§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir ERIC GEDDES
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
I propose to deal with this Bill, first, as to the problem which confronts the Government; secondly, as to the Government's conception of the scope of the Ministry of Ways and Communications; thirdly, to give certain detailed information as to the financial position of the various transportation services to-day; and, finally, as briefly as I can, to explain the intentions of the Government in regard to the Bill. The problem which we have to face has, I think, brought before us, as we have never seen it before, the importance of transportation to a highly organised State such as ours. We have realised, perhaps, in the last year or two that without a go-ahead system, a vitalising system, of transportation, the health and housing of the people, agricultural development, settlement on the land, and the industrial development of the country, cannot possibly be achieved. This House, as a whole, is committed to those reforms. We are going to make such demands upon the transportation system of the country as I venture to think have never been made before, and it is right that we should at this stage consider the conditions, both financial and physical, of the machine upon which we are going to make these demands.
Except in the one bright instance of the municipal tramways, the transportation systems of this country to-day are not prosperous. I will go into details later, but, very briefly, this is the position—there are 279 tramways undertakings in the country, of which 96 per cent. are elcc- 1762 trifled. That is an important point, as I shall show later in my speech. It shows that these undertakings are almost entirely modern. Taken all over, these undertakings are earning 7 per cent. on their capital. They are excluded from the Bill. Let us take railways. Before the War the return on railway capital expenditure was 4.3 per cent. It is a loss of from 3 to 4 per cent. on to-day's figures. Light railways before the War made a profit of 2 per cent.; to-day they are working at a loss. Canals, excepting the great Manchester Ship Canal, before the War earned 1½ per cent.; to-day they are working at a loss, and they are heavily subsidised. Roads have practically no income. They cost the country £20,000,000 a year. Harbours and docks are divided into two great divisions, railway-owned clocks and non-railway-owned docks. In water area—and that is the best basis I can get for making a relative comparison—they are 50 per cent. and 50 per cent., while in capital the balance is in favour of the non-railway-owned docks. In water area, as I have said, they are about 50 per cent, each, and they are earning 3 per cent. to-day. But they are earning that not on the same basis as the railways, because, as the non-railway-owned docks were not controlled in the sense that the railways were controlled, they raised their rates under authority given to them under the Defence of the Realm Act.
That is the position of our transportation services to-day. I do not think that I am exaggerating or using extravagant words if I say that, with the exception of the municipal trams, which hereafter I will leave out of reference altogether, the transportation systems of the country upon which, if for no other reason than to fulfil our pledges, we have to make great demands, are financially in a semi-paralysed state. In addition, they are in this position, that, either because they were not very prosperous before the War or because they saw the shadow of nationalisation overhanging them, their development was retarded. Their capital expenditure under normal conditions was not undertaken. They were holding back because they did not know what was going to happen. During the War, for a variety of reasons—partly because they were under a species of control varying with the different undertakings, partly because they could not get the men and partly because they could not get the 1763 capital—for five years that retardation of development in betterment has been going on, and therefore to-day, apart from their actual financial position, they are physically ill-equipped to meet the great strains and the great demand upon them. During the five years of war unavoidably, I think, under the conditions which existed—there has been a dead hand over them, and for years before, as I shall hope to show later, a parasitical growth has been enveloping these great undertakings.
That is the position you have to face. To-day railways are being worked at a loss of something over £250,000 a day—£100,000,000 a year. That is an estimated figure. You have to assume a certain traffic, you have to assume a realisation of certain additional costs, but the best estimate I can get is somewhere about £90,000,000 or £100,000,000 in increased cost, and for two years, as the House knows, the Government is pledged to continue the guarantee which has been in existence since the beginning of the War—pledged to give that guarantee of the net receipts of 1913 to the railway companies. Apart from the railways, the other forms of transportation have either been subsidised or have been given very large additional powers of charging, so that in one form or another, as we stand to-day, all means of transportation have had to come to the State for help. The roads and canals got Grants. The roads, as I have said, are not a revenue-earning concern. Are these means of transportation to be continued to be run at the cost of the taxpayer or are we to try to get them back on a self-supporting basis, the users paying for the services they receive? So far as I know, there can only be one answer. They ought to be got back on to a paying basis.
If we are going to do that, we must evolve order out of what to-day is really chaos. This House and the country asks from time to time—insists from time to time—on a policy in various matters. They ask, "What is your Colonial policy; what is your foreign policy?" I have never seen it really asked, "What is your transportation policy? What is our transportation policy and who is responsible for that policy? The answer is that there is no policy and that no one is responsible. In saying what I have said 1764 about evolving order out of chaos and about the absence of policy, I am not imputing blame or censure; I am not venturing to do so. I do not think it would be just to any of the great undertakers of these transportation agencies. But the system of transportation is the creation of the community. It has been built up for the last eighty or ninety years and it is our creation. We adopted, and I think probably rightly adopted, private enterprise and local interest as the means by which we were to develop our transportation system. When a portion of it became weak it was put on the back of the strong. That has been the system throughout. The transportation policy has been developed under legislation which, when you look at it to-day carefully, is illogical and, I think many of those who know most about it would say, almost incomprehensible.
The Government, in facing that problem, has come to the conclusion that some measure of unified control of all systems of transportation is necessary—that there must be some body who can be asked what the transportation policy of the country is and whose responsibility it is to have a policy. There is none to-day, and it is only the State, the Government, that can centrally take that position. With our transportation agencies in the condition in which they are, it appears almost inevitable that to a greater or less extent we must forego the luxuries of competition; we must forego private interest and local interest in the interest of the State. In the past private interest made for development, but to-day I think I may say that it makes for colossal waste. This is not peculiar to our country. If you look at the other great countries that have been engaged in this War, what is the position of their transportation? France has been struggling with her transportation throughout the War and is doing so to-day. The transportation of the Central Empires has broken down. Italy is in difficulties, and has been, with hers. The United States do not know what to do with their transportation system. Canada is, more or less, in the same position. Australia is in difficulties, and we are. But we are in greater difficulties because we are more highly developed, more concentrated, older in transportation. There is one country in which their transportation system is healthy, only one, and that is 1765 South Africa. In South Africa it is a comparatively modern growth. They have not got the great disadvantages that we have. It is a remarkable fact that in South Africa the Minister of Railways has just the same power over docks that he has over railway lines.
I have seen this Bill described as a Railway Bill. I have seen a most attractive picture of a railway octopus putting out its tentacles. If that was really the state of affairs, I would say there was no greater condemnation of this measure. If this is a Railway Bill it is absolutely and fundamentally wrong. It is not a Railway Bill; it is a transportation Bill. To show how little this country conceived the driving, vitalising spirit of transportation before the War, I would ask hon. Members to cast their minds back and to think what transportation meant. It had a flavour of a penal settlement abroad. We did not use the word. When I went to France to see Sir Douglas Haig about serving under him, he told me what he wanted me to do, and we tried to find a word to express it, and we agreed that "transportation" was the word. It was an American word, but we adopted it, and I believe that since then the word has gradually lost the American twang. We all use it now, although before the War it was never used in that sense.
In considering this problem, I looked at it very much in the light of the miniature problem we had to face in France There the means of transportation were in a semi-paralysed state. They were choked, and could not meet the great demands that were made upon them. We had to consider it in just the same way as we shall have to consider this. We had to make a policy. There was no policy. Everything was separate there; the roads were separate from the railways and the canals were separate, the docks were separate, everything was separate, and there was no policy, and there was waste. Sir Douglas Haig, with a vision which I hope the House may emulate, agreed that he must have one authority responsible for this American word, that there must be a policy behind it, and that he must have one man to go to when things went wrong. At that time the motor interest in France objected to the Transportation Department having the roads. They said, "It will kill the roads." I ask hon. Members who have been in France since the beginning of 1916 if the French roads were killed? You may say, 1766 "But you had ample money there; you could spend whatever you liked." You may say, "You could do everything for railways and for roads, because finance did not matter." I do not agree that finance did not matter, but I am not going to base it on that. I had something that was far more difficult than finance, which I had to cheese-pare in every way, and that was the men. Where could I get the men to squander on roads if the railways were short? It is true that money is of much more primary interest when we are at peace than when we are at war. All war is wasteful. We had to economise in men there, and a thousand men off the roads or railways were of vital importance at the time. The roads did not suffer. I do not think it is denied that the policy that Sir Douglas Haig adopted in France of having one authority to which he could look and one authority who could co-ordinate—that blessed word; but sometimes you cannot get away from it—the various systems of transport was a success. It is that policy which is behind this Bill. I agree that that was not so complex as this will be. Here you have a great many interests; you have strong local interests. But in miniature we had all the interests out there. They were just the same. Now in this country it is natural that any railway wishing to get the longest haul and having any power in influencing traffic, when they have the power would get the traffic to the farthest point from which the goods were to be delivered, and then they would get the long haul. It is the long haul that pays, and not the short haul. I can speak from my own knowledge of transportation agencies of the country, and I am not blaming any of them. It is perfectly right under the system under which they were created, but they have never looked to getting the shortest haul, and therefore reasonably the cheapest haul on goods. They have never got the shortest haul.
I know of cases—I will not say I have had nothing to do with them myself—where goods for Northern markets were deliberately influenced to a Southern port in order to get the haul over the railway, and goods for Southern markets were deliberately influenced to a Northern port—things that were identical in quality and everything else. That kind of thing is going on all over the country. That is a waste of movement. Who pays for that? [HON. MEMBERS: "The consumers."] The 1767 community pays, and it is no blame to the agencies concerned. They try to do the best for themselves. That is their business. The community pays, the consumer pays, and the transport workers pay, because they do not get paid enough. It is in that way the money goes. [An Hon. Member: "Remember that this week."] Again, we have got to remember that the shareholders are paying and they are entitled to consideration too, and last of all the taxpayer is paying today £100,000,000 a year. He is entitled to consideration. Throughout the country you have got waste movement, unnecessary movement, and if you are going to pay the great bill that is against transportation to-day you have got to stop that. You can then get the goods through to their destination without any undue burden upon the consumer, and the transportation system of the country will be healthy, which it cannot be to-day.
Another thing To-day the transportation agencies of the country are in different hands. They have developed on different lines. Hon. Members will know well the story of the dual fitting of brakes. Why do we dual fit brakes? Because there is no unified control that says one brake is the best. That sort of thing has gone on throughout the equipment of the companies everywhere, and it is not right. There is no need for it. But you cannot avoid it without unified control. Then again take the question of terminals. At present the terminal points of the country, of the great import and export trades, are in the hands of dock authorities, and the various other terminal owners. It is not to their interest—and they are not very prosperous; they have not been for years—to spend money on improving their terminal accommodation when the advantage is going to go to the conveying company. It is not to their advantage. They are not prosperous and they are not philanthropists and they do not do it, and in consequence such measures as an increase in the size of wagons, which is one of the very big measures of economy that we can go into, are not carried out. Railway companies cannot take that step very largely because of the inability of the terminal points to take the traffic. In every case we will find that either separate interests stand in the way or that it is not to the interest of the spending man to do it, because the 1768 man who does not spend the money is going to reap the benefit, and that is common sense. Why should he?
So too with the financial position and with the position as regards operation. The Government has been forced to the conclusion that in addition to eliminating competition and restricting, at any rate to some extent, the freedom of private enterprise and private management, the transportation agencies will be comparatively barren and sterile in economy and development until this unified control is brought in. For my part, I think, with the situation as it is, that it would be nothing short of criminal to let the old system of competition between light railways and roads, between railways and canals, and between different docks go on. You must make one block of capital do the work now, not two. You cannot afford it. Of course this will come as a shock to some idealists who believe in individual effort. We all have our dreams and many of us have our dream islands which we think of in the morning before we get up. I have no doubt that the dream island of the trader is full of courteous canvassers offering cheap fares, light rates, and fast special trains. But when he has had his cold bath in the morning that goes. This is a cold bath which the country has got to take. The transportation agencies of the country to-day are barren and paralysed and we have got to get them right. Therefore I feel sure that if the House decides that the era of competition is gone it must logically put every means of transportation under the one control and you must not leave out anything, otherwise you will have competition immediately, and you have got to trust some body or someone.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
It is not proposed to include shipping. The country must trust someone or somebody to get co-ordination, and to get the fullest possible utilisation of everything the country possesses. The railway interest is a community interest. Another thing is that we cannot wait. We 1769 are not rich now. We are poor. We are losing a large sum every day. Agriculture has got to be developed. Apart from the pledges it is in the interest of the community, and if we are going to do any good at all in this country we have got to look after housing. It cannot wait. The thing is urgent. There is one other big factor in this—that is the position of labour. Collective trade union movements and their constitutional action is the alternative to anarchy. Sporadic strikes will, I am sure, be frowned upon by responsible leaders of trade unionism, as their best wishers would desire, but if you expect discipline among the trade unions—and you must expect it and I am sure we are going to get it—you must in some form or other give the Government a say in the conditions under which labour works, under which essential services—because these are essential: they are not a private interest; they are a community interest—are conducted. Therefore we have got to look at it from that point of view also. It is no use piling burdens on the railway shareholder. He is not a malefactor. He deserves fair treatment, but he cannot pay any more. He cannot pay what his bill is to-day. We have got to help him. The State must come in and make economies possible. The actual conditions under which the transportation systems of the country to-day are worked, and their inter-relationship, make it almost impossible to bring in any material economy.
I would like to run as briefly as I can through various branches of our transportation system. Possession was taken of the railways under an Act of 1871. Possession is rather an alarming term, but it does not really mean as much as it sounds. At that time the railways were earning 4⅓ per cent. on the capital expended. I know that my right hon. Friend opposite takes an interest in it. It is not on the capital standing in the books; it is not on the capital subscribed; it is on the capital expended. I think on the whole that you will find that that is larger than the capital issued. That is due to the fact that there are large funds, such as superannuation funds, which were expended and do not appear as capital issue, but on the capital expended they were returning 4⅓per cent. During the War they were worked under an executive committee composed of the general managers of the principal lines. I have seen it suggested that the executive committee might 1770 go on. Anyone who suggests that railways could go on for another two or three years in the position in which they are to-day, working under the executive committee of general managers really does not understand the proposition at all. It is quite impossible. They cannot go on.
The executive committee have done a work of which they are justly proud, and for which the country should be grateful, but they were an emergency committee. They did not really run the railways. They had no power over any capital expenditure, and no power to do anything but keep the thing moving. It is quite impossible to go on with that system. Development which is necessary has been dead, and economies on a large scale are really impossible as long as railways have separate interests to consider. That control which was bad during the War is trebly bad now. It is almost impossible to expect development under it. Up to the time of the Armistice the Government traffic practically made up the deficit, but since the Armistice the deficit on railways has been steadily increasing. That makes the £90,000,000 or £100,000,000 a year which are short. Is nationalisation a cure for that? I do not know. There are those who look upon nationalisation as an end in itself, as something desirable. I am not one of those. I look upon nationalisation as a possible means to an end, a means to an end which you may have to adopt, with its disadvantages, if the advantages which it secures outweigh them. It is essential in transport that you should ensure continuity of the service, and you cannot have unreasonable stoppages. You must ensure an adequate and efficient service, and if you cannot get that by means of private management, then nationalise. But one of the great disadvantages which we have suffered under, in my opinion, is that we have never really taken the men into the confidence of the undertaking. Now that was difficult as long as you had conflicting interests and as long as you had Stock Exchanges, but I think possibly they could have been taken more into confidence. I do not understand exactly what is meant by labour having a share in the management, but I am perfectly sure of this. if we are going to get really the co-operation of the men they must be given full access to the detailed statistics of operations, and then they will see what you are trying to do, and then they will see the disadvantages under which you are working, and 1771 then you will get their help, because they will see, as I am sure they will see to-day, the way in which they must co-operate if we are going to go on and to pay the wages bill.
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. But what if we adopt the simple process of putting up rates, let us say, and bringing about economies. The taxpayer has got to be relieved of this very large sum of more than £250,000 per day. It is said, "Put up the rates." It would mean a 70 to 80 per cent. increase in the goods rates, and that is unthinkable. What does that mean on the cost of food and living? What would it do with industry? What would it do with agriculture? You cannot face that. What would it do to our foreign trade? You have got to find some other remedy. You cannot put it all on to the rates. The economies which can be effected, even with a certain amount of unity of control but not complete unity of capital, have been estimated by a very able and experienced independent railway expert and by a very able accountant at about £20.000,000 per year, and it is going to take years even to reach that. You have got to find something more drastic. You cannot put it all on the rates. It is unthinkable that the taxpayer should pay it. You cannot look to economies that would meet it in the ordinary way; but there is a way, I think, in which it can be progressively met—that means drastic treatment and courageous treatment as a whole. We must eliminate wasteful haulage, unnecessary haulage, about the country. We must introduce economics which are only possible when a comprehensive scheme of settlement can be carried out, and carried out compulsorily, if necessary, when we can standardise throughout. Standardisation saves, as many hon. Members here know, not only in manufacturing, but in stores, in repairs, and in every way, and perhaps the greatest saving of all is the introduction of electricity into our haulage, not electricity such as is used in the multiple-unit system on the tubes around London, but electricity used with heavy electric locomotives. They have been experimented with, and with great success, but we must 1772 not commit the folly of our predecessors and allow the development of every system on its own principle, of every system according to the whims and notions of those who introduce it
The trader, if he does not want to have 70 or 80 per cent. increase in the rates, has got to help and to get his wagons away more quickly and to learn that storage on wheels is too expensive for the country to afford. He has got to store in a cheaper way, and then, with improved terminals, larger wagons, and empty haulage eliminated, we can make great economies. The empty haulage of this country before the War was colossal. The railways were independent; they each had their own wagons, and those wagons had only a very limited possibility of being back-loaded. There was empty haulage everywhere with a great deal of increased shunting. That has been stopped with enormous benefits, but the railway-owned wagons of the country are only half of the whole, the rest are privately owned, There are700,000 privately owned wagons in this-country, and those wagons go about the country all over the place, empty because of the conditions under which they work, and they have got to be shunted and sorted out on the return journey. They cannot be used for back-loading, and oven with agreement it is very difficult to do it. They are of a poor type and are not designed for economy in transportation but to suit the particular private needs of the user. In every way they are hampering us. The percentage of saving in empty haulage and in reduced shunting will be very great indeed. I am told that there is no doubt that it will exceed 20 per cent., and if this Bill passes, one of the first acts which the Government will take will be to acquire on fair terms the private wagons of the country, with a few exceptions in the case of special wagons for acids and liquids and that kind of thing which are special to a trade.
It may interest the House to know what has caused this great growth of private wagons. It was because the legislation under which the railways worked imposed such a low charge for the provision of all wagons for the low grade traffic that they could only provide the wagon at a loss, and they had to choose between providing those wagons at a loss and undertaking the additional wasteful shunting and empty haulage. In the old days when the railways were more like steel turnpike roads 1773 than a really scientific transport undertaking, as they are to-day, that did not seem so important. The size of the wagon did not appeal to them. Even the locomotives in many cases were privately owned. The waste due to the fact that half the goods and mineral rolling stock of this country cannot be adequately used and that we cannot ensure an economic type has got to be stopped too. If we do not take these measures, and measures such as these, there is no alternative to the conclusion, in my opinion, that our arteries of communication not only cannot develop but will wither and cannot stand the strain put upon them.
Coming to light railways—they are a comparatively small thing. There are only 836 miles of them. They only earn 2 per cent. Many were authorised, but were not built because they could not be built and be financially successful. Their expenses have gone up, and I think there is no doubt that to-day they must be working at a considerable loss. Their expenses have not gone up as high as on the main lines, but they have gone up in material and labour very materially. Those railways have been put down with no policy; they are dotted all over the place, and really sometimes one wonders why they are there. They have had nobody to advise, and thus all of us who have been interested in and studied railways all our lives know that they simply go there and eventually become ripe plums to drop into the mouths of the big lines.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
They cannot exist by themselves, and already I am receiving applications from all sides for advice. They know that I have got a certain number, a small staff, of technical experts, who are helping me, and I am asked for advice on all sides about these undertakings. It has been suggested that the great sixty-centimetre Decauville organisation in France might be brought over here and with advantage spread like a network over the countryside. I was very largely responsible for the extension of Decauville railways in France. They did well. They filled their purpose. I will not say why we adopted that gauge, but 1774 it was adopted. Those railways were made in places where the tenure might be temporary. We were hoping it was going to be temporary, as eventually it was, and we moved on. But the maintenance and cost of a Decauville track is so heavy that to put it down in this country for agricultural use would simply be throwing away money. I do not say there are no places where it could be used and used effectively, but it is no panacea for all evils in the agricultural districts. I think there is a possibility of developing the light railway as it has been developed in the rich districts of Northern France and Belgium. I think there is a possibility of developing light electric railways for inter-urban traffic. Decauville railways strewn all over the country, and run by farmers, is a dream. It is a thing that will never exist successfully.
I think that we must look to the development of motor traction for our agricultural areas. You have there roads of a capital value—I do not know what, and I do not know that anyone knows, but they cost some £20,000,000 per year. Can anyone say that we are getting any value, any return, from that £20,000,000? I do not say you should spend it and look exactly at what return you are going to get out of it, but are we making the best use of property on which £20,000,000 per year is spent? I doubt it very much, and we cannot afford two blocks of capital where one will do. Roads have a greater possibility in opening up these districts than any light railway I have ever met. In this country, for one thing, we do not get the great level stretches we do in France. None of these light railways, I must say, are well equipped. With road conveyances the maintenance will probably be very little higher for dealing with seasonal traffic, whereas if you put a railway down you have got to keep it going all the year. Road services are flexible, and you can move them about, but you cannot move your railway about. When I see the ingenuity with which the motor interest is opposing this Bill, and when I see the picture of the octopus, I wonder what their conception is of a Ministry of Transportation! We had it in France. We had the Rolls-Royce driver in France, who wanted a beautiful smooth road, and we had the Army Service Corps, who said they would be put out of business altogether, but it did not do it. The roads proved there 1775 that they were all right, and with the enormous road system in this country I ask the House, when you are going to have a Ministry of Transportation, would it not be criminal to leave the roads out?
Coming to canals, and again excluding the Manchester Ship Canal, there are 3,600 miles of non-railway-owned canals j in the country, 1,500 miles of that is controlled—and 1,100 miles of railway-owned canals, or 4.700 miles altogether. The return on the canal capital is 1.4 per cent.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
I have only got the figures as between owned and not owned. Non-railway-owned canals were subsidised, in 1918, by the State to the extent of £670,000. The railway-owned canals, of course, come in under the general guarantee. That £670,000 which was paid in 1918 is more than the total net income on the canals in 1905, and the carrying companies are receiving great help too. There are those who say, "Make canals like roads and leave them free for those who come and go on them and convey on them." The report which was put before the Select Committee of this House, I think, of an eminent engineer was to the effect that if it was proposed to resuscitate the "Birmingham cross" of canals alone, which is 904 miles, its capital value to-day is £6,000,000, and you would have to spend £38,000,000 on it to get it into order. It may be that is desirable and in the interests of the community. I do not wish to prejudge the consideration of it, but I am not sure that we have got £38,000,000 to-day to spend unless we cannot do without it.
Now I come to docks. Again there are the two categories, railway-owned and private-owned docks, and as I said they are half-and-half. The non-railway-owned docks, with the exception of Manchester and Goole, are largely owned by public authorities. Their return, as I have said, was 3 per cent. By increasing charges in some cases as much as 300 per cent. they have practically retained that 3 per cent. return on their capital, but in the main these docks have been constructed with an ulterior motive. It was not really only as an undertaking to be profitable that the great municipalities and trusts got money for these docks, but 1776 with an ulterior motive, which was to develop the shipping of the port—a very worthy and desirable motive—to develop the town, or, in the case of railways who owned harbours, to develop their own system. Those docks naturally—they are not very wealthy—look at things from their own point of view. They do not look at things from the point of view of general transportation, and on the expiry of the Defence of the Realm Act they have to come to the Government, and they have already deposited Bills for largely increased charging powers, up to 66 per cent. and 100 per cent. increase. That is the position to-day—these docks have been built and worked under fixed conditions with the Government—and the State is entitled to say that the time when they come for increased powers of charging is a suitable time to review the position. They come saying, "We find we cannot go on with the present charging power you have given us." Is it unreasonable that the State should say," Well, we wish to look at transportation as a whole and see if we have really got it on a right basis?" I think it is reasonable. I suppose the battle which has raged ever since there were docks and railways as to whether the locality should own them or the railways, will go on for all time. But of this I am perfectly clear, that for the reasons I have given, if you do not put the docks, not under the railway control—I am not suggesting and I am not urging it—but if you do not put the docks under the Transportation Ministry, you cannot ensure these great economies without which some of the calamities I have endeavoured to forecast are inevitable.
I have pointed out the advantage of having sufficient control over the terminal facilities to ensure that they are made suitable to enable you to effect the great economies in conveyance, but it is not only in terminal facilities, it is in the working. Take an instance which is an actual one, of a dock company which owned a bridge across a lock. The railway working it said, "We can economise a great deal if you will make that bridge sufficiently heavy and strong to carry a modern yard locomotive," and the dock company said, "There is nothing for us in this. The bridge is strong enough for carts." And they would not do it. They had not the money to spare. It is almost laughable. Another instance, a true one, and it is not the only one of the kind, 1777 which illustrates exactly the kind of difficulties which do crop up, although it is a minor point. It is a question of lighting up a shed or a berth, so that the checking should be expeditiously done by the railway staff. They were continually having blocks, but there was no power to get that dock company to light it, and for fifteen years that thing has gone on. You can multiply those instances, great and small. You can multiply them in appliances, in double exchange accommodation, in the capacity of the warehouses, in the appliances they put in them, but if you do not give the transportation authority of the country sufficient power to say in the interests of a part of it, "This measure has to be undertaken, and undertaken it must be on reasonable terms," you may really despair of getting these changes. Even if you were to adopt the alternative of giving the docks now the increased charging powers that they are asking, it is not human to suppose that those powers would be sufficiently high to enable them to get into the very flourishing position in which they would be ready to spend money on anything which would not yield them a return, so that you have to consider the thing now, and it is to consider it that the docks are included under Clause 3 of the Bill. The word "possession" was, I think, taken from the Act of 1871, when possibly they said things more abruptly than they do nowadays. It is not supposed for a moment, surely, that the docks are going to be treated unlike the railways were treated under exactly the same words. No possession has been taken of the railways. It is merely a term which has been used in the Act of 1871, and perpetuated, which shows that the particular undertaking is controlled to that extent. There is no suggestion of wiping out the dock boards. These dock boards are composed of men of great position and great experience, but they have a local interest. It has been the blue ribbon of the commercial community in which they live, and in many cases they have gone on to these boards with great pride, and with some experience, but it has always been the local and not at bottom the national interest that has put them there. The control is local. The town comes first. The master carter is interested in the docks as the fruits of his labour. It is there he makes his living, and he thinks of it from that point of view, and it is only natural he should. But these termi- 1778 nals must be considered from the point of view of the transportation system as a whole, and I would frankly despair, after careful thought, great study, and some little experience, if these great terminals were left out of the scheme.
Last of all, I come to electricity. At first, I agree, it appears a little illogical to put electricity into the purview of such a Ministry as this. But I would ask the House to endeavour to follow me in the conception of transportation which I have been endeavouring to put before them. Transportation his not merely carrying something from A to B. Transportation is the greatest power that we have for bringing prosperity to the community and for developing the district served by it. Is it thought for a moment that a transportation authority would disregard the industrial development of the district through which its lines go? While they were competitive it really was not worth while their making very special efforts to attract trade, because the other men got it as much as they did, and they went on competing. But in the districts where there has only been one big railway system, a great deal has been done to develop industry, to attract new industries, and to push the industries of the district. Railways have actually sent literature and canvassers abroad, purely and solely in the interests of the district. They have gone in for education on agricultural matters. They have sent round agricultural trains with trained lecturers; they have endeavoured to promote dairy farming and poultry farming. Everything that makes for the prosperity of the district itself it is in the interests of the transportation agency to push, to take up, to help and to foster; and to suggest that a transportation agency with electricity, of all things, would desire to penalise the manufacturer can only be put forward by anyone who does not understand really what we are after. Everyone knows that the greater the load, the more diverse the load, on a power station the cheaper is the power, and the cheaper the power the greater the advantage to the railway that is electrified. It is estimated conservatively that when we get through the electrification of the main lines, which should be done and done promptly—and it will be undertaken if this Bill becomes law—fully 20 per cent. of the electricity of the country can be used for traction.
§ 5.0 P.M.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
There is no estimate of the actual cost, but from our experience of actual experiments it is a very remunerative proposition. But it is not only in reducing the price of the current that we get an advantage. The greatest advantage of electricity is in getting greater density of traffic over the line, so that there is a still further advantage in developing the district that you electrify, and if you consider that the lines of railway are the most direct, the safest, and the easiest of access for the high-tension cables, that it is in every way in the interests of the railway and the transportation agency and the Transportation Ministry to get the electricity pushed down the lines and spread out into the industrial areas, it is really a fallacy to suppose that it would be against the interests of the railways to develop the industrial use of electricity, and far less against the interest of the Transportation Ministry as a whole. The difference between the co-operative use and co-operative production of electricity is enormous, and there is no district in this country where electricity is better organised to-day than the North-East Coast. There the Electric Power Company has worked hand-in-hand with the North-Eastern Railway. Hon. Members know it is called the "monopolist" railway of the district. There we have a joint organisation—I was instrumental in setting it up—for attracting industry to the district and developing industry in the district. We jointly went in for placing the power stations near the coal mines and developing the economic use of waste heat. You may say that was against the interest of the railway, but it was not, because it developed the prosperity of the district, and it is in that spirit, and that spirit only, that we must look at this question.
I would like to give an indication of the intentions of the Government under this Bill. The Bill contemplates two periods. There is a temporary period of two years. Two years was really fixed for us by a letter of Mr. Runciman, President of the Board of Trade in the late Government, to the railway companies, and he intimated to them that the Cabinet approved the continuance of the guarantee for two years after the War. Two years seemed a reasonable time, and not an excessive time in which to consider in detail the 1780 whole of this very complicated problem. The temporary powers will all lapse at the end of two years, and so I would ask hon. Members to take really careful note of that fact, because there is a misunderstanding as to some of the powers. They are discussed as being permanent. The Bill extends the control to other agencies, and I have endeavoured to show the House why, in my opinion, and in the opinion of the Government, that is necessary. A Select Committee of this House said that they considered it impossible without further investigation to come to an opinion upon the future of the transportation agencies in the country. With that, as I have said, I entirely agree. You can only arrive at a considered' opinion after you have carefully and technically examined the possibilities of each class of economy. That cannot be done by merely examining witnesses. You have got to see exactly how you can economise by standardising equipment, and in many other ways I have mentioned to the House. The Ministry during those two years must not be in the position that the Board of Trade has been during the past five years, apart altogether from the difficulties of labour. It must have the power to initiate, and, if necessary, to carry through these reforms. But, until the railways have been told one cardinal fact—until they have been told authoritatively and definitely, either that they are to go back as independent concerns, or that their interests are going to be fused, and they will never go back as independent concerns—until they have been told that, we cannot get even the commencement of the economics. In every case I have mentioned already, with the best will in the world, you come up against the fact that the individual interests will not let you go on, and that is the best proof possible of the point which I have been endeavouring to make, that unified control is essential in transportation. During the two years we must endeavour to lift the "dead hand" which is on development. We must endeavour to help it, and help it along heartily, while we are considering the question. At the end of two years, the powers under Clause 3 lapse, and we shall have to come back to the House. It was proposed to take any permanent action by Order in Council. That Order in Council would be discussed in the House. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It was thought that it would afford reason- 1781 able facilities. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] But, in view of the fact that there is undoubtedly a strong feeling in the House against that procedure—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear"]—the Government will now amend Clause 4, eliminating the procedure by Order in Council.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
On the other hand, dealing particularly with the provisions of Clause 4, Sub-section (1), paragraphs (e) and (f), as regards (e) the Government will definitely seek power in the Bill to acquire, by purchase or hire, and to maintain, work or lease privately-owned railway wagons on terms, failing agreement, to be settled by the Railway and Canal Commission under the provision of Clause 3, Sub-section (5) of the Bill as to temporary arbitration powers. The Government will also seek under the Bill powers to prohibit the use of privately-owned wagons in future, except under licence. It is also proposed to transfer the powers in Clause 4, Sub-section (1) (f), which were permanent powers, and make them temporary powers under Clause 3, and to provide that, in addition, during the two years, the Minister shall have the right, subject to Treasury control, to construct such works as may be necessary. That is really essential if we are to have legal powers to carry out the scheme—it may be railway development, or something of that kind, which we could not reasonably expect that existing railway companies or other transport agencies would undertake.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
You will not have power beyond two years under paragraph (f) What will happen at the end of two years?
§ Sir E. GEDDES
They will belong to the Government, and the Government will have to seek powers at the end of two years to deal with the whole question of transportation. As regards the general 1782 conception of the final organisation, I am sure the House will realise that it is very difficult to give full details at this stage, but I may say that, as regards Ireland, it, is proposed there, on account of the social, and geographical conditions which obtain, that we should set up in Ireland, as part of the Government organisation, a branch, of the Ministry which would deal with all; Irish questions there.
§ Sir E. GEDDES
It will be a branch of the Ministry here. All local matters of purely local interest will be dealt with there. If matters of great importance have to be discussed, it will be the intention of the Minister, or the senior high technical officers, to go over to Dublin to discuss them.
Will the Irish agreement, which took over after the English agreement, so far as railways are concerned, be brought into uniform level so far as the two years are concerned? That is to say, although you are setting up a. temporary office in Ireland under your jurisdiction, are we to understand that, so far as the railways are concerned, they stand by the whole agreement?
§ Sir E. GEDDES
It applies everywhere. Then, as regards railways during the two years, we shall continue some such organisation as existed during the War. I hope it will be possible to modify it to some extent, in order to allow the senior railway officials, who have spent their time in London, to get back to attend to the management of their lines; but it is not proposed to alter that at the present time. It is, of course, early days to say how you will organise the railways in the future until you decide the exact form on which they will be worked, but if, as I think is inevitable, there is bound to be a certain amount of central control and unity of control in London, it will probably be found that the best way will be to set up a Chief Commissioner, with possibly other Commissioners here, and divide the country into zones—non-competitive zones— 1783 having District Commissioners, partly elected from the district, partly appointed by the Government, and partly drawn from Labour.
I want to be quite clear about this. [HON. MEMBERS: "Order!"] There are only 650,000 men affected! I want to ask if you are disbanding the Railway Executive? Do you mean the Commissioners that you are talking about to take over and exercise the functions of the present Railway Executive?
§ Sir E. GEDDES
The present Railway Executive, or, as I have endeavoured to explain, some body more or less like it, so long as the companies remain in their present position, will have to continue, and in the future, when we reach the more permanent state of railways and of the transportation of the country generally, I think some body of Commissioners will be necessary. I do not think it would be a possible proposition to manage the railways or the transportation direct from the Ministry with executive powers. As regards clock and harbours, there I think it would be a fatal mistake in any way to give up the invaluable services which those great port authorities have been performing, but, for the reasons I have given, I think it is essential that some kind of central control, looking at transportation as a whole, should have a right to say to them, "This improvement is essential in the interests of the community as a whole. It may not be of local interest, but it is essential in the interests of the community."
While I would not suggest that the docks, in any sense, should come under the railways, I do think—and I feel very strongly upon it—that in the great ports the port authorities as they exist, and in the smaller ports possibly the commissioners in charge, should have some central body here in London who would view the port problem and the transportation problem as a whole. The railway docks, if they remain railway docks, would necessarily come into that scheme, and that is, I think, rather a big thing. The canals. I think, similarly would have to be dealt with by a Commission. I think they would be better removed from the railway interest. Whether they could be dealt with entirely centrally or not must depend upon the extent to which the State could find the money for their development. As 1784 to the roads, I would propose—in fact, I have arranged it if this Bill becomes law—that the roads shall be a separate Department of the Ministry. The position of local authorities is in no way altered. They will deal direct with the Roads Department in exactly the same way as they dealt with the chairman of the Road Board in the past. I am glad to say that that great road maker to whom the Army in France owes so much and who served under me there, Brigadier-General Maybury, not only is in favour of this arrangement from the point of view of the roads, but has consented to serve as head of the Department. He will, under the organisation, have direct access to the Minister.
It is upon these lines, and with this conception, that the Government propose, to plan and to build. It is admitted that the Bill is far-reaching, that it gives great powers, but the situation, as I have endeavoured to show it, is serious, very serious. I do not think it is desperate if it is tackled properly. I do think it is desperate if we pick at it. It is in the opinion of the Government on these lines, with this scope, and only with this scope, with the powers that are given in the Bill, that we can meet the situation. In inviting the House to pass the Second Reading of the Bill I venture to hope that in considering the grave situation, hon. Members will rise above the jealousy of road and railways, above the jealousy of the local vested interest, for, believe me, it is not only in the land that there is vested interest, and that they will subject local pride to the interests of the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
I have listened with very great interest and sympathy to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and especially to the latter part, which, if it had been rearranged somewhat would perhaps have obviated the production of a losing Bill. Be that as it may, I would sum up the feelings of those hon. Members for whom I speak here to-day, by saying that our motto is, "Hands off the docks and harbours." Let me just in passing note the gift which the right hon. Gentleman in the kindness of his heart has bestowed upon Ireland. I am sure that Irishmen will be delighted to hear that in addition to forty-eight departments which we already 1785 have in. Ireland, managed from London, and managed not by those responsible to Irish opinion, my right hon. Friend has presented us with one more, so that Ireland is now brought up to forty-nine irresponsible English departments instead of forty-eight. So much for that part of the Bill. I wonder who my right hon. Friend consulted when he came to deal with the docks and harbours part of this Bill? Did he consult in any of the ports the public bodies there? Did he consult any of the great Civil servants? He cannot have done so, because he knows as well as I do that the Committee which was dealing with this question at the time declined to recommend the taking over of the docks and harbours. What is more, if he had consulted the Board of Trade, he would have found that one of the ablest members of that body distinctly declared that the taking over of the ports and docks would be a grave mistake. I will give my right hon. Friend the words of that gentleman. The witness was Mr. Garnham Roper, C.B., an Assistant Secretary of the Board of Trade and head of the Department which deals with docks and harbours. He stated the policy of the Board as follows:But your policy in the Harbour's Department has not been to manage harbours directly, but when you cannot avoid it you do so?That is so. We do not think it right that we should do it; that is our policy.That is the American policy of masterly inactivity?No, it is rather the policy that things can better be done by those on the spot.That is my case.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
Last year or the year before. It is quite a recent Report. I think we have the right to complain that the proposed taking over of the docks and harbours from the present authorities has come upon us as a surprise. No inquiry was made. No public inquiry was made. No inquiry was made from any of these authorities who possibly first heard of this extraordinary proposal to-day—for that is practically what it comes to—and in spite of the Amendment that my right hon. Friend has just indicated, not one single question has been asked as to whether they are or are not in favour of this change. I do not think that is very fair treatment. I would call attention to the fact that this proposal is one of the most novel proposals that ever come before the House of Commons. All through the War 1786 when it was necessary to have the docks and ports properly superintended, neither the Committee which had the power to do it, not the Government which had the power, not the Shipping Controller who had power to deal with the matter, ever thought of interfering with the administration of the docks and harbours by the local bodies themselves. I am entitled to-say from that—nobody I think would deny it—that the dock and harbour authorities, when the great emergency of the War came upon them, rose to the level of the situation. My right hon. Friend by this time must be aware of the vast body of opinion which he has brought out in hostility to this portion of his Bill. If he wants any information about that he can get it from the right hon. Gentleman, behind him, because Glasgow is as strongly against this Bill as any port in the country. In fact, I do not know any dock or harbour in the United Kingdom, with the exception of one or two that are almost in a derelict condition, which is not up in revolt against this Bill. Liverpool, Glasgow, Neweastle-on-Tyne, all Teeside is against it. We have the extraordinary spectacle of Dublin, Belfast, and Cork united for once in opposition to a Bill proposed by this Parliament. I think that will indicate how strong and widespread is the opposition.
I will give my right hon. Friend another instance of the amount of opposition. There is a Shipping Committee in this House. Now the shippers are our customers and our clients, and therefore our critics. If anyone has any fault to find with the existing dock and harbour authorities they would be the first to raise the point. The Shipping Committee in this House has passed a strong resolution denouncing this Bill and demanding the retention of control by the dock and harbour authorities. I will read the resolution from the Shipping Committee:This Committee wishes to emphasise that the great body of shipping opinion throughout the country strongly objects to the management, control, and development of docks and harbour undertakings passing into the possession of the State, and thus substituting a policy of centralisation for that under which the docks and harbours of this country hitherto have shown the most splendid enterprise and development.I challenge the right hon. Gentleman, I challenge anybody in this House, to deny that. I heard a most thrilling speech—although the subject might have been supposed to be dry or prosaic—on docks and harbours by my friend Sir Hugh Bell, 1787 who is one of the great captains of industry in this country. In that address he described how in the memory of living man you could ford the Tyne, that the Tees was a poor little purling river, that the river Mersey had a bar, which regulated and embarrassed the traffic of the country. All these great rivers, he said, have been now brought to a position that they can accommodate the largest ships of the world. They have been brought to that position within the last twenty-five to fifty years. I say that is a triumphant vindication of what private enterprise, backed by local opinion and local finance, can do. What is the difference in essence between the position of the right hon. Gentleman and our position? It is local control by local responsible authorities as against central control toy a bureaucracy, by the Government. This Bill really is one which bears upon it the marks of the old bureaucracy and—the right hon. Gentleman will excuse me for saying so—the young Parliamentarian. The Bill gives the Ministry the right to take possession, as indicated, of undertakings and their staffs, and to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of money and under what control? Under the control of an Order in Council which must lie upon the Table of this House for forty days. I suppose within the last thirty-five or forty years I have seen literally thousands of Orders in Council laid upon that Table. I never saw a Debate on an Order in Council unless it referred either to theology or to Ireland. These subjects always attract a crowded House. On all other occasions when an Order in Council has been put upon the Table I have seen the unfortunate and despairing Member trying to keep a House and usually failing, and the Government Whips taking very good care he did not get a quorum. If he did the Government Whips put the credit and existence of the Government against his objections. My right hon. Friend should have gone to some older Parliamentarian to give him advice on this subject, for this part of the Bill has gone by the board. Everybody knows it was ridiculous to propose and impossible to carry out such a provision. I am in favour of local and responsible control. What are these bodies which it is now proposed to dethrone? They are the leading merchants and shippers of the port elected by public election, I agree perhaps under a somewhat narrow and restricted 1788 franchise, and I stated my opinion on that subject a few weeks ago. At the same time, these men do represent the business intelligence of the cities to which they belong.
§ Earl WINTERTON
The hon. Gentleman did not say that on the Bill the other night; in fact he said exactly the opposite.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
No, no; I did not deny that the best commercial intelligence of Belfast was represented on the Belfast Board. What I contended was that a quarter of the population was not represented on the board, but, so far as the board was concerned, if I did not say it, then I ought to have said that it was one of the best harbour boards in the country, and I am now trying to protect its existence. However, Irishmen often quarrel among themselves and they are frequently brought to reconciliation by gentlemen from the other side of the water coming to interfere, and it was so on that occasion. On these boards the best intelligence is represented and they are subject to popular control and so is their expenditure.
From where does the money come which these men spend upon dock and harbours? I do not know whether it is news or not for the right hon. Gentleman that down in Liverpool the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board is a favourite investment of what you might call the lower middle class. The shares in this board are not big blocks of £20,000 or £250,000, but they are held by people who invest about £30, £40 or £50. My hon. Friends who will speak on behalf of the Clyde and Glasgow later on tell me that the vast majority of holdings in the Clyde Trust are in the hands of small people who hold £20, £30, £40 or £50. Everybody knows that whatever may be the defects of the people in Glasgow they do know how to invest their money. Therefore, you have the money of the community, and if you have it contributed by the community and spent by their representatives under the eye of the community, you have the very best method. I put it to any man who has studied the difference between centralisation and decentralisation, if any central authority in the world had ten super-men at Whitehall their control would not be as effective and vigilant as the control of the local taxpayer and the local men. I do not, however, wish to be drawn into general discussion of the difference between Government work and 1789 the work of private enterprise; it is very tempting, but it is rather dangerous, especially with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby sitting on the Front Bench, when I know that he is in favour of nationalisation, as well as other hon. Members. What I do say, however, is that if you are going to get rid of the local authority and substitute a centralised authority you must have a very strong case, and here you have no such case. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend knows the book of Lord Jellicoe. I have read a good many extracts from it. I do not know how far Lord Jellicoe is justified in his statements, but I am sure it is a good book, and in it he says:Thus for months the Grand Fleet sailed on the edge of disaster. The officers and men of the Grand Fleet went on doing under war conditions what they had been doing for years under peace conditions; they went on organising and training for war with insufficient material. They had not enough officers, nor men, nor ships; they had not enough appliances, nor the right kind of appliances, nor sufficient docks, nor a defended harbour, nor an equipped naval base.If there happened to be any public department in the nation about which we were self-confident it was the Admiralty, and yet this is the way, according to one of the greatest sailors of our history, the Admiralty had prepared for the emergency of the War, and in regard to which Lord Jellicoe says the Fleet was in danger of destruction. Is that an argument for centralisation or for the transfer of the control of docks and harbours from local authorities to clerks at Whitehall? Why, Sir, during all that time, and years before, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board had been bringing before this House, time after time, fresh schemes involving the expenditure of millions of money. It is not more than twenty-five or thirty years ago that a ship of 5,000 tons was the biggest ship that the harbour of Liverpool could accommodate conveniently, but by the foresight of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Boards by coming to this House for powers, and the gift of foresight, they are now in the position that a ship of 50,000 tons can find accommodation in the Harbour and Port of Liverpool. Therefore you have this striking contrast of our experience at Liverpool with what was regarded as our greatest public and national department.
In face of all this want of foresight, my right hon. Friend now proposes, if not to 1790 destroy, to paralyse, the local authorities. I know my right hon. Friend mentioned some concessions, but I think he used a very curious expression, which, I think, is the very antithesis of an accurate description. He talked of Clause 3 removing "the dead hand." From my point of view, Clause 3 will put on and not remove the dead hand. For two years my right hon. Friend, like a timid lover, still wondering whether he can propose to the young lady or not, holds the port and dock authorities in expectant bondage, and during all that time these dock and port authorities may be contemplating a great scheme They say: "What business have we in London, for we have great schemes to propose, and here we are, hanging about the Lobbies of the House of Commons and intending Ministers, instead of attending to our work."
What is to happen during these two years? Developments wilt be arrested or made practically impossible, and that is what my right hon. Friend calls removing the dead hand from the docks of Ireland. This Bill will not do it. As an old Parliamentarian, addressing a young man, I venture to give him a little advice. Let him postpone this Bill for three weeks. Let him take it back, and then he may be able to make it a practical instead of an impractical measure. I want him to leave those people alone who have conducted the great business of this country in a way that is one of the finest chapters of our commercial history. The railways will give him quite work enough for the next three on four years, without having the ambarrassment of dealing with docks and harbours at the same time.
§ Mr. GEORGE BALFOUR
I rise to second the Amendment. I do so with a grave sense of my responsibility. I am aware that any hon. Member, a supporter of the Coalition, who elects to take direct action against the Government on trivial or frivolous grounds deserves, and rightly deserves, censure, but I am taking exception on no trivial or frivolous grounds and the objections which have been taken throughout the country and by a large number of hon. Members in this House are far from trivial or frivolous I listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and I have endeavoured as far as possible to summarise what he said. It seems to me that his case is very much, as follows: "It is necessary in order to develop agriculture and in 1791 order to develop housing that we should have control of all the services of the country. He went on to say that in pre-war days all these great services made very miserable financial showing, and to show that if for no other reason than the pledges which were recently given to the country we should make this demand upon the great transport services. He seemed to say that transportation is in a very bad way in France, Italy, and America; indeed, the transport services of the whole world, except perhaps in South Africa, and that exception I inferred was due to the fact that there the railways and terminal facilities, harbours and docks, were under the control of one Minister. He told us of their experiences in connection with the war services and of the work done after consultation with Sir Douglas Haig. He pointed to the great improvement effected and said it was due to the unification of control of the services of the Continent during the war period.
Up to this point the thing which struck me with most interest was the fact that the right hon. Gentleman had not said one word to lead us to believe that if we had had all these services under one control, any improvement would have been shown where all these services are bad in France, Italy, and this country. He said that the country must trust someone or somebody, and that we could not wait. We are all perhaps inclined to agree that is true. He referred to the Select Committee, and went on to give us estimated savings. He then touched upon electricity, and finally he mentioned that he would probably set up commissioners under the Minister for all these various undertakings. It seems to me that the whole speech revealed very great political pressure which should not exist in a Coalition Government, very great political pressure for absolute nationalisation. If that is so, why do not the Government come out into the open and bring forward a fair and square and honest measure of nationalisation so that we can treat it on its merits? There is one other matter which I should mention, and that is the offer to delete Clause 4, except Subsection (1), paragraphs (e) and (f). The deletion of that Clause removes a great deal of the objection and opposition felt throughout the House to this Bill, but I would point out that in Subsection (1), paragraphs (e) and (f), there is still very considerable power left in the hands of the Minister to establish, main- 1792 tain and work the transport services by land or water. I understand that a section or clause to that effect is to be still retained in the Bill.
It now perhaps devolves upon me to give some reasons why I oppose the Bill. What are the provisions of the Bill? The appointment of a Minister and the creation of a new Ministry. The transfer to the Minister of the powers and duties of the existing Ministries and Government Departments, except the Admiralty, with minor reservations by Orders in Council. The Minister during two years to take over if he chooses, but only if he chooses, any of the public services or undertakings mentioned in the Bill, except electricity undertakings, and, presumably, to hand them back at the end of two years if he has no further use for them. The Minister's power of purchase has now been deleted from Clause 4. I presume that the last Clause in the Bill is also deleted, the Clause giving the right by Order in Council to undo anything that has been done. He pointed to the wonderful war organisation, presumably in order to show that this centralisation and unified organisation would be a success. I do not think that is a very sound or good argument or reason, because we all know that war has to be carried on absolutely regardless of cost. It is comparatively easy to make an organisation work quite smoothly if you can do it with unlimited means at your disposal, but it is a totally different thing to organise your ordinary trade, industry, or commerce. War has to be carried on regardless of cost, whereas trade, industry, and commerce must be carried on with the utmost regard to-economy. Am I opposed to extra transport facilities for housing or agriculture? I say most certainly not. But to what extent do these play a part in the Bill? What is really the proportion of extra transport facilities which would be required to deal with the housing and agricultural problems? Surely the transport facilities required for that purpose are but a drop in the bucket compared with the scope of this measure. It seems to me not a fair reason for a Bill of such magnitude to say that it is required in order to provide transport facilities for the purposes of housing or agriculture. As a matter of fact, if all these great services come under one Minister, it will delay obtaining proper transport facilities for housing and agriculture, because the Minister dealing with all these vast pro- 1793 blems will certainly have too much to do to begin with to look at the minor problems of small branch lines and roads for the purposes of agriculture and housing.
§ Mr. BALFOUR
Evidences of objections pour in from all parts of the country, and I think these objections are well sustained. But we can get support for our objections which is very much more sound than the telegrams and letters which pour in. They are only evidences of the intense feeling outside, because people do not go to the post office and send telegrams merely for amusement. There must be some substantial irritation behind. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the Report of the Select Committee. He passed over it very gingerly, and I think rightly so for his own case. The Report of the Select Committee on Transport is only three months old, and presumably they were in a position to give some sound advice and to arrive at some sound conclusion on the matter. We find that in paragraph (10) they say:The changes which have been introduced, and the high efficiency which has been witnessed in the working of the traffic by the railways during the War, have been due far more to a patriotic determination on the part of all concerned to do their utmost to assist the country in a time of national emergency, regardless of corporate or personal interests, than to the direct imposition by the Government of its will upon the railway companies.Then in paragraph (16) they say:There are also other circumstances which will make it difficult from the point of view of the shareholders to return to the pre-war situation.In paragraph (18) we read:It may possibly be advantageous that the activities of the railways in respect of other branches of transport should be increased, but the Committee has not proceeded sufficiently far with its inquiries to permit it to make any recommendation on this point.6.0 P.M.
That is as far as they got with the railway section of the Report, after hearing witnesses for many months and after prolonged investigation. Then we come to Canals. We read:Your Committee has not been able to come to any conclusion in regard to the most advantageous organisation for dealing with the canals except that further amalgamation would be advantageous.I am sorry to weary the House with these extracts. I am putting them as 1794 briefly as I can. I come next to paragraph (28) under the heading "Road Transport," and there I read:Your Committee regrets that it has been unable to pursue this important matter further. While it does not consider that road transport generally is susceptible of being organised to an extent comparable to that which may be reached in connection with transport by railways and canals, it believes that there is much useful work to be done. In particular it recommends that endeavours should be made by the Government when peace is restored to reap for the community some of the fruits of the educational work of the Road Transport Committee by promoting voluntary co-operation between owners and users of road transport. It realises, however, that measures which are suitable to present circumstances may not be equally applicable to peace conditions, and that other considerations may justify from a trader's or agriculturist's point of view from the Committee's point of view may be an uneconomical use of road transport.Then I come to paragraph (29) dealing with harbours and docks, and I should like to draw particular attention to these words:For instance, no one would be likely to propose that the management of all the harbours of the country should be handed over to one organisation, though it may be open to discussion whether the railways should be encouraged to extend their ownership of ports in cases where it can be shown to be in the national interest that they should do so.I think that is absolutely and directly in conflict with and contrary to the proposals contained in the Bill as far as harbours and docks are concerned. I should like to quote one line from paragraph (32) to the effect that in regard to coastal shipping the Committee's inquiries have not proceeded sufficiently far to enable it to make any recommendations. The last paragraph to which I wish to refer is the one in which the Committee say that itregrets that, owing to the close of the Session, it has been unable to complete the work entrusted to it, and is of opinion that Parliamentary inquiry, by a Select Committee, into the questions of inland transport should be resumed at the earliest possible date in the next Session of Parliament.I think I am right in saying that we should pay attention to the Report of this Select Committee and put its findings against the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that he has given, at least, equal weight to the findings of the Select Committee. If we do, I think we shall find that absolutely no case is made out for this Bill being carried through at the present moment.
There is one other short reference I wish to make—to the Report of Lord Haldane's Machinery of Government Committee. In chapter (5), paragraph 18, we read— 1795If the shareholders in the railway and canal company should be expropriated and the railways and canals thus become under whatever form of administration and State enterprise, they would, upon the principle that we have adopted, become the sphere of a separate Ministry of Railways or of Transport.And then in a later paragraph (27) we find these words—A Minister and a Department directly charged both, with the administration of the State enter-prise and with the regulation of private enterprise in the same or any cognate services will inevitably be suspected of bias towards one or the other in a way injurious, as we suggest, to both of them.The first of these paragraphs which I read out presupposes that the Ministry is only to be set up in the event of nationalisation, and that brings me back to the earlier part of my reasoning, in which I stated that if the speech of the right hon. Gentleman meant anything, it meant a, plain out-and-out proposal for nationalisation. If it does mean that, let us have it plainly stated, without any smuggling it behind the Ministry of Ways and Communications. It is extraordinarily difficult to understand the Government's attitude after going over these Reports. I am open to be convinced that this measure is for the welfare of the people as a whole, but I find it difficult to understand it, if we are to attach the least importance to the Reports to which I have referred. In Section 3 of this Bill, if I read it aright, the Minister, if he chooses, can take possession of any one of the great many national services which are referred to in that Section. What does that mean? Does it mean that we shall make progress? Right hon. or hon. Members who are in any way connected with any of these great services will agree with me at once that they would never dream of going forward with any proposal for building up new lines, or raising capital for extensions, with this hanging over their heads, knowing as they would that at any moment the Minister might send an intimation that he is going to take over their concern. It means, in my view, absolute paralysis, the moment this Bill becomes law until such time as the Minister has got thorough and complete control and is as familiar with all the public services as the contractors or State managers of these services. I do not think it will make for speedily serving agriculture or for assisting in the solution of the housing problem. Would any responsible business 1796 man, would any hon. Member of this House for one moment suggest that any business could be built up with an organisation such as that proposed by the right hon. Gentleman? I think not. And surely if businesses could not be built up under such an organisation, it is extremely improbable that any would be maintained by such an organisation.
We are told that the Government has received a mandate. We hear a good deal about that mandate. Their mandate was to quickly re-settle the country after the disturbance of war. That is the only problem really before the country, and it is the only one really before the Government. Will this Bill help us to re-settle the country? I think not. Perhaps it would serve us better in five years' time. But in the meantime the problem is to fill our workshops, to get trade, to get a hustle on, and to get work done. This Bill will do none of these things. It is a very interesting problem. I have been associated with similar enterprises, and am intensely interested in the solution of all these problems, but we must now put this aside and devote our attention to developing trade, rather than to crippling industry. We must not make people shy of going ahead with business, as they will be if they have the cloud of nationalisation hanging over them. With the cloud of nationalisation hanging over this country businesses will fail, the workpeople will go out of employment, the workshops will go empty. It may be fruitful for us to discuss the reorganisation of the transport business of the country, but surely we are able to carry on for the next twelve months without this Bill. Let us go ahead and fill our workshops, let us see if we cannot remodel the transport services of the country afterwards. I think it is regrettable that the mandate given to the Government has been so seriously misunderstood, and that the Government should have thought it had a mandate to establish this particular Ministry.
I am glad to note the right hon. Gentleman has withdrawn Clause 4, and thus removed a great many of our objections. But his action in so doing does not remove from my mind, or from the minds of many hon. Members in this House, the knowledge of the fact that this great-Coalition Government at least contemplated—and if the Bill meant anything it did mean that—thrusting a bureaucracy on this country. It makes me gravely suspicious of the Coalition Government 1797 to think that if we had not raised a storm of protest we should have had this Bill on the Statute Book in the form in which it was presented to the House, and that we should have had a bureaucracy thrust upon us whether we liked it or not. The greatest evil has been struck out. We shall leave our children the same freedom to arrange their affairs as we in our day have had freedom to arrange ours. I am glad that for the moment, at any rate, the Clause has been struck out, for if it had been left in the Bill it would have resulted in nothing but a state of chaos. There is just one other point I wish to touch upon, and that is the underlying feeling in my mind. When I first read the Bill and closely studied it—and I am accustomed to studying public services and operations of all kinds—there was only one thing which became fixed in my mind, and that was that as it stood it was not a matter of ways and communications, it was rather a question whether we should retain or whether we should lose our freedom. I cannot help thinking of words which I read many years ago, when Lord Brougham somewhere referred to the planting of painted sticks in the ground, what he had seen in other countries, called trees of liberty. Let us see to it that we do not plant painted sticks in the ground in the place of some of our old, hardy, constitutional trees.
I am sure the House generally will congratulate the hon. Member who last spoke upon the fair manner with which he presented his case even if they cannot quite congratulate him upon his conclusions. He at least looks, upon this Bill as the end of all things. When it is passed into law business and industry will cease to exist. I hope to at least be able to show from practical experience at least in connection with some of the undertakings that he ought to have no misgivings under that particular head. My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) in moving the rejection of this Bill dealt with two main principles, and he said, "I challenge the House to show me any central authority that could work as well or as effectively as some of our harbour and other authorities. That was shortly the case he put. I would answer him by citing the present railway position. In 1914, in August, when War was declared the Government were faced with this situation. 1798 They had an expeditionary force of 100,000 men. Every minute was of value to the life of the country, and they said, "If we want to do justice to the country, if we want to expedite the whole railway problem, we must immediately say that no longer can we allow the old system to continue." The result was that by a stroke of the pen they took charge of the railways. Everybody knows the numbers that were taken over in a time shorter than was originally intended, and the numbers that followed them who were transferred to France. That is the best evidence in favour of a central control as compared with local control. My hon. Friend's next point, curiously enough, was a quotation from Lord Jellicoe's book. He gave that quotation with a view to proving that, because Lord Jellicoe said that hi 1914 the docks of this country were inefficient for naval defence, in substance that was the best proof that we cannot support this Bill and hand the docks over to one central authority. That is the case put by my hon. Friend. Surely there is no stronger justification for this Bill? If, as Lord Jellicoe says, in 1914 our Navy was in jeopardy because of the absence of dock accommodation, one is entitled to say that that was due exclusively to the fact that there were too many people dealing with the docks and not one authority which could be held responsible. I would submit that that is the logical answer to my hon. Friend on that particular point.
I want to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the very clear and definite statement he made in presenting his case to-day. There can be no doubt that no Bill introduced into this House has met with so much opposition—organised opposition—as this Bill has. Every hon. Member's postbag has been flooded with resolutions from all kinds of people. My right hon. Friend did much to clear the air this afternoon in regard to the Bill, if he will allow me to say so, he at least proved what we have been urging from this side of the Table for a long time, that unification is absolutely essential. I propose to examine it from various points of view. First, with regard to railways. At the present time there are fifty-two railway companies in this country, with fifty-two general managers, and fifty-two boards of directors. It is true to say that, so far as each of those railways is concerned, there is practically no standardisation of wagons, engines, material, or anything else. So loose is the system that it 1799 is common to have a trainload of steel sent from Newcastle to Plymouth, over 600 miles for the use of Plymouth Dockyard, and the whole of those wagons will be returned empty to Newcastle under the old system, because under competitive private enterprise they are not allowed to put anything in the wagons. The House may be alarmed to hear it, but the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that for years there was a tremendous struggle as to the necessity for pooling wagons. You cannot pool the wagons until two things are done. First, you must abolish absolutely all privately-owned wagons. It is useless to talk about the pooling of wagons until that is done. Secondly, you cannot pool wagons to advantage unless you have a standard wagon, and for this very simple reason: Remember there are hundreds of thousands of them, wagons that open from two ends. One company may exchange with another, but their siding accommodation will render those particular wagons utterly useless so far as exchange is concerned. In connection with that, perhaps the House may be interested to know that so far as the present very incomplete system of pooling is concerned—it is incomplete for the two reasons I have given, namely, no standardisation and the privately-owned wagons—that the Government's own estimate of saving in 1916 was that 700,000,000 train miles were saved. I would ask this House, when we are talking about the difficulty of the collieries, to remember that there is hardly a day in the year in South Wales but that some pit is not stopped because of the shortage of wagons. [An Hon. Member: "And steel works too!"] Steel works are in the same case. You can never effectively deal with this aspect of the question until there is complete standardisation and the elimination of all privately owned wagons. You cannot do it under the present competitive system.
Let me give one other illustration. A little more than ten years ago a Bill was presented to this House for the amalgamation of the Great Eastern, the Great Northern, and the Great Central Railways. It was a unification Bill for those three companies. The House rejected the Bill, with the result that the powers sought were refused. These three companies said, "Let us see what we can do on our own." They sent for a great 1800 actuary and said to him, "Here is the coat of our cartage alone in London—horses, wagons, offices, everything. Let us know exactly what each company pays annually." The actuary went into the figures and he said that the Great Central paid so much, the Great Northern so much, and the Great Eastern so much. Those three companies agreed at once to put that amount, which was based on the last year's expenditure on cartage alone, into one common pool, and then tried to eliminate the waste and have a cartage system covering the three companies. In the first year, although they paid in the same amount that it had cost them in the previous year, they drew £60,000 out of the pool, instead of it costing them more. That was for cartage alone, and that was the experience of these three companies. Last year Sir William Plender, at the request of a Committee of which I was a member, was asked to go carefully into this matter, and the conclusion he came to in regard to this question alone was that it was possible to save at least £15,000,000 to £20,000,000 a year. The House might reasonably say, "Yes, but why cannot this be done by private ownership?" It is utterly and absolutely impossible to do it, because—first, of the geographical difficulty; secondly, because railways themselves cut one across the other; and thirdly, what is more important, no one authority can deal with it, unless that authority is the State and no one else.
It would be only fair to the House and the country if I said a word about the assumption that if the railways are nationalised there is going to be some huge reduction both in passenger fares and freight charges. So far as I know the situation I say quite frankly that I do not think that is possible at the moment. One of two things is necessary. You must either have an increase or the-railways must be subsidised by the State. The short problem is, that the net revenues of the railways in 1913, which was the high-water mark since the time of their inception, amounted to£45,000,000, exclusive of docks and hotels, or £50,000,000 including those. To-day the wage bill alone is some £57,000,000 more than it was in 1914. So far as the railway men are concerned, they are not content to allow themselves to be sweated merely to provide privileges for the benefit of the travelling public. While 1801 all other industries transfer the burden from time to time, it is only fair to remember that the railways are not allowed to do it. The Statutes passed by Parliament have prevented them from doing it in the past.
There appears to be agreement that, so far as railways are concerned, nationalisation or unification at the moment is absolutely essential. The objection appears to be with regard to what are called the "other interests." The House is really concerned to see whether, if a case is made out for railway unification, it is really necessary to associate these other undertakings with it. That is the object of the Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. I will deal first with the docks. As my right hon. Friend says, in the first place, it is the deliberate intention, whether it be in this country or abroad, of railway agents to encourage traffic to the longest distances. That, of course, means that while there may be so-called competition between the railway companies themselves to see if they can get the traffic from the longest distance, yet it is a waste so far as labour and material are concerned, and somebody else, whether it be the short-distance traffic or the passengers, have to pay for it in the end. That is not nearly so important as this. If your docks are separated from this Bill, you have either to hand over 50 per cent. of the docks of this country or, alternatively, have them competing one against the other. That is exactly the situation at this moment. If you eliminate what are called private docks, you leave 50 per cent. of the dock accommodation in the Bill. I ask the House to imagine the situation of having, on the one hand, docks owned by the State competing with private docks and, at the same time, preventing any Minister from utilising the docks as he ought to utilise them—because you cannot separate the question of dock traffic merely because of goods. The real saving in dealing with dock traffic is not so much the transportation of the docks as it is the short mileage that the Minister can deal with by his dock accommodation being under one control. Therefore, it is impossible to separate one from the other. In addition to the figures the right hon. Gentleman gave, there are canals which for a number of years have been privately subsidised so that they should not compete with the railways. Probably there are differences of opinion with regard to the possibilities of our waterways. Some experts argue 1802 that you could not utilise the canals without a huge expenditure to protect the banks, because anything like strong traffic would render subsidence inevitable. But there are certainly some canals which could be utilised, and where they can be utilised that mode of transport is the best for that kind of traffic where speed is not essential. But it is impossible for the Minister to do justice to the traffic unless he is empowered to deal with canals in the same way as he is empowered to deal with railways. It is the same when you come to roads. Supposing roads were entirely eliminated from thus Bill. I understand the Government now owns from 60,000 to 80,000 motor vehicles of 3 to 5 tons. There are two problems with regard to road traffic. Supposing the railways are owned and run by the State, could you conceive of anything worse than the short-distance road traffic being developed with these motor vehicles owned by the Government themselves? On the other hand, agriculture to-day is starved. There is no proper system so far as agricultural production is concerned of feeding the railways. The only company which has done anything towards encouraging or developing it is the Great Eastern which made an experiment some three or four years ago. But you cannot separate this question of roads from that of the railways. At the same time regard must be had to the interests of local authorities, but neither local authorities nor private interests must override the general well-being of the State as a whole. I am glad my right hon. Friend has considered it necessary to abolish the Order in Council, because while everyone on this bench is in favour of the State ownership of railways and canals, we are not in favour of the power being given to any Department or any Minister. We are in favour of the principle, but we want to see exactly what it means, and this House should have a final voice in determining it.
In the Bill I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider two points. The first is that the Superannuation Clause does not sufficiently safeguard the interests of the men. Provision is made that all existing superannuation funds and rights and privileges shall be guaranteed if the concerns are purchased, but that does not protect cases where an allowance is made, and it is not a condition of service. There are many companies which give their old servants a retiring allowance of some small 1803 amount. It is not provided in their contract, but it is a custom, and it has gone on for years. That must be protected under this Bill, Because Parliament, if it is taking over these concerns, has no right to say, "No, we are only dealing with the legal form of contract and take no consideration to any obligations that you and the company may have entered into." The second point is that I want to know how the right hon. Gentleman is going to deal with the option of the 1844 Act. It appears to me that what the Bill says is that although in the Act there is an option taken to deal with the railway, it has never been exercised. The right hon. Gentleman comes along with another Bill and says, "I am prepared to ignore that option entirely and to seek a fresh option to deal with them just as I like." I hope that will be made clear. So far as electricity is concerned. I am somewhat doubtful as to whether one authority is the best to deal with it, because I attach more importance to electricity for commercial purposes than for transportation. I am not so sure as the right hon. Gentleman that you could develop any long distance traffic or any goods traffic with electrical power. I very much doubt it. Therefore he will agree, I think, that the greatest value of huge generating stations must be for commercial purposes for the supplying of manufactures and to give cheap electricity to dwelling-houses. That being so, I think two points must be safeguarded. The first is that generating stations must be put in as close proximity to the coal as it is possible to get them. But regard must also be had to the interests of the municipalities, because if a municipality has borrowed on the guarantee of the rates and set up an electrical undertaking you have no right to supersede it even in the interests of the State without giving adequate compensation to the ratepayers. So far as our party is concerned we welcome the general principles of the Bill. We believe it to be a step in the right direction. We believe the right hon. Gentleman's speech has proved the case that we have been arguing for a long time. I am sorry that illness prevents the President of the Board of Trade from being present. I have known criticisms levelled at him, because of the present railway situation, and I am at least entitled to say, as one who has argued the other aide of the case and been 1804 responsible for negotiations from the men's side, that there is no one who has met us more fairly and more honestly and with a genuine desire to do the right thing. It is at least due from me to pay public testimony, especially as he is unfortunately ill. We give a blessing to the Bill. We reserve our right in Committee to move certain Amendments, but we congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the admirable way in which he has stated the case, on the magnitude of the Bill, and, above all, I hope he may be as pushing in the remaining stages of the Bill and after he has got it as he has been in presenting it here to-day.
§ Mr. MARSHALL STEVENS
I am one of a number of Members who have come to this Parliament not for the purpose of making a profession of politics or with any desire for offices of profit, but in answer to the call for business men: I bring an experience in transport of more than fifty years upon the railways, the docks, and the oversea transport of this and other countries. My experience has not been unproductive. It has helped to produce one of the largest ports in the world—the third or fourth port in this Kingdom—and that port has produced an industrial area upon which already are thriving more than a hundred works, all produced in the last few years, each with its railway facilities and every facility requisite for its trade. Incidentally comes with that a railway company which already is conveying more than 1 per cent. of the whole general merchandise of the country. All that work has been accomplished without obtaining one single penny from the Government by private enterprise, and when I hear the right hon. Gentleman referring to private enterprise as colossal waste, let me give him that short example. Those undertakings by private enterprise, while they want to go on, are stopped at present, or cannot proceed as we want them to, because this idea of nationalisation is held over our heads, and now this extraordinary Bill has been brought into the House. We who are concerned with transportation in this country have not been waiting until now to set ourselves-right for after-war work. So far back as the end of 1917, at the suggestion of my friends, I approached the then Minister of reconstruction (Dr. Addison). At that time we were beginning reconstruction work by getting ourselves together, and 1805 anyone who knows what has happened in the past knows how difficult it is to get two cities like Manchester and Liverpool to act upon the same lines. We were engaged upon that matter, and we succeeded, and we thought it opportune to get some announcement from the right hon. Gentleman as to whether we could not help towards reconstruction work and transportation instead of waiting until the end of the War. This is what I said at a meeting of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce presided over by the Lord Mayor of Liverpool after consultation with Dr. Addison:The Minister of Reconstruction, Dr. Addison, who recently addressed us in Manchester, has told me that he intends to form a transport committee upon which gentlemen having practical working experience in the different branches of transport will be asked to serve.That statement was received with great applause, but no Government Transport Committee has been formed, because of railway influence. Railway influence through the Board of Trade stopped that, and I say that definitely. The Traders' Traffic representatives have, notwithstanding, met and have considered the whole question of transportation after the War. My friends and I speak here on behalf of a greater volume of trade and commerce than the Government. We represent the Federation of British Industries with a capital of £4,000,000,000, all invested in industries, three times the capital of all the railways; the Mansion House Association, which is known to look after the interests of the traders of the country; the Traders' Traffic Committee, and similar associations; but we have been unable to place our views before the Prime Minister or before the right hon. Gentleman who has introduced this Bill (Sir E. Geddes). Our views represent the complete case for the Traders, and they are available when asked for. We have no intention of injuring the railway shareholders in any sense.
What has happened in regard to railway domination over transport is an old story, but it is just as well to refer to it. From 1845, during the period of railway magnates which ended with the late Sir Edward Watkin, who made the Great Central Railway, it was ambition which caused competition in accommodation from which we are suffering: ambition without any great benefit to the shareholders as such. We suffer from the 1806 highest general merchandise rates in the world. Since that time it has been the ambition of the general managers always controlling the Board of Trade, and their representative—and I say it deliberately—is now here in the right hon. Gentleman. Just before the War, when the inland canals had been paralysed by railway interests, when road competition had been stunted by railway interests, when railway docks were worked regardless of costs, the railway companies were attempting to obtain control of coasting steamers, including the Irish trade, and it was only the War which stopped them.
At every turn every individual improvement by my associates and myself has been fought by the railway interests. Though I may seem to be speaking egotistically, let me say that I am only making the statement in the public interest, that I stand here as one who has created more railway traffic in general merchandise than any other man in this country. With what result? The railway traffic thus created has been carried on without the cost of terminal accommodation, and the conveyance and everything appurtaining to it at our end of the journey costs less than 6d. a ton, as compared with corresponding service at stations within three or four miles where the cost is nearly 5s. per ton. This small railway is paying 5 per cent. free of Income Tax on this cost of less than 6d. a ton. Government Departments have been unable to hold their own against the railways—particularly during the War the Ministry of Munitions were unable to get the railways to run American 50-ton cars on the English lines, even in train loads. What is happening now at the time that this Bill is before Parliament? Let me give an illustration of how the railway companies absolutely control the Board of Trade. Wishing to carry out a similar work to what is being done in Manchester, which I have briefly described, my friends in Nottingham obtained a Light Railway Order about fifteen months ago—that is, last January twelve months—for carrying that out, with a junction to the Great Northern Railway. There was no objection to the junction in any shape or form. The whole point was that if a junction were made the new light railway would take away so much of the traffic from the Great Northern Railway—that the Great Northern Railway would lose its revenue. That was the only point, and although the proposal had passed the Light Railway Commissioners it is held up to-day by the 1807 Board of Trade, by the very Department which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take over to his Ministry.
During the War railway companies have been absolutely careless of economy. The Government finding the revenue, the companies have been competing one with another much more extravagantly than in peace time. They continue services which necessitate huge losses. They have been worrying the traders in every direction in order to obtain a better settlement from the Government when the settlement takes place. Take the case of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, one of the leading railways in the North of England. Two-thirds of their traffic is short-distance traffic, between twenty and twenty-five miles. A good deal more thanhalf of it is Carried under twenty miles. Let me show the sort of thing that is happening there. That traffic is being carried to-day at a rate of something like 7s. 6d. or 8s. a ton, including two cartages, two station accommodations, and the conveyance by railway. Before the War it was carried at a loss. Now the cartages are costing twice as much as the whole railway rate. The whole of that traffic could be taken off the line to-morrow. There is no Bill required for that. The President of the Board of Trade, who has charge of the railways, could take the whole of that short-distance traffic off the lines and help to relieve the loss of £100,000,000 which is flaunted before the House. In fact, that loss would be to a great extent done away with if the railways less confined themselves to their one monopoly service of conveyance upon the railway. Before an unbiassed Committee I think I could make out a prima facie case that the railway companies are themselves behind this Bill. The right hon. Member for Cambridge (Sir E. Geddes) is lending his great power in assisting this railway attempt to dominate the carrying trade of the country. Of course, he is not doing it with any vicious intent—I do not say that for a moment—but he is so imbued with railway policy that, subconsciously, he can do nothing else.
The right hon. Gentleman comes here and talks of £100,000,000 loss which the Government is suffering by the working of the railways to-day. What are the facts? The wages were £47,000,000. They have gone up—I am using a greater figure than that quoted by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Thomas)—to a possible 1808 £112,000,000, including the cost of the eight hours' day. That is an increase of £65,000,000. Out of that £65,000,000 only £8,000,000 or £8,500,000 is applicable to the conveyance of general merchandise. The whole figure of £112,000,000 includes no end of wages and services which have nothing whatever to do with the conveyance of traffic by railway at all. No one who has any knowledge of the circumstances will dispute the fact that half of the £112,000,000 has nothing whatever to do with the conveyance of traffic. The £8,500,000 could readily be absorbed without any increase in the rates as now collected by the railway companies. This is rather technical, and I will try to explain it. The rates collected by the railway companies include a great number of services and accommodation which has nothing whatever to do with their sole monopoly, which is that of conveyance. For years the traders have urged, but they have never been able to obtain their desire, that there should be a separate rate charged for conveyance. If the railway companies would take on the present basis of the increased wages, what the wages cost and what the other services and accommodation cost for the service of conveyance and charge that, giving themselves a reasonable profit, the £8,500,000 would be absorbed directly, and a great deal more. There is no necessity for the railway companies to do any of the other services. Those are all services which can be left to competition by private enterprise. They cannot be competed for to-day while the conveyance rate is a part of a whole. I am sorry to have taken up so much time on that point. Let me give an illustration again, going back to the railway of which I am the chairman, where our wages for doing the whole of the work—it is over 2,000,000 tons of traffic, and I am speaking of wages alone now—are less than 3d. per ton, instead of the railway companies' wages of nearly 3s. per ton in the stations immediately adjacent.
I believe there is no necessity at all at the moment for this Bill. It is the duty of the Government to consider the traffic requirements of the country before presenting a Bill. There is plenty of work for the right hon. Gentleman without a portfolio. He is a splendid business asset and if his wonderful powers can be brought to bear in the true interests of 1809 the country, and if the railway bias can be thrust aside, the country ought to make the very most of his services. Let him formulate the Government policy, and meanwhile stop the railway companies from unprofitable work and save the country's money. Let the railway companies charge dock rates, as other docks do, and come to Parliament, as the other docks have been forced to do, for increased powers if necessary. Do not let the railway companies do any carting or any other terminal services below cost. If they do it at all, which they are not bound to do, let them do it, now the Government is guaranteeing the turnover, at cost or above cost. They should separately charge a reasonable conveyance rate, and then the loss of £100,000,000 will be rapidly reduced. We have heard on one side a question as to the necessity of increasing the rates, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman said that to recoup the increased cost of working the railways rates would have to go up 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. The rates in this country—I am speaking of general merchandise—are 50 per cent. to 100 per cent. higher than those in competing countries in traffic carried under the like circumstances. You talk in this House of placing a greater disability on this country by increasing these already high rates by 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. It is absolutely unnecessary to increase the conveyance rates in this country above those of any of the other competing countries. It costs no more to convey traffic on our railways in this country than in other parts of the world. The right hon. Gentleman knows, he was the general manager, he has the figures, and can give to the House if he likes the cost to his railway of conveying traffic from one point to another in this country. But do we have the figures? We are the only country in the world which is kept without these figures. The Governments of every other country supply the cost of conveyance and ton mileage, and all those details. These figures are kept by the railway companies and can be produced if they are called for. They must be in the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, and I say, emphatically, taking the cost of conveyance by itself, that it is no greater in this country than in any other similar country competing with it for the trade of the world. All that is necessary is to disentegrate the rates. Then as to labour. The labour that I work with knows perfectly well that I am always 1810 trying to get it scheduled upon the highest permissible range, and what we want is—and what I have been surprised not to have heard asked for yet, not only in transportation, but in other ways—what we want to know from the Government is what transportation can afford to pay. Ascertain what it can afford to pay, and let labour have it right up to the hilt. It can have no more if the country is to continue successfully; it must not have less.
As to the inland canals of the country, they are ready for nationalisation. By nationalisation, I mean that they should be put in such a state by the Government that traffic can pass over them to advantage. I do not mean for them to be worked by the State at all. Now, where is the objection to the nationalisation of our canals? I happened to say at a recent conference with the right hon. Gentleman, "There is not any opposition." I saw that he hesitated, and I said, "Do you mean the railways; would the railways object?" He said, "Yes; they would." Now, the railways are the only opponents of the nationalisation of our inland canals to-day. This Bill is an insult to the intelligence of the House, and particularly as it was presented, but a very great feature of it has, of course, been taken out by the dropping of Clause 4. Let me read a resolution passed by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and ask whether, having gone half-way, the Government cannot see their way to go the whole length of the desire expressed in that resolution:That the Bill for the establishment of the Ministry of Ways and Communications should be so amended as to provide that the various sections of transport should each be administered by a board, with a Chairman in each case, who should be responsible to Parliament, and that all those boards should be co-ordinated in the Ministry of Ways and Communications.The Bill provides for taking over the Railway Commissioners. There is no precedent for that in the world. In this country the Railway Commissioners are a judicial body who control the railways and at the same time the trade. If you take our Colonies—Australia, Canada—where the railways are wholly or partly owned by the Government or otherwise, there is a body which exercises all the functions of our Railway Commissioners, quite outside the ownership of the railways. If this Bill passes in its present state, let us see what is going to happen. We happen to have—I mean the Traders' Rail- 1811 way Company, over which I preside—an action against a railway company before the Railway Commissioners now. What will be the result of that if the right hon. Gentleman is going to take the Commissioners over? We are also just on the point of bringing a more or less friendly action before the Railway Commission. What is going to happen? Are we to wait for two years before we can get to the Railway Commissioners, because the right hon. Gentleman has taken them over and put them under his arm? These are the Commissioners who have to decide, being under the right hon. Gentleman; what are we going to do with these facilities which the right hon. Gentleman is trying to continue by Sub-section (f) of Clause 4? Even if the railways are nationalised, and transportation is nationalised, they must not be left to Government control. There must be a judicial body, coming in somewhere, as in the United States, and in every other country in the world. The Federation of British Industries have prepared a Bill which is being considered by the right hon. Gentleman, with a provision such as that to which I have just referred, and agrees, he says, with its provisions to a very great extent. I am speaking of the Federation's Bill for the control of railways and canals. He could very likely work it in with his future ideas, but why not take it now, and Bend it upstairs to be considered with the present Bill, if this Bill does go upstairs? The Bill itself was ready before the House met. It has not been introduced here only because we have not yet had an opportunity of doing so. The measure is ready, and printed, and I ask that it should be considered. The resolution of the Federation of British Industries, which I wish to read to the House, is a follows:That pending a declaration by the Government of its policy in connection with the improvement and control of the transport facilities of the country, the Federation of British Industries, representing manufacturing undertakings of a gross capital value of £4,000,000,000, emphatically disapproves of the Bill for a Ministry of Ways and Communications, as introduced into Parliament, and considers the powers at present possessed by the Government under the arrangement made with Mr. Runciman, are sufficient until new and comprehensive legislation can be introduced.In thanking the House for the indulgence extended to me, I have endeavoured to remember—to quote what the Prime Minister said—that the greatest eloquence is in getting things through.
Lieutenant-Colonel M. J. WILSON
I believe it is the kindly custom of this. House to show indulgence to a Member when he first rises to address it, and I would ask for a full meed of that indulgence to-night in saying a few words. May I first of all join in the chorus of congratulation to the Government which has been raised in their practically with drawing Clause 4, because I confess I was one of those who looked on that Clause with very strong dissent, even if I do not put it stronger than that. Apart from that Clause, I welcome this Bill most seriously and thoroughly; if, for no other reason, because it enables me to try and fulfil, by backing it to the best of my ability, a great many of the election, pledges which I made a short time ago. I was one of those, like many hon. Members, who came back after the election pledged to the hilt to reconstruction. This Bill is the keynote of reconstruction, and should provide the driving power which will make all those measures mentioned in our reconstruction pledges possible in the course of the next few years—the questions of housing, the health of the country, our trade and our agriculture all depend on proper transport being provided in the course of the next few years. The difficulties which have to be contended with at the present time in country districts are beyond telling. It was a great relief to hear the right hon. Gentleman say such stress on the question of agriculture, and it was pleasing to an agriculturist like myself to hear that something was going to be done for that long-neglected industry. I was further encouraged when I heard the right hon. Member for Derby remark that agriculture had been starved, and I feel that now there is a chance for it.
The whole question of the future of agriculture does depend on what is provided for us in the course of the next few years. We realise to the full what our difficulties are, that it is our task to provide food from the country district for the town, that we have to provide it at a price at which it will pay and at the same time have to provide proper wages and proper living conditions for the men who produce the food. The time is coming, if it has not already come, when the demand will be made that prices shall be reduced for the benefit of the manufacturing districts. Then the question which will face the agriculturist is how can he provide better 1813 wages and living conditions for his men and at the same time produce the food that is required. The solution of the problem is twofold, because agriculturists will then come to the Government and say that it is essential that they should be supported, or subsidised if you like, in order that they may grow corn and what is required in this country, and the amount of that subsidy will depend on the ways and communications which are provided between the grower and the markets of this country. If we can have ready markets, quick and easy transport to those markets, if we can have a system, such as the right hon. Gentleman mentioned, of motor transport along our roads, we can do a great deal. But if we are to be left in the state, in which we are at present, of living actually in a wilderness, we shall have to go back to the old conditions of agriculture before the War. I have been rather horrified at the number of telegrams, letters and other communications flung at my head during the last three or four days, and perhaps because I was interested, as a rural Member, I tried to find out what was the reason of the opposition to this Bill, and I got various answers. One of my Constituents telegraphed to me to oppose the Bill so far as roads were concerned. I happen to know him, and I telegraphed back, "Why do you oppose it?" His reply which was telegraphed this afternoon was "Because I was told."
There were other reasons put forward which perhaps have a little more in them. The chief reason put before me is that we have already a Road Board in existence, and that it is unnecessary to have anything else. Everyone who has lived in country districts realises what it is to have different authorities dealing with roads and road traffic. One great thing which is holding up development throughout the country at present is the fact that you have these thousands of authorities, all dealing with roads at the same time in the various districts, because whenever you have a scheme of development initiated you are always faced with the fact that it affects more than one district. Probably it affects a county council and a rural district council. There are two authorities, both ready to do everything in their power, ready to welcome the scheme in every possible way, but they lack the one thing necessary—that is, the driving power which will enable them to get over the local and 1814 other difficulties in carrying through the scheme. What I feel about having a second authority is this, that as we have had difficulties by having a lot of authorities in the past, so we shall have difficulties now if you are going to have a Ministry of Ways and Communications and a Road Board working independently of each other. Of course, there will be this advantage, that there will be a railway man at the head of each. I believe that the President of the Road Board is another distinguished railway man, and probably that would be sufficient compensation in the eyes of some people. But if we do have these two authorities, both dealing with the same scheme, then we shall have two spending Departments, both looking jealously at the work which may be put upon them by the other Department, and both in consequence employing experts and officials to check and watch the other, so that both will become passive resisters instead of becoming a driving power to get on with the work.
The next reason given for opposition was that the management of roads and that of railways are incompatible. Everyone who has lived in the country will agree that for every mile of road which could in any circumstances be in competition with railways, there are twenty miles that could not be in competition, but are ordinary roads which would be feeders for the railway system. Then, when it is said that roads can be in opposition, with railways, I would remind the House that the right hon. Gentleman said this afternoon that he regards it as wasteful competition, because if we are asked to go into the question of roads against railways we get back at once to the wasteful form of competition which existed1 between railways before the War, when you had two systems running between the same pair of towns, and the one thing that you want to avoid at the present time is waste in regard to a transport system. When the right hon. Gentleman is considering the question of roads I would ask him to remember what he said about the cost. The cost at the present time is borne to a very large extent by the county rates. He proposes, and I hope that we shall all see it carried through, to develop enormously motor transport upon these roads. I would ask him to have some form of elastic arrangement with the county council in order that as the wear and tear of the roads increases he will be able to 1815 increase the Grants of the county councils for keeping up the roads. I speak feelingly as a member of the county council. County councils have had work put upon them, and were told that if they did that work they should have a certain Grant. Years have gone on, the work has increased enormously, the expense has increased enormously, while the Grant by the Government has remained as it was in the beginning. It is impossible to divide the questions of roads, canals, and railways. I cannot imagine any scheme, whether it is mineral development or afforestation, or the development of a big agricultural area, in which railways, canals and roads can possibly be put apart. I hope that the Minister in charge of this Bill is going to be, as I think he is, having seen him once or twice, exceedingly firm, and that he will remain firm and will not give way one iota in regard to divided authority.
§ Sir SAMUEL SCOTT
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just spoken, and I would like to congratulate him upon it. I have only risen for the purpose of putting a question to the right hon. Gentleman. I desire to say how glad I was to hear his decision with regard to Clause 4, as otherwise I should have felt bound to vote against the Second Reading of this Bill. I do not agree with my hon. and gallant Friend who has just spoken with regard to roads. I do object to them being under the same Ministry as railways, but having listened very carefully to the statement of my right hon. Friend I do not consider that I would be justified in voting against this Bill owing to his not having given way on this matter of roads. My right hon. Friend the Member for Derby has brought to the notice of the right hon. Gentleman that several of the municipalities, including that which I have the honour to represent, Marylebone, have borrowed money for the purpose of starting municipal electrical enterprises. I sincerely hope that some indication will be given on behalf of the Government as to the manner in which the Interests of the borough council and the ratepayers are going to be safeguarded. Under the Bill the right hon. Gentleman takes the powers which now exist in the Board of Trade with regard to Provisional Orders and other matters under electric lighting Acts, and also the powers of the 1816 Local Government Board with regard to loans. As he knows, there was a Committee of the Board of Trade set up some time ago which recommended the establishment of electricity commissioners and an electricity board. I understand that that would have necessitated the introduction of another Bill. Is it the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill of this description or not? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will be able to make some statement, so as to allay somewhat the natural anxiety which now exists on these questions.
§ Mr. EVELYN CECIL
My attitude as regards this Bill has been very considerably altered by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it. I was decidedly critical as it originally stood. I thought it was introducing a very dangerous precedent to allow a Minister by Order in Council to recommend His Majesty to make such vast and far-reaching changes as were proposed, and I am very glad the right hon. Gentleman has promptly seen his way to withdraw that proposal and also several others as to which I thought it was very undesirable to take powers. I rather rise tonight because I am connected—there is no secret about it—with one of the more important railways, and I want to assure the right hon. Gentleman that whatever may be the future of railways, the staff and the shareholders can have no personal grievance if they are fairly compensated for any step that may be taken. I trust the compensation will be fair. There was just a doubt about it in one of the Clauses which bas been withdrawn, but provided that were the case I have no personal feeling that there would be any grievance on our part if railways were even to be nationalised. But I want to approach the question from quite a different point of view. After all it is a question of what is most to the national interest. Is it really best for the nation that nationalisation should take place as was apparently contemplated in the Bill as it originally stood, or is it a misfortune for the nation if such a change took place? The proposal for nationalisation is one which is being constantly put before us by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Fife (Mr. Adamson) and many of his supporters, who seem to think that in all problems concerning the State nationalisation is the panacea for all evils. I should like, therefore, in this 1817 particular case to consider for a moment what would happen in the case of railways. Many of us who have sat here for many years have had opportunities of noticing that some Ministers are more squeezeable than others, and in some cases they undoubtedly have their eye much more on the popular vote than on real business administration. Imagine those influences to which a Minister of that character might be subjected. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) is General Secretary to the National Union of Railwaymen. He has made on occasions very praiseworthy speeches during the recent crises pointing out that there must be a bottom to all these demands and that there must be some basis and some limit beyond which you cannot go, otherwise the whole State will be bankrupt. He has spoken on occasions very bravely on those lines, but he has a rival in Mr. Bromley who is General Secretary of the Amalgamated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen. When the right hon. Gentleman has made one of those speeches it is sometimes noticeable that Mr. Bromley comes forward with a further demand, say, for instance, a 5s. bonus in addition to what the right hon. Gentleman has been asking for, and that the right hon. Gentleman finds himself in the position of either having to come into line with Mr. Bromley or, as I imagine he would say himself if he were here, that he would lose his influence with his Union. And who is the victim of all that? That occurs over and over again. It happened several times in the last three or four years. Who is the victim of all that? Why, the community, trade and the travelling public.
Therefore I would strongly urge the House that what we should really aim at is what the right hon. Gentleman who introduced this Bill has said, namely, that we ought to make railways self-supporting and that we ought to protect services of public utility against constant and repeated demands which can only end in making them bankrupt unless they have State subsidies, which from an economic point of view are not desirable. At all events I would urge the House that in such matters as these it will be far wiser to leave politics out of railways. So that is my text in pressing on the House that railway nationalisation is not desirable for the nation. Sometimes I notice that 1818 agriculturists who perhaps have not given very much thought to this side of the question support nationalisation on the ground that it is going to cheapen freights. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman for Derby who said that nationalisation would not cheapen freights as long as high wages continue and are likely to continue. On the contrary I am inclined to think that the change of nationalisation is more likely to increase wages, and in that case do not let agriculturists or anybody else suppose that they will get cheaper freights by making this change. Let me make it, on the other hand, perfectly clear that I do not object to a moderate and even considerable control by the Government of railways. I think regulation is needed, and I daresay more regulation than we have at present. I can assure the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. M. Stevens), who spoke just now, that railways are not behind this Bill, and, indeed, their attitude would be rather critical to it, but I quite-welcome a considerable amount of Government control, because I think it will be for the benefit of the public and it will certainly, under present conditions, avoid wasteful competition. It will lead very likely to the unification of railway groups and all that is to the public benefit. But it is fair to remember that wasteful competition is not all the fault of the railways. Those who look back on the history of this matter for a good many years will be aware that Parliament itself was constantly encouraging competition to an almost unlimited extent. In former years, if a new railway was proposed, even though it was going to compete with an old one, Parliamentary Committees would pass the Bill on the ground that this was helpful competition which would produce better service for the public, following the Manchester School of thought that all competition was desirable. To that extent, therefore, Parliament itself is responsible for the competition. No doubt the economy required by war has altered the conditions, and I am entirely at one with the general view of the present day that more economy is needed, and that if Government control of railways can bring it about it is very good to institute that Government control.
But let me take the subject from a somewhat different point of view and one from which I have had opportunities of studying it. I mean to say, what is the experience of nationalisation in Europe and 1819 other places? I have on occasions attended meetings of the International Railway Congress at Washington, Brussels, and elsewhere, and I have had opportunities of discussing this matter with foreign railway experts, who have given me very interesting information on the subject. Previous to the War I ought to say, in the first place, about 50 per cent. of the European railways were State railways. With the exception, generally speaking, of Germany, in most of the cases the service deteriorated, the cost of operating grew enormously, and politics were triumphant. Take, for instance, the Western Railway of France. I find on looking up the figures that the net revenue of that railway in the worst year of its private management was £2,750,000. It was taken over by the State in 1908, and in the fourth year of Government management the revenue was reduced to £1,070,000, because the Government largely added to the number of employés on taking the railway over, and that cost was in no way justified by corresponding efficiency. Discipline was very largely disregarded, and matters got to such a pass that, if I am not mistaken, M. Briand, who was then Prime Minister, had to invoke the military law of conscription in order to enforce on the employés more discipline and to bring matters to a crisis. In Belgium, State railways used to be run at a loss, and when the private railways were taken over there was similarly a large increase in the number of railway employés. In Italy, as I was informed by a well-known Italian official, when the chief railways were nationalised in 1905 the number of employés was augmented in three years from 97,000 to 137,000, and the systems did not earn ¼ per cent. of interest on the investments. Nationalisation in Italy was accompanied by extensive strikes, and in one case the appointment by the Government of a highly-reputed expert was directly afterwards cancelled, apparently on the ground that he was objected to by the men as too strict a disciplinarian. Just before the War the Italian Government returned to the old system so far as to grant a concession to a private company, which was to take over a portion of the existing State railway, to build the extension with money assistance from the State and then work on its own account both sections as one undertaking under private management. That does not seem 1820 to point to any very great satisfaction with the experiment of nationalisation in Italy. In Canada it has been charged at election time that the Government increased the number of employés on the Inter-Colonial railway, which is a State railway, with a, view to influencing the results. Anyhow, the deficit in 1909, which is the last year for which I have the figures, was over £850,000. I could quote similar cases from Austria, Russia, New Zealand, and elsewhere.
I said the exception was Germany. There are two causes which I think are worth mentioning to the House in that connection. One is that in Germany there was far more discipline, and in Germany also when State railways were introduced a reduction of rates was promised, though they were actually increased for fiscal reasons. But the very reasons which have made State railways so far successful in Germany are precisely those which, if they existed in this country, would often prove a menace to our free institutions. Perhaps it is also worth while just considering the reasons which have led to nationalisation in various countries; and the motives which have brought it about are all entirely dissociated from present day arguments in this country. For instance, in Germany Prince Bismarck's object in buying up the railways was unification of the Empire under the Zollverein after 1871. In France and Italy the step was due to original subsidies to the railways, and consequent complications otherwise insoluble. In Belgium and Switzerland nationalisation was dictated by fear of foreign capital. In Australia, the States could not get the money for building railways except on the credit of the Commonwealth, and in Japan there were thirty-six companies which had to be united, and fifteen of these owned less than twenty-four miles apiece. So that all the reasons in these different countries were wholly different from anything we have been discussing to-night, and the experience, generally speaking, has been against nationalisation as expensive, as leading to jobbery, and as not serving the public as well as private enterprise. I have confidence in the private management of railways, subject, of course, as I have said, to proper and full Government control and supervision, because private initiative and resourcefulness in business have proved more efficient than State rigidity and officialdom. I also think that financial re- 1821 sponsibility is more keenly felt and acted upon under private management. It seems to me, under these circumstances, that we ought to think once, twice, thrice, before agreeing to a general policy of nationalisation. It launches us into a vast system of State transport, apart from State control, which as it seems at the present moment is merely a sop to aggressive agitation, and contrary to much valuable experience.
§ Major HAYWARD
My attitude towards this Bill was a little uncertain when I came to the House this afternoon, and my first difficulty arose from the fact that the most careful perusal of the Bill itself could not throw any light upon what the policy of the Government really was, because what the Bill did was really to establish a Minister who would be a dictator upon all matters relating to transport, and who would have in various matters not only all the powers of Parliament itself, but upon some points even the powers of the judiciary. And I believe as a matter of fact he will still have the powers of the judiciary upon some points. The right hon. Gentleman this afternoon did give some outline of what it is that he proposes to do, and I may say, upon those general objects, that I myself am very anxious to see them carried out, and I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill in the hope that they will be carried out. I am very glad that Clause 4 has been withdrawn, and I am glad for this reason, that I object altogether to the system which has been adopted by this Government several times lately of delegating to the executive functions, duties, and powers which ought to be retained by the legislature itself. I was very glad to see that many hon. Members opposite have at last opened their eyes to this tendency in recent legislation. I got a circular a day or two ago, which probably every Member in the House has got, signed by two hon. Members opposite, and it so admirably expresses my point of view upon this that with the leave of the House I will read an extract from it. After referring to the difficulty of incorporating any definite proposals in the Bill, it goes on:It is doubtless owing to this difficulty that an attempt is made in Clause 4 to give the Minister immediately after the passing of the Bill unlimited powers by Order in Council, which is, in effect, establishing bureaucracy. It is submitted, that this is unprecedented and most dangerous and that the Clause should be 1822 deleted, which would result in the Government being obliged, when their policy is being formulated, to submit a detailed Bill to Parliament setting out their proposals.While Clause 4, which is the most objectionable Clause in that direction, has been withdrawn, if hon. Members will carefully scrutinise other Clauses of the Bill they will discover that the Bill still is deficient and objectionable on this same ground. And I would point out to those hon. Members who signed this document—and I believe they are supported by about eighty other hon. Members of this House—that the same sort of thing is going on in other Bills. The number of this Bill is No. 11, and if they will take the whole series of Bills, Nos. 10, 11, and 12, they will find precisely the same thing happening, the executive usurping the powers and functions of the legislature. No. 10 Bill is the Civil Contingencies Fund Bill. It is merely a proposal to hand over to the Government a matter of £120,000,000 to play with, without the sanction of the House of Commons and without the House of Commons knowing how the money is to be used or having any control over it. This Bill is No. 11, and No. 12 Bill is the Military Service Bill. I have no doubt, when hon. Members opposite who now take this view upon this Bill voted for the Conscription Act of last week, they were under the impression that they were as a matter of fact voting for retaining conscription until April 30th next. They were doing nothing of the kind. All they were voting for was to hand over to the military authorities that power to impose conscription. The Bill did not do it at all, but merely delegated to the military authorities that matter of supremest importance, which should never have gone out of the control of Members of this House. So far as I can understand the proposals of this Bill, which, as I say, I am generally going to support in the hope that its deficiencies will be amended in Committee, there are one or two what I consider to be very grave defects. May I refer firstly to Clause 3, which provides for the retention of the railways already taken over for a period of another two years, empowers the Minister to take over railways and other undertakings not already taken over, and then gives to the Minister almost unlimited powers with regard to these undertakings. It is when I come to deal with the terms upon which these undertakings are to be taken over and retained that I view the Clause with a considerable amount of apprehen- 1823 sion and alarm. What are the terms? I will take first the undertakings which are not yet taken over, and might I call the right hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that with regard to those—I am speaking now of the undertakings referred to in Clause 3, Sub-section (1), paragraph (b) there is no provision whatever as to the terms upon which these new undertakings are to be taken over. What are the terms? Is the omission of the terms a mistake and an error? I should like to know, and perhaps the right hon. Gentleman when he replies will give us some information on that point.
With regard to the terms upon which the railways already taken over are to be retained, they are to be retained upon the same terms as heretofore, and the Home Secretary, in introducing the Bill, told us what those terms were, and the right hon. Gentleman has referred to them again tonight. They are, I understand, to be that the net receipts for 1913 are to be guaranteed for a further period of two years. That might be a fair proposal or it might not. As a matter of fact, I believe the Government are more or less bound to it by a pledge already given, but at the same time, however the transaction might have looked when the pledge was given, looking at it at present it certainly seems to be a most improvident arrangement so far as the State is concerned. It means that for the past five years repairs, extensions, improvements, have been more or less a dead letter, as the right hon. Gentleman told us. There is a vast accumulation to be made up, and I have no doubt that the greater part of that accumulation will have to be made up out of revenue, so that that is a charge which in the first place is going to fall upon the taxpayer Secondly, it is going to be quite impossible to get any reduction in railway fares during these two years, because it is quite clear that if there were such reduction that is another charge which would fall on the State. It is also clear that within the next two years every industry will have to give permanent concessions of one kind and another to its employés, and whatever concessions are made under this arrangement, whether with regard to wages, hours, or conditions of employment, they would all fall upon the taxpayer. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, also, if he would tell us whether 1824 these are the whole of the terms, so far as they exist at present? Is there any liability whatever for depreciation of any kind at present—I mean depreciation of the undertakings in the hands of the State during the past five years? Whether that is so or not at present, I should like to call the attention of the House to the provisions in Sub-section (4) of this Clause. This Subsection provides—Where by reason of the exercise of the power under this Section the value of any undertaking has been depreciated or enhanced, the owners of the undertaking shall, so far as any loss is not provided for by the payments mentioned in paragraph (a), he entitled to be recouped or liable to pay the amount by which that value has been so depreciated or enhanced.So that there is a new provision providing that at the end of two years the State is to be liable for depreciation in these undertakings—a depreciation which has been suffered through the exercise of the powers of the Minister. If the House will look at these powers, they will see that they are very wide and unlimited, and under this Clause providing for depreciation, practically any claim could be made, and there is practically no limit whatever to the claim for depreciation which could be set up. If damage is caused by the exercise of some of these powers, they are obviously the proper subject for depreciation. But all of them are not, and I submit that where a charge would have to fall on an undertaking, apart altogether from this Bill, and apart altogether from Government control, then that is a charge which should not be the subject of depreciation, as it would be under this Bill. Let me point out one or two matters. Forinstance, take the powers as to salaries, wages, remuneration, and conditions of employment, so that not only in these questions have you got it that the State is responsible for two years, but any depreciation in value which arises from an increase in wages, or a reduction of hours, is the subject of depreciation, and would be the subject of depreciation.
After all, how can you assess depreciation in an undertaking like this? You can only assess it as it affects the net returns. Anything which is going to diminish the net returns must be the subject of depreciation, and therefore you have got this: If you make a concession in hours or in wages, at the end of your term you are going to capitalise this, and the owners will be entitled to that capitalised 1825 as part of their depreciation. The same applies not only to wages, but also, for instance, to any improvements made in the interest of public safety. Any improvements made in the interest of public safety at present have to be carried out by the railways at the cost of the industry. But, under this Clause, they would be the subject of depreciation at the end of the term, and they would be capitalised, and the State would be responsible for the capitalised value. I do not quite see why the railways should be placed in this particularly favourable position. I do not want them treated more unfairly than any other industry, but I do not want them to be treated any better, and I do no want the dice to be loaded against the taxpayers every time. Concessions will have to be made in other industries, wherever you look. Only last week the Government made a concession to tenants, but it is the owners of a particular class of houses affected who have to bear that concession. Concessions will have to be made in the case of coal, and the coal industry will have to bear them. Then, I say, the same concessions made to railways should be borne by the railways, and not by the taxpayers.
In a sentence, also, might I refer to one other matter, and it is the last? I notice that in two or three Clauses of this Bill, wherever it is proposed to acquire land for the purposes of any undertaking, the machinery of the Lands Clauses Act is retained. I do hope that for the future in all public undertakings, wherever it is proposed to acquire land for public purposes, we are going to get rid of the Lands Clauses Act, with its archaic, cumbersome, and expensive machinery. As every owner of land knows, when he does sell his land by the machinery of the Lands Clauses Act, he is going to get, probably, twice as much for it as it is worth. From the fact that the Government have retained the Lands Clauses Act for the purposes of this Bill, I must say it fills me with some amount of apprehension upon this and the question of nationalisation when it does arise. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman replies for the Government—if he does reply—he will deal with this question of depreciation, and the question of the Lands Clauses Act, and will show they are going to deal with this matter in an enlightened manner and in a manner fair to the railway shareholders and fair also to the taxpayers as well, so that we shall not only be able to support this Bill on 1826 Second Reading, but shall be able to support it on Third Reading, which I, for one, shall find it extremely difficult to do unless these, what I consider, very great objections are removed.
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I should think it must have been many years since a Bill of first-class importance, introduced to this House as this has been, has met with such a very great change in the atmosphere of the feeling of Parliament within the first hour or two of its discussion. Before this afternoon the feeling of opposition to part of the Bill was unanimous, and the feelings of doubt and difficulty with regard to a great deal of the Bill were very widely spread. I think that the House has heard with great interest, and with great relief, the speech of my right hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading, and I should like to join in the universal chorus of appreciation and gratitude which has been conveyed to him by every Member who has spoken with regard to the dropping of Clause 4. The fact is that government by Order in Council is in war time excusable—or may be—but in peace time it is not to be endured. I, for my own part, am rather glad that the Government put it in the first draft of this Bill, in order to elicit early in the life of this Parliament such an unmistakable proof of the way in which Members of this House regard such methods in time of peace. With that gone, the whole attitude of the Bill is changed, and the attitude of the House is changed towards the Bill, and I would like to join other Members who have spoken in expressing one's warm appreciation of the spirit which animated my right hon. Friend's speech, and for the exceedingly persuasive, and, to my mind, conclusive way in which he showed the inportance of a general purview being taken by some Minister or Ministers of the whole problem of transportation in the country. This Government and this House will be, and ought to be, judged by the country according to how far it carries out the promises made in the Gracious Speech from the Throne, accordingly as to how far they can lay the foundation for a better England that that before the War. It is undoubtedly true that one aspect of the problem is, and must be, concerned with due correlation of all forms of transportation in the future. For that reason I for one will vote—if it is necessary to go to a vote to-morrow night—for the Second Reading. 1827 But, like all great projects which in themselves are right, and which have the true aim, the real difficulty is in translating them into action, and while this Bill, as has been pointed out by my hon. Friend who spoke last and by other speakers, has great tracks of vagueness in it, at the same time, and partly because of that fact, it raises matters which will require the most careful analysis and examination in Committee, and votes for the Second Reading, and even cordial support of the Bill on its Second Reading, foretell much less than such votes generally do what is likely to be its fate in the end. The fortunes of this Bill must depend very largely on what happens in Committee. To-night I do not propose to take up the time of the House save on one point, and that is the question with regard to roads. It is quite true, and is widely emphasised by the Minister, that traffic along roads and traffic along railways, and such traffic as still carries on a precarious existence upon canals, are all related to each other, and the whole ought to be looked at. But, for all that, traffic and transport on roads are in an utterly different category, or rather a completely distinct subdivision, from transport on canals and on railways. Be railways and canals nationalised, or left in private ownership, they are essentially trading concerns. If they are nationalised, the country will be concerned to see that they are self-supporting. If they are left in private hands under control, the test of their success will largely be whether they are self-supporting. In the case of railways, in the case of canals, in the case of docks, revenue is properly looked for, and it is the amount of that revenue which is the leading feature of these undertakings.
It is entirely different with roads. My right hon. Friend had to say roads cost the country £20,000,000 a year, but there was no ascertainable result in terms of £s. d. Again, roads, unlike these oilier means of communication, are open to everybody and must be open to everybody. Their importance in many respects depends, not on the amount of traffic upon them, but upon the necessity of that traffic for individuals. A small road giving the only access to a remote village, to centres needful to be visited, is as important as a road along which go thousands of people and hundreds of every kind of vehicles. Therefore, the problem of right adminis- 1828 tration is quite a distinct one. I welcomed what my right hon. Friend said, that the Government were prepared to make a separate Department for road administration under this Ministry. That is in accordance with the resolution unanimously passed three days ago by the Parliamentary and Highways Committee of the County Councils' Association. That resolution was as follows:That this committee, while not at present expressing any opinion on the general policy of the Ministry of Ways and Communications Bill, cannot regard the measure as satisfactory unless there is established a separate Department of the Ministry to deal with all questions of road administration.As I said, I welcome what my right hon. Friend said as regards his intention to establish a separate Department, but I hope that he, or the Home Secretary, will to-night, or at some early date, make quite clear to the House what is meant by that. In the first place, that ought to be put into the Bill. I submit, in order that we may know that we may have absolute security, and that we may be able to ascertain what it means, in the next place, while my right hon. Friend said that Department was to have at its head Brigadier-General Maybury, a distinguished engineer in whom everybody would have confidence, that is not enough to deal with problems of road infilling and road maintenance.
Road administration includes much besides road making and road maintenance on the engineering side. It deals with questions of policy as between the Government and the local authorities, and as between one type of road and another, which do not depend merely upon gradients or materials, but upon wider and more varied considerations. Therefore, what we respectfully urge upon the Government—and I am urging it now in a spirit of real friendliness to the Hill and to the Government—is to make that separate Department a reality. In other words, to have—under the Minister of Ways and Communications, if preferred—something at least as highly organised as the Road Board; and we ask that in that Department there should be one representative, at any rate, of the great county boroughs and cities of the country, and one representative of the county council authorities, in order that in this Department there may be persons who are thoroughly well acquainted with the problem from the local side—for surely these problems of administration, which have a central aspect and 1829 a local aspect, are best solved when in the Government Department itself you have gentlemen with a special knowledge of both aspects. I would urge this upon the Government as essential if a proper segregation of road management is to be embodied in the Bill. The Minister of Ways and Communications will have the purview of this as of the Railway Department or the Canal Department. Subject to that general purview and control the separate organisation of this Department is, I submit, vital, if the whole matter is to succeed.
There is one other item I would mention, and that is that money voted by Parliament for the upkeep and improvement of roads should be earmarked for that purpose. Money voted for the roads should not be diverted to make up a deficit on the railways. On the other hand, profits made by the railways, if they are ever made, should not be asked for for the benefit of the roads. We who are now speaking, as I venture to speak to the House, on behalf of the road authorities, are quite prepared to make terms with the Government. We have found for many years past that successive Governments have treated us on the whole quite fairly. We do, however, want to keep the financial system of the roads entirely separate from the finance of the railways and the canals. Unless that is done misunderstanding will be almost universal, and misunderstanding in this case, as in so many cases, will breed suspicion and hostility, even when there is no real ground for their existence. That is the point I desire to urge upon the Government, and it was for that purpose I rose. I do not propose to be tempted—although I feel the temptation—into an examination of other parts of this Bill. In a sentence, may I be allowed to add a word or two on quite a different matter. This Bill proposes, among other things, to prepare the way for the abolition of the Railway Commission. Of course if this Bill be, as it seems to be, the vestibule to railway nationalisation, no doubt State railways in their relation to the problem of State charges, in that which they have to do with the trader and the consumer, are in a somewhat different position from railways which are private enterprises though under State control.
The experience of other countries goes to show that you mast in some form or other have a judicial or semi-judicial authority to decide disputes of that 1830 kind. It is highly desirable that in the question of the amount of the rates of the railway or canal as between the trader and the undertaking should be decided not by a Government Department, but by some commissioners or other who are really acting judicially, otherwise, indeed, the door is opened wide for that kind of lobbying which, years ago, we were told was the monopoly of America, and which we do not wish to see introduced hero. I would urge this upon the Government, because it will be of some importance, if and when the railways and canals are nationalised, that there should be no opportunity for undue influence or for any person seeking to gain by devious methods that which he should gain, or fail to gain, by the decision of an independent tribunal. These points seem to me to be almost more than mere Committee points; they seem to me to go a long way towards principles. I represent them to the Government and to the House. Subject to these, I shall vote for the Second Reading. I hope that as this Bill is developed and articulated in Committee that it will meet the many objections now felt, and will be a real step forward on that path of Reconstruction which every Member of this House desires to follow.
§ Lieutenant-Colonel BUCHANAN
I desire to deal with the question of roads which is included in the purview of this Bill. I speak as a member of one of the county councils of Scotland, where we have an enormous amount of traffic passing through, not only of light motor cars, but of heavy motor vans, and we are very proud of the way in which we keep up the roads. It has been facetiously said that nothing good comes out of Scotland, but I think the roads of the country are most admirably kept up. We, the members of the local authorities, do look with a little misgiving on the question of these roads being placed under the Ministry. We feel that there, is some chance of what the Americans call side-tracking the roads, more especially the side-roads, which are really a matter of local interest and local knowledge. Our main arteries are quite well looked after. If we go across the Channel I do not think what we find there leads us to have any great hope that the road management of this country will be any better than it has been in the past. I remember, in the very early days of motoring, that the roads in France were wholly admirable. Directly, however, 1831 there was certain motor traffic going along these roads they became in a most lamentable condition, and absolutely different roads to those we found in this country when we landed at Folkestone or Southampton and proceeded northwards. We feel, though we have had the assurance from the Minister in charge of the Bill, that the roads must not be forgotten, for, if I may do so, I would remind the House that Parliaments change and Ministers change, and we would like to feel the depth of the assurance given that our roads, on which we pride ourselves, will not be made subservient to the railways, canals, docks, and so forth. I should like to associate myself with what has been said by the hon. Member who has just spoken.
§ Mr. GILBERT
I was returned to this House pledged to transport reform, and I think I am entitled to say that I am in favour of it because I happen to have had the opportunity of being a member of the Select Committee of Transport which has been referred to in this Debate. The Report and recommendations of that Committee have been alluded to, and they were made at the end of last session. I would like to say that the work of that Committee was done in a very few weeks under high pressure, and not months as was stated by one hon. Member. Consequently this explains the incompleteness of the Report of that Committee, and in consequence of the prorogation the Committee were unable to hear further evidence on other phases of the transport question, and that explains why they were only able to make certain recommendations last year. Quotations have been made from the Report of that Committee. But I think the House should know the precise recommendations which were made. They recommended:My only comment as regards railways is, after hearing the witnesses before that Select Committee, that I am strongly in favour of unification, and I regret very much that the Government have not thought fit in this Bill to put forward a 1832 proper scheme of nationalisation at once. Anybody who has read the evidence given before that Committee and studied rail way transport must come to the conclusion that the only remedy for our railway difficulty is nationalisation. The right hon. Gentleman who brought in this Bill said that we were losing £100,000,000 a year on the railways, and I would like to ask, in giving that opinion to the House and the country, whether that figure contains any amount being allowed for the soldier and war traffic which is being carried by the railways at the present time. The evidence given before the Selection Committee showed that since the commencement of the War, in 1914, with less railway construction and less men to work the railways, we have carried far more ordinary traffic than in pre-war times, and, in addition, we have carried the whole of the war traffic, both men and material. So far as I understand it, the railway companies and the railway accounts were not credited with any amount for the carrying of that war traffic. I think we ought to know from the right hon. Gentleman before he makes that statement, whether anything has been credited to the railway accounts for the carrying of the war and soldier traffic.
- "(1) That the organisation of the transport agencies of the country—and particularly of the railways—cannot be allowed to return to its pre-war position.
- (2) That the temporary arrangements for the control of railways and canals during the War would not be satisfactory as a permanent settlement.
- (3) That unification of the railway system is desirable under suitable safeguards, whether the ownership be in public or private hands."
A good deal of the Debate this afternoon in opposition to the Bill has been taken on the line of objection to the new Ministry controlling the roads. I may say that I do not agree with that opposition to this Bill. I am a member of the London County Council, and I know something of their negotiations with the present Road Board as regards getting money for road widening in the County of London, and I believe other hon. Members who are members of other county councils have had the same experience. The dealings of the London County Council with the Road Board were most unsatisfactory, because that Board adopted the plan of trying to make county councils or other road authorities spend money on a system of doles which I think was a wrong principle. The past chairman of the Road Board had certain particular schemes in regard to roads which the Board thought was the best way of altering the roads of the country, and the way they tried to get them constructed was that they went to the particular local authorities concerned, and said to them, "If you spend so much we will give you so much more," and they particularised those new schemes for particular districts 1833 of the country, and, having allotted the money at their disposal, it was impossible to get any other money for what the local authorities thought were more urgently needed. I do not think the local authorities in the country are at all satisfied with the way the Road Board allotted the money for the reconstruction of roads even in pre-war time. If the roads are taken over I am hopeful of the result of having one central authority to look at the question upon broad and statesmanlike lines.
I was pleased to hear that the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of the Bill was willing to alter Clause 4. I think that will probably do away with a great deal of the opposition which has been started against this measure. I do not think by altering Clause 4 the right hon. Gentleman is going to get rid of all the opposition, I am a member of the London Port Authority. The hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), who moved the rejection said a good many things with which the London Port Authority are certainly in sympathy. Our objection to the measure itself was not so much to Clause 4 as the Government proposal to take over the port authority. Our object is more to Clause 3, which allows the Minister in charge of the Bill to come in two years and interfere with existing harbour or port undertakings in which I think is the most extraordinary way I have ever seen in a Parliamentary Bill. If hon. Members will look at Clause 3, Sub-section (1), they will see the following provision in paragraph (b):The Minister may take possession in the name or on behalf of His Majesty of the whole or any part of any other railway undertaking or of any light railway, tramway, canal, inland navigation, harbour, dock or pier undertaking.Sub-section (c) provides thatThe directors, officers, and servants of any undertaking of which, or of the plant whereof, possession is retained or taken shall obey the directions of the Minister as to the user thereof and any directions of the Minister—Paragraph (d) provides:
- (1) as to the rates, fares, tolls, dues, and charges to be charged;
- (2) as to the salaries, wages and remunerations and conditions of employment of persons employed on or in connection with any undertaking of which possession has been taken; and
- (3) as to the working or discontinuance of the working of the undertaking."For enabling any directions given by the Minister as to alterations, and improvements and additions to be carried into effect the Minister 1834 may, by order, authorise the owners of any undertaking to acquire any land and to construct any works, and the Order may incorporate the Lands Clauses Acts.Sub-section (2) of the same Clause reads:(2) There shall be transferred to the Minister any officer or servant of an undertaking of which possession is retained or taken under this Act whose services the Minister may require, either permanently, with the consent of the officer or servant, or temporarily, with the consent of the undertakers.As a member of a public authority, it does seem to me that they are extremely wide powers to give to a Minister for two years. He said that he did not propose to do away with the port authorities, and that he was very anxious to keep them as they represented the business men of the district, but I put it to him that by passing Clause 3, as it is drawn, he is going to stagnate every public undertaking in the country for the next two years. Public authorities who are likely to be taken over by the new Ministry would far rather know their fate at once; they would be quite willing to be taken over at once and know that their career was finished. Under the Bill as drawn, the Ministry can do all these things for two years, and at the end of two years they may decide after all not to take the undertaking over, but to hand it back to the body then in existence. I hope, and I shall press in Committee, for the Amendment of that Clause. I think other harbour authorities, who feel very strongly on this Bill, will also take exception to that particular Clause. The London Port problem is very much complicated by the question of public wharves which, as I read the Bill, it is not proposed to take over at all. The Minister takes no powers to deal with these wharves. When the Port of London Authority was set up ten years ago, special Clauses and conditions were put into the Bill in order that the wharfingers should have the right of appeal to the Board of Trade in case the Authority did anything particularly unfair. Therefore, I think the Minister in charge of the Bill ought to look specially at the Port of London Authority and see if something cannot be done to maintain the existing Authority.
I am afraid from the information that I have, and from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to-day, that it is his view that after the War he can do a good many things which were done under 1835 Orders in Council during the War. Hon. Members who were in the last Parliament will remember that we had questions and Debates in this House as to what was done by the Shipping Controller and as to the way in which shipping was ordered about from one port to another. I hope that I am not misinterpreting the tight hon. Gentleman's speech, but hen mentioned one case where goods were sent to one port and then had to go by rail over a very long mileage. May I remind him that London, and I believe other ports in the country, have markets for particular goods. It may mean in many cases that goods have to go a long railway journey, but I do not think that he is going to benefit the trade of the country by transferring goods to a nearer port. May I give the House a brief illustration? The wool market of this country is situated in London and has been for some years. Judging from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, it seems that the new Ministry may try to send wool to a port which is nearer to Yorkshire where a large quantity of the home-manufactured wool is used. If that is the idea of the Ministry, I think they are going to make a very great mistake. London is also the central market for tea. During the War a, good deal of tea was sent to Liverpool, but since the restrictions have been removed it is finding its way back to London. I hope, therefore, that the Minister does not propose to deal with special articles and to try and send them to ports nearer the manufacturing districts.
London is in a peculiar position. We have retained our markets for a good many of these goods. We were in very keen competition with Continental markets, such as Antwerp and Hamburg, and some of the trade has left London and gone to those Continental markets. We have spent a lot of money in providing new port facilities and in building a new dock and making a great many improvements in order to try and recover a good deal of that trade after the War. If we are going to be interfered with by a central Government Department, which is going to order goods about and take them away from their own particular market, then I am afraid that not only the trade of London, but the trade of the whole country will suffer to a large extent. There is another London authority with which I am concerned, and that is the Thames Conservancy. A good many public authorities 1836 have not had time to consider this Bill and to come to any decision as to how it affects them. The Thames Conservancy, which deals with the upper part of the Thames, and also with the water supply of Greater London, with a population of millions of people, could be taken over under the words "inland navigation" in Clause 3, The Thames Conservancy Parliamentary Committee met to-day and passed a very strong resolution of protest against their power being interfered with by the Minister under this Bill. That part of the Thames is used for barge traffic and the water supply of London, and from that point of view we deserve and shall press for very special treatment.
The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of electricity. It is another question which greatly affects London. We have a great many small municipal electricity undertakings in London and Greater London. I am hopeful, though I did not gather it from his speech, that he will deal with electricity in the same way that he is going to deal with roads. I hope that he will make it an entirely separate Department. It is quite important enough and distinct enough, and I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) that electricity is not only needed for railways, tubes, or over-head railways, but we do want cheap power for manufacturing purposes. Cheaper electricity is one of the things, the lack of which constituted one of the great disadvantages in London and district during the War, when it could have been used for very many purposes. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in connection with this Bill will consider electricity as important enough to be dealt with in a separate Department in the same way as it is proposed to deal with roads. I was returned to this House in order to promote transport reform. I am going to vote for the Second Beading of this Bill on the understanding that in Committee I shall be free to vote for Amendments on the lines I have laid down with regard to docks and harbours and the electricity proposal. I hope the Bill will go through. I believe it is very urgent, in the interests of the country, and I am quite certain if hon. Members who have opposed it will only read some of the important evidence given by members of the Railway Executive before the Select Committee on Transport, they will realise the necessity for railway reform. I trust too that the Minister in charge will make up his mind 1837 very soon what he is going to do with regard to the railways. Personally, I am very sorry he is proposing to hang that matter up for two years.
§ Sir HERBERT NIELD
I am not going to follow my hon. Friend through his long criticisms on various parts of the Bill, on which he is so peculiarly able to inform the House, having regard to his numerous avocations and public appointments in connection with the county of London. I think he will find his fears groundless in regard to the exercise of the powers under Clause 3, Sub-clause (b), those powers having already been exploited to their fullest extent by the Government under the Defence of the Realm Act. I do not think he need fear any extension of them. I am particularly anxious to make a case for the canals. When I entered the House in 1906, one of the first things the then Prime Minister (Sir Henry Campbell Bannerman) did was to make a strong point of the necessity for holding an inquiry into the Canals of Great Britain. A Royal Commission was appointed, it sat for a very considerable time, it took an abundance of evidence, and duly reported to this House. From that day to this nothing has been done, and the canals have been allowed to go out of use. I remember a Bill being introduced to which I offered opposition at the time, and it was introduced in spite of the conclusion, of the Royal Commission, the object being to fill up the canal which ran from Swindon across country to Abingdon, and which I should think had been an extremely useful waterway in the district through which it passed. I hope the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill will take care that the canals have a fair chance, and that there shall be absolute impartiality in dealing with them as against railways. He knows far better than I do, for he may perhaps have been responsible for the gradual extinction of some of them—he knows the sad history of the way in which the canals of this country have come under the influence of railway directors, and have been gradually extinguished by the wilful divergence of traffic. I think all will agree that the canals of this country are capable of carrying much of the merchandise of the country for which quick transit is not necessary, and the Royal Commission, indeed, found there was a great opportunity for the canals if properly managed, properly overhauled, and properly equipped.
1838 If this Bill can ensure equality of treatment for them, both with regard to rates and the maintenance of the waterways against the railways, then I welcome it sincerely. I hope that for fixing the rates there will be an independent judiciary appointed to settle all questions which may arise between the various methods and undertakings for carrying goods. I was strongly opposed to this Bill until I heard of the withdrawal of Clause 4. I still feel grave doubts about consenting to any measure which would increase the bureaucracy of this country. We have had enough of bureaucracy, and many of us have not unwillingly pledged ourselves to get rid of it as soon as we can. All I ask the right hon. Gentleman to do is as far as he finds it possible to utilise the services of existing undertakings for the purpose of carrying them on during the probationary two years, or even subsequently, if he finds it necessary to take them over. I say, with great respect to the Gentlemen who usually occupy seats below the Gallery, I have an abhorrence of an ordinary Civil servant, as we know him to-day. I do not mind business men who know things pertaining to their particular trade coming in and managing those trades. But I have a vivid recollection of a flour-disintegrating machine which was urgently wanted, which through the action of a certain Civil servant was lying at a station for eight weeks under ban, and was finally sent back, although the miller by whom it was urgently needed lived just opposite to the railway station. I hope sincerely the right hon. Gentleman will take care that whoever is entrusted with the management of these concerns during the probational period shall be a man with a business training. We want to put an end to the old-fashioned system which was characteristic of Government Departments in pre-war days. This Bill causes one some misgivings lest we get an increase of bureaucratic power, which is a thing we want to speedily get rid of now the War is over, the Armistice has been concluded, and peace is in sight. Finally, I would commend to my right hon. Friend the need for absolute impartiality as regards the canals. I would particularly mention the case of the Lea Conservancy Board. We have our river in perfect order, and we are prepared to offer the right hon. Gentleman ample facilities for carriage. We want him to see that in the maintenance and management of that river 1839 and its tributaries there is an opportunity of doing good work. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will help us as far as he is able to secure the traffic which we desire.
§ Mr. ALFRED SHORT
I listened with considerable pleasure and interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman in moving the Second Reading. When he dilated upon the immense disabilities under which we suffered from our inadequate transport system, he recalled to my mind the fact that some twenty-two years ago, while I was still at school, I heard a Socialist orator standing upon an orange box dilate upon the advantages that would accrue from the co-ordination of our transport system on the lines of the nationalisation of railways and the municipalisation of the tramways. The right hon. Gentleman possesses an excellent grip of the economics of this subject. He is conversant with all the arguments, and should the whirligig of politics throw him out of office, or should he find that politics are unpalatable, I would suggest that he would be able to find useful work in the Labour movement, although I cannot by any means guarantee him a competence. This Bill is of a most practical character. If we view it with due regard to the public interest and the interests of our country, we are compelled to come to the conclusion that it is not only desirable, but essential that some drastic step should be taken to secure a finer and more efficient transport system. I notice that, while the right hon. Gentleman in the course of his speech lead us right up to the path of nationalisation, he seemed to feel a doubt as to the desirability of nationalisation being adopted. But he proved that it would be possible, as a result of Government control and action, to secure greater efficiency and a more effective service which would be not only to the advantage of the country, but also probably to the advantage of those who to-day control these great transport services.
The Labour party regard this Bill as a step in the right direction. We believe in the great principles underlying it. We can conceive the necessity for great modifications in some of its aspects, but we support it chiefly because we believe that it is a step leading ultimately to nationalisation. There are peculiar opinions afloat regarding this measure 1840 and the attitude of the Government thereon. In the "Evening Standard" of 13th March, 1919, there appeared the following statement, upon which I should like the right hon. Gentleman's opinion, and which I should like him to keep in mind. He did touch upon the intentions of the Government, but I should like him to make the intentions of the Government more definite and clear with regard to this matter, because the Labour party, while they support this Bill, are supporting it because they feel it is a move in the direction of nationalisation. Otherwise we should not be able to support it. The quotation is as follows:If unified command increases the efficiency and reduces the working expenses of the railways as much as in Sir Eric Geddes' hands it ought to, then two years hence it may be possible to return their properties to companies in a solvent and greatly improved condition.9.0 P.M.
We on these benches hope that that is not the policy of the Government. We desire these great services to be improved; we desire that greater measure of efficiency, and we can conceive of the necessity of such efficiency being accomplished, but we do not propose that the resources of the State should be used for the purpose of lifting those who to-day control the railways out of their muddle and placing them in a position of solvency as a result of our efforts and of the taxation of our people. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us some clear statement upon the policy of the Government in that connection. In the course of the Debate an hon. Member opposite suggested that this measure would in no way increase industry or add to the production of the country, and that it would be far better for the Government to spend its efforts in other directions. In the interests of production and of increased production it is essential that the transport facilities of our country should be comprehensively co-ordinated. It is necessary that we should learn something from the War. The lessons of the War should encourage us to take suitable action to ensure that the equipment of civilisation is used to better advantage in the future than it has been in the past. If invention is encouraged, if the standardisation of plant and rolling stock is improved, if duplication and triplication are totally abolished, if foolish waste and indefensible competition are destroyed, and if we aim at securing a greater measure of organisa- 1841 tion and co-ordination in our system of transport than existed before, we shall have added considerably to the industry and the commercial prospects of the country. Unless we do co-ordinate our resources, unless we do find the cheapest and the quickest means of transport for the commerce produced, we cannot hope to face with equanimity the great financial burden that lies in front of us. Unless there is a new outlook, and a new point of view thrown upon the screen of human and industrial activity, we shall not be able to meet that demand for a finer life which the workers and the people of this country are making upon the Government and the State. I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member opposite in reference to canals. I am very anxious to see our waterways developed. I do not think there is any hope of waterways superseding the railways, but a great deal could be done to develop the waterways to the advantage of the State and to the advantage of commerce. Up to the present, railways have owned, and own to-day, somewhere about 1,360 miles, not to use them in the best interests of the country, but to hamper them. There could be no greater condemnation of private enterprise than the facts relating to our canals and waterways. We have an aggregate mileage in England and Wales of 4,053 miles. We have less than 1,000 miles in Scotland and Ireland. They are governed by endless administration. There are endless bodies responsible for their control and organisation, and, despite all the disabilities that they suffer from, despite the handicap of the railway companies, I find that in 1905 they carried 40,000,000 tons of produce, they had a gross revenue of £2,250,000, and they made a net profit of £500,000. If the waterways were freed from the handicaps placed upon them by railway companies, if they were fully and efficiently developed, what could they accomplish? I speak not only in the interests of Labour. Though we speak on behalf of vital principles affecting labour, we are all here in the capacity of public representatives. We are here to do the best for our country, and, if we will place on one side personal bias and business prejudice, I think we cannot but come to the conclusion that, provided it has for its aim ultimate nationalisation, it is a desirable Bill, and one in the interests of our country.
There are many benefits to be derived from a complete unification of the railway 1842 facilities of this country. I do not think it requires all the intelligence of a great railway magnate, to prove that it would be very easy to secure a vast improvement in the passenger train service if we had a complete unified railway system. It would be possible also to expedite the collection and the delivery of merchandise and parcels. That, in itself, would be an advantage and a contribution to our industrial efficiency. There are many other things which would arise as the result of a unified railway system. I could not but be amused at the speech of the hon. Member representing one of the Divisions of Birmingham, who spoke of the disadvantages which would accrue from nationalisation. I looked up the report and the evidence submitted to the Board of Trade Inquiry in 1900, and the railway experts were prominent in that inquiry, and practically all the general managers of our great railway undertakings in one voice proved the necessity and the desirability of greater co-ordination, and certainly of amalgamation. Mr. W. F. Jackson, the General Manager of the North British Railway, suggested that by such an amalgamation of the five railways in Scotland there would be a saving in the cost of direction, management and staff generally as the result of the common use of the working stock and plant, by the discontinuance of duplicate services and stations in the cost of advertising and canvassing at present considered needful for competitive reasons, and in the simplifying of the whole arrangements of the companies, particularly in connection, with joint lines, exchanges of traffic, running powers, etc. These comments of Mr. Jackson are confirmed by every other general manager who submitted evidence at that inquiry. We support this Bill because we believe, in the interests of the industry of our country, in the interests of that commercial supremacy of which we speak so glibly in these days, a change must be made and organisation must take place in so far as these great transport services are concerned. In addition, I welcome the attitude of the Government upon the question of electricity. Electricity produced cheaply and under the best conditions, is a vital need to the industry of the future. I want to see electricity produced as a result of the full and complete use of the natural and other resources of our country, and I cannot conceive of electricity being produced on those lines unless we have 1843 one policy throughout the country and that is reflected from the head of some Department, such as is proposed to be set up. Consequently I welcome the inclusion of electricity, and I hope when we get to the Committee stage certain modifications will be made which will have regard to the powers of local authorities as regards roads and tramways—that is already covered in the Bill—and their electricity stations, and as a result of those modifications with those which have been suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, if the principles of the Bill are applied in a real democratic spirit with full regard to the needs of our country, it will have a beneficent effect upon the industry and the well being of the country.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir F. HALL
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his very lucid statement. I admit at once that I was bitterly opposed to the Bill as it was produced—and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not construe this as a threat—I should have been compelled to vote against the Second Reading if he had not deleted Clause 4. We are sent here to represent our Constituents, but not to delegate our powers to any Government, no matter how competent it may happen to be. I hope that the system which unfortunately has been growing up, and naturally was bound to grow up in the times through which we have passed, will cease. There is no necessity for the continuance of the practice of dealing with these things by Orders in Council in normal times. I hope we shall have a cessation of that style of legislation. Let us have matters brought clearly before the House of Commons and discussed, and I think it will be of assistance to the Government in the many steps they may have to take. I am not in a position to speak in such eulogistic terms of this measure as the hon. Member who has preceded me. He made it perfectly plain, so far as he was concerned, that the Labour party was supporting this Bill because they believe that it will lead to the nationalisation of the railways. From the evidence that I heard, as a Member of the Select Committee on Transport, I say, unhesitatingly, that it is impossible for us to go back to the old system of running the railways as they were run in pre-war days. The evidence that was brought before us was perfectly clear. There was enormous wastage 1844 and, as the right hon. Gentleman stated this afternoon, goods going to the North find their way to the South first. That sort of thing does not do. We are up against a very difficult proposition. The railways are badly in debt and we have to set to work to bring forth some policy for the general benefit of traders and the travelling community.
To jump at the question and say, "We are going to support this simply and solely because we believe in the policy of nationalisation" is a mistake, and I cannot help thinking that many hon. Members when they have come to that conclusion have done so without weighing the whole facts of the case. We had evidence brought before us of railway officials of the highest possible standing. One hon. Gentleman suggested that this was a Bill for the protection of railways. I have yet to learn, although they have given the matter careful consideration, that any of these gentlemen, recognising as they do the enormous loss there is, are convinced that nationalisation is going to do away with all the evils that exist, or that it will be advantageous. I have been one of those who thought that the system of our railways might be directed into four or five different zones, one, say, for Ireland, one for the North, one for the East and another for the West, only having one supervising body, either in London or some other important place, and not putting on all the railway directors that we have had in the past. We should have to consider whether that was the best for the community as a whole. I think that from the sections to and from which these lines would operate directors, or managers, or commissioners, or whatever you may call them, might be elected or selected from public bodies—the Chambers of Commerce, the county councils, and those who are likely to know what is the greatest advantage to the people in the district which they were looking after. It is only by sub-dividing the work and bringing it to a central organisation that you are going to get the best and greatest benefits for the people who use the railways, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that proposition amongst all the other methods that may be brought before his notice.
I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend say—I think these were his words—that he was not convinced that nationalisation of the railways would be of the greatest benefit. Therefore, I am 1845 hopeful that he will be able to evolve some scheme to bring before this House that will not necessitate putting the whole of the railways under the authority of any one Government official. I can see exactly what is likely to happen. Hon. Members in their constituencies will have all sorts of proposals brought before their notice. They will have proposals put before them which they are opposed to. It is just like the case of the advertisement which you see every day. You walk past it time after time and at last it strikes you, and you decide to see what the advertisement is about. You want to see what this wonderful article is that is so freely advertised. It is so with regard to matters which are brought before hon. Members in their constituencies. At first they say that a proposal is useless, but at last they begin to think that there is something in it, and eventually they are converted, because it has been so constantly brought before their minds. These people will be asking them to get a benefit for their own particular constituency to the detriment, as I am sure this wire-pulling will be, of the whole community.
That is one of the things which makes me frightened of having the railways and other things put under Government control. I am so frightened about the attitude that is likely to be taken up that I am not sure the most capable persons are going to have the greatest authority or are not going to be able to give the best results. For instance, if you keep these undertakings under private control, you can always rest assured that you will use your best endeavours to get the best man for the job. On the other hand, we see so much red tape, and we see so much wastage in Government Departments, that it does not tend to draw me towards the idea of putting these concerns under the control of a Government Department. My right hon. Friend this afternoon spoke of the 7 per cent. that is being earned by the municipal tramways of London, and he told us that of all the transport concerns being run at the present time that was the only one that was doing any good. But I wonder whether my right hon. Friend took his calculation of the municipal tram service in the same way as he would, for instance, if he were going to arrange his balance-sheet and place it before the shareholders. I can see the great care with which that balance-sheet would be 1846 produced, and that before there was a surplus or a profit shown care would be taken as a business proposition to see that due allowance was made for depreciation and sufficient money placed to the reserve fund and allowed for renewals. I happen to have been at one period chairman of the tramways of London, and I know full well the care with which those accounts were always kept. But, unfortunately they have fallen upon evil times; there are not the same results. Renewals are wanted and fares have been looked into to see what alterations can be made. I find it was recommended by one hon. Member of this House, whom I do not see here at the present time, that two-thirds of a penny for every mile that was run—and that was considered a business proposition—should be placed to the reserve fund. But that fund gradually got sufficiently large, and instead, I believe, of being used and retained for the purpose for which it was started, it has had to be dropped in consequence of the increased cost which the county council have had to bear. I am sure that if my right hon. Friend will go carefully into the accounts, he will unfortunately find that there has not been due allowance made in respect of the 7 per cent. That is one of the things that are overlooked as soon as undertakings get into the hands of Government Departments, and I hope, at all events, that it will be a long time before our trade and our general system of railways, canals, docks, cross-Channel steamers, electrical concerns, and everything except what is in the air, conies under any one Department of this House of Commons. I am not depreciating in the slightest degree the capabilities of my right hon. Friend, but, however capable a man he may be, I do not suppose he will be Minister of Ways and Communications in perpetuity. Perhaps someone else will be in his place without the same knowledge and capacity in business matters.
There is one other matter I would like particularly to touch upon, and I hope that whoever is to answer for the Government will give us an assurance on this point, and that is with regard to the wharfingers of London. The wharfingers of London, as you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, are aware, are a very important body. They employ more hands than the Port of London Authority; they have enormous warehouses, with a rateable value, I think I am right in saying, of over £250,000 per 1847 annum, and I do not see anything in this Bill that is going to include them. I see that under this Bill the Government propose the right to take over all the various port authorities. In the Port of London Act of 1908 a Clause was inserted which gave the authority the power to take over the wharves. I wonder whether the power given under that Act is also proposed to be taken over by the Government, and I should like my right hon. Friend, in his reply, to let us know exactly what is going to be the position of the wharfingers. Looking at the report of the discussion of the Bill of 1908, I see that the present Prime Minister, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on this subject, said:The trader rather enjoys having the wharfinger competing with the docks. He secures better terms as well as great facilities with which the goods are handled. The wharfinger has been keeping the dock authorities up to the mark, though this means no reflection whatever on the docks. The wharves have provided a condition of things for which the docks are not always responsible, but the trader would regard with misgiving the elimination from the Port of London of that competition which has kept the docks and the wharves up to the mark so far.If that was the opinion of my right hon. Friend in 1908 I should think that at all events it would be his opinion to-day. I know this, that the traders are wondering whether they are going to have the same facilities which have been granted to them heretofore, and whether the competition which they have had between these two authorities is going to continue. They say, for instance, that if they are going to be kept separate and to work separately as they have hitherto, we, the merchants, will be satisfied that we shall be able to obtain reasonable and good terms. But supposing, on the other hand, the Government say "No; we are not going to deal with these people until two years hence, when we have made up our minds," then that would not be a reasonable or satisfactory way to leave these wharfingers, because they would not know how to carry on their business during that period, and they might at its conclusion find themselves exposed to so much competition that they would not be able to meet the liabilities with which they are faced. I hope, therefore, that the same reasonable care and attention that has been given to them, and such as was proposed by the Prime Minister in 1908, will be continued. I want the Government to recognise the fact that London is a great exchange 1848 centre, and we have so much lightering here because the port is used for the transhipping to other countries of an enormous quantity of goods. We do not want the severe competition with which we have been met before. With regard to Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bremen, Hamburg, and those places, which were given such great facilities previously. We do not want exchange transferred from London to these continental ports. So the wharfingers hope that the right hon. Gentleman will tell them exactly what is going to be their position. If the right hon. Gentleman intends to take over the business of the wharves, let him say so now, and let him see that the arrangement which was put into the Bill of the Port of London Authority, as to the regulations under which that Authority were to take over the wharves, shall be observed by the Government. I hope that the points which I have put forward will receive careful consideration, because they are a burning question with the wharfingers, and we do not want to see anything done detrimental to the interests of the Port of London.
§ Mr. RENWICK
I listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and could not help noticing as he proceeded how he had receded from the original terms of the Bill. These original terms provided that he was to be practical dictator. All sorts of duties were to be entrusted to his care. He was to be dictator to all sorts of public authorities. As his speech proceeded that went by the Board, and I was most gratified that that was so. Before criticising the Bill I would like to say how much we in the North of England appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has done for our railways. He came to the North-Eastern Railway Company and introduced all sorts of reforms which were of great benefit to the district. He introduced larger wagons than we ever had before, and the North-Eastern Railway Company rely now less upon private wagons and more upon their own wagons than any other great railway company in the country, and if the right hon. Gentleman had confined himself to dealing with railways I think that he would have done something of great benefit to the country. He drew an alarming picture of the state of the railways at the present time, and practically told us that they were ruined, and that they were drawing on the State to the extent of a £100,000,000 a year. That is what is troubling him at present. 1849 He does not know where he is going to get the £100,000,000 for the next two years. He is not quite sure in his own mind how he is going to pass it on to the public. He will have to do it somehow. He tells us that it will take 80 or 90 per cent. increase on the rates on goods. How do shippers of goods like that prospect? If they do not pay someone else has got to pay. Passengers cannot pay because they are already paying 50 per cent. more than pre-war rates. Therefore the right hon. Gentleman has a very nice problem to deal with, and I wish him joy of it. I would like, before the Division is taken, to have a little further information as to how he proposes to get that £100,0000,000. The right hon. Gentleman shirked several very important parts of the Bill. The Bill deals not only with railways but with roads and electricity, about which I am not going to trouble the House, and also with harbours, docks, ports, and piers. I asked the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, when he introduced the Bill, did it apply to the Manchester Ship Canal? Now the right hon. Gentleman has carefully left the Manchester Ship Canal out, and I ask him a plain question: Is he going to deal with the Manchester Ship Canal under this Bill or is he not?
§ Mr. RENWICK
He proposes to take over the Manchester Ship Canal probably within the next two years. If he is not going to take it over he is going to leave it in the position of many of the other harbour authorities—practically between the devil and the deep sea. They do not know where they are during the next two years. This Bill might be entitled a Bill to Increase Unemployment, because I know from what I have been told that all the projected works, improvements and extensions of great harbour authorities will be stopped or turned down until they know how they are going to stand. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to make up his mind as to how and when he is going to deal with these important questions—whether he is going to take over these undertakings now or in six months or twelve months. If lie is not going to take them over, he should let us know. I had understood that he was going to take over practically all the harbours, and was going to dispense with the port authorities and Commissioners and members of the harbour trusts. To-day 1850 he rather climbed down, and led us to believe that he would retain them. Of course he would. Anybody would like to retain them.
There are two classes of successful business men connected with the commerce and manufactures of this country. The first make their money in manufacture, or business, or shipping, and, after making what they think sufficient, determine to retire. They sell their interests probably to some big financial concern in London. They leave their provincial homes for London, for Torquay or Bournemouth, or the Isle of Wight, and forget to take a return ticket. We see them no more. They take their money with them. But there is another and better body of business men, the men who have made their homes near our great industries, who live among the people, and who love the district in which they made their money. They occasionally go to Torquay or Bournemouth and take a holiday, but they take a return ticket. Those are the people who are the chairman of our harbour trusts and Commissioners, and they are the people we want to retain. But are these men going to be dictated to by my right hon. Friend, however clever he is—and I know he is clever—as to whom they shall engage, what salaries they shall pay, whom they shall discharge? They are going to do no such thing. If the Bill is not altered the best of those men will retire, and this will be not only a local loss, but a national loss.
We are not in love, with State control. The right hon. Gentleman talked to-day about the dead hand of control hanging over the railways. What is the dead hand of control? Is it not the Government control? The Government control is the dead hand, and the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that for the last four years the dead hand of control has been throttling not only our railways, but our shipping and other industries. The right hon. Gentleman knows, though I am sure he is is not wilfully deceiving the House, that one of the reasons why the railways are not successful at present is because large quantities of rolling stock, of locomotives, and of the permanent ways have been sent to France and are there still, and it is impossible to carry on the railways efficiently as matters stand at present. We have had plenty of the dead hand of control for the last four years, and we do not like it. It has dragged away from our works our 1851 managers and our under-managers continuously upon the railways, travelling night and day for the last few years at the behest of someone sitting in an office in London who practically knows nothing about our business. We want that stopped, and we want to get on with our work. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) knows something about railways, and knows precious little about docks. He knows that Lord Jellicoe complained that there were not sufficient docks to accommodate His Majesty's ships. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill told us that there were 50 per cent. of the docks owned by the railways and 50 per cent. by authorities, but he did not tell us that the 50 per cent. of docks is infinitesimal compared with the size of the ports, and he did not tells us that docks are going out of fashion and that people do not make docks unless they are compelled, and that they deal with the traffic at wharves in the harbours and on the railways. Therefore it is a question of far more importance than 50 per cent. of docks. Our great ports no longer rely upon docks, and nobody knows it better than the right hon. Gentleman. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby is not here, as I should like to tell him something. What is it that causes us, more than anything else, to lose confidence in the Government in regard to the matter of our ports? We have upon the Tyne a large area of water called Jarrow Slake, which was suitable for making a naval repairing base and for putting down a floating dock dealing with Dreadnoughts. In 1909–10 I introduced to Mr. M'Kenna, then First Lord of the Admiralty, deputations consisting of the Chairman of the Tyne Commission and the Wear Commission, the Mayor of Newcastle, and the Mayors of the Tyne-side boroughs, and we pointed out to him that on the North-East coast there was not a single dry dock or ship repairing place for dealing with Dreadnoughts, and we urged upon him the desirability of using Jarrow Slake, and we got no satisfaction, except that we wire told he would consider it. We produced the plans, and I even tried to move the Adjournment of the House to call attention to it as a matter of urgent public importance. It was not considered urgent in 1909–10, but it became urgent later. We were told that they could not dredge Jarrow Slake. Mark the sequel. Lord 1852 Jellicoe has called attention to the lack of docks. In 1916 the "Lion" came into the Tyne in a sinking condition with a battered hulk, and there was no dock in which it could be put. Three or four of the leading shipbuilders, by the aid of coffer dams, temporarily repaired the vessel, and it was then taken away. What was the sequel? The impossibility of dredging Jarrow Slake became a possibility, and in three months what was impossible was achieved. Jarrow Slake was dredged, and the big dry dock that had been built on the Tyne and towed away to Chatham was towed back again to the Tyne, and I had the pleasure and honour of being invited to luncheon on board the ill-fated "Vanguard," one of the Dreadnoughts which was brought there. I saw the "Marlborough" when it came there with its side ripped open.
Therefore we say that we local men and the harbour boards foresaw the difficulties. The Admiralty people did not. Under those circumstances, can you be surprised if Lord Jellicoe complained that there were not sufficient facilities for His Majesty's ships, and can you be surprised that we mistrust the representatives of His Majesty's Government when they attempt to do the work we think we are better able to do? I may be mollified if the right hon. Gentleman tells me that the Clause is going to be withdrawn, and I would be very pleased to hear him say so, and it may decide how I shall vote on Second Reading. It seems to be thought in the House that Clause 4 is withdrawn. I think I heard the right hon. Gentleman say that he was only going to alter it as far as regards Orders in Council, and I shall be pleased to hear his view on the point. I plead to leave these competent gentlemen in their positions on these harbour boards, trusts, and commissions. I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman this question. All the great railway companies own ships. The North-Eastern Railway Company, as he very well knows, owns a great many ships, and run them in conjunction with the Ellerman Line and the Wilson Line from Hull. In taking over the railways is he going to take over the ships? It is an important question, because from all the great ports shipowners, not owners who own big ships, run coasting vessels in opposition to the railways. I was chairman for over twenty years of a company that runs steamers, one every other day from Manchester to London and London to Manchester, in 1853 opposition to the railway, and who carry goods at less than the railways can carry them. Is the right hon. Gentleman going to take over the vessels of the railway companies? If he is, he cannot do that without taking over the private coasting vessels. He is on the horns of a delimma here, and I shall be very glad to hear what his opinion is upon that very important point. My strong advice to the right hon. Gentleman is this. Deal with the railways, but before you deal with the great harbours, which have been developed by the enterprise, by the foresight, by the industry of the local people, who understand the wants of their locality, let him consider once, twice, aye thrice, before he interferes with those.
§ 10.0 P.M
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
We cannot complain of the tone of moderation and courtesy with which this Bill has been received to-day, and so far as I can see the large proportion of the Opposition which has greeted the Bill is really Committee stage rather than Second Reading opposition. No doubt there are certain hon. Members who oppose the Bill and will vote against it upon Second Heading, but in spite of that the opposition which they have put forward and the reasons which they have adduced for their votes are really Committe stage reasons. Possibly the main opposition has been that in regard to docks and harbours. There has been a certain amount of opposition with, regard to the roads, and equally a certain amount with regard to some of the provisions for the railways, and so on, but those are matters on which hon. Members were really more seeking for assurances and explanations than offering serious criticism, and therefore I think I am right in saying that the real opposition to the Bill has been over the question of the docks and harbours and piers. My hon. Friend the Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) led an attack on behalf of the docks. He has been supported by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. G. Balfour) and by the hon. Member for the Eccles Division of Lancashire (Mr. Stevens), and they spoke as representing existing dock authorities, representing men who had performed a difficult and arduous task in the past extremely well, all of which I am perfectly ready to admit, but they base the whole position of the dock authorities upon the 1854 fact that they consisted of local men with local interests who understand the local position and therefore were much better able to manage the docks than would be any central authority. The very ground of their opposition is the ground upon which this Bill is based. The whole intention of the Bill is that, instead of having a narrow, local, competitive basis upon which your transport is managed, you should have a broad national outlook. That is the very object of the Bill, and when you are dealing with the question of the docks and the ports you must recollect that you are not merely dealing with an industrial, commercial gateway to the particular locality in which the dock happens to be situated, but you are dealing with the industrial commercial gateway to the whole of the country. We were told by the hon. Member for the Eccles Division about troubles they have had in Lancashire, and he said himself that when they wanted something arranged that was for the good of the whole county, anyone who knew the people there, the people of Manchester and Liverpool, would know how difficult it is to get Liverpool and Manchester to think in the same way about anything. If that is true of Manchester and Liverpool, how much more true would it be of Liverpool and Hull, or of Manchester and Bristol, or of both of them together and Glasgow? Well as they have done their work, whole-hearted as their devotion to their work has been, it is just that local outlook which prevents the great national aspect which this Bill seeks to develop. With regard to some of the questions that we are asked, we are asked about the interests of the shipowners. The main object of the Minister of Ways and Communications is that the whole system of transport shall be carried through as effectively, as efficiently, and as expeditiously as is possible, and one of the main points that he will have in view will be so to arrange the transport, the cranes, the marshalling of the wagons, and so on, that the ship will be able to turn as quickly as possible. The interest of the shipowner, the interest of the charterer, and of the person interested in the ship is as much that of the railways as is the railway work itself. The whole thing is co-ordinated. The whole thing, if it is to be effective, must be co-ordinated, and the Minister would be just as intent to see that shipping is properly and well dealt with as he would be to see that roads are 1855 developed, tramways and railroads, or any other portion of the transport system.
With regard to some of the questions that were asked with regard to railways, the hon. Member for the Aston Division (Mr. E. Cecil) devoted a considerable amount of time to a speech in opposition to the nationalisation, of railways, and other Members have done the same, while others, including the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas) have spoken in favour of it. We are not to-day deciding the question of whether the railways shall be nationalised or not, and, indeed, when my right hon. Friend withdrew the system of Orders in Council in Clause 4, he thereby made it clear that the question of nationalisation or no nationalisation must subsequently be determined by this House, and therefore to-day we are not discussing it. I am sure, therefore, that my hon. Friends will not think me in the least discourteous if I do not deal with their arguments on that point. This is not the time to do it. The time will come if, after experience it is found that the proper method is to nationalise the railways, a Bill is brought in. There is one thing I think I can remind the House of, and that is that whether the railways are nationalised or not, my right hon. Friend made it perfectly clear that they can never again go back to the system of unfettered competition which existed before the War. That is perfectly clear. I was asked about the terms of payment for those undertakings which are taken over, or rather possession of which is taken, which has rather a different meaning under Clause 3, Sub-section (1) (b). They will come under Sub-clause (4) of Clause 3, which provides that the financial matters shall be adjusted by the Railway and Canal Commission. If these railways are depreciated by the exercise of any of the powers under this Act they will receive compensation. If they are enhanced in value when they are handed back to them, they will have to pay the enhanced value. But if nothing happens to them at all, and if they get them back in the same way as they had them before, having got the same dividends from the working of them as they had be-fore, they will be treated exactly as any railway which is taken over under this Bill. They will be paid for any damage they suffer, and they will be no worse off than they would have been if they had been left alone.
1856 Then I was asked if there were any liability to the railways except that which was created by Mr. Runciman's letter. So far as I remember, my recollection is there is no other liability. If there is, it is some very small detail, but my recollection is there is no other. Then, with regard to arbitration under the system of Lands Clauses and payment for depreciation, there I think my hon. Friend, who asked me to answer these questions, but whom I do not see, is needlessly frightened. The whole question of the proper compensation for the compulsory taking of land is engaging the attention of the Cabinet. When the Land Acquisition Bill or the Housing Bill is brought in, the question will be raised, and no doubt when this comes to the Committee stage, if a system of payment of compensation for taking land compulsorily is set up in the Housing Bill or any other Bill, it can easily be adapted to the terms of this Bill. That is a mere matter of machinery which is easily altered, and the machinery of this Bill can easily be brought into line in Committee with the machinery of any other Bill of like respect. I have tried to deal with the whole of the questions that have been put to me.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
May I ask my right hon. Friend one question, about which I am not quite clear? I may be, perhaps, assisting some other Member of the House by asking this question. Clause 4 comes out, I understand, except paragraphs (e) and (f), paragraph (e) being transferred under Clause 3. I understand the position is this: Paragraph (f), which means the whole of the transport services, is to be worked for two years, and the consequence of that will be that all that happens under Clause 2 is that the Minister is going to take to himself, or has the power by Order in Council, all the powers and duties of any existing Government Department with regard to these things. But the whole question of purchase and acquirement of railways, harbours, and docks for the present time goes by the board. Is that the case or is it not?
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
Before my right hon. Friend answers, may I ask whether it is the case that Sub-sections (3), (4), (6), and (7) are intended to remain in substance?
§ Mr. SHORTT
May I read to the House, before I deal in detail with the question, the notes from which my right hon. Friend made his speech? 1857The Government will now amend Clause 4, eliminating the procedure by Order in Council. On the other hand, dealing particularly with the provisions of Clause 4, Sub-section (1), paragraphs (e) and (f), the Government will definitely seek powers in the Bill to acquire by purchase or hire, and to maintain, work, or lease privately-owned railway wagons on terms, failing agreement, to be settled by the Railway and Canal Commission under the provision of Cause 3, Sub-section (5);also to prohibit their use except under licence for the future. It is also proposed to transfer the powers in Clause 4, Sub-section (1) (f), which were permanent powers, as temporary powers under Clause 3, and provide, in addition, timing the two years, that the Minister shall have the right, subject to Treasury control, to construct such works as may be necessary.
§ Mr. SHORTT
If that be so, the real position is this: So far as the acquisition of any undertaking by Order in Council—that is gone. It may be, as was the case with paragraphs (e) and (f), that there is something which does not require au Order in Council—some detail as, for example, in Clause 3. It may be found necessary to put that into the two years system, but, speaking broadly, Clause 4 goes in so far us it provides for the taking and purchasing compulsorily or otherwise of any undertaking by Order in Council It has gone to that extent, with the exception of what is transferred to Clause 3, and the result, of course, is that the whole of the powers given under this Bill are purely temporary except wagons, which, of course, are purchased outright. With that exception, the powers now given are temporary. They cease at the end of two years, and if they are to be continued, or if there is to be purchase, we must come back to the House, and the House will decide.
§ Mr. SHORTT
No, I do not think that is in the slightest degree necessary. It is quite certain that anyone with half the intelligence I know is possessed by my right hon. Friend would understand the Bill perfectly well without any redrafting.
§ Mr. WILSON-FOX
Is it intended that, if the Government wish to establish during the two years on its own account, a system, say, of light railways, which would not of course mean the acquisition of any old undertaking, would it have any power to do so?
§ Mr. SHORTT
Yes, they have power to carry out under the Bill any works which, as my right hon. Friend explained, it would not be fair to ask any railway company or any undertaking to carry out; but if necessary to the full policy of the Government—necessary to complete the scheme of the Government—the Government are entitled, then, to carry out any necessary works, whether it is the construction of a light railway or anything of that sort. That is, of course, during the two years. I have dealt with the questions that were put to me. If other questions are asked, someone else will have an opportunity of answering them tomorrow. Electricity has hardly been touched upon to-day at all. My right hon. Friend dealt with the matter hi his-speech. He showed clearly that it was essential that the Ministry which controls the transport should control that which is absolutely essential to transport, namely, electricity. There is no doubt electricity is the motive power of the future, and, as my right hon Friend explained, experiments have been made in electrifying, not only the suburban railways, but the long-distance railways. All that will make immense improvement in the railway system, and be conducive to great economy. But there is another reason too. By far the best method of transmission of electric power is by using the railway track for the laying of the wires. The railways—the Minister having control—will be able to have the power carried along the track, and wherever it seems desirable to develop the district by the distribution of power to distribute it from the mains that will be upon their own track. They will then, have control of power, and to be able to use it to make the railways, road, and trains pay. In order to make the whole system a really successful system it will be in the interest of the Ministry to develop the use of electrical power by every means they can.
§ Sir S. SCOTT
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman answer the question I put as to the position of the borough councils that have their own electrical supply?
§ Mr. SHORTT
A Bill is in course of preparation now, on the lines of, I think it is called the Coal Conservation Committee's Report, which will deal with the whole question of the position of the municipalities and the shareholders. It 1859 is, as I say, based on the findings of that Commission. I cannot as yet tell the hon. Member what the terms of the Bill will be but it will be introduced as soon as possible. It has been delayed by the indisposition of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade.
§ Sir S. SCOTT
I was desirous of knowing how the borough councils and the ratepayers would be affected?
§ Mr. SHORTT
That is under the Bill which is being prepared by the Board of Trade, and I am not at the moment in a position to say what the details of it will be. I think I have now dealt with all the questions put. As I have said, the opposition to the Bill is really Committee, and not Second Reading opposition. There seems to be no doubt that a very largo majority of the Members consider that the principle of the Bill is right. There seems to be no doubt but that the House is convinced that our transportation has been in a chaotic condition, and that if we are to develop industry, if we desire to further housing and better conditions, we must, somehow, produce order out of that chaos. No one seems to doubt for a moment on broad lines the Bill is right. Now and again we have met a speaker who has said, If you drop my particular interest then all the rest of the Bill—so far as it affects other people—is admirable. Everybody has thought everything admirable—some hon. Members have made the small exception as to what happened to affect themselves. I may, without offence—which I certainly do not mean—describe that as a somewhat selfish opposition, and which, of course, can be discounted as such. If you eliminate that, practically there is no opposition at all except what may be dealt with in Committee. Therefore, I think I can with the greatest confidence ask the House to accept the Bill which was introduced with so much ability by my right hon. Friend this afternoon. He explained it in great detail. I will not take up the time of the House in following that description, which was done so admirably that it could not be better done. But I do ask the House, having regard to the fact that we are prepared to meet any fair and reasonable criticism in Committee, and to meet any fair and reasonable Amendment that is suggested, to give the Bill the Second Reading which we 1860 now claim for it, in order that we may set up a system of transportation in this country which will be worthy of our great commercial record, and worthy of our, I trust, still greater commercial achievements.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I did not intend to intervene in this Debate to-night, but to leave over such remarks as I may make till to-morrow. But I may say one or two words, and ask one or two further questions Upon the subject of the Ministry, I wish at once to say, so far as I am concerned I am in favour of the principle of the Bill. My right hon. Friend who has just spoken said that criticism was on detail. But detail is the whole of this Bill. It is on the immense fact of such things an harbours, docks, railways, and other things that the whole question turns. I want to be quite clear. If anything I can say or any questions I can ask will help subsequent debate, I shall be more than satisfied. I want to restate, for the purpose of clearness, what I understand my right hon. Friend has said. He has made it clear that the Government now propose that Clause 4 goes out with the exception of paragraph (e), which is the question of the privately-owned wagon. That is a clean-cut case which I quite understand by itself, but I understand now that paragraph (f) goes under Clause 3. Hon. Members will now have to carry in mind the two-year proviso. Am I right in assuming that the Minister proposes to take power to, in fact, nationalise the railways, harbours, docks, and roads, and all and every means of transport for two years, if he so chooses, including electric lighting power? He proposes to run these for two years, and at the end of that time to come here and ask Parliament to give power to acquire the whole of these undertakings.
§ Mr. SHORTT
Paragraph (f) only deals with the creation of new services which are not in existence at the present time, and which it would not be fair to ask the railway companies to carry out. I have already instanced approaches and things of that sort.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
I am glad to have made that clear. [An Hon. Member: "It was clear!"] Well, it has been made clear to me. This then only applies to new services, and that being the case the Bill has comparatively little in it. The real Bill then is Clause 2, where it is proposed to 1861 give the Minister all the powers and duties in relation to a whole list of things, including unification, tramways, canals, harbours, docks, piers, and the supply of electricity. I am quite certain that the immense amount of unnecessary competition which my right hon. Friend so admirably described will be done away with. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman understands, from his own previous experience, how immensely valuable competition between one dock and another has been in connection with our foreign trade and the entrepôt trade. I hope that the Government in any action that they take will be very careful to guard against the paralysing influence which a Government Department may have upon the delicate intricacies of this trade with foreign countries, because nobody who has had anything to do with this class of trade can come to any other conclusion than that it is an extremely difficult thing for a Government Department to handle. I venture therefore to sound a warning note as to the dangerous effects on this class of business which Governmental control must necessarily have. It depends very largely, as the right hon. Gentleman must know, on individual initiative and on all the factors of human nature which go to make up our trade with foreign countries. We know what Government Departments have been in the. War. They will be very little different in peace, and interference by a Government Department with this class of business will be a most dangerous experiment. There are a large number of hon. Members who have very big interests and who know how severe competition has been with the great German ports and with Antwerp for the great entrepôt trade, or, indeed, with the United States for the whole range of our foreign trade. There will be no paralysing Government Department to be dealt will there, but able, keen-minded swift-moving business men and corporations. The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Tyneside, who spoke with all the knowledge of a business man, knowing what trade is and how it is done, issued a warning of which the House might very well take careful note. As far as I am concerned, if this Bill goes to a Division on the Second Reading, I shall vote for it, but I am certain that the whole House will be very anxious to examine with the most scrupulous care every Clause, and indeed every two or three lines, of this Bill in Committee. I venture to suggest that 1862 it is another Bill which ought to be taken in Committee of the Whole House. I made, that remark with regard to another Bill, and I make it with regard to this Bill. [An Hon. Member: "Get it though!"] That is all very well, but we are dealing with a measure which goes to the very root and foundation of our commercial prosperity and future. If you are going to shove it through on those lines, you will strike a blow and drive a hole in the fabric of our commercial structure which it will not be easy to repair. There is no factious opposition but a whole-hearted offer to assist the Government. You cannot have all business men in the House on a Standing Committee, and these things therefore are best dealt with on the floor of the House. We cannot have the whole House on a Committee upstairs, and it is very difficult to make a selection of the best men to deal with this question. Seeing that this is a measure of very great importance, bearing in mind it has met with very strong support and honest criticism from all parts of the House, I think it would be better to deal with it in the whole House rather than in Committee upstairs.
§ Major LANE-FOX
I think the House must have listened with some surprise and some amusement to the speech just delivered. We on this side have been freely accused in the country with being much more reactionary and with being in no sense the party of progress; yet the right hon. Gentleman finds it his duty to come down and rebuke the Government and point out that interference by Government Departments is very dangerous and very unsatisfactory. But surely if there is one thing above all others the country is looking forward to for as an earnest of our real intentions to carry out the promised Reconstruction programme, it is this question of transport, and if we were to act on the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion and send this Bill to a Committee of the Whole House, the delay which would occur would justify the country in thinking that the Government did not mean what they said at the Election. I look on this as the beginning of the great Reconstruction programme. There may be many details in it with which we do not agree, but surely they can be dealt with in Committee. Yet a wild agitation has been got up in the country to urge us to reject the Bill on the Second Reading, because certain individuals object to certain proposals which could very well be omitted in Committee. There 1863 are many things which can be done in regard to the very wide powers the right hon. Gentleman proposes to take to himself. It is quite possible in Committee to cut his claws and leave him, in fact, without any powers. Like other hon. Members, I have been receiving telegrams from people who, I am perfectly certain, have never read the Bill. I got a communication from an old lady this morning who is evidently under the impression that the Government is going under the Bill to continue all the objectionable powers it had under the Defence of the Realm Act, while another correspondent understands that the Government are going to take over the roads, and to restrict the public user of them, and he fears he will not be able to get any petrol. This is a whirlwind agitation of the most artificial kind, carried out by an hon. Member not in the House at the moment, but whom we shall shortly hear make a very vigorous assault on the Bill. He has taken the roads under his fatherly care; he looks upon himself as occupying a specially created post of godfather in regard to roads. The one definite fact we have had from the Government which will help agriculture is this Bill. We know that the one thing from which agriculture has been suffering for so many years has been the difficulty of transport. Whether it be in the interests of agriculture, of housing, or of transport, everybody knows that this is a scheme which will be most welcome to the country districts. Whether it is a question of housing, of being able to get men further away into the country, or of fostering industries, the whole future of agricultural districts is very much bound up with this measure.
I was surprised to hear so old a controversialist as the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) quoting what Lord Jellicoe said in his book about dockyards and the lack of naval bases. If there was a shortage of dockyards and naval bases, it was because certain Governments for years past had not been spending enough money under the Admiralty Estimates, and one of the reasons for that was that certain hon. Gentlemen who sit opposite, the Irish Nationalist party and others, had been steadily voting for years against any increase in the Navy Estimates For the hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool to come down, and use that 1864 argument against this Bill, in view of the fact that he for many years had been voting for a reduction of the Navy Estimates, is an almost shameless exercise of the privileges of a Member of this House. The hon. Member who seconded the rejection pointed with great confidence—it showed, in spite of his most admirable maiden speech, that he was a new Member of this House—to the number of telegrams he had been receiving. If he had been a little longer in this House, he would have known how easily an agitation of that sort was got up.
Another point in connection with agricultural development is that it is perfectly obvious that the road interests cannot be below those of the railways. With a country like this and the interests we have here, you cannot do all the work by railways, and there must be an enormous-amount of service by road. If the roads are to become more and more a State-service, I would urge the Government to consider the effect on local finance. The rating question has been a very burdensome one in connection with the roads. Everyone knows the effect upon the roads of heavy motor transport, and everyone who has travelled up and down the country knows to what condition the roads have come. I would plead, therefore, that a very liberal interpretation should be put on this matter. The Government should remember that the local authorities feel very keenly on this subject. It will be very hard on the scattered districts if they have to bear the main cost of this national service. I hope that the result of the Bill will be that in future, instead of the different branches of transport being employed in cutting each other's throats—railways destroying canals, and one railway competing against another—all of them will be self-feeding, one -feeding another, and that the railway systems will be developed as it has been developed in France, so that all the systems will conduce to the general prosperity and convenience of the whole of the community.
§ Mr. REMER
When I came into the House this evening it was my fixed intention to vote against the Second Reading, because I thought it struck very deeply at the commercial interests of the country. I have been very largely convinced by the two Government speeches to which we have listened, and the parts of those speeches, which have convinced me are those which eliminate Clause 4. But there are one or 1865 two points which are creating suspicion in my mind, and upon which I am not at all satisfied even yet. The power which the Bill gives to raise railway rates, not merely once, but as often as the Minister happens to choose, has not been sufficiently referred to. If manufacturers are to carry on their business successfully, it is necessary that they should be able to determine what their prime cost is, and they can only do that if they have stabilised railway rates. A further point which has not been answered by the Home Secretary is whether in the figures which were quoted the free railway warrants which have been granted to soldiers and the free munitions transit rates which have been granted for the carriage of munitions have been taken into account. I have very grave doubts whether we shall ever gain real efficiency from any Government office which is operated from Whitehall and whether all these services which are included in this Bill, the canals, railways, ports, and harbours, can properly be taken in hand from an office which is operated from one solitary building. The neck of the bottle through which all this work is to flow is far too narrow and there is bound to be congestion and trouble. The first consideration is efficiency, and if this Bill makes for efficiency I am in favour of it, but I have very grave doubts whether it really does. The duty of any Minister should be efficiency first, efficiency last, and efficiency all over. But I do not think any of us who have had experience of railway management in the past can come to the conclusion that there has been any efficiency whatever about those people who have had railway management in hand. I could quote scores of examples from my own experience where railways could be made very much more efficient than they are at present. It is no good hiding the fact that the commercial interests do not trust the railway interests, and they have always a suspicion that the railway interests are trying to extract higher charges from the traders of the country. A friend of mine, who is in business, employed a railway clerk for the purpose of checking his railway accounts. He offered the clerk one-third of the amount lie saved in railway charges on his annual account. That clerk is now earning £l,000 s, year. In other words, the railway company were abstracting from the trader £3,000 per annum more than they were legally entitled to.
1866 What I am desperately afraid of in this Bill is that some day a Government official will come down to his office in Whitehall—like Government officials have done before in connection with the motor depot at Slough and the shipbuilding yards at Chepstow—and decide that Liverpool and Manchester are not the proper ports for unloading the cotton required for the cotton mills in Lancashire, and that it is absolutely necessary to create a new harbour or a new port, at a minor expense of a few millions, somewhere probably in the outer Hebrides or something like that, where the money will be absolutely wasted, and money will be chucked away absolutely for no purpose useful to the country. It is really marvellous how Ministers find the means to throw away money when you give them the power. I think we have a good deal of reason for our suspicion about this Bill, by the cold water which the right hon. Gentleman in his opening speech threw upon the development of the Canals. That, in my opinion, displays the right hon. Gentleman's mind. When we examine, as I have done very carefully, the Report of the Canals Commission which was appointed by Sir Henry Gampbell-Bannerman in 1906, we shall find that they recommended very strongly that certain waterways should be constructed. It is absolutely necessary in the interests of the country that the canals should be developed, extended, and widened, so that they can take bigger craft and be of some real use to the business community of this country. Finally, I should like to ask where is the mandate for nationalisation, to which the right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench referred? I understand that the only reference to nationalisation at the General Election was that of the Member for Dundee, who said the mind of the Cabinet was made up. Apparently from the terms of this Bill the mind of the Cabinet is not made up, and we are to have an interregnum for two years in which the Government are to think over the position. My real suspicions about this Bill are these—I think that during the War we have had too much Government control. It would have been better if we had had less of it. I am sure we could do better without so much Government interference. I ask the House to seriously consider where is this Government control to end. If I am not very much mistaken, before we are very much older, we shall require to get permits 1867 for everything we hold dear in this life. I would warn the Government that the commercial interests are very much opposed to Government control and are really very much up in arms at the present moment on this subject. I have had several letters from municipal authorities saying that they do not regard this Bill as being in the best interests of the country. I would say to the Government that if they alienate the commercial interests of the country they would alienate from their support those who, after all, are their best supporters.
Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned"—Sir R. Newman)—put, and agreed to.
Debate to be resumed To-morrow.