§ Mr. C. BATHURST
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he realises that the encouragement recently given by the Government to amalgamations of and working arrangements between British railway companies and the consequent withdrawal of competition has caused apprehension among farmers and small holders as to the possibility of an increase in the rates charged for consignment of agricultural produce proving destructive to their industry; and whether, prior to the introduction by the Government of legislation to repeal Section 1 of the Railway and Canal Traffic Act, 1894, and thereby further to increase the burden thrown upon agricultural industry, he will take steps to ascertain the effect of such legislation upon agricultural production and employment in rural districts?
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Buxton)
There is no intention to propose legislation to repeal Section 1 of the Act of 1894. I hope next Session to introduce a Bill to deal with certain matters referred to in the report of the recent Committee on Railway Amalgamations and Agreements, and incidentally to carry out the assurance given by the Government at the time of the railway dispute settlement. I shall, of course, be glad to consider any representations bearing on this matter from any source, but I wish to take this opportunity of correcting a misapprehension which apparently exists as to the nature of the assurance I have referred to. There is no proposal to permit a railway company to increase its maximum charges, or to dispense with the obligation to justify an increase within the maximum if challenged. All that is proposed is to make it clear that in such an event an increase in the cost of labour owing to improved conditions for the staff would, if established, be a valid justification for a reasonable increase of charges.
§ Mr. REMNANT
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether at the time that statement was made both sides agreed to be bound by the result of the Conference?
§ Mr. CLYNES
Has one effect of the amalgamations of and working arrangements referred to in the question been a considerable reduction in the number of the railway servants without any corresponding increase in the wages of those who are left?
§ Mr. BUXTON
That does not arise out of the question. If my hon. Friend will give me notice I shall be very glad to answer him.