§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. JAMES PARKER
moved, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."
I may state at the outset that I am not speaking against the whole of the proposals contained in this Bill, but rather against those which particularly affect the Constituency I represent. But the points which I have got to lay before the House are not, strictly speaking, matters of detail. They are of much graver importance so far as they affect the town of Halifax, and I consider them sufficiently important to bring them before the House on the Second Reading. Halifax objects to this Bill chiefly because the Midland Railway Company are seeking in it powers to drop certain proposed lines, and we consider that in so doing they are placing that town at a disadvantage after they have made repeated promises to bring their line into and through it. It will be remembered by those Members who were in the last Parliament, and who listen to the discussion of the Amalgamation Bill of the Great Northern, Great Central, and Great Eastern Railway Companies that the then President of the Board of Trade referred to secret agreements between railway companies, and gave as a reason on that occasion that the House should agree to give that Bill a Second Reading, or otherwise they probably might find that the railway companies would be making agreements behind the back of Parliament, with the result that 855 those agreements would possibly be calculated to do more harm than they were inclined to think. I admit that at that time I did not see very much in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. But in view of what has now taken place in regard to this Bill, and from what we; know in regard to it, that statement of the then President of the Board of Trade assumes great importance. This company has made promises to Halifax for the last twenty years, and has been in negotiation with the authorities of that town time after time, promising to bring forward a scheme which would give Halifax a through connection north and south. Time after time they have failed to fulfil their obligations, and as a result the trade of Halifax and the growth of Halifax have been hindered, because of the inadequate railway facilities which are provided. If I may, I will briefly give a history of the case. Halifax is situated on the main line of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and to a small extent it is served by the Great Northern Company. Efforts have been made from time to time by the Corporation of Halifax and by the traders generally in the town to increase the railway facilities. Both the Corporation and Chamber of Commerce as well as the traders have shown themselves willing to support any company or body of persons who would undertake to improve the railway communications of the borough by the construction of new lines. From time to time during the last thirty years the Midland Railway Company have been approached from this point of view, and they continually and repeatedly promised to give Halifax direct communication with I their main line. As a result of that, when other companies suggested that they were prepared to give better communication, Halifax set aside those companies, and did not support them. As far back as 1873, to show how the Company has played with Halifax, they produced a scheme in Parliament to connect Halifax by direct route with Keighley, thus giving us direct access to a main line to the north.
At that time both the Corporation and the Chamber of Commerce and the whole of the Halifax trading community, supported the Midland Company in their scheme. In the year 1898 the company obtained power to construct certain railways known as the West Riding lines, the object of which was to give Bradford a better connection with the Midlands and 856 the South, without having to go round by way of Leeds. Though there had been negotiations previous to this scheme of 1898, Halifax was put on one side entirely, and the company proposed to go forward with these lines, ignoring altogether whatever obligations they might have with respect to Halifax. In 1899, however, the company brought forward another Bill, in which they proposed to construct certain junctions which would give Halifax connection with the proposed new West Riding lines, and direct access to the Midland Company's system both North and South. Since that time practically no progress has been made with either of these lines. There have been various causes for the delay. I am not concerned with what the causes are. All I know is that practically nothing has been done with regard to them. At one time there appeared to have been some little dispute or differences of opinion between Bradford and the Midland Company as to the West Riding lines —whether there should be a low level or a high level scheme, and if the high level scheme is to be adopted the result will be, the Midland Company say, that these junctions which were to be the connecting I lines, and to couple up Halifax with the main line, would be altogether useless, and therefore they propose to drop the powers. That is the case, so far as I understand it, for the company to drop their powers, as they do in Clause 20 of the Bill, without regard to Halifax. We see in the dropping of this clause the entire collapse of the scheme so far as Halifax is concerned, and there is no chance of our getting a direct connection between North and South. The company propose to extend their powers so far as the extension of the West Riding line to Bradford is concerned, but while they propose to extend those powers they practically admit that these particular powers do not apply to the route which had previously been suggested in regard to Halifax. If the company ask for powers to extend the time in the case of Bradford, on behalf of Halifax it is asked that they should at the same time extend the time for carrying out the necessary connecting lines in the case of Halifax. I submit to you that the Midland Railway are not serious at all with regard to this Bill. It is a Bill of an omnibus character, and in the report which the directors have given to their shareholders they state:—The Bill promoted by the company authorises works of minor importance, and the abandonment of the Low Moor Junctions and the Halifax Connecting lines authorised by the Company's Act of 1899.857 If that is not clear that the company regard the chief object of this Bill as the getting rid of obligations which they have at the present time, "The Times" report makes it quite clear that the company regard that as the most important part of their Bill. The Chairman of the Board of Directors, addressing the shareholders, said:—The company's Bill this Session proposed to authorise the abandonment of their Parliamentary powers to construct a railway to Halifax. The directors obtained these powers as far back as the year 1899. when money could be raised by railway companies on favourable terms: lint, as they very well knew, railway companies had not since been in that, position, and capital expenditure had to be rigorously curtailed. Owing to their friendly relations with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company the directors had recently been able to put through services into operation, which, to a considerable extent, gave to the people of Halifax the advantage they would have had if the new railway had been constructed, and it had become obvious that the construction of the railway could be altogether a voided. This was a good illustration of the advantages they derived from their agreement with the London and North-Western and Lancashire and Yorkshire Companies. The directors would still be left with powers to construct a railway to Bradford which they obtained in 1898: they did not want to say much about the Bradford line at this meeting, as negotiations with the Lord Mayor and Corporation of Bradford were now proceeding with regard to it. It had been frankly recognised on all hands that the very costly line originally proposed could not now be proceeded with, but it was hoped that an agreement might be arrived at for the modification of the scheme with the assistance of the corporation.If a railway company can go behind the back of Parliament and enter into an agreement, ignoring all their previous promises and obligations, and if it is within the power of these boards of directors to make or determine according to their own will to give facilities to towns, and if they use their powers to stave off opposition on the part of those towns by making the most definite promises, then I say that is giving railway companies power which this House ought never allow to them. After all, railway companies do exist for something besides the provision of dividends to shareholders.
§ Mr. PARKER
They do it to the extent of forty millions, or thereabouts, which is a detail of some importance to everybody possibly except the hon. Member for Montgomery Boroughs (Mr. Rees). Railway companies can by adopting these methods considerably hinder the progress of towns. I think this House ought not to allow these companies to get out of their obligations in this particular way. I sent to the town clerk of Halifax a request that he would inform me of what loss Halifax had incurred as the result of 858 the purchase of land and property which the town had made with the avowed object of the Midland Company going to Halifax. I know I am speaking the truth when I say that many thousands of pounds have been spent in good faith on such property with the avowed object of its being required for the purpose of railway traction. I will not say they will not get some of that money back, but that the town will lose a great deal there is no doubt whatever. On those grounds, which to my mind are ample and sufficient, we have a right to ask this House to consider seriously before it puts it into the power of a railway company to abandon proposals and undertakings which it has honestly entered into. I think that those who have read the Petition which has been sent round to practically the whole of the Members of the House must confess that the case has been made out by the Corporation and Chamber of Commerce of Halifax against this Parliamentary Bill. I beg to move.
§ Mr. J. S. HIGHAM
I beg to second the Amendment. My Constituents are directly interested in this matter, just as are those of my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mr. Parker). They are not interested to the same financial extent, but many thousands of them use this line from Halifax to get into Yorkshire for the North and South. The abandonment of this short section will be a serious matter for them. We owe a duty to the local authorities who have negotiated in bygone years with these railway companies. There has been too much inducing of local bodies either to support a Bill or withdraw opposition. Promises have been given, and then, when the object has been achieved, the railway company have, over and over again, deliberately thrown over the local authority, having got all the help they could from them. My hon. Friend pointed out that for nearly forty years negotiations have been proceeding between the Midland Railway Company and the Halifax district. In one case thirty-seven years ago another company was promoting a line. The Midland Company induced the Halifax Corporation and the councils around to oppose that line under a definite and distinct promise from the Midland Company, and a promise which has never been carried out to this day. That line was dropped to the loss of that district, and largely because of the failure of the help and sympathy of the authorities of the district. We owe a duty to those 859 authorities. We are here representing the people generally in our own locality; but what has taken place in Halifax and around that part of the West Riding of Yorkshire takes place at other times in other parts of the country.
When a railway company come here with a Bill we take it for granted that that Bill is the well-considered judgment of the company. It is very often a balanced Bill, containing concessions to various parts, to various authorities, and those various authorities work together for the company, withdraw their opposition and lend their help because of these balanced parts of the Bill. For twelve years nearly this Bill has been in existence. My hon. Friend referred to the fact that Halifax has bought land; but that is not the most serious part of it. When it is known in a district that a railway company intends to bring its line into that district, make sidings, station, and so forth, the town in its building and planning arrangements adapts itself to the future of that new line. In the construction of its tramways it is borne in mind where the termini will be, how the people are to get to the station, and how the lines will run from the station for junctions. That has been the case in Halifax, so that it is not alone the question of the land that Halifax has bought, but also the question of the arrangements that have been made in the last ten or twelve years in view of the promises held out so solemnly for twenty-five years and put in the Bill of 1899. We have come to a time when there is never a shareholders' meeting of a railway company without an announcement being made of an agreement with some other company. Many of these agreements are for the benefit of the public, but, at the same time, it is not fair to districts like that with which we are dealing to-night, which may be made or damned by a clause of this kind, that bargains which have been made, and works the carrying out of which has been expected for twelve years, should be thrown over merely to enable the railway company to avoid a slight expense. The whole length of line concerned in this case is only a mile and a half, but for want of it the industry of the district has been hampered in past years. The corporation of Halifax is opposing the Bill, and the district councils in my own Constituency are taking a similar course. My Constituents are watching the interests of the manufacturers and the whole community.
860 The Midland Railway Company have been held up as the pioneers of railway companies in the past, and that it should throw I over a Bill which has been in existence for twelve years and abandoned a mile and a half of railway which would be of enormous importance to the locality, simply for the sake of a small saving and an agreement with another company, we do not think quite worthy of its reputation. I hope the House will exercise such pressure as will induce the railway company not to reverse its position just now, but to put this abandonment clause into the same position as they have put another clause, by which they are asking for a three years' extension. If they would agree not to abandon this section but to get a three years' extension, matters might be so arranged in the interval as to enable the company to carry out the work.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
In supporting this Motion I am representing a much larger Constituency than either of the Members who have spoken. I desire to bring to the notice of the House a matter which, in my judgment, is of vital importance to the future relations between railway companies and their employés. However desirable peace may be in industrial concerns in general, it is especially necessary having regard to the importance of the railways to the country. Therefore, when in 1907 the President of the Board of Trade succeeded in bringing the railway companies and their employés together, and, as a, result of that conference, set up a scheme of conciliation and arbitration, Members on both sides of the House and the country generally appreciated his achievement, because they recognised that it was the best and most common-sense method of settling disputes between capital and labour. Therefore, I make no apology for taking advantage of this De bate to point out that it is the duty of Members of this House to see, not only that that should be given effect to from both sides, but that there should be fair dealing on the part of the railway companies. Unfortunately—and I deeply regret having to say so—instead of that scheme being accepted in the spirit in which it ought to have been—
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
Whilst I was speaking in a general sense with a view to showing that all railway companies were under an obligation in this particular matter, the Midland Railway Company, whose Bill is now before the House, is, to say the least, a very big sinner, inasmuch as it has unfortunately taken advantage of the scheme to lay down conditions in regard to its employés which, I think, to put it very mildly, are cruel. During the past month there has been considerable discussion with regard to unemployment, and Members on both sides have welcomed any suggestion that would tend in any way to alleviate that great social problem. Whatever differences may exist, it will be generally agreed, I think, that no man should either be reduced or out of work in any branch of industry, and especially in a railway concern, if in that same town or district similar men are working an enormous amount of overtime, with the result that other men are suffering. Therefore I desire to draw the attention of the House to this fact, that the Midland Railway Company, taking advantage of the conciliation scheme, taking advantage of the agreement between themselves and their employés, reduced hundreds of their goods-guards from 30s. per week to 22s. a week. Eight shillings per week may not be a large amount to Members of this House, but I think hon. Members will appreciate that it is an important matter to working men. If the Midland Railway Company can prove, either to the men or to the satisfaction of this House, that they had no work for these men, and that they were justified in reducing them because they could not find them work, then, much as I would regret it, it would not be my duty to complain in the least. But unfortunately I find at one station alone, Normanton, from 3rd to 21st February of this year, taking the four weeks alone, that forty-nine goods-guards stationed there worked during that month 1,634 hours overtime over and above the sixty hours week. At the same time there were nine goods-guards reduced 8s. per week under the pretext of the Company that there was no work for them to do. Take another station, Haslam. Taking the same dates—I hope hon. Members will recognise that I am not going very far apart, but am keeping to dates within this I year—I find that on 3rd February thirteen goods-guards were called out seven times during six days. The next week there were twenty men called out seven times, and one called out eight times. In the 862 week ending 17th February there were fifteen men called out seven times, and one called out eight times. For the week ending 24th February thirteen men were I called out seven times. All this overtime from seventy to eighty hours per week was worked, and still goods-guards were reduced on the excuse that there was no work for them to do !
In one other district, Sheffield—and I will conclude on that point—not one but a number of goods-guards were working from seventy-five to eighty hours per week, and some of their fellow workers were losing 8s. per week in wages under the pretext there was no work for them. I submit that that, although for the moment that may not be relevant to this particular Bill, is a matter that vitally affects the Midland Railway Company, and it is something which ought to be given expression to.
But I have a more serious complaint even than that against the Midland Railway Company. There are a class of workers on our railways that are especially deserving of sympathy and support—the humble platelayers. On the Midland Railway I find that there are 4,400 platelayers earning wages of 17s. 6d. to £1 per week. I am not complaining for one moment of the wages—that is not my point. I indicated it only as showing the struggle for existence by these unfortunate working men. Under this scheme of conciliation, when these 4,000 odd men made an application for the improvement in their conditions of service, they asked that Good Friday and Christmas Day should be treated as a Sunday. When this application was made, the Midland Company paid these men a day for coming on duty on Good Friday and Christmas Day. Whilst they were negotiating this improved programme the company said to them: "We would suggest to you that you should withdraw this application, because you will really be better off under your present system." The humble platelayers took the company at their word and replied: "Yes, we agree to that; we will withdraw it. And there was a mutual understanding that it should be withdrawn. Immediately it was withdrawn, and the scheme of conciliation came into operation and the agreement had to take effect, the Midland Company took advantage of the position and reduced 4,400 platelayers 1s. 6d. for the Good Friday or the Christmas Day, as the case may be. In other words, instead of paying them for the day, as per the agree- 863 ment of the scheme, they took advantage of the position, and paid them for half a day instead of a day.
Another and perhaps a more glaring illustration of what has happened is that one part of the conciliation scheme, as affecting the goods-guards, was settled by this Conciliation Bill on the understanding that Sunday was made distinct from the week; that was, that there was an enhanced rate of pay to goods-guards if they were called upon on the Sunday to do the work of any other employé. The goods-guards accepted this position. Everything, as they thought, was working smoothly. A number of men were called upon to work last Christmas Day. Because the Midland Company were compelled to pay these men the guaranteed week—that is, whether they worked or not—in accordance with their conditions of service, they actually compelled these men to take the place of other men, who were paid off because the company were not compelled to guarantee them their work. One man, who felt that this was a grievance, made an application to the company to pay him his solitary day's pay in accordance with the scheme. The company paid him, and everything was satisfactory, but imagine — next Friday is Good Friday—because this one man made an application, and got his one day's pay—which is an admission on the part of the company that he was right, and in order to avoid paying the men next Friday what they are legitimately entitled to—last Thursday the Midland Company issued notices to practically every guard in the London district, Wellingboro', Kettering, and Wigston, and in London as well, intimating to them that, "on and after Thursday next, owing to slackness of work, their wages would be reduced by 8s. per week in some cases and 6s. in others." The company are simply taking advantage of Good Friday to relieve themselves of their obligation under this conciliation scheme. I ask hon. Members to pardon me if I have spoken with any heat, but I have spoken because I know how these men feel. I have spoken because we recognise that the relationship between employer and employed should always be amicable, because I feel that only in exceptional circumstances should this House be called upon to interfere, because I am jealous of the scheme of conciliation, and because I want this method to apply to all industries. It is because I want to give a chance to railways that I want this House to give very 864 strong expression of its opinion upon the present occasion, and to say, whether in the case of railway companies, or railway-men, how far they shall go in dealing in a common-sense way and in a spirit of conciliation in matters of this kind.
§ Viscount MORPETH
So far as I am aware, there is no Member of this House who is entitled to speak on behalf of the Midland Railway Company with authority, and yet we are, unfortunately, discussing upon Second Reading complicated questions of detail. I have some slight interest in this railway company, and although I cannot claim the detailed knowledge of the hon. Member for Halifax, whose constituency is interested, or of the hon. Member for Derby, who presented the case in regard to the men, still I venture to address one or two observations as to the undesirability of entering into this detailed consideration upon the Second Reading in the House, where they cannot properly be discussed. The Corporation of Halifax has issued a Memorandum of thirteen clauses. It is very complicated, containing many geographical details with which no doubt the hon. Member for Halifax is able to grapple. The rest of us, with the very best intentions in the world, not having got the detailed knowledge of the hon. Member for Halifax, cannot know the exact position of Morrow Junction, or the exact run of the places to which he has made allusion. I would suggest that the only way these details could be properly discussed is before a Committee upstairs, where there will be competent people to offer elucidation in evidence, and where there will be a large map upon which the Committee can look. It may be quite clear that Halifax has, primâ facíe, a case for inquiry, but that inquiry should be conducted by the proper tribunal. The Midland Railway Company also has a primâ facíe, case, and they have a good argument to support it.
These powers were asked for in 1899. Money was more available then than at the present time. It is quite conceivable —I have not quite sufficient knowledge myself to say so—but it is quite conceivable that the policy undertaken in 1899, when money was easy to get, is a policy that the railway company may find it hard to follow in 1910. I venture to say that the Midland Company are not seeking to go behind the backs of Parliament. On the contrary, they are coming to Parliament and asking Parliament to absolve them from the obligation they are under. If Parliament sees 865 fit to refuse it, as it will be in their power to do, there is no better place for coming to such a decision than before the Committee upstairs. The hon. Member for Derby excused himself toward the end of his speech for having spoken with some heat, and, in apologising, said he felt strongly on the matter.
I do not think anyone will say that the hon. Member spoke with any undue heat. I think he put his case temperately to the House. But here again questions and details arose such as hours of employment, and it is very difficult to deal with them on the floor of the House in a Second Reading Debate. They can only be dealt with in a Committee containing many persons of technical and expert knowledge, who can explain the special difficulties. I have certain information in connection with these matters which I believe to be correct. The Midland Railway Company, the history of which everybody knows, is a large coal-carrying line. They have a fluctuating trade, and at certain periods of the year they find it absolutely essential to reduce the staff which is occupied in carrying the coal at the fuller times of the year. They have endeavoured to meet this with the least hardship possible to the men. No one would believe that the company desires to treat the men harshly. It is the interest of the company to keep on good terms with its men, because it gives the best results both for themselves and the public. The Midland Railway Company act through the Conciliation Board when aiming at an understanding with the men. In the case of a guard where his work is no longer required, he is not dismissed, but simply reduced, and in that case, although acting in an inferior capacity and on less skilled work, he continues to draw the minimum pay attaching to the great service in which he acted before. The hon. Member for Derby brought forward certain cases in regard to special incidents. I have no information in regard to the special case of Normanton or the case of Haslam. I have no doubt they can be accounted for by special circumstances.
§ Viscount MORPETH
My information is that there has been a great diminution in the amount of overtime worked by the guards, and that it is steadily diminishing; and speaking of the service as a 866 whole it may be said that a practice of excessive hours in the work of guards is diminishing. There may be certain individual cases of very great overtime, but taking the records as a whole, it cannot be said that the evil is becoming worse, but is steadily diminishing. I believe that will be found to be the result if the matter is looked at as a whole. With regard to the platelayers, that is a matter of detail, into which I cannot go. But I would point to this matter, namely, that the terms and conditions were made by award, and if the men have cause of complaint they have a remedy open to them which is the proper remedy and not the opposing of a Bill on Second Reading. Their remedy is to complain to the Secretary of the Conciliation Board or to come straight to the Board of Trade. I am sure every Member of this House desires to see a proper channel open for the redress of grievances, where there are grievances to be redressed, but this is not the occasion, I venture to say, on which to bring forward these matters, although it was ruled that it was in order to raise these grievances upon this occasion. I urge this is not the desirable way of dealing with these labour difficulties and with this question of hours of labour, and that everybody who desires to see justice done between employer and employed must see it done through the proper channels and not by attempting to stop the legitimate work by raising a side issue upon an occasion like this.
§ Mr. A. C. MORTON
I desire to oppose this Bill for a totally different reason to that which has been given by other speakers. I want this company to provide sleeping carriages for third-class passengers when they supply them for first-class passengers. There should be no preference in this matter, and all should be treated alike. The Noble Lord (Viscount Morpeth) tells us that we ought not to discuss these matters on the Second Reading. May I point out that I cannot raise this question upstairs, because I cannot get an Instruction carried. There is another reason why this question should be considered here, and it is that it may cost £l,000 to have it considered upstairs. The Noble Lord is utterly wrong in saying this is not the right place to bring such matters, forward. I remember that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham told us in the year 1882 that it was not only the right of everybody but their duty to bring their grievances before this House or before the 867 House of Lords when railway companies come forward asking for concessions.
I notice in the paper sent round by the company they say in regard to third-class sleeping carriages:—This question has no reference to the subject matter of this Bill.There the company is entirely wrong. My contention is that this House should not grant any more favours or concessions to railway companies until my grievance has been dealt with. I do not want to say anything against this particular company. I have always been most anxious to help all railway companies in allbonâ fide undertakings, because whatever benefit the public get, in the long run the company benefit as well. The company say that this question has been raised on previous occasions. I am quite aware of that, and if this or any other company wish that this question should not be raised again let them give way, and then they will get over the difficulty, and this will avoid them the trouble of writing these letters.
Another argument advanced by these companies is that they lose by the provision of first-class sleeping carriages. We all know that they lose by their first-class traffic altogether, and you have only to look at the empty first-class compartments, and the full third-class compartments in a train in order to satisfy you as to the truth of that. We all know that railway companies make most of their profit from third-class passengers, and not from the first-class. The third-class is the part of the traffic out of which the companies get their profits, and I ask is it fair to make the third-class passengers pay for the first-class sleepers and not have the same convenience for themselves? If the companies will only look at the matter in that fair way I think they will soon conclude that it will be for their benefit, both financially and otherwise, to treat all classes of passengers fairly.
I do not know what the Board of Trade are going to do, but I am afraid they are rather against us now. A year or two back, when Sir Hudson Kearley was at the Board of Trade, they did try to help us, but they have got rid of him now and sent him to clear out the mud in the Port of London without any salary. I notice from the newspapers recently that Sir Hudson Kearley has been busy pro- 868 moting the worst class of Tariff Reform that I know of, and I am not certain that we have any friends at the Board of Trade now. Generally speaking, the Board of Trade do not help us, and the only thing they seem to have done lately is to allow the railway companies to increase the price of week-end tickets by about 20 per cent., and not a word has been said against that by the Board of Trade. I do not want to kill this particular Bill, but what this and other companies will have to remember is that if they do not make some concession in this direction we shall probably throw out a Bill and very seriously inconvenience them. It is simply stupidity on the part of the companies to act in this way, and I know no more stupid set of persons than railway directors have been for a good many years in these matters. They have treated the public badly. I do not say that they are not more enlightened now, but if they would only give us these third-class sleepers I shall be pleased to admit that they are more enlightened still. I hope no other hon. Member will advance such reasons as the Noble Lord the Member for Birmingham has advanced in regard to such matters as these going upstairs for consideration. I protest against anybody telling us that, whether he is a railway director or not, or whether he comes from Birmingham, or any other place of worship. I hope that, as the House seems to be in a good humour now, it will support me and throw out this Bill, unless someone gets up on behalf of the company and promises us at least some consideration of this proposal.
§ Mr. REES
The hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Parker) has given notice to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, and he says his opposition is directed to the proposed abandonment of the Low Moor junctions and the Halifax connecting lines authorised by the Company's Act of 1899. I submit that it is the action of the hon. Member and of others who act with him that leads to the dropping of railway schemes. It is quite impossible for railway companies to carry out fresh schemes if they are treated as a sort of public enemy instead of being treated, as in fact they are, as a mere branch of the public. The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House (Mr. Morton) professes to speak for the public, but the railway proprietors are a portion, and a very large portion, but not a rich portion, of the public. It is all very well to talk 869 about the boards as if they were a collection of bloated plutocrats, but they represent shareholders, 60 per cent, of whom have only £500 worth of stock per head, the interest on which is about half the amount which disqualifies an applicant for an old age pension. I submit that the spirit in which this question is treated in this House is likely to kill any railway extension and to thereby deprive labour of the advantages it would receive by the proper development of the railways of the United Kingdom.
The hon. Member for Halifax said that the railways get so much out of the local authorities, but I submit with some confidence that the local authorities get more out of the railways. Wherever the railway goes it is the milch cow of the local authority, and, instead of being taxed like any other business concern upon its profits at headquarters, it is taxed wherever it goes, and, with great respect, I submit that the hon. Member's remarks on that subject are not worthy of acceptance by this House. Then the hon. Member objected very much to agreements between railway companies. The hon. Member and other hon. Members spoke as if railway companies are branches of the State; but the railways have not yet been nationalised in this country. They are private companies, and how are they to exist unless their shareholders receive some return, and how can they work if unlimited competition is enforced upon them by Acts of Parliament? Not that I believe the Board of Trade has the slightest authority to force a railway company to work at a loss, or to avoid competition on its behalf. The Board of Trade, so far as I know, has, in fact, no such authority. Throughout this Debate nobody has referred to the railway companies as if they were what they are—a mere collection of persons who have invested their capital in British concerns at a very low rate of interest. It it were permissible to use the word preference on this side of the House, I would say they were people who had almost established a claim to preference. How it can be considered to benefit labour to oppose railway companies in this way passes my comprehension.
The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) said he represented a larger constituency that those who had spoken before him in the Debate. I do not profess, in this respect, to speak for any constituency, but I submit I might claim to speak for a far larger constituency than 870 any hon. Member who has spoken in this sense, and that is the large bulk of the people of the United Kingdom who have invested their money in railway enterprises. If that is not a large constituency, and if it is not one for which any hon. Member in this House may venture to speak, I am very much astonished. I listened to my hon. Friend with equal pleasure and profit, and I think he made an admirable speech, but during his remarks upon the Labour question, I ventured to ask whether they were relevant to this issue, not with any desire to interrupt, but because it seemed to me that Member after Member spoke from one point of view only, and that so few Members speak for the enormous number of people, not wealthy people, but people of moderate means, who own all these railways, and because I was anxious, however unworthy I might be, to say a word from that point of view. This is not a point of view which is popular, but I submit it is worthy of all consideration.
My hon. Friend then referred to the fact that a few guards had been reduced in pay. Guards are most popular persons. The moment you see a guard, your hand begins to go automatically to your pocket, and, even if he gets nothing, he is equally polite and capable. There is no one in this House who has more sympathy than I have for the guard, but if it becomes necessary to reduce the number of guards, if it is the absolute duty of unfortunate directors, who are continually pilloried in this House, in justice to their shareholders to put down a man because there is no work for him, what is the use of shutting our eyes to that very simple fact, and of proceeding as if a railway board is some kind of Monte Cristo who can pay wages irrespective of whether there is work for the men to do or not. Another of my hon. Friends said that any ground given by a railway company for reducing a man was a pretext. It is rather hard to say that anything done by the employer is a pretext, and I put it to him whether he does not consider it fair to allow something to be said on both sides on a matter like this, as in so many others which come before the House. He said that the relations between the railways and their employés should always be amiable and pleasant. So they should, but, when the hon. Member was speaking he reminded me of a character in the play who was the most amiable and tractable man in the world provided he was led in the direction in which he wanted to go.
871 I do say that to take any action which has the effect of killing railway Bills makes it difficult for any railway company to come to the House with any Bills. We all know that in the last Parliament railway companies almost ceased to bring Bills before the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Well, they ceased to do so in any great numbers, and it was notorious that members of the Bar who deal with such cases sat in sackcloth and ashes during the life of the last Parliament. I therefore submit that to take any action, however admirable the intentions of hon. Members may be, and I am sure they are admirable, which will put difficulties in the way of railway companies getting Bills through Parliament is to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
Hon. Members have not scrupled openly to apply that epithet to those gentlemen of whose competence to perform their duties I am fully persuaded. I am not a director of any railway company in the United Kingdom; I speak absolutely from the point of view of the railway share holder—the man with £500 invested which brings him in but 3¼ per cent. I press hon. Members who have raised this question to consider earnestly whether in opposing these railway Bills they are really serving the interests they have at heart. Although no doubt it is very popular to describe boards of directors as bloated plutocrats—
§ Mr. REES
I have often heard it said. I was not quoting my hon. Friend. But I should like to point out he said the railway companies should be liable to provide third-class sleeping accommodation where-ever they did first class—he suggested if they lost by first-class traffic they should also lose by third-class. That struck me as one of the most extraordinary arguments ever addressed to the House of Commons.
§ Mr. REES
I was endeavouring to summarise the argument of my hon. Friend with such intelligence as I possess. If I misunderstood him I apologise. He certainly spoke of rich railway companies. I do not know any country where the railway companies are poorer. Ours are by 872 no means rich. I am speaking for the moment as a poor proprietor. But it is notorious that trains going long distances cannot possibly carry sleepers for third-class passengers without doubling the accommodation, and that, of course, would double the expense, and the interest would fall from 3 per cent, to 2 or to 1 per cent.
§ Mr. REES
Then the hon. Members argument is that because the third-class passengers are uncomfortable, so the first-class should be. That is not treating seriously a grave commercial problem. Until the railways are nationalised the interests of the owners of the undertakings are entitled to some consideration, and hon. Members in opposing the passing of Bills like these are not serving their true interests of labour.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Tennant)
I should like to draw the attention of the House to a letter which was written, and which has been circularised by the Midland Railway Company—a letter signed by the general manager on the subject of sleeping accommodation on trains. The general manager admits that third class sleeping accommodation on long distance trains would be greatly appreciated by third class travellers, but the companies, having considered the matter at the request of the Board of Trade, have come to the conclusion that the charge the public would be prepared to pay for the convenience would in no way reimburse the companies for the outlay.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am afraid that such an experiment would be very costly, and there is the danger that when once it is embarked upon it would be very difficult to withdraw from it, and the companies might find themselves led into an enormous cost for which they might never be able to recoup themselves.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The Board of Trade have not altered their view. They tried to persuade the companies, but in view of the answer received to their representations that it was not practicable to run third. 873 class sleepers without serious loss they cannot see their way to press it. With regard to the question of week-end tickets I will make inquiry as to facts and the possible remedy. I was entirely unaware of the facts mentioned by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Next I come to the speech of the hon. Member for Halifax. The reasons put forward by the railway Company for the abandonment of the Low Moor Junction of railway lines was that they had been able to come to an agreement with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway providing additional facilities, and I do not think my hon. Friend will deny that the agreement come to was one which very largely performed the services to the public, which had been provided by the construction of the new lines.
§ Mr. PARKER
It does give us better communication with the south, but that with the north and Scotland is not improved at all.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I understood that the arrangement was that in future there would be extra facilities to the north. The improvement as regards the south is concerned has been acknowledged by the hon. Member for Halifax and by the local authorities. This point was really made by my Noble Friend the Member for Birmingham (Viscount Morpeth), and these are matters which can only be properly investigated by a Committee which will hear evidence and have all the facts before it. I would, therefore, very respectfully ask the House in regard to the Halifax question to give the Bill a Second Beading, and let it go to a Committee upstairs, which is the proper tribunal to investigate facts of this kind. If I may be allowed to, I should like to ask my hon. Friend incidentally why the town of Halifax should have taken the power to buy land, or why they should have entered into negotiations to do so. The hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) made an interesting and earnest speech, upon which, I hope, I may be allowed, to congratulate him, and I should like to be allowed to associate him with the Board of Trade, which is most anxious that agreements arrived at in the course of an arbitration system should be carried out, not only in the letter, but in the spirit, and it is my belief and the belief of the Board of Trade that this agreement is going to be carried out by the railway com- 874 pany in its integrity. I believe there is no intention upon the part of the railway company to depart one hair's breadth from that agreement. But I should like to be allowed to join the hon. Member for Derby in supporting and pursuing the system of conciliation and arbitration, which, I think, will prove not only beneficial to the present, but to the future of the working classes and the whole trade of this country. Under the award of Lord Cromer, which was arrived at under the instrument of conciliation and arbitration, the question of wages was decided for the company, and as to that I do not think there need be, or will be any dispute between my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Wardle) and myself.
§ Mr. WARDLE
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that this matter did not come under Lord Cromer's award? It has been referred to to-night; it is a question of the goods-guards, and it did not come under Lord Cromer's award.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I have got the agreement here, and there is an enormous amount of detail which came before the tribunal, and there were a large number of concessions made on both sides. The question of the goods-guards came before that tribunal to this extent, the company wished to get away from the particular system of guaranteeing weeks.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
Allow me to point out that this did not come under the conciliation scheme, inasmuch as it was an agreement between both parties. It never came before Lord Cromer, but it did come before the Conciliation Board, and both sides agreed.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I am obliged to the hon. Member. It is my mistake in mentioning the name of Lord Cromer. The point is that conciliation and arbitration was the instrument by which the agreement was arrived at. There were, as I say, a large number of proposals withdrawn, and there were a certain number of agreements arrived at, one of which, to which the men attach great importance, was agreed to, namely, that there should be a guaranteed week, so that if a man works one day as a goods-guard and is idle for the rest of the week he gets pay for the whole of the week as a goods-guard. If he only works half a day as a goods-guard he will be paid for a full week, and although there are cases in which men are reduced in status, much as we regret reduction, I maintain that reduction of status is better than dismissal.
875 After all, the railway companies, as has been pointed out, have not been very prosperous lately, and some economies, I am sure it will be agreed, are necessary. It must also be remembered that the men who are to be reduced will have a week's notice before the reduction takes place, and if they are employed as goods guards another week's wages has to come to them before they can be employed again at the reduced scale. The hon. Member who complained that there was a reduction of status went on to complain of overtime. For myself, I should like to see overtime abolished, but it is necessary in order to run a great railway company that there must be some freedom, and I am assured by the company that it has every desire to do away with overtime to the greatest possible extent that they can, because it means to them increased pay, the keeping of engines in steam which ought not to be in steam, and other expenses, and they wish to get away from it. The railway company desire to get rid of this system, but it is not always possible to work the line without overtime, which comes about through pressure of work, or a fall of snow, or other causes. Then it comes about that some guards have to work overtime and others have to be reduced because the company desire to effect economies in other parts of their system. It is not quite fair to blame the company, however, for reducing their goods guards and for the large increase of overtime on the part of other guards, because it is not possible for them to organise their labour so that there shall be no overtime and no reduction.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I ask the hon. Gentleman to appreciate the point that I recognise that if there was no financial advantage to the company they would obviously work it to suit themselves, but in this case the reduction is brought about because it saves them paying the enhanced rate I have mentioned.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I will make inquiries into that, but I very much doubt whether it is done on purpose. I believe the fact that you have some guards working on a reduced scale and others being paid overtime is the result of accident which cannot be foreseen or avoided. I will certainly make representations to the company in the sense of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, and if I can get the overtime abolished 876 further no one will be so happy as I shall. May I give one or two figures upon the amount of reduction of overtime which has already been effected upon the Midland? This subject came before Parliament in 1907, when it was admitted that owing to the boom in trade there was a very considerable amount of overtime being worked, and an inquiry was held, conducted by Major Pringle, on behalf of the Board of Trade, into the amount of overtime which had actually been worked. My purpose now is to show that it is owing to the action of this House and of the Board of Trade that very large reductions in overtime have been made, and also that there is anxiety to get rid of overtime. The facts are that the percentage of turns of duty, after deduction of the time occupied in travelling home after relief, was in April, 1907, at the time the complaints were made, for goods guards 3.45 per cent. For October of last year the percentage calculated on the same basis was not 3, nor 1, nor 1, but 05 per cent. For goods engines there was even a greater reduction from 10½ per cent, in April, 1907, to 04 per cent, in October, 1909. I am very pleased to be able to give these figures, because I think they show that the company has really been desirous to meet the wishes of the House and the Board of Trade in reducing overtime as much as they possibly can. The hon. Member (Mr. Thomas) stated that at Normanton in four weeks forty-nine goods guards worked 1,634 hours overtime. I did the sum while I was sitting on the Bench, and I find it works out at eight hours a week each. Eight hours a week is too much, but it is not a rate of two hours a day. It is two hours for four days a week. I assure the House that this is a Bill which in my judgment ought to go to the Committee to be investigated. Not only has it the points which we have already dealt with, but it proposes to confer considerable advantages both in Leicestershire, where a bridge is to be built over a level crossing which has been a source of danger and congestion for twenty-five years, but also to complete a set of lines in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where great benefits will accrue. I ask the House not to deny the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. W. E. HARVEY
I am delighted to hear the report as to the reduction of hours of railway servants as a result of the action we took on this side of the House in 1907. The hours then given startled the whole country, and if there has been improvement, which we readily admit, there is 877 room for still greater improvement. We are not here to object to this omnibus improvement in regard to railways, and we are not anxious to prevent a million and a half of money being spent, because we know that it means a good deal to the men we represent. We are anxious that the Midland Railway Company or any other company should realise that they have a duty to the men who work for them. I come from the county of Derby, and I know something about the Midland Railway Company's work, and I have an important depot in my division, and the real point of the whole of our objection has not been met satisfactorily. The hon. Member (Mr. Thomas) distinctly laid down real abiding grievances, grievances which are brought to us almost every day. He mentioned a place named Hasland, where I was born. If anyone knows Hasland I do, and if anyone knows the railway employés of Hasland I know them. I have been associated with them. What we complain about is that a reduction of goods-guards is brought about under false pretences. Here you have a reduction of goods-guards earning 30s. a week to the next grade, which earns a maximum of 22s. a week, but the men who remain in the goods-guards department are working overtime seven and eight hours a week. It is not because there is a necessity to reduce them. It is because they have a desire to reduce wages. That is what we object to. While the Midland Railway Company or any other company come to the House to seek powers and facilities for carrying on further trade with the hope of bringing in large revenue to themselves they must expect in these days, when there are representatives of labour here, to meet claims for the men who do the work. The hon. Member (Mr. Rees) made reference to some other people in a sarcastic way, and talked about the necessity of reducing wages in times of depression. Will he tell me when directors have been reduced?
§ Mr. HARVEY
These men earn 30s. a week, and they have plenty to do to make ends meet. Will the hon. Member tell me whether directors who earn their thousands suffer any reduction at all because trade is bad?
§ Mr. W. E. HARVEY
So do we. We think that if there is general depression in trade the directors ought to suffer as well as the employés. We never hear of reductions taking place in their wages. I suppose it is essential that it should be kept quiet. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not at all."] I should be glad if my hon. Friend would give the information and state whether it applies to the Midland Railway Company, whose application for this Bill we are discussing to-night. My point is that men in one grade have been reduced to another grade, and that the difference means several shillings a week. With regard to overtime, I hold that the system on this railway is not in harmony with all that can be called the true interests of the men concerned in working the railway. I have a complaint to make also in regard to the way in which goods-guards at Staveley have suffered on account of this reduction. There is seething discontent regarding the management of the Midland Railway right through the whole county where the headquarters are situated. The situation is one that needs the attention of the Board of Trade, and I hope that the grievances that have been brought before the House to-night will at an early date be inquired into by the Department.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time and committed for to-morrow (Tuesday).