HC Deb 15 June 1910 vol 17 cc1395-425

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Sydney Buxton)

This Bill is an attempt to deal with a question which has created great interest in the last few years, and which was referred to a Departmental Committee—the question of an improvement in the returns and accounts at present provided under Act of Parliament by railway companies. The Bill carries out the various recommendations of that Committee. I may just say, in passing, that we are very much indebted both to the Chairman of the Committee and to the other members of it for the efficient and painstaking labours which they devoted to the consideration if this question. It had of late years become more evident from time to time, that the system of making returns and accounts by railway companies is antiquated, and there grew up a strong desire that the returns should be brought up to date. The present returns and accounts are furnished under Acts of Parliament, the first of which was passed in 1868, and the second in 1871. They were passed at a period when the railway system in this country, and the methods of conducting the railways, were on a much smaller scale than at the present time. But the forms laid down for the accounts have become stereotyped by Act of Parliament, and no effective means were possessed by the Board of Trade for bringing them up to date. Consequently a year or two ago my predecessor at the Board of Trade, the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointed a Departmental Committee to go into the question of railway returns and accounts, with this reference—"to consider and report what changes if any are desirable in the form and scope of the accounts and statistical returns of capital, traffic, receipts, and expenditure rendered by railway companies under the Railway Regulation Acts." That Committee was formed of representatives of the railway companies, representatives of those who perhaps I may call reformers in these matters of accounts and returns, representatives of the Board of Trade, and others, who, like the Chairman, had no particular interest in the question and came to the consideration of the matter with a perfectly open mind. That Committee gave very careful consideration to the questions referred to it. The first point on which they reported unanimously was that there was no advantage in the present system of railway companies being obliged to give their shareholders half-yearly accounts, and they proposed that, for the future, it should be sufficient to have annual returns and accounts presented to the shareholders, these returns to be sent also to the Board of Trade. This recommendation was unanimously agreed to, and is embodied in this Bill. There was a further and more important duty put upon the Committee, which was asked to report on the best method in which the existing returns and accounts should appear for the information of the shareholders and of the public, as well as of the Board of Trade, and they adopted certain forms both of accounts and statistics which are embodied in Part 1, so far as accounts are concerned, and in Part 2 as regards statistics, in the Schedule of the Bill. I may say at once that taking into account the very careful consideration which was given to these returns and accounts by the members of the Committee, and that they came to a unanimous agreement with regard to them, that I thought it right and best to have the weight of the Committee behind me, and I have practically adopted the accounts and returns in the shape in which the Committee recommended them. I do not say that we have not made a few minor alterations. We have not adopted them without the alteration of a comma, but I think I may say we have done so without the alteration of a semi-colon. At all events there are very few alterations which we have made, and they are not of any importance as to principle, and we have only made a change in one or two cases to make the matter clearer.

The nature of the changes which the Bill proposes is substantially this: Under the old statutory system of accounts there were no means of showing to the shareholders and the public the various nature of the enterprises of railway companies. There was nothing which kept distinct what I may call the accounts of the railways proper to their business as railways, and the accounts of their revenue and expenditure on account of other matters complementary to their railway undertakings. Of late years the railways of this country have largely extended what I may call the commercial part of their railway undertakings, and have become the proprietors of steam boats, canals, omnibuses, hotels, and last night it was arranged that they might become the proprietors of golf links. The Committee were unanimously of opinion that the revenue and expenditure on account of these extensions of their business ought to be distinguished and made clear from the revenue and expenditure on railway matters proper. It was thought that this was necessary with a view to the accuracy of the accounts, and so that those interested in the matter might see what was the expenditure on the working of the railways apart from these subsidiary matters. Under the old Act, the Eegulation of Railways Act, 1868, they included in one miscellaneous table, figures dealing with steamboats, canal and harbour expenses, and a variety of other matters, but we now propose that the schedules shall show separately the receipts and expenditure in respect of omnibuses and other vehicles run in connection with the railway, refreshment rooms, dining ears, steamboats, canals, hotels, and other enterprises. That will be of importance, but, apart from that, the returns and accounts show an extraordinary improvement in clearness and detail, both from the point of view of the public and the Department.

As to the statistical returns, they are also very much amplified and very much improved, because now all the items will be given separately with regard to rolling stock, road vehicles, steamboats, canals, docks, etc. Such things as these will be the subject of separate returns, instead of their being lumped together as they are at the present time. There is one item which I think will be of great interest to this House, and that is the details of the working of the workmen's tickets under the Cheap Trains Act. Up to now these have been lumped together with the third-class return tickets. In addition to that, the tonnage of the principal articles of goods traffic carried on railways will also be given in detail, so that we may be able to see what the traffic is. This information will be of value from the point of view of the trade and commerce of this country, and we shall be able to see what is the nature and extent of these larger items of traffic on our great railways. In regard to many other matters of that sort, there are details to be given which I think will be of advantage and which will enable us for the first time to compare, and compare properly, the working of one railway with another, which has been almost impossible under the old form of return. Under the past system there was no material for making a fair and just comparison between one line and another. All these schedules to which I have referred were agreed to by the Committee, but they suggested further that the Board of Trade should in the future have the power of adding to and altering these schedules and ordering returns of various sorts from railway companies, and adding to these schedules as they thought best from the point of view of public information. They considered that the Board should have the power of adding schedules which would become statutory in the same way as these schedules and would be in the nature of an annual return to the shareholders, the Board of Trade, and the public. That power is found in Clause 3, which is divided into two parts, one which deals with what I may call financial accounts and the other with the question of statistics.

At the present moment the Board of Trade in regard to financial accounts—accounts affecting finance in the shape of expenditure and revenue and so on—have no power to call upon railway companies to furnish them with altered or amplified accounts without the assent of the railway company. Thus, whereas in other cases as regards statistical and not financial returns, they have the power to call for and alter them as they think best, they have not that power in regard to financial returns. In taking, therefore, this further power it seemed not unfair to the railway companies to distinguish between the financial accounts and the statistical returns, and to give them in regard to the former some right of appeal from the possibly arbitrary action of the Board of Trade in calling for and publishing returns which the companies believe may be of financial disadvantage to themselves. One can understand and easily conceive that in some cases of financial returns it might be to the disadvantage of a railway or a commercial undertaking in rivalry with other railways and commercial undertakings to have certain financial accounts necessarily made public. Therefore we thought it quite fair, with regard to financial accounts, that there should be something in the nature of an appeal from the Board of Trade, and that has been given. With regard to statistical returns, subject to a provision which gives the railway companies power to discuss the matter with us, there is a clause which gives the Board of Trade full power to call for any figures of that nature which they require, and publish them to the shareholders and the public at large. We have given a certain amount of discretion to the Board of Trade, which we hope will be used with moderation, to call for returns which we think of value, from the point of view of the management of railways and their working, and from the point of view of information. One other recommendation of the Committee was that there should be a Committee created by the Board of Trade to go into these returns from time to time and consider whether they might be altered or improved or amended. I do not gather that they propose that this should be a Statutory Committee. We considered whether it would be advantageous, but, on the whole, we came to the conclusion that to create a Statutory Committee for this purpose would be clumsy, and that it would be less elastic than a Committee created by the Board of Trade themselves. Therefore the question of the creation of the Committee is a matter for consideration, and one to which we shall give great consideration, as to whether it will be an advantage to have such a Committee created. In Committee on this Bill I shall be quite open to consider the question of the creation of the Committee, even a Statutory Com- mittee, if that is the general feeling of those interested in it. But we think it would be better at present to leave it to the discretion of the Board of Trade.

So much for the Bill itself, which carries out, and perhaps endorses, those parts of the Reports of the Committee which were agreed to by the Committee as a whole, and on which they made certain recommendations to the Board of Trade, namely, the questions of half-yearly and yearly reports, and matters of that sort, and these returns of accounts and statistics. Of course, I am aware that before the Committee, other questions, especially one question of very considerable moment and interest, were raised with reference to these returns. That was the question of whether there should not be other and additional returns in reference to the amount of traffic on railways and the method in which that should be calculated which, in the opinion of many persons, would state better for the public information and for that of the shareholders, as well as of the managers of the railways, the amount of traffic and the method in which it was carried out and the best method of economically dealing with it. The hon. Member (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) has already taken a great interest in that particular question. He gave almost voluminous evidence before the Committee on that subject, which I had the pleasure of reading, and he and others have taken a very great interest in two matters which go together, which are called ton-mileage and passenger mileage. It really means that in order to obtain the aggregate of your traffic you multiply your passenger or ton by the number of miles run. That is a question of great interest, and in the minds of many persons it is the only proper method under which these traffic returns should be compiled. It is a very controversial matter. There was a great deal of conflicting evidence given before the Committee in reference to it. The Committee examined it very carefully, and reported in regard to it, but, looking at it all round, it appeared to me that the Committee themselves were not sufficiently unanimous on the matter and were not sufficiently favourable to it to enable us at the Board of Trade to make this particular form of return compulsory on the railway companies at present. This is what the Committee said in regard to it:— Many officials of British railways appear to be willing to adopt the ton-mile system if it can be shown to be of value; and we recommend this class of statistics to the careful consideration of those responsible for railway working in this country with a view to seeing whether they cannot be more widely introduced. At the same time, it must be borne in mind that a very important consideration from the point of view of railway administration is that the usefulness of these statistics would mainly depend on their being adopted willingly by the companies. A large part of their usefulness might be lost if their compilation resulted solely from compulsion. We are also of opinion that, however useful they might prove from the point of view of general information, there is not sufficient ground for insisting on their being compiled by all companies, unless and until they come to be adopted by a considerable number of the important companies. At present there is only one company—the North-Eastern—which has adopted that particular system of computation. The Report goes on:— Except where a very strong demand is made on behalf of the public for certain information, we do not think that public companies can fairly be put to the expense of compiling statistics which have no reference to existing methods of working, and which the majority of the companies still regard, though perhaps erroneously, as useless. In these circumstances, it did not appear to be the duty of the Board of Trade to insert it in this Bill, which is intended to carry out the unanimous recommendations of the Committee, and it has not been thought expedient or right to place this particular form of return in the schedule to this Bill. But I wish to make it clear to the House that the Bill neither raises nor precludes the consideration of the question at a future date. We are not desiring to make it compulsory, and we do not think at present there is sufficient evidence before ns to show that it ought to be so made. But at the same time, under Clause 3, the Board of Trade would be enabled—if those who demand this particular system successfully educate public opinion, or, still better, educate the railways in that direction—to adopt it at some future time, if it be then shown that it meets with general public approval. I, therefore, desire to commend this Bill to the House, net only as a modest measure of railway reform, but, as I think, a real step in advance on a businesslike basis, and one which will be of advantage to the shareholders and the public, and, I feel confident, also to the railway companies themselves.


Speaking en behalf of certain railway companies, I do not propose to take the step to-day of asking the House to reject this Bill, or of taking a Division against it. It is not to be supposed, however, although the railway companies, who were represented on the Departmental Committee, and although the Committee were unanimous on certain points, that this is a Bill which can be regarded as accepted in its entirety by those to whom it principally applies. I desire at this stage to raise a protest against certain provisions of the Bill which we shall ask the leave of the House to change in Committee. I hope, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman will not ask the House to proceed with too great rapidity from stage to stage, but will, at all events, allow some time for amendment, and possibly for negotiations upon those Amendments, before we reach the Committee stage. I may put our position briefly in this way. The railway companies fully agree that it is desirable that certain Amendments should be made in the form of accounts, and are still more strongly of opinion that any changes should rest upon something like general assent; and, for the purpose of obtaining that general assent, they, through their representatives on the Departmental Committee, make very considerable concessions, and having made them, they are willing to accept as primâ facie proper the forms of accounts and also the forms of returns scheduled to the present Bill. The point at which difference of opinion arises between the experts of the railway companies—those in charge of the interests of the railway companies—on the one hand and the promoters of this Bill on the other hand, is where the Bill proposes to confer power of changing these statutory forms. It is true that the Departmental Committee recommended that, as regards both the financial accounts and the statistical returns, there should be power in the Executive Government to make from time to time changes in the forms. The railway people represented to the Board of Trade that that was a power too great to be conferred, without some kind of limitation or appeal, and they have succeeded in persuading the Board of Trade, and the draughtsmen and promoters of this Bill, that, at all events, as regards the form of accounts, it is right that the power of making changes should not be entirely uncontrolled. Accordingly, in Clause 3, as the House will see, as regards the form of accounts, the Board of Trade will not be able to change the forms when objection is made by, railway companies, without obtaining the sanction of the Railway Commissioners. We have not been able to persuade them to introduce a like provision with regard to changes in statistical returns. We shall, therefore, ask the House not to sanction the distinction between these two things, because we conceive that no distinction can be properly drawn between the two. These returns, not less than the forms of accounts, are matters of great interest. They are matters in the preparation of which it is quite possible for great expense to be caused for arbitrary requirements. The forms in which they should be cast are matters which arouse most profound differences of opinion, and we do think that, just as it is conceivable that changes should not be made in the financial accounts without that kind of further inquiry which would be obtained by an appeal to the Railway Commissioners, so at the same time we think that if we are to have the introduction of new requirements with respect to statistical returns, they should not be capable of being ordered merely by the fiat of the Executive Minister, but that they should be made the subject of serious inquiry.

It may be said that the Board of Trade are giving up uncontrolled power to call for new forms. We do not agree with that view. We say that the Act of 1871, which empowers the Board of Trade to call for new forms, and to make changes in the forms of returns, applies only to returns which are merely optional for the Board of Trade to call for. The power of changing the forms which this Bill proposes to confer will apply to something different, and it will not be merely at the option of the Board of Trade to call for the returns. They will be returns in forms which will be obligatory on the railway companies to give to the shareholders, and through the shareholders to the public. For reasons which it is not necessary to enlarge upon there may be cases in which it is desirable that returns should be sent to the Board of Trade, and which it may not be desirable that they should be all given to the shareholders and the public. We, for our part, are content that these uncontrolled powers should be retained as they are under the existing statute law, and we shall move in Committee that the words of this Bill which propose to repeal the old powers should not be carried, and that therefore these powers should remain unrepealed. We shall also ask that something like the power of appeal from an order of the Board of Trade which the Bill now gives in the case of the financial accounts should apply equally to the proposed alteration of the statistical returns. I hope when the time comes we may be able to persuade the House that these demands of ours are not altogether unreasonable, and that they are made in the interest of the inexpensive working of trade, and in the interest of those who may have incurred large risks in these enterprises. We hope we may be able to persuade the House to make these Amendments. Having entered that protest at this stage, I wish to say that we are willing to give a Second Reading to the Bill to-night, while hoping that the changes I have indicated will be made later on.


While I welcome this Bill as a step forward, I desire to say that in my opinion, so far from its going too far, as the last speaker (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) suggested, it does not go nearly far enough. The statement made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite that the general assent of the railway companies should be obtained before this House requires that these returns should be made seems to be a doctrine which the House ought not to sanction. With regard to returns from limited liability companies, this House has passed drastic Acts of Parliament, and it seems to me that it ought to have the same powers over railway companies when necessary to exercise them. In the past railway companies have not furnished sufficient details of the business which they do, and I should like returns in regard to ton-mile statistics. I hope that when the Bill goes into Committee we shall be able to move Amendments which will bring to the decision of this House the question whether ton-mile statistics shall or shall not be given. With regard to that matter, I may be permitted to say that the Committee which reported, said this:— No sufficient evidence has been brought before us that any such strong feeling exists except among a very limited number of persons. That is, I presume, with regard to this particular reform. This is a matter in which a limited number necessarily take an interest. I would like to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Associated Chamber of Commerce this year adopted the following resolution:— That in the opinion of this association it is of the utmost importance in the interest of trade that legislation should be introduced at the earliest possible date to give effect to the recommendations of the recent Departmental Committee on Railway Accounts, and that it is also essential that provision should be made in the statistical returns for the compilation and publication of ton-mileage statistics. That, in my opinion, is a very strong reason why this reform should be intro- duced in this Bill. I presume I may speak to some extent for the employés on the railways, and although they have passed no formal resolution on the subject, they are extremely interested in all the details of railway working being made public, and that the railway companies should not work in the dark as regards statistics as they do at the present time. I may say that we are interested in this matter of full details with regard to ton-mile statistics and passenger-mile statistics from quite a different point of view to that of the shareholders or the traders. The shareholder, I think, has a perfect right to say that when details are furnished as to the business which is being done by the company they should give in addition to the capital and the details of the machinery also the actual output of the work they do for the money they receive, so that they would be able properly to compare what is done by one railway with what is done by another. In every country I believe in the world, with the exception of this country, Portugal, and Belgium, these statistics are prepared, and in America and most other countries it is a statutory condition that they should be prepared and presented. Therefore there is no reason at all except the action of the railway companies themselves why these statistics should not be prepared. We are interested in them from the point of view of the employés. I am told in America that since 1896, when these statistics were gone into much more accurately, there has been partly as a consequence—I do not say it is the sole reason—a general increase in the wages of the working men, that is railway men, of no less than 25 per cent. The actual facts which are brought out by these returns tend to the advantage of the employé, and they clear away a considerable amount of misunderstanding. They give the facts with regard to the working of railways, and as a consequence comparisons are able to be made.

The hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. W. Burdett-Coutts) this morning issued a statement which is an illustration of what I mean. He stated in the evidence which he gave before this particular committee that considered this question that at that time the railways were passing through a serious crisis. He said the rate of wages had risen. Will it be believed that the statement which he has made there, and which is constantly being put forward as an excuse by the railway com- pany, for the great increase in the expenses of railways and the decrease in the dividend, is that the wages are higher, when as a matter of fact that cannot be proved at all. We want to know what the facts are. So far as I can get at them they are exactly the opposite. I have taken great trouble with regard to this matter, and in the returns here furnished there are given for fourteen railways in five departments the amount of wages that they pay. I have taken those statistics out for ten years, and they show that, taking the gross receipts of the railways and comparing them with the wages paid on these fourteen railways, the wages paid per £ of receipts in 1899 by the whole of these fourteen railways was 5.48 shillings, and in 1908 it was 5.37 shillings, a decrease of 11 shillings in the ten years. That does not show what is frequently alleged, that there has been any increase in the rates of wages paid to the men. On the contrary, it shows a decrease. I may say that out of these fourteen railways there is a decrease in ten cases and an increase only in four. Therefore we want to get at the facts. Facts are as important for the employés as for the traders and the shareholders, and these facts can only be got if the fullest information is given to this House and to the country by the railways. I cannot for the life of me conceive what they have got to hide with regard to this matter, or what power there may be of these particulars being used for wrong purposes.

The North-Eastern Railway Company have been referred to as a company which have prepared these statistics, and it is a remarkable fact that since they began to prepare them they have had a career of greater improvement than ever they had before. It seems to me, in the interests of the railway companies themselves, this House ought to insist upon these returns being given. There is no means of anyone who desires the information at the present time getting to know the number of employés of any particular railway—neither the number of engine drivers, the number of guards, or any other employment. In this particular there should be an improvement made in the Bill; and in addition to asking for the amount paid in wages, we should also get to know the number of persons to whom those wages are paid. For the present I do not oppose this Bill. Personally, I rather welcome it. It goes a bit further than we have been accustomed to up to the present time. At the same time, I think that when the Government are taking this question in hand they might well have done the job thoroughly once for all. I think we ought to have all possible information with regard to the companies that they can furnish to us for the sake of the House, of the shareholders, the traders, the employés, and everyone concerned, and I cannot for the life of me see why this House should not take upon itself the responsibility at this stage of seeing what form of return should be issued and what form of return should be asked for. With regard to the question of appeal on accounts, I consider that the body to which the appeal is being referred the very worst possible body to which any kind of appeal at all can be made. I think that the Railway Commission certainly justifies that attitude, and I should oppose any appeal being made to that exceedingly costly body, to which practically no one but the companies has any means of appealing. This Bill, it seems to me, is an extremely important one, and I protest against the assumption in this matter that the railway companies are the only parties vitally concerned in it. The Bill is an important public Bill, and I am sorry that there is not a larger House to deal with it, for in great measures of this kind, dealing with the vast capital and great interests which are at stake in the railways of this country, more public interest should be taken than appears to be taken at the present time.


I cannot but express my disappointment and surprise at the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade with regard to the questions involved in this Bill. I was not in the least surprised at the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield, because I have had a pretty long experience of the railway mind, if one wants to get any information or data from a railway company. But I am surprised at the tone of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, because, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many outside the House, this Bill involves one of the most important issues that could be placed before a great industrial country—the scientific organisation of its industries. It is the first time that this question has come before the House in a concrete form, and it is a responsible task for any private Member to try to put the case to this House and make the matter clear. My main complaint against the Bill is that in regard to a great question of policy which comes before the House for the first time in the form of these railway statistics—the Bill shirks a decision. It shirks a decision on the great question of the scientific organisation of our English industries, and I am afraid that the effect of that will go very far. Because it must be remembered that the railway industry with regard to which this decision is shirked is by far the greatest industry in this country, not only by reason of the amount of capital—thirteen hundred millions—invested in it, but also because all other industries are in a measure dependent on and interlocked with it. It is the one industry over which the Board of Trade has complete control in this matter of statistics, which are the bedrock of scientific organisation.

At this crisis in the industrial history of this country in relation to her great competitors, for the Government to have spoken with an uncertain voice on this question, to have given us a faltering lead or no lead at all is, in my opinion, a great misfortune. I say at once in regard to Tariff Reform that I am what is called a "whole hogger." But I am free to admit that there is one thing, one condition prior to and more important than an alteration in our fiscal system, one condition that has enabled our competitors to outpace us far more than all their tariffs, and that is the scientific organisation of their industries. I am surprised that a member of a Free Trade Government should not have recognised this and seized the opportunity which is deliberately thrown away in this Bill. The bedrock of scientific organisation is admittedly accurate data and full statistics. Every manufacturer in this House, I think, will agree with that statement. All attempt to secure these statistics with regard to the greatest industry of the country has been abandoned in this Bill. There were two policies before the right hon. Gentleman in the report of the Committee to which he has alluded. I shall ask leave to say something about the history of that Committee, because I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman—I am sure it was not intentional on his part; I know he has quite recently come to the high office he holds—has understood in the least the genesis and object of that Committee or how completely it recognised, as the main feature, this question of statistics.

9.0 P.M.

I said there were two policies before the Hoard of Trade in that Report to which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded. One was the old and time-honoured policy of practically no information and no statistics. This policy the railway representatives so far modified that they were willing to agree to a form of returns which, standing by themselves, are absolutely useless for our purpose. There was the other policy—and both these policies were clearly put forward—the policy of vitalised, real and informing statistics, which would speak to us of themselves on important matters, and show the real services performed by railways in return for the money they charge. That is what we want to get at—the real services, the real work which railways do. That is second policy, the policy of what I have called vitalised statistics, which do speak for themselves, the sort of statistics which, as the hon. Member who has just spoken pointed out, are compiled in connection with the railways of all other enlightened countries, and which the greatest builders of the railway industry and the greatest railway managers in those countries consider to be essential to economic working and to scientific organisation. These are the two policies which the right hon. Gentleman had before him. He chose the useless policy; he chose statistics that are useless as they now stand, and he rejected the useful system. With regard to the Committee, I should like to say a word or two about its history, for two reasons. I think one would almost gather from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that the Committee was appointed for the purpose of separating the cost of canals, steamboats, and hotels from the cost of railway business proper. He said that when the Committee was sitting the question was raised as to ton-miles, and the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imply that this was a subordinate, a more or less incidental, thing.


I distinguished the particular point as another question of great importance, and I read the terms of reference.


I quite understand the right hon. Gentleman's explanation; still, if the House will permit me, I would like to say a few words about the history of this Committee, because I think that will bring out better than anything else the real subject that the Committee had before them for consideration. And my second reason is that it will indicate the only title I have to address the House on this subject.

The appointment of the Committee was the direct outcome of a prolonged effort in which I and others were concerned to induce English railways to compile and publish these statistics of their own accord. That effort was, in the first instance, localised at Euston, because the London and North-Western Railway was credited with being the "premier railway of England," and we hoped that if we were successful in our object other railways would fellow suit. May I say that this consideration weighed very strongly with me? I was associated with gentlemen who had very large interests as shareholders in the London and North-Western Railway and other English railways, who did me the honour to ask me to be chairman of the shareholders' committee But personally I have only a trifling financial interest in English railways. And I have no directorial ambitions. I took the matter up, as some others did, solely on account of its great public importance. That is the only point of view from which I am speaking to-night. On that campaign at Euston I desire to make no comment, because I wish to avoid all cause of offence to any one in this matter. But it is essential that I should state one or two leading facts. We did not succeed in inducing the London and North-Western Railway to compile these statistics; but we drew widespread attention to the fact that they were not compiled and did not exist, and I think we drew widespread attention to their value.

At Euston we were met by the statement from the Chairman that the statistics and data we wanted, all the statistics which in other countries are considered the bedrock of scientific railway working, were in his opinion "worthless and absolutely useless." Those were the words that came from the Board. Our pleadings before that enlightened tribunal suddenly ceased; and I am glad now to state the cause. We appealed to the Board of Trade; and the case for inquiry, at least, was so strong that the Committee on Railway Accounts was appointed. The Committee sat for three years, and reported last year. The right hon. Gentleman certainly made just reference to its arduous labours. The Report was signed by all the members, but was inconclusive. There was a Minority Report, or reservation, by the railway representatives, against the adoption of the statistics in question, and a similar Report by the reformers in favour of their adoption. I wish to impress upon the House what hon. Members can see quite plainly for themselves if they will read the Report, that up to the point where it comes to securing the adoption of these statistics by the railways, the Report throughout is strongly in favour of the statistics, illustrating their value from the evidence, establishing the fact that the cost of compiling them is immaterial, and making other points in their favour sufficiently clear. Then suddenly, when it comes to real business, namely, the actual introduction of the statistics, the Eeport—Commission-like—falters and comes to a lame and impotent conclusion. It recommends their adoption, but fails to recommend their being made statutory. From a former experience in this House I am not very fond of Royal Commissions; and there is no real difference between a Royal Commission and a Committee of this kind, formed in the same way and proceeding by the same methods. I am still less fend of them now. But my point is that, seeing that the whole tenour of the Report is in favour of the system, surely the Minister responsible might have taken the matter in both hands at the point where the Report falters and come to a strong and definite decision. I have only one thing more to say about the Report, which I have stated in the paper I have distributed. Practically all the returns now embodied in the Schedules of the Bill were the work of the three gentlemen whom the right hon. Gentleman has called the reformers. But they were presented simply as forming a threshold to this other system of statistics, without which, I venture to repeat, the returns now in the Bill will be of little real use; that system which, in the opinion of those who think with me, and of those three gentlemen and the other Commissioners, are essential to the scientific organisation of railways. The right hon. Gentleman gave what appeared to me to be a very incomplete statement of what passenger mileage and ton mileage really is. May I just describe what it is1? I know I was in this House fifteen years, and during that period I should have been very glad if anybody had explained it clearly to me. It is really the combination of weight and distance with regard to goods traffic, and of the number of passengers and distance with regard to passenger traffic. At present all mention of distance is left out by railways. In this Bill, which is supposed to lead to an improvement, not one word is included as to the distances that the passengers are conveyed, and there is to be no return at all about that. That seems to me incredible. Surely the function of a railway is not only to put so many tons and so many passengers on its trains, but it is to carry both the required distances. Let me put it in the words of Sir George Gibb, who gave the strongest possible evidence in favour of our case:— The whole question as to ton mile and passenger mile statistics, however much detailed controversy may have been raised about it, is nothing more than the simple question whether or not the statistical returns should contain information about the distances over which traffic is carried. Now, will it be believed that hitherto English railways, with one single exception—to which I will refer later—have not compiled and do not now compile or give any returns of the distance they carry their freight and passengers? That is the great defect we wish to remedy. Without this information it is absolutely impossible to know anything about the real service performed by the companies for the money they receive. Hon. Members will see now why every other enlightened country insists upon these statistics.

To get ton mileage, you take the number of tons in each consignment, and you multiply them by the number of miles they are carried. So you get the number of tons carried one mile. You do exactly the same thing with regard to passenger traffic, and you get the number of passengers carried one mile. This is the form in which the figure is stated in all other countries. Put in that form, ton mileage—it is the same with passenger mileage—becomes a standard figure, a common denominator so to speak, to which you can refer almost every operation, every rate and fare charged, all money spent, and all work done on the railway. Let me put it in the words of one of the witnesses, Mr. Priestly, who gave remarkably clear evidence on the whole subject. Mr. Priestly has been Under-Secretary to the Indian Government, secretary to the Railway Board there, and is now agent or general manager of the South Indian Railway. He says:— I cannot see how it is possible for any one to form any reasonable idea of how his business is being conducted if the different, factors making up the business are not resolved into some unit which expresses the service performed. The service on a railway is transportation. That transportation involves the carriage of quantity for distance. The multiplication of one of these factors by the other represents the service performed, and the terms in common use to express the results are passenger miles and ton miles. These are the only factors which express the service performed without any possibility of error. What we want to get at is the service performed by the railways. As shareholders, as the public, as traders, and as Members of Parliament we want to know what a railway is doing in return for the great privileges granted to it. I would point out that this ton-mileage is not an average figure but an actual total figure. Although the goods and passengers have been carried various distances, the railway has actually carried so many tons and so many passengers one mile. I make this observation because I know some people object to average figures. I have no such objection myself. How can you know—how can you state—the relative wealth or the relative trade of a country except by dividing its capital or its trade by the number of its population? That is an average figure. But who will say that it is not a useful one? And while the cardinal figure of ton mileage and passenger mileage—the basis of the whole of this system—is an actual figure, it is true that many valuable returns based upon this fundamental unit have to be stated in average figures; but they are valuable all the same in giving some insight into the real work of a railway. To my mind the greatest value of ton and passenger mileage is the opportunity for comparison that it gives us. It enables a railway to compare the work done in one year with the work done in another. Above all, it enables the public to compare the work done by one railway with the work done by another railway. The right hon. Gentleman stated as their great virtue that these new returns would enable them to compare the work of one railway with that of another railway. They will do nothing of the kind; they do not touch the work done by any railway, because they do not tell you how far a railway has carried its goods or passengers.

As this is the first time that this very important matter has come before the House, I should like to reply to one or two points which have been raised against these proposals. It is said that these returns are very elaborate and very difficult to compile. But one railway in this country does compile them, namely, the North-Eastern Railway, which, under the direction, and I think I may add the genius, of Sir George Gibb, introduced this system some years ago; and you have the distinct evidence of Sir George Gibb himself and all his officials that the compilation of these details is a very easy matter and that the cost is inconsiderable. It is also said that while this ton and pas- senger mileage is suited to other countries, it is unsuited to this country. I have never heard a single sound or plausible argument which went to prove that contention. The conditions which exist in this country exist in other countries—the conditions as to traffic, small consignments, and so on—so that that argument cannot be maintained for a moment. I have had occasion to refer once or twice in my remarks to the attitude of railway men with regard to these statistics. I referred to our experience at Euston. In spite of that and of the strong opposition made by the representatives of the railways on this Committee, I venture to hope that that attitude will become more modified as time goes on.

With regard to English railways other than the North-Eastern, I do not expect to receive much support from railway directors in this House—at present. Here, again, I wish to avoid all cause of offence, and, therefore, I will only say that I have never understood the English railway directorial mind on this subject either in relation to the full comprehension of the real work of their railways and its scientific conduct or in relation to the larger demand for full information and real data from railways in view of the privileges and monopolies Parliament has granted them. As I have already said, my title, such as it is, to speak on this subject, is not derived from the honour of being a railway director, or the misfortune of being, except in the most limited way, a railway shareholder. But, if I were either, I can only say, after a careful study of the subject for some years, that I would gladly welcome these real statistics. I should feel better able to perform my duties as a director, and far better able to understand my investment. But, speaking as a Member of Parliament, I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that these statistics are essential to this House in approaching every railway question that comes before it—every attack on railways and every defence of railways. With their help Members of this House would be much better equipped to approach such subjects if they knew the real work done on the railways. From all points of view it would be better for the railways themselves to come out into the open and tell Parliament and the public what they are really doing; what effective work they are performing in return for the unique privileges and monopolies which Parliament has granted them, and what relation that work bears, not only to the money it costs them, but to the money they charge the public for it. I am grateful to the House having listened with patience to the remarks which I have made in order to get my points out. In conclusion, I venture to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman. He has counselled delay in this matter. He has said, "Educate the public mind; get the railway directors on your side." Why, Sir, we have delayed, and the interests of scientific industrial organisation has delayed for twenty-two years. Are we to delay for ever? In the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1888, Section 32, there was a clause, and this may not be commonly known, giving power to the Board of Trade to alter and add to the then existing railway returns—which are now forty years old—as the Board of Trade may from time to time think fit. That clause was inserted by Sir Robert Giffen with the express purpose of introducing these ton-mile and passenger-mile statistics. Sir Robert Giffen knew, what more enlightened people were coming to understand, the enormous power that these particular statistics had played in the development and success of the Indian rail-ways. He knew how the American railways had taken these statistics over from India they are not an American invention; Englishmen have the credit for them—and of the very gigantic strides made by American railways by means of these statistics. You have the evidence before the Committee of a Canadian witness, who said that these statistics had been made compulsory by the Inter-State Commission, and that the whole of the managers in the United States and Canada considered them essential for economical working.

We have waited for twenty-two years. We have had this Committee. We have had this great body of evidence. If I were to read the names of distinction and define the personality of the gentlemen who gave evidence in favour of this policy, I think it would impress the House. We cannot do anything more. What more are we to do? Are we to have another Committee, to sit for another three years, and draw up another Report? And are we to have the whole case presented again? I say that the Report now at the service of the right hon. Gentleman presents the case in a manner which would enable any strong Minister who had the real interests of the reform of the railway industry at heart to take a decision. I venture to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, even at the eleventh hour, to recog- nise the real merits of the policy of reform which is so fully put forward in the Report, and to throw the weight of his name, reputation, and responsible office on the side of intelligent and practical reform.


I regret very much that I, as the first speaker upon the side of the traders, should be able to contribute so very little to this discussion compared to the interesting speech to which we have just listened, but I venture to think that if there is not a great tenacity on the part of traders to bring their interests forward on this occasion, it is due to the fact that all traders are united in appreciation of the lines upon which this Bill is going. I do not say that throughout the country there may not be differences of opinion as to whether these statistics might not go further; but I do think that everyone feels that this Bill is a very great contribution towards the question of railway management and administration in this country. I do think that we ought not to minimise the great value that the statistics which are suggested, and the schedules which are suggested, will be to the traders of the country. I think it is only right to mention that the attitude which the railway companies have taken towards traders has vastly improved during the last few years. It is possible that the increase of competition, both in the passenger traffic and in heavy traffic, has helped to produce a more healthy attitude on the part of the railway companies, and so, although this Bill may not go as far as many would wish. I do think that with an improved mind upon the part of the railway companies towards the traders, who, after all, are their very best customers, that a great deal will be done by the establishment of these figures.

The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken pointed out some of the most important ways in which there should be extension and improvement. I do not wish in any way to express an opinion upon the knotty point of ton mileage and passenger mileage, but I do hope when we get into Committee, when there will be an opportunity of discussing the matter in greater detail, the House will not jump too rapidly to a conclusion either upon that one or any other point. I know that, in very great concerns where we average too ruthlessly we are apt to get figures too quickly picked up and arranged without relation to the facts upon which they are established. I am not expressing an opinion one way or another, but I say that the House should, throughout this matter, keep very carefully in mind that great danger.

We have huge and vast concerns in regard to the industries of this country; they have different aspects in different parts of the country and they have different conditions in different parts of the country. I do not necessarily think that the ton mileage or the passenger mileage is going to be of great utility in comparing one railway and another, but when we get the details and the mass of figures, as we shall do by these various schedules, it does, enable anyone who is prepared to give time and trouble to thinking out these matters in their right positions, and in their right proportions the degree of information that they require. Personally I should only like to suggest one increase of the information which is to be given, and that is in return 14, in regard to the question of goods traffic and receipts. It seems to me that if we ask the railway company to give tonnage receipt, etc., for merchandise and coal and other minerals, we might go a step further and ask them to give the same returns for the detailed classes as contained in the classification for rates under the law regulating the rates which may be charged. I venture to believe that with that addition and all the various information which will be available, whether one gets ton mileage or passenger mileage added there will be a big fund of information available to railway directors and railway shareholders, and I venture to think a more important class of people, namely, their customers and passengers in this country, which would enormously help both sides to act in the best way towards the railways.


I desire to say a word in support of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Stuart-Wortley) in so far as he asks that an appeal should be given both as regards financial accounts and as regards part of the statistical reports. I think many of us will bear in mind the history, in quite a different Department, of the Weir Charity quite recently, where a Government Department exercised its powers very largely in favour of instituting a scheme of its own in preference to the scheme laid down for it in the will of the testator, and went so far as to take £5,000 of the testator's money in order to start its own scheme. The moral to be derived from that particular story is that a Gov- ernment Department ought not to be left too free to act entirely upon its own responsibility.

I think the same applies here. I think the Board of Trade in this matter ought to be subject to the revision of some judicial body, and I do not know why in the existing circumstances the Railway Commissioners should not be the body to refer to. In Part I. of the Bill, the Railway Commissioners are the Court of Appeal; and it seems to me both logical and reasonable in the public interests that appeals should also be given to them as regards Part II. of the Bill. The hon. Member for Stockport does not appear to approve of that body. I should like to ask him whether he is prepared to approve of any body at all. Would he approve, for instance, of three judges of the High Court? I want an absolutely fair, impartial, judicial body, and I should have thought that three judges of the High Court would form such a body.


I have no objection to the setting up of a Committee of the House.


But I want to prevent a constituency or any individual person bringing pressure to bear upon the judges to give a decision one way or the other. I think it most important that the Appeal Court should be absolutely independent, and in that connection I think the railway Commissioners would be the best. They are the only body existing at the present time which deals with such matters, and until we get a better one we must be content. In these circumstances I support my right hon. Friend in urging that an appeal should be given to the Railway Commissioners under Part II. of the Bill. The President of the Board of Trade, in taking absolute power under Part II. of the Bill, expressed the hope that that absolute power would be used with discretion. I think that proved that in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman there was a fear that in the future there may be some President of the Board of Trade who would not use that discretion. I have every confidence in the fairness of the present holder of that office, and I am perfectly sure he is anxious to act fairly by all parties, and I hope his administration of the Board of Trade will be as successful as was his administration at the Post Office.

With regard to this question of ton mileage statistics, the last speaker stated —and quite truly I think—that the attitude of railway companies towards traders had improved in recent years. I am sure that is so, and that it is the desire of railway companies that there should be full and complete understanding with traders. I think it is in the mutual interest of the companies and the traders that there should be that understanding, and certainly, so far as I am concerned, I shall do everything I can to improve that understanding. I think the hon. Gentleman who spoke last also was quite correct in saying that the amount of statistics asked for might be abused. It is very easy to get a large number of figures which may be misinterpreted by the general public. I was looking through some of the proposals under these schedules, and I found, for instance a return dealing with the amount of ballast laid down, giving the number of yards in each year. That is a figure, which might easily be misinterpreted, and I do not know that it is of any great use. At present the ballast laid down by railway companies is very much more durable and useful that that laid down some years ago, and the result is that less will be laid down in succeeding years, and consequently the figure will be less, because the ballast which is now being laid down lasts longer. The hon. Member for Westminster referred to ton mileage statistics, and he mentioned enlightened countries which had adopted it. I notice the countries which he considers enlightened are those which agree with his own view, and the countries which he considers are not enlightened are those which happen to disagree with him.


Which are they?


The hon. Member said this country was one, and two others were Portugal and Belgium. That really proves the case against him, because I also happen to have had opportunities of discussing this question when I was a member of the International Railway Congress, which met at Washington in 1905, and the opinion there, as I gathered from a number of railway experts, was that the reason for the use of ton-mileage statistics in America, India, and large countries of that kind was because you had enormous areas of traffic. Take America, for instance, where you have great masses of ore and coal as carriage right across the Continent regularly throughout the year in regular quantities, consequently it is of great importance to these railways that they should know exactly how the quantity in one year tallies with another; but look at the situation in this country and in Portugal and Belgium. Is there any kind of traffic of that kind to any great extent here? Not at all. The kind of traffic we have in this country is quite different. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Burdett-Coutts) says that every great railway manager thinks ton mileage statistics are essential. I can only tell him that I have spoken to a great many railway managers, and a considerable number of them do not consider them to be anything of the kind.


That is not what I said. I stated that every builder of railways in England and every great railway manager in countries where they have got railway ton-mileage consider it essential. I did not say anything about managers here.


The great railway managers to whom I have spoken in America do not believe in the absolute essentialness of ton-mileage statistics, and they believe still less in the necessity for such statistics in small countries like Great Britain. I do not think the hon. Member's view, however much it may be suitable for certain countries, is by any means equally suitable for this country or for the conditions which exist here. I hope the hon. Member will bear in mind that this Committee has taken great trouble in the matter. They have inquired into this subject exhaustively for over three years, and it is not unreasonable under these circumstances to say, as the President of the Board of Trade has said, that their opinion is not sufficiently unanimous to justify compulsory ton mileage statistics being asked for from the railway companies. I could enlarge considerably on this subject, but I commend what I have said to the fairness of the House. I feel sure I can safely leave it to the fairness of the right hon. Gentleman who has control of this Bill to see that these statistics, which are not in my opinion for the public benefit, to any considerable extent in this country are not imposed because they would involve an immense amount of labour. I leave the matter with confidence in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, and I hope he will see that such conditions are not compulsorily imposed upon railway companies.


I wish to emphasise the remarks made by my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend on this question. I desire to point out that, as far as my company is concerned, we do not object to this Bill provided it will give us an appeal upon the question of alterations in these statistics. I wish to say that I have had the honour of an interview with the Chairman of the Committee only yesterday, and he told me that it was certainly his wish, and I believe he also said the unanimous wish of the Committee, that there should be an appeal. They did not put it in their report, because they did not quite know what tribunal to set up, and they left that matter to the right hon. Gentleman.


They suggested a Committee.


At any rate, they suggested that there should be an appeal, and that is what I was told yesterday. I would point out to the right hon. Gentleman that even from his own point of view this is not a very large question, but from our point of view it may be a very large one. The right hon. Gentleman conceded an appeal on the question of accounts, but he has not conceded an appeal upon the statistics, because I understand that he says at the present moment the Board of Trade can demand statistics, and the railway companies are bound to give them. Let me point out that, although this is so, the Board of Trade are under no obligation to publish them, and if they do publish them they are published in the Blue Book. If the right hon. Gentleman's Bill is carried as it stands, the President of the Board of Trade may demand any quantity of statistics which may cost large sums of money, and they must be made public, because they will have to be sent to the shareholders of the company, and that is only another way of making them public. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has ever been called upon to earn his money in business, but if he had he would know that the first essentials of a good business man is not to publish to your rivals the system under which you work. What the right hon. Gentleman proposes is simply making the railway companies to publish unnecessarily to their rivals the means by which they earn their living. There can be no useful object in that. As this Session is supposed to be one for compromises, I sincerely hope that the right hon. Gentleman will endeavour to meet the railway companies, and, in conclusion, I will repeat that, so far as my company is concerned, they are prepared to meet the right hon. Gentle- man if he will concede to them the small concession of the appeal which I have asked for. The House will concede, I think, that the railway companies have some cause for alarm. As my hon. Friend stated just now, the tendency on the part of the different Departments of the Government is to arrogate to themselves unlimited power. My hon. Friend has stated what the Charity Commissioners did in the Weir Trust, and anyone who has read what the judges said will remember the strictures which Lord Justice Farwell passed upon the Charity Commissioners were very strong. The railway companies are justified in saying, "While we concede that Parliament has the right to say, 'You may, and you are to give certain returns,' we have the right to say that if those returns are to be ordered, either Parliament must order them and not a Department, or, at any rate, we ought to have an appeal to the Railway Commissioners."

An hon. Member below the Gangway objected to the Railway Commissioners, but they are the only body in existence, and why he objected to them I do not know. Their decisions are by no means always in favour of the railway companies. A few years ago, when the Great Northern, the Great Central, and the Great Eastern sought to amalgamate under what we thought was a clear Act of Parliament the Railway Commissioners held we were wrong. They sent us to the House of Commons, and everybody knows that our project was withdrawn. I do not think, therefore, the Railway Commissioners can be in any way considered to have any bias towards railway companies. They have always acted fairly and honourably, and I can see no reason why they should not be entrusted as a court of appeal in this instance. Personally, being a Member of the House of Commons, I would prefer that all these things should be settled by the House of Commons. I cannot understand why hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are ostensibly great supporters of the House of Commons and great believers in the House of Commons, some of them, I think, as a sole Chamber, should always be so desirous of taking away that power which the House of Commons ought to retain in its own hands and of placing it in the hands of a Minister or a Department. I hope the House of Commons will do one of two things in this matter—either retain its own control over any alteration that may be made or see that some appeal is giver to some independent body.


If there had been nothing said except one observation of the hon. Baronet, I think it would have been sufficient to have convinced the House of the necessity of having a greatly improved system of railway returns made compulsory. He made the significant remark that a business firm such as a railway company, I presume, would not publish a return that would enlighten other people as to their business.



10.0 p.m.


Call them rivals if you will. That is what happens now. The railway returns now do not enlighten anyone. That is the whole of our complaint, and what we want is to give enlightenment not only to shareholders, but to traders and all concerned as to what the railway is doing for the money they are spending and for the money they charge to the passengers and to the public. It is quite the fair thing to do. A railway is a State-given monopoly. Railway companies are afforded powers which rightly belong to the State itself, and I cannot see any reason why a company of that character should not disclose its transactions. I was rather amused with the remark that this House ought to settle the matter, and not even the Board of Trade. I also think so. I think this House ought, to definitely settle the matter for all time in such a manner that the returns will disclose exactly the business transactions of the company. Some ten years ago a Commission was set up to inquire into accidents, and before any Return could be obtained the companies had to be asked to kindly return to the Board of Trade the number of men employed. They were not allowed to publish that return, and they are not allowed to publish a return of that character to-day. Why should not the State, which gives the power of the company, not only have returns, but have the power to have them published for the general well-being and knowledge of the community. I say, in perfect accord with the hon. Member for Westminster (Mr. Burdett-Coutts), that unless you get ton-mileage you do not disclose the business of the company. You cannot do it; it is an utter impossibility. I was rather interested in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Muspratt) that there should be a classification of goods. I should not object to that, but that is much more difficult than miles, and he would find it so if he had to keep the accounts of a rail- way company. Why should there be any quibbling about this matter at all? Surely we have arrived at the time when we ought to settle it once and for all. Surely a State Department ought to have sufficient knowledge as to what is necessary and right to be called for and published without having to go to such a judicial body and such a costly concern as the Railway and Canal Commission. I support the Second Reading of this Bill, but I hope the President of the Board of Trade will at least take a firm hand in this matter and see that the returns are published to the public and nation generally.


As a director of a railway company in Ireland, I would like to say that as far as I understand, the railway companies there warmly approve of the action of the President of the Board of Trade in providing an appeal in the matter of accounts. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can see his way to allow some appeal in the matter of business accounts. I think probably it is not too much to ask. The railway companies, no doubt, have perfect confidence in the right hon. Gentleman as President of the Board of Trade, but a new king might arise who might make matters very difficult and expensive, and, therefore, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to grant this appeal if he possibly can. After all, it is a very trifling concession.


I am obliged to the House for its general acceptance of the principles of this Bill. One or two points have been raised, but they are matters rather for the Committee, and clearly they will have to be considered at that stage. I have already expressed to the House my view with regard to ton-mileage returns. I wanted this Bill to be non-controversial as far as possible, and therefore we mainly dealt with the recommendations on which the Committee were unanimous. There was very acute controversy on some of the points which have been raised in the course of this Debate, and they will have to be considered when we reach the Committee stage. With regard to the question of appeal, I have already explained that I thought a difference might be made between the appeals, as regards accounts, and as regards statistical returns. The hon. Member said he thought the Committee recommended an appeal. I have read the Report carefully, and that is certainly not the impression left on my mind. What they proposed was that a Committee might be appointed to consider these questions and report any alterations it might deem desirable to the Board of Trade. I do not know why such a Committee should not meet the views of lion. Members who have spoken on both sides. It would probably give protection to the companies against any arbitrary action on the part of the Board of Trade and at the same it would provide the elasticity which other hon. Members desire. This is a point, however, I should like the House to consider in Committee: Would it be an advantage to create a body of this sort which might take the place of the Railway Commission? I hope the House will allow this Second Reading to be taken without a Division, and I shall be glad on the Committee stage to consider the suggestions which have been brought forward.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.