HC Deb 23 December 1915 vol 77 cc643-6

Question, "That this House, at its rising this day, do adjourn until Tuesday, 4th January."—[Mr. Lloyd George.]


There is one point I want to raise before the House adjourns which I have given notice of to the Board of Trade. It is a point which will not take very many minutes, but is one which very largely concerns the trading communities of this country. I have a question on the Paper to-day dealing with the number of wagons that are out of commission on our railways, and I want to suggest to the Board of Trade that the traders of the country are becoming increasingly anxious about the facilities which are open to them for continuing the transport trade in this country. The Secretary to the Board of Trade in replying to other questions to-day referred to the fact, which one can quite understand, that they have at the Board of Trade to consider a large number of those cases, and that they must necessarily and obviously consider them on their merits. But the Secretary to the Board of Trade will appreciate the point that if you have, as I have, and other Members of this House can give similar evidence, if you have accumulations of these individual cases that must be considered on their merits, and if you take them collectively they make a very serious inroad into the facilities which are open to the traders of this country all over the country. The Secretary to the Board of Trade has suggested to my hon. Friends that, in addition to considering each individual case on its merits, there is something to be said for the Board of Trade addressing itself to the more general question of the transport facilities available in the country at the moment. I represent, as my hon. Friend knows, a trading community from which I get Scottish experience, and I do not venture to give any other except Scottish experience of traders at this moment. Yesterday, in another Debate, the hon. Member who represents Liverpool made the significant remark that in Liverpool alone there were some 7,000 railway wagons out of commission. I cannot speak as to the accuracy of that fact, but probably the hon. Member speaks with knowledge. But I do know that in the east of Scotland the traders there, and I saw a number of them only a few days ago, make the complaint that at least 10,000 of the wagons which are ordinarily available for the purposes of transport are out of commission because of the lack of facilities for repair. Of course we all know why the ordinary wear and tear on our railways cannot be made good in the usual way at the present time. There are so many men away from the railways with the Colours that the ordinary repairing facilities are of course not open to the railway companies at the moment; but some of those traders have made suggestions with a view to overcoming those difficulties, and the suggestions made are that the Board of Trade might, in conjunction with the War Office, try and arrange at intervals for a number of men who are with the Colours and who have facilities for repairing, should be allowed away for a short time in order to repair a number of those wagons and get them back into commission. I do not know how far that can be done. It is a matter of arrangement between the two Departments, but I do know that the trading community is very much concerned about the point, and up to the present moment they have not seen any evidence of such an interchange of opinion and assistance between the two Departments as might lead them to hope that this question might be settled. I dare say there are a great many other Members of the House who can give evidence of a similar kind and therefore I will not elaborate that point further. The second point I desire to put to the Board of Trade also concerns railways, and I will put it as briefly as the other point. It is a question of facilities for travelling on our railways, not only for ourselves but for our troops. Those of us who have to undertake much longer journeys than most Members of the House to reach our homes and constituencies— in my case it is a minimum of eight hours' journey—realise perhaps more than other Members the inconveniences we have to suffer at the present time. I do not think that many of us complain. Most of us are perfectly willing to put up with a considerable amount of inconvenience, but any Members of this House who journey, for example, on the North-Eastern and Great Northern systems between London and Scotland cannot fail to have keen interest during the last twelve months with the inadequacy of the railway facilities for the numbers of people who wish to travel. As a matter of fact that has been the reason given in this House why soldiers should not be given furlough at Christmas and the New Year time in very large numbers.

The Under-Secretary for War has pointed out that one of the reasons which prevent the War Office from giving a larger number of men furlough is the knowledge that the railway companies cannot supply the means of transit for the men. There is a further point than that distinction which is involved in the long railway journeys. I travelled from Edinburgh to London overnight a few days ago, and the entire corridor of that train of some twelve carriages was filled with soldiers asleep returning from furlough in Scotland. I think it is rather hard lines that these men, who were returning from as far north as Caithness, Aberdeen, Inverness, and so on, should have the additional discomfort, besides the long journey, of having to accommodate themselves in the corridor. None of us like to see it, and I think we feel rather ashamed of being able to secure accommodation for ourselves by methods which are open to us while there is this very inadequate accommodation on the train for soldiers.


That surely is a matter for the railway companies, is it not? How is the Board of Trade concerned in it?


The railway companies are under the control of the Government at the moment, and the Board of Trade has answered questions in reference to this matter in the House. I gave notice to the President of the Board of Trade, and he was going to make inquiries with a view to the matters being discussed to-day.


I take what the hon. Member says as gospel, of course, but I should doubt very much whether the Board of Trade has any authority to arrange for third-class sleepers or for accommodation of the kind suggested.


I have made my point; therefore I need not pursue it further. I hope, at any rate, the Board of Trade may have some influence in the matter. There are questions concerning other Departments to which I might direct attention, but I think I ought to confine myself at this time to the Board of Trade; therefore I will not pursue these other topics.

1.0 P.M.


I desire to call the attention of the House to the necessity of investigating the commercial and financial problems with which this country will be confronted at the conclusion of the War. This question is engaging the attention of commercial and financial circles, and especially of the different chambers of commerce. No one will dispute that whilst we are at war we must prepare for peace. The Minister of Munitions this week levelled a certain criticism, some might call it an indictment, against the Government for procrastination and want of decision. I trust that when the War comes to an end it will not be possible to accuse the Government of being too late in formulating a policy for meeting the conditions that will then arise. It must be common knowledge that Germany at the present time is directing her efforts to facing the problems which will have to be dealt with when hostilities come to an end. I hope that every effort will be made in this country, so that we may be in a position at the end of the War to co-operate with our Colonies and the Empire generally in securing the commercial victories which I hope will follow the victories obtained by our Navy and Armies. Everybody will also admit that at the end of the War we shall all have to discard to some extent some of those fiscal principles to which we have been attached. I believe it will also be found necessary that there should be some extension and development of our banking institutions, so as to give industrial concerns an opportunity of development much on the same lines that Germany has for some decades adopted. I am gratified that in answer to questions put to him the Prime Minister has recognised the importance of this subject. He stated:— His Majesty's Government are fully alive to the great importance of the economic, social, commercial and financial problems that will arise after the War, and I am strongly of opinion that not even our preoccupation with the immediate and paramount task of ensuring victory ought to prevent us from taking measures to ensure that these problems shall be carefully explored by skilful experts in advance. I have nothing to complain of in regard to that view of the Prime Minister. What I do complain about is the method the Government propose to adopt for dealing with this important question. It is on that account I bring the matter forward to-day. The Prime Minister, in answer to other questions, has stated that the problems likely to arise at the conclusion of the War are under the consideration of the Board of Trade, assisted by business men.

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