HC Deb 01 July 1919 vol 117 cc809-923

Order for Consideration, as amended (in the Standing Committee), read.


I beg to move, That the Bill be re-committed to a Committed of the Whole House with constructions to eliminate from the scope of the Bill all provisions relating to matter other than railways and canals. I propose, with the leave of the House, to make a statement with regard to the negotiations which have taken place between a certain group of Members and the Prime Minister. It is within the knowledge of the House that a meeting took place yesterday afternoon at which a considerable number of Members who were opposed to certain portions of this Bill had the privilege of an interview with the Leader of the House. It is impossible I should state what exactly took place there, but it is known that the Leader of the House arranged for a deputation to see the Prime Minister, and accordingly my hon. Friend the Member for Lime-house (Sir W. Pearce), the Member for Greenwich (Lieut. - Commander Benn), and the Member for one of the Divisions of Glasgow (Sir W. Raeburn), with myself, attended last night on the Prime Minister, the Lord Privy Seal, the Home Secretary, and the Minister-designate of Ways and Communications, in order to discuss with them certain Clauses in the Bill to which we objected.

I feel it would not be right that the House should not know, and I think my right hon. Friend concurs in the conclusion which was arrived at that meeting. I desire to say that, of course, we four Back Bench Members have no power whatever to compromise the views of any Member of this House. I state at once that we were not plenipotentiaries.


As the Mover of the Resolution which constituted my hon. Friend and his colleagues the representatives of the meeting to which he has referred, I desire to say that they were fully constituted as representatives.


I am much obliged to my hon. Friend.


On a point of Order, Is it usual for a Government decision with regard to a Bill to be communicated to the House by a private Member? Is my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House not going to put to the House the position from the Government's point of view?

Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)

Most certainly. Either I or another member of the Government will do so; but my hon. Friend has risen to move the re-committal of the Bill, and I should have thought it was quite in order to make any statement he thinks right on the general subject. I shall also make a statement.


I need hardly say I would gladly have given way to the Leader of the House, but I do not think there is any Motion on which he could make a statement except that which I have down, and I thought the House would wish to hear a statement at the outset. The two main points put before the Ministers last night were: First, the question of the docks and harbours, and, secondly, the roads. As to the question of docks and harbours, a Clause was agreed to. Probably it will be for the general convenience if I read the Clause, as it is not on the Order Paper. I should say that the main gravamen of our attack on the Bill was Clause 3, which gives large powers to the Minister to take possession of and control docks and harbours. The new Clause is as follows: Nothing in Section 3 of this Act shall apply to any harbour, dock or pier undertaking established by Act of Parliament, including the Manchester Ship Canal but not including a harbour, dock or pier forming part of a railway undertaking, or to the owners of any such undertaking without the consent of such owners, but if at any time during the two years after the passing of this Act the Minister shall consider that it is desirable in the national interest that the transport facilities and accommodation at the harbour, or at any dock or pier of the owners should be improved or extended or that the method of working should be altered, the Minister may by Order, for the purposes aforesaid, require the owners to execute or do, within a reasonable time, such improvement or extension or alteration in the method of working as the Order may prescribe, and may for that purpose confer on the owners any such powers of acquiring land or easements or constructing works as are mentioned in paragraph (d) of Subsection (1) of that Section. Provided that if the owners of such undertaking consider that any such requirements of the Minister are likely to be seriously injurious to the undertaking, or to the trade of the port, they may appeal, in the case of an undertaking situate in England or Wales to the Lord Chief Justice of England, or in the case of an undertaking situate in Scotland, to the Lord President of the Court of Session, or, in the case of an undertaking situate in Ireland, to the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, and if it appears to such Lord Chief Justice or Lord President that a prima facie case is made out that the requirements of the Minister would be so injurious as aforesaid he shall forthwith appoint an arbitrator to hold an immediate inquiry, and if the arbitrator reports that the carrying out of the requirements of the Minister will be so injurious as aforesaid the Minister shall revoke his requirements, without prejudice to the power of the Minister to issue a new Order. The Clause was concurred in by my hon. Friend who represents more particularly the dock interests, and I think it will be agreed that the Clause is both fair to the Minister and the docks and harbours. It takes away the right of the Minister to take possession of the docks and harbours and exercise all the powers under Clause 3, and it gives him power to require improvements in docks for purposes of transport, but with power to the dock authorities to appeal to an arbitrator if they think it would be injurious to their undertaking or the trade of the port.

With regard to roads, I do not think; need read the whole of that Clause, because the Prime Minister and the other Ministers agreed to accept the contention of the new Clause which stands in my name on page 1410 of the Notice Paper. They accept (a), (b), and (e). In short, the new Clause sets up a special Roads Advisory Committee, comprised of ten members, five to be nominated by the Minister after consultation with the local authorities of the country, and five to be nominated by him after consultation with the interests concerned. That Committee is For the purpose of giving advice and assistance to the Minister with respect to and for safeguarding any interests affected by the exercise of the powers and the performance of his duties under this Act in relation to roads and bridges and vehicles and traffic thereon.'' May I say to those hon. Friends of mine working with me, with regard to roads, that it does not give us all we ask for, but I trust my hon. Friends will accept that as a useful compromise, and I should like quite frankly to acknowledge on behalf of those Members who have been working with me, the very great courtesy extended last night by the Prime Minister and his colleagues, and I hope they will agree that in the discussion we approached this matter from the national interests and not from any sectional point of view. [Hon. MEMBERS: "Question !"] At all events, I think the House will agree when it has heard more of this Debate, that the Government is satisfied in the national in- terests with the proposals which have been made. There is only one other thing I have to say, and that is, that those were the two main points discussed, and all the other Amendments on the Paper were reserved for discussion in this House. I gave an undertaking, so far as I could personally, that there should be no fractious opposition to the further progress of the Bill, but that all the Amendments on the Paper should be discussed on their merits. I hope the Lord Privy Seal will be able to be present during our discussions, and I feel sure that there are several Amendments on the Paper which the Government on re-consideration will accept.


Everyone who is accustomed to get Bills through this House knows that there are difficulties in making any statement outside the ordinary routine. Personally I see no objection whatever to the course which has been adopted by my hon. Friend and it has this great advantage that, under the present rules, a speech of ten minutes only is allowed in proposing it and a speech of ten minutes in reply. I am sure the House as a whole will realise that what my hon. Friend has said, and what I say now, on behalf of the Government, does not meanin the least, as is suggested by some who have interrupted, that there should be any attempt whatever to square this matter behind the backs of the House of Commons. Nothing of the kind. The Government have from the first regarded this Bill as one of vital importance to this country.

4.0 P.M

In addition to that, there was no part of the programme put forward by the Prime Minister and, so far, by myself, on which we dwelt more persistently than that after the difficulty which had occurred during the "War, nothing was more essential to re-estabiish the welfare of this country than to have a comprehensive system of transport. That has been our object. But any Government in any democratic country dealing with any legislative body must always realise that there are two things in connection with any Bill which has to be secured. In the first place, the Bill must be one which commends itself to the legislative body to which it is submitted, but that in itself would be of no use unless the second condition was also fulfilled, that the Bill as accepted should be such as to enable the Government to carry out the measures, the objects, for which the Bill was introduced That has been our guiding principle. We are anxious to carry all sections of the House with us in this measure, because obviously there is nothing whatever in it which should arouse any of the old party feeling. It is simply a question of facing a great problem, a problem which has developed into a great evil which must be dealt with in the most efficient way in the interests of the State. That is what we are aiming at. In dealing with it the Government, in the introduction of the Bill and in its passage through Committee, have been faced with this difficulty. They knew perfectly well that it was a very ambitious measure, a measure which from the nature of the case must arouse, if not hostility, intense fear, and criticism, not of vested interests in the ordinary sense of the word, not of private vested interests, but because it touched the local feeling and the local patriotism and pride which, as much as the House of Commons itself, is one of the essential features of this country. We realise that. I can assure the House that my right hon. Friend (Sir Eric Geddes) was a3 anxious as any Member of the House is not to insist on anything being in that Bill which interfered with these local authorities unless in his opinion it was absolutely necessary for the successful working of the measure.

Our difficulty was this: Any Bill which deals with such subjects must contain Clauses, comprehensive Clauses, because you never know at what stages difficulty will arise. It must, therefore, seem to give to the central Government powers which it was never intended to give, but which are only there to be used in case of emergency, where quick action is required. What we desired throughout and what we have arranged now is to bring into the Bill, not merely the assertion of the Government as to what our intentions are, but definite words which show what has been from the beginning our intention. There has never been any intention to run these great dock companies by administration from London. What we aimed at was to have some central, co-ordinated policy of the whole transport and to secure that object my right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) thought it impossible to get this comprehensive policy if the docks, through which so large a percentage of the traffic passes, are not to be within that scheme of comprehensive transport. That is our object. The difficulty was to frame words which, while recognising the intention of the Government to continue this local effort and this local machinery, would yet make sure that the new Department would not be hampered in its work. Our desire was to secure that, and at the same time if we could to make it plain that there would be no frivolous or arbitrary interference with the work of these local bodies.

My hon. Friend (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) read the terms of the Amendment which was agreed to last night, and when it comes to be introduced I think it will be agreed that we have to a large extent secured that double object. We have, I believe, made sure that my right hon. Friend will be able to do his work without frivolous interference, and, on the other hand, we have made it plain on the face of the Bill that there is no intention whatever to take over these local undertakings and run them as a branch of some Ministry in Whitehall. There is nothing in that I am sure which would offend the susceptibilities of any section in this country. We desire to have a workable Bill, and everything that has happened since the introduction of the measure has convinced me more and more that a measure of this kind is absolutely vital if we are to get the industry of this country going again on a satisfactory basis. It is not a question of private enterprise against State enterprise. This particular Bill was introduced for one purpose only, a purpose with which every Member should sympathise, of recognising that our transport question is a vital interest in the country and to secure the best method of dealing efficiently and quickly with that service. That is all we want. I hope the House will take that in the spirit of the hon. Members whom we saw last night. No Government loves criticism of a Government measure, but every Government is accustomed to it. It is the universal experience, even at a time of ordinary party Government, and it is much more true now. When a party Government introduces a measure it very rarely has any opposition from its own supporters; but it is absolutely essential, and we have tried to do it, to convince the House of Commons as a whole that this is a measure which is urgently required and is a vital necessity to this country, and that what we have got to do is to recognise there may be risks in it; but certainly if we do not attempt something, if we allow things to drift along as they are, with all the consequences which have resulted from the War, we are heading straight to disaster. With these few words I sit down, but I do wish to make the House believe, what is the truth, that the Government in regard to this measure have no object of any kind in view except to give to the country as quickly as possible the best comprehensive system of transport that it is in their power to give.

Question put, and negatived.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

  1. NEW CLAUSE — (Accounts, Statistics, and Returns.) 1,272 words
  2. cc818-57
  3. NEW CLAUSE —(Saving for Statutory Harbour, Dock, and Pier Authorities.) 17,227 words, 2 divisions
  4. c857
  5. NEW CLAUSE.—(Provisions as to Orders in Council.) 238 words
  6. cc857-62
  7. NEW CLAUSE.—(Provisions as to Orders in Council.) 1,672 words
  8. cc862-71
  9. NEW CLAUSE.—(Complaints to Railway and Canal Commission as to Undue Disadvantage.) 3,539 words
  10. cc871-81
  11. NEW CLAUSE.—(Roads Advisory Committee.) 4,853 words, 1 division
  12. cc881-9
  13. NEW CLAUSE.—(Right of Traders to Appeal to Railway and Canal Commission.) 3,300 words
  14. cc889-91
  15. NEW CLAUSE.—(Appeal as to Bridges.) 555 words
  16. cc891-5
  17. CLAUSE 1.—(Appointment of Minister of Ways and Communications.) 1,969 words, 1 division
  18. cc895-923
  19. CLAUSE 2.—(Powers and Duties.) 11,777 words, 1 division