proposes.
§ Sir FRANCIS CHANNING
I am glad to have one or two minutes to lay before the House some of the reasons which have induced the Parliamentary Committee on Railway Traffic, of which I am chairman, to support and warmly advocate the motion of my hon. Friend. I do not at all agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield with regard to this particular Bill. The objection which we take to this Bill, and which I think can be shown to be an unanswerable objection, is that the Bill is not one of an ordinary type. It is not a Bill of the usual character affecting railways or waterworks, or other public bodies which raises no special question of principle, which only raises indirectly questions of limited controversy. This is a national question of supreme importance. What we have to say, and the ground of our objections, is not to be found in mere questions of detail. It goes to the very root of principles which should govern the State control of the railways of the country. We hold that this House will wholly fail in its duty if it does not reject this Bill summarily on the second reading. That sounds a strong proposition, but while admitting the force of what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield with regard to ordinary Bills, and recognising that in many cases factious and ill-considered opposition may have been offered to useful private Bills, what we do say is that this is a matter of totally different scope and magnitude. We ask this House not to read this Bill a second time, and not to accept any principle such as the second reading of this Bill would involve, until the whole question, the group of questions, which underlie this Bill, shall have been inquired into freely, openly, and fully by an authoritative body which can really lay an authoritative report before the House of Commons, upon which freely and openly the country can form a decided, clear, and definite opinion as to the future relations of the State to the railways. I listened with great interest to the extremely able speech 810 of the right hon. Gentleman. That speech would have been an admirably conceived speech if the Bill was of the character alluded to by the hon. Member for Sheffield, but it seemed to me it did not touch the real issues of this vast and revolutionary proposal. It did not adequately appreciate what the rights of the nation, the rights of the traders, and even what the rights of the Board of Trade are in respect to a gigantic proposal such as this is. I do not know positively—no one knows positively, that is part of our case—but I infer that this group of proposals, gigantic in their scope and sweeping in their character, are the direct offspring of the secret and unrepresentative conference which has been sitting so long at the Board of Trade. I can attribute no other origin to these proposals than that. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose ingenuity was evidenced in piloting the Merchant Shipping Bill, and the Patents Acts (Amendment) Bill through Parliament, and obtaining the assent of many bodies, initiated this conference. It seems to me he initiated it on wholly different lines from those he took with regard to these two other important and vital issues, in which he secured so definite and so great a success.
This Railway Conference, we know, has been absolutely overweighted by powerful railway directors and by skilled railway managers, who practically—it is an open secret—have had the management of the whole of this work from the beginning to the end. As to the representation on that body of the trading classes, of chambers of commerce and of chambers of agriculture, it has been simply ludicrous in its character, and absolutely lacking in cohesion and organisation—such cohesion and such organisation as would produce any effect on the results of the action of that Conference. I say that Conference has no' authority whatsoever, because it was absolutely unrepresentative in its character. I say that it has less than no authority, because its proceedings, in the position with which we are now faced, are absolutely blank. We know nothing about them; we have not yet received their report; we have not seen the evidence; we know nothing of the arguments which may have operated on their minds.
§ Mr. T. L. CORBETT
Does the hon. Baronet mean to imply that the Government appointed a Committee which was absolutely prejudiced in favour of this Bill?
§ Sir F. CHANNING
I do not wish to speak discourteously, but I think the hon. Member would be well advised if he were not to interrupt my arguments. I do not say that the Government appointed a prejudiced Committee, but I say that the body was unrepresentative. We know how boards appointed from time to time to deal with rivers, harbours, and many other matters are constituted, but this Conference was not constituted in that way. As regards the traders and the agriculturists of this country it has had practically no representative character. I wish to urge this special point. If I am right in attributing to this Conference and to this inquiry this extraordinary group of proposals now before us, we have this to complain of: we are recommended to accept the principle of this Bill before we have received any Report from this body. Then my right hon. Friend, in his speech, which I do not think the hon. Member for Chester was wrong in saying would carry a certain amount of dissatisfaction and dismay into the minds of traders of the country, went on actually to say that this Bill, with these additional clauses, on which I put the same interpretation as the hon. Member for South-East Durham, and hold that they give with one hand and take away rather more with the other, should be accepted as a model. I protest with all respect against the contention of my right hon. Friend that such a Bill as this should be, or could be made into a model solution of our railway difficulties, or laid before Parliament and the country as a plan for the future management of railways. I hold that this procedure is vitiated at the beginnng. If the second reading be passed, if we accept this Bill, we will have sanctioned the principle of the complete monopoly of the railway lines of this country, concentrated and controlled by a group of able men who will hold the nation and the traders absolutely in their hands, and form an irresistible vested interest, a practical despotism over the traffic and trade of this country, which the powers of the Board of Trade and of the Railway Commission will be wholly unable to restrict within reasonable limits. The President of the Board of Trade, in reply to a deputation introduced to him the other day, admitted that this Bill practically handed over half the area of England to these three railway companies.
If we take clause 17 we find that it gives unlimited power to form working agree- 812 ments and working arrangements and to set up joint boards with all other railways in the country, and if this is to be the model of our railway system, then I say we have a monstrous proposal laid before us—a proposal which will bring about almost inevitably and automatically a combination of the railways of this country, under one syndicate, for one purpose, and for one policy.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I assure my hon. Friend, who has urged grave objections, that he is absolutely mistaken as to the effect of the clause. It would not be legal.
§ Sir F. CHANNING
I differ very strongly from my right hon. Friend on that point. He may take that view, but I take the absolutely opposite view. I take the view that the very allowance made by that clause of all these agreements, the creation of joint boards all over the country, must inevitably legalise those agreements. When those boards are created they will practically dominate the whole of the country from one end to the other, and I see no escape whatever from that position. The right hon. Gentleman has contended that if we do not swallow this Bill at one gulp we shall be confronted with underground and secret combinations which will do far more harm to the country than this Bill. There again I absolutely traverse the whole of that contention. We know perfectly well that the Great Northern and Great Central Railways tried to force upon the country a working arrangement which was based upon the interpretation of a clause of the Act of 1858, and we know that that was made short work of by the Railway Commissioners when it was brought before them, and their decision was upheld on appeal. What does this Bill mean? It means the absolute recognition of these secret agreements and joint arrangements, the working of which, as my right hon. Friend supposes, are not perfectly free and easy to organise outside the purview of Parliament. The real gist of the matter is that the control which the railway companies are trying to obtain in this country over the whole traffic of the country must be obtained with the sanction of Parliament, and cannot effectually be obtained by any other means whatsoever. What is more, clause 17 ousts from the jurisdiction of Parliament or from its consideration each of these proposals which may be brought year by year before it for the combination of this railway and that railway for various purposes. 813 Those Bills would, of course, come to Parliament, and those interested would naturally have an opportunity of stating their objections and grievances caused by such proposal. As far as I can see, if this Bill passes with clause 17 in it those joint agreements and arrangements will be legalised, and Parliament will be ousted from any control in regard to the whole of that sphere. My right hon. friend says these people will have an opportunity of challenging and stating their case. I hope his view may have some foundation.
As I read the Bill, and as I have considered the whole of the grounds for believing that Parliamentary sanction is necessary for anything that can be really effectual for the purposes of the railways, I do not think there is anything in that contention. For the President of the Board of Trade to come here in the twentieth century and say he is powerless to restrain ill-advised, ill-considered, and unjust combinations is a declaration of doctrine which I little expected to have heard in my time from any President of the Board of Trade. If there are injurious combinations and agreements, then it is the first duty of the President of the Board of Trade to come to this House and obtain power to put his heel down upon all combinations which are prejudicial to the interests of trade. How is this Bill justified? We have heard a good deal from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, who put his case with that moderation and justice which one would naturally expect from him. What does it all mean? It means that the railways are poorer than they were. Why are they poorer? I believe that the railway companies have been hardly hit by the landlords and the lawyers upstairs in the past. Those two groups of expenditure might well have been dispensed with in the national interest. The traders have had to pay for these losses year by year, month by month, and hour by hour, in heavier charges and conditions as compared with the traders in other countries. The traders have had to pay for all the delinquencies of the landlords in the past. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is the fault of Parliament."] It is true that Parliament may have sanctioned many private Bills which did place certain railways under disabilities which caused loss to them. Railways have also suffered from Parliament judging unwisely as to the merits of certain Bills which exposed the companies to undue competition. But if the railways are poor it is largely owing to their bad finan- 814 cial management of those railways. As to the question of over capitalisation it was challenged the other day. But, in a debate last year, the hon. Member for Dulwich distinctly stated and admitted that about £200,000,000 of railway stock might be regarded as "watered."
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The hon. Baronet is entirely mistaken. The sum of £200,000,000 was given by another hon. Gentleman, and my point was, if the statement was accurate, the return on the balance was a poor return.
§ Sir F. CHANNING
The hon. Gentleman is extremely skilful and adroit in all his statements, and I at once accept his disclaimer, but the speech certainly conveyed to me the impression that he assented to that view. I affirm that view, and I do not think there is the slightest doubt that it is the true view. The railways have been enormously capitalised, and in certain cases the shares have been practically doubled, and what I say is that it is a gross and intolerable injustice for the traders and agriculturists of this country that they should be called upon to make up the dividends on watered stock. What is happening? The Great Central Railway is in a bad financial position. We know that another company, the Great Eastern, is distinguished for the great facilities and the wise arrangements it has made to serve the agriculturists of the eastern counties. The farmers of Lincolnshire have asked me what will be the result of this amalgamation? They ask if they will have the advantages of the Great Eastern Company, or will the whole of this combination be whipped up to the higher standard? In one of the Irish Amalgamation Railway Bills a clause was introduced to keep the rates all over the amalgamated companies at the lowest rate given over any portion of those railways, and that clause was absolutely ineffective. We know perfectly well what this Bill means. It does not guarantee, it cannot guarantee, and will not guarantee any gain whatsoever to the traders and agriculturists in the vast area over which it is concerned. This Bill is simply one to bolster up one weak company with two others to create a basis of credit on which to issue further liabilities in the shape of capital. I protest against that. It seems to me that while all wise men must wish to see the railways of this country placed on the soundest economic basis, and worked in a way profitable, to the shareholders and fair and reasonable to the traders, the policy 815 of the railway companies in their capital issues year after year is a mistaken policy. I do not know what is in the mind of my right hon. Friend. Some people may be dreaming of railway nationalisation if you can only get the railways into a ringed fence. I do not envy anyone the satisfaction he may get out of that dream. I think the result of such a plan would be to create a most gigantic vested interest in this country which we should never be able to deal with by acquiring national control over the railways in the national interest. The only suggestion I will make if we are to have amalgamation is that the first condition of amalgamation should be that the railways should adopt the principle of a sinking fund, just as our great municipalities adopt that principle, and just as all great borrowing corporations adopt it. Why should the first condition not be to diminish and not increase the liabilities of railway companies? I protest against this Bill. Having watched and studied the gigantic trusts and combinations in the United States, I say, do not let us by passing hastily Bills of this nature bring upon this country the tremendous evils with which President Roosevelt has been vainly struggling for the last two or three years. I want to see the railways of this country prosperous and well conducted, serving the country fairly. I want to see some approach made—whether it be by railway nationalisation, or heaven knows what means, I do not much care—to better and more economic organisation, giving better and cheaper conditions of traffic, so that we may be placed more on an equality with nations like Germany and other countries; but do not let us begin by taking a step in the direction of Americanising the railway system of this country. I hope the House will reject the Bill.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Baronet opposite has conjured up a vision of something terrible that is going to accrue to the country if this Bill passes second reading. He has informed us that the railways concerned cover half England. I have not measured the map, but I think his statement is at least slightly inaccurate. The three companies concerned do not cover a quarter of England.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Churchill)
Nearly half—not in mileage, but in geographical area.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I was talking of mileage. The hon. Baronet went on to say 816 that the railway companies were managed by extremely able men. With that I agree; in fact, it is the only part of the hon. Baronet's speech with which I do agree. But he also said that there had been extremely bad financial control and management, and I should like to know how he reconciles the two statements. He also cited the Board of Trade Committee, and was apparently under the delusion that this Bill is the outcome of that Committee, whereas the hon. Member for Chester, who spoke on Wednesday last, and who is a Member of that Committee, cited that body as being against this particular amalgamation. So that the hon. Baronet has apparently hardly studied the question, and when be expresses a hope that heaven may send some remedy, he does not much care what, it would be better if he took a little trouble and found out what the actual remedy proposed by the companies is. He also made a great point about "water." The actual amount of water is 10 per cent.
I have been asked by the three companies to reply to the arguments which have been advanced against the Bill, and to make on their behalf a statement of the position which they intend to take up in consequence of the course of events since last Wednesday. I did not seek that position. I was asked to take it up, and therefore I consented. I quite recognise the gravity of the effect of the few words I have to say to the House this evening, and I wish they had been entrusted to abler hands. I want to ask the House to accord me that indulgence which it always accords to people who have a difficult task to perform, and to recognise that—I hope I shall not make any slip—what I say is the considered judgment of the three companies concerned. They desire to put the facts of the case as they regard it before the House and the country. The three railway companies believe that this Bill will be an advantage to the public, an advantage to the men they employ, and an advantage to the shareholders, and it was in that belief that they introduced it. It must be admitted by everyone who has studied the question that rich and powerful companies give better service to the public and to the traders, and are better employers of labour, than the poorer companies. If that statement is questioned I would ask hon. Members to look at the London and North-Western Railway—I am in rather a difficult position, as I do not want to cast discredit on any particular railway—and then to look at the London, 817 Chatham, and Dover Railway. There can be no question whatever that the rich and powerful company has given a better service, not only to the travelling public but to the trader, and has been a better employer of labour than the smaller and more struggling company. I do not say that as in any way casting a slur upon the smaller companies. It is not their fault; they have not the money to do that which they would like to do; and it is only by allowing the companies to obtain the command of capital that you can get from them what I say, without hesitation, as a railway director of some years' standing, they are desirous of giving—that is, an efficient service to the travelling public and to the trader—notwithstanding what the hon. Member for Durham has said—and also to be good employers of the men who work for them. The effect of this Bill would be to enable these companies to bring about that result. Combined they can do what disunited they cannot do. I would ask those who travel whether they would prefer to have three trains starting at 12 o'clock from King's Cross, Liverpool Street and Marylebone, all of them nearly empty, or one train starting at 12 o'clock and another at half-past 12? Who would benefit? The public would benefit, because they would get an extra train, while the companies would benefit because they would save three useless trains and run two full ones. I have been told that this is going to stop all competition, that competition in the railway service will be bad. The hon. Member for Chester—I am sorry he is not in his place—advanced in support of this argument the opinion of Sir Edward Watkin. He said:I would like to give to the House on this question of competition the opinion of two very great railway men—the late Sir Edward Watkin, who was chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, said: 'There had been great progress in competition. and accommodation had been immensely increased, whilst rates and fares had largely decreased.' He also expressed the opinion that unconditional amalgamation which destroyed competition would be an unmitigated evil to the public.That is the opinion of Sir Edward Watkin, whom the hon. Member for Chester described as one of the greatest railway men. Sir Edward Watkin was connected with the Southeastern Railway. May I ask anyone who has travelled on the South-Eastern Railway, of which Sir Edward Watkin was chairman, and who has travelled on the Great Northern Railway, which was the better railway from the point of view of the public. There can be mo doubt at all that during the time Sir 818 Edward Watkin was chairman of the South-Eastern Railway it was one of the worst in the country, whether you regard it from the point of view of the shareholders or the public.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am perfectly aware that Sir Edward Watkin was chairman of that company, but the South-Eastern Railway was the one with which he was chiefly concerned, and I venture to say that I will not be contradicted in what I have stated with respect to that railway. He was also chairman of the Metropolitan Railway, and the result is that the Metropolitan shares at the moment are practically worth nothing. That railway has now been electrified, but that work ought to have been done many years ago. Sir Edward Watkin was chairman of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire, and was responsible for its coming to London, with the result that its shares have been reduced to almost nothing. It has been getting worse and worse from the point of view of the shareholders and the public.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Then we are agreed that the authority quoted by the hon. Member for Chester is admitted by the hon. Gentleman opposite to be a person of whom nothing ought to be said in his favour.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon. Member for Newcastle-on-Tyne also spoke against the Bill. He said, talking of over capitalisation:—Take the year 1850. British railways per mile were then capitalised at £34,000 per mile. What do they stand at at the end of 1907? Close upon £56,000 per mile. Who is to blame for it, and who should suffer as a consequence? The people who have rashly spent their capital over the companies. Might I give you au illustration of what has taken place? I refer to the Taff Vale as an illustration of the question of what is meant by spreading over. In 1889 they gave every holder of £100 of their No. 1 Preference Stock £125 of new Four per Cent. Preference Stock, and £ 150 Ordinary Stock. Every holder of £100 Ordinary Stock received £250 of new Ordinary Stock. Yes, but let us see the result. It is that we want. As a result the four per 819 cent dividend on the company's ordinary stock does not sound out of the way, until one realises that it is actually 10 per cent. dividend on the money really sunk in it.In 1850 the best of the railways consisted of two sets of lines with iron rails, and running over badly ballasted roads, the utmost speed of the trains not exceeding 40 miles an hour. At the present moment the main lines of the big companies consist of four lines of steel rails, perfectly ballasted. The permanent way costs a great deal of money. Over these lines trains run nearly 60 miles an hour. The carriages have dining and sleeping arrangements, they are lighted with electricity and heated by steam, whereas formerly the carriages consisted of what would merely now be considered as little better than cattle trucks. Does the hon. Member think that all this has been done without capital? The railway companies have done their duty to the public, and they have endeavoured to have a pride in owning well-managed concerns. I venture to say to the lines running to the north, there is no line that can compare with the Great Northern as regards facilities and comfort. It is just as well that these few fallacies should be exposed. The hon. Member below the Gangway talked about capitalisation, and brought forward the Taff Vale Railway, which, he said, had altered the amount of its ordinary stock by increasing it. The capital invested in the railways of this country amounts to thirteen hundred millions in round figures. The whole of the capital of the Taff Vale Railway is only £8,000,000, of which the ordinary stock amounts to £5,192,000. Now, what is the use of bringing forward to the House, as an illustration, a "two-penny ha'penny" little railway like the Taff Vale? In the great railways concerned in this Bill the capital has never been touched. The North Eastern, the North Western, and the Great Northern have preferred and deferred, but they declare their dividend on the original stock. The South Eastern also does so, and, although I am not sure, I think the South Western does the same, so that the argument is applicable only to the Taff Vale Company. The two railway companies have come to this conclusion with a great sense of the responsibility on which they are acting. They recognise that a great deal of what hon. Members call over-capitalisation has accrued through lengthy proceedings upstairs and through heavy legal expenses. They do not want to incur these heavy expenses or to waste the 820 time of hon. Members sitting upstairs in Committee, or the time of learned Gentlemen, if that can be avoided. They adopted rather the unusual course by going to the President of the Board of Trade and making to him—before the Bill came to the House of Commons—those concessions which they thought they might make in order to secure the passing of the Bill. They made these concessions instead of leaving them to be made in Committee upstairs, in order that the House of Commons, before it passed the second reading of the Bill, might thoroughly know all the conditions of the Bill, and all that the companies were going to receive. They recognised that the debate on Wednesday last was not very favourable to the passing of the Bill. They would not like the House of Commons to be under any delusion as to the action they proposed to take, and they have asked me to state that they have gone to the furthest limit of concession that they can go. In justice to the shareholders they can go no further, and though they recognise that by making this statement they may possibly run the risk of losing the second reading of the Bill—an event which they would greatly deplore—they must leave the responsibility of rejecting the Bill to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. T. LOUGH
I do not think that my hon. Friend who has just spoken has improved the prospects of the Bill. I think he would have been wise if he had left it to the able hands of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. I would like to ask you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if you remember the strange coincidence which took place last Wednesday when the Bill was before the House? This is a proposal for the amalgamation of three great railway companies, but in five years, instead of an amalgamation of three companies, it was proposed that we should have a National Railway Company—an amalgamation of all the companies—such as the National Telephone Company. This fact makes our debate a very momentous one, and throws a different aspect on the question which I ask the House to consider. The proposal is one which is of so great a change that it should not be hurried through the House, for we are asked to take a step which the House will never be able to retrieve. I ask the House to be deliberate in the matter, and to realise the greatness of the issue upon which it is called upon to decide. The right hon. Gentleman will agree with me if I say that he is using 821 every effort to persuade the House to accept this Bill. He should leave the issue to the House. I must say that I agree with my hon. Friend who has been disappointed at the action of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade. He says that the Government Whips will not be put on for the purposes of the Division. It is not the Government Whips that we fear, but we want to carry the President of the Board of Trade with us, and if he will leave this matter to the House he ought to do so in an open and generous spirit, and he ought to have some respect for the decision which the House may pronounce. The right hon. Gentleman should not have tried that persuasion so much, and I hope, if he takes the opportunity of speaking again, he will leave the matter frankly to the House, and use no persuasion of any kind, secret or open, to influence the decision upon this most important matter. The right hon. Gentleman recommended the Bill because he said he had secured some very valuable concessions. He directed our attention to two or three clauses he had put down upon the Paper in very good time. I will not examine these clauses at very great length, because they have already been somewhat severely handled, but I will say this about them, that if any one looks at them they will see that the clauses pre-suppose only that the present facilities shall be continued. That does not satisfy me. If the railway company should get great advantages they should be willing to divide them with the public, and there is no advantage in this clause for improving any facilities, and if any one studies the clause with regard to passenger fares and the clause with regard to goods and the clause with regard to service, he will be driven to this conclusion, that the real intention of the combination is secretly to withdraw facilities and to raise rates. What do the clauses mean? They say no rates shall be raised because of the passing of the Bill. Why should rates be raised for such a purpose? How can it be proved that the companies come forward to raise them because of the passing of this Bill? They would be wanting in all human ingenuity if they came forward with a case such as that. They will present primâ facie evidence of various kinds in favour of such a change, and they will succeed in getting it. Mark the kind of difficulties placed in the way of the traders by the right hon. Gentleman. My right hon. Friend says his clause shifts the onus of proof. There is 822 a sublime faith about my right hon. Friend in connection with this matter. Many of us are older hands, and have been before the Railway Commissioners, in whom he has such confidence. Many of us are traders, and have gone before the Board of Trade, and know what we got by the process, and if any one will examine these clauses he will know that no trader will get free access to the tribunals, and that even when he does get there he will find he gets very little for his pains and for his expense. I say the clauses are bad. If any hon. Member doubts that let him not accept what I say, but let him examine them for himself. Look at the papers issued by the Chamber of Commerce, which analyses the clauses and tears them to pieces, and shows they are no good to the traders of London. Look at the formidable opposition to this Bill! London is against it, Newcastle is against it and other great towns are antagonistic to it. [An HON. MEMBER: "Sheffield and Bradford are for it."] I will give the hon. Member the places he says are for it, but I venture to say the great bulk of the opinion of these localities will be found against the Bill. I want to remind the House of one observation made by my hon. Friend who spoke a few moments ago. He quoted a clause from the amalgamation Bill of 1900—the clause put into the Irish Amalgamated Railways Bill. It was that if any amalgamated line had low rates for any class of produce that rate should apply to all lines brought together. Why is not that clause brought into this Bill? It is not quite successful even that clause, but if it were inserted it would show evidence of the good spirit of my right hon. Friend. This was a real clause put in by the Board of Trade in an Amalgamation Bill. Why have we not got it here? Look what it would have done. On the Great Eastern Railway you have a low rate for agriculture, as low as any in the country, and if that had been extended to the Great Northern Railway and the Great Central Railway it would have been of great value to the farming interest. The Great Northern Railway and the Great Central Railway tap the coal district, and they have very cheap rates for heavy classes of goods. If that had been extended to the Great Eastern Railway system that would have been a great benefit. But this clause, which was a Board of Trade clause, has been carefully avoided by my hon. Friend, and I say that the clause that he has given us in substitution 823 for it is not worth the paper it is written upon. I am sorry to have to take another point with regard to this Bill. I would like to correct a few of the inaccuracies which were put before the House both by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, who moved the Bill, and the President of the Board of Trade. These inaccuracies, I must urge, with great submission to the House, have been made in the course of an attempt to make little of the great step which the House was asked to take. Take the length of the line that is to be amalgamated. My right hon. Friend told us that it was 2,412 miles, and the President of the Board of Trade confirmed that figure. The real length is 3,556 miles. The explanation is that the right hon. Gentleman did not take into account the lines worked by the companies, leased by the companies, or over which they have running powers. When they come in the magnitude of the undertaking is increased by 50 per cent. The President of the Board of Trade told us that the capital of the companies was 117 millions; that is totally inaccurate. The real capital is 170 millions. The reason is that he confined his view to the Preference and Ordinary shares, but what about the Debentures. They are the most important part of the capital, and if you take this gigantic figure of 170 millions the House will see that the problem assumes quite different proportions. When my hon. Friend said 117 millions, one of my hon. Friends said "part of it is watered," but the right hon. Gentleman said, "No, no water; this is money honestly provided by the people." Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Great Northern shares were watered in the year 1890, and £125 was given for every £100? Then my right hon. Friend said, taking the return on the capital, the return on the ordinary shares was only 3 per cent.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
What does he mean when he says in 1890 that the ordinary stock of the Great Northern Railway was watered?
§ Mr. LOUGH
I beg pardon, some stock. What I say is that £125 was given for every £100 subscribed.
824 Then my right hon. Friend became quite pathetic about dividends, and said the dividend was only 3 per cent.; but in these bad times 3 per cent, is not so bad at all. The worst line of these three for dividends is the Great Central. In 1889 the Great Central paid 3¼ per cent, on its ordinary stock. In 1890 it paid 2⅞ per cent., and then the dividends suddenly disappeared because the railway plunged into this scheme of building the line to London. The argument presented to the House now for the amalgamation shows that that line is not wanted. It is 47 miles too long, and the goods are now to come by the Great Northern and the Great Eastern—supposing they do come that way. What? benefit will it be to the poor public? The interest on the capital which has been sunk in the line which was not wanted will remain to be paid by those who have to bear the burden of the amalgamation just as it does at present. It would be better for the people who made the mistake to bear the punishment for their mistake. It is hardly just to ask the House or the country to take it over from their hands.
There is one other astonishing misstatement, I think rather a careless one, of the right hon. Gentleman with regard to the servants of the company. He said he had taken security that no employé of the companies should be dismissed because of the passing of the Bill. There is no such provision in this clause. The clause for the protection of the servants is very imperfect. It only lasts for three years. It does not secure that no one shall be dismissed, but only says compensation shall be provided if they are dismissed. That is a very different clause from that which is represented to us by the right hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
What I did was, in answer to a question, to state that there were five clauses which would be published as soon as the printer could get them ready. I published the clauses verbatim, and I am not to be charged with having represented anything differently.
§ Mr. LOUGH
I did not intend in the least to misrepresent the right hon. Gentleman. In fact, I am not in a position to do it, because I am quoting from his clause. I was quoting from the words of his speech, and I press upon him and on the House that his position is a little inconsistent. He is pressing us too much, and we do not like to be pressed like this. The decision at which he arrives is that 825 the matter should be left to the House of Commons, and I ask him to leave it in a generous, open spirit, and to repose some confidence in the decision which the House will ultimately pronounce. The great argument in the mind of my right hon. Friend is that if we do not pass this amalgamation we shall have underground burrowing and arrangements made in the dark instead of these other excellent arrangements. The only underground burrowing I fear is that which goes on at the Board of Trade. These companies, if they do not come to the Board of Trade or Parliament, may make any arrangement they like for aught I care. If the public became aware that they have made any improper arrangement, this House has got the means of putting it right in its own hands. If my right hon. Friend is really frightened because of those underground arrangements, I would ask him to take a more cheerful view of it. Let him not despair of the House of Commons. I will tell him how he will be able to get at those underground borrowings; in fact, I gave him a hint the other day when I asked a question. The first time one of those railways who have made what I would call an illicit, or underhand, agreement ever came to this House with a General Purposes Bill, let this House say: "We will not look at your Bill until you have laid on the table the agreement." This House has abundant powers in its hands to bring all those arrangements to book.
There is one other matter I should like to bring to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman. He referred to the recommendations of the Committee of 1872. He told us that Committee found a great deal of merit in combinations. I agree. I am not against properly constructed combinations, but I rather find fault with my right hon. Friend because he did not tell us all that Committee said. What did it say? It said that whenever there is a combination of this kind there are two provisions that ought to be taken for the protection of the public. There are more than two, but I refer to two. It said that none of those railways which were allowed to amalgamate should be allowed to retain the ownership of canals. One of these railways has two hundred miles of canals, and why might not that be an alternative course for traffic. The second recommendation was that none of those railways should be allowed to hold sea harbours or keep control of any port. That recommendation of the Committee of 1872 is 826 flagrantly broken in this proposal before the House. I say if we go back to the authority of the Committee we ought to look at it fairly and we ought to take advantage of any of the hints which they have given to the House for the protection of the public in the days that are to come.
I venture to say this: I am not against properly-considered amalgamation, or any other business arrangement, but what I argue is that it must be properly considered, fair terms must be given before any amalgamation of this kind is brought forward. The House will ask what I would suggest as fair conditions instead of the wretched conditions as now embodied in these clauses. In the first place, I would say I would rather see even a larger amalgamation than as proposed in this Bill than have anything to say to this partial amalgamation which still deals with half of England.
Let us look at the whole facts, and make up our minds. There is the first condition to be insisted on, and this would be that the public must be represented on the body that controls the amalgamated railway. This House cannot give up all their rights to gentlemen, to a board of directors, especially great power of this kind, who have announced openly that their only object is to make as much as they could. If there is to be any amalgamation the public must be represented on the authority that controls the railway. Then there is another principle that goes with that, the public must share the profit of the amalgamation and the loss, if you like. The public would certainly have to share the loss. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, he hinted to us he is going to keep up the dividend and increase the value of the shares. The right hon. Gentleman made a very pathetic case about shares being down to £18, and the dividend being so low. In the case of the London Docks he had shares down to £19 and has put them up to £70. How did he do it—by simply putting dues on goods. If I wanted to put the matter offensively, I would say by taxing the bread of the poor. How will he raise the dividends now? Ah! there is alchemy by which this thing is will only have a little thinner on the poor. If be sanctioned by this House, the principle should be embodied in the Bill that the country should share in the benefits of the amalgamation. Perhaps I may put it a little more plainly. I would say when the dividend 827 came to 4 per cent, on the ordinary stock, part of any additional profit over that should go, perhaps, to the servants, to improve their position, and the remainder should be divided between the company and the public. At any rate, there should be a provision for dividing the advantages of the arrangement. The only other condition I venture to suggest as relevant to this is the condition suggested in 1871, namely, that the companies should be asked to give up their outside services. These companies are great dockowners, great shippers, possessed of one exclusive harbour if not more, possessing canals and hotels, and they are carters and owners of shops in great cities, and all these things. All these special services should be looked into, and probably this House would find it wise to restrict the efforts of the railways to their own proper business rather than allow them to become great monopolists in these spheres. These are the only suggestions that I venture to make. If the House sees any merit in them, it will absolutely condemn this Bill. The conditions here are that nothing is offered to the public, nothing is offered to the servants, and nothing to the traders, and I fervently hope that when this House considers the matter this authority, which is the only authority fit to judge of it, will come to the decision to reject the Bill.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I would like to defend the President of the Board of Trade from one of the statements of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. He blamed him for coming down to the House and expressing his own opinion of this important question. I venture to say that no course could possibly be more disrespectful to this House than that the head of the one Department which has the best means of looking into questions of this kind should come down and not tell the House what is the opinion of the Board of Trade in regard to the matter. There has been a great deal of discussion as to whether this subject should be decided here or by a Committee upstairs. The principle is a subject to be decided by this House: the details, or anything approaching details, are obviously questions to be decided by a Committee upstairs. For that reason I shall not go into the details that have just been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman, although, as it happens I have some figures which would enable me to deal with some of his remarks. But as I do not think that the figures used by the right 828 hon. Gentleman, after the illustration afforded by his method of calculating the difference above and below 3 per cent., have left a very deep impression on the House, I shall not deal with them, and I shall confine myself to what seems to me to be the general principles which should guide this House in dealing with the matter. As far back as I can remember no subject excited more general complaint, and one that was more generally admitted by the public, than what was regarded as the silly competition which was indulged in by the different railways. This was the kind of thing of which I hail myself to speak. Two railways have communication between two great cities. As regards the passengers, it was never until quite lately even suggested that return tickets should be interchangeable on the lines, and the trains at each station in each city arrived at precisely the same hour, owing to the fear by each company that the other line should get any advantage over it, and for a great period of the day there were no trains arriving at or leaving either station. Then, if you turn to the traders—I am again giving my own experience—business people were pestered every week by canvassers coming and asking for their business by a particular railway, although they could not reduce the rates one iota in order to induce one to send the traffic by one line rather than another. Well, that great army of canvassers was carried on at a great expense, though it did not add one farthing to the total traffic of the railways. Take another instance. Whenever a railway company came to Parliament to ask for powers to improve a particular line the application was opposed by the other companies. Great expense was incurred, the money spent on these occasions added immense amounts to the capital of the railways, and that capital represents a loss not only to shareholders, but a loss of facilities to the general public. Well, now, surely there is not a man in this House who, on the general principle, will not say that that kind of competition is absurd, and ought to be put an end to.
But I agree, when you leave principles and come down to particular instances, such as is now before the House, that there is apparently great differences of opinion. I have listened to the speeches which have been against the Bill. It seemed to me, rightly or wrongly, that the line taken by everyone who opposed the Bill is this: That even though you do not show that trade, the public, or the com- 829 munity is going to gain, yet the railway companies are going to be benefited, and the shareholders going to get something, and that in itself is a reason why the House should look with suspicion on the Bill, and should reject it. I say that the exact opposite principle ought to guide us; that the line on which we ought to go is this: Unless you can show that there is going probably to be some disadvantage to the public, then it is an advantage, and nothing but an advantage, to the community, that railway companies should become profitable enterprises. Let the Mouse consider this proposition. Is it not certain that in any business, whatever it may be, there must be a great expenditure constantly going on if this business is to be kept up to date. Where can the money that they expend come from? It must come in one or two ways. It must come either out of profit or it must come by increase of capital. It is no exaggeration to say that from that point of view the railway system of this country has now come to a standstill. The companies cannot get capital. I took the trouble to ask a stockbroker, a friend of mine, to look up the prices for the last 20 years of two or three leading English railways, and compare them with American railways.
Let me tell the result—which is precisely the result that everyone would have expected. In regard to American railways, there has been a steady appreciation. In regard to the British railways there was a rise in the first 10 years. Since there has been a steady, persistent, and constant fall, which has reached enormous figures. I may add that during the last Recess I was staying with the chairman of a railway company, a friend of mine—not, I may say, one of the companies concerned in this discussion. Anything I am now saying is said purely impersonally, because I have never been a member of a railway board, nor have I held, or hold, any shares in the railways. I mentioned to my friend in conversation that it seemed to me that part of the line with which I was familiar ought to be electrified. This is what he said:—We know that perfectly well, but we have laid it down as an absolute rule that there must be no capital expenditure of any kind. Why? Because in our opinion the only chance of the recovery of the railway is that by means of the utmost economy, the utmost parsimony, we should be able to produce a dividend, and in that way to encourage the public again to give us capital which will enable us to carry on developments which are absolutely necessary if the railway is to be kept going.That is the general position which we have got to face. I ask the House to consider 830 that it must be to the disadvantage of every section of the community connected with railways that railways should not be able to provide the capital necessary to keep them up. It must be to the disadvantage of the traders. If the company cannot find the money to increase facilities and obtain further rolling stock then trade suffers. The hon. Member for Chester, who made a careful and well-reasoned speech against the Bill, mentioned one fact which has struck myself. He pointed to the enormous sums of money spent by these railway companies on new docks and facilities at the docks, and he drew from that the inference that a Bill of this kind is bad. I recognise that it is an expenditure which has not always been wise, but I draw exactly the opposite inference, namely, that the kind of competition which made them spend that money was wasteful and ought to be put an end to. Another point to which I attach the utmost importance in this: When I was at the Board of Trade we used to constantly have complaints that the cost of carrying produce from abroad was lower than the rate at which home produce is carried on the railways of this country. We looked into every case brought to our notice, but we never found a case where preference was given within the meaning of the Railway Acts. But I am bound to say this, that I always found, and I find now, that the difference between these rates for home produce and the dock rates is that the home rates are higher. All these railway companies have been spending their money in getting facilities for bringing in foreign produce, and they competed at rates which they found did not pay. Take away the motive for that competition and it immediately becomes the interest of those companies to develop the traffic on their own lines, and they would have, in addition, money available to spend on the development of their lines. I am bound to say that I agree with the hon. Member for Chester that the public should share in the advantages which the railways are going to get by this kind of arrangement. But it seems to me that what the hon. Member proposed to do was to prevent any advantages from being obtained. If there are no advantages, how are you going to share them? It seems to me that the obvious course for this House, is to throw no obstacles in the way of railway companies becoming profitable undertakings. Once they are profitable undertakings, as the President of the Board of Trade and the Chancellor of the 831 Exchequer know, there are a great many ways by which pressure can be put on railway companies, but how on earth can you put pressure upon them when the managers come to you and say that they are only paying expenses now. Let them once have a margin of profit, then the Board of Trade would have the power and the right to insist that in those cases reasonable rates should be given for home produce in this country. It is in the interests of the traders in the first place that railways should be reasonably profitable undertakings. If that is true as regards the traders, it is far more true as regards the workmen on railways. I am bound to say that I was surprised to hear the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle, who spoke as if he represented the railway workmen with regard to this question. I am sure he took the line which he believed to be best in the interests of the workmen, but I am perfectly certain that it is a shortsighted line. I remember that in the last Parliament my hon. Friend the Member for Derby used to give us at the Board of Trade some very bad quarters of an hour. He was constantly pointing out cases where railway men were badly treated. I remember on one occasion saying if you expect to get good terms for your men from the company is it not your business to prevent the railway companies being put to unnecessary expense and annoyance where no public advantage is to be gained. I pointed out that if there is a margin of profit on the working of the railways the servants of the railways have a chance of getting benefits, but if the railways are being starved certainly the position of the railway men cannot be improved. That is common sense, and apart from that it has been proved by experience. The cases the hon. Member used to bring before our notice of bad treatment of the railway servants were almost invariably from the poorer railways, and it was the better equipped companies which treated the men best. It is clearly in the interests of the railway servants that the railways should be a profitable institution, because if they are profitable the men will have a better chance of getting a share of those profits when they are made. I do not know whether I have time to go into some of the specific objections raised against this Bill, but I will take one which was raised in the speech of the hon. Member for Durham. I ask the House to re- 832 member that that statement comes from the North of England, which is served entirely by the North-Eastern Railway. A first point is that it is said that we are going to lose all the facilities which now exist of going to the Railway Commissioners and getting through rates on these systems But that does not apply to this district because they are all outside, and therefore they have the right to get these through rates from the Railway Commissioners.
The hon. member for Chester made a great point that that facility will disappear as between the Great Eastern and the Great Northern Railway, but I do not attach much value to it, and I say without hesitation if it is worth anything that is a point which the Committee upstairs is bound to consider, and see that the public does not come worse off than at the present time. The next curious statement in regard to the north-east of England is that competition is going to be done away with. That is a very curious statement coming from a district where there is no competition now. If you will look at this a little more closely you will see the meaning of it. These three railways have got ports and harbours of their own, and there will be a tendency to send traffic to benefit those ports and harbours. But the North-Eastern Railway has ports and harbours, too. Does it not send traffic to its ports and harbours? If you will look at this statement you will find the real object is not that competition is to be done away with, but by the amalgamation of these railways there will be a stronger kind of competition which will be more effective.
There is only one other point I should like to put to the House. The President of the Board of Trade said, and said quite truly, in my opinion, that this is not the only way in which railway companies can get working agreements of this kind. The hon. Member for Chester made the kind of business speech which I like to hear on this question. He said it is perfectly obvious that if the railway companies can get all they want without a Bill they would not be asking for this Bill. That is perfectly true. I confess that when I read the Bill first of all, and afterwards when I saw the clauses of the President of the Board of Trade, I did not see what was the object of the railway companies in having this Bill at all. I deliberately refrained from asking them what their motive is in bringing forward 833 this Bill. I will give to the House what seems to me to be the explanation of it. There are some things which the railway companies can obtain by agreement with each other without the assistance of the House of Commons, but there are some other things which they cannot get without coming to Parliament. After giving the matter the most careful consideration I can, the conclusion I have come to is that there is nothing which it has been suggested will injure the public that the railway companies cannot do now without coming to Parliament. On the other hand, there are some things which are of immense advantage in the way of economy which they cannot do without an Act of Parliament. In other words, it is impossible to get that concentration of management in one hand which is the very essence of economical management without coming to Parliament for power. I think there is another explanation which anyone as acute as the hon. Member for Chester will have no difficulty in seeing. Railway companies by getting an Act of Parliament instead of an agreement among themselves have a far better chance of being able to go to the public and get the capital necessary to develop the lines. The right hon. Gentleman who spoke last tried to make the House imagine that that was a bad thing.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
The right hon. Gentleman said that what they would do would be as soon as they got this Bill to go to the public and get the money. I am in the recollection of the House. At all events, that I think is one of the objects. There are none of the things which have been complained of that the railway companies cannot do without this Bill. The best proof I can give of that is to take the arguments which have been used against the measure. Take the argument of the hon. Member for Newcastle. He told us that far fewer men were being employed on particular railways now than ought to be employed, that the rate of wages had fallen since 1900, and that the hours of labour are longer. I do not know whether that is so or not, but in either case is it not obvious that whatever has happened has been done without this agreement, and nobody has given us any reason to believe that the changes will be greater under the new conditions than under the old. The hon. Member for Chester himself gave us a list of 834 facilities which he said had been lost. One of them seemed a little peculiar, namely, that the rates for the carriage of coal had been raised. When it is remembered how tremendous was the rise in price, and what an enormous sum the railway companies had to pay for coal, it does not seem a very unreasonable thing that under such circumstances they should get a little more for carrying it. Personally I should not think it an unfair arrangement in such a case that there should be a sliding scale. But, apart from that, the whole trend of the hon. Member's argument was that we should not have this Bill because of the evils which have already happened.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
That is just exactly what I said. The hon. Member's facts were things which had happened; his prophecy was about something that might happen in the future. The hon. Member probably had something else in his mind. He probably thought that the Government or the Board of Trade would step in and stop all these agreements. They certainly cannot. Nobody can compel railway companies to indulge in cutthroat competition against themselves when they have realised that it is foolish competition. In any case, whatever power the Board of Trade may have in a matter of this kind will not be interfered with by the carrying of this Bill. Whatever they do they must do all round—to those who come to Parliament for agreements and those who make agreements without coming to Parliament. It seems to me that nothing could be worse, from the House of Commons' point of view, that to put companies who come and lay their cards on the table in a worse position than companies who do the same thing without coming to the House of Commons at all.
Well, I am bound to say that I cannot imagine any proceeding more foolish than that the House of Commons, after everybody has been complaining for years that the railway companies are indulging in silly competition, should step in and try to prevent them from putting an end to that silly competition. There is only one section of the House which has any reasonable or logical right to prevent the second reading of the Bill. I admit that that 835 section has the right. That is the section which desires the nationalisation of the railways at all costs, and, from their point of view, it is quite right to try to refuse facilities of the kind now asked. It is right in two ways from their point of view. If you make railway ownership impossible you will make out a case for nationalisation, and if it should be necessary to pay something for the railways, by driving them as a preliminary into the bankruptcy court, you will get them a great deal cheaper. I am bound to say that section of the House is a very small one, and I feel that other Members of the House really desire that the railway companies should conduct their enterprises in the best way in the interests of the public, and in their desire to put down unnecessary expense they should get a fair trial.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The House is now asked to make an important decision. The Government wish to make it clear to the House that this is a private Bill. The Government is not responsible for the Bill. The Board of Trade is not responsible for it. I did not initiate it, I do not conduct it, and if it were rejected I should not repine. It is a private Bill, but although it is a private Bill it is one which raises wide issues. It touches public interests, and not merely private and sectional interests. So far as private and sectional interests are concerned, I have nothing to say. Whether Hull or Grimsby will be benefited, and how this matter will affect the North-Eastern Railway, who will be benefited and who will suffer by the changes, what benefits will be derived by the coal trade or other trades, or what small and what large traders will be benefited—all these are matters about which no doubt there are grave disputes, which, in my humble judgment, do not come within the scope of the decision which the House is asked to take to-night. Parliament has appointed a regular procedure for dealing with private and sectional interests. We have heard a great deal about private and sectional interests in the course of the debate for and against the Bill. Parliament has devised the method by which those interests may be examined and cross-examined, and heard by witnesses and counsel, by which they may be tested and adjusted, and that method of procedure is infinitely preferable to any attempt which we can make here on the floor of the House in the 836 time available even on the most generous construction of our rules for the discussion of private business. I do not complain in the least that Members who represent private and sectional interests have spoken in this debate; but I think the House has already instituted a proper tribunal where all such claims may be dealt with in a way we cannot pretend to deal with them here, and I think the House ought not to be allowed to be influenced by private and sectional interests. Now, Sir, I venture to say further that neither ought we to argue about the form or the detail of a particular clause. I could criticise some of the clauses. I could also criticise some of the criticisms of some of the clauses. My right hon. Friend has referred to clause 17, and I admit that the words are somewhat wide; and I have received an undertaking that the companies will accept any amendment which the Board of Trade will propose. I only refer to this matter in order to say to the House that the form and details of the Bill ought not to be dealt with and disputed in the House, because no scrutiny which we can give to these matters can be other than partial, and not to be compared with the scrutiny which some of the ablest Members of the House have exercised after hearing all the evidence, having all the facts thrashed out day after day, and all the matters of an extremely complicated and controversial question dealt with.
We ought not to decide to-night on private and sectional interests; and I venture to say that neither should we be led from the main points of issue by matters of detail and form; but we should decide upon broad grounds of policy. What are the broad grounds of policy? There are three main grounds. First there is the general treatment which the House should accord to private Bill legislation. On that the Government have a clear opinion. We think, and we base our opinion on the long practice of the House—an opinion which has been inculcated by Chairmen of Committees—that unless a private Bill has been shown primâ facie to be unquestionably against the public interest it should, as a matter of fact, be dealt with. There is considerable difference between the vote for the second reading of a private Bill and the second reading of a public Bill. A public Bill deals with matters that are controverted and disputed in the House of Commons—matters upon which all the Members are called upon to express an opinion; but a private Bill is a matter 837 which, when brought before Parliament, differs from a public Bill, inasmuch as a vote on the second reading does not carry with it the same affirmation as in the case of a public Bill. The House of Commons has a wholly different procedure in dealing with private and with public Bills. A private Bill goes to a second reading at a comparatively unimportant stage, and it is not until after that that evidence can be brought forward on its behalf. Therefore the refusal to read a private Bill a second time is a refusal to hear evidence upon the question which is brought forward. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington has said, it is telling the persons who bring the Bill forward, "We will not even look at your Bill" and this attitude he recommends the House to take. And here let me say, and I am backed by all the authorities in this House that as a refusal to read a Bill a second time amounts to a refusal to hear evidence on the case, so acceptance of the second reading of a private Bill does not bind the House to the general principle of the Bill. The House is perfectly free without any inconsistency to reject that measure upon third reading. The vote for the second reading means no more than provisional assent to evidence being brought forward and to having the case stated, without interfering with the opportunity of rejection after the matter is examined by the tribunal and procedure which the House appoints; and therefore I venture to say that if no very flagrant and apparent vice appears upon the face of a private Bill the House would not be justified in a refusal to examine the Bill by the ordinary procedure which the House has devised for the purpose. The second question which the House has to ask itself is whether the proposals in this Bill are so vicious and contrary to the public interest that the House has no choice but to forbid it without further examination; that the House is bound to sweep it away, to dismiss it with one single gesture of disapprobation, and to terminate the subject out of hand with one single stroke. I, at any rate, look at this matter with absolute impartiality, caring nothing for the special interests of the railway companies or any particular interest represented in this matter, and having done my very best to look impartially into the whole matter, although the hon. Member opposite said I laboured deliberately to deceive the House, which is a departure from the courtesy with which Members of his party have always treated me. His language was in that re- 838 spect a divergence from the usual courtesy they display—
§ Mr. WARDLE
May I be permitted to say that there was one sentence in my speech which was not reported, and which qualified what I did say. I said the right hon. Gentleman had either deliberately misled the House, or did not know what he was talking about, or else had been misled by those who advised him, and I am prepared to justify what I said.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
The hon. Member has always treated me with great courtesy, and although I do not pretend to be an expert on railway matters, I do speak as one who has long and carefully considered the matter with my experts, and I put forward no opinion without the sanction of my experts. As to the question of my having deceived the House I am sure the hon. Member does not want to press that. The question the House has to decide whether this Bill is primâ facie so constituted against the public interest that it cannot be further examined. On that I have no difficulty in forming a clear opinion. The second question is, What do the House think about the great principle of amalgamation? In regard to this great movement and tendency to amalgamation which has travelled by so many roads and pre-occupied the minds of all who are interested in railway matters, is the House going to say that as long as railways are under private management we are opposed to all further amalgamation? Is that going to be the position which the House is going to take up? I earnestly hope it will not be the position which the House will take up. The immediate future of British railways, as my right hon. Friend has sought to show, depends upon amalgamation. Every amalgamation improves the case and prepares the way for the larger amalgamation which will come in the future, and it is unthinkable that the universal amalgamation such as that contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman can possibly be carried out by any Government in this country without at the same time a wider and larger measure of public control being established than now exists at the present moment. Amalgamation cannot bar the future, it is 839 the future. I agree in that respect with the hon. Gentleman opposite, who has shown in his speech the high qualifications that he possesses for discussing this matter or any matter of this kind. It cannot be in the interests of the employés of a railway to be servants in an unprosperous concern which is struggling with difficulty to maintain itself in a state of stagnation, and which has no means of raising further fresh capital. It cannot be of interest to the traders or the general public to be served by railways which do not offer investments which anybody having an alternative would choose, or is even likely to make an investment in; and it cannot, I say without hesitation, be anybody's interest that shareholders who have invested honest money in railway enterprise should not receive a reasonable, moderate, and fair return for the wealth which they have devoted to that purpose. I wonder what my hon. Friend the Member for Chester would think if anybody came to him and suggested that he should invest the not inconsiderable share of this world's goods which he has at 2½ and 2¾ per cent.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
I was speaking of my hon. Friend's own funds. I say, without in any way impugning the discretion of the trustees, I would ask whether he would be satisfied over the whole range of his financial operations with a return from his money of 2.97 per cent. I do not think he would, and I think probably a similar opinion is shared by a great number of people, who agree with the shrewd view which my hon. Friend takes upon the subject. If that is so and in so far as it is so in regard to lines of railway what the hon. Gentleman said absolutely applies, and it cannot be argued that it does not. There must be stagnation, there cannot be new development, there cannot be increased facilities for the traders, and there cannot be increased benefits to the operatives on the lines which they are constantly seeking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton said this operation of supreme importance ought not to be carried through until the whole question had been inquired into and fully investigated. That brings me to the third question. If the first question is one of procedure the 840 second is the general principle of amalgamation and the third is an entirely practical one. What will be the consequences of the vote which the House is now asked to give? If the Bill is rejected there is an end of the matter and many other matters as far as railways are concerned, and I fear so far as this Parliament goes, I think it is unlikely that other schemes of combination—and there are a good many other schemes of combination—will secure the sanction of this House. What can be done without Parliamentary sanction will be done, and a great deal can be done which it will not be easy to stop by legislation. But there is one thing which cannot be done by railway companies without Parliamentary sanction. They can make their combinations, they can dismiss their workmen, they may take all sorts of steps of that character, they may alter their rates, but without Parliamentary sanction they cannot get facilities for raising fresh capital, because it is only by statutory authority which Parliament will afford them that those facilities and advantages will be gained, and I believe there is no exaggeration in what the hon. Gentleman opposite has stated that many things which will be detrimental to the public interest may be done without the sanction of the House. This part of the operation which would be beneficial, and which is vital if the healthy progress of British railways is to be maintained, requires Parliamentary sanction, and will be destroyed if Parliamentary sanction is refused.
I am urged to adopt an alternative method to that which I now venture respectfully to counsel upon the House. I am urged to appoint a Select Committee or a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole question of combinations and amalgamations. If the House declines to read this Bill a second time I do not exclude that method, but I warn the House solemnly that such an inquiry will be protracted, and that the delay will be such that it is very likely that no report will be presented in time for legislation within the scope of this Parliament, and as that inquiry throughout its whole course will be an academic inquiry, not of a practical character, without any real issue or real measure before it. I am told to consider the precedent of 1872. The precedent of 1872 is that an important inquiry was held when such a Bill as this was introduced, but the Bill was never heard of again. When the inquiry had reported and made some very valuable recommendations and others of a negative character, especially 841 in regard to combinations and amalgamations, the measure which had led to its being initiated was never brought forward again, and the process being already prepared, no suitors came forward, and the reason, I am informed, why the measure did not come forward was, that the railways in question found they were able to secure what they wanted without recourse to the procedure proposed.
To compare such an inquiry as I am now asked to initiate, such an abstract and vapoury discussion, with the kind of inquiry which will follow if the Instruction of the Board of Trade be adopted, is really to compare a sort of debating society discussion upon, we will say, murder and suicide, with a coroner's inquest upon the body of a man. There is as great a distinction between theory and reality as there would be in these cases. I suggest to the House that instead of an unreal and visionary inquiry a full examination of real and concrete proposals, with the actual interests represented and with the real facts brought by those concerned before the Committee, is infinitely of greater value to those who wish to see public interests protected and public opinion guided into larger combinations of railway enterprise and more perfect and more satisfactory methods of public and State control. Under the Instruction of the Board of Trade we should have an opportunity of making before the Committee the whole case of amalgamations in the public interest, and we should make that case with all the information which we have acquired during these conferences which have been held for the last year, which have been somewhat disrespectfully referred to to-night, which were instituted by my right hon. Friend, and which were abandoned for this very reason—that you could not get any further by mere words. You require definite and concrete proposals before you can achieve any further results. All we have learnt by these conferences we shall be able to put forward before the Committee in the public interest. I propose to secure that these thoroughly able and competent persons should help us and call witnesses who would unfold before the whole nation the essence and the main features of the great question of railway amalgamation.
The House has to choose. I am not going to make myself unhappy at the decision whatever it may be. We carefully refrained from assuming a direct responsibility in regard to the merits of the Bill. All we admit responsibility for is to say 842 that in our judgment this is not a Bill which the House should refuse to examine by the regular procedure provided. The House has to choose between a discussion of this great proposal on its merits and taking up a position of non possumus upon the question of railway amalgamation. It has to choose between refusing to hear evidence on this subject, probing it thoroughly, or holding an inquiry into the era of railway amalgamation of an extremely discursive character, and a real inquiry into a definite live proposal. Reviewing those various alternatives which are presented, I have no doubt or hesitation that in the general interests of the trade and industry of the country the position of this House should be in conformity with its regular practice to have this Bill thoroughly sifted and examined to-day, and to hold its own opinion absolutely unprejudiced in reserve until the subject is explored in the only manner by which it can be properly examined.
§ Mr. RICHARD BELL
The speeches made to-night on both sides have a great deal in their favour, but I wish to say at once that I am going to support the second reading of this Bill, and I must crave the indulgence of the House to be allowed to give my reasons. The President of the Board of Trade has already made some promises which I accept as a small measure of protection both to the traders and the employés. I am convinced that my action in supporting this Bill is conducive to the best interests of the employés so far as the small measure of protection is concerned. I have come to the conclusion from some particular knowledge and experience of the treatment meted out to the employés of railway companies who' have indulged in recent agreements by which they have hit both traders and employés. I refer to the Scottish railway companies. I believe that most people have read with keen anxiety, and some disappointment I dare say, of the action of the Scottish railway companies by their pooling arrangement by which they hit very hard the traders and manufacturers in Scotland—so much so that a large number of the manufacturers threaten to close their works as a protest against the action of the railway companies. That was done without any Bill in the House of Commons; and if they can do this to the danger of the manufacturer, and therefore to the danger of the workers of the country, without coming to Parliament, let 843 us have the thing openly discussed in Parliament with a small amount of protection given to the workers, whether railway employés or not.
The Scottish railway companies have dismissed scores of their men, and hundreds are now working short time. Coming nearer home we find that by private arrangement, by pooling or otherwise, they have also hit the public to some extent, and their employés. They have discontinued trains where they formerly kept them on. That is not giving facilities designed to the interests of the employés. We read in our papers a short while ago a great deal of discontent of the general public at the London and North-Western Railway people in discharging a large number of the men of the North London Railway, whom they had taken hold of without coming into Parliament for power. Therefore, if the railway companies by secret agreement, by some undercurrent arrangement, today can do a majority of the things they can do by the power conferred on them by this Bill, then I say let us have it discussed in this House, and by the Committee, and apply the protection which has already been promised, and which I have no doubt will be put in, and if I can have some little influence I will endeavour to
§ get others. From a few letters I have received men have already been interfered with by one of those companies. I want to safeguard the interests of those men. That is why I support this Bill. I know the clause which the right hon. Gentleman has promised to insert is not all I desire to protect the employés, but at any rate it is a small measure of protection. I shall endeavour to get those clauses improved. The traders are well able to look after themselves, but I am not in any way speaking disparagingly or unkindly of them, but I have at any rate to look after the interests of the employés as well as I can possibly do in a measure of this kind.
§ This is a small measure of protection which is going to be inserted in this Bill—that no men shall be dismissed unless they are compensated. It does not say how much compensation. It will not be my fault if it is not stated what amount of compensation shall be paid. What I want to do is to enlarge on that principle and to get some small measure of protection for the employés and for the traders also.
§ Question put: "That the word 'now' stand part of the question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 140; Noes, 126.845
|Division No. 49.]||AYES.||[11.2 p.m.|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey|
|Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F.||Duckworth, Sir James||Hyde, Clarendon G.|
|Agnew, George William||Duncan, Robert (Lanark, Govan)||Illingworth, Percy H.|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)||Kearley, Sir Hudson E.|
|Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch)||Elibank, Master of||Kennaway, Rt. Hon. Sir John H.|
|Astbury, John Meir||Etnmott, Rt. Hon. Alfred||Kimber, Sir Henry|
|Balcarres, Lord||Evans, Sir Samuel T||Lamont, Norman|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Everett, R. Lacey||Lane-Fox, G. R.|
|Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Falconer, J.||Law, Andrew Bonar (Dulwich)|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Fell, Arthur||Layland-Barrett, Sir Francis|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Ferguson, R. C. Munro||Lewis, John Herbert|
|Beale, W. P.||Fletcher, J. S.||Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David|
|Beauchamp, E.||Forster, Henry William||Lupton, Arnold|
|Bell, Richard||Freeman-Thomas, Freeman||M'Micking, Major G.|
|Bellairs, Carlyon||Fuller, John Michael F.||Maddison, Frederick|
|Bridgeman, W. dive||Gardner, Ernest||Markham, Arthur Basil|
|Bright, J. A.||Gibb, James (Harrow)||Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston)|
|Bull, Sir William James||Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol West)||Marnham, F. J.|
|Burns, Rt. Hon. John||Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John||Menzies, Walter|
|Causton, Rt. Hon. Richard Knight||Gooch, Henry Cubitt (Peckham)||Mildmay, Francis Bingham|
|Cave, George||Gretton, John||Montagu, Hon. E. S.|
|Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston)||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)|
|Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Guinness, W. E. (Bury St. Edmunds)||Morpeth, Viscount|
|Clough, William||Gurdon, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Brampton||Morrell, Philip|
|Cochrane, Hon. Thomas H. A. E.||Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B.||Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.)|
|Corbett, C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead)||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale)||Newdegate, F. N.|
|Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Haworth, Arthur A.||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)|
|Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Hay, Hon. Claude George||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)|
|Dalrymple, Viscount||Hedges, A. Paget||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)|
|Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||Hobhouse, Charles E. H.||Pease, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Saff. Wald.)|
|Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Hodge, Sir Robert Hermon-||Peel, Hon. W. R. W.|
|Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott-||Holland, Sir William Henry||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp|
|Dobson, Thomas W.||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pretyman, E. G.|
|Doughty, Sir George||Houston, Robert Paterson||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)|
|Priestley, W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)||Vivian, Henry|
|Raphael, Herbert H.||Smith, F. E. (Liverpool, Walton)||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Rea, Waiter Russell (Scarborough)||Spicer, Sir Albert||Waring, Walter|
|Rees, J. D.||Starkey, John R.||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Renton, Leslie||Stewart-Smith, D. (Kendal)||Whitbread, S. Howard|
|Ridsdale. E. A.||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)||White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)|
|Rogers, F. E. Newman||Talbot, Rt. Hon. J. G. (Oxford Univ.)||Whittaker, Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Rose, Charles Day||Tennant, Sir Edward (Salisbury)||Williams, W. Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)||Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)||Williamson, A.|
|Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)||Thomson, W. Mitchell- (Lanark)||Younger, George|
|Schwann, C. Duncan (Hyde)||Toulmin, George|
|Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Eugene Wason and Mr. Samuel Roberts.|
|Seely, Colonel||Valentia, Viscount|
|Shipman, Dr. John G.||Verney, F. W.|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Renwick, George|
|Alden, Percy||Haslam, James (Derbyshire)||Richards, Thomas (W. Monmouth)|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Richards, T. F. (Wolverhampton, W.)|
|Barker, Sir John||Hazleton, Richard||Richardson, A.|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Henry, Charles S.||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs.)|
|Barnes, G. N.||Higham, John Sharp||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R.||Hills, J. W.||Robinson, S.|
|Benn, W. (Tower Hamlets, St. Geo.)||Hobart, Sir Robert||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Bethell, Sir J. H. (Essex, Romford)||Hodge, John||Rowlands, J.|
|Bignold, Sir Arthur||Hooper, A. G.||Schwann, Sir C. E. (Manchester)|
|Boulton, A. C. F.||Hope, John Deans (Fife, West)||Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Horniman, Emslie John||Sears, J. E.|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Jenkins, J.||Seaverns, J. H.|
|Bramsdon, T. A.||Johnson, John (Gateshead)||Seddon, J.|
|Branch, James||Johnson, W. (Nuneaton)||Shackleton, David James|
|Brigg, John||Jowett, F. W.||Shaw, Sir Charles E. (Stafford)|
|Brodie, H. C.||Kekewich, Sir George||Silcock, Thomas Ball|
|Brooke, Stopford||Kilbride, Denis||Snowden, P.|
|Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh)||Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester)||Stanier, Seville|
|Burke, E. Havlland-||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Win.||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Lea, Hugh Cecil (St. Pancras, E.)||Stewart, Halley (Greenock)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich]||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Channing, Sir Francis Allston||Levy, Sir Maurice||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)|
|Cleland, J. W.||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Summerbell, T.|
|Cobbold, Felix Thornley||Lyell, Charles Henry||Thompson, J. W. H. (Somerset, E.)|
|Collins, Sir Win. J. (S. Pancras, W.)||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Cooper, G. J.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)||Walters, John Tudor|
|Cotton, Sir H. J. S.||Micklem, Nathaniel||Walton, Joseph|
|Cowan, W. H.||Montgomery, H. G.||Wardle, George J.|
|Crooks, William||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Curran, Peter Francis||Newnes, F. (Notts, Bassetlaw)||Watt, Henry A.|
|Dalziel, Sir James Henry||Nicholls, George||Weir, James Galloway|
|Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||Nolan, Joseph||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Edwards, A. Clement (Denbigh)||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)||Oddy, John James||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
|Essex, R. W.||O'Grady, J.||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Fenwick, Charles||Parker, James (Halifax)||Wilson, Henry J. (York, W.R.)|
|Ferens, T. R.||Parkes, Ebenezer||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Walter||Pickersgill, Edward Hare||Winfrey, K.|
|Griffith, Ellis J.||Priestley, Arthur (Grantham)|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Radford, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Mond and Mr. W. Hudson.|
|Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)||Ratcliff, Major R. F.|
§ Question put: "That the Bill be now read a second time."846
§ The House divided: Ayes, 136; Noes, 111.847
|Division No. 50.]||AYES.||[11.10 p.m.|
|Acland, Francis Dyke||Causton, Rt. Hon. Richard Knight||Duckworth, Sir James|
|Acland-Hood, Rt. Hon. Sir Alex. F.||Cave, George||Edwards, Sir Francis (Radnor)|
|Agnew, George William||Cecil, Evelyn (Aston Manor)||Elibank, Master of|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston S.||Emmott, Rt. Hon. Alfred|
|Allen, A. Acland (Christchurch)||Clough, William||Evans, Sir Samuel T.|
|Balcarres, Lord||Cochrane, Hon. Thomas H. A. E.||Everett, R. Lacey|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Corbett. C. H. (Sussex, E. Grinstead)||Falconer, J.|
|Balfour, Robert (Lanark)||Cornwall, Sir Edwin A.||Fell, Arthur|
|Banner, John S. Harmood-||Craig, Herbert J. (Tynemouth)||Ferguson, R. C. Munro|
|Beach, Hon. Michael Hugh Hicks||Craik, Sir Henry||Fletcher, J. S.|
|Beale, W. P.||Dalrymple, Viscount||Forster, Henry William|
|Beauchamp, E.||Dewar, Arthur (Edinburgh, S.)||Freeman-Thomas, Freeman|
|Bell, Richard||Dickson-Poynder, Sir John P.||Fuller, John Michael T.|
|Bellairs, Carlyon||Dickson, Rt. Hon. C. Scott-||Gardner, Ernest|
|Bridgeman, W. Clive||Dobson, Thomas W.||Gibb, James (Harrow)|
|Bright, J. A.||Doughty, Sir George||Gibbs, G. A. (Bristol West)|
|Burnt, Rt. Hon. John||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Gladstone, Rt. Hon. Herbert John-|
|Gooch, Henry Cubitt (Peckham)||Markham, Arthur Basil||Seely, Colonel|
|Gretton, John||Marks, G. Croydon (Launceston)||Smith, Abel H. (Hertford, East)|
|Guinness, Hon. R. (Haggerston)||Marnham, F. J.||Smith, F. E. (Liverpool, Walton)|
|Guinness, W. E. (Bury St. Edmunds)||Menzies, Walter||Spicer, Sir Albert|
|Gurdon, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Brampton||Mildmay, Francis Bingham||Starkey, John R.|
|Haldane, Rt. Hon. Richard B.||Montagu, Hon. E. S.||Stewart-Smith, D. (Kendal)|
|Harcourt, Rt. Hon. L. (Rossendale)||Morgan, J. Lloyd (Carmarthen)||Talbot, Lord E. (Chichester)|
|Haworth, Arthur A.||Morpeth, Viscount||Talbot, Rt. Hon. J. G. (Oxford Univ.)|
|Hay, Hon. Claude George||Murray, Capt. Hon. A. C. (Kincard.)||Tennant, Sit Edward (Salisbury)|
|Hedges, A. Paget||Newdegate, F. N.||Tennant, H. J. (Berwickshire)|
|Hobhouse, Charles E. H.||Nicholson, Wm. G. (Petersfield)||Thomson, W. Mitchell(Lanark)|
|Hodge, Sir Robert Hermon-||Pearce, Robert (Staffs, Leek)||Toulmin, George|
|Holland, Sir William Henry||Pease, Herbert Pike (Darlington)||Ure, Rt. Hon. Alexander|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Pease, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Saff. Wald.)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Houston, Robert Paterson||Peel, Hon. W. R. W.||Verney, F. W.|
|Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Vivian, Henry|
|Hyde, Clarendon G.||Pretyman, E. G.||Ward, W. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Illingworth, Percy H.||Price, Sir Robert J. (Norfolk, E.)||Waring, Walter|
|Kearley, Sir Hudson E.||Priestley, W. E. B. (Bradford, E.)||Wason, John Cathcart (Orkney)|
|Kimber, Sir Henry||Raphael, Herbert H.||Whitbread, S. Howard|
|King, Alfred John (Knutsford)||Rea, Waller Russell (Scarborough)||White, J. Dundas (Dumbartonshire)|
|Lamont, Norman||Rees, J. D.||Whittaker. Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas P.|
|Lane-Fox, G. R.||Renton, Leslie||Williams, W. Llewelyn (Carmarthen)|
|Law, Andrew Bonar (Dulwich)||Ridsdale, E. A.||Williamson, A.|
|Layland-Barrett, Sir Francis||Rogers, F. E. Newman||Younger, George|
|Lewis, John Herbert||Rose, Charles Day|
|Lloyd-George, Rt. Hon. David||Rutherford, W. W. (Liverpool)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr. Eugene Wason and Mr. Samuel Roberts.|
|Lupton, Arnold||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|M'Micking, Major G.||Schwann, C. Duncan (Hyde)|
|Maddison, Frederick||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone, W.)|
|Abraham, William (Rhondda)||Haslam, James (Derbyshire)||Richards, T. F. (Wolverhampton, W.)|
|Baring, Godfrey (Isle of Wight)||Haslam, Lewis (Monmouth)||Richardson, A.|
|Barker, Sir John||Hazleton, Richard||Roberts, Sir J. H. (Denbighs.)|
|Barlow, Percy (Bedford)||Henry, Charles S.||Robertson, J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Barnes, G. N.||Higham, John Sharp||Robinson, S.|
|Belloc, Hilaire Joseph Peter R.||Hills, J. W.||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Bethell, Sir J. H. (Essex, Romford)||Hobart, Sir Robert||Rowlands, J.|
|Bignold. Sir Arthur||Hodge, John||Scott, A. H. (Ashton-under-Lyne)|
|Bowerman, C. W.||Horniman, Emslie John||Seaverns, J. H.|
|Bowles, G. Stewart||Jenkins, J.||Seddon, J.|
|Bramsdon, T. A.||Johnson, John (Gateshead)||Shaw, Sir Charles E. (Stafford)|
|Branch, James||Johnson, W. (Nuneaton)||Silcock, Thomas Ball|
|Brigg, John||Jowett, F. W.||Snowden, P.|
|Brodie, H. C.||Kekewich, Sir George||Stanier, Beville|
|Brooke, Stopford||Kilbride, Denis||Stanley, Albert (Staffs, N.W.)|
|Brunner, J. F. L. (Lancs., Leigh)||Lamb, Ernest H. (Rochester)||Stewart, Halley (Greenock)|
|Burke, E. Haviland-||Lambton, Hon. Frederick Wm.||Straus, B. S. (Mile End)|
|Burt, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Lea, Hugh Cecil (St. Pancras, E.)||Strauss, E. A. (Abingdon)|
|Carr-Gomm, H. W.||Lever, A. Levy (Essex, Harwich)||Summerbell, T.|
|Channing, Sir Francis Allsten||Levy, Sir Maurice||Thompson, J. W. H. (Somerset, E.)|
|Cleland, J. W.||Lough, Rt. Hon. Thomas||Thorne, William (West Ham)|
|Cobbold, Felix Thornley||Lowe, Sir Francis William||Walters, John Tudor|
|Collins, Sir Wm. J. (S. Pancras, W.)||Lyell, Charles Henry||Walton, Joseph|
|Cooper, G. J.||Macdonald, J. R. (Leicester)||Wardle, George J.|
|Cowan, W. H.||MacVeagh, Jeremiah (Down, S.)||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Crooks, William||Micklem, Nathaniel||Watt, Henry A.|
|Curan, Peter Francis||Montgomery, H. G.||Weir, James Galloway|
|Dalziel, Sir James Henry||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||White, Sir George (Norfolk)|
|Davies, Timothy (Fulham)||Newnes, F. (Notts, Bassetlaw)||Wiles, Thomas|
|Duncan, C, (Barrow-in-Furness)||Nicholls, George||Wilkie, Alexander|
|Edwards, A. Clement (Denbigh)||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Williams, J. (Glamorgan)|
|Edwards, Enoch (Hanley)||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)||Wilson, Hon. G. G. (Hull, W.)|
|Essex, R. W.||Oddy, John James||Wilson, John (Durham, Mid)|
|Fenwick, Charles||O'Grady, J.||Winfrey, R.|
|Ferens, T. R.||Parker, James (Halifax)|
|Griffith, Ellis J.||Parkes, Ebenezer||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr. Mond and Mr. W. Hudson.|
|Harcourt, Robert V. (Montrose)||Radford, G. H.|
|Hardy, George A. (Suffolk)||Renwick, George|
|Harvey, W. E. (Derbyshire, N.E.)||Richards, Thomas (W. Monmouth)|
Bill read a second time.
§ Motion made and Question proposed: "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee of nine members, five to be nominated by the House and four by the Committee of Selection."—[Mr. Churchill.]848
§ Debate arising, and it being after of the clock, and objection being taken to further proceeding, the debate stood adjourned till to-morrow (6th April), at a quarter past eight of the clock.