§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I beg to move, as an Amendment, to leave out the word "now" and to add at the end of the Question the words, "upon this day three months."
Since I gave notice of the Amendment, an Instruction has been placed on the Paper by the hon. Member for Devizes Division (Mr. Peto), which really meets the point I desire to raise to-night. I take it that, I am not in a position to move the Instruction. The point I want to raise is this: A large number of season ticket holders in Southend have been induced to take up their residence in that district solely through the offer on the part of the railway company of very reasonable and cheap fares. Most of these season ticket holders are, as far as I know, workmen. In fact, I have worked with some of the men who, by reason of the inducements held out by the company, which they appreciate very greatly, were induced, though working in London, to take their wives and families to this place. There is a splendid service of trains at remarkably cheap fares. Another company now comes along and is about to take over that particular railway. The men naturally feel there is grave risk that the advantages which they have enjoyed since they became residents at Southend are likely within a short period to be withdrawn. I understand that an association of season ticket holders was formed, that many public meetings have been held, and that resolutions have been passed. The promoters of the amalgamation or purchase claim that they have the consent of the borough council and of other public and responsible bodies, and they appear to be inclined somewhat to disregard the eventual effect which such a change as is now proposed may have on these particular workmen. The only point the workmen desire to have secured is that a reasonable time shall elapse after the purchase by the Midland Railway Company before any alteration of those fares is permitted. I think the House will agree that is not an unreasonable view for those men to take. Having 379 been induced by cheap fares, though at some disadvantage to themselves from the pecuniary point of view, to decide on making a change of residence—this is a question affecting 6,000 or 7,000 people, most of whom are workmen—it does appear to me that they are justified, and I hope the House will think I am justified on their behalf, in resisting the passage of the Bill unless an agreement is arrived at whereby the existing fares may remain as they are at present for a reasonable period.
I understand that the promoters are quite prepared to allow the existing fares to remain as they are until 31st December, 1913. The season ticket holders are quite satisfied with an arrangement of that kind; but they wish the arrangement to be accompanied by the safeguard which is embodied in the Instruction on the Paper, which I am not at liberty to move. They wish the arrangement to be accompanied by the safeguard that before any revision of passenger fares becomes operative an appeal should be allowed to the Board of Trade and the Railway Commissioners. If a guarantee of that kind can be given by the representative of the Board of Trade, then those men and myself, and I hope the House, will be quite satisfied; but, in the absence of a guarantee to that effect, I propose to continue the opposition to the Bill. I appeal to the representative of the Board, of Trade to remember who those men are. They are working at various trades for weekly wages which are not very high. I can speak for those who are engaged in the printing trade. They are men who, at great expense to themselves, and probably at some inconvenience from the point of view of living away from their friends in London, have taken up residence at some distance from town. Speedy transit is provided, and they are prepared to make this journey, feeling that though they undergo a little inconvenience they are compensated by the wonderfully cheap travel. I think it is only fair that the position of those men should be considered, and I hope that the representative of the Board of Trade will be able to state that, in addition to allowing the existing fares to re main as they are until the end of 1913, in the event of the company deciding then to revise fares there will be an appeal on the part of those who may object to that revision, either to the Railway Commission or to the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. HILLS
I welcome the very reasonable and moderate speech in which the mover of the rejection of the Bill has introduced his motion. I think that the House will generally sympathise with the object of the hon. Member, but before going the whole length that he asks us to go there are certain considerations which, ought to be borne in mind. This is a Bill for the amalgamation of the Midland and Tilbury lines. That amalgamation has been supported by every single centre of population in the district served by this line, and by the Dock Board, the Chambers of Commerce, and the local authorities at Southend, and all the local authorities on the line. The only opposition is from the association of railway travellers whose spokesman is the hon. Member. He asks that for a certain term of years the existing season ticket rates will not be raised, and also that clause should be inserted in the Bill whereby the company will be precluded from raising the season ticket rates in future until they could show good cause for doing so. The position of the season ticket holders is as follows. Last year all the railway companies, with, I think, no exception, except the Tilbury Company, all raised their season ticket rates, and there was a very large increase all over the railway world. The Tilbury fares were not raised and remained very low as the hon. Member has recognised. Now that the Midland Company are acquiring the Tilbury line they recognise that the prosperity of Southend and of a. great many of its inhabitants is largely dependent on the Tilbury line, and they have no present intention whatever of raising those fares. But when they ask the company to bind itself for all time not to raise fares I submit that they are asking a thing which goes far beyond the general statute law which binds railway companies, and which I may submit is pretty strict against all raising of fares, and a condition which only very special circumstances would justify. Season-ticket rates at present are not subject to the general law of passenger fares. They are special privilege tickets, and the rates could be raised or lowered very much as the companies please.
All this question is very carefully considered in the Report of the Departmental Committee, which reported last year, and which was presided over by an hon. Member of this House. The Report, which, is 381 an extremely able and comprehensive document, obtained the assent of the whole Committee, among them the hon. Member for Norwich, and it has been, I believe, generally accepted as laying down a reasonable scheme on which these amalgamations are to be carried out. They, speaking generally, lay down three main conditions which should be observed before Parliament is asked to assent to amalgamation. They are at page 42, Section 188, Sub-section 19 (a), (b), (c). The first is that for the purpose of railway rates any two amalgamated lines should be treated as one line. The advantage of that is well known to the House. You get one through rate, and in case of the unit of distance the fraction of the unit of distance will not be charged twice over because there is a fraction at the end of one line and a fraction on the other. And also, where a company is entitled to charge a higher rate for the first part of its transit and a lower rate for the second part, it cannot charge the higher rate twice over. That has been met by Clause 10 of the Bill before the House. The second point is that provision should be introduced into the Act restricting the dismissal of servants in consequence of amalgamation. That point is entirely provided for. Clause 8 of the Bill provides that all officers, clerks, and servants of the Tilbury Company shall become officers, clerks, and servants of the Midland Railway with the same rights and subject to the same obligations under which they serve at present. That is an absolutely binding statutory obligation on the Midland Railway. The third point is that care should be taken that nothing shall prejudice the pension rate or security of pension funds.
Then the Report goes on to say in the absence of special circumstances the opportunity of a proposed fusion should not be used as a lever to impose further conditions. I do submit to the House that this is a case which comes within the findings of the Committee. Here you have a specially low rate for season tickets, which has been a very beneficial one, and I do ask the House to say that this is not a case in which you should use the fact of amalgamation as a lever to extract special terms for the season-ticket holders. I assure the Mover of this Motion that there is not the slightest intention on the part of the Midland Railway to increase those rates. We recognise that a large amount of the traffic of the line does consist of these season-ticket holders, and a large amount of the prosperity of the line depends upon them. 382 But we have also to look to the fact that Parliament and public opinion are constantly laying fresh charges and fresh burdens upon railway companies. We all know that after the strike last August it was recognised by the Board of Trade that if the railway companies were put to extra cost for the services of the State they should be entitled to raise their fares, and that has been recognised by Clause 2 of the Railway Bill that has been introduced into this House.
I submit to the House that this is a case which falls within the report of the Departmental Committee, and falls within the Railways Bill. It is exactly the sort of case which that Bill is made to meet. I believe the Government intend to pass the Bill this year. The hon. Member has not shown any special circumstances whereby the season ticket holders of Southend-on-Sea should have any special treatment beyond that which the ordinary law provides. I wish to tell the House what occurred when this Bill was in another place. There the Bill was opposed by a body of persons, of which the association for which the hon. Member opposite speaks formed part. An agreement was decided upon whereby until the end of 1913 no increase in the season ticket rates is to be made. It quite satisfied them. I submit to the House that it is not fair for all time that a company, on which large burdens may be placed, should be absolutely precluded from increasing the season ticket rates. I assure the House that there is not the slightest intention at present on the part of the Midland Railway Company to increase those fares. That is the last thing they would do.
I say, however, that the company ought to have the right to do so. It is not fair to exclude them from that right, and I submit that the season ticket holders are absolutely protected under the general law, and under the Railways Bill which is before this House. I suggest to the hon. Member opposite that if he thinks he has a case he ought to make it before the Committee, and not prevent this Bill from being read a second time, and going to Committee. All the opposition to the Bill, except on the part of the hon. Member, has been withdrawn. It is supported by every single public body in the district, and in all the towns which are served by the Tilbury Line. They all want the amalgamation, and I respectfully submit to the hon. Member that he should make his point before the Committee, who, I 383 have no doubt, if he can make out a case, would listen to him. The Bill is one that will largely increase the public facilities, and I hope the House will agree to the Second Reading.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
I wish to point out that I am not asking the House to agree that these season ticket holders should remain at the present fares for all time. Nothing of the kind. I stated that the men are quite satisfied with the declaration that the fares shall remain as at present until December, 1913. All the men ask is that, if the period should come when the company decide to revise their fares, then they may have the right to appeal cither to the Railway Commissioners or to the Board of Trade before that revision becomes operative.
§ Mr. PETO
I cannot say, after listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hills), that I am the least bit convinced that this Bill should receive a Second Reading, unless there is some very much better security than the assurance the hon. Gentleman gave us, that the last thing the Midland Railway Company think of doing is to raise these fares. The hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Bower-man), who moved the rejection of this Bill, says that the Southend-on-Sea season ticket holders will be quite satisfied with the right to appeal to the Board of Trade or to the Court of the Railway and Canal Commissioners. Assuming that an increase of the fares was made, and the right of appeal is in existence, I would point out that it is an exceedingly costly thing, and an exceedingly difficult thing, to put into effect. The hon. Member for Durham says that in Clause 2 of the Railways Bill the principle is recognised of giving effect to the promise of the Government to the railway companies last August that if there is any increase in the remuneration of the employés it may be followed by an increase of rates. I quite admit that is the Clause in the Railways Bill, but the Railways Bill is not an Act of Parliament yet; it has not gone through the House, and I venture to predict that in its present form it is not likely to go through this House.
What I want is something more definite than the assurance which has been given. In spite of the statement of the hon. Member that the last thing the Midland Railway Company intend to do is to raise these fares, I would point out that these are admittedly exceptionally cheap 384 season ticket rates. The Tilbury and Southend Railway Company do a season ticket business on a wholesale scale, whereas the season ticket business of the ordinary railway companies may be regarded, in comparison, as a retail business. I put it simply as my own view that before there is any question of raising the rates to the season ticket holders it should be proved that certain advantages are being given to the railway company's employés, and that the conditions of their employment are being improved, but account should also be taken of the great saving in the costs and charges which will inevitably result from the amalgamation by the purchase of the Tilbury Line by the Midland Railway Company, which is the subject of this Bill. The Railways Bill is still only a Bill and not an Act of Parliament, yet we have the same question coming up here in the form of this Midland, Southend, and Tilbury Railway Bill. We say that we are bound to prevent this Bill from passing the Second Reading until we know what the decision of the House is upon this question, which is one of a geneal matter of principle. I have put down an Amendment which I am told is out of order. I will only refer to it for the purpose of saying that in that Amendment I lay down a principle which I think justifies me in supporting with all the power at my command the hon. Member for Deptford in the rejection of the Bill.
I submit that it lies with the railway company to prove, when they propose to increase these rates, not only that they have increased the pay to their employés, but that they have taken into consideration all the savings in charges due either directly or indirectly to the amalgamation, and that in spite of that there still remain increased expenses due to the better wages and improved conditions of their employés. It is they and not the season ticket holders who must prove the case to the satisfaction of the Court of the Railway and Canal Commission. The season ticket holders of Southend-on-Sea, though many of them are poor people who depend upon these cheap fares to be able to live in a wholesome atmosphere, would not begrudge any increase of fares which was proved to be reasonable and justified by extra burdens on the railway company. To my mind it is a monstrous proposition to throw the onus of proving this case upon a body of people who cannot possibly prove the case. The facts are only known, and can only be known, to the railway companies. They can show perfectly easily, 385 if they wish to do so, what are the savings made in the course of running traffic and what are the increased charges due to the better conditions of labour that they are employing. They can do that, but the outside public and the season ticket holders cannot. The hon. Member for Durham is one of the strongest advocates in this House of better housing conditions for the people. We are always hearing about the Housing and Town Planning Act. We are constantly hearing about getting "lungs" for London. Here, without any intervention of this House, we have got naturally— due to one fact, and one main fact, and that is cheap rates of travel—what is better than the Housing and Town Planning Act, and what is better than lungs for London. We have got for some thousands of hard workers the opportunity to get out of the City atmosphere and live in the country by the seaside. I venture to think, therefore, that this is much more than an ordinary question that might be raised on a private Bill. It is a question of principle, and I ask the House certainly not to pass the Second Reading of this purchase Bill until it has first considered and thoroughly debated the principles of the Bill which is before the House, the Railways Bill, on which the hon. Member for Durham relies for his case for the amalgamation in the form in which it is in the Midland and Southend Railway Bill. I hope that this Second Reading will be refused in order that, when we consider this Bill, we may consider it in the light of an Act of Parliament, which will have been thoroughly discussed in a full House before it ever becomes an Act of Parliament; and then we shall see the first fruit of the amalgamation policy conforming to the general lines laid down in this House.
§ Mr. MORTON
I do not understand that the hon. Gentlemen who are opposing this Bill desire to prevent the Bill finally being carried. What I understand they want is to make some provision whereby the public will, in case the Bill is passed, be protected in the future as they have been in the past. The hon. Gentleman who represents the promoters has given his case away when he suggests that this Bill shall go to a Committee upstairs. It is not fair to suggest to working men that they can find £500 to oppose a Bill upstairs, and this House ought to protect people against anything of the sort. I do not know that we ever before heard the promoters of a Bill making use of a Bill which is before the House, and which the 386 hon. Member who spoke last very properly says is never likely to be carried in its present shape, if at all. I do not see how they have a right to make use of that Bill. I believe it is agreed that the prices of the tickets shall not be raised until 31st December, 1913, but the further condition is asked that if there should be an increase after that date there should be the right of appeal, either to the Board of Trade or to the Railway Commissioners. It appears to me that that is a very modest and fair request. Surely if the working men trust the Railway Commission or the Board of Trade, the railway company ought to do the same. I hope the hon. Gentleman speaking on behalf of the company will give way, and save the company and the other people the expense of fighting a Bill like this up stairs. The Bill is not being opposed, but conditions are sought for the protection of those who have had them for some time, and if there had been no amalgamation there would have been no talk of this at all. It is a very fine thing for rich people and millionaires to say, "Let us go upstairs, and let us have a fight." But it is well known that ordinary people cannot find the money to fight a case of this kind upstairs. I hope that the House will protect those who have made, through my hon. Friends, a very modest request indeed.
§ Captain JESSEL
I hope the House will give a Second Reading to this Bill, both in the public interest and in the interest of those who are interested in the Tilbury line. As regards the point put by the hon. Member, he seems to forget that there is no change in the law at the present moment. The public have their rights exactly as they had them before, and they can appeal to the Railway Commissioners as regards any increase in the rates demanded by the railway company. With all due respect, I venture to point out to the House that this is an entirely new claim which is made on the railway companies. Season ticket holders have never been able to obtain this, and why this particular company, when it comes before the House, is subjected to an innovation in the ordinary law I cannot understand. I also wish to point out that all the bodies interested, the Chambers of Commerce, the corporation of Southend, and of Westcliff-on-Sea, and Leigh-on-Sea, are all agreed in favour of this Bill as an advantage to the district served by the railway company, and I claim with all 387 due respect that some deference should be paid to local feeling in this matter. On the bigger question as regards the advantages to the public by the amalgamation, the London and Tilbury Railway Company has been a prosperous undertaking. South-end is growing, and the very prosperity of Southend has been the undoing of the London and Tilbury Company. We, and I speak as a director of the London and Tilbury Company, are only very small people. Our capital is five million. Our trouble is that we have not got a terminus in London. Our traffic is increasing, and there is no doubt that we are face to face, either with the impossibility of carrying all the people who want to live at South-end and thus afford another lung to London, or else we shall be open to the charge of overcrowding, or else it is quite impossible to continue our service. What we are faced with is a huge capital expenditure which our chairman at the last yearly meeting of the company stated would involve a sum of two and a half millions. Is that a fair burden to put upon us? With our capital of only £5,000,000, including debentures, preference, and ordinary stock, we cannot do it. The Midland Company offer us a price which is satisfactory to our shareholders, and we as directors think that in the interests of the shareholders we should accept the offer. We are satisfied that it is not only in our interests, but in the interests of the localities served by our line that a great company like the Midland, with some £200,000,000 capital, should come into the field. They will be able to carry out what we cannot do, and to find the large additional capital required for a terminal station in London. That is the ground on which the Tilbury Company ask the House to sanction this Bill.
Those who are interested as officials and from the labour point of view—we have never had any quarrel with our men—are quite satisfied with the conditions. The corporation of Southend and other local councils are also in favour of the Bill. The one body opposed to it is the Railway Passengers' Association of Southend. The members of that body were represented before the House of Lords Committee. They joined the corporation of Southend in their petition, and the Lords Committee gave to the corporation of Southend, and the parties joined with them a clause providing that they should have for two years the same privileges as they already enjoy. That Clause was satisfactory to the 388 corporation, and the opposition was withdrawn. The House has already heard that there is no intention of increasing the fares. Why should an exception be made as regards this particular company? The promoters have carried out all the recommendations suggested by the Report of the Departmental Committee of last year. There is no necessity for an innovation of the kind proposed, because, as the law stands, before it can raise its rates a railway company has to make out its case before the Railway Commission. There is no alteration in the law in that respect. The innovation is for the season-ticket holders to claim something beyond the ordinary provisions of the law. I respectfully urge the House not to throw out an important Bill of this kind. The measure is of great importance to men at the General Post Office, and many other workers in London whom we bring up in time to get to their work. If the Bill is thrown out it will hamper the great developments which have been going on, because there is no chance of the London and Tilbury Company being able to carry the necessary works on its own account. The Bill does not confer any monopoly on the Midland Railway Company because Southend is served also by the Great Eastern Company. It would be an injustice to the promoters of the Bill and a hardship to the public if the House refused to allow the Bill to go upstairs in the ordinary course.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
If I were studying my own interests and those of the railway which I represent, I should certainly vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. But I desire to take a broad view of the situation, and to consider whether the Bill is in the interests of the public generally, and especially of that portion of the public who reside in Southend. I feel that I on behalf of the Great Eastern, and not the Midland Company, should be presenting a Bill for the purchase of this line. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Morton) rather suggested that some other company might have been the purchaser. I hope the hon. Member does not think that I have been asleep. The fact is that, not being a Common Council man, I have not a large balance at my bankers, and the price demanded by the Tilbury Company was so excessive that my company, though they felt they were the people who by priority ought to have the right of acquiring the line, were unable to entertain the proposal. The Midland Railway, having come in and overbid 389 the Great Eastern Railway, have now presented this Bill to the House. I entirely endorse what has fallen from my hon. Friend (Captain Jessel). The Tilbury Company, owing to the enormous increase in the traffic and the growth of the population of Southend, are not able to deal in an efficient manner with the traffic. If we had been able to acquire the line we would have been able to deal with it satisfactorily. I am confident that the Midland Railway, by the acquisition of the line, will confer a great benefit upon the people of Southend, and all those who travel between the Metropolis and that town.
§ Lord C. HAMILTON
Having regard to the competition of the Great Eastern Railway, whose fares are proverbially low, I do not think that the Midland Railway will commit suicide by attempting to raise their fares. It is the intention of the Midland Railway, should this Bill pass, to electrify the Tilbury line. That undoubtedly will be an enormous boon to those who travel by it, and I have no doubt that the ultimate result will be to oblige the Great Eastern Railway to electrify its competing line, so that the public will benefit by both routes. I think the House, in a matter of this sort, should take a broad view of the situation. I do not believe there will be any attempt on the part of a great company like the Midland to do anything so short-sighted as unnecessarily to raise the fares or rates upon the lines that they desire to acquire. I therefore respectfully ask the House to be good enough to give a Second Reading to the Bill, so that it may be considered by a Committee upstairs.
§ Sir EDWIN CORNWALL
We have just had the advantage of experiencing what I feel to be a real exhibition of the true British spirit displayed by the Noble Lord in asking the House of Commons, on broad principles, to give a Second Reading to this Bill. If anyone should have opposed this Bill I suppose it would be the Great Eastern Railway Company; but the Noble Lord has dealt with the matter with British character and instinct, and the true spirit of the British House of Commons. He said, "Here is a Bill before the House which it is desired should go upstairs for consideration." He asked the House of Commons, although it may be contrary to his interests, to allow the Bill to go to the Committee upstairs. Since I have been in the House I have never, under 390 the circumstances, heard a more admirable speech than that of the Noble Lord. Obviously the Midland Railway Company coming into the Great Eastern Company's area must be a serious matter for their consideration. May I suggest to my hon. Friends below the Gangway that they can take a broad view, and I think it is always in the interest of the House of Commons to take a broad view in matters of this kind. No one can fail to recognise the importance of the point raised by the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman). It is important in this sense, that Southend has grown up because of the cheap season-ticket fares; and no one in the wide world wants to interfere with the development of Southend.
But let the House remember that in this proposal of the purchase of the Tilbury line by the Midland Railway Company that the season-ticket holders of Southend are not worsened at all. The Tilbury Company can raise their season-ticket fares whenever they like without interference by this House; and I do not think the Midland Railway Company, with its huge capital and enterprise, are likely to be so shortsighted as to increase the season-ticket fares and prevent the development of their business. On the other hand, if the Midland Railway Company spends two and a half millions of capital money, half as much again as the capital of the London, Southend, and Tilbury Railway Company, in giving extra facilities to the season-ticket holders of Southend, I am not at all sure that the question is not open to consideration as to whether the fares should remain the same. If, as a matter of business, the Midland Railway Company should be in competition with the Great Eastern Railway Company, it will be a serious question for them to consider whether they will not lose more by raising the fares than by keeping them as they are. It all goes to show that this is a very admirable proposal in the public interest. Nothing could be more against the public interest than that this House of Commons should refuse a Second Reading to this Bill. I agree with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sutherlandshire (Mr. Morton) that the season ticket holders are not in a position to go upstairs and fight this battle before the Committee and spend a lot of money in arguing their case, because, of course, they have no case to argue before the Committee.
But the broad view to take up, as the Noble Lord opposite said, is this; Here is 391 the Midland Railway Company which proposes to purchase the London and South-end line, to develop and to further develop, and to increase the facilities from London to Southend and other parts of the district between London and South-end; why then should we intervene on the Second Reading and prevent this Bill from being properly considered in the Committee, and, after being thus properly considered, come down here for consideration and Third Reading? I am in full sympathy with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Deptford that it would be a grave and a serious thing for Southend if the season ticket fares were increased after Southend has grown up and many people from London have gone out on the basis of these fares. At the same time, I cannot conceive how the interests of London and Southend and the district between will suffer by the proposals before us, or that we will be acting in the interests of the public if we block the Second Reading of this Bill. I only rise because I do sincerely appreciate the speech of the Noble Lord, and I hope that the spirit displayed by him will be exemplified by hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway. They have made their protest; they have put their case before the House and the public; and I hope that, having gone so far as they have, they will emulate the spirit of the Noble Lord opposite and allow this Bill to have a Second Reading.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
Like the previous speaker, I was immensely interested in the speech of the Noble Lord. But I do not place the same interpretation upon it as my hon. Friend has done. I am simply going to say this, that the speech gives another evidence of the great loyalty that exists between railway magnates in this House. I often think if we could develop the same amount of loyalty amongst the workmen as that which prevails amongst the railway directors that the prospects of my class would be immensely brighter than they are. I have not learned from my colleagues that there is any desire to prevent the Midland Railway Company acquiring the Tilbury Company's undertaking, nor do we desire that the development of the town of Southend should in any way be hampered. My hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Hills) referred to the Report of a Committee upon which I sat, and my responsibility for my share 392 in its recommendations. I have no desire to shirk that responsibility. I recognise that the tendency towards amalgamation is inevitable. In my opinion it is a wise and desirable thing to foster rather than to restrain. Nevertheless we have to recognise that with these unifications there are certain attendant evils.
In this case the season ticket holders, who in the main are a body of working people, will have not only to encounter the opposition of a small concern, but that of that immensely wealthy undertaking the Midland Railway Company. It is quite true to say that the status of this class may not in any way be altered; but there is just a danger that it may be. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO."] Well, I accept the undertaking of my hon. Friend that there is no present intention on the part of the Midland Company to alter the rates of the season ticket holders.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
I am speaking of the operation of the rates. My hon. Friend stated there was no present intention on the part of the Midland or acquiring company to increase the season ticket rates.
§ Mr. G. ROBERTS
That is all very well for the moment. But these people, it must be understood, have been led to take up their residence in Southend by the facilities offered by the Tilbury and Southend Company. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford and myself are acquainted with a number of them. They are poor men who desire, because of their families, to be situated in a more congenial atmosphere and environment than prevails in London. They have been induced to take up their residence in South-end by the cheap facilities offered by this company, and therefore they are very naturally apprehensive that under a change such as is suggested, and a new body entering into control with whom they had previously no contract, that the opportunity might be availed of to increase the rates. I honestly accept what the hon. Gentleman opposite has said; he is able to give an undertaking for the moment, but that cannot be held to allay the apprehensions of those people who have established their household at considerable cost in Southend. My hon. Friend the Member for Deptford, with those people on behalf of whom he is 393 acting, is quite willing to accept the undertaking of the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the company that no alteration will take place before the 31st December, 1913, but if these men had the assurance that they would have some right of appeal before an increased rate was contemplated, I think they would be perfectly satisfied.
The hon. Gentleman opposite made some reference to some contemplated legislation. Of course, that has no bearing upon this particular case. I think the hon. Member for South Wilts is perfectly right in saying that the Railways Bill as at present drafted has no possibility whatever of securing the sanction of this House, but, notwithstanding the report to which the hon. Gentleman made reference, he will there find set forth very markedly this particular point. We desire that there should be a cheap method of appeal. The procedure before the Railway Canal Commissioners is so costly as to be practically prohibitive to any but very wealthy corporations to proceed against railway undertakings. In this case we are dealing with a body of very poor people, and therefore, if the hon. Gentleman opposite bases his case very largely upon some contemplated form of legislation, I can very logically rely upon the recommendations and purport of the report in order to indicate to him how he ought to meet the position on this occasion. Various reforms have been suggested, but a cheap and simple method of appeal would be the best. I respectfully suggest to the hon. Member if he could give an undertaking here to-night, that if it was intended to increase the rates of the season ticket holders they would have the right to appeal to the Board of Trade, he might very well secure the Second Reading of this measure without further opposition from those with whom I am acting, and I think in saying that I am saying nothing in conflict with the recommendations of that Report. I respectfully suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he might remove opposition by giving that undertaking which, in my opinion, would inflict no injustice upon the company and would allow them to proceed with the great enterprise upon which they are embarking, and would secure the good will and confidence of the season ticket holders as well as others interested in this matter.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. J. M. Robertson)
I think my hon. Friend who has just sat down must see the unreason- 394 ableness of making an appeal to the Board of Trade a condition of securing the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not see how he can associate himself with the position of the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto). The hon. Member put down an Instruction which, I understand, is not in order, but the hon. Member, in fact, argued on the ground set forth in his Instruction. He thinks the proper course is not to let the Bill pass, because you cannot give an Instruction at this stage, which Instruction, as a matter of fact, is out of order. The proper course for him would be to take counsel with the hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hills), and have his proposal fought out before the Committee upstairs. My hon. Friend appealed to me to give an undertaking on behalf of the Board of Trade, either that those season ticket rates should never be raised, or that before they were raised an appeal should be given to the Board of Trade. He must realise that the Board of Trade cannot give such an undertaking as that, and I do not see how the hon. Member for Durham could give an undertaking of that kind, because it all depends upon legislation not yet carried. It would take more than the company's good will to give the right of appeal to the Board of Trade unless you had an Act of Parliament giving the Board of Trade power to exercise rights of that kind. The appeal of my hon. Friend, with which we are all in perfect sympathy, does not in the least justify us in merely refusing to give the Bill a Second Reading; and I understand my hon. Friend the Member for Deptford does not want to go to the extreme which the hon. Member for Devizes does. It does not follow that by holding the Bill back an undertaking will be given. We are told that those who benefit by the cheap fare rates on the Tilbury line are apprehensive lest their present advantage should be taken away. Why should they be more apprehensive that their advantages would be taken away under a combine than under the present system? They would be no worse after the passing of this Bill than they are at this moment. Nay, they would be in a better position after the passing of this Bill, because this Bill gives them two years' security, whereas without this Bill they have no condition of security at all. May I point out to the hon. Member for Deptford that the Bill does explicitly secure extremely low third-class rates. The maximum third-class rates are the very lowest in Great Britain. The Bill, under Clause 10, expressly 395 secures these very low maximum rates, and when you have an undertaking that up to the end of next year the season ticket rates shall not be raised, you cannot fairly pretend you will be in any worse position in the end after the passing of this Bill. You actually have this particular advantage secured for two years for which you have no legal claim whatever now. Supposing you refuse to give this Bill a Second Reading, the Tilbury Company could proceed to double the rates.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
They are not likely, but that argument answers itself. The Midland Company are not likely to do it. No company is likely to wish to raise these season ticket rates unless it finds itself financially coerced to do so. The Midland Company are not more likely to do it than the Tilbury Company are likely to do it now.
§ Mr. MORTON
People would depend more upon getting justice from the Tilbury Company than from the Midland Company.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
It is perfectly obvious that the raising of privilege tickets is a very different thing from the raising of season tickets. The Board of Trade is perfectly impartial between the companies, and the Board of Trade has no reason whatever to suppose that the Midland Company would be more disposed to raise the old season ticket rates than the Tilbury Company. In any case, what my hon. Friends below the Gangway ask for cannot really be secured at this stage. If they desire to make this very remarkable exception in regard to season ticket rates, "why single out this Bill and impose a re- 396 striction that is not in existence as regards the existing Tilbury Company Surely a matter like this ought to be dealt with in Committee upstairs. I cannot possibly give any such undertaking as the hon. Member for Deptford asks for. This is a question which should go to the Committee, and if hon. Members fail to intro-duce their proposal they have still power to do what the hon. Member for Devizes desires by refusing the Bill a Third Reading. I think what has been suggested would be a distinctly unreasonable course, because the season ticket rates on the Tilbury line are extremely low, and the promoters say that they have no desire or intention whatever of raising these rates. They undertake that until the end of next year they shall not be raised, and they say, "Do not ask of us what has never been asked of any other company, namely, that whatever increased cost may be put upon us we shall never be in a position to raise the season ticket rates."
If you do not give a Second Reading to this Bill you will in effect be declaring in favour of the imposition of a restriction upon season ticket rates which has never been applied in Bills of this kind before. I think the hon. Member for Deptford having got this declaration from the purchasing company, which is a very unusual promise, to keep the rates absolutely unraised for two years, should recognise that this is all he can reasonably expect. If the hon. Member and his Friends are afraid of the present conditions being lost, and desire to propose such conditions in the Bill, I think he must recognise the reasonableness of the appeal to let this Bill go upstairs for that purpose. The hon. Member for Sutherlandshire knows the nature of our procedure as well as the rest of us. He spoke of a very large sum being required to oppose a Bill of this kind upstairs, but I do not think that argument will apply to the insertion of one Amendment. If the case is anything like as strong as the hon. Member for Devizes made out it will be a strong case for the Committee upstairs. At any rate, I think it will be admitted that we cannot make this change here. You are either going to give this Bill a Second Reading or you are not. Does the hon. Member for Devizes contend that in spite of this absolutely unprecedented assurance a restriction should be imposed that no matter what may happen season ticket rates shall not be raised?
§ Mr. PETO
I did not take up any such unreasonable attitude. I said I thought 397 this Bill should not receive a Second Beading, because it was a Bill for the purpose of an undertaking and effecting an amalgamation. It was argued on the Railway Bill before the House that because of Clause II. this Bill should go through and have a Second Reading. My position is that it should be delayed until there has been a full Debate on the principles of the Railway Bill.
§ Mr. ROBERTSON
That is still subjecting this Bill to an unfair strain. The reference of the hon. Member for Durham to the Railways Bill merely conveyed that the Government has recognised that a railway company might reasonably raise their charges under certain circumstances is a fair one. To delay this Bill until the Railways Bill has been discussed, especially after the hon. Member's own prediction that that Bill has a stormy career before it, is practically an admission that you are now trying to make a victim of this Bill. If the hon. Member for Devizes had any case against the Bill itself, and if my hon. Friends below the Gangway had any labour grounds of opposition, or any opposition on the merits of this Bill, their action might be justifiable. I understand, however, that my hon. Friends below the Gangway have no labour case against this Bill. They recognise that the rights of the employés are very well secured, and they are merely anxious to preserve those facilities which exist. That being so, I do think it is unreasonable to delay the Second Reading. I cannot give the undertaking my hon. Friend has asked for on behalf of the Board of Trade. I ask him to recognise that all those interests for which he has spoken are better secured by the passing of this Bill than without it, inasmuch as you get a certainty for two years. I appeal to the House to let the Bill go upstairs and allow those points to be raised in Committee.
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
It has been stated that the season ticket holders will not be in any worse position after the Bill passes than they are at the present time. After the statement made by the Noble Lord tonight—
§ Mr. BOWERMAN
After the statement made by the representative of the Board of Trade and the fact that the further opportunity will be provided for this House, both in Committee and on the 398 Third Reading, I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed.