§ Order for second reading read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a second time."418
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I rise to move the second reading of this Bill. The House is well aware that parties never promote private Bills in this House except in cases where they hope to get some advantage by doing so, and I make no secret of the fact that the promoters are promoting this Bill for the private advantage of the three companies concerned. I take it the House will hardly expect to go at any great length into a description of the advantages which the promoters of this Bill seek to secure for their shareholders. We do not delude ourselves by the belief that the House will require that point to be largely elaborated. We know perfectly well what this House rightly and properly expects is that we should demonstrate to this House that the advantage we seek for ourselves will also be advan- 419 tages to all the other great classes principally concerned in the fate of the undertaking we are carrying on. Of course these great classes are perfectly well known. They are the passengers, the traders, and the employés—all of them classes of great magnitude, classes synonomous, almost co-extensive with the great public interests of the great masses of the population. To leave them out of account would be mere madness on the part of any persons trying to promote legislation. If I might at the outset glance for a moment at what we think to be the mischief that requires to be remedied, a mischief which we contend is not only a mischief to us, but also to the public as represented by the three classes I have named, I do not think I can do so better than by referring to some striking words used by the Prime Minister in a speech he made about a year ago at Manchester—a speech in which he referred, glancing particularly at the railways under the existing system—To the enormous waste and unnecessary expense, cut-throat competition.—these were his own words—the provision of duplicate and sometimes triplicate facilities in cases where one service would suffice, and a thousand other evils attendant upon the present more or less unregulated system.In that case, said the Prime Minister—One could not help saying that an enormous amount of money might be saved, trade would lie better served, shareholders would have better prospects of higher dividends, if only they could introduce greater co-ordination, more simplicity and greater common-sense into the management of the railways.We claim by this Bill that we are making an enlightened and progressive effort to initiate a better state of things in the interests of all classes concerned. We seek to diminish our expenditure. Expenses tend always to grow. Gross receipts, unfortunately, do not grow at the same pace. We find ourselves in the position of diminishing dividends, with credit depreciated, and, as the necessary result of all these things, an inability to carry forward those extensions of new lines, the construction of those new stations, the making of those widenings of lines, and all those other hundred and one important improvements the successful and constant development of which are matters of concern quite as much to the public as to the railway shareholders. These things are an advantage, not merely to shareholders, but to each of the three classes I have named and to the State itself. These are some instances of the kind of evil we pro- 420 pose to limit. If I might glance by way of anticipation at some of the objections by which I believe this proposal is going to be met, I might recall to the House the fact that if there are two or three big successful systems in this country, as at the present time there are, they are those great systems which we now value so much—the London North-Western and the Great Western, and I think I might include the Midland, all of which are, historically speaking as well as otherwise, great combinations of other lines, such as we propose to create by the Bill now before the House. And remember if it be said we are creating a great combination so gigantic as to be a danger, let us measure this undertaking with that of those other undertakings. We are going to create a railway which will have 2,420 miles of line. The existing Great Western system has more than 2,512 miles of line, while the London North-Western has no less than 1,725 miles of line. If we may measure it in expenditure in the event of the House sanctioning the passage in some form or another of this Bill, it will be seen that we are creating an undertaking, a combination, of which the capital expenditure is £117,000,000 in all, while the capital expenditure on the London North Western is as much as £100,000,000 at the present time. As to gross receipts, the gross receipts of our joint undertaking will not be more than £16,000,000, as against the gross receipts at present enjoyed by the 'London North-Western of £15,250,000 a year. I merely quote these figures to show that some of the statements made by which the public are led to believe we are asking Parliament to create a gigantic industry, such as will disturb the centre of economic gravity are great exaggerations. I began at the outset by saying that we are seeking certain advantages to ourselves, and that we think these advantages are advantages also to the public. I think I need only recount and enumerate some of these advantages and lay them before the House in order to convince those listening to me that they are advantages for the public also. For instance, with regard to passenger traffic, who can deny that tickets available by either of these routes and return tickets, are an immense advantage if you put these railway systems together and get a better connection of trains at all intersecting points on the three railways and get trains more suitable in time and more convenient; more through trains to get from point to point without changing 421 carriages, and a better system between the north and east of England and the south and west than at the present time, and a better service by making available to the other companies a certain line which belongs to the Great Eastern at present. And like facilities for south and east. Now let us come to goods and to what is perhaps of the most profound importance of all—that is the food of the people. Is there any article of food more important to the poor than fish—fish fresh, plentiful, and cheap. The greatest fish-importing harbour is Grimsby, which is on the Great Central. They have a line from Grimsby to London. The Great Northern also carry from Grimsby to London. The great market for fish is Billingsgate. The Great Northern is at Billingsgate, but the Great Central can only carry fish to Marylebone, and has to cart its fish from there to Billingsgate, which is a ridiculous state of affairs—so much so that it is hardly necessary to enlarge on it. There is also the case of Lowestoft, where the Great Eastern have a large fish market accommodation, and the Great Northern also have a line from London to Lowestoft. That of the Great Eastern is a much shorter route, and, granted amalgamation, it would be nobody's object to take his fish to London from Lowestoft except by the shorter route. As regards goods generally, it is obvious that by making three lines practically one, there will be nobody interested in carrying any goods except by the shortest and most expeditious route. Another thing that is said against us is that we propose to create a gigantic monopoly. Does it do so? Does it create more of a monopoly than that which was granted when the great amalgamation was sanctioned which created the Great Western Railway, or that between the North-Western and the Midland? When you have created this so-called monopoly, do you eliminate competition altogether in the north and the east of England? Not at all. We shall still have our old friends the Midland Railway in competition with us at many points, and the Midland is right in the heart of the coal district, and capable of offering the most healthy and vigorous form of competition.
I have detailed some of the advantages. I might go on giving a great many more, but to men conversant with railway matters it must be perfectly plain that the thing which is important for me to dwell upon to-night, is that matters of this kind and all these things are best explained and enlarged upon and made plain by the use 422 of maps and figures and experts who stand the fire of hostile questions, and I would ask the House at this stage to bear in mind that, at all events what we are asking for to-night, is that we should be allowed to pass through that door and to have that which every Englishman has a right to a free and impartial inquiry by one of the well-qualified Committees of this House I have to refer to one other matter, and that is the Instruction which stands in the name of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. I must not discuss its merits, but there is one thing with regard to it I must discuss at this stage, and that is the possible meaning or meanings of that Instruction. Our consent to it has not been asked, but as we regard it, it is capable of different interpretations, capable of a restricted interpretation on the one hand, capable, on the other of a very extended interpretation. If you look at its actual wording you will see that the only part of it which directs attention to the public and public interest, is tied up in the middle of the Instruction by a connection with the proposals of the Bill, and similarly all through all the proposals of the Government are governed and dominated by the words, "If the powers sought by the Bill were granted." Taking the strict literal interpretation of that, it may be possible to contend that there is nothing in this Instruction, which does not apply to the Instruction to every Private Bill Committee, to which a Railway Bill is sent, and that it would not be possible for the Committee to go beyond the natural provisions of this Bill in this case. But there is another possible interpretation, and that is an extended interpretation, under which we fear that there might be a long and abstract inquiry into the ideal system of the ownership of railways. There might be an inquiry into the unlimited past or the indefinite future. There might be an inquiry in regard to things that were done or apprehended to be done, not only by ourselves, but by other companies with whom it is imagined we should be in competition, or there might be a general inquiry into the question of the Nationalisation of railways.
I do not say that it would not be extremely well within the jurisdiction of this House to make such an inquiry into all these matters, but we say it should be a public inquiry, and it would be rather hard it should be held at the expense of private parties, as it would involve a very heavy expenditure. It must be obvious 423 that the interpretation of this Instruction must lie somewhere between the two extremes I have mentioned to the House. T only refer to it to ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite, who cannot construe the Instruction in the same sense as the Chairman of the Committee, to give his own view of what is intended by it, because, after all, a Committee of this House and the Chairman of a Committee are justified in allowing themselves to be guided by that which passes in the debate on the second reading, and especially on an authority so weighty and authoritative as would be that of the right hon. Gentleman. Our case is shortly that in the present financial state of railways in this country unrestricted and unregulated competition has turned out badly for all parties concerned, and all that we ask for by our Motion to-night is, that we should be allowed to submit our proposal and scheme to an inquiry by that tribunal which alone can subject it to an efficient examination. We invite Parliament to accept it or to look into it in substitution for the unrestricted competition which we consider to have turned out to some extent a failure and to accept in substitution of that system a system of amalgamation of a kind which certainly will not eliminate great competition, and does give security against extortionate monopoly charges, and which goes further than that, and gives direct and immediate concessions, the result of treating three railways as one, which are of very high pecuniary value to the public and to the traders, and which gives, as the result of amalgamation, security for the minimum of facilities and distribution to all parties concerned.
The last remark I have to make is that I believe arrangements like this between railway companies are apt to be regarded, and always will be regarded, by this House and the public with a great deal of suspicion. I submit that in this case there is not the same ground for this suspicion. We 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, and we come conscious of the goodness of our cause, setting, as we think, the best of all possible examples by asking for what we ask boldly and in the light of day.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Churchill)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just addressed us has introduced very considerable matters to the attention of the House, and I am quite sure he will not expect the House to arrive at a complete decision upon the second reading of the Bill and its Instructions within the restricted limits which are at our disposal this evening. I think myself that such a matter requires a longer period for discussion than this evening affords, and, so far as I have anything to do with the decision of the House, my aim and my object will be to give the House the fullest information that the Board of Trade is able to supply upon every point. Therefore, I think, although the debate may extend over the limits of this evening, it will be to the advantage and convenience of the Members who are taking part in it, and who are carefully studying the question, if I indicate at the very beginning the view taken of the Bill as it now stands by the Board of Trade and by the Government.
This is a very important question, and I can assure hon. Gentlemen that I have done my very best by long and careful consultation, by the study of the question from every point of view open to me, and by discussion with persons who have great opportunities of judging of these matters, to arrive at a position from which I might offer counsel and guidance to the House of Commons. The general question is a very big one. The present position of British railways raises questions of the most extensive and intricate character. I do not think anyone can doubt that in regard to several, if not to a large number of important British railways, we have reached a period of change. The process of growth seems very largely to be arrested, and the safeguard of competition seems very largely to have become illusory. We find that the working expenses are increasing, the material expenses are increasing, and the personnel—the workers and the servants of the railway company—are asking, and I think have a right to look, as the years pass by, for a larger and a more advantageous share in the general development of the wealth of the nation to which the railways contribute so largely. The railways find their expenses increasing; they find the rates on their real property increasing; and they find that the fares and rates which they are entitled to charge are not, in practice, capable 425 of being substantially raised—and very glad I am for that—and, in consequence of this, many railways find grave difficulty in raising new capital for the developments which are required, if a better service is to be given to traders and if a more extended railway system is to be given to traders, and if a more extended railway is to be placed across our land; and the consequence of all these forces, operating continuously and reciprocally as they do, is the conclusion to which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, sometime President of the Board of Trade, has arrived at, that there is no real economic future—by which I mean a prosperous and expanding future—for British railways apart from amalgamation of one kind or another.
We hear a great deal of the safeguards of competition. I trust the House will, in the course of this debate, direct a searching gaze upon this subject, so as to seek out reality. Competition in rates is dead, or practically dead—I do not pretend to speak with a knowledge of an expert, but as one who has had an opportunity of consulting many who are experts—competition in rates is largely, almost, if not entirely, at an end; but competition in facilities is continuing, though with this limitation. It is still effective in regard to those portions of the railway service where there are competitive routes. Then there is competition in facilities, always keen, often healthy, and sometimes wasteful in the extreme. Where you have two or more railways between particular points, you get a service which the world cannot equal for comfort and convenience, but very often that service bears no proportion to the revenue derivable between those competitive points. And where does the money come from to support this extremely keen competition? The money is derived from giving in many cases, not in all, not I think in the case of one of the railways which is coming before us now, a less efficient and a less cheap service in districts where there is no choice, but where a single line is the only thing offered to the agriculturists or to the country manufacturer, and that person has to bear an extra burden on account of the competition which between great competitive points often is extended beyond what is economically justifiable. My right hon. Friend the late President of the Board of Trade—the present Chancellor of the Exchequer—studied this question with great attention and care during the last year of 426 his administration at the Board of Trade, and he came to the conclusion that it was in a general step forward into the sphere of amalgamation in one form or another, and that alone that a sensible and practical advantage in the immediate future could be secured by the railway systems of this country. Well, if we are to consider the principle of amalgamation, I can say there can be no real difference in the principle of amalgamation apart from the terms of amalgamation. The whole history of British railways is a history of combinations and amalgamations. Other combinations and amalgamations have already reached the dimensions which this present proposal would seek to attain. I cannot see how anyone can say that amalgamation such as is proposed now, apart from the terms, which are another matter altogether, can conflict with the conception of a larger and more extensive grouping of railways. If it be true, as great authorities interested in the railways assure us, that economy is to be secured and advantage conferred upon the travelling public, upon the traders, and upon railway servants, and upon shareholders—by amalgamation of these lines, then it seems to me quite open to us, in proportion as that is proved, to argue that vastly more extensive advantages would follow larger and more extensive amalgamations than the amalgamations now before us. I say that proposals for amalgamation, if properly safeguarded, are not in conflict with immediate national interests. So far from being in antagonism to larger amalgamation, they may pave the way to a much more extensive grouping of railways.
The Select Committee on Railway Companies' Amalgamation, 1872, came to this conclusion as to competition:—There is little real competition in point of charges between railway companies, and its continuance cannot be relied upon. There is at the present time considerable competition in point of facilities, but the security for its permanence is uncertain";and further included the following in their general conclusion:—
The conclusion of that Committee was that each amalgamation had to be dealt with on its merits. Let the House look at the question of amalgamation from the point 427 of view of the particular lines now seeking these further privileges. The financial position of these companies does not afford much hope in the future of any great expansion of service, of development, of facilities, or increased prosperity if they were left in their present detached position. The House ought not to look at this question as if it were the attempt of a great group of powerful private capitalists who are making overwhelming profits from the masses of the nation by utilising in a monopolistic form great ways of communication to their own private advantage. The financial position which was disclosed by these companies does not justify that. The total subscribed capital, ordinary and preference, was £117,201,000, and the balance available for dividends last year was £3,487,000, or 2.97 per cent. [An HON. MEMBER: "Over-capitalisation."] The money was honestly subscribed. I do not think it is watered stock which has been artificially expanded.
- "1. Past amalgamations have not brought with them he evils which were anticipated.
- "2. Competitition between railways exists only to a limited extent, and cannot be maintained by legislation.
- "3. Combination between railway companies is increasing, and is likely to increase, whether by amalgamation or otherwise.
- "4. It is impossible to lay down any general rules determining the limits or the character of future amalgamations."
The actual results are much worse in regard to many of the classes of stock than an average dividend of 2.9 per cent, which seem to indicate. The Great Central Railway in 1907 and 1908, besides paying no dividend on the ordinary capital of £10,000,000, has also been a defaulter on over £9,000,000 of preference shares. That is, paying no return whatever for the capital invested on three-fifths of the company's ordinary and preference capital shares. The price which the deferred ordinary stock reached during the year—that is, 18¼ for 100—is practically the lowest the stock ever touched. The preference stock issued in 1890 was £37, or £100 originally subscribed. This is one of the preference stocks on which no dividend was paid, and I think an undertaking of this character and in this position is an undertaking which hon. Gentlemen here and which people outside should not look upon as an undertaking to be deprived of any opportunity of getting into a sounder and a stronger position, because from an undertaking of that character there is no real prospect of paying the higher wages to the men which they will expect. As the years go by they will certainly go back, and I certainly think as the development of our industry progresses they should not be deprived of the chance of improving their position.
They certainly can give no improved facilities to traders who look for them in the stress of worldwide competition in 428 which they are engaged. Nor can they provide funds nor attract capital for any further extension of development. There is a very important loop line, 19 miles in length, which was to be constructed from Enfield and Stevenage. It was authorised by Parliament, a beginning was made, the first five miles were constructed, and are to be opened this year, but the rest is at a standstill. That is on the Great Northern line. These developments are checked because capital cannot be raised on attractive terms in the ordinary way, consequently railway development is in a state of starvation, and there is not that expansion of the labour market in connection with railways which ought to be looked for. I am not one of those who indulge in pessimism. I do not share the pessimistic views on many things which are expressed here to-day, nor do I share them with regard to railways; but still it is a very serious fact, and one which the House ought not to overlook that not more than 45 miles of railway were constructed" in the United Kingdom last year.
A consideration of these general propositions led me to the same conclusion reached by the Select Committee in 1872, that questions of railway amalgamation should be judged on their merits, and should not be condemned without close and careful examination. I am putting before the House no more than that. When this Bill was brought forward some four months ago I was very much interested and very much concerned in the matter, and very anxious to do what would be of the best service to the general interests of the country, and I took the opportunity of consulting at an early date the responsible authorities representing the Bill, and I had at the Board of Trade very careful and prolonged conferences from day to day and correspondence with a view to arriving at what I thought would be the proper form of this Bill in which to submit itself to the House at the second reading, not what necessarily I thought should be the form in which the House should finally agree to pass it. I do not think that any Bill like this should be passed without a much more protracted examination than the House can give in a second reading debate. But there must be on the face of the Bill evidence of a desire to meet the main objection which can be entertained by the special classes concerned before it could, I think, be recommended by the Board of Trade on behalf of the Government to this House, and therefore I sought to procure from the companies concerned 429 certain clauses designed to make the Bill, as I thought, a complete proposition to go to the Committee. The House has been placed in possession—and I took care that hon. Members were put in possession at a very early date, so that they had plenty of time to think it all over—of the clauses which we think ought to be inserted in this Bill before the House should be advised to give it a second reading. Those are very important clauses.
Of course, everything human is imperfect, but the House must not underrate the value of these clauses, and for this reason: In my judgment the clauses to which I have referred as being given by the company are near the limit stepping beyond which would involve the absolute withdrawal of the Bill. There are five clauses. The first clause is the calculation of maximum rates. The right hon. Gentleman has referred to that. The rates over railways, as the House is aware, are charged on the principle of so much for the first 20 miles, so much less for the next 30, and so much less after that, and when a rate comes on a new railway that process is begun over again, and when it comes on a third railway it is begun over again. In the first clause which has been inserted in this Bill the promoters indicate their willingness at the instance of the Board of Trade to provide for the calculation of the rates on the three railways as if they were one railway. That is a very substantial concession. I have been told—and the right hon. Gentleman will contradict me if I am wrong—that it is worth £100,000 a year to the traders of this country. I have been told that on the highest authority, and I think it is important that that fact should be stated in the course of the debate.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
It was established very clearly that this would be the benefit of the concession which has been enforced. Well, then, there are many important clauses about passenger fares, which secure passenger fares against any alteration—the railway companies have now the power to raise the fares—that can conceivably be due to any change in railway competition due to the passing of this Bill. A similar restriction protects merchandise in general, and in the case of clause 4—the fourth new clause which I suggest should be added—there is protection for existing facilities. You must not deny to the railway company which seeks the 430 powers of amalgamation economies that properly belong to that amalgamation.
At the same time, you have to make sure that in particular districts facilities are not unreasonably withdrawn. Provision has been inserted to that effect.
Lastly, I have devoted special attention to protecting the position of the railway servants. I think they ought not to suffer through an amalgamation in the public interest. I think there should be an equitable share of the benefits of amalgamation. The railway companies have agreed, at the instance of the Board of Trade, to the insertion of a clause which makes it impossible for them to dismiss any man through the passing of this Bill by reason of economy, or reduction consequent on the amalgamation. I use the word amalgamation wrongly—in consequence of the working union. That is a very important thing. I want the House to realise how important it is. The other day the London and North-Western Railway Company, under an agreement approved by the Railway and Canals Commission, after inquiry, and sanctioned by this House, acquired the North London Railway, or obtained a certain control over it, and in consequence of that dispensed with the services of about 180 employés. The House had no power to make any bargain on the men's behalf at all. The London and North Western Railway Company gave them gratuities, from a fortnight's pay to six months' pay, according to the circumstances of each case. I have secured, if the House is willing to pass this Bill, that no man shall be dismissed or lose his position in consequence of the amalgamation. I am informed that a certain percentage of situations fall vacant every year. By means of that elbow room, which is provided each year, it will be possible to effect economy without inflicting hardship or injustice upon any employés. I am further informed that the developments which are hoped for will set going a current in the direction of expansion and the increase—apart from this mere waiting—to renew the wastage of each particular year which is not guaranteed. I should like to point out that there is the guarantee of the opinion of an impartial arbitrator if it is challenged on any particular occasion. I hope the House will do me the justice of believing that I have exerted myself, so far as the power was in me, to secure, to safeguard the different classes of traders, passengers, and railway servants who are interested in this arrangement. I am of opinion—and I 431 offer it respectfully and honestly to the House—that these new clauses justify the House in reading the Bill a second time. I am of opinion—and I state it—that the Bill has been carefully considered by the Government, and that the proposition, as presented to us, could not be properly dealt with by the House except through the agency and medium of a House of Commons Committee. I should like to remind the House that other arrangements are possible. The House must bear that in mind. It is perfectly possible for two or more companies to agree as far as the rates that are charged, the facilities given between competitive areas, are concerned. They can go further, and agree not to run competitive trains, to interchange their railway stock, to use each other's rolling stock, and goods yards, and they can cease the construction of competing lines. It will be difficult to see how legislation can stop these very subtle and very tangible co-operations. Further, the railway companies can and do enter into arrangements to pool competitive and non-competitive traffic under the existing law. No shareholder would not be likely in many cases to move in the matter, and the State can only interfere on proof that the public interest is concerned. Therefore, you must take the law as it exists at the present time. There are very wide possibilities of combination and pooling afforded railway companies, and they can adopt them, and let me say that those powers are being very extensively availed of at the present time. There are seven or eight railway pooling schemes of amalgamation which are in active process at the present time. I mentioned to the House about the London and North-Western Railway, and how serious will be the consequences which they will bring to the humble workers upon their lines. All these powers exist apart from Parliament. I must say I do not think it will be very easy or light to devise a railway Bill in the immediate Parliamentary future which would deal or cope adequately with this situation. I submit to the House that it is a very important thing not to treat a railway combination which comes frankly and boldly before the House of Commons, which courts full public examination, and asks for Parliamentary examination, and which invites the sanction of the House of Commons, and offers all the opportunities afforded by Parliamentary procedure—I say it is not an unimportant thing not to treat that combina- 432 tion worse than have been treated combinations which are subterranean, and which are outside the reach and range of our existing legislation, and never could come under the purview of the House of Commons at all. It would never give us an opportunity of making a bargain on behalf of the public or of the traders or of the railways servants. I agree that the House ought not in its treatment of this measure to do anything which discourages private companies in this country to come and lay their cases boldly and frankly before Parliament. Let them feel that if it be not in the public interest to grant them what they ask it will be refused; but, at any rate, give a fair, frank, full, and generous and scientific inquiry free from any element of impatience. It seems to me that the consequences of rejecting this measure—I have to do my duty as President of the Board of Trade charged with responsibility in these matters and I have no other interest, and the Government are not concerned with it from any point of view, politically or financially—I say it seems to me, confronted as we are with this proposition, that we are not responsible in any way, the consequences of the rejection of the Bill would be this: You would drive underground not only this proposal but all other proposals of a similar nature which may come before you in the ordinary course of events. All the dangers would still remain, all the dangers of removing the safeguards of competition would still remain; no increased facilities or assurances for increased facilities or assurances for railway servants would be provided. I hope the House will consider very carefully the Instruction which I have ventured to place upon the Paper. It is an Instruction which goes to the very limits of order. We are dealing with Private Bills procedure, which is governed by special limitations. This Instruction widens the scope of the inquiry in a sensible and notable way. Let me tell the House how I read the Instruction that is placed upon the Paper. The House of Commons, or the Government of this country, do not wish to sponge upon private people to pay the expenses of an inquiry into the theory of railway amalgamation, or nationalisation, or any of the other great questions. If we want an inquiry of that kind we can pay for it ourselves. On the other hand, those who have come to us with a perfectly legitimate demand, in the course of it raise very important general issues apart from the special issues which are to be discussed, 433 and which would have to be adjusted before the Committee. Therefore, while we do not want to make this private Bill procedure an Imperial vehicle to obtain discussion on a great national question at the expense of private people, at the same time powers must be taken, and will be given by the Instruction which I have put on the paper in order to enable the whole case for amalgamation to be examined, not only with reference to the special interests affected by this particular Bill, but in the general and national interests. At the same time, it will procure that the Board of Trade shall be represented throughout by Counsel, and that they shall have the power of calling any witnesses they choose on those points of public interest and general interest which might not be represented by the various local and sectional interests which have petitioned in the ordinary course against the Bill. That, I think, is a very important thing. I know some of my friends on this side of the House have a strong view that there should be a Royal Commission. I am not an admirer of Royal Commissions. A Royal Commission would mean the hanging up of this question of railway amalgamation for an indefinite period, for a period when no one can tell what will be the political situation in this country to deal with the situation. The development of a great section of our railway system, and the remedy which it is suggested should be provided, are matters which it is the duty of the House to examine. I hope that the Committee who sit on this Bill—if the House will accept the advice I most respectfully tender to give it a second reading—will investigate it without trespassing on purely abstract theories, and enlarging the inquiry beyond what would be right and fair; still, we nevertheless wish to make this amalgamation proposal a model for the other amalgamation proposals which are on foot in the country. We wish, so to speak, that the Committee shall put its own stamp on these proposals, and will afford to other Sessions, perhaps to other Parliaments, the method of dealing with these great questions—which are coming upon you year after year, which will be driven upon the House of Commons with insistent force year after year—in a model which will be easy and convenient of application. I venture to think that an inquiry of that kind, conducted not in the air, not in the way of a roving commission in regard to abstract questions, but an inquiry in reference to a 434 concrete definite proposal which will touch real interests, which will govern real facts, and in which real people will be concerned at every stage of the inquiry, will be of immense value to the general interests of this country. Such inquiry will be absolutely lost, and the whole matter will disappear into subterranean channels and underground vaults if this Bill be rejected upon the second reading. In regard to the Committee I propose that it shall be a hybrid Committee of nine members, and of course among those who are selected there will be no members personally interested in the Bill. I should hope a Committee of this kind will command the services of many of the ablest and most responsible Members of the House, and I propose that the Committee should examine the whole question of railway policy with that care and detail which will be necessary in the long weeks of the inquiry that will ensue. That I say will, in all probability, be absolutely lost, and everything will disappear into thin air and subterranean borrowings if this Bill is rejected. The matter is in the hands of the House, and the Government will not attempt to put any pressure upon hon. Members as to the way they shall vote. I have given my opinion that it would be in the general interests of all classes and the public that this Bill should be properly examined, and not thrown out contemptuously without a proper scrutiny. The matter rests with the House of Commons, and hon. Members must vote as they think best in the general interests of the community and the interests of the constituencies which they represent. Whilst I never hazard too many guesses, I feel certain that the House of Commons will, with great care and great patience, deal with this very elaborate and very important measure now submitted to it for decision.
§ Mr. A. MOND
I beg to move the Resolution standing in my name on the Paper: "That this Bill be read a second time upon this day six months." The speech of the President of the Board of Trade must spread dismay into the hearts of traders throughout this country to a large extent. In the long and eloquent speech we have heard from the right hon. Gentleman he seems to me to have appeared more as counsel for the railway company than in the interests of the trading community of this country. The right hon. Gentleman covered to-night a very large amount of ground in his speech, but I would like to 435 point out that there seems to be a contradiction between the speech of the President of the Board of Trade and that of the right hon. Gentleman who moved the second reading of this Bill. The mover of the second reading told us it was absolutely necessary in every amalgamation scheme to put an end to cut-throat competition, whilst the President of the Board of Trade told us that competition did not exist. I think they had better make up their minds which of those two propositions they are going to put forward. I am not going to enter into an abstract discussion as to the merits or demerits of railway amalgamation. On this side of the House we have no hostility to railway companies as railway companies, or to railway shareholders as railway shareholders. We have heard a good deal about the interests of railway companies, but we have heard very little about the interests of the traders. It is remarkable that although we hear the representatives of railway interests speak in this House in moderate and measured language, we do not find that language repeated outside to traders when they ask the railway companies for what we might call very moderate consideration. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Select Committee of 1872. That Committee was a very important one, and after reading carefully part of the evidence and the Report I must say that I cannot altogether agree with their decision. 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 one of the most experienced railway directors England ever had. I should like also to give a few words by the then general manager of the Midland Railway Company. He thought that the value of competition to the public was in securing improved competition rather than reduced rates, and he gave a striking instance of the value of railway competition. In the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, it was assumed that competition is of no value to the trader. That is not the view the traders take. The right 436 hon. Gentleman must be perfectly aware of that fact, if he has ever taken the trouble to read the many petitions addressed to the Board of Trade on the subject, and the views of different congresses and conferences which have been held. Every practical trader knows the enormous value of competition. The competition in rates may not be great, but it is there. I do not think that any practical trader would admit for a moment that competition in rates was bad, nor would he admit that competition in facilities is not of the utmost value. One thing a trader knows is that as soon as there is any understanding or agreement between railway companies he suffers; he seems never to benefit. I should like to give the House a few instances (out of a long list) of the action of railway companies which have come to an agreement. Between 1895 and 1907 the number of articles carried at owner's risk, at most unfair terms to the traders, has been increased from 82 to 180. Direct increases in many of the rates for coal and coke have been made by the leading Scottish and 14 of the principal English railway companies.
§ Mr. MOND
, after quoting instances of withdrawn facilities, continued: I do not want to weary the House, but those are samples of facilities which have been withdrawn from traders owing to cessation of competition and the pooling arrangements of railway companies, and they make the trading community look with jealousy and anxiety at the attempt of three enormous railway companies to amalgamation three companies whose capital represents about one-eighth of the total railway capital of the country. I should like to point out to the right hon. Gentleman who attempted to minimise the importance of the amalgamation that Parliament has never in its history sanctioned an amalgamation of three companies of this magnitude. There have been many amalgamations of small lines, but Parliament has never sanctioned an amalgamation of this magnitude, and to pass this Bill would be an entire reversal of Parliamentary practice since railway companies first came into existence. I would like, if I may, without wearying the House, to read one extract from the Report of the Select Committee of 1872 on the subject of how far railway companies may be trusted to look after the interests of the public. The Committee, 437 after discussing the matter at some considerable length, said:—It is therefore clear that both regards the amount of charge and the accommodation afforded, the interest of the companies does not give any such complete or sufficient guarantee to the public as is given by competition in cases where competition exists.I would like to know whether anyone could point to a single clause in this Bill which gives to the trading community any quid pro quo in compensation for what they are asked to give up. If the railway companies are asking to make economies, ought we not to share? They obtained the right to charge maximum rates on that basis, and now they come here demanding to be treated as a joint line, but they do not propose to revise their maximum charges. Surely that would be only a fair offer. Up to now we have had no fair offer. We are always told that the railway companies are badly off for money. That may be their fault. We are not responsible for the money they have wasted. A good deal of money has been wasted in perfectly futile competition. Let me give an instance. Take the amount of capital sunk by the leading railway companies in this country in building harbours. If you take the amount required to pay the interest on the money expended on these harbours by the Great Western, the London and North-Western, and the Midland companies, you will find that the whole of the traffic would not pay 2 per cent, on the capital they have spent. Why should the trading community be made responsible for the extravagance and absurd management of the railway companies? The railway companies in the past have not been, and I daresay in the present are not, managed on the most economical lines. The right hon. Gentleman spoke at great length about subterranean arrangements. I wonder whether he is aware that his predecessor promised to an important deputation of traders to introduce a Bill to make the publication of all railway agreements absolutely necessary. I would like to give the right hon. Gentleman warning that the traders are not going to recede from the resolution unanimously passed demanding that all these secret understandings should at last be brought to light. I am convinced that if these railway companies could have made an arrangement without a Bill we would never have seen this Bill. But that is no reason for not rejecting the Bill. Clause 17 of the Bill is the greatest octopus clause ever introduced into a private Bill. We know that petitions will be lodged upstairs by way of protest, and we know 438 how frequently such petitions are withdrawn and some arrangement made. We do not intend to rely upon such a weak reed. When once the thing goes upstairs the House will take no more interest in it. All that the right hon. Gentleman wishes in the way of inquiry could be obtained a great deal better without the passing of this Bill. If the Bill passes it will admit the principle of amalgamation. No Committee can get away from it. The right hon. Gentleman says that he does not want a roving inquiry. Perhaps not. His Instructions are so narrow and so confined that no Committee could really go away from the proposals of the Bill. They could not consider, for instance, the amalgamation of the Chatham and South Eastern Companies or the Irish railways. He says that the inquiry will be a kind of peg to hang amalgamation upon; but really I do not think the right hon. Gentleman considers the matter very seriously. We have had in this country several amalgamations at work. We have heard of economies that were to be effected, but they have not taken place. The Committee of Inquiry will not be allowed to go into these matters; but we ask that if you appoint a Select Committee, it should be allowed to go into all these questions. This inquiry will lead to confusion worse confounded. Here are some clauses supposed to safeguard the traders, and the Board of Trade is not consulting a single trader's association. The right hon. Gentleman comes down and states that the Board of Trade and the Government are satisfied, but we are not satisfied.
The London Chamber of Commerce is not satisfied, the Chambers of Commerce throughout the country are not satisfied. It is a most remarkable procedure for the Board of Trade, which is supposed to represent the interests of the traders of the country, to accept clauses supposed to safeguard the interests of the traders without submitting them to the traders. I am coining to those clauses, and when I do I think it will be seen what broken reeds they are for the traders to rely upon. They are not as good as those we got from the London, Chatham, and Dover. Why the Board of Trade did not follow that precedent is more than I can understand. The treatment the traders have received they feel very strongly, and I do not think it can be a matter of surprise to anyone that they should feel such treatment very much.
§ Mr. CHURCHILL
May I remind my hon. Friend that the clauses I have been 439 dealing with were not intended to be placed in the Bills in this as their final shape. They were but preliminary safeguards to be inserted in order to make the whole a presentable proposition to be made to the House.
§ Mr. MOND
I am sorry I cannot agree. Some of them are not safeguards; they are a danger. How can the right hon. Gentleman tell us he has got preliminary safeguards without having consulted the public who are to be safeguarded about them? I cannot follow that line of argument at all. When getting safeguards for the protection of some interest surely you must consult those interested. Take the question of the maximum rates. We were told that they were going to save £100,000 to the trade. Might I draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention to clauses 16 and 28 of the South-Eastern and London, Chatham, and Dover Bill? These clauses laid down—it was forced upon the railway company—that the two should be treated as one, and what is the concession they were supposed to give—
§ Mr. MOND
I do not say there was, nor have you any evidence that this is going to be a wonderful amalgamation. The Railway Conference is not yet public property. If I could read to the House from the memorandum presented upon this subject I think it would create considerable diversity of opinion upon this question, but I refrain from doing so because the report is not yet made public. It seems j too bad that the whole result of that conference is private property, and should be locked up in the bosoms of the unfortunate people for months who took part in it. I may read to the House one extract on this very subject which I hope some day will be public property. I will give the House one extract:—While being fully cognisant of these things every railway man knows that most of the good in our railway system is flue to the spirit of emulation and competition. Take away that spur and British railways would soon cease to be, what with all their faults we can claim and boast that they are some of the best in world.That is the opinion of one of the leading railway managers in this country. Take away that spur, that emulation will be withdrawn, and that is what has built up our railways. Let those who deny a self-evident proposition such as that produce arguments against it better than we have (heard to-night.
440 We are entitled to some protection, the same as we had in the Bill of the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway, but the clause of the right hon. Gentleman takes away one of the oldest safeguards the traders have in this country, and that is through rates. The power of the trader to ask for through rates, and if they are unreasonable to go to the Railway Commissioners to fix them, is one of the very few important and valuable powers which the trader has in this country, and I am sure the trading community of this country will much sooner do without this proposed clause and leave through rates untouched. The other two clauses seem to me to contain the most remarkable proposition ever advanced even by railway companies. They provide that railway companies shall not increase their passenger fares by reason of this combination. Their combination, which they say is going to effect economies, is, mark you, not to be a reason to reduce fares, but to be a reason not to increase fares. Did any sensible assembly of business men ever have such a proposal advanced to them? They will not have the power before the Railway and Canal Commissioners to apply under Section 1 of the Act of 1894, and say that an increase of their rates, owing to this combination, is reasonable. I should not think they would. I think even their sublime methods before the Railway Commissioners would receive a check if they really appeared before that body and said that, having combined to effect economies was a reason for increasing rates under Section 1 of the Act. If you will look at the clause for facilities, you will find that the great body of traders have no locus standi under that clause, and a very small locus is given to local authorities, who probably would never use it. These four clauses as they stand are no use to us. It is no use pretending they are. If the railway companies cannot give us any more and prefer to withdraw their Bill we do not want the Bill. We did not ask for it. They cannot ask us to accept these four clauses as anything but a huge practical joke. They may think the Board of Trade can be taken in by them, but the traders of the country are not going to be taken in. These four clauses have not made the Bill any better than it was. It is a very bad Bill. It is not even an amalgamation Bill. It has not even that merit. It is a kind of hybrid working union creating a joint committee of directors, without any property, to administer the assets of three separate bodies of shareholders.
441 You get no union of capital. You have a remarkable provision that if one director on the joint committee objects to anything there is to be an arbitration. Has anyone ever heard of such a proposition? A joint committee manages three great railway companies, and one cantankerous man can hold up the decision of the Committee and paralyse the business of the country for six months while a standing arbitrator decides whether his view or that of his colleagues is correct. This is a very grave infringement of the rights of debenture holders and mortgagees to which the attention of the House ought to be directed. Under that remarkable clause if the debenture holders appoint a receiver of one of the companies they are not entitled to the net profits of the railway companies, but only to a proportion of them. Though the Great Northern might have a very fine revenue the debenture holders would only have a claim on a portion of the net receipts, which might be very much lower owing to the bad business which the Great Central might be doing.
If it is true that by secret arrangements they can achieve their object, why should we, at any rate, lay down a principle for the amalgamation of great competing railway lines which only got their powers on the ground that they were going to compete. Why should we reverse our practice? This is a vast and difficult subject, which requires inquiry, and the second reading of the Bill is not necessary but is positively harmful, and stands in the way of inquiry. I ask the House to safeguard the public and the traders of the country. I ask the House, on the broad principle on which our railway system has been built up, to say once for all whether or not they will depart from that principle, and I ask them to reject the Bill and not to give it a second reading.
§ Mr. W. HUDSON
I rise to second the Motion which has been moved by the hon. Member for Cheshire. I listened most attentively to the Mover of the Bill and also to the President of the Board of Trade. The whole burden of their speeches was that the railway companies were right up on a dead end of a difficulty, and they must find some way out. I would ask the House who is to blame for the difficulty they are in? The traders are not, neither are the railwaymen. The right hon. Gentleman pleaded very hard with the House to give the Bill a second reading in order that it might be examined in Committee. We know what that means. If it goes to Committee, no matter what shape it is in 442 when it comes down here, you will be told it is a very unusual procedure to reject a Bill which has had a second reading and gone through Committee. This is the opportunity, and the only opportunity, this House will have of examining this matter thoroughly, and I entirely differ with the Mover of the second reading of the Bill and the right hon. Gentleman when they say that this amalgamation is of the kind of others which have preceded it in connection with railway companies. There was never any attempt to bring a number of railway companies together in this way, on this basis, and in such proportion since our railways were introduced in 1825. The position is this: these three companies ask for all the benefits of amalgamation, but none of the disadvantages. There are today 313 railway companies in the British Isles, and 250 boards of directors managing the principal railways of the country, and you are asked, by the provisions of this Bill, out of the three directorates—the Great Northern, Great Central, and Great Eastern—to create another board. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade does not hesitate to say that the Bill has for its purpose one effecting of economy; but I think that any business gentleman in this House or outside of it would say that if you want to effect economy among the non-effective producers that you can best do that by wiping out the three boards of directors and leaving only one. But you do not do it. By this Bill you leave them with the whole of their offices and retinue and the whole of their salaries; but you make no secret of the fact that you intend to do without a lot less men. That is most interesting. We are told that if we should refuse a second reading to this Bill there is danger of subterranean passages being traversed, and of agreements over which this House will have no control. So much more the fault of the Board of Trade. I venture to say that in the interests of the trading community of the country, in the interest and welfare of the whole of the workers on the iron roads of this country, that no Bill of this kind should be allowed to pass until the Board of Trade does take effective control over them in the shape of having the necessary powers to check them. What is the position? It is quite possible that the various financial interests of the country can look into this matter quite as deeply as the shareholders, if not the directors of these companies can. I have statements here from the Mayor and Corporation of New- 443 castle-on-Tyne and from the Incorporated Chambers of Commerce of Middlesboro', Gateshead, Newcastle-on-Tyne, and the Hartlepools, all declaring that it will be detrimental to the interests of the whole trading community on the north-east coast of England.
As an old railwayman of over 25 years' experience, let me say it is obvious to anyone who will look at the matter even with one eye that, if you take the northeast coast, by the time the traffic arrives at Doncaster, traders have their choice of three distinct routes into London. These are now to become one and a monopoly, and to dictate their terms. In the clauses it is quite true that certain regulations are made with regard to certain rates. But where does the individual and the small trader come in? It is quite true that in some of these cases the Joint Committee probably, if it were allowed to be created, could be brought before the Railway and Canal Commissioners; but that is a most expensive luxury, and I venture to think that very many people in the country will grin and bear a great deal of hardship before they will indulge in that luxury. I pass to another phase of the question—and it is on these benches a most important one—the question of the future of the workers on these iron roads which has been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to underrate his attempts, and so far as he has been able to go I believe that he has done his best in the matter. But we have not been called into consultation in the matter any more than the traders. It is all very well to lay down that as a result of the amalgamation there will be no displacement of labour, but the fact remains that it is going along all the time. The question of promotion is one of the most important things that are looked forward to by very many of the railway men, and as regards what is going to happen I will give a brief illustration of what is happening now. Take the Great Northern Company, which I venture to say, so far as conditions are concerned, is the best of the three. As vacancies are falling out in some departments they are removing the staff and undermanning in order to get along with the work. The matter is a serious one. By the year 1910, in the event of this Bill becoming an Act, there will be no need to trouble. Everything will be done. That is one of the worst features of the whole thing. This has been going on all the time, and in 444 prospect of the future the thing is being worked for all it is worth. Let me give you an illustration. Only about two months ago it took ten men as examiners to deal with the traffic at Grantham. Four have been removed, and six men have got to do the same work. There is an average of about 250 trains in the 24 hours. Six at least—I can speak from memory—have now to take the trains whose first stop is at Grantham. In order to economise two emergency men are made up of greasers, whose wages have been advanced from 19s. to £1 per week. Then let me ask you—the word "permanent" stands in the addition in the twentieth section of the Bill. But the fact remains, and I have it on the authority of the men themselves, that within the radius of a few miles from King's Cross at least 150 to 250 men can be wiped out, and it is said: "Well, you are not permanent." When you take the three railway companies whose termini are in London into consideration, there is no need to bother about a clause in the Bill, for the reduction can be made that they want to make without putting themselves to any trouble whatever.
Let me say that I quite admit that during the past your the dividends, as appearing to the public eye, have been low, but I say that neither the traders nor the railway men are responsible for the capitalisation that has taken place during many years. It is clearly admitted that in the early years exorbitant charges were made, and they suffered considerably thereby. Take one item: there is £80,000,000 in the capital debt of railway companies under the question of land over-charge. That belongs to the early years chiefly. 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 an 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 cent, dividend on the company's ordinary stock does 445 not sound out of the way, until one realises that it is actually 10 per cent, dividend on the money really sunk in it. That is a fair illustration of the position. So far as the men are concerned, there is only one method of relief, and it is a fair one. We have been pleading for many years for shorter hours, and there has been no real and substantial reduction in the standard of hours since 1892–3, when there was a satisfactory settlement on the 10-hour basis; but according to the work at present the time they are now engaged, and in proportion to what it was fifteen or twenty years ago, a further reduction of hours is what they ought to get, and there would then be no need to reduce the staff at all. Why not give that reduction? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of wages. Would it be interesting to him to know that the wages to-day, taken on the average over the railways of the United Kingdom, are less than they were in 1900? What is more, the position, so far as hours are concerned, is worse than it was in 1900. It is quite true that in 1907 a certain section of the men gained the eight-hours' day. They were the shunters, but by piecemeal fleecing they nearly lost it again. The unfortunate thing is that we have not only to fight the companies, but we have to fight the Board of Trade also. That is the bad feature of it. They are doing us more injury than any State Department ought to do to any industrial class of the country. We have pleaded with the Board of Trade over and over again to modernise their methods of dealing with these matters. In 1893, as a result of the memorable Scottish strike, into which a Committee of this House made inquiry, you got powers of a discretionary kind in order to administer and re-schedule the hours of working. The House then and there laid it down as a principle of administration that the hours should be on the basis that all hours over 12 per day were excessive. What is the position? No hours are deemed excessive which are under 12 hours per day. How can the men, with all their strenuous efforts expect to get a further reduction of the standard, while the Board of Trade is telling everybody that hours are not excessive if they do not exceed 12 hours a day? The power of the Board of Trade is entirely discretionary. The men are asking for an eight hours day, and they have been asking for it for the last three years. This has been asked for by the engine drivers, the firemen, and the guards employed 446 upon the most important lines of travelling, and the Board of Trade is one of the greatest obstacles in the way of the men accomplishing their object. How can any one expect men to work on for a day and a half, because it is out of all reason. Here we find a means of relief, and if the House desires to meet all parties fairly this is the only way in which it can be done. I think I am well within the region of accuracy when I say that the predecessor in office of the President of the Board of Trade, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, said at the end of the year, 1907, when negotiations were going on for a settlement of the great agitation throughout the country that he would take the reins and refuse to allow the railway men to completely strangle the trade and commerce of the country by striking. We all wish to avoid these conflicts because they are hurtful, but when that has occurred, at least we ought to have their help and not their hindrance. I say that this House should not, with the provisions of this Bill as they stand before it, set up a precedent that we have already been told will have to be followed by many of the other companies. I ask the House to take warning in time. This is to be the model, and if it is to be the model then let us make it a good one. Let us take great care that it is not a bad model, because it is certain that the railway companies are studying themselves first, and they have not hesitated to tell us so. Consequently it is the business of this House to look at the general well-being of the community both as regards traders and employés, and at the same time treat the railway companies fairly. I have great pleasure in seconding the Motion for the rejection of this Bill.
§ Question proposed: "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Sir GEORGE DOUGHTY
Those who have had the pleasure of listening to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, whether they agree with his remarks or not, must admit that he endeavoured to place before the House the case in a very impartial and a very fair way. He had not an easy task, and I think it is much to be regretted that he should be lectured by the senior Member for Newcastle for the way in which he has discharged his duties at the Board of Trade generally. The right hon. Gentleman asked the House to consider this question without any feeling, and to look at it as a body of business men. Whether you differ with my view or I differ with yours 447 I hope we shall allow each other to present the case to the House as it presents itself to our minds. The President of the Board of Trade has, in my judgment, made several points which have not in any sense been covered by either the Mover or the Seconder of this Resolution. The right hon. Gentleman very truly said that so far as competitive rates are concerned, in a very large district of England outside the area covered by these three railway companies, competitive rates are practically dead. That is a fact. Those largely interested in the commercial affairs of this country know that in many towns where you have three railway companies it matters not which of the railway companies you send your goods by; the same rate, per ton is charged, and the same conditions apply, because there is a great pooling arrangement amongst the different interests in regard to the traffic in that particular town. That is a fact, and, as the President of the Board of Trade pointed out to the House, this group of companies have the same power and rates that other companies have. Under such conditions is it not wiser—indeed, are they not to be commended for having frankly and openly come to the House of Commons and presented this Bill. They are all large interests, employing nearly 100,000 men, with a million, of money belonging to somebody, and they came to the House of Commons, the tribunal of the nation, and present their case to you, and ask you not to laugh it out, but to examine it as it should be examined, in the same spirit that the President of the Board of Trade has already presented the case to the House. We had very much better have an Act of Parliament which will be under the control of the Board of Trade than have secret arrangements and secret methods of dealing as between one company and another. Therefore, I myself think that these three companies, in coming to ask the House to consider their case, have acted in a most frank and honest manner.
There is another aspect of this question which I earnestly ask the House to consider. It is a most unusual proceeding for the House of Commons to throw out a private Bill on second reading. Since I have been a Member I have known very few cases in which the House has not been prepared to submit a private Bill to the consideration of a body of its own Members. Those who have had a great deal to do with the procedure of the House will 448 admit that it is a bad precedent, when a great scheme such as this is presented, that it should not be allowed to go to a Committee for full consideration. The hon. Member opposite shakes his head. I have been in the House many more years than he has, and I submit that what I am saying is absolutely correct, and has been the course followed by whichever party has been in power. The President of the Board of Trade also referred to the question of facilities, and said that in certain districts that was the only matter in regard to which there was real competition. It seems to me that if you deny three great companies such as these the opportunity of raising capital for the purpose of improving their systems you will deny them the power of giving those facilities which are of such great value to the trading community generally. In this question is bound up the matter of finding the necessary finance for the future successful carrying on of these three great railway companies. The President of the Board of Trade made a good point, I thought, in reference to the future prospects of these companies in the matter of their financial position and their finding general facilities for the advantage of every trader with whom they may have to deal. I submit that, on grounds of public policy, and on the ground that Parliament should control this great problem of pooling arrangements, this Bill ought to have an opportunity of being considered and reported upon by a Committee. Neither the Mover nor the Seconder of the Amendment represents any particular interest in. the zone covered by these particular railway companies. I think probably that is the important matter. After all, surely we should try to get back to the point as to the districts where these three great railway companies do their business, and which they will, if the Bill is passed, either help or retard in the matter of facilities. The senior hon. Member for Newcastle and the hon. Member for Chester spoke in opposition to the Bill, but neither can say that his constituents are particularly interested, or are within the zone of these three great railway companies. The opposition came from hon. Gentlemen on the Tyne, and I think also on the Tees, in the North-Eastern system. It would have been wiser if the opponents of the Bill had found support from those districts which will be seriously affected by the carrying out of' this particular Bill. Speaking for a Constituency which is very largely interested 449 in this question, I am prepared to say that the Corporation of Grimsby, which I represent, is not opposed to this Bill. [Laughter.] Is there any objection to stating that? I am speaking for a Constituency that is deeply interested and entirely bound up in one of the great railway companies particularly concerned with this grouping system. A great deal was said about the chambers of commerce. Surely the chambers of commerce of those important towns, if they felt there was going to be any injury done, would have expressed their opinion against the Bill. Instead of that the opinion of the chambers of commerce is in favour of the Bill. A great deal has been said about the traders' interests. I would like to point out the traders' interests in the eastern part of England are not necessarily impaired by any clause in this Bill, but materially advantaged by many clauses. For example, there are very many additions, alterations, and improvements of facilities required in the great towns covered by the zone of these three companies which are awaiting the necessary expenditure of capital on those extensions to be carried out. It is because of the present condition of affairs, the earning power of the railways, and their financial position, that it is impossible for those important schemes to be carried out—schemes which would be for the advantage of the traders generally. I would like to point out also that, so far as the trader is concerned, in some of these towns, this amalgamation would be of enormous advantage. For example, it covers three of the large fishing centres in Great Britain, namely, Grimsby, Yarmouth, and Lowestoft. What is the position in regard to Grimsby 1 This is an illustration which I think the House should take into consideration. In Grimsby we have two railway companies—the Great Central and the Great Northern. The whole of the docks belong to one of these companies, but both companies have some sort of running rights. One company has had to spend all the money for the development of the docks, and the other company has enjoyed the advantages of that expenditure without contributing anything to it. You therefore get the minimum of facilities, and the trader cannot expect to get all he ought to have without such an amalgamation as is suggested. Then the whole of the fish trade between London and Grimsby goes over the Central Railway. But the Great Northern is 60 miles nearer London than 450 the Great Central, and yet the whole amount of fish is carried 60 miles further to London than it need be, while the quality of the article when it reaches London is depreciated, and at the same time the price is increased. The same condition of things very largely applies to Lowestoft. It belongs to the Great Eastern Company. Great Yarmouth is in the hands of the Great Northern, Midland and Great Eastern Companies, and a great portion of the traffic to London is 70 to 90 miles further than it need be if it went by a direct route, such as would be provided by this joint amalgamation. There is a trader's side to this question. The Great Eastern Railway Company covers an enormous area; but it has no direct communication with any coal pits in Great Britain. The whole of the coal traffic which it gets is handed to it by some of the railway companies. The consequence is that the public of London pay more for their coal than they ought to pay. Therefore, an enormous advantage to coal consumers would be the result in the whole eastern part of London, and also in the eastern part of England, if the proposals with reference to carrying became possible. I hope the House will give those who are interested in the Bill a chance of stating their case, and the House will do an injustice to both parties if no such opportunity is given. I cannot understand why those who represent Labour oppose the second reading of this Bill. The position of the men will be no worse than it is at present. It is admitted that men are now being discharged. The cause of that is the unfortunate and unhappy condition of trade; but the President of the Board of Trade, by the clause for which he has arranged, has secured the provision that no workman shall be discharged if the Bill comes into law, and if discharged he shall be compensated for loss of his employment. I submit, if this Bill comes into law, the workmen employed upon these railways will be in a better position than they are at the present time. I would earnestly say I am sure there may be a side of this question greatly to the advantage of the workers. If you can secure a greater measure of prosperity in great undertakings such as this, you have at least a fair case to expect you will get better payment for your men. But if the dividend earning power of railways is constantly decreasing there is the other natural result. I speak as one who has very great sympathy with railway workers, and I can- 451 not help thinking that the passing of this Bill would be a benefit and not a disadvantage to the 100,000 men employed by these three great undertakings. Therefore, I ask the House to give the Bill a fair chance to have it properly examined by a Committee upstairs; and I believe that if this is agreed to those who hesitate as to the value of the Bill now will be convinced that it is a measure that will be of great public service.
§ Mr. T. R. FERENS
The hon. Member who has just sat down has said that those who so far have spoken in opposition to this Bill do not represent Constituencies within the zone of the Bill. He cannot make that complaint about myself. He represents a competing port, in reference to the port I represent. He represents Grimsby and I represent Hull, and I represent a very much larger labouring population than he, and the interests of those whom I represent will be jeopardised by the proposals now before the House. The Corporation of Hull and the Chamber of Commerce of Hull are strongly opposed to the proposals of this Bill, and for a very good reason. We in Hull have enormous capital invested in our docks. The traffic that has been coming on the Great Northern Railway to Hull for shipment is very large. If this Bill becomes law then naturally those who represent Grimsby and other ports will divert traffic to Harwich and Grimsby, which are situated on the railway companies interested in this proposal. Two of the railway companies have docks. The Great Central has a very important dock under construction at Iningham; they own Grimsby dock, and the Great Eastern own Harwich dock; they have a line of steamers, and if this Bill becomes law a great deal of the traffic that now finds its way to Hull would be diverted. I am not in the least surprised that the hon. Member for Grimsby heartily supports the Bill. We have had experience at Hull of monopoly and of competition. I remember the time we had only the North-Eastern Railway Company, and when they exercised a monopoly, and I also remember the great difficulty experienced by manufacturers to get their goods dealt with, but when Hull and Barnsley competition was instituted things immensely improved.
I admit that so far as rates are concerned there is not a great deal of competition between the railway companies. They 452 arrange that matter; but in regard to facilities to traders the competition is of the greatest possible importance, and if this Bill became law then I should be sorry for the great tract of country that would be influenced by this measure—viz., one-third of the whole of England, comprising the Eastern counties. I have in my hand an illustration of the evils of these combinations. Our business only this month sent a consignment of goods from Hull to the Midlands, and there was so long a delay—of ten days—that we were obliged to send a duplicate lot of goods. Our customer wrote exonerating us entirely from blame, and adding this: "We know that great delays are general on railways here, and since the amalgamation it is simply terrible." That will be the experience of very many traders supposing this proposal becomes law. To show how very determined the Hull Corporation was to secure competition if possible, they subscribed, when the Hull and Barnsley Railway was formed, £100,000 towards the scheme, and they hold that amount in the Hull and Barnsley to-day. Owing to the arguments I have adduced I shall certainly, under the expression of desire on the part of the Hull Corporation, representing as they do 260,000 inhabitants, and also on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce of Hull, representing as they do all the leading merchants and manufacturers of the City of Hull, I shall certainly go into the Lobby against the Bill.
§ Debate adjourned.