HC Deb 01 August 1912 vol 41 cc2360-7

Order for Third Reading read.

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


I rise, not for the purpose of obstructing the progress of this Bill, but rather to elicit some information on a point of considerable interest to a large number of people. When this Bill was last before the House a protest was made on behalf of the season-ticket holders of Southend, and since that discussion the matter has been considered by the Committee to which the Bill was referred. I understand that some arrangement has been come to between the promoters of the Bill and the Committee who dealt with the matter, and I wish to ask the Chairman of the Committee, if I may, to be good enough to state the nature of that arrangement. The matter affects 6,000 or 7,000 season-ticket holders, and their request was that for a certain period of time—three, four or five years—no alteration of the season-ticket fares should be permitted.


When I saw this Bill in the form in which it has passed the Committee I looked through it in search of a Clause giving some guarantee not only to season-ticket holders, but to the general inhabitants of Southend, that the facilities which they have had for cheap travel, and in consequence of which they have gone to live at Southend, would be secured to them under this amalgamation, but from beginning to end I could find nothing of the sort. I have since heard, quite by a side-wind, that there is a letter or something of that kind, which is not incorporated in the Bill, but is supposed to satisfy these people, promising that for some period their rights as season-ticket holders and travellers will not be interfered with. That seems to me to be an altogether irregular arrangement. If the protest made by the Southend Season Ticket Holders' and Railway Travellers' Association has been met, the arrangement ought to be in the Bill. There ought not to be put forward for Third Reading a measure which is not really the Bill which is being passed, but a part of the Bill with some sort of secret arrangement which may or may not satisfy the people concerned. The Bill provides for the purchase of the London, Tilbury and Southend Railway by the Midland Railway Company, and there are a large body of people living at Southend who have gone to live there mainly, if not entirely, because of the cheap facilities for travelling which they have enjoyed. They have no guarantee whatever that those facilities will be continued. Clause 10 is perfectly vague in its terms, and I believe it will be absolutely inoperative and useless, applying as it does only to the maximum fares that may be charged. Clause 13, which is described in the margin as being for the "protection of the Southend Corporation and others," deals simply with the question of service, and leaves a loophole for the amalgamated companies to say at any time that the accommodation at Fenchurch Street Station does not admit of their in-proving the service. There is not a word about any guarantee that the fares hitherto charged shall be continued. I understand that an arrangement has been come to that for three years the fares shall not be raised. Here we have an amalgamation in the nature of those amalgamations and working agreements in connection with which there is a general Bill before the House. When there has been introduced a Bill dealing with the whole of this great question, it is really a monstrous thing that one of these amalgamations should be pushed through, and, while the question of the advantages which shall accrue to the shareholders is dealt with, the interests of those who are really more deeply concerned, namely, those who live on the railway and day by day travel by it, are absolutely ignored. At the end of the three years the amalgamated companies, having no competition whatever to face, will be able to do anything they please with these people. I submit that we are entitled to a full explanation of why this Bill does not include the whole arrangement come to in Committee, and why that arrangement is not one laying down a perfectly solid and sound principle. If, in consequence of any of these amalgamations or working agreements, or of the purchase by one company of the undertaking of another company, there are going to be great economies in the working, we ought to be assured that not only the shareholders, but the travelling and trading public and those employed in the railway service will have their share of those economies which are put forward as justifying Bills of this kind.


I have had no communication with either of the parties in relation to this Bill. I hardly knew it was going to be opposed to-night. Still, as Chairman of the Committee, though I have not had the opportunity of looking up the case, I am quite prepared to give a short account of the reasons which determined the Committee upstairs to pass the Bill. In the first place, the Bill is not an ordinary amalgamation. The Midland, and the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway Companies were not competitive railways for the traffic of Southend or any portion of that coast in Essex. The Bill really means a prolongation of the Midland Railway, which is of very considerable advantage and value to those who reside in that district. The railway is some 50 miles in extent from London, and includes a loop line to the Port of Tilbury. The competition that will exist will be the competition that did exist—the competition of the Great Eastern Railway. The Great Eastern Railway will be the competitive line to Southend and to many parts of that district. The binding down of a railway to a rate for season tickets or for fares is most unusual. It is, indeed, very seldom done. It is very seldom allowed upstairs and very seldom imposed by this House. The only case that was mentioned to us—the only case made—was the case of the Chatham and South-Eastern, two lines in competition which amalgamated, and where the interests of the public demanded some sort of security against increased rates.


Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind the special Clause in the Taff Vale Bill in 1899?


I do not pretend to carry all the precedents in my head, and it may have been so in relation to Taff Vale, but it is a very unusual thing to do. The Committee thought it so unusual and so unnecessary that they did not regard it as a right and a proper thing to put in the Bill. There are circumstances that may make for the reduction or the efficiency of the railway. There may be a general rise in the cost of the working of railways all over the country, and it would be unfair to bind the Midland Company. At any rate, the interests of the Midland are the development of Southend, more particularly since the Committee have bound them to come to Parliament, not later than 1914, and apply for powers to electrify the whole line to Southend; to widen the line from Bromley-by-Bow to Stepney station, and probably as a necessary sequel to rebuild the station at Fenchurch Street. This will involve a very large expenditure, so much so that it was too great for the Tilbury Line to undertake. If they had tried and had not succeeded with it, it would have brought down the dividend of the Tilbury Line by leaps and bounds. The Midland Company having larger capital, the venture seemed to be fair and reasonable. We have not been content with the promise or the anticipation of these alterations of the Tilbury Line. We have bound the Midland Company to inaugurate the matter not later than 1914 and to carry it out in seven years subsequent to obtaining the powers. That is the usual term allowed to county councils in respect of tramway lines.

The Corporation of Southend applied to the Midland Company for some protection in the case of the season ticket holders. The only case that appeared to affect the judgment of the Committee was where a number of people had taken houses for short terms of two or three years on the strength of the cheap tickets. A rise in the ticket rates might affect them. We thought that there should be some provision for these who thus occupied houses and were not able to clear themselves of their agreements for some time. The Corporation of Southend and the Midland Railway Company agreed upon one and a half years, and that was embodied in an agreement outside the Midland Bill. We heard the appeal of a number of holders of tickets to Southend, and we threw out the suggestion that the Midland should make the terms three years instead of one and a half. This was done outside the Bill. We distinctly refused to put it into the Bill. The Midland Company have bound themselves by statements made in the Committee upstairs and in other ways. They have certainly bound themselves for three years to make no changes in these tickets. Those who appealed to us were quite satisfied and apparently thankfully accepted the offer. So much for the tickets. The line itself will be very much improved by the transaction. The Port of Tilbury is likely to be largely increased in the future. We have secured access to it for a number of other railways, and we have given powers to the Great Northern to run to Tilbury. If this Bill is prejudiced or retarded, not only is the work of electrifying and developing the district to be put back, but the arrangements made to work with the Port Authority and to develop the Port of Tilbury will also be set back. I know no reason that this Bill, which occupied the Committee for ten or twelve days—or perhaps it was fourteen—should not go through. A great deal of evidence was taken and a very great deal of care was exercised, and I strongly advise the House to pass the Bill.


I have a complaint to make, because I understand that in all these Bills the Board of Trade have something to say about the matter. It appears to me that the Board of Trade have not altogether done their duty in this connection. I think the President of the Board will remember that on more than one occasion—on more than a dozen occasions in fact—I have made complaint to the Board of Trade in consequence of the London, Tilbury, and Southend Railway Company switching over the major part of their passenger traffic to the District Railway. In consequence of that there is congestion of the trains that run between Aldgate and East Ham and Barking. At Upton Park, in my Division, there is a very large railway works where the London and Tilbury Company make their engines. I understand that the company have given a guarantee that those works will be maintained for three years. When the Gas Light and Coke Company brought forward the Bill to absorb the West Ham Gas Company we had exactly the same Clause in that Bill. What has happened? The result has been that they have practically discharged half the men, and their works have been practically transferred elsewhere. What will happen here? I guarantee that in less than three years these works will be closed, and to a very large extent will injure the borough of West Ham. The assessments will go down, and the engines now made at Upton Park will be taken to Derby, which is a great centre of the Midland Railway Company. I hope and trust that the Board of Trade will see that the working classes get more protection than at present, and that something is done to relieve the congestion of traffic. I think something might have been done to compel this particular railway company to run more trains between East Ham and Fenchurch Street Station. It is too late now to attempt to throw out the Bill, but I put forward these points, and I hope in the future the Board of Trade will be more careful in matters of this sort.


When this Bill was before the House for Second Reading we were reminded of the fact that the company were not to alter the price of the season tickets until the end of next year. When the Bill came before the Committee people who held season tickets were represented, and the Committee were told that there was to be an arrangement by which it was to be agreed that the season tickets were not to be altered in price in any shape or form for three years. We are now told that there is no security for that agreement being carried out.


Oh, yes, there is—a perfectly binding bargain that these fares shall not be raised for three years.


That is what I want to be quite sure about. It is not in the Bill, and I want to know can anyone give, a guarantee on behalf of the company that the prices of these season tickets will not be raised for three years. It must not be forgotten that we are much concerned in this matter in the City, because those people who come to the City and work there use this railway and have the benefit of the cheap tickets. If we can get some undertaking from some representative of the company whereby these people can be quite sure that for three years the undertaking will be effective and binding, I should have nothing further to say. I do not know whether the Board of Trade can help us. They are usually more inclined to help the companies, but if we can get this undertaking in a shape that will be effective it would satisfy us, and I do hope we shall hear something to that effect.


The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has raised the point that I intended to mention. Will a copy of the agreement be lodged with the Board of Trade so as to safeguard the season-ticket holders? If an undertaking can be given by the railway company that will have the force of law, I think it would meet the point. Personally, I am prepared to accept the word of the railway company. I believe if the promise was given to the Chairman of the Committee it might reasonably be accepted; but in this case we are dealing with the interests of a body of people who have not the same conception and knowledge of Parliamentary practice that we enjoy in this House, and therefore it is necessary that we should be able to give this undertaking, not only the force of the bargain, but legal sanction as well. For my part I have no desire to prevent the Bill passing its Third Reading. I take up a similar attitude to that advanced by other speakers on these benches. For my part I believe that whatever special undertaking is given, it will ultimately be in the competence of a railway company like this to revise the conditions, and, of course, they have a right to do that. I think it is quite reasonable for us to ask that somebody on behalf of the railway company or acting for them should give us an undertaking that during the next three years there shall be no alteration of the rates to the detriment of the season-ticket holders. My hon. Friend who introduced this discussion made reference to proceedings before a Departmental Committee of which I was a Member. He urged that economies effected under amalgamation should be shared by the public and the employés of the railway concerned, and should not be devoted exclusively to the interests of the shareholders and directors. I am in agreement with him there, but I also agree with the Chairman of the Committee that considered this Bill, that these circumstances hardly apply here. This is hardly a question of amalgamation; it is simply the prolongation of an existing system. For my part I recognise the great danger to the public that exists in these extensions of amalgamation, and I only hope that my hon. Friends have arrived at the same conclusion that I have, that after all there is no possible safeguard for the interests of the public short of the acquisition of the railway system. Of course, to argue that question would not be in order to-night, and I think the only point we need concern ourselves about is, whether those for whom we are acting shall have positive assurance that the undertaking given has legal sanction.


I have not myself seen this agreement, but I am informed that it is absolutely and legally binding and is of a character that a season-ticket holder whose fare was raised could go to the Courts and prevent the company from raising his fare. I give my assurance that that is the intention, and that that should be the legal effect of the agreement. I quite agree with what fell from the right hon. Gentleman who was Chairman of the Committee. The agreement was not embodied in the Bill, but that was not with a view to making it less binding; it is an absolutely binding agreement, and is in strictly legal form. There is not the slightest intention at the present time on the part of the Midland Railway to raise these fares, and there are many reasons why that should be so. In the first place, the company wish to attract traffic. They realise also that a large part of the season ticket traffic depends upon cheap fares; they have very strong competition, and they know that if they raise these fares they would lose that traffic. This Bill was discussed at great length; it was for ten days before a Committee of this House, and it was also discussed on Second Reading. I think I have endeavoured to satisfy all the objections raised, and I hope the House will now allow it to be read the third time.

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

Bill read the third time, and passed.