§ But I cannot conclude without making some reference to the Mercantile Marine. The record of these men right from the commencement of the War, particularly through the intensified submarine campaign, is one of unexampled heroism and devotion to duty. Their record during the War can only be described as truly remarkable. No words that I could say could adequately describe the feelings of admiration that everybody has for the magnificent work that these men are doing. In face of constant and in most cases unseen danger they do their work and make it possible for this country to carry on the War and for all of us to live in comparative comfort. There has not come to my attention during the whole of the War a single instance in which either officers or men have failed to take out their ship when it has been ready for them to sail. When one realises the enormous strain which is put particularly upon the officers and engineers and the physical endurance that is demanded from them, no words of praise can be too high. Perhaps the best illustration which I can give of the dangers which are attached to this service would be to tell the number of deaths that have taken place in this service from enemy action since the beginning of the War. These now total over 12,500. Perhaps I may add that the money being paid in pensions to dependants of officers and seamen of merchant ships was in February at the rate of £170,000 per annum. It has been suggested in various quarters that the Government should give consideration to the question of pensions and allowances for dependants of these men. I should only like to say at this time that this matter is engaging our attention and will have our sympathetic consideration.
Sir A. STANLEY
What we are considering at present is the system of pensions to widows and dependants of those who are killed by enemy action. I am not at the moment on the bigger question. Up to the present, so far as I know, no concrete proposals with regard to it have been placed before us. There is one suggestion which has been made from time to time on which I am able now to make a definite announcement. It has been suggested that some official recognition should be accorded for the gallantry of merchant servants, officers and seamen, who continue going to sea after having been torpedoed. This matter has been laid before His Majesty the King, and I am very glad to say that he has been graciously pleased to approve that badges shall be awarded through the Board of Trade to officers and seamen of the Mercantile Marine who have been on the articles of any British merchant or fishing vessel sunk or damaged during the present War by torpedo or mine and who have afterwards completed a further voyage on the articles of a British vessel. The badge will be in the form of a torpedo and is intended to be worn on the cuff of the left sleeve either of the man's sea or shore rig, and a bar to be worn under the torpedo badge will be awarded to Mercantile Marine officers and seamen after having been torpedoed or mined for the second time, and an additional bar for each subsequent similar service. The scheme will be retrospective and will apply to all persons employed on British merchant ships, including stewardesses. It is proposed to make the necessary arrangements at once and to publish an announcement when these have been completed. I am sure that what I have said will give particular pleasure to all hon. Members, and particularly those who have specially interested themselves in this matter.
Sir A. STANLEY
That is rather a separate question and will have to be dealt with quite separate. I have attempted as best I could to give some information to hon. Members about some of the very 412 important activities of this great business Department. No doubt during the Debate points which I have not dealt with will be raised, and I can only say that either I or my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will be very glad to answer to the best of our ability any new points that may be raised during the Debate.
Mr. McKINNON WOOD
We have all been extremely gratified to hear the announcement made by my right hon. Friend to the effect that some visible recognition is to be given to members of the Mercantile Marine, who have earned the gratitude of the whole nation by conduct requiring heroism which has not been surpassed in any other service of the State. My right hon. Friend has made a very lucid and businesslike statement about matters of very great importance not merely affecting our personal convenience, but affecting the industries of the country, and I cannot help regretting that so small a number of Members of the House of Commons were present to hear the discussion of these questions and listen to the statement of my right hon. Friend, but I am sure that he will recognise that those of us who were here have listened to him with very great attention and, I think, with profit. There are several questions on which I would like to say a few words, including the question of the restriction of heating and lighting and the restriction of. railway travelling. Before I come to these definite points I may say a single word about the general remarks made by my right hon. Friend. We were very glad to have definite information with regard to our imports, which I understand have been reduced to something like one-half. But I was not quite able to follow the argument which my right hon. Friend founded upon that statement, because I am sure that he will not wish us to understand that that deficiency of half our imports has been made good by home production. I think he will agree with me that what has happened has been that we have done without the things. Many of these articles are articles of food, food produced only in foreign countries, or food produced very largely in foreign countries, upon which in the past we depended for a great deal of our supply, but which we have simply had to do without. When we come to other articles of merchandise we have been partly living, I think, upon our stock—for in a country like this there are always enormous stocks 413 upon which we can draw for a considerable time before we feel the absolute pinch of want—and more largely we have been doing without a great many articles, some of them necessaries, as we used to consider them—we have had to alter our valuation of that word—and some of comfort and some of luxury; but if that is the case and we have not been producing the articles, I have great difficulty in seeing upon what my right hon. Friend has founded his statement that we should draw a lesson from this and that after the War we shall be more self-supporting and less dependent on foreign countries. That may be quite true. I am not going to question it, but I do not think it is proved by the argument which he puts forward.
I was glad to hear my right hon. Friend say with regard to the question of coal and gas, as I understood him, that he was about to propose a modification of the recent proposals, because it is obvious that the original proposal, which simply cut down everybody's supply by one-sixth, was a crude and impracticable proposal, and one which in operation would probably have been unworkable. It is quite evident that a person who has been last year using lavishly, without any kind of regard to economy, would be in a perfectly happy position, while a person who had been economising would be in a very unhappy position. It is perfectly clear that in a large house you can make these economies, but that in many small houses they will be quite impossible. Therefore I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend say that, in regard to the provision of coal and gas and electric light, he proposed to consider the capacity of the house, the number of rooms, and the number of persons resident in the house. Any other course would be perfectly absurd; it would be very inequitable, and I believe that you could not possibly carry it out. There must be a great many people who are not in a position to reduce their supply of either heating or lighting. Take the case of poor persons who in the past have not been able to consume what they ought to have consumed. To say that they are to have their supply reduced by one-sixth is a thing which I am sure my right hon. Friend would never seriously contend was either fair or practicable. I hope that I am right in understanding from him that that is to be modified, and that we are to have a standard which will take account of the necessity of the consumer.
414 With regard to railways, that is a very grave and serious question. I think that my right hon. Friend was a little too much inclined to consider the case from the point of view of the minority of the persons who take season tickets, and too little from the point of view of the vast majority. The persons who live at Brighton, or somewhere else, to escape air raids, may be large in the aggregate, but, compared with the number of people who use season tickets, they are a very small fraction indeed. The case in which I am interested is the case of the workman, the clerk, and the small business man, who of necessity must live outside a town like London or Glasgow. These are the two cities—they happen to be the two greatest—with which I am most familiar, and through all my public life one of the things which have been of the greatest interest to all social reformers has been to try to relieve the congestion, which is a very serious and grave social factor in the cities of Glasgow and London. I remember very well not many years ago when the congestion in the East End of London was so serious that quite substantial sums, amounting to several pounds, were paid by many people as key money to obtain an entrance to a house in a place like Stepney. The London County Council and the Corporation of Glasgow, by their tramways, have made a great change in this matter, but by no means a sufficient or adequate change, and the congestion in Glasgow is still a scandal. The congestion in London is still serious. This proposal of my right hon. Friend is a retrograde one, and I do not think, as regards the vast mass of those affected, that it is going to achieve the object of largely reducing the traffic. What it will do is to make it more costly to the people of the working classes, small clerks, and small business people, to travel, but it should not be forgotten that they travel, not for pleasure, but to earn their bread and butter. They are the class of people who cannot find houses in London suitable to their requirements, and many of them work in the City, where no dwellings can be procured within any reasonable walking distance. The right hon. Gentleman has fixed the limit of 12 miles, within which he is going to put on 10 per cent., and beyond 12 miles 20 per cent. I cannot see the reason for that proposal. Take the case of a man who works in the City of London, or in the East End of London, but who lives 415 in the South of London—he does not get very far out of the crowded part of London under 12 miles, and if he goes over 12 miles, you are going to penalise him by putting 20 per cent. on his season ticket. And you are going to do it in a very curious way; you are going to put the biggest percentage on the most expensive tickets, and the holders of these tickets will be doubly penalised.
It was the object of social reformers to induce the people to live outside the crowded areas of London, or of our big cities, and in places which were healthy and less crowded. Why this action has been taken I cannot conceive. Of course this money will not go to the railway companies, but to the State, and it will be a sort of tax upon these people who, by the very necessities and circumstances of the case, are obliged to live out of London. The policy of this House has been different from that which is now being adopted. In the time of the late Government a Bill was introduced preventing the raising of rents, and that measure has had the best effect in regard to houses of the working classes. It was passed with the general consent of the House, and it had on the back of it the name of an eminent Conservative statesman, the present Minister for the Colonies; my own name was on the back of it, and another name; it was not a party question at all. My right hon. Friend is now coming forward with a proposal to put a penalty on these very people of 10 per cent. or 20 per cent., and thus is going to take away the benefit which the late Government thought to confer upon the people by preventing their rents from being raised. I cannot help hoping that my right hon. Friend will reconsider that part of his proposal. I do not know why London should have been singled out to be the subject of it, for there is no place where the people live so much away from the centre of metropolitan life than is the case in London. London apparently has been picked out for priority of ill-treatment and for superiority of ill-treatment. I cannot see the reason for that.
On the general question of railways and canals my right hon. Friend made some remarks which were extremely interesting and valuable. We all hope to see our canal system, which has been stifled by the railway companies to a very large extent, restored and used for the carriage of goods. I think the right hon. Gentle- 416 man was on perfectly sound ground when he said that much larger economies than have hitherto been made should be effected after the War, when there is both time and material for dealing with these matters, by a system of unified control. That is a subject on which I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I hope that his great experience of the subject will be used to bring about a state of matters which will improve our railway system after the War, and which will reduce the carriage on goods that, at the present moment, as I have thought for many years, is and has been unnecessarily high. I have always felt that the carriage on goods and commodities could be reduced to an amount that would result in increased benefit to the railway companies themselves through enormously facilitating and developing the trade of this country. On that matter I think he will find he has a great deal of support. In regard to cotton, I was interested in what he said about the admirable way in which the cotton trade responded to the appeal of the Government. I was interested in it from this point of view: The cotton trade is an instance where we have not had Government control; the cotton trade has really worked out its own salvation, and I hope that will be borne in mind when we come to consider the question of continuing Government control after the War. They had a very difficult situation to deal with, and they dealt with it satisfactorily because they were allowed to deal with it themselves.
My right hon. Friend raised the very important question with regard to dyes, and here I have practically no criticism to offer now, because I have no doubt he intends to do, as the late Government did, when they introduced their Bill dealing with dyes, and put their proposals before the House of Commons. The subject is obviously one of great importance, and of national interest. We, of course, recognise that the dye industry is one of the pivotal or key industries, and we cannot be dependent on foreign countries for our supplies. I think we will be all heartily with the right hon. Gentleman in what he said about Grants for research, which is obviously a question of great importance. I do not think I have anything to say respecting his proposal for assistance towards buildings and plant, and loans for the purpose of developing industry. I am glad to hear that any 417 Committee appointed to deal with the question of licence will consist of the manufacturers and the users of the dyes, but that matter may be left to future discussion.
I feel grateful to my right hon. Friend for having brought, in so clear a way, a great mass of material before the House; but he should not be surprised if oil one or two points, such as the question of light supply and railway travelling, he meets with some criticism, which, I am sure, will not be of a carping kind, on a matter that affects what is by no means merely personal convenience, for that is a small consideration. As to any proposal that allows the railway companies to economise by diminishing the luxury of travelling, I am sure no one will object to that for a moment; but in regard to the schemes for dealing with the workers in cities and great towns, I think they require examination, for they are not so clearly desirable as apparently, at the present moment, the right hon. Gentleman thinks. This question of season tickets is only a part of the great problem of the housing of the people, and of facilitating the carrying on of the industries of the country. The whole matter should be surveyed in a large and broad spirit.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
I beg to move, to reduce the Vote by £100.
I join in what my right hon. Friend has just said about the statement of the President of the Board of Trade, who dealt with a very large number of interesting subjects, and, in the main, we are very pleased with the information he has given us. There is one question on which I shall await with interest the new scheme which the Government is to put before us, and that is the question of how he is going to deal with coal and lighting. The right hon. Gentleman has promised to bring forward a new scheme, and those who have in the past, by questions, criticised the previous scheme, will await with interest the new one, to see how the difficulty is to be got over. I have risen, however, mainly to deal with one topic, which for the moment has aroused enormous interest, and I believe is attended with most far-reaching consequences. I have moved the reduction of the Vote for the purpose of calling attention to the question dealt with by the President of the Board of Trade, to some extent, namely, the question of rail- 418 way season tickets. I echo entirely what my right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Wood) has just said, that we cannot conceive why London is picked out for the purpose of this experiment, rather than any other part of the country. The subject, so far as London is concerned, is of greater magnitude than it could be in any other of the big cities, and what astounded me was how thoroughly the right hon. Gentleman, in his speech, appeared to be unable to give us anything, but what were rough estimates, of what will be the result of the action he is going to take This is most unsatisfactory. We are not told whether any definite conclusion has been reached with regard to the results expected from this action, yet great numbers of the travelling public have to face an enormous amount of inconvenience, owing to this action in regard to season tickets. I cannot understand why London should have been selected for this.
Another thing I cannot understand. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to make a kind of attack upon the season-ticket holders. We see. from the defence of this proposal, made by the railway directors, that the season-ticket holders are regarded somewhat in the light of semi-culprits, as persons who are doing something which they ought not to do. That attitude is an entire change from that of the railway companies towards the season-ticket holders in the past. The season-ticket holder is a person who has been evolved by the necessities of our social system, and he has been welcomed, nay, encouraged, by railway companies in time past. The companies have begged for season-ticket holders. They have said: "Let the season-ticket holder come to us; take a season ticket, it will help to develop a particular area on our line; we will put up special railway stations for you, if you build a certain number of houses round about that neighbourhood." The companies used to recognise how valuable were the season-ticket holders for developing any particular locality on a portion of the railway line, and by the use of season tickets an enormous amount of traffic has been created, and popular centres have sprung up in districts around the London area, where the surroundings are healthier and more attractive. That was the idea which originated, or at least was partly responsible for the introduction of the season-ticket holders. I will not say that 419 the position is entirely. changed at the present time, for I still see certain announcements containing pathetic appeals to people to take season tickets. Some of them are illustrated, and contain the words, "The season ticket is the latch-key of the country," or the words, "The children's playgrounds," or, again, "Without a season ticket the garden-gate is closed." I would call the attention of the President of the Board of Trade to these announcements as being something rather for the decoying of the season-ticket holders who, are now told that they must pay 10 or 20 per cent. more. Now what is the real fact in connection with all our big cities? The season ticket is a necessity if the people are to be housed under proper conditions. I would advise any student of the housing question to consult any of the reports on this subject. Take, for instance, the Report of the Royal Commission of 1884, or the Committee of this House appointed in 1907, on which I had the privilege of serving, and you will find that the more you go into this housing problem in London and all the big cities, you have to get your people outside, especially in the case of London, if they are to live under proper conditions. The necessary adjunct to that is the season ticket, and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow (Mr. McKinnon Wood) has said, the problem is one of greater magnitude in London than elsewhere. I want to ask the President of the Board of Trade, or the Parliamentary Secretary if he replies, whether he can give us some practical reason why this 12-mile radius is taken. A 12-mile radius in connection with London is absurd.
I could give innumerable illustrations of large places which are simply a continuation of London that go outside the 12-mile radius. If I take one or two illustrations mainly from my own Constituency it is not because they are different from the other parts round London. Whether you go north, south, east, or west you will not find scattered populations, but you will find a dense population, and you can go from Charing Cross right into those localities without any break whatever between the bricks and mortar. Take, for instance, Bexley and Bexley Heath, where you had a population of 15,000 in 1911. What it is to-day I can hardly say. Then there are Dartford, with a population in 1911 of 25,000; 420 Erith, with 27,000 population in 1911; and Romford. You could go on a motor-car from the doors of this House right to Romford and not find a break, and yet it is outside the radius. You can go to Watford, Thames Ditton, and, in fact, all round, and you will find the same thing. Why, therefore, this 12 miles? The whole of the places I have mentioned are not populated by wealthy people. They are the resort of the clerk and the working man, who have to come into town, and anything you put extra upon their season ticket means really an increase of rent for them to pay. It does not only apply to the father; it is a penalty upon the whole of the family. I would advise the right hon. Gentleman to look into the case of juniors. I have been given cases, in the enormous correspondence I have received, of young girls, junior assistants, in some of our banks here. This increase on their season tickets to the adult price, plus the extra percentage, will make an appreciable difference in the amount of wages they receive. In cases where there are one or two members of a family in this position you will inflict a very heavy penalty. Does the right hon. Gentleman really think that to escape this burden these people can crowd back into London again? Would that be a benefit to the community? Would the State really gain if they did so? I believe the loss to the community at large if people forced their way back to escape this burden would be more detrimental than any loss that may accrue at the present time between the present price of season tickets and what would be gained by the additional charge.
May I point out another thing with regard to the question of the twelve miles? When the Rent Bill was before this House it was shown that the distance proposed was not sufficient, and the present Colonial Secretary accepted an increase in the distance and agreed to the Metropolitan Police area, which is fifteen miles from Charing Cross. That does not get you out of the houses, but, at least in that case, it was demonstrated that there was no difference between the inhabitants within fifteen miles and that within that radius the necessities were the same. My own opinion is that the present proposition is a most unfortunate one. It will penalise the poor, but will have very little effect upon the wealthy. Those who live at long distances, who can well afford to pay the extra on their season tickets, will 421 do so without a grumble. Those funkers who are afraid to stay in London, as some have done, and do not wish to do otherwise, whatever the result to ourselves is, will simply pay the extra. They will grumble, as they do now, at having to pay higher rents, which they themselves have occasioned. But if you want to stop them from going, have the courage to take some drastic action that will prevent them flooding the places, as they have flooded them, and I think I can promise the President of the Board of Trade that he will have the sympathy and support of the House. I mentioned the case of children under eighteen who previously had the advantage of half rates and are now to be charged full rates. If the right hon. Gentleman would like information on that, he can be supplied with it, and it will show him how heavily the burden will fall upon a number of families where the younger members, especially girls, are just going up to town, commencing their employment, and where it is necessary they should start. What is more, they are going up to town to render service which is required for the benefit of the community at this time when labour is short. I have had instances given to me of young girls having resigned their positions because c f the increase in the cost of season tickets. Although they may get work in their own neighbourhood, that is not what we want; we want them where their labour is most requisite, and therefore we want to give them the same facilities that they had previously.
Another great hardship is the fixing of the date at 1st January, 1917, in connection with the issue of season tickets. Has the right hon. Gentleman thought of this particular case? Since that date a great number of men discharged from the Army have got into occupations. Will the right hon. Gentleman see that such men living outside London will have the opportunity of coming to their employment without any difficulty whatever? There are a number of other cases of a similar character that could be alluded to. I think he will find that a number of people have shifted their dwelling since that date whose case ought to be attended to. The case has largely been put upon the basis that it is to reduce, if possible, some of the extra travelling, yet if I remember rightly the right hon. Gentleman did not think that it would reduce it very materially. He could not give any satisfactory information that doing away with the season tickets under.
422 his arrangement would materially affect the amount of railway travelling. Of course the Government themselves—I am not saying they were wrong—are responsible for some of the increased railway travelling. There are many instances where, by stopping the use of petrol, people who used to come into town and do their business during the day by means of their motor cars have had to resort to the railways. I have a case in Lancashire given me by a Member of this House, where two members of a family, father and son, in order to get to their mill, seven miles out, have to travel on two railways, which means taking four journeys everyday, whereas they used to motor to and fro. I am not saying it is wrong to have stopped the use of petrol for this purpose, but such cases could be multiplied by thousands.
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the figures of the extra travelling, he has taken into consideration the number of persons at the munitions works who have to use the railways? These amount to thousands a day. If the right hon. Gentleman goes to London Bridge Station any night, I am sorry to say, if he is very particular, they will not unduly respect his first-class carriage. They are going to the night shift, and people are coming back from the day shift, and I want to know whether all these—I am only taking one line with which I am thoroughly conversant—are to be interfered with? I do not think that this question of the season tickets requires the further consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. We are all with him in any effort the Government may think is necessitated at the present moment to reduce in any reasonable direction whatever is necessary in railway travelling, or anything else. But we do ask that any scheme should be a comprehensive one that will deal with everyone the same. Do not try to get over these great difficulties by any trifling scheme, as this seems to me. We are with him, but at the same time we want the whole of the question dealt with on a broad basis. I do not think that the present scheme at all meets the case. I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to reconsider it. If it is a reduction in the amount of travelling that is required, I trust that he will at once deal with it in a manner which will allow it to be thoroughly effective in its result. This scheme at. present is one which only 423 inflicts undue hardship upon the travelling public—and when I say the travelling public, I mean those who have to travel to earn their daily bread backwards and forwards from what, it may be, has become largely a sleeping place in and around our great cities. You are simply saying to these people, "We will inconvenience you, if possible, by this non-issue of season tickets; if you do want tickets we will raise the rate," so that whilst— as has been pointed out to illustrate the matter—in the one case the Government have prevented the raising of the rents of these people, by this scheme of the Board of Trade they are going to raise their cost of travelling to what may be more than an equivalent. I trust that the Board of Trade will reconsider their scheme, and before doing anything to meet the difficulty which they propose to meet, will put before the House of Commons and the country a scheme thought out in a thorough businesslike manner.
§ Mr. TENNANT
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down seems to think that the President of the Board of Trade has some ground of grievance against season-ticket holders—in fact, that he looks upon them in the light of culprits. He appeals to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade not to pursue the course which has been announced from the Treasury Bench, but to embark upon some more comprehensive scheme which would embrace all the travelling public. In his arguments my hon. Friend, in a way very unusual for himself, has fallen into a slight error. What are the facts? More than a year ago, I think, the Board of Trade issued an Order by which the travelling public who were not season- ticket holders—that very greatly advantaged body—were compelled to pay 50 per cent. more for their tickets. No similar advance in price, so far as I am aware— or, indeed, any advance—was made to season-ticket holders. They have really been in a privileged position ever since that increase was made over the ordinary buyers of tickets I think, therefore, instead of considering that season-ticket holders are being badly treated by the present arrangement, it is only a somewhat tardy measure of justice which is being meted out to them. I listened with great interest to the very illuminating and interesting statement of the President of the Board of Trade. I want to make one or two remarks upon that speech. I 424 confess I do not envy the President the task, which must be a very difficult one, having regard to the difficulties of the housing problem, in having to come to any decision upon the mileage upon which the Government should issue its Order. It is really a difficult problem, because, as my right hon. Friend (Mr. McKinnon Wood)pointed out, it has also been the policy of all Governments, irrespective of party, to encourage the people to live out of congested areas; therefore, in increasing the cost of season tickets, it must be that you are to that extent discouraging that policy. As I have pointed out, the 20 per cent. and the 10 per cent. which the right hon. Gentleman has proposed does not yet come up to the 50 per cent. which the ordinary ticket holder has to pay. To that extent, therefore, the season-ticket holders may still be said to be privileged.
While on the subject of railways I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether he has seen his way to make any concession to the parents of children who have to go backwards and forwards to school. This is really an important problem. As we know, many middle-class and lower middle-class people have saved money by thrift and carefulness in order to be able to send their children to a good school. The children travel three times a year and back again—to school and then home again for the vacations. The extra 50 per cent. is very real to them, and in many cases they have a great deal of difficulty to meet it. I would ask whether some reduction on the 50 per cent. could not be made in the case of these children. It would not be very difficult to do, because the school could perfectly well give a certificate notifying the bona fides of the scholar. I was very much interested in that part of the speech of the President in which he told us of the employment of the great mass of the people of this country. The most salient fact he brought out was the number of those now engaged in industry who are employed on Government account. It is an amazing fact. We could hardly credit it if it had not come from an authoritative source.
I should like to raise one other point, and only one—that is in relation to lapsed policies of insurance, a question of which I have given notice to the right hon. Gentleman. I do not want to make a speech about it, but only to ask a question. It has been brought oat in question and answer in this House that 425 there are an enormous number, almost a fantastic numbed, of such lapsed policies. I think the figure named was 9,000,000 policies. I do not make myself responsible for that figure. I think, however, that my right hon. Friend the President agrees with me that the number is a very, very large number indeed. I have had it in correspondence with people interested in this subject, and experts upon the subject, though I do not intend to read the correspondence—that the Prudential Company alone in two years lapsed over 2,300,000 policies. If that be the case, owing to a very few premiums having been omitted to be paid, I think it really constitutes a very grave scandal.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I do not know, but the figure struck my imagination as being horrible. That any working-class family, after scraping together, with a good deal of difficulty, enough to pay so much week by week to provide against a rainy day, should find themselves, because the man, or the son of the house, is called up for service to his country, unable to continue the weekly premiums, and therefore find that all their weekly savings are simply put into the pockets of the great rich insurance company—that seems to me rather a terrible thing.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
Such a thing cannot be done under a Statute which we have passed, except by an order of the Court, and such orders, I think, have not been issued in many cases. Such an order may have been made in an isolated case.
§ Mr. TENNANT
I put a supplementary question on the subject a couple of months ago to the President of the Board of Trade. Whilst the Government, I was informed, could not state the number of lapsed policies, they admitted there was a large number. I have had endless correspondence with three or four people, who keep telling me of the scandal which I have ventured thus briefly to describe, as not only existing, but existing in a very large number of cases.
§ Mr. TENNANT
Then if I am wrong I am only too delighted to be wrong, and to be corrected by the hon. and learned 426 Gentleman and other authorities on the matter. Perhaps the President of the Board of Trade will corroborate that correction?
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
May I just deal at once with the last point of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down? So far as insurance policies are concerned we passed an Act very early in the War—in 1914—by which it was decided that no company can lapse a policy except by order of the Court, and that order cannot be made if the lapse occurs under conditions incurred through the War. Of course, in this I am speaking only of the smaller policies with which I gathered my right hon. Friend was dealing, policies of £20 and £25, and thereabouts, and I think the President will corroborate my statement on this point. The Statute does not apply to the bigger policies concerned with large sums of money. There are always a very large number of policies lapsed in the course of the ordinary year. We are here only dealing with those affected on account of the War. Let me now deal with another part of the Board of Trade Vote. I refer to railway running and the question of the season tickets. The President expressed himself pleased at the achievement of the Board of Trade. I am very much interested in railways, and have been all my life. Look at the facts of the case for a moment.
The Government took over the railways. They have had tremendous advantages in the economies which they could carry out by one control, and the use of everything which naturally follows in that train. They had to compare in their working with the dividends of 1913. The President of the Board of Trade has told us that since then he has carried more goods than ever before; he has carried them at the same price. He has carried more passengers than ever before. Up to 1st January of last year there were cheap tickets to travel in addition to the ordinary tickets. These latter have been raised 50 per cent. in price, and the cheap tickets abolished. From a business man's point of view what is the achievement that my right hon. Friend is so pleased at? He has raised the price of the ordinary fares 50 per cent., abolished cheap tickets, carried more passengers and more goods—has had the tremendous advantage of central economies. Yet, after all, he tells us that the working has resulted in a loss! That is State finance of which my right hon. Friend is so proud! It would appear to illustrate the advantage of the State as 427 a profit-making concern, and as the managing director of commercial enterprises ! I can point out the reason for this. Government Departments are rather more easily squeezed than other people in the matter of wages. We have heard of £47,000,000 which have gone in this way. That is a pretty state of affairs. Let me come to a very much smaller point, the difficult problem with which the Board of Trade is confronted, the question of the congestion of traffic. In regard to his proposals I do not think the right hon. Gentleman put his case quite as strongly as he might have done.
Take an ordinary season ticket to Brighton costing £8 5s. per quarter. The old first-class return ticket used to be 15s. If a person travels once a week now when you have put up the fares 50 per cent. and you continue the season ticket at the old price you are altering the whole ratio. A person may travel only once a week down to Brighton, but it pays him now that the ordinary fares have been raised to take a season. You have to pay 22s. 6d. for a return ticket, and if you only travel once a week it is cheaper for the large number of people who come to London shopping to take season tickets, because the terms make it worth their while to do so. Not only this, but special tickets were issued whereby members of the same family could get tickets at a reduced rate. Not only did the father of the family get a season ticket at £8 5s. per quarter when the single fare was 22s. 6d. for each journey, but he could also get a certain number of tickets for members of his household at half-price. So that for £4 5s. a member of his family could get a first-class ticket for three months to travel as often as he liked when the single ticket was 22s. 6d. for each occasion. I spoke to the chairman of a leading railway upon this point, and I said, "Surely you are not going to leave this extraordinary difference between these two sets of circumstances?" and he replied, "I know that is so, but the Board of Trade will not allow us to touch the amount of the season tickets." You should have dealt with the season tickets when you raised the fares, and then you could have very well laid down that all new season tickets would have to pay extra. Now you say that everybody who have season tickets are to pay extra, but that should have been done only as regards season-ticket holders from the Is of January, 1917.
428 What is the Board of Trade going to do? Does anybody really understand what the Board of Trade are suggesting now? I have followed the speech of the right hon. Gentleman fairly carefully and I have not been able to get any definite idea. I understand that no new season tickets are to be granted except in exceptional cases, and that there are to be no renewals except in the case of bonâ -fide residents or work of national importance. Bonâ -fide residents is a fine sounding phrase, but what does it mean? The right hon. Gentleman says, "bonâ -fide residence since the 1st January, 1916." I will give a definite case. A gentleman I know has had his wife seriously ill, and they have gone away from London. The gentleman happens to be a season-ticket holder, and he is living outside the 20-mile radius. One reason why he has gone there is because one of his children had a tendency to St. Vitas dance, and, consequently, the air raids were very serious, and he went away, taking a furnished house. Supposing he takes that house for six months. Is that bonâ -fide residence? We know what residence is to qualify for a vote, and we give the vote under those circumstances; but this is a concrete case where a man has taken a furnished house for six months, and I want to know whether he is a bonâ-fide resident or a mala-fide resident, or is he at the mercy of the Board of Trade?
The right hon. Gentleman made a statement a week ago, in which he stated that season tickets would be renewed to people who were bonâ-fide residents or were engaged on work of national importance. What has the Board of Trade done since? They have issued an Order that no season tickets would be issued to people who had taken them out since January, 1917. Definite orders were also issued that no season tickets would be renewed which were taken out before the 1st January, 1917. There was no question of residence then, and what is the position now? We do not know the conditions under which we can get a renewal or a fresh ticket. Is it not monstrous that our business should be done in this way? I have taken the trouble to go round to different ticket offices, and things are so different from what they used to be before the railways came under the Government. I have asked questions at these offices, and they say, "We have our definite orders, and we 429 cannot issue you a ticket." The next condition is in regard to work of national importance. What does that mean?
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
The hon. Member answers in the same glorious tone in which the President of the Board of Trade made his speech; but what does it mean? In the case I have quoted my friend is a mala-fide resident. But suppose he is engaged on work of national importance, will he get his ticket? Take the case of a Member of Parliament engaged on work of national importance who happens to be living, say, at Woking or Basingstoke. Even if he is a mala-fide resident he is engaged on work of national importance and gets his ticket. The words used by the right hon. Gentleman on this point are absolutely meaningless. I am asking the right hon. Gentleman what he really means by bonâ-fide residence and work of national importance. Supposing a person is a mala fide resident, and he is engaged on work of national importance, will he get his season ticket renewed?
Sir A. STANLEY
I will do my best to answer the hon. and learned Member's question. As regards bonâ fide residence, I said this afternoon that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to find words that would define what we mean better than the words we have given. I agree that the use of these words might leave the door open to some abuse, but we are proposing that every new application for a season ticket for use within the restricted area, and every application for a renewal of a season ticket within the restricted area since the 1st January, 1917, shall be reviewed, and no season ticket will be renewed or granted until the application has been carefully reviewed by a committee which will be set up for this particular purpose, and we shall lay down the grounds upon which the committee will be authorised to agree to the renewal of a ticket or the issue of a new one. [An HON. MEMBER: "What committee will it be?"] It is a committee which we propose to set up to review all applications for season tickets within the restricted area.
There will be two grounds on which the committee can recommend the issue or renewal of season tickets, one is that it was necessary that the person should have the tickets because he was doing work of national importance, or because it was 430 necessary that he should use the railway in connection with work of national importance. The other ground is that he must be a bonâ fide resident. I do not think it is difficult, so far as the first question is concerned, to determine what is work of national importance and what is not. It cannot be difficult for the committee to decide that the work which a particular man is doing is essential, and that it is necessary for him to travel on the railway, and in that case he will get his season ticket. With regard to bonâ -fide residence, it means a man who has established a new residence in the restricted area since the 1st January, 1917, as a permanent residence that makes it a bonâ -fide residence, and he will be entitled to a season ticket. It cannot be suggested that by taking furnished rooms or a furnished house within the restricted area, having at the same time another place of residence, that that can be regarded as a bonâ-fide residence, and in those cases applications for season tickets would not be considered.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
By his explanation the right hon. Gentleman has thrown a great deal of light upon what was very obscure before. In the case I have quoted that man would be unable not only to get a season ticket to continue his work, although it is of national importance, but he will not be able to get a ticket at all. He is perfectly willing to pay the extra fare. What is the real reason why this difficulty has arisen? It is chiefly owing to the issue of very cheap season tickets to Brighton and Hayward's Heath, and certain places up the river, and there has been a rush of people who are not British to those places. Why should the Board of Trade not have the courage to say that this is a privilege given under certain conditions to British subjects and to British subjects only? There would be no difficulty in that, at any rate, as far as the travelling to Brighton is concerned. The man who is not a British subject is not under the same obligations—he is not subject to Conscription or anything of that sort—and there is nothing unjust in making him pay if he is to have this privilege and be allowed to fill up the carriages in the way that they are filled at the present time. The Board of Trade have not acted very wisely. They abstained from making the increase when they raised the ordinary fares by 50 per cent. They lost the opportunity of raising the rates for season tickets. I still think that 431 the increase should be upon that basis, and that season-ticket holders before 1917 should not pay the increase, but that those who have taken out season tickets since 1st January, 1917, should pay it. I hope that something will be done speedily to deal with the matter, and that it will be done clearly so that people may know what are their rights.
§ Sir J. BARRAN
I do not rise for the purpose of continuing the attack on the Board of Trade on behalf of the season-ticket holder. What I have to say upon that subject will certainly not be by way of condemnation of the season-ticket holder, because I have no lack of sympathy with him, but it will be to call attention to certain aspects of the question which perhaps have been somewhat obscure in recent speeches. I notice that no speaker has denied that the traffic on the railways at the present time is being carried at a loss, and no speaker has advanced any reason why it should be carried at a loss. In justice to other taxpayers in the country and to other travellers that broad aspect of the matter should not be forgotten. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Rawlinson) actually seemed to make it part of his case that season-ticket holders had been carried at such an abnormally cheap rate in the past. If that is true, it is all the more reason why they can afford to pay a little extra in the future. The Committee should not lose sight of the fact that since the restrictions on the railways first began the ordinary traveller has put up with the loss of week-end tickets, excursion tickets, and a regular service of cheap fast trains, and he has not murmured. Yet it would be the greatest error to suppose that all season-ticket holders travel purely and simply on business and that all those who travel with ordinary tickets do so purely and simply on pleasure. An enormous number of those who travel with ordinary tickets—I imagine they greatly outnumber the season-ticket holders—have to do a great amount of travelling for purely business or national purposes. They are paying their 50 per cent. extra without grumbling, and I hope now that the Board of Trade are bringing the season-ticket holders more on a level with their fellow countrymen that they will be broad-minded enough and patriotic enough to recognise that after all they are not being so unfairly treated.
I rose really for the purpose of inviting the attention of the Committee to one or 432 two matters referred to or not referred to in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. The first matter on which I would say a word or two is the restriction in the allowance of coal for the coming winter which the right hon. Gentleman forecasts. I view that with some alarm. It is true to say that the coal restrictions last winter were met in a spirit of good will and without any serious inconvenience or distress on any portion of the population, but it was a mild winter, and, if the restrictions are to be intensified and we should happen to have a severe winter, I rather shudder at the possible consequences. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman, before he determines that the private consumer and the business community must put up with these severe restrictions, will seriously inquire into the question and satisfy himself whether the pits of the country with their existing man-power are really giving all the production that can possibly be expected. We hear from time to time of pits that are working three, four, or four and a half days per week. I am speaking of what the individual man does. This afternoon we had an answer from the hon. Member who represents the Ministry of National Service (Mr. Beck) with regard to dockyard labour. He said that it was being made a test for exemption whether a man was working a full-time week. If men were not working whole time on dockyard labour they were in danger of losing exemption. I am not aware at the moment whether a similar test has been considered for the coal miner. It is probably true that it might not be necessary to apply such a test, and that if it were put as an honourable obligation to the miners of the country that by giving a full week in all cases they would relieve their fellow-countrymen from feeling the pinch in the coming winter, the appeal would not be made to them in vain. I earnestly hope that the right hon. Gentleman will lose no opportunity and will omit no possible resource within his power of securing the greatest output from the coal mines before he determines that the private house and the mill and the factory must put up with further restrictions in the coming winter.
One last word on an entirely different matter which has not been touched upon to-day, although it has been the subject of recent question and answer in this House. I refer to the question of railway facilities for race-meetings. I do not approach the question either from the 433 point of view of food supplies or of the improvement of the breed of horses, and how far it is necessary to hold race-meetings in order to maintain a certain number of horses in the country. I would like to put to my right hon. Friend three or four simple and plain considerations which weigh with plain people in the country who take no sides in the matter and who do not approach it from the point of view of purists or "kill-joys." In the first place, the whole of the nation has been asked to forego their ordinary pre-war pleasures as regards railway facilities. Secondly, a series of restrictions of all kinds with which we are well acquainted have been imposed on all alike for that purpose. Thirdly, the Board of Trade has specifically told us again and again that these restrictions will include the cancelling of all specials for this particular form of recreation. Fourthly, the Board of Trade themselves have full control over the Railway Executive Committee for the enforcing of that general Regulation. Yet in spite of those facts we do in point of fact find that special trains have been allowed and are being allowed.
The ordinary man asks himself two things: Is that creditable to the country and is it fair? I do not speak as an enemy of reasonable recreation, because I believe very strongly that we must maintain our lighter moments if we are to do our more serious work, but I do think that the spectacle of crowded trains for big race meetings is one on which the nation can look with least satisfaction at the present time. Apart from that, I do urge upon the right hon. Gentleman, if other classes of the community are doing without such simple and homely joys as the pleasure of a week-end visit to the seaside, that those who are thronging the trains for these meetings should similarly be asked to forego their share of amusement. On the mere ground of common fairness all round, the Board of Trade should enforce rigorously, strictly, and thoroughly the rule which they have laid down on this subject. I hope before this Debate closes that either the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary (Mr. Wardle) will be able to say something which will reassure the country on this point, for there are many who, like myself, have never referred to it up till now, but who nevertheless are seriously disturbed in their minds about it, and who would welcome a declaration 434 that the right hon. Gentleman, not in any spirit of prejudice against those who attend race meetings, but purely from the point of view of equality of sacrifice, will make some regulation under which in future they must forego that pleasure in the same way as others have had to forego other pleasures.
§ Major TRYON
I desire to raise two points in connection with season tickets which have not already been dealt with. I do not think the President of the Board of Trade is altogether right in speaking of season-ticket holders as people who can afford to pay more. A large number of people hold season tickets in order to go to their daily work, and in their case this increase will be a serious addition to the cost of living, and a considerable burden. Many of them already have great difficulty in finding the money for a six-months' ticket issued under the present arrangements. My second point relates to the distribution of such tickets as are issued. I represent a constituency where we have two very different kinds of applicants for these tickets. We have, first, the permanent residents who came into the constituency before the War or in the early days of the War, and who were attracted, among other things, by the promise of cheap season tickets. They live there, and go to their daily work. Now, in competition with them is another class of applicant, consisting of persons, many of them of foreign nationality, who came there from a very different motive. These recent arrivals have come from districts in London to escape the bombs, and many of them have taken season tickets for a whole year, thereby making it very difficult for the regular residents to get tickets and travel on the trains. That seems to me a considerable hardship.
I suggest that season tickets should be given in the first place to people doing work of national importance and to people who are regular residents and who belong, so to speak, to a particular place, who are' justified in their residence and are not merely fugitives from other constituencies. I may add that I think that the British ought to come first on British railways, and that aliens ought not to have any claim to season tickets so long as British people are seeking for them and' not getting them. In fact, some of these aliens have grossly abused the privilege of the season ticket Before the benches 435 at Brighton and Hove there have been many convictions of aliens for abusing the privileges given by the Board of Trade and the railway companies. Some of them have regarded the season ticket as a single transferable ticket for a whole family, and there also have been cases of personation and fraud. Such people deserve very little consideration compared with the regular British residents and the people who are doing important national work. The distribution ought not to be so much a question of price, but rather the justice of the claim of the individual applicant for the ticket. The extensive granting of season tickets to aliens and people who come down to Brighton and other places on the South Coast to avoid air raids has seriously affected the housing problem. It has made it very difficult for workers to get houses. In many cases people who have a far better right to the houses have been crowded out or bought out by people who only come as visitors for the period of the War. I do not think people who come into a district on these grounds should have as much right to the distribution of season tickets as those who are properly resident in a place and have a better justification for their residence.
§ Captain R. GUINNESS
I want to appeal to the President on behalf of my Constituency, Southend. That constituency, a county borough with 80,000 inhabitants, is faced with very great hardship owing to the alteration in the price of season tickets. Nobody who lives in South-end can be called a "bomb dodger." It is very difficult indeed to justify raising the price on the season tickets to Southend, because most of the holders are clerks and men with small incomes. The last speaker told the Committee that his constituency was overcrowded. Southend is faced with ruin because already the houses are to a great extent uninhabited on account of the fact that everybody who could afford it has gone away. Now comes a further burden on the community, which is a very real tax on these lesser clerks who come up from Southend daily. I am told that there are about 10,000 to 12,000 season-ticket holders in this community. This change will mean something like £4 a year extra charge on their income. In their case it really amounts to an Income Tax. You cannot expect a whole district with 80,000 inhabitants to depopulate itself. "The people cannot find accommodation in London, especially if they are not of the 436 wealthier class and cannot afford to leave their present home and, paying the expenses of their present homes, seek new homes at great expense. I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to look upon their case, if he possibly can, with some mercy, because here is a great, prosperous town, which was doubling in population every eighth year for many a decade before the War, and which is now faced with ruin. It comes at a moment's notice. Until a few months ago people, were encouraged to live in Southend to show their boldness and patriotism. In fact, it is a part of London. It has no industries of its own. It has a very healthy air, which is of great benefit to those who cannot afford to go further a field. Suddenly these people are face to face with a great increase and burden on their incomes. This charge will form part of their rent. One way or another they will have to come up to London, as they cannot get rid of their houses. We know that we may all have to cease travelling on the railways should there be no coal, but we should look upon a. community like Southend as the last that should be cut off from its daily bread. Perhaps the Government will put up some office in the neighbourhood, and offer to supply work to these clerks.
§ Captain GUINNESS
The President shakes his head. I am surprised at that, because there is more room in Southend for offices than there is in London. although I do not know that my Constituents would appreciate such action. If we are all going to become Government clerks—we are told that already half the population has been absorbed as State employés—I thought I might appeal for a few more. The resident in Southend is in a very difficult position. He has a long daily journey, and now he is treated at a moment's notice to this burden of increased expenditure. It is unfair! If you gave him three years to get out of his holding, probably as an individual he might do so. The whole of the President's argument was that the season-ticket holders are travelling at a rate much below the rate at which other people are travelling. That may be true. It may be the fact that when the railways are handed back to the companies again they could not possibly run them without increasing the rates. But why should the passenger traffic carry the whole of the burden? Why should not the loss of revenue be borne by 437 the traders as well, if it is necessary? I understand that at this moment it is not a question of helping the railway companies, but really one of helping the Chancellor of the Exchequer to meet part of the expenditure of the year. He has undertaken to carry out certain obligations with regard to the railways for the very great advantage which the State obtains by using the railways. It seems very unfair that the burden should be put on the travelling public whose travelling is not a luxury. I can quite understand our having a Luxury Tax, which could be justified. Going to the seaside, although it may sometimes be a necessity, may be a luxury, and I could understand it being taxed; but I do not see the justification for taxing a man coming to his work, because he is tied to his residence at the seaside.
I recognise that the whole problem of railway rates will have to be faced sooner or later, but you are doing it in piecemeal fashion. You first prevent travelling on the railways unnecessarily by dealing with the ordinary tickets. It now appears that by an oversight you left out the season-ticket holders. As a matter of fact, when the matter was first discussed, this House was impressed with the fact that the season-ticket holder was the one person who ought to be encouraged, and that a man who worked for his daily bread honestly at a distance should have the ordinary privileges on the railway. How can you reduce travelling on the railway from Southend? You cannot do it unless you allow the people in Southend to starve. You must have a certain number of trains running there, and by maintaining the service you get more revenue for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not directly through the ordinary channels of taxation, but because he will have less to pay in making up the railway dividends to the amount at which they stood in 1914. It is unfair that Southend should pay an undue tax. If you want revenue, by all means impose taxation. Why should the men within the twelve-mile radius go free? That is illogical. A man may live twelve miles from Charing Cross, and he is carried by the railways at a loss. Why should that be? The answer does not seem obvious. I, therefore, appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, if he possibly can, to do something for Southend, which has already been hit in many other ways by the War. It must be a matter of concern to the community as a whole that one 438 of its large county boroughs, once a prosperous one, should be crushed at a moment's notice without, so far as I can see, due consideration. If we are going to restrain travelling and make everybody live over his own work that would be a conceivable plan, but let us do it at our leisure and with some forethought. For a generation and more it has been the policy of the Government of the country and of this House to encourage people to live somewhere else than near their own work, and to be carried out of London by railway, 'bus, or tram. Now we are suddenly reversing that policy under the stress of war. If it be under the stress of war we must submit to it, but you ought to try to reduce the other sorts of travelling before you reduce the poor man's travelling over a distance. He has necessarily to travel when he is fixed, as he is in the case of Southend. I would appeal to the President to give some fair consideration to the problem from the point of view of Southend.
§ Mr. MALCOLM
I want to add one more to the very persuasive appeals made to the President of the Board of Trade. If I support with a certain amount of enthusiasm the reduction moved by the hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. Rowlands) it is not at all because I disagree with the general policy of the President, whose administration, on the whole, I greatly admire, but because I feel that something ought to be done and some concession obtained from him in the matter of season tickets, and according to our time-honoured tradition in this House, the only way to obtain a concession is to move a reduction and support it by speech. We all listened very sympathetically to the statement of the present and prospective difficulties of the travelling and railway industry of this country which the President indicated in his speech. With regard to that speech I only wish to call attention to one matter connected with season tickets. My right hon. Friend stated that there has been an increase of 30 per cent. in the taking out of season tickets during the last twelve months, and he added that he thought that increase was largely due to two causes: first, the cheapness of the season ticket as compared with the ordinary ticket; and, secondly, the dislike of air raids which caused people to go to the country. I do not know whether there was present to his mind—he certainly did not mention it—another great cause of the increase in the 439 number of season tickets taken out. It is that within the last year we in London have come to the end of the number of people whom we can get to work in Government employ, and you have scoured the suburbs to get people to work in munition factories and other places, who have taken out season tickets in order to be able to do so. He did not mention the women workers who have taken season tickets out in thousands, many of whom—and this applies to men, too—come up to do voluntary work, day by day, with a regularity worthy of a paid worker. Nor did he mention those people who have come up from the suburbs to fill the gaps in trade and commerce left by men, and now by women, who have gone to the front. These are people who are living on fixed salaries and upon whom the increased rents, rates, and taxes really have a crushing effect, and if their journeys, undertaken really and truly, directly or indirectly, in the service of the State, are increased as well, I really think their finances will reach the breaking point very soon.
This 10 per cent. is probably a greater increase to these people than the right hon. Gentleman realises, or shows the House that he realises. Judging by the very large correspondence I have had on the subject, that increase is a very serious item in the annual expenditure which they are put to. In my Constituency of Croydon, which has nearly 200,000 people, I am told some 10,000 travel up to London every day of their lives to engage in work of some kind or other, to carry on the work of the country and to earn their daily bread. They do not choose to travel. They have no option. They must either travel or starve, and they travel largely in order to do work of national importance, apart from munitions, and that kind of thing, and to do the work of the trade and commerce of London which it is essential should be carried on. The alternative is, of course, to move back to London with their children and so to congest an already overcrowded area and undo the healthy tendency which has been carried on now by Governments and municipalities alike for a long time of inducing the poorer classes to move out of London and secure better health for themselves and their families. I am very sorry that under these circumstances I cannot be a party to what I must consider an uneconomic and unwise policy, which, for 440 the sake of £1,000,000, is going to do three things of which I disapprove. It is going to increase the financial burden upon those least able to bear it; it is going, if the present scheme is successful, to restrict trade operations in London if people cannot afford to come and do the work; and, in the third place, it is going to risk the health of the rising generation if poor families are made to move back to London. For these reasons I urge the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider the matter. Whatever he may do to the richer classes, if there are any left now—they can, of course, easily afford to pay very much more than is put upon them by the season ticket tax — let him leave what are vulgarly called the daily-breaders alone, who have to come up and down every single day at a relatively great cost to-themselves, and try to make some different plan by which the burden they have to endure in consequence of the War may be made as easy for them to bear as possible.
§ Mr. T. J. WILLIAMS
I consider this taxation on travelling as it affects Members of Parliament to be a great injustice. A large number of Members of this House-are solely dependent upon their salaries for their livelihood. They are elected to represent their constituents. Many of them live long distances from the House, and the extra tax will seriously interfere with the duties for which they have been sent here, and which are of national importance. We have been asked by Parliamentary Departments to go to our constituencies during week-ends, and we are told to keep more fully in touch with them for the purpose of bringing the War to a successful issue. Our work as Members of Parliament is of as great national importance as that of men employed in any industry. We are also under the obligation, so to speak, to run two homes, besides paying the increased cost of living, and I believe the salary was granted to them in order to support them in their livelihood, and the taxation of those who have to travel will really defeat the object with which that salary was granted. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take into consideration the injustice which will be done to Members of the House and the effect it will have upon their duties to their constituents by this taxation.
§ Mr. PETO
I want to deal with the question which the right hon. Gentleman left last in his speech, but which I certainly do not think he would put least in importance 441 namely, the interests of the Mercantile Marine. He gave us one more of the eulogies of the services of the men and officers who command the ships which we have had from almost every Government Department which touches upon it. I do not complain, and I do not wish to suggest that there is anything but the utmost sincerity in what he said. Last year, when I raised this question, I had quite a long list of things put forward by the Mercantile Marine, and a considerable number of the questions I raised then have been settled, I cannot say generously, but some of them fairly, and, to some extent, adequately. The right hon. Gentleman pointed out the risks they ran in carrying out their duties so as to enable us to live and to carry on the War, and he said that 12,500 of the men and officers of the Mercantile Marine up to last February had lost their lives, and £170,000 was paid as pensions. I have divided 12,500 into £170,000, and it comes out to only £13 12s. per annum, and that does not seem to me much of an average pension. Recently in the case of the men, and still more recently the officers, who are on the Admiralty pay list, in the event of losing their lives the pensions of their widows and dependants were levelled up to the Service rate. In my view there can be no distinction between men who are serving directly under the Admiralty and men who are not, either in respect of the risks they run or of the result to their widows and dependants if they lose their lives. I do not wish the Committee to accept what I say. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to note what was said by the late Parliamentary Secretary (Mr. G. Roberts) on 14th June:I admit it is almost impossible under the present war conditions to differentiate as between combatant and non-combatant service. I agree with those who have urged the point that under prevailing conditions the men of the Mercantile Marine might reasonably be regarded as part of the combatant Services of the nation. My right hon. Friend has been in hearty accord with me in that regulation, and he has charged me to say that the whole question of the Mercantile Marine service and the questions of compensation shall be brought under review in a sympathetic spirit." — [OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th June, 1917, col. 1278, Vol. 94.]We want the right hon. Gentleman now, eleven months afterwards, to carry that out. There is no question about the sympathetic spirit, but we want a little practical result. We have during the interval been able to induce the Admiralty to take 442 the view that they must make no difference between men and officers of the Mercantile Marine and the men and officers of the Royal Navy so far as pensions are concerned, and I ask him now to increase these utterly inadequate pensions which are granted now through the War Risks Association to the dependants of the officers of the mercantile marine. I say officers particularly, because with the operations of the Workmen's Compensation Act the dependants of the men are very much better off relatively than the dependants of the officers. There has been constant correspondence ever since last year—indeed, it began before that— and in particular the correspondence has dealt with the question of the allowance in respect of the value of a man's board and lodging on board ship, which is taken at only 3s. a day. This gives only £18 added to the one-third of the pre-war rate of pay, which is the basis under the War Risks scheme of the widow's pension. The pay of the men has increased enormously since then, and the pay of the officers has gone up very largely indeed in nearly all the mercantile marine. The one-third works out in some cases as low as £20 a year, and the annual value of what is paid under the Workmen's Compensation Act is £15—a total of only £35 a year for the widow of a second officer. That is utterly inadequate. May I give the Committee two or three concrete examples of the rates of pensions. There is the case of the second officer of the "Gower Coast," ship missing, pension granted to the widow £20 3s. 7d. a year, pension for son £13. Second officer of the "Exford," ship torpedoed, pension for widow £26 13s. 4d. Captain of steamship "Postkerry," torpedoed; pension granted for widow £86, pension for one child £13. The chief officer of another missing ship, pension granted to widow £18 3s. per annum and the annuity on £300 under the Workmen's Compensation Act, £17 11s., making a total of only £35 a year; pension granted for two children, £23. In other cases I find the pension allowance for three children only £35. Will the Committee for a moment compare that with the scale of pensions granted to a lieutenant or sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy. His widow gets £100 per year allowance and £24 per year for each child, also a gratuity of one year's pay, which in the case of a lieutenant is £250. That is almost as much as would be the total awarded under the Workmen's Compensation Act 443 The Workmen's Compensation Act only operates in the case of officers whose income is less than £250 a year.
The President told us that he had not had anything really definite put before him in the way of what we want. I will tell him at once what we want. We quite appreciate the fact that it would be very difficult to work upon the basis of the Service pension. He has his war risks scheme for paying his pensions, but there are two blots in it which could be altered by the most minute alteration. One is that no account is taken of the pay of the officer at the time of his death. They go back to February, 1914, and ask what the pay was then, and grant the pension on that. The pay has increased immensely since then, in consequence of the increase in the cost of living, and the widow has to live now, and not in February, 1914. What we want is that the pension should be based on the pay which the officer or man was receiving at the time he lost his life, and that the pension should be one-third of that. Under the right hon. Gentleman's scheme it is provided that the pension for a child is to be one twenty-fourth of the pay, with a minimum of £13. We want one twenty-fourth of the present pay with a minimum of £24, the same as in the Navy, and in the Army under the new Royal Warrant. The children of a captain or a lieutenant in the Army get £24 each as pension, and I cannot see the slightest justification for giving only £12, and in some cases it works out at only £6 10s. where there are several children, but never more than £13 in the case, to educate and maintain the child of the captain of a liner who has lost his life. I think this is quite definite enough, whether the right hon. Gentleman thinks so or not. In substantiation of that I would ask the President to look through the memorandum of Sir Norman Hill, the administrator of the London and Liverpool War Risks Association, a gentleman who has some authority to speak on this subject. He says:It is clear that the dependants of the officers and engineers are placed by the death in a much worse position than the dependants of seamen and firemen. The widow receives a pension equal to £18 per annum in excess of one-third of her husband's actual peace rate of pay, and that is all. The additional £18 represents one-third of the husband's victualling allowance. The widow gets no benefit from the minimum. In the great majority of cases the wife had the benefit of the expenditure of very considerably more than one - third of the 444 husband's pay. The children's allowances are quite insufficient to provide for the cost of such education as the father would have provided.The gentleman who writes that has actually to administer these pensions under the war risks scheme, and therefore I ask the President to give Sir Norman Hill's opinion more weight than he would very likely attach to mine. He makes one further suggestion as to the giving of free insurance for £1,000 and paying the premium out of the War Risks Fund. Personally, I think my solution is very much better. I want to put a case which I mentioned last year as to the allowance to the wives and dependants of interned merchant officers at Rhuleben and other places. That has been levelled up from the old rate of £1 per week, which was a totally insufficient sum to maintain the wife and family of a man who was in receipt of a good salary but who had the misfortune to be interned. If the right hon. Gentleman will alter the inadequate scale of pensions in the case of the widows and dependants of those who lose their lives, I presume he will automatically level up the allowance to the wives and dependants of officers who are still interned at Ruhleben.
There are still two or three other matters which are not of such importance as those I have mentioned, but which in themselves are of considerable importance. One is the question of the standard uniform. What has become of the Report of the Committee which was set up last year after our Debate on the Board of Trade Vote? The Report was actually signed on the 14th December, 1917, and a summary appeared in the "Times" on the 1st February, 1918. This Report has not yet been presented to Parliament.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Wardle)
The hon. Member had a question down about that to-day, and I was prepared to answer it, but it was not put. The Report will be published immediately.
§ Mr. PETO
I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman, and will he, when he replies, tell us whether he is going to take action on the Report because this is the time of year when a very large number of officers in the merchant service are renewing their uniforms, and their guilds and associations are being almost pestered with requests to know whether a form of national uniform has been settled and what kind of uniform it is to be, so that they may know what they are to buy. The 445 next matter is one which is directly under the President's control. I refer to the question of the vessels which are owned by the railway companies and are now under the Railway Executive, employed in the transport of troops backwards and forwards across the different channels, not only the channel between Dover and Calais, but across the Irish Channel as well. As the result of a good deal of trouble and unrest the National Maritime Board was set up for fixing the rates of pay. That Board has fixed the rate of pay for officers of foreign-going and home-trade cargo vessels, and it has considered the rate for foreign-going and home-trade passenger vessels. The Railway Executive Committee, which acts under the President, have accepted the Maritime Board rates in the case of the men, but they have informed the Shipping Controller that they decline to recognise the Maritime Board rates in the case of officers, because they state that those officers get some special privileges. What are those privileges? A superannuation allowance to which the officers contribute, railway passes at a reduced rate, which cost the companies nothing, and a fortnight's holiday per annum without any pay. I do not consider that these privileges are equivalent to the rate of pay which they ought to get and which has been settled by the National Maritime Board. I will give an instance of the rate of pay they receive now. On two very large vessels the "Antrim" and the "Londonderry," 20-knot vessels, carrying about 1,000 troops, the chief officer gets £3 15s. a week, and the firemen and stokers and deck hands under the new rate are getting £12 a month, so that there is very little difference between the pay of a chief officer and a stoker or fireman. That cannot be left like that. I want the President to talk very straight to the Railway Executive and to tell them that the Shipping Controller can enforce the decision of the Maritime Board, where an ordinary shipowner is concerned, and he must enforce the decisions of the Maritime Board where the Railway Executive is the employer—that is really the State itself. I hope that there will be no further question about this matter for the officers working from Southampton and other Southern ports, and some of our Western ports, are extremely upset about this. Their legitimate rights ought to be granted to them at once. I think the present position is pressing the patriotism 446 of these men too far. The rates of pay for seamen and firemen have been screwed up very rapidly last year through pressure from the men's organisations, and because the officers do not exercise the same pressure, their interests are specially in charge of the President of the Board of Trade, particularly where it is a question of the Railway Executive being the employer.
I should have liked to deal with one or two other questions if I have not been taking up too much time of the Committee, but I know many Members want to speak, and, therefore, I will only refer to another matter which relates to a question I put to the President of the Board of Trade. I asked him whether, when he was considering this question of pensions for the Mercantile Marine, he meant a permanent pension system or the present pension system for those killed in war. He said it was pensions in respect of those killed in war. In regard to the general pension scheme we have put forward a request which is perfectly definite. In March we had a meeting at the Navy League Office of the Imperial Merchant Service Guild, the National Seamen and Firemen's Union, the Seamen's National Insurance Society, the Mercantile Marine Service Association, the British Shipmasters and Officers' Protection Society of Sunderland, the Hull Seamen's Union, and the Marine Engineers' Association, and the representatives of all these bodies were quite unanimous in asking the President of the Board of Trade to appoint a Committee, presumably to be presided over by someone appointed by the Board of Trade, to go into a permanent national system of pensions for the officers and seamen of the Mercantile Marine. I cannot imagine anything which would be a better and more practicable demonstration that the country are prepared to do something in return for all they have received from the Mercantile Marine than to put this question of pensions once and for all on a sound and secure footing. At the present moment it is most unsatisfactory. In the recent. National Insurance Act it was just nibbled at. There was one Clause which set up a Committee to deal with one part of the pensions question.
We have some contributions to pensions; there are a number of different sources, some of them charitable. The liner owners of Liverpool, Glasgow, and London have got a fund of £35,000 sub- 447 scribed during the War, from which grants are being made to eke out niggardly pensions. The Merchant Service Guild has a war fund of £20,000, which is also assisting in that direction; and at the same time the Fryatt Memorial Fund is constantly devoting small sums to aid in the education of the children of men who have lost their lives. But I do not think that any of these methods are satisfactory; they are quite inadequate. It ought not to be a question of charity at all, and a scheme could easily be worked out which could be a contributory scheme. All I am asking now is that the President should use his power to take simple executive action and summon representatives of the seamen's unions, the officers' guilds and associations, and of everybody concerned. Let them work out a scheme of pensions and present it to the President. If he will do that he will know, at any rate, what proposals can be put forward, and all I request now, and I make that request definitely, is that this Committee should be set up at once. Let it be an official Committee, so that it may carry weight with it. Such a Committee would satisfy all the different bodies concerned, and would give them an assurance that the interests of the men are to be looked into. Nothing would contribute more to what is, I think, one of the foundations of our national safety than an assurance that our ships shall be manned by British seamen and not so much by foreigners. This would be secured by a proper pension scheme. I therefore ask the President to seriously consider this matter.
§ Mr. STEWART
I wish to say a few words in support of my hon. Friend's appeal. I should like to express to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade the very great interest with which I listened to his statement this afternoon. I promise him that I will give it close attention during the Whitsuntide Recess and consider the questions he has put forward. There was one omission from it which caused me to feel a little sorry. The right hon. Gentleman did not lay down any principles indicating how he is going to use our mercantile supremacy with regard to the enemy with whom we are now at war. I hope he will be firm in insisting that we shall not allow our enemy to have a single ton of shipping or of goods until our wants in this country and the wants of our Allies are satisfied, and I trust that he will use 448 his influence in supporting the "ton-for-ton" demand, so that the Germans may learn that they cannot commit these illegal sinkings of our ships with impunity, but will have to make good the losses we have suffered. I was most satisfied with the sympathetic references of the President to the mercantile service which has done such great deeds during the last four years, and which, as a result, occupies a very different position in the country to that which it previously held when it worked so quietly. We really did not then realise what a splendid gold mine of courage we had among our merchant sailors. It must be remembered that after the War there will be very many avenues of employment and so many attractions in other directions that it will be necessary to treat our seamen and those engaged in a seafaring life with more consideration than heretofore, in order to induce men to follow the sea as a calling.
I would ask the President, on a little point I raised in a supplementary question to-day as to the giving of war decorations to the men who have been at sea during the last four years, whether they have been torpedoed or not. I quite admit that many who may not deserve the decoration will apply for it, but surely it will be possible to carefully scrutinise the list and see that only people who have done their work properly get the award. If you give it only to the man who has been torpedoed—and no doubt he will value it very much—you may be depriving of the award the man who, by skilful seamanship, has avoided being torpedoed and yet has run all the risks. Surely he is as worthy of consideration as the other man! Something has been said about the steamers run in connection with railways. I understand that the railway steamers now belong to the Government, and the railway companies are excused from the management of them. It is a rather odd thing that the poorest paid officers in the whole Mercantile Marine are those immediately under the control of the Board of Trade. These men have carried on this cross-Channel traffic with great courage, and are doing most responsible and dangerous work, yet they are the poorest paid officers in the whole merchant service! I hope the right hon. Gentleman will favourably consider their case. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes that a very substantial sum might be worked up from the war risks insurance, in order to create a pensions fund for the widows and 449 dependants of officers and seamen who have lost their lives. I quite understand that if application is made to the Treasury for pensions for these men the reply would be that, although the men are deserving it is impossible to get the Exchequer to consent. I understand there has been a large reduction recently in the War insurance premiums. Of course, we do not know the condition of that fund. At one time it had a very satisfactory credit balance, but as a result of the intense submarine campaign no doubt the fund has been much depleted; but I think it might be quite fair to put a little extra on the premiums in order to make provision for the widows of those who have sacrificed their lives, and I feel quite confident that the whole community would willingly bear that small additional burden. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question with regard to the rationing of coal. Last year people were advised to fill up their cellars in the summer time. I want to know if they are advised to follow the same course this summer, because no one will care to do so and run the risk of being accused of being a coal hoarder, and in that respect held up to public reprobation. I hope we shall have a reply on that point. Again I would urge the right hon. Gentleman to give favourable consideration to this question of providing a reasonable fund out of the War Insurance Risks, which I think could be done quite easily.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I rise for the purpose of supporting, as strongly as I can, the unanswerable case which was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto.) I know we have got the sympathy of the Board of Trade, but that is not enough. We want the President to use his great power and influence in pursuing this matter to a conclusion which would bring some satisfaction and some legitimate justice to the men who are concerned. I need not enlarge on the services which these officers and men of the Mercantile Marine have rendered. Those services are in the mouth of everyone, and if you go to a public meeting I will undertake to say you will not elicit louder cheers on any subject than by a reference to the heroic conduct of the officers and men of the Mercantile Marine. These men, at the risk of their lives—and God knows enough of them have laid down their lives—have saved this country from starvation, and it would be an absolute scandal to the nation if we did not do all in our power to see that the wives and children of those who 450 have laid down their lives, and the dependants of those who are disabled meet with generous treatment at our hands. May I venture to suggest to the Board of Trade what I venture to think is the true line upon which this question can be solved. Treat these men as being what they are, in fact, during the War, combatants. They bear the dangers of the War just as much as many of our combatant soldiers and sailors. They have earned our gratitude just as thoroughly. Why, then, should they be put in an entirely different category as regards the safeguards for their wives and children should they lose their lives? May I beg the President of the Board of Trade to give his immediate attention to this matter? We people in the House of Commons are sometimes accused, at times with justice, perhaps, of being men rather of talk than of action. We go about the country eulogising the services of the men of the Mercantile Marine, thereby eliciting cheers from our audiences, and if when we come back to this House of Commons we fail to produce any result which is comparable to the services rendered, then we may justly be taunted with being men of words, mere idle words, and incapable of adequate action. Is it not in the power of the President of the Board of Trade to remedy this state of things? I ask him to do all he possibly can to put an end to this gross injustice.
§ Mr. WARDLE
With reference to the question which has just been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Peto) and by the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Butcher), I should like to pay, first of all, in regard to the suggestion of the latter hon. Gentleman, that these officers and men should be treated as combatants, that it is not within the power of the Board of Trade to say whether they should be so treated, and that consequences might follow such a declaration which the hon. and learned Gentleman himself would not desire.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I am not desiring for a moment that they should have given them the status of combatants. What I want is that their remuneration should be somewhat on the same scale as that of combatants, especially in the matter of the provision for their wives and children.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I certainly understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say he desired they should receive the status of combatants; but if he means only after 451 they have made the great sacrifice, then, of course, that puts the matter on an entirely different level. I may say at once it is the intention of the Board of Trade not only to sympathetically consider the suggestions which have been put forward, but to give an immediate answer to the points that have been raised. Some of those points are new; some are not. There is no desire on the part of the Board of Trade that when men have lost their lives in the service of the country their widows or children should suffer from an inadequate pension; indeed, an inadequate pension is often worse than no pension at all. We will consider whether upon the present war risks scheme there can be built up a system which will give an adequate and sufficient pension to the widows and to the children who are left. It is somewhat complicate by the fact that it is mixed up with the Compensation Act, and that hag been one of the reasons why it has not been easy to come to a solution earlier. With regard to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Devizes, as to sanction on the Standard Uniform Report, I am sorry to say that Report is not quite an agreed one. There is a difference of opinion, and until the Board of Trade see how that Report is received, and what its effect is, it is impossible for them to come to a conclusion as regards what action should be taken. There will be no undue delay on our part, but it must rest to some extent. so far as we can see, upon an agreement being reached between the owners and the men's associations before we can actually come down to Parliament and say that this, that, or the other should be done in the matter. Coming back to the other question, the hon. Gentleman raised the wider issue of a permanent pension for seamen and officers. I think this is the first time that I have heard the suggestion that a Committee should be appointed to deal with this matter. The question presents enormous difficulties, particularly in a time of war, but I will undertake that the question of whether a Committee shall be set up to deal with this matter, and to consider it in all its aspects, will receive our consideration at the earliest possible moment, and that a reply will be sent within a very definite time to the hon. Gentleman. He raised one other matter, and that was the question of payment, 452 mainly I think to officers, on the railway-owned steamships, a question which was raised also by another hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I am aware of the fact, and that there was some trouble in the matter. That question, also, is being considered. As regards officers, the National Maritime Board has not yet fixed rates of pay for all classes, and the conditions of employment of the men employed on railway-owned steamships differs in some respects from those of officers who are employed on independently-owned boats. In these circumstances, it would not be practicable to adopt in every detail the exact demand which has been made in the other case. I may say that there will be no want of sympathy or action in trying to come to an arrangement to put them, as far as it is practicable, on the same level as those on the independently-owned steamers. There has been a difficulty, because the National Maritime Board came to a decision without the knowledge or without any consultation with the Railway Executive or those responsible for the management of these railway-owned steamships, and therefore there was a little friction at the outset. We hope we shall be able to get the whole of that out of the way in a short time and put this matter on as satisfactory a basis as the circumstances will allow.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I think the hon. Gentleman presses that point rather too far. Technically, of course, it would be correct to say that they were Government steamers, but they are being managed and directed, just as the railways are, by an independent executive, which is responsible to the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. STEWART
I only ask the question because the railway authority whom I 453 approached said he had nothing to do with it, and told me to go to the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. WARDLE
The hon. Member knows that it is often a convenient way to place the responsibility elsewhere. As a matter of fact, that is the position with regard to these railway-owned steamships, and we hope that in a very short time there will be a satisfactory settlement of the whole question and that the matter will be put upon a proper basis. I think these are all the points that have been raised except one, that regarding coal rations. With regard to that, I would only like to say that we hope no action will be taken by anyone in regard to any of the points raised until the scheme is prepared and made public. If it is felt by the Coal Controller immediately he is able to put the scheme before the public that they should at once fill their cellars the announcement of that fact will be made, but we hope that, until it is quite clearly seen how the scheme will act and what it is, people will hold their hands so that satisfactory arrangements may be made, and they may not say that they have been caught napping in any direction. With regard to one other question, that of lapsed policies, as the hon. Gentleman who raised it did not press the point, I do not propose to go into it in any detail except to say that the question is one that was with us before the War. It is a question which was very acute before the War, and while it is a fact that there are many lapsed policies, no policy can lapse in the ordinary way now without the consent of the Courts under the Courts Emergency Powers Act. There will, of course, be a problem when the War comes to an end as to what will "be the position with regard to these policies that have been held up during the War under this Courts Emergency Powers Act. The probabilities are that some sort of method will have to be proposed to deal with the question of insurance policies in addition to the Courts Emergency Powers Act.
With regard to the cases of lapsed policies which are above £25, there have been a few cases of individual hardship which have been submitted to the Board of Trade, and I am quite sure that the Committee would not like to see any person who has taken out a policy with an insurance company suffer in consequence of the War, through not being in a position to pay the premium. I would, however, 454 warn the Committee that the effect of the Courts Emergency Powers Act undoubtedly was to cause some people who could have gone on paying their premiums not to do so, to take advantage of the Act when they were in a position to pay. There are two sides to this question of lapsed policies, and of the relations of the insurance companies to their clients. I cannot pretend for myself to say that I consider the position satisfactory. We are making further inquiries into the matter, and if we have to make some other proposals I hope the House will see that we make them only when we are convinced that there is a case for those proposals, and when that case has been fully and clearly proved. Most of the points of the Debate ranged round the question of the season ticket. I do not propose to go into that. I have my own view about it, but I am proposing to leave it to my right hon. Friend who will follow later on. He has already dealt with the subject at some length, and I propose to leave it to him. I could say very much on the subject, as, no doubt, many other hon. Members could. I could make my own reply to some of the points which have been made. Generally speaking, I think the case is clear that you cannot justify carrying season-ticket holders at a loss. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about workmen's-ticket holders carried at a loss?"] I am not entering into the question of workmen's tickets at the moment, but I do not think we are justified, especially in these days, in carrying season-ticket holders at a loss Except for saying that, I will leave the matter to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. MACMASTER
I only wish to refer to two points, and very briefly at that. The first is with regard to the enormous waste of paper material which is going on in the country. From what I see under my own eyes from day to day there is an enormous wastage of paper, and it seems to me that if it were collected and repulped or retreated in a way that would make it useful a great national saving would be secured in that way.
The other question is that of season tickets, and I believe the practical solution of the question should be made on national lines. The British people pay the cost of carrying on the War and the maintenance of the public services, and I believe they should have unquestionably the first choice 455 of any right and privilege of travel on the railways. It is a very great injustice to them if through the intrusion of aliens, they are deprived of that right. I believe that if we proceeded upon the line of British subjects first we should solve the question of this overflow of aliens into the country. The Board of Trade are confronted by a serious problem in that the season-ticket holder is carried at a loss. If that is so, and as a season-ticket holder myself, I am under the impression that it must be so—it is something which should be corrected in the interests of the public revenue. How is it to be corrected? Certainly the Minister has made some concession, because while he recognises that tickets that were issued before January, 1917, are a fair subject for renewal, yet those who have come forward or held tickets since then are subject to a very much closer scrutiny. There is a disposition in that respect to improve, but perhaps it is not quite all that is required. In the scaling of rates it does seem to me that a proper average has not been arrived at. Very great inducements were in the past placed before workmen to go further a field in the country for the purposes of health and the relief of congestion in the large cities. When you tell those who live in the busy hives of industry that there is a restriction on going beyond 12 miles, you detract so much from the original proposition that it was to their advantage to go further a field.
Then it must be remembered that a discrimination of 10 per cent. as against those who go beyond the 12-mile limit— because the rate against them is to be raised to 20 per cent.—operates as a grave disadvantage, because they are the people who pay the largest sums for their conveyance. I do not think that the line can be drawn there. If there is to be an increase in regard to season tickets it should be a uniform increase, and not 10 per cent. here and 20 per cent. there, and that would apply to their ability to pay, because it must be assumed that work- men who only go 12 miles out go that far because it is cheaper to get that far, while richer men go farther out because they can afford to pay for it. Therefore the real solution of the difficulty is a uniform rate, no matter how far you go out. Only on these lines can we arrive at something that is perfectly fair. Besides, that is a perfectly defensible 456 thing to put before the public whether a man be rich or poor. Now it is said that these proposals are made in order to curtail the enormous extent of travelling and leave larger facilities for the transport of soldiers, sailors, and munitions of war. If that is so, might we not find means of diminishing travel otherwise than by these discriminations?
I grant that if the rate is not a paying rate it should be increased, but increased proportionately. If we are legitimately to diminish travel, I will put this to the right hon. Gentleman: He has lived a long time in the United States. He knows railway travel there and the conditions that prevail in Canada. In the United States and Canada they issue what is called a commutation ticket. You go to a railway office and you buy thirty, say, journeys. If they are for 12 miles they cost so much, or for 20 miles they cost so much, and so on. Then every time the purchaser travels up or down the line he carries a little slip of tickets in his pocket, each ticket being about the size of a postage stamp, and he hands one of these to the conductor, as they call the guard. That pays his passage for that journey. The inducement under that system is not to travel every day of the week, as is the case under our season-ticket system. I have no objection to our season tickets as a user of them. They are most useful, and afford great facilities for travelling in every respect, but from the point of view of the interests of the country the commutation ticket would be far more advantageous, and it would be perfectly fair to the ticket holder, because every time he travelled he would give up a ticket, and the incentive to him would be not to travel but to conserve the balance of his tickets, and the less he travels the less he burdens the railway company, and the greater the facilities for the legitimate transport of passengers and goods. I am not speaking in a hostile attitude to the right hon. Gentleman. I have nothing but praise for his admirable speech, and the very lucid manner of its delivery, not merely with regard to this subject but with regard to other subjects, which he discussed in a way in which I have never heard them discussed in this House before. I am merely trying to find a reasonable solution of the difficulty in which he is placed, and in making my suggestions I do not wish that they should operate to the disadvantage of public 457 revenue or to the advantage of the ticket holder, but that they should be fairly conformable with public service and personal utility.
§ Sir J. BETHELL
I listened with pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman. I think that hon. Members were surprised to hear that railways were at present running at a loss. I was under the impression, having regard to the heavy traffic and the increased charges, that our railways were making a profit. The House is in the dark as to the financial position of the railway system. I should have liked to see a statement showing the income and expenditure for last year, and the losses incurred. Probably the President in his reply will give us some figures with regard to loss. I would also like to know if he can give an estimate as to the amount which will be derived from the new proposals in their present form. I observe from the statement made in the House last Wednesday that he proposed to increase the price of season tickets by 10 per cent. in the case of tickets covering a distance of 12 miles. He takes the centre as Charing Cross. I would appeal to the President to take the terminal stations instead of Charing Cross, and measure from those points. I would also suggest that London extends at least in two directions for more than 12 miles. For instance, to Romford it is practically all London. If you go on a motor 'bus from any part of the City you will find houses all the way down the main road. Then to the north, west, and south, London extends considerably beyond 12 miles from Charing Cross. I would appeal to the President to amend the proposal, and to make the increase apply to within 20 miles of Charing Cross. I feel quite certain that if he adopted that suggestion it would receive the support of the House. I appreciate the fact that railways cannot be run at a loss. People who use railways must pay for them, but I think a very heavy burden is thrown upon the suburban travellers. They do not come to London on pleasure, or for joy-rides, by any means, and residents in my Constituency have to return from London at a late hour of the night, and what do they get for their money? They frequently cannot find standing accommodation, and yet they are to pay an extra charge. I trust that the President of the Board of Trade will adopt my suggestion, and fix the increase 458 of 10 per cent. on season tickets for a distance within a radius of 20 miles from Charing Cross.
§ Mr. TOOTILL
I want to join in the chorus of appreciation of the great, and, I think, extremely lucid and explicit statement which was made by the President of the Board of Trade to-day. I felt very deeply interested in some matters that he dealt with, especially in that of cotton. He referred to the cotton situation, and he paid, I think, a well-deserved commendation to the cotton workers and cotton employers in Lancashire for the way in which they have accepted the burdens and responsibilities of this War. It reminded me of the old saying, "What Lancashire says to-day England says tomorrow." Lancashire during this War, especially in the cotton trade, has taken a step which, I think, should be a model to the rest of the employers of the country. I refer to this matter, although the President of the Board of Trade is quite well aware of it, because it has reference to a system which, if it were adopted in the industries of the country generally, I am sure would save this country from a great many trade difficulties and disputes that have arisen in the past. The Lancashire Members of Parliament have now established a system by which they are in the habit of meeting collectively and regularly with the joint bodies of employers and employed in the cotton industry. They exchange opinions on the various situations that have arisen in consequence of the War, and they are able to adjust their differences in a friendly way. I am glad that the President of the Board of Trade has himself encouraged and fostered this system to such an extent that I am sure I am speaking the mind of those two bodies when I say that he has certainly won their confidence, and has gained very considerably in their estimation. I wish especially to emphasise the fact that the cotton industry has had its raw material reduced practically to one-half its pre-war amount, and the establishment of a board of control for the purpose of seeing to equitable distribution and for other matters, brought about by the fact of this limitation of supply of raw material, and yet, notwithstanding all these circumstances, this system has worked so satisfactorily that they have been able to bear even a larger diminution of supplies of raw material.
459 The President of the Board of Trade referred to the dye trade. I am not particularly or specially interested in that industry except to this extent, that I think it is the duty of every Department of the State to have a long post-war vision with regard to coming trade dislocations and difficulties that will present themselves when this War is ended. The President in his statement referred to the fact that it was proposed that his Department should make Grants for research work in that particular industry. I want to ask him whether, if in any other industry assistance of that kind becomes urgently required, we may expect from him that he will give it his most favourable consideration? I was very glad indeed that he went so far in that direction, for it must be admitted that we have suffered under the war conditions which have arisen. We were not prepared, either industrially or nationally, for this great conflict. Our equipment was more or Jess chaotic, but now that we see what has happened, now that we understand the real needs and requirements of our different trades and industries, I think we may safely say that, with the President of the Board of Trade occupying his present position, anything in the direction of assisting industry will receive his most careful and his most munificent attention.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer. There is an impression that we Members of Parliament—I do not know-how or where that impression has arisen— are given certain facilities for travelling. Members of Parliament are compelled to travel week in and week out to their respective constituencies and back to their duties in this House, and there is an impression that all Members of Parliament are provided with free passes for travelling on the railways. I do not know what is the experience of other Members of Parliament, but I know that I have got to pay for my season ticket, and I suppose it is not in accordance with the tenets of this House that any Member should speak on behalf of anything in which he is directly and personally interested, and therefore I do not say a single word about season tickets. I will gladly pay the 20 per cent. extra if that means bearing a further share in our War burdens. As one who has had some experience among working men, having lived among them and understanding their life, I say that if they are told the whole truth and nothing 460 but the truth in connection with any situation that arises in this War, they are prepared to shoulder manfully and patriotically their share of the national burdens. Anybody—and I say this with all seriousness—who advocates the withholding their best energies and strength for the purpose of winning the War, is guilty of an act which, in my judgment, does not contribute to what should be their highest aim, the welfare of the country. Why do I say that? Because I realise as one of their representatives that the whole fabric of trade union liberty and privileges is at stake in this War. It means that unless we win we as workers will be placed under the domination and under the military despotism that has ruined the democracy of Germany for so many years past. I want to close by saying that I entirely sympathise with and appreciate the excellent statement made by the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon.
§ Mr. HASLAM
The subject I desire to bring before the Committee is one, I consider, of enormous national importance; it is the necessity of placing our system of transport and of delivery of goods on the best possible basis. There is no doubt that in the past these questions have been greatly neglected, not only by Departments, but also by Governments, and in making these statements I do not mean to cast any reflection upon the President of the Board of Trade, but to make them in a general way with the one hope of helping forward this movement in which I take a very strong interest. My attention was called to this subject by a resolution passed by the Newport Chamber of Commerce after having heard a lecture from Mr. A. W. Gattie, the inventor of the Clearing House goods system. I was asked if I would visit the works and see the installation. I did, of course, as they desired, and when I visited the works I was greatly impressed with what I saw. I then asked several other Members if they would visit the works, which they did, and this led me and other Members to consider the whole question of the transport and the delivery of goods.
I ought to say here that the Commercial Committee is not in any way pledged in the slightest degree to Mr. Gattie's invention, but we agree that it is a magnificent conception, and that if it is practicable— I believe it to be practicable myself, though, not being an engineer, I have to take my views from engineers—it would mean an enormous saving to the railway 461 companies and be beneficial to the whole of the community. Subsequently a Subcommittee, of the Commercial Committee was formed and they drew up a Report which was carefully gone through line by line and afterwards placed before the whole Committee and passed unanimously by them. The conclusion they came to, after full consideration of the matter, was that this question of transport and distribution and delivery of goods was one which required the most careful and expert inquiry. The hon. Member for the Edgbaston Division of Birmingham and myself were subsequently asked by the Committee to seek an interview with the President of the Board of Trade, and this took place two days ago. The right hon. Gentleman informed us that he had appointed ten or twelve Committees to consider each aspect of the subject, such as railways, canals, docks, and so forth. These are, of course, Departmental Committees. We pointed out to the right hon. Gentleman that the view of the Committee was that in addition to the Departmental Committees there ought to be an independent Select Committee to consider the whole question of transport reform, and that before this body witnesses from all sources might appear, engineers from the Board of Trade, managers of railways, and experts from other quarters, from which valuable information could be obtained.
With regard to this particular proposal of the goods clearing-house, and to show that it is supported very largely by eminent engineers, I might merely quote a few names here of the gentlemen who have reported in its favour. Most of the Members of this House will, I am sure, be quite aware of the eminence of the gentlemen whose names I am going to quote. They are Mr. James Swinburne, F.R.S.. past-President of the Society of Electrical Engineers; Sir John Purser Griffith, M.I.C.E.; the late Sir William Preece. F.R.S.; Mr. A. E. Collins, M.I.C.E.; and the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire, who is also an engineer. I have since received a Report from the Member for Finsbury East, an engineer who has seen the works and who has asked to be put on the Sub-committee which is considering this question. The right hon. Gentleman has shown great interest in this invention of a goods clearing-house, and informed us that he intended to set up a trial experiment, but he said that the machinery on view was 462 not of sufficient magnitude for him to give a definite opinion as to its practicability on a large scale. With regard to that I may quote some words of Dr. HeleShaw, the eminent engineer:I have followed the development of this system for several years and have no hesitation in saying that it will fulfil all that is claimed for it. The actual appliance set up by Mr. Gattie at Battersea is not a mere working model, it is a full-sized going concern.Let me say here that I think it weighed about 2 tons. He goes on:No hitch or flaw has been found in the machinery, and it can be reduplicated to any extent. There is no engineering difficulty in the installation of the goods clearing-house system. Just as one successful telephone can be reduplicated into a vast system, so can the-machinery for the goods clearing-house system be multiplied to any extent.When we have engineers reporting in favour of a scheme in a manner like that, then surely it is a subject which does de serve the closest possible inquiry, and, not only that, but such a practical trial of it as the right hon. Gentleman has promised under the auspices of the Board of Trade. I will say here that we as a Committee do not support this particular scheme—we only say this is the best system which has been placed before the public on this question. For instance, it is not a question of having one clearing house for London, or two or three or four, or where it or they shall be placed. Those are questions which should be settled by engineers after full consideration, and who will come to such conclusions as they think best. This is, as I say, entirely an engineer's question. With that I am quite sure my hon. Friend will agree.
The real trouble to-day is this: So far as locomotion is concerned, I do not suppose there is any country in the world that is in a better position than we are. Our trains run on the best laid metals in the world, and I believe our service, on the whole, is best organised and best worked. But when we come to the second dimension—breadth—we find a waste of thousands of acres of valuable land for sidings in London and elsewhere. In London alone there are seventy clearing houses, occupying most valuable land. Then you come to the third dimension— depth or height—by which goods brought by the trains to the clearing houses can be taken up by adjustable machinery, and the various packages sent in what are called containers to any part of the building that is required—in point of fact, a 463 clearing house just as we have in the case of a Post Office or a bank. This mechanical machinery cannot possibly be used when you have to undertake the system of shunting, which means taking trains long distances before any wagons can be moved from one line to another. We all know that any new invention is almost always opposed. I remember very well the case of the Dunlop pneumatic tyre. I have been told that the inventor of those tyres could not get anyone to take them up at all. I have always been interested in novelties, and when I first saw a bicycle with these tyres coming along on a rough road, I said that was the way to make rough roads smooth. I am told that that invention was offered to various manufacturers for £500, and it was a long time before anyone took it up, and the man who eventually took it up, and became the manufacturer of these tyres, is now a millionaire, I believe, several times over.
I would like to say a few words on another portion of the subject. Canals have been neglected, I do not say completely neglected, but to an extent which is intolerable, in my opinion. They are capable of very great improvement, especially with regard to getting goods cleared from the street and in the rapidity of delivery. France has spent £55,000,000 between the years 1830 and 1900; Belgium, £16,000,000 between 1888 and 1905; and Prussia, £26,000,000. The increase in the waterway traffic in France was 73 per cent. between 1885 and 1905; in Belgium, 114 per cent.; and in Germany, 274 per cent. You might say that that meant probably a decrease in the railway traffic. On the contrary, during those same years, in France it increased 84 per cent.; in Belgium, 61 per cent.; and in Germany, 194 per cent.; and when I quote Germany I do so because I want the Committee to realise how thorough the Germans have been with regard to their canals. Their canals are excellently constructed, and they can carry heavy barges. Our canals have had nothing done, practically, to them for the last sixty years. Since the question of transport was taken up by the Commercial Committee I have received a large number of letters and also a considerable number of elaborate plans by which the docks, railways, and so forth, can be improved in various ways.
464 I have no doubt the President of the Board of Trade has also received a great many communications of that nature.
This correspondence shows that there is an immense amount of latent interest in the country, and if there were a Select Committee it would draw information from all quarters, but especially from the Board of Trade. Then, I believe, we should have something done which would be of enormous future benefit to the country, and especially do I lay stress on this at the present time, because, in the near future, during the time of reconstruction, it is most necessary to find work for the men coming from the front. Let us place as much labour as we can on the class of work which will be really remunerative—that is to say, not only useful in itself, but which will also be the means of increasing afterwards the wealth of the country. I am convinced that if we had the best possible means of transport and of goods delivery, if we could by some means or other lower the rates for building materials, and so forth, we should give an impetus to private enterprise throughout the country, and develop the resources of the country, in a measure we can hardly imagine. I am not quite sure whether it would not be wise, after the War, deliberately to lower the rates for goods, especially for building materials, and to subsidise the railway companies, in order to carry that out, because I believe if goods can be carried freely from one place to another, building can be carried out without the need of State aid, which is apt to lead to uneconomic propositions.
Lastly, I would call attention to the congestion of traffic in London. Something must be done. There is not the slightest doubt that we could so carry on the transport of goods through the streets that the congestion of London would be relieved, at any rate, by about a half, and it is vastly important at the present time, because the population of London, I believe, has doubled in the last fifty or sixty years, and in the next fifty years London's population may be fourteen millions or fifteen millions. Therefore, hon. Members will see how essential it is that this subject should be grappled, gripped, and dealt with in the most drastic manner at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
I rise to associate myself with the request that my hon. Friend has made to the President of the 465 Board of Trade to move to appoint a Select Committee of this House to inquire into the questions concerned with the transport of goods in all forms in this country. At this stage of the Debate, when the fare which has been provided for the consumption of the Committee has been so varied and so tempting, my hon. Friend who has just sat down, and I, are in a somewhat disadvantageous position in drawing the attention of the Committee to a topic of this magnitude and of this vital importance. Nevertheless, we feel that no time should be lost in securing consideration and action in a matter of such vital importance. At this stage I should like to impress on the hon. Gentleman who at this moment represents the Board of Trade that, so far as I am concerned, and so far as many others are concerned, we do not wish this subject to be considered by any means solely, or mainly, from the point of view of consideration and inquiry into the most ingenious invention which has been proposed by Mr. Gattie. That is merely one part of this large question. An inquiry into the whole system of transport would naturally embrace an inquiry into that and all other suggestions and proposals which prima facie would be advantageous to the transportation facilities of this country. The request which we are making—I say this at this stage of my remarks—would not, I think, be met by saying either that this had been looked into Departmentally, and it was not a promising subject, or that this is not the time to look into inventions of this kind. I want to place my request on a far wider ground than the mere consideration of this single invention. It is obvious to all of us that something has to be done to improve the transportation facilities of this country. On all hands we see waste and inefficiency as a result of our present system. The War has, perhaps, lessened its inconveniences and made them less obvious at the moment, partly because of the establishment of the centralised control—to which reference was made by the President—partly because there has been more concentration of effort in connection with deliveries, and partly because here, in London, we are at the present time spared that appalling state of the streets due to congestion of traffic from which we suffered so gravely in the years preceding the War.
I want the Committee to consider, just very briefly, the various branches of traffic. We must remember that our traffic at the present time—that is, the movement 466 of goods from one destination to another —is effected by railways, canals, by road transport, by harbours, and—though this is, I think, foreign to the suggested inquiry—I might add, coastal shipping. It has been shown to us by the President of the Board of Trade how greatly the traffic on the railways is, necessarily, dependent upon the extent to which traffic is carried by our coastal ships. I do not suggest that the inquiry which should be made into these matters should include any inquiry into what are really shipping matters, though I think an inquiry into the equipment and state of the organisation and management of our ports would readily fall within the limits of such inquiry.
Not only does the transport of our goods fall under three separate Departments, but we have to remember that each branch of these modes of transport is operated by a whole series of independent agencies. Some of these, we all know, are very efficient indeed within their respective spheres. The tribute which was paid to them by the President for their efficiency, that is the efficiency of our great railways, was, I have no doubt, richly deserved in the majority of cases. There are, however, other branches of these systems of which one cannot say the same. The point is that if we look upon them as a whole— look upon them as what they really are—a combined agency for moving weights from one point to another, it is not too much to say—what we all know—that they are scandalously inefficient for the purpose. We also know that this state of affairs is undoubtedly accompanied by waste on a prodigious scale. We see it in every possible direction. There is waste of labour, of effort, of life, capital, and time; and, as my hon. Friend has just said, a great waste of most valuable space in the cities, and elsewhere. We see all these forms of waste going on simultaneously. We must all agree, I think, that if we can possibly prevent it it ought not to be allowed to go on. Take these agencies in turn. I need not refer to them in any detail, because the remarks of the hon. Member who has just sat down very largely covered the ground. But we see that our railways as a whole, as is only natural considering their method of origin, have been laid out without any common plan whatsoever. Facilities are wholly absent in some cases, imperfect in others, duplicated or triplicated in others. From time to time proposals have been made for common plans of action by agreement 467 between the various railway companies. The public, in their ignorance, more often than not have opposed what would in all probability have resulted in their great benefit, because we have in this country made a fetish of competition. We have fallen down and worshipped it, and have not looked at where it is leading us. It has been asserted—it is asserted by Mr. Gattie and others —I have no means of knowing what is the truth of it—that 80 per cent of the rolling stock of this country, if that stock were properly handled, is needless. If really a saving of 80 per cent. of the rolling stock of this country could be effected by any means I think everyone must see that that saving would be enormous. At any rate, any such assertion made by a responsible engineer, and backed by other engineers of standing, certainly merits the closest scrutiny and inquiry, whether Mr. Gattie's plan for dealing with the situation which results from this great waste of plant is or is not correct. Because it is wonderful when inquiries are once set on foot how suggestions come to us. Though Mr. Gattie's plan may not be the right plan—there may be possible modifications suggested or wholly different plans—the point is to set up an inquiry which will be competent, fair, and impartial, one to which everyone who has anything to bring in the shape of suggestions may come and feel certain that he will, at any rate, get a fair hearing. My hon. Friend has also referred to the condition of our canals. I need not go into that matter. We must from time to time, when on boating or pleasure parties, have seen our canals lying idle, so representing a waste of capital in canals. At this moment we could have wished they had been at work. For one reason or another, however, competition has resulted very much in the destruction of one of our great national assets. There is not the slightest question that our system of canals require to be modernised and brought up to date; not run in competition with the railways, but as supplementing them, and as providing facilities for the transportation of certain classes of goods with efficiency in cases where they cannot be carried with equal facility and efficiency by the railways or other agencies.
Take the question of our road transport. Here again what do we see?—a complete want of system. There has been no attempt to bring together the various 468 agencies which are employed in this work, and this is costing the community hundreds of millions per annum. More-system, better supervision, and central control would probably make the whole of the difference and save very large sums indeed. The temporary respite of congestion we are now experiencing should bring home what can be done in this respect, and I hope none of us will be content to return to a London as we knew it before the War. I refer only to the direct and the very heavy loss which is being occasioned by this want of system to those of the community who have to send goods from point to point, but beyond that there is enormous indirect loss being occasioned to every citizen. It is represented in the prices paid for goods, and, above all, it is represented in the loss of time, which is the most valuable asset which any human being possesses. There are minor things which represent large sums in the aggregate, such as breakages, losses, and unnecessary insurance, which total up to a. very large bill, and we cannot afford to have this unnecessary waste.
Then there are the harbours. A great waste is going on in regard to ships which are being detained, and the cost in demurrage is very considerable. In many cases a shipowner, who is willing to pay the unnecessarily high charges in a particular port, has to send his ship out again because there is no chance of the cargo being discharged, and that has been going on for want of proper facilities for unloading, and from this cause many ships have gone to the bottom which might have been saved. It is necessary to marshal all these things for the consideration of the Committee, because we who are bringing these matters forward in a most serious spirit are bound to prove our case as strongly as we can. The fact is that what has happened really has been that in this country the demand for a well-equipped and well-organised system of transport and distribution of goods has absolutely outgrown the limits of our present facilities, and has gone entirely beyond the possibilities of efficient and desirable individual enterprise. It is impossible to continue under our present patchwork system, and the whole business needs thorough overhauling. Railways, canals, and road transport are the principal matters, and I should be content if the inquiry extended only to these matters, although I think it would be much better to have an inquiry covering the whole field, and I ask that it should extend also 469 as far as the harbours. At the present time we are employing a number of independent instruments, some of them very highly efficient, but we are using them in a manner which is bound to give most unsatisfactory results. Some of the faults are due to weak links in the system, but many of them are due to the absence of links. Others are due to imperfect connections, others to a want of grip and realisation of the problem with which we are Concerned.
What is needed to be done? There is no mystery about the transport problem. It is simply that of moving weights from one part of the United Kingdom to another, and we want to do it in the simplest and cheapest manner, and in the shortest time compatible with the realisation of the first two conditions. Anyone with common sense can understand the elements of the problem. When we are told to leave these matters entirely to experts, that is not an argument which convinces me. I do not pretend myself to any expert knowledge of these questions, nor have I had wide experience of the transport problem in this country, but I have been concerned with the original construction and with the management of 2,000 miles of railways in the wide spaces of Africa, and I have had considerable experience of road transport under conditions of very great difficulty when, as Director-General of Transport and Supply during a war in which Imperial troops were engaged, I had to feed and supply a whole country by means of ox and mule wagons working over hundreds of miles and often traversing swamps or sandy wastes. Therefore I have had some opportunity of thinking over the elements of the transport problem, and on account of the experience I have been through I do take, perhaps, a more than ordinary interest in these problems.
The fact is that we must realise that our present system, or want of system, has certainly broken down. I think I may say that that has already been admitted. It is not necessary to blame anyone. I do not blame the highly efficient managers of our railways, the engineers, or the business managers of the railway companies, because each has been working on a very small portion of the problem, and what they have had to do they have done well; but it has hitherto been no one's business to survey the whole field and supply the necessary links, and think the problem out on a grand scale. The horizon of all 470 concerned has been limited. They have all worked in watertight compartments, and they have been discouraged from doing anything further. It has become so important that we must do something now, and the action which was taken by the Government to which the President of the Board of Trade referred to-day is conclusive evidence, if further evidence were needed, of what is to-day required, because if the Government had not at the outbreak of the War immediately altered the system then in force there would have been a complete breakdown. What was done? The President of the Board of Trade has referred to the appointment of the Railway Executive Committees—one in this country and the other in Ireland. He also referred to the Canal Control Committee, but he had to do more. The Government had to appoint a Road Transport Board, a. Port and Transport Executive Committee, and a Shipping Transport Controller. An independent control had to be established over each of the five branches of our transport system, but so far as I am aware no action has yet been taken to weld those five branches into a united whole.
While I endorse what fell from my right hon. Friend in regard to the conditions to be secured and which have been secured from the unification of control of our railway system and our canal system, we have got to go further, and see whether we can bring about conditions for a still greater unification of control of all the agencies engaged in the transportation and distribution of goods. If everything had been efficient before the War, it is quite clear that these Control Boards would never have had to be appointed. What is needed to be done at the present time is less obvious than the fact that something has to be done, and I hope it will be the aim of this Committee and the House to see that the-consideration of these matters should not be left to Departmental Committees, and to experts working behind the scenes who will some day come forward and say, "This is our scheme; you have to take it." These are matters which are within the comprehension of, and in my judgment should be studied by, every Member of this House, because there is no subject of more importance in relation to our everyday life.
Before appropriate action can be taken it is quite clear that those who are going to be asked to take that action are entitled to- 471 understand the elements of the problem and that inquiry must precede action. We want to ascertain to what extent and in what directions our present system is imperfect and to find out what suggestions can be made for improvement, making use, so far as is practicable, of all existing agencies, both in respect of organisation and plant. We have to look at the problem as a whole and review it as a whole: above all, with open minds and, I am inclined to add, with fresh minds. I use that expression "with fresh minds" advisedly, because we do not want to break open a series of watertight compartments and turn officials out into the day-light and expect from them fresh suggestions and fresh points of view. If we do we shall be woefully disappointed, as we have been many times in the past. The matter must be reviewed by people who will look at it from a business point of view, with clear minds and, above all, without any prejudice. I feel sure if that is done that the results will be extremely good. We must be receptive of new ideas and new points of view. We certainly do not want any mere whitewashing committee with people saying that everything is best in the best of all possible worlds when we know that it is nothing of the sort. That is the reason that I, personally, should strongly deprecate the consideration of this matter being left to a Departmental Committee, and by a Departmental Committee I mean a committee that is mainly composed of permanent officials of our Civil Service. They are competent, highly competent, in many directions, but they are not, in my judgment, the appropriate instrument for an inquiry of this character. In a way, these matters are being studied, and closely studied, by people at the Board of Trade and people connected with them at this moment. People who have studied the question in that manner will be most valuable witnesses, but it should not be left to them to form the conclusions and report to this House. We want to use far heavier artillery.
The experience which this House has lately had of Select Committees of its own shows that they are bodies which, in matters of this character, are very efficient indeed for the purpose in view. Not only are they efficient, but it is very valuable indeed that a large number of the Members of this House, fifteen or perhaps twenty, should be encouraged to 472 educate themselves in these matters, and that through them the knowledge should percolate to other Members of the House and diffuse the House with a new atmosphere. That is a highly important function which a committee of this character would fill. A Select Committee of this House is in far closer touch with our life and with our thought than any Royal Commission or Departmental Committee can be, and I press it strongly upon the consideration of the President of the Board of Trade from that point of view alone. I feel sure that a Select Committee will not only satisfy the House, but will satisfy the country in a way that no other body will do, and it is in the interests both of the Board of Trade, of the transport system, and of the country generally, that the right hon. Gentleman should accede to the request which has been made to him in such a forcible manner by my hon. Friend. It has been suggested that this is not the moment to hold such an inquiry. That is a view which I personally most strongly deprecate. I have had some experience lately in the work of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, and I do not think that any Department can fairly charge, or would charge, that Committee with having impeded its working or with having taken up the time of its officials unnecessarily at a moment when it was necessary that they should be doing work of national importance elsewhere. I have never heard that charge levelled against that Committee or any other Select Committee of this House, and I feel sure if a Select Committee of this House were appointed to go into this transport question that no such charge could be made. Therefore we may dismiss the point that witnesses have not time to give evidence. The time when we shall not want an inquiry will be in the two or three years after the War, when, if our minds are not made up as to what we want to do, we shall have to wait several years before we do anything at all.
I want to make it quite clear—I hope that my hon. Friend representing the Board of Trade (Mr. Wardle) will pay particular attention to this point—what it is exactly that we want this Committee to do. We wish to ascertain as far as we can all relevant facts relating to our transport system with a view to ascertaining what are its difficulties, the causes of them, and the directions in which relief may be sought. All facts and figures 473 bearing upon these matters will be of great value, and I have no doubt that such a Committee will be able to present them to the House in a clear and succinct form. Thus we shall want, for instance, such things as statistics as to traffic so far as they are available and as to the receipts and expenditure of the various transport and distributing agencies, giving the cost of their equipment, and, in the case of running plant, accurate information as to its mobility. That is a very important point. It may well be left to the discretion of the Select Committee as to what they will ask for. On the other hand, while I wish the Committee to have an opportunity of obtaining all information with regard to facts and of making up its mind as to the type of organisation and the unification that may be needed, I do not myself think, although I have strong views on the subject, that the time has arrived to consider and to decide as to the final organisation of our transport system, nor as to the part to be played in it by the State. These are matters I am well aware which are likely to give rise to many controversial questions, and I do not think there is the slightest necessity to go into them now. Such a Committee as I have suggested could occupy its time quite worthily in finding out the disease and suggesting remedies without occupying itself with the final form in which our transport system shall be organised, directed, and financed. The results of the inquiry will afford the most valuable data for such a decision as will have to be taken when the time arrives.
I do not think it is possible from any point of view to exaggerate the value of such an inquiry being carried out in the manner that I have suggested. After the War we shall want to marshal and make the best use of every resource and every facility and of all the plant and the equipment that we have got. We shall not want to waste energy. We certainly shall want to refrain from continuing to employ valuable labour in doing work which his not wanted at all. That I fancy is the position with much of the railway labour at the present time. We certainly do not want to employ labour in doing work which can be more efficiently and cheaply done by mechanical means, and with that desire I gather, from the speech of my right hon. Friend, that he is entirely in sympathy. I have said before that all classes of the community are vitally in- 474 terested in this question, and it is commonly said that after the War the only way in which we can find financial salvation is to increase production. I think that statement is incomplete. There is one other way by which we can supplement increased production, and that is by the saving of waste. That is another way, and in the early years succeeding the War I think, on balance, the benefit to the community from the saving of waste is likely to be greater than the benefit from increased production, because if you save waste you preserve wealth already in existence, whereas new production takes time to organise and to bring into being. There can be no question that in the fields of transport and of power supply, for instance, there are many possibilities for saving, if attention is given to the prevention of waste.
The sums in question are so large that anything that may be derived by the State, if such a thing were done, by the imposition of tariffs, for instance, would be absolutely insignificant compared with the sums which would accrue to the people who would pay those tariffs if the present waste of resources and the waste of labour which are now going on were to cease. These questions are of the most vital importance to the State. They are matters which we cannot now afford to neglect. So long as we were a very rich and a very lightly taxed country we could afford, in our public as in our private lives, to be slothful and a little wasteful. We cannot afford it any longer. It is certainly our duty at this time in our public lives, as it is equally our duty in our private lives, to do our utmost to prevent waste of any description. For these reasons, that there are these possibilities and that we know that this immense waste of plant, resources, and labour is going on, I, personally, take the most optimistic view of what is likely to be our position after the War, because we know that, merely by giving ourselves a little more timely consideration to these matters and thinking out our problem more closely, we can save hundreds of millions of pounds and, if they are saved, the burden of the heavy taxation that to-day bears upon us will present itself in quite a different light. After all, in successful saving there is all the sense of achievement, and most pleasurable achievement. I beg the President this evening to do his best to assist the House to take part in this great work. It is his duty, if he can 475 to place the transport system of this country on a stable, a profitable, and a sound basis. It can only be to the advantage of himself and of the country generally if the House goes with him hand-in-hand and assists him in carrying out this worthy duty. I, therefore, beg him not to sweep aside lightly the request that has been made this evening that he should set up with the least possible delay a Select Committee for the purpose of reviewing the matter.
Mr. SHIRLEY BENN
I rise to support the view expressed by the last speaker that a Committee should be appointed to inquire into the facilities of our harbours. I do not know anyone more conversant with the needs of transportation or more capable of appreciating the provision of facilities than the President. I, therefore, speak with confidence when I address him on the subject. As we all know, we have suffered greatly from the loss of ships, but I feel that if the ships had been given proper facilities here for discharging their cargoes, we should have got a great deal more out of the ships than we have done. I am told that in London it takes a great deal longer to discharge a ship than at Liverpool, and that it costs 50 per cent. more. The Port of London Authority is an excellent business authority. It has been in existence since 1908, but it only has the facilities which are afforded by the docks in existence. We know that those docks are continuously congested, and that it takes a vessel a long time to discharge her cargo there. I am told that a scheme has been brought forward for building a deep-water wharf down the river at which it will be possible to discharge the steamers over side with barges on each side, and to discharge also on to the piers at the same time. Naturally the President of the Board of Trade will say that we cannot interfere with the Port of London Authority. I believe that the Port of London Authority has the power themselves to build these wharves and, if they do not do it, then inquiry should be made as to whether someone else should not be allowed to do it. This applies also to ports outside London. For instance, in Plymouth a big scheme was put forward for establishing a modern harbour, but I understand that the Shipping Controller could not touch it because it could not be made for service during the War, and the Board of Trade naturally could not touch it until after the War. If 476 the Committee suggested is appointed, I hope it will look very carefully into the facilities at some of our outside ports, so that vessels when they come to England will be able to discharge their cargoes quickly and go back and bring others.
§ Sir C. CORY
With regard to the increase in the rates of season tickets I would ask the President of the Board of Trade to give the matter his very careful consideration before he acts, in order to obviate a hardship on classes of the population which can ill afford to bear it. There is no doubt that at the present time there is a great shortage of houses. In South Wales, in Cardiff, for instance, it is almost impossible for a man with a small income to get a house. I know the case of a clerk, who received a small salary, who found it impossible to get a house there and he had to go as far as 20 miles before he could obtain one. There are other cases of the same kind. If we are going to raise the rates beyond 12 miles, these men will be brought in and it will be a very grave hardship. If an increase is necessary, as possibly it may be, it is not fair to put an increase on everybody irrespective of distance. I was pleased to and the Board of Trade treat with sympathy the suggestion of the payment of pensions to the wives and dependants of the men in the Mercantile Marine. There is no class of the community which deserves our grateful consideration more than the men of the Mercantile Marine, who have been incurring such grave risks for the benefit of their fellow-countrymen. Reference has been made to canals. I agree that a great deal could be done to make them more efficient and to use them much more extensively. We know that it has been the policy of railway companies in the past to buy up canals wherever they could, to let them fall into disuse, and, in fact, to strangle the trade of the canals.
I desire to make an appeal to the right hon. Gentleman in regard to the Regulation which emanated from his Department recently with regard to the one-third of 5 per cent. of the brokerage in regard to the export of coal. I can hardly believe he realises what a great hardship it involves. I would recall to his memory the fact that an agreement was made by his predecessor the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Runciman in 1916, when the coalowners, shipowners, and exporters of this country were called together. Up to that time the price of 477 coal in France and Italy had gone up by leaps and bounds, the effect of which was to cause a great deal of ill-feeling among our Allies. The President of the Board of Trade made an arrangement limiting the price of coal, and the exporters, who had made very handsome profits, were asked to give them up, and an arrangement was made for an allowance to the exporters of one-third of 5 per cent. of the brokerage. In return they undertake the risk of demurrage and they are liable to their principals if they neglect to insure. This has worked very satisfactorily, and they loyally and patriotically gave up very large profits in order to fall into this arrangement. The Government have taken up a very mean and despicable attitude. A large number of these exporters are very small firms, whose businesses have practically been reduced to nothing. The amount they are making is not sufficient to pay their office expenses. Their clerks have gone to the War and their salaries are being paid in full or in part and they are called upon by high Income Tax and in other ways to contribute to the expenses of the State. We do not want to ruin firms in this way. It is desirable, as far as possible, to help them to exist during the War. I understand that the Coal Controller has threatened, improperly and illegally as I suggest, that if they do not fall in with his arrangement he will influence other Departments, the Board of Trade to withhold licences, and the Ministry of Shipping to withhold tonnage. If it was brought home to him that would be illegal and he would be liable to an action for misfeasance. His Regulation is illegal because he had no jurisdiction over these men at all. They are the agents of importers abroad and he can only bring his Regulation into effect by illegally threatening to penalise them in some other way. I am sure he does not wish to be a party to any action of that kind and does not wish to penalise small firms. I understand that a committee of exporters from all over the country was formed to deal with the question. They pressed me to become its chairman, so I took it up, but I was not the instigator of the committee. The Coal Controller, I am told, has refused to hear representations from that committee, but prefers to receive his consultative committee. I am told that is composed of a certain number of exporters with a preponderance of coalowners. Coalowners have nothing whatever to do with the question. Why should they be dragged in to adjudicate on a question 478 which affects them for their benefit? I certainly think he cannot seriously mean to adopt this course, which is illegal, and can only be adopted by further illegality, by withholding licences or tonnage if they do not fall in with the wishes of the Coal Controller. I bring this question forward because it should be ventilated and considered by the Committee. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will consider it and give it his favourable consideration.
§ Mr. FERENS
The speech of the President of the Board of Trade was full of interest to business men, and I am sure could not fail to give satisfaction to all concerned in commercial enterprises. I was gratified to hear him say that attention was going to be given to research work. That is a matter which has been grossly neglected in the past. We all know the advantage it has been to Germany, and we also know that where research work was carried on in this country sometimes inventions were made here and were allowed to be developed in Germany. The right hon. Gentleman also said it was the intention to assist in the development of industry as the result of this research work. Those two things gratified me very much. He anticipated that imports into this country during the current year would probably be only about half what they were in pre-war times, and he told us, with some satisfaction, that he thought the country had not felt it very severely, or at any rate he was rather surprised to find that the country had not felt the reduction in imports more than it had done. I speak as a manufacturer. We are not in the habit of grousing. We do not go to the Board of Trade and tell it all our troubles. I have a list of about twenty-five of the principal articles that we use in our manufacture. The smallest increase in our raw materials in cost is two and a half times what it was before the War. We have to pay two and a half, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and even up to sixteen times as much as we used, because imports have ceased to come in. Many of these products were produced abroad, and because of their scarcity we have these enormous increases. If we were to increase the cost of our manufacture to our customers in anything like this proportion we should be charged, and justly, with profiteering. If we increased prices by 25 per cent. or 50 per cent. or doubled them, as manufacturers have sometimes had to do, it would be looked upon as a big advance We 479 have had to pay these increases, and it shows how difficult it is to carry on business. Many of the raw materials used in our manufacture are only produced abroad. I know the Board of Trade cannot control this because of the want of shipping.
I should like to add a word to what has been said in regard to transport, especially as to canals. For heavy materials canals are essential to the country. We have been given statistics as to what Germany and France have spent in recent years in the formation of canals, and we know that our canals to a large extent have been derelict. Many canals are simply going into a bottle neck, so to speak. We get a wide canal which may be carrying a barge of eighty tons and then you get to a narrow canal down which you can only take barges of forty tons, and the goods have to be transferred from the bigger barge into the smaller one. I know that the President of the Board of Trade takes enlightened views in regard to these matters, and I am hoping that at the close of the War, because it is not possible for it to be undertaken during the War. he will take steps and use all the influence he has — and he has got great influence-in order to develop the canals, so that they may synchronise one with another. By that means the transport facilities of this country will be enormously increased and the cost will be greatly brought down.
§ Sir H. ELVERSTON
I wish to ask the President of the Board of Trade if he will consider the advisability of setting up a Committee, or at any rate of making inquiries, to ascertain whether it is possible to devise machinery for standardising the wages of workpeople, both now and after the War. We must all recognise that the moment demobilisation begins, the moment labour becomes fluid, the question of big adjustments of wages will arise in a more acute form than that which exists to-day. If these adjustments are carried out in a pre-war fashion a great deal of industrial trouble is almost bound to arise. It is certainly essential, if we are to maintain our industrial position, and if we are to secure the maximum output which is so highly desirable, that we should do everything that can be done to smooth over and avoid these industrial difficulties. During the last few years we 480 have had indications of the old ruthless law of supply and demand being superseded, or at any rate modified, by other means. To-day in the calico-printing, bleaching, cotton, and coal industries, arrangements have been made so that wages can be automatically adjusted by trade and other conditions. In the coal trade, for example, an increase in the selling price of coal automatically alters the wages of the miners in Northumberland and Durham, at any rate. In the cotton trade we have the Brooklands agreement, I believe working quite smoothly. The most interesting of all experiments at the present time has been made in the calico printing and bleaching trade of Lancashire.
§ Sir H. ELVERSTON
I thought, in view of the Trades Board Act which has come in, that it was certainly a matter for the Board of Trade. If I am out of order in referring to this matter, I would like briefly to deal with something else.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I cannot absolutely say that it is out of order. I was putting it rather by way of interrogation. There are so many Departments that it is very difficult to say. I thought the hon. Member was launching out on to a subject more relevant to the Ministry of Labour; but as the President of the Board of Trade does not indicate that it is outside the scope of his Department, I will not stop the hon. Member.
Sir A. STANLEY
I hesitated about interfering with the Debate, not knowing exactly what points the hon. Member for Gateshead was trying to make. Certainly it is quite clear that so far as any questions of labour are concerned, and as. regards any system for standardising wages, that would be a matter to be dealt with by the Ministry of Labour and not by the Board of Trade.
§ Sir H. ELVERSTON
I was under the impression that the Board of Trade took an immediate interest in all matters dealing with trade disputes, and my reason for introducing this was that it would be machinery for avoiding trade disputes. If I am ruled out of order I shall have to defer my remarks for some future occasion.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
I only rule them out of order because the Minister said he cannot answer them.
§ Sir H. ELVERSTON
I should like to refer to another matter, and that is the lapsing of insurance policies by the industrial insurance companies. I do not think the Committee has correct information upon this point, and I am certainly under the impression that the Committee has not thorough information as to the position. It should be distinctly understood that an insurance company when it issues a policy has no right to break that contract. The contract is binding upon the insurance company, but the insured has the opportunity and the power to break it at any time. The only way in winch a contract can be broken is really by the non payment of premiums. When the War broke out there was an impression that many men who went to the Front might have great difficulty in maintaining their payments, under these industrial life policies, so this House under the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act made it impossible for a company to lapse a policy although the premiums had not been paid. The result of that has been that instead of the industrial classes of people who are fighting at the front suffering great hardship on account of the lapsing of policies the companies have really suffered very considerable hardship, for although the man may not pay his premiums his policy does not lapse. Very many people have taken advantage of this particular point, and people who could pay their premiums are not paying them. If a man is killed at the front a claim is immediately put in, and the company has to pay that claim although it has not received the premium which ought to have been paid. If this House had put into the Act the provision that every premium must be paid as well as the provision that no policy could lapse there is no doubt that the matter would have worked smoothly, and there would have been no lapsing of policies. To-day one insurance company has had to make a reserve of £800,000 to meet obligations under the Courts (Emergency Powers) Act. We know perfectly well that these companies have been paying many claims during the last year on which they legally have no obligation to pay. I should like to point out that under ordinary circumstances these lapses are not n. source of profit, but are, in fact, an actual loss to the company, because nine- 482 tenths of them are in respect of policies which have only been in force two or three weeks. It is quite a usual practice for people to take out a policy, keep it going two or three weeks, then drop it, and later on take out a fresh policy. These lapses are a source of loss to the company, because the initial expenses of issuing policies are very heavy, and, as a matter of fact, many companies, including, I believe, the Prudential, fine their agent for lapsing policies. That would convey the impression, certainly, that the companies do not make great profits on these lapses. I was very glad to hear the statement from the Front Bench that some form of inquiry is to be instituted into this matter, because I am convinced that such an investigation would clear away once and for all many wrongful ideas which exist at the present time.
§ 10.0 P.M
§ Major NEWTON
I want to say a word or two on the question of season tickets, and I have a special case to put to the right hon. Gentleman. But before doing so, may I refer to a somewhat half-hearted suggestion put forward from that Front Bench to the effect that the reason for the increase of the season-ticket rates is that these passengers are being carried at a cost above that which the rates justified? I cannot think that is the real reason why these increases have been proposed. Surely it must be admitted that the proposal is due to a desire to curtail the traffic, and, if that is the reason, is there not a better and more equitable way of doing it than by merely increasing rates, which does not in many cases have the effect of preventing passenger traffic? Would not the correct way be to inquire into the business upon which the traveller desires to proceed by rail? Would that not be a more reasonable method than to add to the cost of the ticket? I have no sympathy with the complaints as to the hardship in regard to family tickets, which are, I understand, largely used by ladies who desire to go to Regent Street for shopping and similar purposes. But I have a sympathy for the bonâfile business man whose bread and butter lies in a town remote from the place where he lives, and I certainly think he should not be penalised. Has it occurred to the right hon. Gentleman that the proposal to increase the season-ticket fares would really increase the rents of certain classes of houses in towns remote from the Metropolis? I have a letter in my hand from the Urban District Council of the town of 483 Clacton-on-Sea in Essex, in which they inform me that the proposal is to increase the cost of the season ticket. between London and Clacton-on-Sea by 50 per cent. The third-class ticket, now costing £21, will, under the new arrangement, cost £32 a year. That really is an increase on the rent of the houses in which the season-ticket holders live, and it represents an increase of anything from 20 to 60 per cent. I have a very special point to put in regard to towns on the East Coast generally.
Sir A. STANLEY
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but the particular point which he has raised with regard to the increased charges for season tickets to Clacton-on-Sea has not been brought to my attention before. The proposal is for an all-round increase for distances so far as Clacton-on-Sea of 20 per cent. The. hon. and gallant Gentleman has referred to an increase of at least 50 per cent. It may, perhaps, save a little time if I ask the hon. Member to write to me in regard to the particular instance which he has in mind. I will promise him immediate inquiry and an answer at once.
§ Major NEWTON
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman. I will not go into details of the case, but may I touch on the general principle which I want to raise in regard to East Coast towns? These areas are very much distressed, and if the right hon. Gentleman will consult his colleagues he will find that the municipalities along the East Coast are only able to carry on with assistance from the Government. Now, by increasing the rents in their area you will certainly tend to empty a large number of houses in all those East Coast towns, and further difficulties will result to the municipalities which would have to be made up from national funds. I would suggest that if it is a fact the increase is put on with a view to making the railways pay, and bearing in mind that we are told that £47,000,000 of the increased expenditure on the railways is attributable to the war bonuses paid to the railway employé's, and, therefore, may be taken as a result of war conditions, and seeing, too, that the railways are practically under the control of the State, the war bonus should not be made a burden solely on those who are compelled by their business to travel, but should become a portion of the national burden. I am glad 484 to have the assurance of the right hon. Gentleman that no increase as great as 50 per cent. is contemplated, and I must certainly accept his invitation to write to him privately on the question of Clacton-on-Sea.
§ Sir S. COATS
I should like to say a few words in support of the appeals which have been made to the President to reconsider the proposal to increase the season-ticket rates. In the constituency which I represent—Wimbledon— there are an enormous number of season-ticket holders. From Purley Station 1,800 travel daily, and from Wallington 2,000, and many thousands from Wimbledon, and I have been surprised to find the amount of hardship that these increased rates will involve. I have heard from a great many constituents who feel strongly on the subject. They are men who cannot avoid travelling daily. Many of them are engaged on very important war work and in other work for the benefit of the community, and it is absolutely essential they should go to business every day. Some of them have children who are also engaged in war work and for whom season tickets are necessary. Here is a case of a constituent who has five season-ticket holders in his family, all employed on important work in connection with the Government or with commercial undertakings. Many of my Constituents have had no advances in their wages since the commencement of the War, and the additional taxation presses very heavily on them. This rise in the rates for season tickets will fall upon them still more severely. After all, we must remember that season-ticket holders are one of the most important assets of the railways. They have moved to these suburban districts on the understanding that they will have the advantage of reduced rates, and it is not possible for them at the present time, having entered into arrangements with landlords in many cases for considerable periods, to cancel those arrangements and move into London. If they could it would develop a housing problem in London which would be difficult to handle. Why is it that London should be so severely penalised in this matter? It seems to me rather hard that London should be the one that gives the lead in all these matters and that it should have to suffer these disabilities in advance of all the provincial towns. It is perfectly easy to find out who the bonâ -fide residents of these towns are. All it is necessary to 485 do is to consult the local directories, and it would be quite easy to compile a list of those who have bonâ -fide residence and who are entitled to season tickets accordingly.
I have had one case brought to my notice where a season-ticket holder got for himself and family a reduction of 15 per cent. He now has the 15 per cent. cancelled and an additional 20 per cent. imposed, making a total of 35 per cent. It is very easy to see how severely the change bears on him. Further, the twelve-mile limit seems very arbitrary. The hon. Member for Croydon (Mr. Malcolm) has made an appeal on this subject, but I have constituents in Purley and Coulsdon, which are connected with Croydon. It is really one continuous town, and they feel it very hard that in Purley and Coulsdon they should pay this extra percentage, whereas in Croydon it is not enforced. What I should like to see, if it were possible, would be the President of the Board of Trade to withdraw this Regulation, refer it to a committee of inquiry, have the whole matter gone into carefully, and such proposals brought forward as would be equitable to all concerned. Perhaps the President of the Board of Trade will remember that Mr. William H. Vanderbilt, who controlled many thousands of miles of railways, once brought forward a proposal which would involve a certain amount of hardship to the public, and one of his subordinates when he was given the directions necessary to enforce this said, "But, Mr Vanderbilt, think what the public will say." Mr. Vanderbilt replied: "The public be damned! I am working in the interests of my shareholders." For ever -afterwards the phrase" the public be damned" was remembered, and the fact that Mr. Vanderbilt was working in the interests of his shareholders was forgotten. The right hon. Gentleman, I know, is working in the interests of his shareholders, and I quite sympathise with him in the difficult task he has. At the same time I am sure he will realise that the public are entitled to consideration. There is no member of the Ministry who has treated me with greater kindness than the President of the Board of Trade, and there is no one from whom I should more dislike to differ or to whom I should less like to make an appeal to which, perhaps, he finds it difficult to respond. Nevertheless, I trust he will reconsider this matter. Would it not be possible that a rise in the rates on goods might be substituted for 486 the increased charge on the season-ticket holders? It is only £1,000,000 a year, and I do not think it would require much raising of the goods rates to make up the difference. I feel that season-ticket holders are a valuable element of the community, that they are doing admirable work, and that they ought to be considered in every way. I think the value they give in exchange for these reduced rates of transportation makes up a great many times for the loss the railway companies experience in consequence.
§ Mr. GULLAND
I wish to bring before the notice of the President of the Board of Trade a matter of transport which I think has not been brought to his notice to-day. That is the Motor Spirit Order of the 3rd January of this year. That Order lays down the purposes for which petrol may be used for private motors. It says you can use petrol for the conveyance to a station, for business purposes, for necessary household affairs, which are detailed on many points. For instance, for the obtaining and carrying of food, fuel, stores, medical and surgical requisites, visits to a registered medical practitioner, dental surgeon, legal adviser, professional agent or bank, the conveyance of children or young persons to or from a school, college, or place for the purpose of receiving elementary or secondary education; and house removal; for the performance of any public duty, which includes attendance at or upon any Court of Justice, or the performance of a duty in connection with the service of a Government Department, and a good many other things. But for the purpose of this Order it does not include attendance at a place of worship. So far as a motor is concerned, the only thing you are not allowed to do is to use petrol for attendance at a place of worship. There have been a good many cases in Court, and a lot of very good people have been worried and warned and fined—I do not know whether any have been sent to prison yet —because they have used petrol to go to church. I cannot speak of England, but I can speak of Scotland, and this is felt to be a very hard Order. The Scottish people are still a church-going people, and to speak about my own Constituency about which I know I have put some questions to the right hon. Gentleman, and since then I have received a large number of letters from different parts of Scotland. You have in Scotland a large number of small country towns. The churches in 487 these country towns serve the population of villages and country districts for a considerable way round. The farmers and other people in these villages and country districts used to drive by horse to church. Now they have given up their horses; even if they had them they would not be allowed to feed them; and many have small motor cars in which they used to drive to church. Many of the best people —I mean that word in its right sense—who are old and lame and delicate cannot possibly go to church unless they can go by car. There is no railway, there are no taxis, cabs, or other means of conveyance at all. These people do not ask for a special supply of petrol; they only ask that they may use the petrol they have in that way, and if they prefer to use it to go to church, rather than to shop or to pay their dentist a visit or to attend a parish council, I do not see why the President of the Board of Trade should refuse to allow them to use the petrol in that way.
I am bound to say that I cannot see why, if they save the petrol from other purposes, they should not be allowed to go to church. In my own Constituency, in the burgh of Annan, these people see the munition works cars from Gretna careering round the country on not very necessary errands; they see the Liquor Control Board's vans driving drink about the country; and they do feel it a great grievance that they are not allowed to go to church. If they do use some petrol that they have kept for weeks to go to church with, they are run in by the police. It really is not an Order, I think, that can be defended, at any rate before a Scottish audience, and I do not know that it is popular in England either. The President of the Board of Trade has had a letter from the heads of the Scottish churches—from the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Moderator of the United Free Church of Scotland, the Primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Edinburgh and St. Andrew's. The right hon. Gentleman is not a Scotsman, and does not know the very high position of these very reverend gentlemen in Scotland, but his Friend behind, the hon. Member for Kilmarnock Burghs, can tell him what a high position these four reverend gentlemen hold in the public life of Scotland. In this letter of the 16th of March to the right hon. Gentleman they say: 488Many of our people are feeling acutely that they ought not to be practically prevented from. attending public worship, which they regard as a duty and an obligation, at a time like the present when there is special need of the helps and consolations of their religion. We venture to think that it must be possible to make some Regulation whereby permission might be granted under such conditions as to time and distance and local conditions as would prevent the risk of misuse of such permission.In reply to that letter the President wrote saying:I have reconsidered the question very carefully, and I am very sorry that I cannot alter the Regulation, which has been arrived at entirely in the national interest.People belonging to the churches in Scotland do not consider that a satisfactory answer, because they feel, speaking quite respectfully, that they are just as good judges of the national interest as the right hon. Gentleman, and that when His Majesty asked the people of the country to assemble in their churches and pray, for the country, and when the Prime Minister called upon the people of the country to pray for the Government—at any rate to pray for the country—it was at least thought that the President of the Board of Trade would not try to prevent people going to church and offering up their prayers. I think that the hon. Member can tell the right hon. Gentleman that these people and the churches which they represent are among the most useful people in Scotland on behalf of the War. The churches of Scotland and England have done enormous service in various ways in connection with the War, and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that in this matter they are entitled to be heard and that he ought to withdraw this restriction and allow the people to use the petrol that they have in the way that they consider most desirable. It really does not matter to him how the petrol is used. If they prefer to go to church according to the desire of His Majesty and the Prime Minister, let them do so. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give effect to the wish of these very influential clergymen in Scotland.
§ Colonel Sir C. SEELY
I desire to support what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries with regard to the use of petrol. I think that there is nothing which is causing more discontent in the country than the manner in which petrol that is allowed to people is limited in its application, and more especially limited in the wav in which he has referred to. I really think that that 489 Regulation should not be used to prevent people going to church, even if they take care to save a certain amount of petrol for the purpose. It has caused a feeling which is not very desirable in the interests of the Government or of the country. It looks a little as if the Government were rather careless about the higher interests which exist even in war time and through war time. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give the matter most careful consideration. It was said by the hon. and learned Member behind me that people can use horses.
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
I never suggested that. They walked to church when I was young, and I understood that they used to do so in Scotland.
§ Sir C. SEELY
The hon. Member interrupted the speech of the right hon. Member for Dumfries, in which he said they went with horses originally, and now they had parted with the horses. And I assumed that he had listened to the speeches that were delivered and was referring to that statement. Of course, they can walk to church, whether there is petrol or no petrol, but there are old people who cannot walk, and they are the people for whom the right hon. Gentleman and I am speaking. In regard to horses, the present position in respect of hay and forage is most serious. It is the most difficult thing in the world to import, because of the difficulty as to shipping and of bringing it by rail, and we know that the importation of hay and forage in bulk is more difficult than the importation of almost any other article. But it is needless to speak of this to the right hon. Gentleman, who himself knows the facts thoroughly.
I did not rise, however, to deal with this question, and I wish to call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and of the Committee to another matter on which the right hon. Gentleman spoke this afternoon. But, first, may I congratulate him on his extremely clear statement, which covered a large number of subjects, among them being that on which I desire to offer a few observations, namely, the coal trade and the position with regard to coal. The right hon. Gentleman used the phrase, that "in consequence of the large number of men who had enlisted there was a scarcity of coal in this country." I think that was the phrase. That does not quite do justice to what has been done by the 490 colliers in this country. The colliers calling is a very dangerous one. It is very-hard work, very uncomfortable, and unavoidably dangerous. Before the War colliers took very considerable holidays, and, in addition to the regular holidays which they took, all those who worked in the household collieries used to have a great many holidays, partly intentional and partly unintentional, during the summer months. Since the War these men have given their time, and as a result of that this country has not been short of coal. The right hon. Gentleman was making the point that there had been a diminution in the quantity of coal in this country. It is quite true there has been a diminution in the quantity of coal turned, but there was also a quantity of coal exported from this country, and what has occurred has been, as a matter of fact, that so great have been the efforts of the collieries that instead of a diminution there has been an increase in the amount of coal available for home consumption since the War.
I took the trouble to look up the Home Office figures. In 1911 the return in England was 272,000,000 tons and the export by shipping was 87,000,000 tons, leaving a balance of 185,000,000 tons for home consumption. In 1912 the balance shown was 174,000,000. In 1913 that balance was 189,000,000; in 1914, with half a year of war, it was only 184,000,000; but in 1915, the first full year of war, it went up to 193,000,000, and in 1916 201,000,000 tons were available. Figures for 1917 are not at present available, but I speak with considerable knowledge of the coal trade, and those who know the coal trade will agree with me that the number of men who enlisted during 1917 was not large, because enlistment was largely stopped while a considerable number of boys grew up and went into the coal face, other boys being taken in to do their work. Besides, in consequence of shipping difficulties, there must have been a further considerable decrease in the export. Therefore, I think I am quite correct in saying that, so far from there having been any reduction in the amount of coal available for home consumption, thanks to the work which the colliers have done, and for which I am inclined to think they have not had the thanks from their countrymen to which they are entitled, there has not been any diminution. I am aware that in the winter of 1916 people in 491 London suffered seriously from want of coal, but that was not the fault of the collier. It was due to the coldest winter I have ever known, to difficulties in the distribution of coal, practically local, and due to the nature of the roads and to the great delivery difficulties through men, horses, and blacksmiths having been taken away for military purposes. I do not blame it; it could not have been avoided, but it was not the fault of the collier, and when it is claimed for the Coal Controller that the absence of difficulty this winter is due to him I cannot help thinking that the clerk of the weather, who gave us a mild winter instead of an exceptionally cold one, is much more to be thanked for that than any Government arrangements, however good they may have been.
I do not wish to labour that point, but I should like, rather, to press it upon the right hon. Gentleman, because there is another element, and one of very great importance, to which I should like to draw his attention. I asked him yesterday if his attention had been drawn to the very large amount of returns which are asked for by the Coal Controller, and he stated that the Coal Controller asked for no returns which were not necessary, and that he was aware how the clerical staffs were depleted. I have known the coal trade for forty years—a good deal longer than the Coal Controller—and I must say that the returns I sent to the right hon. Gentleman seem to me to be so large, and so complicated, that they will cast a very large amount of work on the collieries, and will entail buildings which will have to be provided for the purpose. At a time when buildings are badly wanted for the housing of the poor, buildings are being provided for the housing of Government clerks in order to deal with returns, the object of which is to arrange for the distribution of coal by a central authority, instead of it being done by the colliery companies themselves, as they used to do in the old days. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to think very carefully whether this policy is a wise one. I am quite aware that there are difficulties with regard to the distribution of coal. In the years before the War coastwise traffic of coal was 22,000,000. That, of course, is disorganised in consequence of the War, and I would ask him whether it would not be wiser for the Coal Controller, instead of 492 attempting to arrange for the whole distribution of coal as he is now doing, to leave it to the men who have done it for years, under a certain amount of control from him and with his assistance, and devote his mind to the difficulties which are inherent in the War? He had one difficulty, in which his colleague alongside him knows I took an interest, in one part of England which was due to that which he never really dealt with, and which he was forced to by a very unfortunate incident; and I cannot help thinking that if he had, as I say, not interfered with the general business of distribution, but had given his mind to those definite cases in which the difficulties occurred in consequence of the War, he would find not only that he saved a great deal of public expense, but also that the actual distribution of coal, and the actual provision of coal for the people of this country, would be done much more satisfactorily than it will be done if the present system is continued. Although, as I have said, up to the present time there has been no deficiency of coal, there will be now, in consequence of the large increase in recruiting, a serious deficiency in the coal production of this country, and it is, therefore, very essential that this Department, on which the whole welfare of the country largely depends, should be carefully looked into and carefully managed. Up to the present, I think I may say, the quantity of coal has been so large, there has been plenty of room for mistakes. But you are now in a position that you cannot afford to make mistakes. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman is what he was in the old days, the representative of trade in the Government, but, assuming that he is, if he will ask his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to what is the position of the finances of this country, I think he will tell him that it is most important that no unnecessary interference should be made with the trade of this country, that every economy should be taken that can be taken, that nothing should be done which prevents people from making money, and nothings should be done which leads to unnecessary expense, because no one can have listened to the Debate which took place yesterday without realising thoroughly that the question of our power to continue this War, the question of the ultimate result of this War, will depend very largely on our financial strength. I would, 493 ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider the question I put before him, and to deal with it, as I know he will, with very great care, to realise that the clerk of the weather has been extremely kind to the Coal Controller, and that it is most desirable now that he should give careful consideration to his policy.
Sir A. STANLEY
I think perhaps it is desirable that I should intervene at this stage of the Debate, and attempt to deal with some of the questions which have been raised, and to which hon. Members desire to have answers. First of all, I should like to take the opportunity of thanking all hon. Members who have made such kindly reference to myself and to my associates. I assure hon. Members that the encouragement we get in this House is a really very great incentive in our efforts to carry on the very important work which is attached to the Board of Trade. Therefore, as I have said, any encouragement we get from hon. Members is very welcome and very helpful indeed. Before I deal with what may be described as the more important questions which have been discussed—season tickets and transport—I had perhaps better refer to one or two other matters which have been raised by hon. Members.
Perhaps, first of all, I might deal with a, point raised by the hon. Member for one of the divisions of Cheshire in regard to the coal rationing scheme which we are proposing to establish very shortly. He asked whether coal consumers should be encouraged at the present time to stock coal during the summer months in anticipation of their needs next winter. I am glad he raised that question. It gives me the opportunity of saying that we propose in a few days to make public this new scheme of rationing. As soon as it is published we shall desire and be very glad that the public, when they know what their allowance is to be, should take advantage of the summer months to stock some part at least of the amount of coal which is allowed for their use next winter. It is not a question of coal alone, it is also one of transport. It will be helpful for us if the public generally do as they did in London last summer, secure some part of their coal in the summer.
The hon. Gentleman (Sir C. Cory) raised the question of the commission allowed to coal brokers. This matter 494 is engaging the attention of the Coal Controller. He has arranged for to-morrow a meeting with the Executive Committee of the Exporters' Association. I hope that as a result of that interview he will be able to come to some satisfactory arrangement with them. I only desire to say this: As I understand the position, that arrangement, made some little time ago, which gave a fixed commission to the exporters, was a provisional one and not necessarily for the duration of the War. The circumstances to-day are so totally different to those prevailing when this voluntarly arrangement was entered into that it has been found necessary to make some change. I anticipate that it will be possible for the Coal Controller to make some arrangement with the exporters.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Gulland) raised the question of the use of petrol. I should not wish to go so far as to say that in the Debate we have been thoroughly Hackened in character. But certainly it has been suggested, very modestly perhaps, that, on the one hand, we have adopted a policy of "the public be damned!" and, on the other hand, that we tend to interfere with those good people who desire to attend church. May I assure hon. Members that neither is the policy of the Board of Trade? We try as best we can, in dealing with these restrictions, to be considerate towards those affected by anything we may have to do. I am sure hon. Members will realise the extraordinary difficulty of our position. We do not desire to establish any restrictions interfering with the daily life of the public where those restrictions can possibly be avoided. I know that in some instances it may seem as though these restrictions had operated very harshly indeed. But I assure hon. Members that what we do is the result of the most careful deliberations, and certainly we attempt to secure the best advice we can upon all these problems before any action is taken. It does, perhaps, seem that we might allow those who have an allowance of petrol to use it for the particular purpose suggested by the hon. Gentleman. But I would remind him that while there has been an arrangement whereby a certain amount of petrol has been allowed, that the use of that petrol does not necessarily mean that those concerned shall have complete freedom to use it as they desire. I would remind the Committee that the petrol coming into this 495 country is imported in ships, and that, if petrol is to be brought in those ships, something else essential to us has to be denied. That is our position. We attempt as best we canto confine the use of petrol within the narrowest possible limit. Our experience has been—we have now had the experience of several years—that when once you open the door, when once you relax a restriction in the interests of any individual or of any group of individuals who may feel that they themselves have a particular claim to consideration, from that moment the restrictions cease to become effective and we have opened the door to all sorts of claims. We have found it impossible to carryon these restrictions by that method. I am exceedingly sorry to have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that we cannot accept any relaxation of these restrictions at the present time. It is not necessary for me to remind the Committee how critical is the tonnage situation and how imperatively necessary it is that in everything that has to do with the use of ships everybody should exercise the utmost degree of economy.
Sir A. STANLEY
I am not aware of that. May I now turn to the question of season tickets? The Debate, if I understand it correctly, resolves itself into this: That there is no objection to restrictions being put upon the unnecessary use of season tickets, and that the objection is really to the proposed increase in prices. The suggestion has been made that a uniform increase should be made, irrespective of distance, or alternatively, that the limiting distance of 12 miles, which covers the 10 per cent. increase, should be increased to, say, some 20 miles. May I again say that in considering the question not only of the increase of prices of season tickets, but also with respect to all of the restrictions we are imposing, that they have only been decided upon after the most careful investigation. We have consulted with all sorts of people in this matter. We have consulted with those who ought to be qualified by their experience to advise us—railway managers, those associated with railway undertakings—and the restrictions that we are imposing and the increased prices we are putting upon season tickets, I can assure the Committee, are really the absolute minimum.
496 I have had this subject before me for many weeks and months. I have endeavoured in every direction I possibly could to find ways whereby the restrictions upon the travel of the people of this country would be interfered with as little as possible. I know the hardships which attach to any of these restrictions. I know that the increased prices of season tickets must bear hardly upon some individuals. But I have no alternative. I have to recognise that nothing would be more fatal to the interests of this country than that, at a time like this, the railways should break down.
We are carrying on under extreme difficulty. I have tried to indicate partially to the Committee the difficulties that confront us. I honestly feel that what we are asking the public to do now is something that, on the whole, the public can well afford to bear. I can only express the hope that these restrictions and these increases we are proposing will not have to be extended. We have made constant appeals to the public—appeal after appeal has been made to them to keep away from the railways unless it is necessary that they should travel on them. The result of those appeals has been that they only advertise the railways more, and that travel increases rather than decreases. Now we have no alternative but to establish some restriction which, as I have said, we have honestly tried to make as little burdensome as possible. These restrictions have not been imposed except after careful investigation and with a full knowledge. If I may be permitted to say so, I have some knowledge of railway working, and I have not approached this problem as an amateur. I know something about railways, and in dealing with this problem I have brought to bear upon it all the knowledge that I have and all my resources, and I have done it with a desire to inconvenience the public as little as I could. I desire to impress upon hon. Members that, far from it being our desire to adopt what has been quietly suggested is the policy of "the public be damned!" they are the shareholders, and we are responsible to them for what we do. I sincerely hope that the impression will not go out that what we have done we have done ruthlessly and without proper regard to the interests of the public. I am sorry that we cannot make any concessions in a matter of this kind. I know if I did it would be a mistake, and that I should have to come to the House later 497 on and say that it was a mistake, and ask the House to allow me to make further restrictions rather than less. I appeal to hon. Members to recognise the position in which we find ourselves, that we are really up against an exceedingly difficult problem, and that nothing will be done which will affect travelling upon the railways unless it is absolutely necessary.
§ Major NEWTON
Could the right hon. Gentleman say how increasing the price of season tickets is going substantially to diminish the number of persons who travel?
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
Is he going to renew the season tickets to those who are not British subjects, and who are the cause of all the trouble?
Sir A. STANLEY
I have tried to make it clear, with regard to the increase in the price of the season tickets, that it has not been done so much with the object of restricting travelling—although I think it will have a very considerable effect in that direction—as in order to fix a price which will bear some relation to the cost of carrying the particular traveller With regard to aliens, we have made it quite clear that those who have taken out season tickets since 1st January, 1917—
§ Mr. RAWLINSON
Is there any difference made between a British subject and a person who is not a British subject?
Sir A. STANLEY
It depends entirely upon the work that they are doing. If people are doing work of national importance, and must rids, then season tickets will be issued to them; but I am very doubtful myself whether the vast majority of what are described as aliens— those who are really interfering unnecessarily with the movement of traffic in the railways—will be able hereafter to secure season tickets.
§ Major NEWTON
Is it work of national importance for a man to earn his living in order to pay Income Tax and local rates?
Sir A. STANLEY
With regard to the question of transport, the suggestion that is made, as I understand it, is that a 498 Select Committee of this House should be appointed to go into the whole question, not only with respect to the railways but also the canals, docks, and road transport. My little experience in this House, so far as Committees are concerned, is that we have been criticised for appointing too many Committees.
Sir A. STANLEY
It is an additional Committee. I am not raising any question about the appointment of a Select Committee of this House. I do not think that the time is opportune for the appointment of such a Committee. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] We have a Committee going into the question of the railways.
Sir A. STANLEY
A Committee that was appointed some months ago, a thoroughly representative Committee, that is working with the President of the Board of Trade upon this question of railways.
Sir A. STANLEY
This Committee is appointed only to advise the President of the Board of Trade, who in return will advise the Government as to what steps shall be taken for the future management of these railways. When those proposals are brought forward there will be an opportunity of debating the whole matter. I cannot but think that those who suggest a Select Committee to go into the whole question of transport do not realise the magnitude of what they are proposing. Enormous overlapping will arise, while others are working at exactly the same problem. Reference has been made to a particular scheme for improving the methods of distribution, particularly in London. I cannot feel that this is a place where the particular merits of any scheme can be successfully debated. I certainly would desire hon. Members to believe that no scheme which has any merit would not be considered at the Board of Trade. We are there with open doors to any practical suggestion, not only with respect to transport but any other problem with which we have to deal. As an indication of our willingness to consider 499 these matters I should like to say these few words in connection with the particular scheme which has been discussed, and that is, I did offer that during the War I would arrange for facilities being given for some practical experiments being made with respect to this particular scheme. Anything less to my mind will be absolutely futile.
Sir A. STANLEY
Certainly it does. This scheme means the investment of many millions. It is totally untried, and I myself think—I say this frankly to those interested in that particular scheme— that before a scheme of that kind can be attempted upon any such scale as that which is suggested, before you will find anybody who will invest such a vast sum of money they will first of all have to be satisfied that it has been tried upon a small scale and that it possesses all the merits and qualifications necessary in order to secure success. While we are dealing with railway problems as a whole in order that the bigger question of the future of the railways may be determined as well as that of the canals and docks, it would be possible for an experiment on a small scale to be tried. Whatever merit there may be in this particular scheme the smaller experiment might be tried without any waste of time. [An HON. MEMBER: "At the expense of the State !"] Yes, but the expense would be very small indeed, and it would be possible to arrange with the railway companies for this experiment to be tried. [An HON. MEMBER: "What about racing?"] As to racing, the hon. Member knows that this matter is being considered by the War Cabinet, and I hope that their decision will be announced in the next two or three days. It is not a matter that I myself could give any decision upon.' Meantime relief trains for race meetings will not be run. I am sorry I have not an opportunity of going further into many questions which have been raised, but on those points which have been raised I have given the best answer I could under the circumstances.
§ Sir J. D. REES
My short speech begins where many longer speeches end, in smoke. I want to ask the fight hon. Gentleman on a matter which greatly 500 concerns the comfort of the travelling public. Although at least a half, probably more, of every train is composed of smoking carriages, it is almost impossible for one who does not smoke to get any accommodation without smoking. I do not propose to say very much in favour of non-smokers. They are feeble folk, but it is quite possible that the absence of this virtue in them is not due to original sin. There may be some fault in their composition, in their lungs, in their eyes, or what not, which makes a journey in a very stuffy atmosphere in a cloud of tobacco smoke unpleasant, disagreeable and unprofitable. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible for anyone, however much he may desire it, at present to escape that inconvenience. For instance, suppose a passenger, after great trouble, finds a seat in a non-smoker, and then goes to the refreshment-room to obtain, if he is fortunate, a fish-paste sandwich, let us say, by the time he has returned someone has persuaded the porter to put one of those temporary white labels, "Smoking," on the-window, and he finds himself in the unenviable position of having to assert his own feelings against the whole of the company, or having to sit during the whole journey—generally a very long journey now—insmoke. This is not a small matter. I am not bringing it forward in a spirit of carping against the railways. I do not complain about them. It is wonderful how polite, attentive, and efficient the largely reduced staffs are. It was not at all with that idea that I rose—very far from it I would express my extreme obligation, as a frequent traveller, to all the staffs of all the railways. But I ask the right hon. Gentleman to be so kind as to report to those who are immediately connected with the management of the railways that it would be right and fair to retain a certain amount of accommodation— [Interruption.] I have not been on my legs more than four minutes, after having waited more than four hours, and I protest against being hurried, seeing that I have suffered severely from the subject I am bringing before the President of the Board of Trade. I beseech my hon. Friends to exercise that virtue of patience which I have had to exercise on account of this very transgression which I am begging him to redress. So far about tobacco smoke.
501 I have been urged, and I do it with complete sympathy, to take the line already adopted by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Gulland). I urge the President of the Board of Trade to include church-going in the legitimate uses of petrol, not to give extra allowances.
It being Eleven of the Clock, the Deputy-Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.502
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir D. Maclean), pursuant to the Order of the House of the 13th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Two minute after Eleven o'clock.