§ Order for Third Reading read.
The MINISTER (Designate) of WAYS and COMMUNICATIONS (Sir Eric Geddes)
I beg to move,That the Bill be now read the third time.In view of the long Debates, both in Committee and in this House, and the general interest in this Bill which sets up the Ministry, I think it would meet the wishes of the House if I would make a general statement, very briefly, as to what the Bill now does, and, generally, what it is proposed in the initial stages to do under the Bill, if it becomes law, and the organisation that it is proposed to set up. The Bill divides itself readily into two aspects, the permanent aspect and the temporary aspect. The principal provisions of a permanent character are, first, the setting up of a Ministry specially charged with the transportation of the country, to which are permanently transferred the powers which existing Government Departments and public Departments have in connection with transportation. Then, permanent power is given to operate and maintain certain new services which can be set up during a two-years' temporary period under the Act. Power is given to deal with privately-owned wagons, and there arc also powers to make advances. Turning to the temporary powers for two years, those include a wide scope in connection with transportation undertakings as a whole, and adequate arrangements are embodied in the Bill for compensation to those who under the provisions of the Bill, in the national interest, may in their individual or corporate capacity be subjected to loss. It is provided particularly for docks that if the Minister of Ways and Communications gives an instruction to a dock authority, a statutory dock authority, to carry out any particular modification in their working, or to undertake works which the dock authority can show would be seriously injurious to the prosperity of their undertaking, then they may have an arbitration on the order. There is also temporary power to establish new services and power to call during the two years for accounts and returns. Those, I 2068 think, are the principal powers conferred by the Bill of a permanent and temporary character.
As to the financial provisions, in addition to the ordinary Estimates which will be laid by the Department in the ordinary way, there are special additional safeguards. Any new service can only be undertaken if a complete estimate for the service has been approved by the Treasury, and if it involves a total expenditure estimated to exceed £500,000, with the additional approval of both Houses, and no larger sum than £1,000,000 for any one work shall be advanced, even if already voted in the Estimates, unless by special Resolution of both Houses. Further land cannot be compulsorily acquired, nor roads broken up for new services, unless approved by both Houses. There are ample and, I hope, satisfactory safeguards for the employés of the undertakings of which possession can be taken under the terms of the measure. In order to ensure that the Minister shall in the exercise of those powers be given the host advice, and in certain specific instances to ensure that he is to receive that advice, various Advisory Committees have been set up, specifically one to advise on the question of rates and one to advise on the question of roads, and, generally, a panel of experts of men of wide business experience from which the Minister will appoint Committees to advise him on matters on which he desires advice. In the case of the provision of the revision of rates, using that word in its widest sense, and in taking possession of undertakings, or in starting new services, the Minister is obliged to seek advice from those Advisory Committees, and in other cases it is optional. But in all those instances the final decision rests with the Minister and the Government of the day. That, I venture to think, must remain so, as it is in accordance with the constitutional procedure of the country.
During the Debates, both in this House and in Grand Committee, Amendments have been introduced giving power to Advisory Committees to veto action which the Minister wishes to take-— to exercise authority over the Minister, to make independent reports to the public, to make public their advice to the Minister. None of these Amendments were maintained, and if it is not taking up the time of the House I would like to offer a few observations on that point, because it is quite possible that 2069 when the Bill goes into Debate in another place this matter may again arise, and it has a very great significance on our machinery of government. If we surround any Minister with bodies of outsiders who have the power either to veto his action or to voice official opinions upon the work of the Department as outsiders of the Department and yet within the confidence of the Department, it is bound to take responsibility from the Minister, which I think the House, in coming to the decision it did, and the Grand Committee also, does wish to place on the Minister. The House wishes to retain the full responsibility of the Minister, and I think at this stage it is very important that we should clear our minds on this point, because, with the development of Government and Government control and Government interest in such matters as these, this question of Advisory Committees with or without power over a Minister is bound to arise again, and may arise again on this Bill. In my opinion, which I give with great deference, there is no halfway house to a Minister and a Member of a Government responsible solely and absolutely to Parliament. If you create a body which has responsibility for vetoing and controlling a Minister, then you cannot hold the Minister responsible, because he is partially controlled by someone else. You must either have corporate responsibility or individual responsibility, and there is no half-way house at all which could be used satisfactorily either in the administration of commercial undertakings or the administration of great Government Departments.
I do not think there is any precedent in the Government of this country in its great Departments where the undivided responsibility of a Minister has been either challenged or interfered with. There were individual cases where a Commission was set up with actual executive authority, and where the direct responsibility to Parliament did not exist for their executive actions. One instance was the Road Board; another was the Development Commission. I would be the last to suggest that these two bodies, within their limited scope, did anything but good work, their responsibility to Parliament was through the Treasury on financial matters; but there was no Minister who was responsible for developing any policy in those two sets of national activities. The Committee which sat towards the end of the War, presided 2070 over by Lord Haldane, after very careful investigation definitely advised against semi-independent bodies of that kind, and strongly reported in favour of every Department of State being responsible directly and solely, through its Minister, to Parliament. In the opinion of the Government that was a wise decision, and they adopted it.
If Committees such as have been suggested, and such as no doubt will be suggested in another place, wore set up under this Bill which had the power of controlling the Minister and vetoing his action, there is no Minister to whom Parliament can look for the development of a transport policy. If we consider, human nature being what it is, how such Committees would work, I think the House would see that they are really not a practical or practicable solution of the difficulty which confronts the House, and which we all know and recognise. The Minister and the Government are responsible for developing a policy. They seek advice from an Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee has the power either to veto something the Minister wishes to do or of giving advice. But the Minister must be responsible for the development of any policy which the Government is carrying out. The Committee has no responsibility for that policy; they are only responsible for giving advice, and they can only be shot at indirectly if something done on their advice goes wrong. As long as that is so they will play for safety. I do not say we should not go for safety, but sometimes you have to decide between one course and another; the one may be the safer, the other the less safe course, but you get ahead on it. Therefore, the putting up of the these Committees must inevitably hamper the activities of the Department and vitiate the direct responsibility to the House. The possibility of setting up commissioners for this great transportation problem of the country is not one which I should wish definitely to pronounce against. It may be that after the two years' consideration for which this Bill provides, the House will come to the conclusion that some sort of corporation is the best way to manage or direct and control the transportation of the country, but if such a corporation is set up I suggest that it involves an important change in our constitutional procedure. We have got over the difficulty which comes with such an organisation in the case of the. Electricity Supply Bill by 2071 giving local commissioners complete power for their undertaking, subject to general control from Whitehall, and that relieves the Minister from developing an active policy, and makes him, through the Chief Commissioner of Electricity, what the Board of Trade has hitherto been, largely a regulating and advisory Department, the responsibility for running the undertaking being with the district commissioners. That may be suitable for electricity, and I think it is. It was recommended after long deliberation by the Committee presided over by the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Sir A. Williamson), and that is now in Grand Committee. Some such arrangement may be suitable for our transport undertakings, but whether that is a suitable organisation or not it is not open to us to start it to-day. We have adopted the principle of a Minister responsible to Parliament, and the House has affirmed that, while at the same time giving Advisory Committees which cannot limit or hamper the activities of the Minister.
In my Second Reading speech I referred to the financial result of the working of the railways. That speech apparently has caused misunderstanding, and I have apparently in some respects mislead certain Members of the House. I regret that very much, and I am sure the House will acquit me of any desire to mislead. I rather wish that a Minister who has not-had longer experience of the House than I, could be allowed to safeguard his speeches by the well-known commercial expression "E. and. O.E." ["errors and omissions excepted"], but I fear that the OFFICIAL REPORT would not admit of that safeguard. I think that if the House will endeavour to follow me for a few minutes it will be clear that the words I used were not strictly inaccurate. I may not have been as meticulously precise as I should have been, but the words, I think, were not inaccurate. The words I used were "a loss," "increased cost" "a deficit," and "something which the taxpayer paid." These were the words I used in referring to the £90,000,000 and £100,000,000, but I would like now to put as clearly as I can the position, because it is really perfectly simple. In the earliest months of this year the estimated increased cost of operating the railways above 1913 costs, was at the rate of £90,000,000 to £100,000,000 a year. Assum- 2072 ing that the same traffic would pass in 1919 as passed in 1913, this sum would fall on the taxpayer, and in that sense it was a loss to the taxpayer.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
Yes. In that sense it was a loss to the taxpayer. That was the only estimate which it was possible to get at the time from the responsible Departments. The estimated excess cost of operating—which, the House will remember, was from £90,000,000 10,1100,000,000—has since been increased by the Department responsible to from £104,000,000 to £109,000,000. It has gone up from between the two margins—£90,000,000 and £100,000,000—to between £104,000,000 and £109,000,000. That was in the light of experience and further consideration of the concession made to employés, and it is at that figure that the Estimate stands to-day. Further consideration and investigation during the past six months has revealed possibilities of economies and other credit factors which give the estimated net deficit. The original figure was an increased working cost, and on the estimate of similarity of traffic for 1913, and gave a loss to the taxpayer. The net deficit payable by the taxpayer for the current financial year is estimated to be £60,000,000, which was included in the Budget figures. That is the explanation of the figures which I quoted, but the House will realise that at this time such a figure must be very uncertain. If we take, for instance, the increased cost of coal which has been forecasted—and which will be debated in the House, I understand, next week—that alone is £5,000,000 on the railway bill at once. There are other factors, both of income and expenditure, which practically make it impossible to tell to-day what the position is going to be for the full current financial year.
If, as I hope, I have cleared up the misunderstanding which my original statement made, I would like briefly to tell the House what the Government proposes to do in the initial stages under the powers-given by this Bill if it becomes law. I also propose to touch upon the proposed appointments in the superior personnel. As I have shown, our railways-to-day are working at a great loss. It does not matter whether it is £60,000,000 or more; the figure is so colossal that we have to look at it as a very serious 2073 problem. That £60,000,000 is what the Government has to make good, including, of course, the guarantee of the net receipts of 1913 to the railway shareholders. Those net receipts, which were somewhere between £45,000,000 and £50,000,000—I am speaking from memory-will account for roughly £50,000,000 of the £60,000,000. They provide 4¼ per cent. upon the capital on the 1913 basis. As interest goes to-day that is not an unduly large return on capital. No one would wish it to be smaller if the industry is to remain in a healthy condition, and is to be able to develop to meet the requirements of the country. I endeavoured to find out by cable what the position was in America. I do not know whether the American figures compare with my previous figure of £90,000,000 or the present £60,000,000, but the deficit that the taxpayer is expecting to have to pay today on their railways is at the rate of £150,000,000 a year. That is after the Americans have put 25 per cent. on the whole of their freight rates. That is a comparison which may be interesting to the House in considering this matter. That £60,000,000, including as it does a modest return on the Capital, the country has somehow or other to make up, no matter whether it comes from the taxpayer or the payer of freight dues. How can we do it? In what direction can we look to improve matters?
I am not giving the points in their order of importance, but in the first place there is the elimination of competitive services in the widest sense—services simply given for purposes of competition. The next point is the common user of all railway rolling stock that is fit for common user. Just as there are special wagons for special trades which will have to be protected, so there are special railway-owned wagons for special districts it is the common user of all rolling stock which car. be made available for common use, and is of a design suitable for common user. The corollary to that is the elimination of the private wagon, and obtaining the common user of that, in so far as it is available and suitable. Then there is the increased capacity of lines to get more traffic over them, and the decrease of the cost of traction by judicious electrification—not wholesale electrification, as has been suggested would be carried out, but judicious electrification. There is great economy, 2074 and there is enormous advantage, as has been proved by actual practice, in heavy electric traction in increasing the capacity of the line. Then I am sure the House will appreciate that, once you have got the whole of the wagons under one control, so that you are sure that all the rolling stock will be gradually and progressively brought up to the best standard, then you can afford to improve the loading gauge. That is a very costly and difficult thing to do throughout the country. It can only be justified it the whole of the rolling stock is going to conform to the new loading gauge eventually. As long as railways could only speak for half the rolling stock—which is what they own to-day, namely, 700,000 out of 1,400,000 wagons—it was difficult to justify the wholesale improvement of the loading gauge, which is probably worse in this country than in any other big country in the world. Once we get the whole of the rolling stock under the one control, so that it can go forward on the one line of improvement, it is worth while improving the loading gauge, and that will mean great economy in the working of traffic.
An HON. MEMBER
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us the exact meaning of "loading gauge"? It is a technical term.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
It is the height and width of the vehicle which can pass obstructions on the line. It means altering station platforms, altering the entrances to warehouses, altering what is called the "six-foot" between the tracks, altering passing points on shortened sidings. [HON. MEMBERS: "And bridges and tunnels."] And bridges and tunnels. A great many of those are all right, but there are a limited number which will have to be altered.
Improvement of the loading gauge, and increased size and capacity of wagons, can only be attained when you are bringing the appliances of the country gradually into line with the development in the size of the wagons. When this House was considering the Bill on the Report stage, I gave some figures which showed the very great advantage in the paying load of the trains resulting from the use of bigger wagons. In addition you would have enormous economy in the length of your sidings, which are now taxed. They are now, in many cases, the limiting factor as regards the size of the train you can use. Last, 2075 but by no means least, comes the question of reducing the detention of rolling stock, and that is one of the worst difficulties. The proportion of time that the wagon is actually travelling is very small. By standardisation of locomotives and rolling stock we get great reductions in the cost of manufacturing, maintenance, and repairs.
All these measures can be taken, and, if the Bill becomes law, will be taken progressively. There is, indeed, so far as I know, no difference of opinion between those responsible for the railways and those responsible for endeavouring to get these reforms carried out. All these matters can be taken in hand during the next two years, but they will take time to reach fruition—much longer than two years. It is a very extensive undertaking, and during those two years, if we are to proceed on the principle that, I believe, in spite of its disadvantages, appeals to the House, that it is the surest way to national bankruptcy to go on subsidising services, and that each service must, broadly speaking, stand on its own feet, I think it is inevitable that for a time, at any rate. freight rates will go up. To-day it is not-only the money that is most important; it is the actual capacity of the line and the possibility of moving the traffic about the country. That is of vital importance. To give one example to the House, there is the coastal traffic. Many hon. Members are familiar with the position of the coastal traffic of this country. It was, roughly speaking, I think, about 70,000,000 tons a year. To-day, on account of the subsidy to railways—because that £60,000,000 is a subsidy—the coastal traffic is practically dead, and the 70,000,000 tons, or such part of it as under present disturbed industrial conditions it is desired to move, and there are large quantities, cannot be carried coastwise, because consignors cannot afford to pay the rates which the coastal steamers demand, when they can send it at lower subsidised railway rates. A very large proportion of the 70,000,000 tons of coastal traffic is to-day waiting to get away on the railways at the lower rate, and all coastal business is dead. That is a bad thing. It is stopping the development of trade, and it is killing a very valuable and important business. After all, our coastal traffic corresponds to the water-borne traffic on the great waterways of Europe. We have not those waterways, but we have the sea around our coasts, 2076 and that is really the comparison. That traffic is dead to-day because the railways are subsidised. That is one instance, but the result of the subsidy on the physical condition of our railways docs not stop there. As hon. Members know, the cartage rate is bound up in the railway rates. The cartage and delivery rates have not been put up, because the full rate is subsidised. The consequence is that, just as the coastal carrier cannot live against the subsidised railway traffic, so the private carter cannot live against the subsidised railway cartage. The consequence is that, with the difficulty of horses, the difficulty of getting fodder, the difficulties in regard to men and their wages, the disturbed conditions generally prevailing, and no money, the private carter is lethargic, and the whole of the cartage is being thrown on the railway cartage staff, which cannot handle the business—they have not the means. The consequence is that the delay of the rolling stock is perfectly colossal and abnormal, and, as I will show later, we cannot afford to have abnormal delays. These matters all necessitate the passing of some legislation. There is no power to deal with railway rates to-day. It cannot be done under the Defence of the Realm Act. We must have legislation of some kind, either this Bill or some other Bill, and the matter has got to be dealt with. The delay to rolling stock is caused by the present cartage situation. It is a well-known factor in railway management that, when trade is boosting and everything is going fast and there seems to be great industrial activity, that is the time when delay to rolling stock arises out of all proportion to any other factor. The greater the activity the greater the delay to rolling stock. The reason is that the trader does not provide for the peak of his traffic in the lay-out of his premises. He provides for the steady normal traffic, and something else has to take the peak. There are five years of arrears of work to overtake. His handling costs are high; the hours of his labour have been upset and shortened, and that has altered the shifts, and he has great difficulties of his own. The cost of building is higher. The consequence is abnormal delay to rolling stock, and that again is one of the factors in the situation. Then the agricultural workers hours are upset and the railway workers' hours, and that is all making for delay to rolling stock. It cannot be avoided, and we have to face it. On the 2077 top of all that—I heard hon. Members asking questions about it to-day—we have this to consider in the railway wagon situation. In this country to-day the railway-owned wagons—the. House will remember that there are 700,000 of them—are 75,000 short of what they should be on the normal progressive development of wagons. That is due to the War. Wagons went overseas, and there are great arrears in maintenance, far more wagons than usual awaiting repairs, and there are arrears of replacements and arrears of new construction. As nearly as I can estimate, there is a shortage of 75,000. How can we make good that deficiency? It is said, "Bring wagons back from. France." Certainly. Normal repairs and normal building are going on, but prices are very high. The railway shareholders—and I would like the House to take this point, because it is going to come up again and again in the Debates we shall have under these provisions and Resolutions of the House under the Bill when it becomes law— the railway shareholder gains nothing by the delivery of plant at the end of this year as compared with the end of next year. If a locomotive is delivered this year, and we pay a higher price for it, we get the advantage at once, but the railway shareholder gets no advantage. He has got no interest either in paying the high price or in paying a price for quick delivery. That is one of the problems. It is a difficult situation. Somehow or other we have got to get building going on an abnormal basis. We have to build not only wagons, but locomotives. There were locomotives used by the Army in France. We have to get them taken over and to get them running. You cannot blame the railway directors for being reluctant to pay very high prices, when by waiting they can get a lower price.
Let me turn now to docks. What is proposed there is, first of all, to invite the railways and the docks to get together and to co-operate, to eliminate unnecessary shunting, to reduce delays to rolling stock—they are very, very bad—to encourage the use of larger wagons where that is desirable—a great deal of the difficulty in raising the wagon standard of the country is due to the fact that the wagons cannot be used at the docks when they get there—to get increased facilities for quick handling of big wagons, to eliminate heavy cartage and the conse- 2078 quent double handling, to set up machinery for co-operation between the systems of working, and to organise a steady supply of wagons so that we shall not have masses of rolling stock at the docks. That can be arranged. It has not been done so far throughout the country.
As to roads, I am one of those who believe—and I am speaking after a good deal of thought on the subject—that the future of this country, in relation to agriculture and housing and to a certain extent in relation to industry, depends upon good roads. The life of our cities, ingress and egress from our cities, can be enormously improved by good roads. In other countries light railways and tramways have been developed. They are most useful and most successfully operated. But the conditions there are fundamentally different. In the first place, in most of those countries the land is flat. Here it is up and down all the time. Then I know-no other country with the number of hedges that we have. The whole country is cut up with hedges. They may be a thing of beauty and may be excellent for the local hunt, but they are very bad for transportation. You get a severance; you have to fence your lines; you have to put in hedges, which in turn have to be looked after, and all these difficulties are added to the up-and-down nature of the country. The country is not as suitable for light railways on a wholesale scale as are many other countries. I do not say that there are not successful light railways in this country, and I hope there will be many more, but on the whole you cannot say that because they work so well in Belgium and France you can put them down here on the same lines. Although I still think that for a dense and regular traffic, especially when it is long-distance traffic and has not scattered collection and delivery, we can do better with proper light railways or with the railways themselves: yet for seasonal traffic of no great density there is nothing like the roads. In this connection I hope we shall be able to make very big developments indeed. As the House knows, we are fortunate enough in having probably the finest roadmaker in the world at our disposal, if this becomes law. As a layman, as an interested layman, while this Bill has been going through its many stages I have made it my business to learn more than I knew about the roads of this country. I am afraid I may be told by an influential paper to-morrow morning that it is an impudent disregard of the House 2079 that I should be thinking of going on roads before the Bill became law. Still, it is an exceedingly useful thing to do. I have studied the roads in this country, in a considerable portion of Germany, in Belgium, and in France, and I have also seen the results of the heavy road work done by the Roads Department in France. I have come very definitely to the conclusion that, alike in material, in method and in the skill of our roadmakers, we have nothing to learn from our neighbours. We can make the best roads in the world. There is a good deal to learn, and we shall probably learn it, in regard to the provision of better road material and improved surfaces, but at the same time I do not think we have anything to learn from our neighbours. Perhaps they have something to learn from us. None the less it is a fact that the roads of this country are not fitted for heavy traffic or for the traffic that we must get on to them if we are to open up the countryside. For one thing they are not wide enough; you get them blocked everywhere. I feel sure I shall have the support of those who so successfully safeguarded the road interests when I ask for money for better roads.
As to canals, I think that there we have really the most difficult problem of the lot. The theory that a canal can be provided just the same as a road, without a toll, or with a very modest toll, without regard to financial expenditure, is an enticing theory, but it is very difficult to apply in practice in a country which is as poor as we are. It is proposed to take the matter up where it was left by the Royal Commission on Canals in 1909, and to see whether in our financial circumstances we can develop the policy of improving our waterways by a definite, thought-out system. As regards organisation, I think it may interest the House if I tell them what we have in mind. It is not intended, as I have said before—at any rate, for two years, and I fervently hope not after—to centralise the management of these undertakings in Whitehall. I look on that as the road to absolute catastrophe. In the meantime, it is proposed to maintain on the railways, more or less as to-day, the Railway Executive Committee. The House will realise that the Committee is a rather peculiar body for permanent use. With the exception of the President of the Board of Trade, it consists of the general managers of the railways. They became, when they were appointed, officials of the 2080 Government, but at the same time they are the people with whom discussions have to take place as to the position between the Government and the railways. They have to act in a dual capacity. Therefore, though they have done most excellent work in a most patriotic way, I think it may be necessary to some extent to modify the procedure and powers and constitution of the Railway Executive Committee. The best analogy I know of the relationship, for these two years of the Ministry of Ways and Communications, if it is set up, and the railways, is the relationship between the Indian Railway Board and the consulting engineers for the Government of India and the railways there, in which the Government have a financial interest. That is probably the best model we have for present purposes.
As regards roads, the Bill takes over the functions of the Road Board, and with the Advisory Committee it is hoped that we shall be able to develop a road policy. The classification of the roads will be the first step towards that end—classifying the roads and working them out on a coherent basis. As to new schemes for road services or transportation services of any kind, the way in which it is proposed to work is as follows: In most cases I hope that the demand for a new service, be it for housing or agriculture or industry, will come from the Minister of Health, or through the Ministry of Health from the Board of Agriculture or from the Board of Trade. Then there will be requests undoubtedly from local authorities in particular districts, though in most cases I hope the demand will come from the Department charged with developing that particular part of our national activities. It is on these reports that the matter will be investigated. Ordinary conferences will take place, and eventually it is hoped that the procedure will be that an estimate of cost, of expenditure and income, will be framed. If it is commercially sound it will be proposed that the Minister should go on with it, but if it is not commercially sound the justification of it would rest with the Ministry desiring it. If the matter goes as I anticipate, it is intended to keep separate accounts showing in each of these cases how much was attributable to the development of that particular Department, and when, as I hope the House will permit, I give some of the names who are to help in this Ministry if the Bill becomes law, I think the House 2081 will see that so far as men are concerned we are providing for a very adequate supervision.
If the House would like to know the names of the officials I will give them; otherwise I will hand them to the Press, and they will appear to-morrow. With the one exception of Roads, which we have concluded must be treated as a separate Department, it is proposed to organise the Ministry in separate branches—civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and so on. The civil engineer whom I have been fortunate enough to obtain—I would like to say that in no case has any appointment been made except contingent upon this Bill becoming law—is Sir Alexander Gibb, senior partner in the firm of Easton Gibb and Company, whose last and possibly best-known work was the large naval dock at Rosyth. Sir Alexander Gibb was chief engineer for docks with the British Armies in France, and is civil engineer-in-chief at the Admiralty. The mechanical engineer is Sir John Aspinall, late general manager of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. It is proposed that he should be the consultant mechanical engineer. He will not be a whole-time man. He has an absolutely unique knowledge and experience of standardisation. He is president of the Institute of Civil Engineers, and I count the Government very fortunate indeed in getting the promise of his services. The mechanical engineer who will do the day-to-day work is Colonel Simpson, late traction superintendent of the Buenos Ayres Pacific Railway, who was in charge of the railway equipment and rolling stock of the British Armies in France, and did there very excellent work. He was originally trained on the Great Eastern Railway, not on the North-Eastern.
The Chief of the Statistics and Accounts Department is Sir George Beharrell, who has the misfortune to have been a North-Eastern Railway official. He was statistician to the Gun and Ammunition Department of the Ministry of Munitions, statistician to the Transportation Department in France, and then statistician to the Admiralty, and those who know his work, I can assure the House, will fully appreciate him. Sir George Beharrell, on the formation of the Ministry, will definitely leave the North-Eastern Railway. The secretary and solicitor will be Sir Francis Dunnell, the secretary and solicitor of the North-Eastern railway, who is lent; there is no arrangement with 2082 him as to his retention in the Ministry. No terms have been arranged with him at all, and he is lent by the North-Eastern Railway, I think, during the pleasure of the Board, and as there has been so much said about these North-Eastern Railway officials, I should like to say that these are the only two principal officers of the Ministry who have been approached to take service in the Ministry who have ever served the North-Eastern Railway at all.
The control of licences and labour questions and regulations, the work of which will be transferred from other Government Departments, will be undertaken by Sir William Marwood, Joint Permanent Secretary to the Board of Trade. I am very glad indeed that Sir William Mar-wood has seen his way to promise to transfer to the new Ministry, and no one has such experience in these matters as he. In charge of movement and traffic working will be Sir Philip Nash, who was assistant general manager of the East Indian Railway and late Director-General of Transportation in France and was originally trained on the Great Northern Railway. Then, in order that there should be complete impartiality between the railways and roads and canals, the officer who will be charged with all questions of development and deciding on the facts of the case—which is the best method of dealing with them, subject to the advice he will get—is from the Senior Service, Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Bartolomé, who was the Controller of the Admiralty up to the end of the War, and is an officer of the very highest ability. Sir Henry Maybury takes the Roads, and he is very well known to most Members of this House.
The other point which I should like to mention is that of financial control, and there I count that we are at any rate as fortunate as in the best of these other appointments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given mo permission to tell the House that he has retained the services of Sir Hardman Lever, who has done most valuable work, as many Members of the House will know, during the War here. He is in America at present. He has accepted the position to come over here for a limited time, I agree, and he will be the Finance member representing the Treasury in the office of the Ministry of Ways and Communications. He will be their financial 2083 adviser, and will be in the building as a watch-dog in residence, and I am sure that that will give satisfaction to the House.
I apologise for having taken up so much time, but I thought it would be for the general convenience if I dealt at some little length with some of the aspects of this question. I am sure it is inevitable that some such powers as are contained in this Bill must be given now to the Government to deal with the transportation question. Some of them are essential, if we are not going to spoil the whole scheme—some of them are essential to fulfil the election pledges of all Members of the House, and, while it has been suggested that this is the first step towards nationalisation, I do not think it has been suggested that it was designedly the first step, but I would like to tell the House that in considering this problem, and considering what we ought to put in this Bill, we all came to the conclusion, both I and those who have been advising me, and the members of the Government who discussed the thing in detail, that there was only one alternative to a Bill like this at the present time—I do not say this exact Bill, but a Bill giving practically these powers—and that one alternative was immediate nationalisation of the railways. It was the only alternative we could see. It may be the right thing, or it may not be the right thing. I still maintain the position, which some hon. Members have rather commented adversely upon, that I have no policy. I am glad I have got no policy on this, because I do not want to decide a thing like this, and advise the Government on a thing like this, without the most careful investigation. Honestly, I believe, and I have always believed from the beginning, that the alternative to a Bill on these lines is nationalisation, and we did not want to go in for that now.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
I am sure that the House has listened with the greatest possible interest to the speech which my right hon. Friend the Minister-designate has just delivered, and I feel certain that had it been possible to make the statement he has made to-day at an earlier stage, there would have been in some quarters far less apprehension as to his motives and intentions than has been the case. I am extremely glad to have the opportunity this afternoon of offering a few remarks on the principles of the Bill, because, largely owing to indisposition, I have had no previous opportunity of doing so, though I 2084 have taken some part in the discussions on the Committee and Report stages. Personally, although I did not agree with all the provisions of the Bill, as introduced, I did welcome its introduction, because, from the study which I have given to these questions, I have formed the conclusion that some large measure was necessary, in order to prevent the waste which was certainly going on in connection with the various agencies concerned with transport in this country. If I may be permitted to digress for one moment, I should like to observe that transport is a branch of human effort which, though useful and necessary for the purpose of distributing wealth, does not itself produce any wealth, and therefore it is essential that, as far as is possible, the waste of human effort in particular should be avoided in connection with it, because every man in the country employed upon transport services is potentially wasting his time, from the point of view of the national production of wealth. If we can release men who are unnecessarily engaged upon transport work so as to set them free to engage directly in the production of material wealth, that is, pro tanto, an advantage to the community, and I feel certain that no local or sectional interests should be allowed to stand in the way of the national interest—at this time of great national poverty—of increasing our production of wealth to the utmost possible extent. That alone, apart from the bearing which efficient or non-efficient transport has upon the great industries and trade of this country; is a sufficiently adequate reason for reviewing our house of transport and, if possible, of setting it in order.
At the first inspection of the contents of this Bill as it was laid before the House, it was quite obvious that the Bill itself was, if I may say so, based upon war methods. I do not think it would be an unfair summary of the receipt which was followed in framing it to say that the desire was to appoint a super-man to run the whole business of transportation, to give him powers to do anything, at any time, and at any cost. Given the right superman, and especially in war-time, that might be quite the right policy; but its radical drawback in this country is that it does fail to take into account our national dislike of autocracy. The Britisher hates to be bossed; the Hun likes it. That represents a very radical difference in national temperaments, and I should like especially to say that the ob- 2085 jections taken to the Bill by many people on this ground had nothing whatsoever to do with antipathy to or fear of the Minister-designate himself. Perhaps that fear is justified partly by the failure of some of our most recent super-men to do all that was expected of them, and partly because the historical analogy does in some degree support that fear. One of the most early instances in history of super-men was one who, the House will remember, in his later years had his hair cut by a super-woman, and then pulled the house down. We do not want any such catastrophe in this case, and we cannot afford to run the risk of having the house of transport pulled down about our ears. That, I think, is a very natural feeling, and it is one which I am sure the Minister-designate has thoroughly understood, and with which to some extent he will sympathise. But the result of that attitude was that there was necessarily a tendency to examine his proposals somewhat more critically and microscopically than would otherwise have been the case, and perhaps to switch off the attention of the critics of the Bill from its broader aspects and to cause them to concentrate upon the smaller questions in which they were more particularly concerned.
It was this feeling which prompted Members of the House to attempt to place, —and in some cases they have succeeded in placing—limitations upon the powers of the Minister-designate. The Bill has come before us at a time when many people and many industries have been smarting under a, sense of grievances and injuries which they have sustained at the end of a long period of very trying Government control. The more they have seen it at close quarters, the less they have liked it, and that alone produces an atmosphere in the country, if not of hostility to, at any rate of suspicion of any proposal intended to perpetuate the state of affairs under which they have undoubtedly suffered. But I for one, while I understand and to some extent share the views which I have endeavoured to summarise, feel, with the Prime Minister, that the time has come to set aside our fears and prejudices. We must be ready, whether we like it or not, to take the bold course and to adopt bold courses when they commend themselves to our reason. In this particular case, my work on the Select Committee on Trans 2086 port, which reported in the last Parliament, convinced me that, in the words of our Report,The organisation of the transport agencies of the country, and particularly of the railways, cannot be allowed to return to its pre-war position.I draw special attention to this passage in that Report, because there has been, to some extent, a false impression abroad in regard to it. The passage which I have just read referred to all the transportation of the country, and was not limited to the railways. The Minister-designate himself—quite unintentionally, I am sure —in his speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, rather conveyed—it cannot possibly have suited him to do it—this misleading impression. He said:A Select Committee of this House considered this important matter also, and they came to the conclusion that the railways could not go back to their old position, but they were not able to say what the cure was, and I think that on the information before them they could have come to no other conclusion."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, 1919, col. 1771, Vol. 113.]The omission from the passage I have read of any allusion to other agencies of transport besides the railways has, perhaps, to some extent obscured the fact that the Select Committee was of the opinion that all the transport agencies of the country required to be reviewed and improved. While the Report of that Select Committee can be cited generally in favour of the principles embodied in this Bill, or the objects aimed at in this Bill, it cannot be quoted in support of all the details and methods. That Committee reported long before the time at which they possibly could have gone into all the questions on which it was necessary to pronounce a final opinion. But, so far as it went, it can properly and correctly be cited as being in favour of a unified treatment of the whole subject.
I am convinced—and I am sure no one feels it more strongly than the Minister-designate—that it would have been far more satisfactory to the House and the country if he had been able to come down at the beginning of this Session with a cut-and-dried scheme, properly thought out and worked out, and laid it before the House and asked it to judge it; but nobody knows better than myself that his frank explanation of his difficulties must necessarily be the correct one. It would have been impossible to have concluded any really exhaustive examination of the many intricate ques- 2087 tions that will have to be gone into before the final policy with regard to our transport can be determined upon in the limited time at his disposal. I should have been I greatly afraid of any programme which had been brought before the House in a hurry, and I do not believe it would have been possible for the Government to give any convincing argument or proof it at that time they had decided upon the final policy. Certainly neither I nor my colleagues on that Committee can possibly blame the Government for stopping at the point where our own inquiries had stopped. I myself would have been the first to blame him if he had endeavoured to rush the matter. It is far too important. It enters far too deeply into the life of the country for that, and I am the more satisfied that his decision is the right one when he tells us this afternoon that if he had attempted to rush matters, the only alternatives before him were nationalisation or a Bill of this character.
If we accept his statement, as we must, then I feel sure the House will see that he did the right thing in coming before the House with a Bill which gave opportunity for inquiry and reflection; and, on the whole, taking the proceedings in Committee, I think the House has accepted that view without hesitation, and without question, and that the House has adopted the right course in endeavouring, so far as it could, to limit the powers of the Minister where it was necessary, and in endeavouring, in co-operation with him, to improve the Bill. That, I think, on the whole, has been very satisfactorily done. I am very glad that the Minister-designate has given some further explanation of the figures which he brought before the House on Second Reading, and the more he gives full explanations of a financial character to this House in connection with the many matters which from time to time must arise out of this Bill, the better will be his position in this House and in the country. He has nothing to fear from this House if he keeps it fully and frequently informed on all matters relevant to his Department. He has to deal with matters of great importance and great interest to everyone, and I am certain if he will recognise that the fuller the information he gives to the House, the better we shall be pleased, he will greatly facilitate his great task.
The fundamental idea of this Bill is to place all powers and duties in relation to 2088 all forms of internal transport, with the exception of aerial transport, in the hands of one administrative Department. Anybody, I am sure, who has thought this matter over carefully must admit that this is an absolutely necessary step if the various forms of transport within this small Island are to be properly coordinated, and I was very glad to hear the Minister-designate disclaim any intention whatsoever of centralising the management of all our great transport agencies into an office at Whitehall. I should have expected that that would have been the view held by a man with such experience-in these matters as the Minister-designate, and I was all the more pleased to hear him pronounce it as his definite view and definite policy, because if the whole of the transport agencies of the country were to be run by one man and one Department at Whitehall, I believe he would be heading, not towards an improved and a more-efficient system of transport, but to a thoroughly inefficient system, which would be bound to break down. But, as regards the work of co-ordination of all these; various activities, I for one do not attach great importance to the criticism that one man cannot undertake that work, and cannot be expected to do so, because I do not see that, after all, the duties which are being imposed upon him will be any greater than those which have to be performed, or had to be performed before the War, by, say, the President of the Board of Trade, who was concerned, not only with trade questions, but with various shipping and sea questions, with railway questions, and numberless other questions, none of which could possibly have had devoted to them the time required to manage them, but the President of the Board of Trade was able, to some extent, though not nearly to a sufficient extent, to regulate and supervise a number of matters in these various capacities.
After all, the greatest business of all in our Government to-day is the management, supervision, and control of the Empire, and that duty is really imposed upon the Prime Minister, with whatever assistance he receives from his colleagues and the able officials of the Government Departments. The responsibility of seeing that things do not go wrong must, in, the end, devolve upon the Prime Minister, and the duties which the Minister-designate assumes under this Bill are certainly not comparable with those we are accustomed to expect to be satisfactorily 2089 performed by the Prime Minister of this country. Now, if the view is correct that the Bill is primarily intended to regulate and control all forms of transport, and not to manage individual forms of transport, I do not think we need be afraid that the Department will favour one form of transport as against another. I do not know why we should assume that, because a man has in the past made his reputation as a great railway manager, he should necessarily, through the remainder of his life, have an unconscious bias in favour of railways. Any broad-minded man—and no one, I think, will deny that the Minister-designate falls within that description— can during various, periods of his life engage in different forms of work and not go through the remainder of his life handicapped by a series of biases with which he will have clothed himself in the past.
An idea which has perhaps been prevalent in regard to the Minister-designate—if he will pardon my referring at some length to these matters of rather a personal character—is that, true, the Minister-designate was a great success during the War, but look what it cost! He spent money like water. It did not matter how much he spent, provided he got results. He got results, true, but now he is going on after the War, flinging money about with both hands, and we shall be brought to bankruptcy if we give him his way. I suggest that is scarcely a fair view, because if the War has developed in the Minister-designate—I do not say it has; I hope it has not—these habits of extravagance, it is fair to remember that, before the War, the Minister-designate in two countries had reached positions of great commercial importance, and I should hope that the qualities and the experience which gained him those positions in competition with all other railwaymen, will perhaps have left with him a corrective of any bias, and that he will not like to waste money, and will desire to run concerns with which he is connected at a profit. I have heard him speak on many matters in connection with this Bill, and certainly the impression which I have formed is that, so far from being unmindful of the commercial aspects of the undertakings with which he is connected, he does attach very considerable importance to the commercial and financial aspects of these questions. If I did not feel this, I should not be prepared to give him as full a support as, at the present moment, I am certainly minded to do. I stated, I think, on the Report 2090 stage, that I had had an opportunity of seeing some of the war work of the Minister-designate, and that one of the greatest enterprises associated with his name—the establishment of the new port at Richborough, where these large barge services and train-ferry services have been instituted—certainly do not give me the idea that the man who initiated those undertakings, which undoubtedly have been of the utmost value during the War, is hopelessly destitute of commercial instinct. As I told the House, the result of the inquiries which I had the opportunity of making, and also of consulting experts, was I believed that that great undertaking had been a success, not only from the war point of view, but from the business point of view. In other words, the conclusion I personally arrived at was that these large tonnages had been transported to and from France more cheaply over a long period of time than could have been done by any other form of transport during that period: I have very great pleasure In stating that fact to the House.
In my view, the functions of the Ministry should be—and I do not doubt will be—to secure the efficiency of all our transport agencies so far as that can possibly be brought about. To do this it will be necessary for the Minister to control and regulate other people engaged in the management of particular undertakings, to supervise their activities, to inspect what they are doing, and, if satisfied that assistance is deserved, and required, to assist them so far as possible to play their part in the general scheme of national transport. We have never had anybody who had the responsibility and duty in the past of playing that part. I think we may congratulate ourselves that a new era is about to commence, and that in future there will be somebody not interested commercially in the success of these forms of transport who will make it his business to help them in every possible way to carry out their business effectively, and who, on due cause shown, will have the power and authority to come to this House and ask it to approve of large schemes in the national interest. But, while I say this, I am quite confident that we are not going to get success merely by the passing of this Bill. Success can only be attained if we have the right men at the top. For that reason we naturally all look forward with the greatest possible anxiety at what will, in fact, be the action of the Ministry under the powers 2091 conferred on it by this Bill. It will be a case of "By their fruits ye shall know them." I am sure the House wishes the Minister-designate to be quite convinced of the strong feeling which exists upon that point.
I am very glad the Minister-designate has referred this afternoon to the question of nationalisation. It is certainly true that much hostility has been aroused to the Bill owing to the idea, which has been widely prevalent, that this is the first step towards the nationalisation of the transport agencies. As I said, I think, on the Report stage—and it has been confirmed by the Minister-designate this afternoon— I do not find anywhere in the Bill that this is the first step towards nationalisation. Strangely though it may seem, I do regard this Bill as in some measure a bulwark against nationalisation. Nationalisation is often used as a catchword. There are very few people who have taken the trouble to think out for themselves exactly what they mean by it. It is used in many different senses. It was for that reason that the Select Committee over which I had the honour to preside devoted a considerable share of their attention, and their Report, to trying to define the issues which are involved in this question. I believe, in the end, those passages in that Report, which do to some extent, I hope, clear up the situation, will be regarded as really the most valuable work which, in the short time at its disposal, that Select Committee succeeded in carrying out. We are in the position that the country is not committed to any hasty action. It is allowed a period of two years for a very close study of the questions involved, the examination of many witnesses, and the consideration of the interests affected. In some eases, though not in all, the study will involve technical inquiries, and possibly, as the Minister-designate has told us, research. Until that work has been carried out by some body, impartial and competent—and I do not refer to such a body as lately reported on the coal question—until such a body as I have described has made its inquiries, I hope that this House will not be prepared to proceed at all along the path of nationalisation.
Though I do not believe it will be found to be the case, I agree that nationalisation must be considered at present as a possible policy. The onus of proving that we should run no risk of adopting it by 2092 the facts by inquiries elsewhere, and what there has been the result—the onus, I say, of proving, in view of this, that nationalisation should be adopted here, certainly lies upon the shoulders of those who suggest it. Therefore, I am certain that this House will not be justified in adopting any such policy until after the expiration of the period of inquiry that is provided under the Bill. It may be that the Government—I assume that they will—will consider at some later stage, possibly, whether they will adopt the advice of the Select Committee by reconstituting a similar body. But I am certainly not going to suppose that the Minister-designate will now anticipate the view he may form later on that matter, or give any pledge on that point. In continuation, however, of what I said previously, I am certain that the more the right hon. Gentleman does give large bodies of Members of this House the opportunity of acquainting themselves at firsthand with the facts and figures involved in these most important matters the easier he will find it to carry the House with him in any large proposals he may make for transport reform.
The spirit in which this Bill is going to be administered by the Department is, at least, as important as the contents of the Bill. I should like again to sound the word of warning which I uttered in the course of one of the discussions. I am certain that it is the desire of the country that this Bill should be looked upon, and should be administered, as a Transport Bill, and not as a Trade Bill. It should be remembered always that transport is made for trade and not trade for transport, and that the primary functions of this Ministry should be those of a Transport Ministry and not those of a Ministry of Trade. Some of the passages in the speech of the Minister-designate on the Second Reading did, I think, perhaps give rise to the impression that there was a certain confusion of functions. I should like to state most emphatically the view that it is the business of the Ministry to provide efficient transport for purposes of trade where it exists, and where it is practically certain that it is going to arise, and to supply what is necessary for that purpose; it is not part of the functions of the Ministry to endeavour to divert trade from its natural channels and cause it to flow in new ones. That is an. opinion which is extremely strongly held in many quarters, and is one with which 2093 the Minister-designate will be wise to reckon. Finally, I should like to congratulate the Minister-designate on the way in which he has met the strong criticism and the strong opposition aroused in many quarters. I am sure that the concessions ho has made have been wisely made, and that he will not find them a handicap upon his efforts in the future. I hope that what he has already done will enable this Third Reading to be passed without a Division, so that it may go forth from this House as an earnest of the desire of Members to further that great policy of reconstruction to which all Members of the Coalition pledged themselves at the last election.
§ Lieut.-General Sir AYLMER HUNTER-WESTON
As there is still considerable doubt in the minds of many Members of this House as to whether the powers to be given to the new Ministry by this Bill are not too great, and a further fear that the various powers thus given may be mishandled, I think it may be of interest and advantage to this House if I, who have the privilege of being the senior of the many hon. Members who have served across the Channel, were to give my experience of the working of this very same system of unified control of all means of transportation.
The effects on transportation of the lack of unified control of Ways and Communications in Great Britain at present are in many ways similar to those from which we suffered in France at the time of the first battle of the Somme, in 1916, before a Director - General of Transportation was appointed. If we take the trouble to inform ourselves as to the immense improvement in the conditions at the front effected by unified control of transport under a chief who knew his job, and who had power to translate his plans into action, we shall realise how certain it is that similar action at home will produce amelioration of the very similar defects which confront us here.
On the Somme we were hopelessly bogged, not alone by the calcareous mud of the battlefield, into which men and mules sank above their knees in their endeavour to get food, water, and ammunition up to the men and guns in the front line, but bogged even more effectually by the chaotic state of our transportation behind. But, though this is a just criticism, do not let anyone be so lacking in sense of perspective or 2094 breadth of judgment as to blame the transport officials of those days. They were splendid men, doing magnificent work, which was most successful within the limits of their task and outlook. But they were working in watertight compartments. One authority was responsible for the discharge of the ships. Another authority was responsible for the handling of the goods on the quays. The French were responsible for movement by rail, and for the provision of rolling stock beyond the small amount of British stock then available. The responsibility for seeing that trains were unloaded was divided, and it was not the business of any one man to see that the staff for unloading was available on the arrival of the train. There were separate inland water services, both French and British. The few light railways or tramways we then had had nothing to do with any other form of transport. The roads, again, were maintained, some by the French, some by us, and for all we lacked both labour and road material.
Each of these many links of what should have been a chain were well formed and strong, but they were of varying power, and were not properly joined. They were incapable, therefore, of doing the work that might have been expected from the strength and beauty of the individual links, for the strength of a system of transportation lies, as in a chain, in its weakest link. Looking back on the far-off days of 1916, it is easy to recognise that, however efficient each of our various Departments concerned with transportation may have been in themselves, the result of their efforts could not but be inefficient, for it lacked higher organisation and unified control. The whole process of transportation, from the arrival of the ship in port until the goods in her reach their destination, is one long chain of interdependent links, and it cannot be too strongly insisted upon that to attain efficiency in this chain of transportation, both in war and peace, the problem must be regarded as one, and the whole process so directed and organised that there is no break in the chain from a weak link, no waste of work or material by the interposition of a link that is unnecessarily heavy or too highly polished.
In the present state of development of civilisation it is impossible to attain efficiency in government or business, or that great and terrible business—War— 2095 without clear thought crystallised into systematic action, which is true organisation. Organisation, Organisation, and again Organisation, is the secret of success, not only in the limited environment of individual business or departments, but in the higher direction which with calm judgment, great breadth of view and big perspective, co-ordinates—that is organises—the efforts of each for the good of all. We are all now wise after the event and recognise that we lacked that true organisation of our transportation in France in 1916. It now seems incredible that all those many transport authorities should have been allowed to work separately, without effective unified control. It is even more incredible that there are so many who still fail to see that the state of separate and unorganised effort in Britain at the present time is as bad or worse than that then obtaining in France.
The present diseases of our transport are so similar to those diagnosed in France by our transport physician that it is certain that similar treatment will lead to similar cure. Unified control when introduced in France led to rapid and marvellous improvement. Let us take some of the results. Imports were nearly doubled in the first few months after unification of control of all means of transportation was instituted. The actual figures were 130,000 tons per week in 1917, and 240,000 tons per week a few months later. The rate of discharge increased nearly fourfold. It was 10 tons per ship per hour in 1917, and 37½ tons per hour in 1918. The use of shipping tonnage increased twenty-fold. Whereas there were 100 ship days lost per week in 1917, there were only five ship days lost per week in 1918. The loaded trains run to railhead were nearly doubled, from 92 per day in 1917 to 170 per day in 1918. These are only a few quotations, but throughout there is a similar improvement. With these figures before us, can we hesitate as to the advisability of this Bill?
Unity of control solved the problem in France by:
The unity of control introduced by this Bill will, I am convinced, go far to solve the difficult problem of transportation at home, a problem which lies at the root of all reconstruction in this country.
- (1) The avoidance of congestion at ports and on railways due to the possibility of ensuring a steady flow of traffic over the transport system generally.
- (2) The systematic development of all transport facilities on a well thought out plan.
- (3) The control of the whole system by a settled policy in the general interest, instead of a variable policy serving local interest.
One of the fears most generally expressed is that the Ministry of Ways and Communications will be very extravagant, and in support of this the statement is made that the administration of the Director-General of Transport in France had no thought of economy. It is perhaps difficult for anyone not conversant with the facts to appreciate the fallacy of this statement. It is true that the necessity for rapid action made a large immediate outlay necessary. But this outlay repaid itself even in pounds, shillings and pence before the end of the War, and the saving effected by it in men's lives was incalculable. Most people are content, when they talk of economy, to think of financial economy only, but to those who had the responsibility of command in the field the consideration of economy was not only in pounds, shillings and pence, but in those even more important units, namely, men and material. Those of us who were charged with the duty of ensuring that the fighting forces under our commands were supplied with adequate means of transport, or, in other words, with mobility, will remember the care with which our demands for roads, railways, etc., were scrutinised by this Transportation Authority. The difficulties of manpower and the shortness of material made the utmost economy essential.
To ensure economy and that there should be neither extravagance nor overlapping, a most careful system of statistical and economic control was instituted; a system that would have been impossible if the whole business of movement had not been the responsibility of one man. The loading of trains was more carefully watched than in the commercial practice of any country in the world. The detention of wagons at railhead was measured, not by days (the usual commercial practice), but by quarters of an hour, with the result that the railhead times—the average number of hours spent by a train from arrival at railhead till it was unloaded and left again—was reduced from fourteen to 2097 twelve and a-half, and this notwithstanding the greater traffic and the greater proximity of railheads to the firing line. Similarly, coal consumption was brought down in the proportion of six to four. And the ton-miles per power unit per day for light railways was more than doubled, being raised in eight months from 325 to 658. I have already given you figures of the improvements effected at the docks. Similar improvement, leading to similar economy, was seen in every direction. For instance, the output of quarries in tons per man per week increased from 7 to 12½ and the number of men employed in maintenance per mile of road was reduced from 10 to 5½, less than a third, though our roads were out of all comparison better, and better maintained. In nothing was improvement more noticeable than in roads.
As an Army Corps commander I have seen the great advantages that have accrued in France to our soldiers and our cause from unified control of all forms of transport under the direction of a man who knew his job, who had power to translate his plans into action, and who was assisted by an able staff, men who were and are drawn from roads, docks, and every form of transportation, and not, as is so generally stated, from railways only. I should be failing in my duty both to the Army and to this House if I did not take this opportunity of expressing the gratitude felt by all soldiers who were in a high enough position to judge towards the men who effected so marvellous an improvement in our transport, and therefore in our conditions at the front. Seldom is a country, when faced with the necessity of making a change in so vital a matter as its system of transportation, given an opportunity of having a trial of the proposed new system, on a colossal scale, and in somewhat similar circumstances. Fortunate are we that, in this great subject of transportation, on which our future depends, Fate has willed that we should have been given so splendid a trial, fortunate in having a trial, not only of the system, but of the men, fortunate above all in its overwhelming success. For it was undoubtedly the system worked by these men, and whole-heartedly backed by our great Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig, and our far-sighted and courageous Prime Minister, which transformed our transportation from the chaos of the days of the Battle of the Somme to the marvellous efficiency of the final period. It was the unified control of all 2098 transportation which alone gave us the necessary mobility, and made our final victorious and glorious advance possible. I appeal, therefore, to all in this House to join with me in whole-heartedly backing this Bill.
§ Sir RICHARD COOPER
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the wordsupon this day three months.When this Bill was first introduced, and before the Second Reading, I gave it, as every hon. Member did, the very closest study, and I was forced irresistibly to the conclusion that the principles upon which it was based were highly dangerous to the welfare of this country, and holding that view I did my utmost on the Second Reading in opposing it, and I registered my vote against it. Since that time the Bill has passed through the fire of criticism both in Committee upstairs and on Report in this House. While I am quite prepared to believe that, on the whole, the Bill emerges to-day better than it was when it passed the Second Reading, yet I cannot find that the fundamental principles upon which it is based are in the slightest degree altered by any of the Amendments made either in Committee or on the Report stage. For that reason I conceive it to be my duty to again take, on this Third Reading, the step which I took on the Second Reading, and I only hope that on this occasion I shall at least succeed in being able to register my vote in the Division Lobby in opposition to the Government. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister-designate gave us a very interesting statement as to the necessity for the co-ordination and closer working of our transport system, and he also rendered great service to us in giving us a greater insight into the general principles on which he is determined to administer the Bill when it becomes law. But his speech did not, so far as I understood it, alter in the least those fundamental principles to which I take exception.
At the last General Election the Prime Minister and those who supported him did without question put before the country as one of the principal policies of reconstruction the co-ordination and improvement of the whole transport system, and it so happens that at Wolverhampton the right hon. Gentleman devoted quite a quarter of a very long speech to this par- 2099 ticular proposal. Therefore, for the coordination and improvement of the transport system, beyond any question, the Government has an absolutely firm mandate from the people of this country. I agreed at that time with that policy. I agree with it to-day. I think it is highly desirable it should be brought about. I realise as strongly as any hon. Member that our present system of transport in every direction is uneconomical and grossly wasteful, and that it offers the most unlimited opportunities to the right man to provide for the traders and consumers of this country advantages which before the War were entirely lost to them—advantages which, in view of the effects of the War upon our transport system, are, perhaps, ten times more important to us to-day than they were before the War broke out Therefore I desire, in moving the rejection of the Bill, to make it abundantly clear that I am most earnestly and warmly in favour of the unification of control, the better co-ordination, and the general improvement of our transport system, and if it should be that this Bill really and rightly does perform that without any unreasonable disadvantages to the country, I have to admit that my own. views are wrong and that there is no justification for taking the line I am adopting this evening. But unhappily—and I say unhappily because at this time national unity in this House and in the country is as necessary as ever it was during the War— I think I am right in saying that one of His Majesty's Ministers on Saturday or Monday last made a statement to the effect that the peril to the United Kingdom to-day was probably as great as ever during the War—I am convinced that His Majesty's Government have not taken the correct course in carrying out their policy enunciated at the General Election, and therefore I feel bound to persist in moving this Amendment.
I certainly would support the control and co-ordination on broad principles of the whole of our transport system, but this Bill goes very much further than that. It not only takes full control of all our transport, but it takes full charge and responsibility for their finance and for their administration in every detail, and that is the point where I entirely dissociate myself from this Bill and where I entirely disagree with the proposals which have been put forward. In other words, the really crucial point is whether this Bill is 2100 nationalisation or whether it is not. No one will deny that at the time of the Second Reading there were a very large number of Members of this House, certainly over ninety, supporters of the Coalition Government, who expressed their intention of opposing the Bill solely on the ground that it meant nationalisation. They believed it firmly then, but to-day they have been persuaded that their fears were unfounded and that the Bill is now free from that objection. I would ask, and I hope some member of the Government will later on in this Debate say definitely, what change has been made in this. Bill since the Second Beading-which has converted a nationalisation Bill on the Second Reading into a non-nationalisation Bill on the Third Reading? I anxiously desire to know how that change has come about. It is true, as one of my hon. Friends has pointed out, that there is a great deal of confusion and perhaps difficulty in determining what is nationalisation. I am not going to hesitate to express my own opinion on that point. I will give my description of the term which makes me determine that this Bill is a nationalisation Bill. I regard nationalisation as possession and administration by the State.
§ Sir R. COOPER
It may be true that for some time—I believe for only a short time—the State will not own the railways or canals or docks or any other part of our transport system, by paying over the estimated capital value of those undertakings. But it is ownership, none the less, if they undertake to pay uneconomical dividends on capital, and therefore their ownership under this Bill, and in that sense, is complete. Its nationalisation, as I define it, was amply; supported by the Minister-designate himself in his speech on the Second Reading. The right hon. Gentleman said, "You may ensure an adequate and efficient service, but if you cannot get that by means of private management, then nationalise." What is this Bill but taking the transport service deliberately out of private management and putting it under the management of the State? That is, I think, a fair interpretation of the words of the right hon. Gentleman which I have just quoted. "If you cannot get an efficient service by means of private management, then nationalise." I say the Government in this Bill is carrying out 2101 the very principle which the right hon. Gentleman himself laid down on the Second Reading.
It will equally be admitted in this House that at the General Election there was never a question of the Government asking, in connection with this transport service or in any other connection, for any mandate for nationalisation. That is beyond any dispute. There is, therefore, no mandate for it. One right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Churchill), during the election deliberately and strongly stated that if the Prime Minister's supporters were returned the railways would be nationalised. The greatest enemy of the right hon. Gentleman in this House would never dare suggest that he would dream of making that statement at Dundee unless he knew entirely that he had some fair ground for making it. But there is something else to support this belief. The railwaymen—I am speaking from experience in the Midlands; I do not know whether it is the same throughout the county—but, at any rate, the railwaymen in the Midlands are satisfied that the Prime Minister himself, during the election, promised the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), who is the representative in this House of the National Union of Railway-men, that if he Were returned to power the nationalisation of railways would follow. That belief is held by them. I admit I have no evidence to prove whether it is true or not, but I would ask how has it come to be spread amongst a very considerable section of railwaymen in the Black Country—in Birmingham and around Derby?
I will suggest another point in support of my belief. How comes it that the representatives of Labour in this House are all ardently in support of this Bill and have stated in the constituencies that it is nationalisation? Many of their most responsible— well, I will withdraw that word, because I do not regard some of the Gentlemen I am speaking of as being responsible leaders in the country—hut, at any rate, some of the most powerful leaders of Labour in the country at the present time are stating over and over again that this Bill means the nationalisation of railways, and that it is the stepping-stone to the nationalisation of the coal mines, and that, ultimately, they are going to nationalise the land and all forms of production from one end of the country to the other. Labour believe it. Hon. Gentlemen who, perhaps, 2102 understand this matter better than I do,, will surely agree with me in saying that this Bill is nationalisation and nothing else. [HON MEMBERS: "No, no: !"] May I ask hon. Members who represent Labour in this House if they are prepared to deny,, at any rate, that it is the stepping-stone towards the nationalisation that they are looking forward to? They do not deny it. It shows how far removed are the representatives of Labour in this House from those extreme Labour leaders throughout the country. It is about time that those who claim to be the representatives of Labour settled their own differences, and really determined what nationalisation is or is not. I have not only given my own opinion, but I have tried to give some-reasonable primá facie evidence to support my contention that this is a nationalisation Bill, and that it is sheer hypocrisy for the-Government to pretend that it is not.
I think I am right also in reminding the House that after the Second Reading of this Bill, when the Government learnt how strong was the opposition amongst the Coalition Members, a private meeting was-held of the Unionist party—it must be remembered that this is a Conservative Government—three-fourths of the Members-are Conservatives—and they were there told by the Leader of the House himself that he meant to go through with this Bill, and that if they did not support him he would resign. Is it not an extraordinary thing that these ninety or 100 Members, who believed that this Bill was a nationalisation [...], have changed their minds to-day, and arc quite satisfied that there is nothing of that sort in it? My opinion of that is that it is another illustration of the degradation of politics which is not confined to the pressure that is used to usurp the consciences of Members of the House. If hon. Members are going to support this Bill, on what grounds are they going to oppose the possession and administration of the coal industry? [HON. MEMBERS: "We are not going to!"] I have a more intelligent anticipation of what is coming than some hon. Members. It is coming, and coming very quickly. If the old Tory party, the followers of Disraeli, pass this Bill and the Nationalisation of the Coal Mines Bill, how can they refuse to give to Labour in this country the complete nationalisation of all the means of production? That is a slippery slope which I am not prepared to tread. I am not prepared to support the Bill, because 2103 I believe it is the beginning of that dangerous incline on which I am so sorry to see some of my most intelligent Friends so gladly allowing themselves to descend. The Bill, in my estimation, is nothing else but an industrial revolution carried out by a Conservative Government, one of the last things any member of the Conservative party in days gone by would have dreamt it possible they would have lent themselves to. A Coalition Government composed mainly of Conservatives are supporting Socialists and Syndicalists and, for all we know, revolutionaries. This Bill has already introduced uncertainty into every industry. That was admitted in the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Industrial peace will be rendered far more difficult when this Bill has been passed than it ever was before. That is my main and fundamental objection to the Bill. That is the principal reason which has compelled me to say plainly that I am going to do my utmost to register my vote in opposition to it.
But there are three other reasons which are in themselves important. First of all, it is an extraordinary thing that the Government should submit the Bill to the House, saying frankly, "We have no policy. We will take charge of all these great transport services for two years., and by that time we hope we shall manage to discover how they really ought to be worked, and then be able to submit a policy of which the House can approve, and which we can ultimately carry through". During these two years the foundation of the policy that is to be followed in years to come is going to be laid, at a time when the Government admits it does not know what is the right policy to pursue. It is a disastrous method of proceeding if we all honestly desire to get a very much improved and more economical system of transport. Putting up the roof and thinking later about doing the house and then laying the foundation is not the way for any Parliament to expect any measure to reap the benefit which they intend it to do. Then there is the question of finance and State expenditure. I am here making the error that other hon. Members are making, because I felt, when the right hon. Gentleman was speaking this afternoon, and telling the House the broad lines upon which he would administer the Bill when it is passed, if he is going to be there for the next forty or fifty years, and can main- 2104 tain his present judgment and his present faculties, let the Bill go through. It does not matter. I think on the whole the great belief in the right hon. Gentleman's Napoleonic virtue and power is justified, and he gave strong evidence of it in his speech to-day. If we could be sure he was going to remain at the head of this Transport Department, much as I disbelieve in the Bill, I should not have very great misgiving as to its ultimate effect and the manner in which the Transport Service would be ultimately improved. But anyone who is going to support the Bill on that assumption is very short-sighted. Let us realise that we are living in the most serious times—no less serious than during the War—and for all the right hon. Gentleman knows he may not be the Minister of Transport on Christmas Day. For all we know, before that date arrives we may have an extreme Labour Government. That is more than possible. If the right hon. Gentleman, even by that time, can fulfil all the hopes we have in him, it is in the interests of the country that he should be taken away from it and made Prime Minister. If he can do that he can administer this great country and Empire to still greater advantage.
If he is going to justify his position, he will have to spend millions of money. He is going to take over— I believe he is right — the whole of the privately-owned wagons. I think they are worth about £70,000,000. Therefore, either in direct cash or in securities, he has to spend something like that amount of money before he has been administering this Bill many weeks. When you look at the scope of the Bill, and what it means from the financial point of view if the aspirations of the right hon. Gentleman are going to be carried through, in what direction has the State, either during or before the War, spent many millions of money and shown an economic financial result? Would anyone put forward the Post Office, or Telegraphs, or Telephones I Would they refer to the Metropolitan Water Board? Would they point to Slough, Chepstow, or Loch Doon? Never has the State, before or during the War, spent many millions of money, with the exception of the Suez Canal, which have ultimately shown an economic financial result. I do not know on what ground we are going to expect the administration in detail of all our transport service in the State to be carried on economically. I have the best grounds for anticipating 2105 that it is going to cost infinitely more than it would do under private enterprise. What an example this great orgy of expenditure is to the country, when the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister for Labour within the last few days have been preaching to the country the needs of economy and wiping out extravagance, and here we are, in these very dangerous times, when the country is living on its capital and has not got the money for the Bill without drawing further on its capital, embarking on gigantic fresh expenditure! You cannot do that without approaching much nearer to the precipice of bankruptcy, which most people are wise enough not to talk of in public, but which, sub rosa, many of us seriously fear we have been getting close to. This is not the time to be embarking on a Bill which is going to run us into hundreds of millions of money if its purport is to be carried out to the full.
My last point is that of bureaucracy and officialdom. That is a very serious matter indeed. "We are bound to have thousands of new State officials. I am sure I shall be at once answered "Yes, but you are for the most part going to have existing officials who have been administering them under private enterprise." I know the right hon. Gentleman is not going to get into the Department a lot of people who know nothing about their job. He is going to try his best to get men who arc fitted for the posts. In all the work he has been associated with during the War, and notably in France, that was the secret of his success. I presume he is going to take that line now. But a capable and efficient and fully qualified man in any position high or low will give remunerative service to private enterprise, but put that man into the network of the Civil Service and his use will be reduced enormously. So I fear a number of those eminent gentlemen mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon are going to be removed from the flywheels to the little cog-wheels. That is inevitable. It is the system of the Civil Service that frightens me—the officialdom, the bureaucracy, and the strangling of the public and the trade of the public by his Department, as is happening to-day in nearly every other Department of the State. I beg the Government to give a little attention at once to the evils of the Civil Service and its administration and red tape, and all those accusations which are made in the 2106 Report on the Slough proposal. They must be looked into because the present system is costing the country untold value. Under this Bill I fear we are going to have this bureaucracy that we suffer from in the other Government Departments. Let the Government look into the matter and find out how this and other Departments of the State can be assured of opportunities for every man, from the highest down to the office boy, to give the greatest efficiency of which he is capable, or if he is not efficient remove him and replace him by someone who is.
That really is the fundamental difference between private enterprise and State control. A good man working under him outside the Government, free from all the influences of politics, free from all the red tape and bureaucracy of Government Departments, would give infinitely more value than if he put the same man into a Government Department. It is the bad system of the Civil Service that creates so much muddle, so many unnecessary forms which are poured in upon the working classes as well as the middle and upper classes. We are all fettered by this bureaucracy. We are all having to fill in forms galore week by week, heaven knows what for. Nearly every week there is something new being suggested by the Government. The position we are going to get into if this is not stopped, and if this reform is not made in the Civil Service, will become so intolerable that we shall see the emblems of revolution in. circles where we least expect them as the only possible hope of escaping from the pernicious and worrying system which prevails at present. The right hon. Gentleman has even given us a foretaste himself of this evil of bureaucracy. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. L. Scott) was anxious to insert an Amendment requiring that the Government, after taking over the railways, should be under the same obligation to deliver the goods and give the service they promise as the great railway companies are under at present. Heaven knows that at the present time the public, the trader, and the ordinary citizen is practically without redress if he is badly treated, but at least he has that Act to protect him. He has that protection if he goes to the Law Courts. The right hon. Gentleman and the Government have refused to place the Ministry of Ways and Communications in the same position as all the great railway com- 2107 panies. What does that mean? It means the free hand, and that free hand leads to autocracy and bureaucracy. Let us remember this, especially in connection with the railway companies, that if there is one thing that the ordinary citizen complains of, and complains of rightly, in regard to the railway companies, it is that they have been in the habit, more or less, of making their own by-laws, which ultimately influence all things, and it is very difficult to withstand them. But we can withstand them, because we have the law at our back. Under this Bill the Ministry of Ways and Communications is going to make its own by-laws, which it will interpret and administer, and it is a very different thing attacking a Government Department than going into a Law Court under the British law to seek the protection of the Court according to the interpretation which your advisers put upon the law.
I will try to make something of a concrete proposal after the objections I have raised, a proposal which I think the Government could have carried out. We can learn in the first place from Holland. The right hon. Gentleman will probably know what has recently happened in Holland in connection with the discovery of coal. Coal has been discovered in Holland, and the Dutch Government at once said, "That does not belong to anybody. It is ours." Did they form a Department of State to manage it? Nothing of the sort. The Government, owning the whole of the coal in Holland, has formed a public commercial company, and it has appointed twelve selected business men as directors, and given them the power to run it like any private company. It is absolutely State-owned, but absolutely divorced from State control as far as any other company is. They have really made a private enterprise of their own possession, and have done it, I presume, because they know the great evil and the pernicious influence of politics, State interference, and red tape upon any commercial adventure of that nature. If the Dutch Government have done that I do not see why we could not make an attempt on the same lines in connection with our railways. Every hon. Member knows that the Government have to continue their control and to administer the railways for at least two years after the War. Nobody finds fault with that; it was inevitable The right hon. Gentle- 2108 man, on the Second Reading of this Bill, admitted that it is not a railway Bill. He said that if it was a railway Bill it is a very bad one and absolutely and fundamentally wrong. However, that is the most important part of the right hon. Gentleman's work for the next two years, because he has to administer the whole of the railways of this country for that time, and he will do it under this Bill. Yet this Bill is wholly and fundamentally wrong. That is why I am moving its rejection.
The proper policy for the Government to have followed in this matter was to have appointed the right hon. Gentleman—I entirely agree with that—as the Minister of Railways for the period of two years, and at the end of that time ho could show what he has done and submit a broad policy which, presumably, during the two years he would have an opportunity of thinking out just as well and completely and efficiently as I believe he will be able to do under this Bill. If he did that he could come to this House with this policy based on his experience, based on ascertained facts, and put it before us as a carefully-thought-out plan for the co-ordination and the control of our whole transport services. Then I cannot conceive that anybody would have the feelings which have affected so many Members at one period or another during the passage of this Bill. But when he had done that I do not want him to form a State Department to administer the system in every detail. I want him at the most only to form a Government Department to control very much on the lines of an illustration, which is not quite analogous but nearly analagous, of the Board of Education controlling all the buildings and sites of schools throughout the country. They never control them or administer them in detail. That is left to the local authorities. In the case of the railways and the transport services I want the Government to control and co-ordinate them by a capable Minister; but I want the whole administration in detail carried out either by private enterprise or by a system which is similar to that which I have mentioned in the case of Holland— free from the influence of the red tape of Government Departments. I believe it is a perfectly practicable and simple thing to do.
I conceive that this Bill, not in itself, but what it is going to lead us into, is very little more than the charter of Syndicalism. If you pass this Bill to-night, you have been forced against your con- 2109 victions to do so, and if you do take this step, you have no logical grounds in the future except following it with the nationalisation of coal, the nationalisation of mines, of land, and of all the means of production in this country. The whole of the forces of Labour, and of revolutionary Labour, are here waiting to-night to help this Conservative Government to bring about this great industrial revolution. How deep must be their gratitude to the Conservative party. You are installing in power to-night, if you pass this Bill, those who hold a policy which I do not support, and with which Liberals and Unionists do not agree. You are putting the power of this country unnecessarily and wrongly into the hands of men many of whom were ruthlessly rejected by their own Labour friends in the great industrial centres of this country at the recent election. I am convinced that a wrong step is being taken, and, for the reasons I have given, I move that this Bill be read a third time this day three months.
§ Mr. MARSHALL STEVENSrose—
§ Sir R. COOPER
May not my hon. and Gallant Friend (Brigadier-General Croft) second this Motion, Mr. Speaker?
§ Brigadier-General CROFT
In seconding this Motion I will not intrude upon the patience of the House for a second time this week for more than a few minutes. I believe nay hon. Friend (Sir E. Cooper) is speaking for the vast business community of this country, in which he plays an important part. I want to say a few words in regard to the future of the industries of this country, and the future position of those who oppose nationalisation if this Bill receives its Third Reading to-night. Such control and administration as is indicated in this Bill can only possibly, in my opinion, in the long run lead to nationalisation. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say—I think it is known to many of my hon. Friends— that a considerable number of men high up in the railway world are at this moment of opinion that such is the state of muddle and chaos to which the railway system has 2110 inevitably been reduced during the War owing to Government control—which I admit was necessary—that whether this Bill goes through or not it may be necessary to nationalise the railways. How much more true will that be with the paralytic effect of the super-man of the Coalition always overshadowing the decisions and directions of those in charge of the great railway and transport industries of this country. I believe I am expressing the views of 99 per cent. of the old Liberal and Unionist parties when I say that they held the view, certainly until a few weeks ago, that nationalisation could not be justified until some service had completely and utterly failed. Frankly, I am of opinion that that is true in a good many parts of the country in the case of the canals. There is a public service which has become derelict, and here is a chance for the State to come in and say, "Here is a great public service which has been allowed to become derelict owing to the fact that other rival services faced it in competition." That is a different case from the case of the railways and the remaining transport services embraced in this Bill.
We in this country—and those who have travelled much must be inclined to agree with me—possess the best railways in the world, and the best run railways in the world. I would take off my hat, if I had one, in recognition of the part which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Geddes) took in seeing that the railway system of this country was in such a magnificent position, as undoubtedly it was, until State control came in at the time of the War in order to try to speed up our production, which was necessary owing to our lack of man-power. We have the best roads in the world. You cannot compare the roads of any other country with our main roads. We have, I believe, the best docks in the world. The right hon. Gentleman I see does not agree with me there. At any rate, a great many business men hold that view very strongly. Certainly our modern docks are the best in the world. People come from all over the world to see how they are run and to learn something from them. Therefore, you have no big derelict systems in our transport system. We have the finest transport system in the world, and although we all admit that it is desirable to try to get out of the bog of confusion which has been caused by the War, it is a very different thing from a measure such as this, which 2111 can only have the effect that it will make the men who are concerned in these great services hesitate to launch out, because they will always be afraid of State intervention and advice. The mere fact of carrying this Bill, if it is unhappily carried this evening, will be that everyone who is connected with these industries will be looking to future nationalisation. You will have uncertainty, and you will have killed the spirit among these men concerned in these great businesses.
My hon. and gallant Friend (Major-General Sir Hunter-Weston), who played such a gallant part in the War, has delivered an interesting speech, in which he paid a well-deserved tribute to the right hon. Gentleman on the work on the communications in France, but the hon. and gallant Gentleman was talking in parables. I could not understand the connection between what he was saying in regard to the right hon. Gentleman's great constructive work in France and the position in this country. In France, you had for the purposes of the Army in the field practically no railway system. You were competing with a railway system which was deliberately developed for war purposes by the enemy, and you had suddenly to feed and supply with munitions and everything else a vast Army compressed into a comparatively small space. You cannot really make any comparison between the position in France along the Somme and the position in this country, where our great public services are the greatest in the world. The right hon. Gentleman, in completing his speech, told us that if this Bill is carried he did not think we should have to have nationalisation. I think his last words as he sat down were, "Not now." I asked the right hon. Gentleman the other night whether the Secretary of State for War when he made that speech at Dundee was speaking on behalf of the Government. I also asked the Home Secretary. I see them sitting there like heavenly twins. They were silent on that occasion. Neither could give me an answer. The Minister-designate said that I must ask that question of the Secretary for War himself. I am putting this question not to the right hon. Gentleman but to the House: Is it right that the principle lieutenant, at any rate as regards speech, of the Prime Minister should have gone to Dundee at 2112 the time of the election and deliberately said that, if the Coalition candidate were returned there, they were going to nationalise the railways? Is it conceive able that he had not previously consulted the Prime Minister? We have heard this evening, at any rate, something about rumours. There is no doubt that the Labour party believed at the election that it was the policy of the Government to nationalise railways and mines, and I am told that when the Prime Minister went up to speak at Newcastle the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby boarded the train—I think it was at Derby Station—and the whole attitude of the Labour party appeared to be greatly encouraged after that railway journey, and it is an interesting fact that you had the speech of the Secretary for War coming so soon after that. I believe that this Bill has been forced upon the Government simply because the principal members of the Government came to the conclusion that it was desirable to interfere with that most complex question of wages. From the very moment that the Government took a hand in deciding what wages should or should not be paid in this country all sorts of measures became necessary, and this Bill is one of them.
The chief motive of the right hon. Gentleman in bringing forward this Bill and the reason why a great many people support him is simply owing to the fact that the Government had to step in. The cost of labour on the railways was, in future, going to be very much dearer, and from that moment you had got to do something very drastic if you were going to work any railway system at all. That is all the result of this policy of interference in matters which could have been settled, even though we might have had temporary inconvenience, between masters and men in these great industries. I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill will realise that if he attempts to do more than advise and give counsel and endeavour to help, and if he endeavours to grasp those powers which he is supposed to desire to hold over all the industries of this country, and I am not sure of the world as well, he will be in danger, not only of breaking the great party which supports him, but of breaking the whole industrial position of this country. The one thing for which we are suffering at the present moment is that no one in industry knows from one day to the other what is the policy of the Government. They are 2113 plunging into this without any considered plan. The right hon. Gentleman could not say at the present moment whether he is going to ask for a hundred million pounds or a thousand million pounds. He says, "Give me the powers I want and I can settle on these things in a moment." It would have been quite sufficient for the Government to continue the control existing at the present moment with the definite statement to the railways that, if they could help it, nationalisation would never come into force. From that moment you would have got back the individual spirit which has built up the industries of this country, if the Government had continued that control and shown that ii was their wish to have it only a temporary one in order to limit unnecessary competition. But the right hon. Gentleman is asking for far greater powers. I agree with the Mover of the rejection of the Bill that nothing has changed in the character of the Bill from what it was when the Second Heading was passed, and that there arc people who still want the right hon. Gentleman to exercise the powers of nationalisation which the Secretary of State for War, who is known to be, along with himself, the most dominating personality of the Government, has admittedly declared to be the policy of the Government.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I have listened with the greatest sympathy to the speech of the hon. Baronet (Sir E. Cooper) who moved the rejection of this Bill, and as he directed his observations so much to the Labour Members, with whom I act on these benches, I would like briefly to state our attitude towards this matter. I speak of sympathy because I can assure the hon. Baronet that he is swimming against the tide. It does not appear that the War has left any impression on him. All the events of the last five years have left him unmoved and all the conditions of the ownership of property and of land in this country should, according to his judgment, remain completely unchanged in spite of all that has occurred. He seems to interpret reconstruction as leaving things exactly alone. He does not appear to think that any pledge was given in the course of the last election which required the Government to touch any of the great public services. I understand the hon. Baronet to say that he believes in co-ordination, in control, but he does not believe in bureaucracy. He does not believe in a State De- 2114 partment having any right of interference whatever with any of the public services. How we are to have co-ordinated control and at the same time leave such things as railways alone is a matter which is beyond my understanding. The hon. Baronet may, therefore, as he does, turn with some little hope and promise to another land where it now appears that some coal has been discovered. We should like to retain his presence in this House, but if he decides that such startling processes as this tendency towards nationalisation should compel him to leave it, then I suppose he will find much more comfort by emigrating to Holland than by remaining in this land in which, after all, I understand, he has not done so badly.
Turn to another country not far from Holland—Germany. It must be admitted that before the War, leaving aside all the terrible tendency to wrongdoing which possessed the mind of those who governed affairs in Germany, no one would question the immense efficiency of the German nation in matters of trade and business. The centre and kernel of that efficiency was an almost perfect railway system, a State railway system. Not only were the railways efficiently managed as handmaidens for the development and protection of her trade, but her railways were a source of very great value. The profits of the German railway system went, not into the pockets of private owners, but to relieve the burden of taxation pressing on the shoulders of the people. The railways fed and developed the industries and trade of Germany and did not, as has often been alleged in this country, hamper and hinder them by excessive rates, and by want of sympathy with trade and commerce. What was it enabled Germany in the first few days of the War swiftly to move her troops East and West? It was the efficient and perfect condition of her railway system. So judged by the test of experience it cannot be said that in a country even larger than our own State ownership and control of this great means of transport has turned out to be a failure. On the main argument of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded the Amendment, I can only make this out of it, that it is a right and proper thing for the Government to come to the rescue of failures, but it is a wrong thing for the Government to touch anything which is likely to be a success. He says that the Government could nationalise the canals because they are poor. It is a thing 2115 in which private enterprise has done badly and it can be properly taken up by the State. Really are we in such a condition as to be expected to treat seriously an argument which maintains that the State is to act for the benefit of a private estate, and yet reject any proposal in which the State is to avail of an instrument for the services of the people?
I listened with the greatest pleasure to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in submitting this Bill to the House this afternoon, and I would like first to say a word on what I regard as his theory in reference to councils consisting of persons drawn from outside for consultative and advisory purposes. I thought that he was dealing with some fear, a fear in the minds of other men, when he referred to this matter. I have had but a short experience of responsibility in any State Department, but I take leave to say, on the basis of that short experience, that a State Department will find it very beneficial and helpful indeed to open their doors widely to the approaches of persons of competence and experience outside who have knowledge of what they are doing. It not infrequently happens, as the House will know, that men are put at the head of State Departments who have not had any long experience personally of the work to be done in the position in which they may be placed. We established, for instance, under the Food Ministry, a Food Consumers' Council. I can assure the House that that body has been no mere figurehead. It has not been a mere nominal adviser. It has been an effective participant in the administration of the Food Ministry. Its individual members became attached to separate and definite parts of the Ministry, pursuing inquiries, finding out reasons why this, that, or the other thing had to be done, and then collectively acting as a council for the purpose of giving advice at each meeting to those responsible to the country and to Parliament. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that the participation in that way of outside advisers, themselves brought in to feel and to share responsibility has not in any way diminished the ultimate responsibility to this House of Ministers of a particular Department.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I wish to make my position on this quite clear. I think that outside consultation with people of outside experience is most valuable, and a Minister who did not encourage it and 2116 make use of it would be unwise indeed. What I think is not a good thing is to set up round a Minister statutory councils which he has to consult, and who can veto any action he wishes to take, and without whose approval he can do nothing. What I strongly support is consultation with outsiders.
§ Mr. CLYNES
I am much obliged to-the right hon. Gentleman for his statement, and I share in very large measure the conclusion which he has reached. All I am arguing for is that it would be a good thing in our several State Departments, as well as in the Ministry of Food, in his own Department, in the Ministry of Health, and the other great State Departments, that as far as possible we should through the agency of consultation and recommendation use those vast resources of outside experience which are available. I am hopeful that our different Departments will through that means become less bureaucratic and become more responsive to the needs of the people than perhaps they have been up to the present. We regard this Bill not as an instalment of nationalisation but as no more than a genuine and businesslike attempt to reduce confusion to system, and to make through the agency of State supervision and directorship the best out of our means of transit in this country. From the Second Reading speeches, and many other deliverances a case has been clearly made out for a Bill of this kind, and indeed the-case is derived from the experience especially that which we had during the-War, and out of the experience of individual travellers. The Mover and Seconder of this Amendment have taunted hon. Gentlemen of their own parties with having deserted more or less their political and economic principles. My commentary on that is that a stage can be reached where you have to choose between party ties and what axe called political principles and the needs of the nation. This Bill may say, as I hope it does, that certain private interests must subordinate to the public welfare. The whole tendency of our legislation and the direction in which the public mind is travelling is the direction of using the great public services more for the public needs than for the making of private profit. We are travelling, therefore, towards public ownership. Extreme as we may be held in this House to be, and moderate as our own friends may charge us with being, as they frequently do outside, the fact remains that those 2117 principles for which we stand secured more than 2,250,000 votes at the election. That represents a considerable body of public opinion, and we believe it is a body of opinion greatly on the increase.
So that whilst we offer our congratulations to the right hon. Gentleman for the manner in which he has conducted this measure, drawing, as he does, on a great reservoir of personal experience, yet we think that the right hon. Gentleman should not have yeilded so much as he has done in Committee and other stages to those who have pressed on him the need for thinning down this measure. These are not those robust proposals which the public expected, following the hopes that were raised by the public pronouncements and Ministerial declarations prior to the election last year. The House well knows that there is very great unrest, and that there is great disturbance in the public mind, and all those things that we call reconstruction, the rebuilding of Britain, the reshaping of our internal economic conditions, are not to come to us and are not dependent on mere phrases. They will have to come to us by State action. It will be deeds, and not words, that will prove the reality of the promises that were put responsibly before the electors prior to the last election. Our view on this matter is this, that there has been, and that there is now, too big a difference between a comparatively small section of the community enjoying a state of affluence and a state of security, and a large section of the country almost entirely near the line of subsistence, and removed beyond hope from the security and comforts which others enjoy. We trace that condition not to individual unfitness but to lack of individual opportunity. If it be true that this is a country for which all had a right to fight, it must be true that this is a country in which all have the right to an equal chance, and there can be no equality of opportunity so long as those vast properties, made what they are because of the needs of the nation and because we must all use them, are the private possession of a comparatively small number of people in the country. Out of those great properties, like railways and like mines, waterways and harbours, immense incomes are derived from the more act of ownership, and not because those who enjoy those incomes give any great contribution to increasing the value or to in any way improving the usefulness of those particular things.
2118 There is too great a yield to capital which is idle, and too small a yield for labour which is working. I do not mean that most capitalists do not work. They give the contribution of their personal ability, and when we talk of labour we mean the labour of the brain as well as of the hand, and the brainworker should be well paid for his services. But millions every year flow into the pockets of persons who give no contribution whatever to the State and who do nothing to add in the slightest degree to the value of those great public properties. There is a dangerous disparity between the affluence of a small section in the country and the impoverished condition of a large section, and until you diminish that and bring the poorer people somewhat nearer to the point of the rich, you will deepen and make even more troublesome this condition of unrest and this condition of disturbed minds which prevents trade and business being conducted on the lines we all desire. I would appeal to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who, while the War was on, asked the poor man to give as much as the rich could give—his life; and that is the utmost that man can give— that the rights of the poor man to a better chance in this country should be recognised. That will exhibit a truer spirit of real patriotism than sticking closely to doctrines which time should wear away. We could talk freely about those doctrines before the War, but the War should have been a great purifying and cleansing influence, and for those millions of poor men who volunteered—and 5,000,000 of them volunteered before the Conscription Act was passed in this House to fight for and save their country—we claim that they are entitled, having won the victory for their land, to find in their land a more secure and comfortable and assured place than they were able to do before the War. If those views are not more fully accepted by the class, whom I may call without offence the favoured and wealthy class, and are not more readily accepted by them, then I say that that class must expect more trouble and more of the disturbed mind. You cannot repel ideals, and you cannot remove the sense of deep wrong from which the working class are now suffering by appeals to what private capitalists have been able to do for their country and for the State he the past.
For those reasons we welcome this Bill as a step, if not in the direction of owner 2119 ship, at least in the direction of State authority, supervision, and control over agencies which in the main are the immediate needs of the trades and businesses of this country. The War should have proved, and I am sure it did to most men, the failure of developing to perfection anything like system in our railway service. On the whole the railways were run, as were other means of transit, primarily to make profit for the shareholders. I agree that in the main the individual patron of those services was catered for in comforts which were thought of and provided at very great expense. But railway directors never yielded to the claims of the railway servants until by force of organisation they were compelled to do so. More than 100,000 men were working for the railways of Britain in the year 1911–12 in this country for less than £l per week. Can it be said that a service is a great national success if it does not give its men ampler rewards and fairer remuneration than this service gave to the workmen before the War? This Bill is a thin instalment of what is expected, but really we should at election time tell the public we are opposed to all this work of reconstruction unless we are prepared, when these Bills come forward, to support them, and to range ourselves behind the Government when we see them to be right. There can be no reconstruction without a fundamental alteration in our public services and in our supplies of the needs of the nation, and you cannot have social reform and reconstruction by leaving things alone. The meaning of the Amendment is that nothing whatever should be done, and that there ought to be no State interference at all with the services covered by this measure. For that reason we will resist the Amendment in the Lobby to-night.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
There was one observation in the speech of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down with which the whole of the House will heartily agree. That was his appreciation of the lucid and comprehensive statement made by the right hon. Gentleman the Minister-designate. The whole aspect of the Bill in its relation to transport, and the whole value that the right hon. Gentleman has in his mind as to the administration and organisation under that Bill, was made quite clear to the House by the statement which he gave; and in that respect, if in 2120 no other, I am sure the House as a whole will heartily agree with the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. The hon. Baronet (Sir R. Cooper) who moved the rejection of this Bill disclosed as diametrically opposite a set of opinions to those of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Clynes) as could possibly be heard in this House. I am sorry to say that the hon. Baronet did not, as it seems to me, make a very logical position for himself. He stated that the Government, at the time of the General Election, were pledged to reform transport. He also stated that the present system of transport was uneconomical and was grossly wasteful. He went on to say that he and the rest of his party were in favour of the unification of transport, and he then found fault with this Bill because under it the Minister would have full responsibility for that, for finance, and for the details. The House was curious to know, after the hon. Baronet had admitted the necessity for co-ordination of transport and had admitted the pledge of the Government to carry out reforms in transport, what was his alternative by which those pledges could be met. What was his alternative? A Minister without power; a Ministry without responsibility; a Minister who could do nothing but think for two years, and at the end of two years give advice to the country. Anything more futile, anything, if I may say so without offence, more illogical and ineffective I have not heard in the course of over twenty years' experience in this House.
§ Sir R. COOPER
If the hon. Baronet will excuse me, I never said anything of the kind. My suggestion was, as we were committed to continue the control of the railways, and I believe we have to continue that for a long time, that whilst the right hon. Gentleman is doing that for two years he could ascertain facts and figures and think out a policy for the whole transport system.
§ Sir F. FLANNERY
That is just what I said. A Minister without power, a Minister without authority—a paralysed, impotent Minister—was to think, and then, afterwards, he would advise at the end of two years. Nothing but prejudice and misunderstanding and lack of logic could, as it seems to me, explain the position, not of my hon. Friend, but of anyone who associates with him in regard to this Bill. The pledge that was given by 2121 the Prime Minister was a definite pledge of the widest possible character in regard to transport. It was to be transport for all purposes—manufacture or commerce and for agriculture. No section of the industry of the country requires that assistance and improvement more than agriculture.
The Bill is still a comprehensive Bill. It has sustained at the hands of the Committee, and at the hands of the House on the Report stage, about as much alteration as, I think, anyone, even the most experienced in this House, can remember any Bill to have sustained and yet to have survived. It was eighteen days before a laborious Committee including some of the most experienced business men and some of the most acute intellects in the House. It has been considered with a critical acumen and attention to detail which have made it, not, perhaps, a perfect Bill, but as thoroughly. practical a working Bill as this House has ever sent to another place for the purpose of consideration and improvement. May I re mind the House of some of the very great changes which have been made? Those changes are over twenty in number, and I shall not refer to even a large proportion of them. I think it was the hon. Baronet who moved this Motion who said that the idea of the Bill as it was introduced was that the Minister should be a super-man, with power to do anything at any time he liked, at any cost to the State that he liked. One of the most important and most effective changes made in this Bill was made upstairs, when there were added to the consultations of the Minister, not only an Advisory Committee, but a panel of experts—and this is the point—selected by the various interests, including Labour, that would be concerned in the operations of the new Ministry. There was a change of the most important character, but there has been safeguarded not only the various interests affected in the development of transport, but, and this is the essence of the whole Bill, the control by way of co-ordination and the holding together with various links of the system of transport, which must be as completely and as necessarily in the hands of one man as the helm of the steersman must be in the hands of one man if the ship is to be saved from disaster. That was, perhaps, the largest and best improvement made in the Bill.
2122 Then, parties aggrieved—and there were many representing traders, and the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Holt), who stood up for the interests of traders so manfully, will remember that—parties aggrieved now have, under the alterations, a right of appeal against each other through the Ministry, and a further safeguard has been introduced to protect the interests of traders as well as of the docks and harbours over which they trade. There was one thing which the Committee and the House refused to do, and that was to break the control of the Ministry in the continuity of the management of the system of transport. Electricity, which I believe will play one of the largest parts in future improvements, was removed from the Bill. As the House well knows, there is to be an entirely separate Bill for that, which will be considered and dealt with, although I hope that ultimately the plan of the Ministry of having a large control over the supply of electricity will be continued. Again, a separate section for roads did not exist in the Bill in the first instance, but it has been introduced. Tramways belonging to local authorities are to be entirely freed from interference by the Ministry, and the appointments of the staff are to be controlled by a separate authority. The Minister—and here is the point which my hon. Friend who moved the Motion did not appear to have understood—is to be personally responsible to anyone aggrieved, and may be sued or may sue by ordinary action at law, thus removing the difficulty, as anyone who has had any experience in law proceedings can understand. of procedure by Petition of Right. I think I am correct in saying that this is the first time that a Minister of the Crown has been placed in that position in regard to the citizens who are His Majesty's subjects. That is a step which is right and proper as simplifying the complaint of anyone who considers himself aggrieved.
Then, as regards employés. These, under any undertakings, must be provided for on fair and equitable terms, in regard to money during their employment and in regard to superannuation after their retirement. That, I think, was a provision not in the Bill as originally introduced, but it is now in it in the form in which the House is asked to pass the Third Reading. The hon. Baronet referred to wagons, and to the large sum of money necessary to purchase them if they are all to be purchased. The management of the wagons, as the Minister-designate has so clearly 2123 shown, is of the utmost importance in regard to this reform of co-ordination of transport, and the £70,000,000, which is estimated to be necessary if the wagons are all purchased, have been, arranged for by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, after some criticism, in a way which ought to be entirely satisfactory to the country and even to the vendors. That is to say, that the money shall be paid, not in cash, but in Government securities, thus increasing the subscriptions to the Victory Loan which is so necessary a step in patriotism to secure the reinstatement of our trade. I was very glad indeed to hear the statement of the Minister-designate as to the coastal trade by sea. One of the attacks made upon him in this House has been that he, as a railwayman, would be prejudiced in favour of railways and would do all he could to give tirade to railways and to starve the coastwise trade by ships. I think he has completely disposed of that idea in his speech to-day. He has shown how very much more economical in the way of cost transport trade per ton coastwise services is; although it is slower, it is more economical and less costly than railway transport. I am sure the House, and even those traders and shipowners who have been in. fear and trembling on this matter, will have been thoroughly convinced by his statement that justice will be done and the balance held evenly by him and his Ministry between land transport and transport coastwise by sea.
What is the basis of this suggestion that the Bill should be rejected? It was in some degree reflected by that dissertation upon nationalisation which my right hon. Friend who spoke last made to the House. I thought he travelled very far away from the practical issue that is before the House. Let me recall the House to the real practical question before it, as distinguished from the Socialistic ethics of my right hon. Friend. This Bill—and here I know I shall not have the sympathy of hon. Gentlemen on the benches behind me—this Bill is in my humble judgment a barrier against nationalisation. Supposing that there were no Bill with the provisions contained in this Bill. What would happen? The continued congestion and stagnation of all the traffic in the docks— Liverpool, London, Glasgow, Hull, and everywhere else—the railways choked and unable to compete with the demands upon them, traders, shipowners, travellers, workers, everybody dissatisfied, every- 2124 body badly served, as they are to-day, through lack of co-ordination and of system throughout the transport service. The argument of hon. Gentlemen would have redoubled and trebled force in favour of making this change. The only way, they would say, to make it is to nationalise. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] What is nationalisation but management, possession uncontrolled, and ownership? Ownership is essential to nationalisation. There is no ownership, even as regards the moving of rolling stock and wagons, in this Bill from one end to the other. If the Bill be passed, it will remove that argument, which hon. Gentlemen would so gladly use, of confusion and disaster in our transport system, and my right hon. Friend, I hope, in his Ministry, will be able to show that without nationalisation, but with well-organised management, be it under the State or otherwise, these difficulties can be removed, and a practically perfect system of transport by land and by sea can be established, which would do more than almost any other reform for our reconstruction and the re-establishment of our trade. That is the belief, at all events, which I hold. We shall have order out of chaos in transport by the passing of this Bill. Transport will be coordinated by road, by rail, and by water. The country and all the people concerned will be benefited by the working that this Bill will set ftp. Therefore I have the utmost confidence and belief that the House, even to its oldest Tory Member, will give its adhesion to this Bill, in the full confidence that it is for the benefit of the people at large, and makes no step towards that social danger which many of us believe would be disastrous for the country, and which we hope will be made no nearer by the passage into law of one of the best and most practical Bills included in the comprehensive programme which every man in this House was more or less returned by his constituents to carry out.
§ Mr. STEVENS
No Member of this House can be more anxious than myself upon the question of nationalisation, but surely, if we can accept any statement in this House, we must for the purposes of this Bill—and I say only for the purposes of this Bill—accept the statement of the Leader of the House that neither he nor the Government nor the individual heads of the Government are committed to nationalisation, nor that this Bill is in 2125 any degree from his point of view going towards it. In quoting the Leader of the House I am quoting, as I believe, the greatest asset of his party. I take his word upon that, and say no more upon the question of nationalisation in regard to this Bill. Following the progress of the Bill from its introduction until the Third Reading to-day, and looking at it entirely from the point of view of the -trader—who after all is the greatest vested interest concerned—the trader's great concern is, and has been, that he has had no opportunity, either by himself or through his experts, to give very considered and detailed opinions upon this very important question of transport. That remains his complaint to-day, and I am sure most of the contentious matter that we have to deal with in the progress of this Bill has been due to the fact that the traders' interests were never consulted by the Government before the Bill was brought about. The traders desire co-ordination as much as anyone could possibly desire it. They do not object to Government control. They never have objected to control in that sense.
I said I would not refer to nationalisation again, but until we have some know-ledge of what is meant by nationalisation it is ridiculous that we should consider nationalisation in regard to this or any other matter. The great difference between the traders and the scheme as put forward so ably by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon is, to the general hearer, comparatively small. As a matter of fact, I can almost agree with every word the right hon. Gentleman uttered this afternoon, and could put his statement forward as the case of the traders of the country for co-ordination and control. But this country has suffered for two generations from the fact that the transport system of this country has been ruled by the railway interest. The result has been that our railway rates are twice, or nearly twice, as much—I am speaking of general merchandise, for there one must discriminate; our mineral rates are not, comparatively speaking, so high; our passenger rates are not so high; but our general merchandise rates are the highest in the world, without exception, and it is all due to the dominating influence of the railway companies over all forms of transport in this country. That is almost the only remaining difference between the Bill as the traders would like it and as it is 2126 now passing through this House to another place on its Third Reading. When the Home Secretary introduced the Bill it came as a great surprise that it was intended, not only to co-ordinate the control, but to "take possession of." Most of us have heard over and over again that the words "take possession of" in this Bill do not express what they are meant to convey. I am glad to see the Leader of the House here now, because I would like to remind him that he suggested that we should find other words. We did find other words, and I want to make an appeal that, when the Bill is in another place, those other words, or some similar other words, may be found. I can assure him and assure the House—most hon. Members know it already—that that little change from "taking possession of"— which is not intended in the sense of ownership at all—to some other words, will make an exceedingly great difference in the manner in which this measure is received in the country. The great fear is as to the taking possession of our docks, harbours, railways, canals, and other undertakings like the Manchester Ship Canal—and I name that because it is named specially in the Bill, in order to impress upon the Leader of the House how these matters are looked upon by people in the country who have not the advantages that we have of realising that the words actually are. The Manchester Ship Canal is a monument of private enterprise, the pride of its founders— its 40,000 shareholders who found the money for its construction—and, indeed, the pride of the whole district it serves, whether as canal, as harbour, as port (the third port in the country), as a statutory railway company. There is not a man in the whole of that district who would not resent the fact that that undertaking was taken possession of in the real sense of the word by a Government under any Bill. And here I want to assist, if I can, the right hon. Gentleman with the Bill. I am not quite certain, and I only mention it now as it is the only opportunity, whether, under the Bill as it now comes here, this railway is to go forward to the Ministry. I should say that I and those who are with me think that all railways should be controlled by the Ministry. Amongst the railways which are not under the Executive Committee yet are the railways of the Manchester Ship Canal Company, the railways of the Port of London Authority, the Trafford Park Company's railways, 2127 and a few other lines. The reason for their non-inclusion at the outset of the War was that the Railway Executive were told, and told by those of us who were interested in some of those railways, that if those railways were included representatives of them should be put upon the Railway Executive; and I believe the only-reason why they were not at the time included was the fear, on the part of that paramount railway interest which I have spoken of, lest the traders' railway interests should be included. There still remains a good deal of the autocrat in this measure. Government promises, I am sorry to say, have not been fulfilled. Let me refer to what the Home Secretary said upon the introduction of this Bill. He said:The Government propose to set up a Ministry to maintain for two years, during which the receipts are guaranteed, the whole of the control which they had during the course of the War, and at the same time to give them power during these two years to consider the whole question—to consider it with the assistance of the Committee of this House which is still in existence—[Several Hon. Members: 'No, no; a new Parliament!'] Well you can set it up again—at the same time to make such changes as and when they think it desirable."That, I think, is a distinct Government promise. 'That Select Committee should be set up again forthwith. I am sure that the value of the assistance it would give to this Ministry is not appreciated by the House or by the Government, or else the Committee would have been reappointed. The Home Secretary said such a Committee would help the Ministry. I would add that it would also remove apprehension that the domination of the railway companies over transport was in any way intended.
There is an apparent paradox in the figures we have heard as to the loss on the railways, which is now brought down to £60,000,000, as against £100,000,000. In every other country, what may be described as railway services proper, are charged for separately. Our system is, and has been, to make the rate inclusive of every other service that could be included in it. A "C" and "D" rate includes conveyance by rail, terminals, and subsidiary services, such as warehousing, cartage, etc. These other subsidiary services have increased in cost so much that in the "C" and "D" rate there is nothing like a sufficient amount allowed for them. Cartage, for instance, which in the rate is allowed for at 1s. 4d. per ton 2128 is now costing the railways 5s. per ton. Under this new co-ordination of transport let each service be properly charged for, and charged for so that the work can be done at a profit. Then all the other means of communication would come in on competitive terms; coastwise traffic would fall back into its ordinary place, and road motor traffic too. I will take one particular trade in the Manchester district, where 150,000 tons of goods have been carried into Manchester annually, all of it coming from places within twenty miles of the city, and all of it carried at an average rate of about 8s. 6d. per ton. That 8s. 6d. per ton includes the railway conveyance, the two railway termini, loading and discharging, station accommodation and the two cartages. The two cartages are costing the railway company—or the Government—a great deal more than is obtained for the whole of the different services. If these rates were sub-divided and the conveyance charge kept by itself, not a single ton of that 150,000 tons would go on the railway proper; it would all go where it ought to go, on to the roads. The same-arguments apply to the different coastwise services. They are all starved on that account. I estimate that on a most conservative basis £100.000 per day at least is being wasted by the Government upon that one item, that is to say, through allowing the railway companies to accept traffic at less than the cost of cartage.
Those of us who have had long experience in the working of transport know that if it is to succeed on its administrative side the fact must be recognised that transport is the servant of trade and not its master. Much has been said as to the personality of the Minister-designate. May I say that I have formed a very high opinion of him, and I have seen a good deal of him lately. My fear is that he is not yet powerful enough to throw off railway influence; in fact, the appointments he is making lead one to think that he relies on it. If we are mistaken, we shall know from his actions. Let him prove himself strong enough to make his Department acknowledge that transport is the servant of trade and not its master. He may then reckon on the powerful assistance of the great trading industry of the country.
§ Dr. D. MURRAY
I should like to divert the thoughts of hon. Members from the close atmosphere of railway carriages to 2129 the fresh breezes of the sea coast. I rise to support this Bill. I must say that the doleful Jeremiad to which the Mover of the Amendment treated us leaves me cold. I believe that the Bill will make for the welfare of the country as a whole. It is because I believe that that I do not join with the hon. Gentlemen who think that the right hon. Gentleman takes too much power in this Bill. What I complain of is that he is not taking enough power to deal with the transport services of the country. He is dealing with the transport services in areas of the country where really they simply require artistic touches here and there to make them complete, and he has absolutely forgotten large sections of the area of the country, and especially of Scotland, and those who depend upon the sea for their means of transport. This Bill is essentially a part of what is generally called the policy of Reconstruction, that same policy which is meant to make this country a better place to live in for the men who defended us on land and sea. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman has not forgotten the men who defended us on the sea, and I think he might have remembered some of his pals at the Admiralty, the men who manned the ships of war and the mine-sweepers, thousands of them from the west coast of Scotland, who depend entirely upon seaborne traffic. I cannot regard this as a full national measure of transportation until the right hon. Gentleman takes control of the steamer traffic of some parts of the country.
I think I can claim the support of the Leader of the National Party in asking the right hon. Gentleman to take up what is practically a derelict service on the west coast of Scotland. Private enterprise has absolutely failed to meet, not the perfect, nor even the average, but the ordinary requirements of civilisation as regards transport on the west coast of Scotland, and particularly in the islands of Scotland, and I hope I shall not be considered too parochial if I draw the attention of the House to the character of these services. Thousands of the men of the western islands of Scotland were in the Navy on the first day of the War, and thousands of them have also been in the Army, and I think the right hon. Gentleman might have remembered to bring these men and their interests within the ambit of his Bill. The railway service of the country does not affect these people very much, and 2130 there have been many occasions during the past year when in many parts of the West Coast of Scotland, and particularly in the islands, the people were short of food and the cattle were short of water, simply because of the complete breakdown of the transport services in those parts. I will not weary the House by reading many of the letters or telegrams I have had, but I will mention one telegram which I had from a gentleman who was once a respected Member of this House, Major Rowland Hunt, from one of these islands, in which he said that they could not get the necessaries of life. That is not an isolated fact, but a picture of the whole situation which has obtained in those parts, especially during the War, and the means of transport since the conclusion of the War have been even worse than during the War. These are the general grounds upon which I claim the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman.
It should be a national measure, and it should deal with every portion of the population, and I maintain that the requirements of those who arc dependent on the sea services for their means of transport deserve as much consideration as those who have the railways at their doors. I have talked of the shortage of food and other supplies, and that is still going on. There is a Committee, I understand, which has been meeting of late, representing all the Departments connected with these matters, but I am not aware that they have come to any conclusion yet that has, at any rate, brought any good to these communities. We have heard that the railway has killed coastal traffic in Scotland, but there is one aspect of that question which the right hon. Gentleman did not emphasise, and that was that those who were dependent upon the coastal traffic during these years have had to pay from 300 to 500 per cent. increased rates, whereas the mainland, who were supplied by the railways, had no increased rates at all for goods, and the nation even subsidised them. One consequence was that in these islands, where besides the fishing trade there is a large industry in stock, when the farmers and crofters brought their stock to the mainland they had to pay about three times as much as they had before the War and had to compete with farmers and crofters on the mainland, who had only to pay the pre-war rates, and I think that is a matter which shows considerable unfairness. I do not blame the right hon. Gentleman 2131 or even the Government for that, but I think it is a matter which ought to be put right. The passenger traffic on the West Coast needs attention, and I think in this connection the right hon. Gentleman can do something. I understand that the Highland Railway Company, for instance, have some power for running steamboats for passenger and goods traffic, and I hope the House of Lords will amend this Bill. I remember an old Radical who used to denounce the House of Lords once said in this House, "Thank God, we have a House of Lords!" and I am inclined to agree with that to-day. Nobody could turn up the OFFICIAL REPORT and say that I ever said anything against the House of Lords. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to make up for this deficiency in the Bill when he sends the Bill to another place. At any rate, I am throwing out an S.O.S. signal to some of the Highland Peers in the other place who are interested in highland reconstruction to see to it that this aspect of the question is not lost sight of. The House has, I dare say, had quite sufficient discussion of this Bill, and I will not say much more, but this is a very serious problem to the population of the West Coast and Western islands of Scotland, the people who, above all others in this country, depend upon seaborne traffic, and I hope the organising genius of the right hon. Gentleman will be applied to the chaotic and collapsed condition of the steamer services on the West Coast of Scotland, and bring them somewhat up to the average level, at any rate, of other services in this country.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW (Leader of the House)
I wonder if it would be convenient to the general feeling of the House if I were to make an appeal now that we might come to a decision. I must not do what my hon. Friend who spoke last did— make first my own speech and then say we have had enough discussion, although I hardly like to sit down without saying a word or two about the Bill.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
What I said was not intended offensively. There has never been a Bill, in my experience, in which the House as a whole has taken more interest and more thoroughly understands, and I do not believe it is within the wish 2132 of a man at this stage to find any new argument to introduce on the Third Reading stage, at any rate. I do not in the least desire to prevent a Division, but I think we might come to a decision now, and if I may transgress for three minutes—I do not think I will be more—I should like to put one or two points only in regard to the Bill. In the first place, there has been a great deal about nationalisation. I think it is all nonsense. I do not mean that nationalisation is all nonsense, nor that it is all sense; I mean that it has nothing whatever to do with this Bill. There is obviously a problem there of immediate action which has to be faced, and the best proof that I could give that this issue does not arise would be found in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) on the Second Reading of the Bill, when he said, "I do not like this Bill, but it is quite evident that we must have nationalisation of the railways if we do not have anything else, so let us have this." My right hon. Friend is right in saying that whatever else happens there is really no alternative before the House except trying to take some real control to save the taxpayers' money in the two years during which the Bill has got to run, or to hand it over to the State and try to work it in that way. There is no alternative, so I think we may leave out of our minds the question of nationalisation. The other point I wish to make is this. Whether we like it or not, the Government is bound to run the railways at least for two years. Think what that means. My right hon. Friend put the point quite as clearly as it is possible for me to do it in his speech to-day. During these two years those who are now directing the railways—for they will be interested from the future point of view and from the national point of view, I do not doubt—but from the point of view of the immediate pocket interests of their shareholders it is really against their interests to arrange for any new improvements or increased rolling stock now; that is to say, it is dead against their interests to have new locomotives or new anything else at the present high prices if they can get them within two years.
I ask the House to realise what that means. The transport system of this or any other country is vital to the commercial life of the country. Are we for two years to leave the railways in that 2133 position that those who are running them have no interest whatever—I am talking of pocket interest—in spending money to develop them at this moment and get the best results. We all know how short money is. We all know we must be dead careful about the expenditure of money, but I think this country at this moment is not unlike a big business firm with great assets, but with its capital tied up. What happens then? The directors say they cannot spend money or they will go straight to bankruptcy. If, on the other hand, they can get profitable business, they use whatever credit they can to expand it. That is our position. However short of money we may be, we cannot afford to let a great service, which is run at the expense of the taxpayers, become derelict during the time the taxpayers are running it. I am not by nature very sanguine. I always believe in the saying—which is none the less true because it was that of a Hun— "Nature has so arranged that the trees do not grow up into the sky." No miracle is going to happen, but there is room for really effective work being done, and I do not think any Bill has ever gone through this House which has been more carefully examined. I am convinced that, if it is got going quickly, we shall get real advantage to this country by carrying this Bill through and fulfilling the pledges which we made at the election. I am not going to dwell upon them, but I do speak as a Member and leader of a party which, at the time of the election,
§ was accused of saying all these things without meaning them. That is not true. We do mean them. We do mean to carry out our pledges, and I am perfectly certain any objection or criticism which has been made against this Bill has not been from the point of view of private interest but from the point of view of efficiency. We must try it, and I am convinced the trial will justify us in the end.
§ Sir R. COOPER
I would be quite willing to withdraw this Amendment if my right hon. Friend could give an assurance to this House that nationalisation will not be introduced into any public service during the two years.
§ Mr. BONAR LAW
I do not in the least object to my hon. Friend going to a Division. I should rather like it. All that I am doing—and it is, perhaps, rather mean of me, after making this speech—is to suggest to the House that, as we have had a very full discussion, we might now have the Division.
That the word ' now ' stand part of the Question.
§ The House divided: Ayes, 245; Noes, none.2135
|Division No. 67.]||AYES.||[8.5 p.m.|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral||Buchanan, Lieut.-Col. A. L. H.||Davies, T. (Cirencester)|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)|
|Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher||Burn, Colonel C. R. (Torquay)||Denison-Pender, John C.|
|Ainsworth, Capt. C.||Butcher, Sir J. G.||Dockrell, Sir M.|
|Armitage, Robert||Campbell, J. G. D.||Doyle, N. Grattan|
|Arnold, Sydney||Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Du Pre, Colonel W. B.|
|Atkey, A. R.||Carr, W. T.||Edge, Captain William|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Carter, w. (Mansfield)||Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham. s.)|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Casey, T. w.||Edwards, C. (Bedwelty)|
|Balfour, Sir Robert (Partick)||Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord R. (Hitchin)||Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)|
|Barnes, Major K. (Newcastle, E.)||Chadwick, R. Burton||Entwistle, Major C. F.|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Eyres-Monsell, Commander|
|Barrand, A. R.||Chamberlain, N. (Birm., Lady wood)||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Cheyne, Sir William Watson||FitzRoy, Capt. Hon. Edward A.|
|Benn, Sir Arthur S. (Plymouth)||Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue|
|Bigland, Alfred||Coates, Major Sir Edward F.||Forestier-Walker, L.|
|Birchall, Major J. D.||Cobb, Sir Cyril||Foxcroft, Captain C.|
|Blades, Sir George R.||Colfox, Major W. p.||France, Gerald Ashburner|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Boles, Lieut.-Col. D. F.||Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)||Galbraith, Samuel|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Ganzoni, Captain F. C.|
|Bowyer, Capt. G. W. E.||Cowan, D. M. (Scottish Univ.)||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir A. C. (Basingstoke)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Cowan, Sir H, (Aberdeen and Kinc.)||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Cambridge)|
|Brackenbury, Col. H. L.||Craig, Col. Sir James (Down, Mid)||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Craik, Right Hon. Sir Henry||Gilbert, James Daniel|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Dalziel, Sir Davison (Brixton)||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Briggs, Harold||Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirk'dy)||Graham, W. (Edinburgh)|
|Brittain, Sir Harry E.||Davidson, Major-Gen. Sir John H.||Gray, Major E.|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Davies, Major David (Montgomery Co.)||Greame, Major P. Lloyd-|
|Green, A. (Derby)||Maclean, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (Midlothian)||Short, A. (Wednesbury)|
|Green, J. F. (Leicester)||Macquisten, F. A.||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T., W)|
|Greenwood, Col. Sir Hamar||Mallalieu, Frederick William||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)|
|Gregory, Holman||Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Smith, Harold (Warrington)|
|Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)||Mason, Robert||Spencer, George A.|
|Guest, J. (Hemsworth, York)||Meysey-Thompson, Lt.-Col. E. C.||Spoor, B. G.|
|Guest, Maj. Hon. O. (Leic, Loughboro')||Mitchell, William Lane-||Stanley, Colonel Hon. G. F. (Preston)|
|Guinness, Capt. Hon. R. (Southend)||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Stephenson, Colonel H. K.|
|Hacking, Captain D. H.||Montagu, Rt. Hon. E. S.||Stevens, Marshall|
|Hallwood, A.||Moreing, Captain Algernon H.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Hall, Lieut.-Col. Sir Fred, (Dulwich)||Morgan, Major D. Watts||Sturrock, J. Long-|
|Hallas, E.||Morison, T. B. (Inverness)||Sugden, W. H.|
|Hancock, John George||Mosley, Oswald||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Harmsworth, Cecil B. (Luton, Beds.)||Murray, Lt.-Col. Hon. A. C. (Aberdeen)||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Hartshorn, V.||Murray, Dr. D. (Western Isles)||Taylor, J. (Dumbarton)|
|Hayward, Major Evan||Murray, John (Leeds, W.)||Terrell, Capt. R. (Henley, Oxford)|
|Henderson, Major V. L.||Murray, William (Dumfries)||Thomas, Brig.-Gen. Sir O. (Anglesey)|
|Hennessy, Major G.||Nall, Major Joseph||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Hebert, Denniss (Hertford)||Neal, Arthur||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Newman, Major J. (Finchley, M'ddx.)||Thorns, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Tootill, Robert|
|Hinds, John||Nield, Sir Herbert||Townley, Maximilan G.|
|Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Norman, Major Rt. Hon. Sir Henry||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Norris, Colonel Sir Henry G.||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Horne, Edgar (Guildford)||Oman, C. W. C.||Wallace, J.|
|Howard, Major S. G.||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Walsh, S. (Ince, Lancs.)|
|Hudson, R. M.||Parry, Major Thomas Henry||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.|
|Hunter, Gen. Sir A. (Lancaster)||Peel, Lt.-Col. R. F. (Woodbridge)||Ward, Colonel L. (Kingston-upon-Hull|
|Hunter-Weston, Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. G.||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Ward, w. Dudley (Southampton)|
|Hurd, P. A.||Perkins, Walter Frank||Wardle, George J.|
|Hurst, Major G. B.||Pollock, Sir Ernest Murray||Waterson, A. E.|
|Inskip, T. W. H.||Pratt, John William||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Jackson, Lieut.-Col. Hon. F. S. (York)||Prescott, Major||Wignall, James|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Pulley, Charles Thornton||Wild, Sir Ernest Edward|
|Johnstone, J.||Purchase, H. G.||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington)||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Jones, J. (Silvertown)||Rankin, Capt. James S.||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir R. (Banbury)|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Ratcliffe, Henry Butler||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Jones, Wm. Kennedy (Hornsey)||Rees, Sir J. D. (Nottingham, E.)||Williamson, Rt. Hon. Sir Archibald|
|Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander||Rees, Captain J. Tudor (Barnstaple)||Willoughby, Lt.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Kiley, James Daniel||Richardson, Sir Albion (Peckham)||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H..|
|King, Commander Douglas||Richardson, Alex. (Gravesend)||Wilson, J. H. (South Shields)|
|Larmor, Sir J.||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Law, Right Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)||Robinson, T. (Stretford, Lancs.)||Wood, Major Mackenzie (Aberdeen, C)|
|Lewis, T. A. (Pontypridd, Glam.)||Rowlands, James||Wood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Lloyd, George Butler||Royden, Sir Thomas||Worsfold, T. Cato|
|Lorden, John William||Rutherford, Sir W. W. (Edge Hill)||Worthington Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Lort-Williams, J.||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Yate, Col. Charles Edward|
|Loseby, Captain C. E.||Seager, Sir William||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Lyle, C. E. Leonard (Stratford)||Seddon, J. A.|
|M'Curdy, Charles Albert||Shaw, Hon. A. (Kilmarnock)|
|M'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)||Shaw, Tom (Preston)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord E.|
|M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Bosworth)||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Talbot and Captain F. Guest.|
|TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Sir R. Cooper and Brig.-Gen. Crolt.|
Lords Amendments considered, and agreed to.