§ Considered in Committee.
§ [Progress, 26th March.]
§ [Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]
Debate resumed upon Amendment to Question,
That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to establish a Ministry of Ways and Communications, it is expedient—
Which Amendment was, at the end, to insert the words
Provided that no new transport undertaking shall be established by the Ministry until an estimate of capital expenditure required to complete the undertaking has been approved by the Treasury."—[Colonel Gretton.]
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."815
§ 3.0 P.M.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Shortt)
I hope that my hon. and gallant Friend, when he has heard the explanation which I am about to give, will decide not to press his Amendment. It is almost impossible in a Bill of this description, brought in under circumstances such as this Bill was brought in, and dealing with, such matters as this Bill deals with, to accede to either of the proposals which my hon. and gallant Friend has put upon the Paper. May I remind the House first of all what it is that this Bill is going to do? It may be possible, under certain conditions, to give estimates and guarantees of dividends which may be paid, but it is perfectly impossible to give a guarantee of any sort as to the amount that may have to be expended under a proposal of this nature. This measure has been brought in to deal with the chaotic state of things created by the War. It is essential, when you are seeking to restore order in the whole of the transport services of the country, that you should do so in such a way that you may ensure all the improvements that are necessary. It may be suggested that some idea ought to be given of the extent of the work which it is proposed to carry out, and how much it will cost. A question on those lines is perfectly natural, but then it is impossible during a period of war, when men's thoughts, minds and energies are devoted to other things, to give such an adequate amount of research and consideration to the future as would be necessary in order to produce any estimate of the kind suggested. The very men who would be essential not only for the conception of the work but for the making of the estimate are those who are mostly engrossed in war work, and therefore have been unable to give the time or consideration necessary to bring in a measure of this sort—such consideration as would be given in purely normal times. At the same time, unless we pass this Bill now, we may lose the very best opportunity of ever putting transport on a better footing. With regard to the first Amendment which asks,That no new transport undertaking shall be established by the Ministry until an estimate of capital expenditure required to complete the undertaking has been approved by the Treasury,it is, I submit, unnecessary, because, of course, the Treasury will have to approve any payment which may be suggested, 816 and they are not going to give their approval until they have before them some sort of estimate. I do not know why my hon. Friends has allowed all payments for contributions, to pensions or superannuation funds, and other payments and advances for any purposes other than new transport undertakings, to pass without an estimate. Apparently, the hon. and gallant Gentleman does not think an estimate is required in such cases. Of course, there must be estimates before any work is undertaken, and it would therefore be superfluous and unwise to put in this specific provision with regard to one item of expenditure and not put it in for another, as it might be argued that as one particular item was not included, therefore the Government were entitled to incur that expenditure without either presenting an estimate or asking approval. The same applies to the limit which is suggested in the subsequent Amendment on the Paper. It is quite impossible to have a strict limit, and we must trust the Treasury to safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. If we put down a limit of £200,000 it might turn out that something absolutely essential to transport, something urgently required to be carried out immediately would cost £300,000, and the Treasury would be unable to sanction it because it was above the limit, and unless you put some absurd limit, say ten to fifteen millions, which would be a reductio ad absurdum, you would have your whole scheme spoilt simply because the Treasury could not spring another ten or fifteen thousand pounds. It is impossible for the Ministry to have thought out what works are necessary or desirable or even practicable in order to carry out the whole scheme, and that is the object of allowing two years under the Bill. It is realised that the whole question requires so much consideration that it could not be dealt with in war-time because the opportunity, leisure, and energies of the men who will be responsible are devoted to far more important duties. The two years given for its consideration are really required and therefore I ask my hon. and gallant Friend not to oppose this Resolution. These matters will come before a Committee which, judging from its personnel, will not be likely to err on the side of laxity. It is not possible, I repeat, to give definite figures or estimates to-day as to what is necessary to be done. But the whole thing is subject 817 to the approval of the Treasury, and the Treasury will be able to watch with the greatest care and to scrutinise every proposal in the greatest detail so as to safeguard the public interest and satisfy this House that everything is done that is required.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I always notice in the House and in Committee that the one principle which is laid down as essential is that the House should insist upon its control over expenditure. But in the long time I have been in this House, while I have heard that platitude used at least a million times in Debate, I have never known an occasion upon which when it was attempted in a Bill to restrict expenditure, a Minister did not come down and say that the thing could not really be carried out if the House retained any control whatsoever over the Treasury. We are always told that the Treasury is the watch-dog of finance, and we find now at a time when the country's finances are being strained to the uttermost, and when indeed many people do not know how we are going to pull through, we are setting up the most gigantic Department which the country has ever known, and which, I venture to think, will turn out to be the most expensive experiment that has ever been made. A Minister of railways, roads, ports, canals, electrical undertakings, and I forget what else in the Bill, is really to have carte blanche for two years to spend whatever he likes, with a view to getting rid of a deficit of £100,000,000 a year which has already accrued in the administration of the railways. That is really gambling by this House gone mad. We have not had in the whole discussion on the Second Reading an estimate of any kind in relation to any one of these different Departments which are now being put under one head, as to what it will probably cost this country within the next two years. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary says if we restrict this proposal in any way they would not be able to go £10,000 or £20,000 over the limit. The House would be grateful even if we had some limit within £1,000,000.
No one can picture what powers you are giving to the Minister of Ways and Communications. Without doubt the expenditure will be enormous. We have not even had an estimate of what will be the cost of the right hon. Gentleman's Department. I venture to say it will be by far the most expensive Department ever set up. 818 You will have to deal with every local board throughout the United Kingdom, and every road, railway, and electric undertaking, and you cannot do that without a mass of officials if it is to be done properly and really controlled from headquarters. I cannot imagine what the limit of the staff will be, and you will have by far the largest and most expensive and extravagant Department that could possibly be set up. The Committee is now asked to let all this go through without any limit whatsoever. I do not mind whether it is £200,000 or £2,000,000 which is fixed as the limit, but let us have some limit put in so that, after all, the Minister will have to come and face the House in some way or other before he is allowed to launch forth any great schemes.
I am not saying the schemes may not be good. The Minister to be appointed has had a career of unqualified extravagance, and I do not say that he was not quite right during the War. We all are well aware of the railways which under his direction were so successfully laid down in France, and we are all aware of the work he did at the Admiralty; but all that is a bad bringing up. Nobody who has watched the growing expenditure—I do not mean merely the war expenditure, but anybody who looks ahead to see what is likely to happen in the immediate future as to the concessions that have been made and as to all the problems of reconstruction—can have anything but the gravest possible anxiety as to the future of this country.
The deficit on the railways at the present time is more than was the whole bill for running the country when I first came into the House of Commons. I remember the occasion when the expenditure first went over £100,000,000. Everybody foretold it would go on and on; and so it has. But there is some limit, and with the great National Debt that stares us in the face now, which to get the interest alone on it necessitates an enormous taxation, I beseech the Government to set before it some limit, and I beseech the House and the Committee to insist that the Government shall have some limit to the expenditure which may be carried out without any interference from this House. Let us give up platitudes, and let us come to close quarters and try to get something done, and let us ask the Minister to put some limitation, even within a million or two, because we think in millions now. Let 819 them foreshadow what they think would be necessary for running this Department. Unless the Committee insist upon something of that kind being done, there will be no limit whatsoever, and the House will deeply regret the loss of control which it is now conceding.
§ Mr. PERRING
While I desire to extend to the Minister my support, what I feel anxious about is that the expenditure which will be incurred under this Ministry will be, as I understand it, for the purpose of reorganising or in some degree unifying the railways. We are now dealing with a sort of interim problem pending a decision in the future as to the nationalisation of the railways, or some other system of pooling or control. What I am anxious about is how this expenditure is going to affect the settlement which will have to be dealt with when we come to deal with the real problem of nationalisation. As we understand it, some portions of the railways are profitable while others are unprofitable, and I presume they are unprofitable for the reason that they need some reorganisation or some improvement. I think it is the first duty of the Ministry to endeavour to meet all sections of the railway which need improvement, and to make them up again in connection with the whole system. That being so, when we come to deal, and I presume the Government has some intention of dealing, with the question either of nationalisation or of some other form of control, what effect will the expenditure which we sanction now have upon the price which the nation has got to pay for the section or the whole, as the case may be, of this comprehensive system of railways?
Supposing we spend on a section of railways which to-day is very unprofitable and which if taken over would be worth nil from a dividend point of view and is worth very little in relation to the purchase of the whole system, supposing the Ministry spend £100,000 to connect up a section and complete a uniform system of railways, how are how going to adjust what should be the fair payment for the particular portion of this railway, assuming it is nationalised, or what should be the particular allowance for a dividend or some form of remuneration for the capital involved if it is a pooled system or some controlled system? It is in that respect that I am particularly anxious, because the whole object of setting up this 820 Ministry is naturally to reduce this hundred million deficit—the whole object is primarily for that. The trouble and the anxiety which we all feel is entirely due to the want of courage on the part of the Government to come before the House with a system, or a proposal for a system, of control of the railways, and in asking us to sanction some scheme which we know nothing about, but which is going to lead to something which the Government is to consider at a later date. I conceive the Government intend to recommend at some future date some form of control, and the form of control none of us know. Whatever it may be I can conceive very great difficulty in adjusting what the nation should pay for one portion or another, or how we should adjust the claims of any particular portion. It is for that reason that I feel we should have some statement, we should know on broad lines—of course we cannot expect the Ministry to go into any details—but we should know on some broad line what they contemplate before this House is, asked to approve some system either of nationalisation or control. We should know on broad lines what they contemplate spending. That seems to me a very important point. I am not concerned so much with the question of spending one, two, or three, or even ten millions now, but the effect the expenditure will have when a portion of line has been made profitable. I feel that the expenditure which is the primary object of setting up this Ministry is not of so much moment as the effect on the future and the difficulty control involves in settling the different claims hereafter.
§ Mr. A. SHAW
I rise very briefly to echo the earnest appeal made to the Government by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson). It is very difficult to imagine a better case than this for the House vindicating its duty to the public as the guardian of the public purse, and I can hardly conceive how, if the House agreed to this Motion without challenge, it could ever defend its action to an intelligent public outside. What are we being asked to do? We are being asked to set up an enormous Ministry, a very big Ministry with a very big man at its head, who has got very big ideas, and whose tradition in public life at any rate is that expenditure follows in his train. This Ministry touches the life of the country at so many 821 points, that there is grave danger if the public wealth is poured into it that it will be found a leaky vessel, and we may possibly have a string of Sloughs and Chepstows. I know how many acts of efficiency the right hon. Gentleman the Minister-designate has done, but I do not know any great act he has performed on behalf of the public which has been a public economy. During the War he has had unlimited public funds at his disposal, and we get no security whatever that the right hon. Gentleman has ever in his public capacity been brought up against the grim realities of the situation to-day, and I think the House should at any rate ask the Government to place some limit, so that the right hon. Gentleman may be brought by the Treasury, with this House behind it, against the grim facts of the situation, and not be given an absolutely blank cheque on the public purse. I do think that it is too bad of my right hon. Friend, for whom I have a great and growing respect, to come down here and say, as he said a few minutes ago, "I cannot place any limit—I cannot mention any figure except one, which is utterly ridiculous." Surely it must be possible in these days of financial stringency, when the urgent problem of the hour is to husband the public resources, for the right hon. Gentleman, holding his great position, to suggest some figure at any rate within a few millions. Further, I ask my right hon. Friend to consider this matter. It would not be in order on this particular Resolution to make a Motion to enlarge the figure of £250,000 mentioned in the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend opposite, but surely the Government can say that when the next Resolution is reached it will indicate some figure, say, two millions or three millions. [HON. MEMBERS:"Or one!"] The only figure that has been suggested by my right hon. Friend is fifteen millions, and he says that is positively ridiculous. Surely it must be possible for him to mention some figure, so that the poor, trembling taxpayer, may know that there is some limit to the obligations which he is going to incur in this extraordinary piece of legislation! I do hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not simply use the majority which I believe has mustered in sufficient numbers to prevent the House of Commons vindicating its duty to the public as the custodian of finance.
§ Sir S. SCOTT
I only rise to add to the appeal made by the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for Duncairn and the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, that some limit should be put on the expenditure in this Bill. I was very much interested in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when he said that it would be absurd to put the limit of ten or fifteen millions in the Bill. I want to ask him has any estimate been made with, regard to the expenditure under the Bill, and, if there has been an estimate, is that estimate ten or fifteen millions? If that is the case, would he give us some information with regard to it? I do not think the House would mind very much what limit was placed upon expenditure in this Bill, but I do think that the House and the public are entitled to know how much money it is anticipated—even a very rough estimate—is going to be expended, by this new Department.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Hon. Members are really discussing the second Amendment, which we have not yet reached, rather than the one which is at present before the Committee. I think we should dispose of the present one first.
§ Sir COURTENAY WARNER
The trouble is that if the second Amendment is carried this one becomes unnecessary. If we can get some guarantee about the second Amendment, this one will become unnecessary; but if the second Amendment is to be negatived, we must press this one. That is the point. We are asking the Government to give us some guarantee so that we may not have to press this particular Amendment. If I am in order, I should like to say a word or two on the general position. This, of course, is one way of giving better control to this House. The old traditional form of doing things is for the House to have control. It would be very inconvenient to tie up this new Ministry very strictly in the great things that it is going to do. Yet I do think that we might well have a sum fixed, say, £2,000,000 or £1,000,000, for each year, beyond which the Ministry cannot go without further consultation with this House. At the same time, if this Ministry is going to undertake some great reconstruction, such as the building of a new harbour or the making of a new main line of railways, or something of that kind, it ought not to be left to the Ministry to do it without coming here and asking for further 823 powers. I do not care whether the words are put in this Amendment or how they are put in, but the annual expenditure left to the discretion of the Ministry, with the ordinary control of the Treasury, should be limited to £1,000,000, or at most £2,000,000, per year, and for any further sum there should be a Vote of this House, because it must mean some large scheme about which this House ought to be consulted.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The real difficulty of the Home Secretary is that he has not the slightest idea what is going to be done under this Bill. If he could tell us what the Minister of Ways and Communications intends to do, or even if the Minister himself had any idea what he means to do, it would give us some idea of the amount of money to give the Government under this Resolution. I have tried from time to time by questions to find out what money they are going to spend, or whether any estimate has been put before the Treasury, and the answer has invariably been "No." There is no estimate before the Treasury as to what work they are going to do, and my right hon. Friend has no idea when he comes down and asks the House to give the Minister a blank cheque. It is really asking too much. The Bill has been framed on the widest possible principles to give an autocratic Minister power to do what he likes. The only possible check that there could be would be the power of the House of Commons to deal with finance. That is an old right that this House has possessed from time immemorial, and, in order to get rid of that, my right hon. Friend comes down this afternoon and asks us to pass this wide Resolution, giving the Minister power to spend an unlimited amount on whatever he likes within the four corners of the Bill. The House knows that under the provision of the Bill he can build a new main line of railway or a new dock; he can set in operation schemes of transport, either motor or horse, in any part of the country without asking anybody's permission; he can ruin private traders, and he can do all that under the authority of the House of Commons if we pass this Resolution giving him a blank cheque. I should like to ask something about the early part of this Resolution. I have tried by ques- 824 tions to find out what are the salaries that are going to be paid under this Bill, and how many officers, clerks, and servants—
§ The CHAIRMAN
I would remind the hon. Member that we are now on an Amendment to the Resolution to add certain words, and we must not go back on the main body of the Resolution.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
The second Amendment is that the total expenditure under this heading shall not exceed £250,000, and I am anxious to know whether all that is going to be swallowed up in salaries. I am suggesting to my right hon. Friend, really now as the helper of the Government, that he may find himself in a difficulty, because the salaries may mop up the whole of this :250,000 a year. It is only on that account that I venture quite respectfully to ask if they can give the House guidance. Of course, I do not want to fetter them by putting in a limit of £250,000 if their own salaries are going to amount to more than that sum. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will realise that I desire to help him out of any difficulty in that respect. I do think that we are entitled to ask for some guidance as to how the money is going to be spent. Is it going to be spent on salaries, or on the wider powers of the Bill? Our only chance of controlling the Government is through the agency of finance. It is our right to do so. It is our duty to our constituents to do so.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
If we do not do so our constituencies will have something to say to us for a dereliction of a distinct duty which is placed upon' us to regulate the finance of this Government. I hope that even my right hon. and learned Friend who has interjected that remark will have sufficient respect for his constituents to insist upon the Government doing the right thing in this direction.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
825 My hon. Friend who has just spoken has pointed out that we do not know and nobody knows what this Ministry is going to do. That remark, curiously enough, is fully borne out by a notice of Motion which appears on the Paper in the name of the Parliamentary Secretary for a return of a summary of the principal powers and functions under Statute which may be transferred to the Ministry of Ways and Communications from other Government Departments. Until that return is presented I gather that the Ministry itself does not know and certainly the House does not know what are the principal powers and functions under Statute which may be transferred to the Ministry. One thing is quite certain. Under the Bill an enormous number of powers and functions which have hitherto been carried out by means of private Bill legislation can be transferred to this Committee. Harbours, railways, roads—all those matters hitherto have been brought to the House in the form of private Bills and have been sent, to a Committee upstairs, counsel appearing for the various interests concerned, the whole matter being thrashed out at great length and in detail, and the finance being gone into very fully before the House was finally called upon to deal with the matter. All that will be unnecessary in the future. The Minister of Ways and Communications, by a stroke of the pen, may, at the cost of millions, carry out any of that business without any of the elaborate investigation into the pros and cons and details which has been the practice hitherto. That is a very tall order. It is asking a great deal from Parliament to wipe away all that carefully thought out procedure and put such matters into the hands of a single individual autocrat.
A great deal of the feeling on this matter springs from the personality of the Minister who is to be in charge. My hon. Friend (Mr. A. Shaw) spoke about the record of the right hon. Gentleman in the matter of expenditure. Although this Bill was carried on Second Reading without a Division, it is common knowledge in the House, and certainly outside, that there is a great deal of misgiving with regard to the powers that are going to be transferred. Yet when the Committee asks for some estimate, however wide and however generous, the Home Secretary says it is utterly impossible to give any estimate at all. The only figure he has suggested is that of £10,000,000 or £15,000,000, and he 826 suggested that that is a reductio ad absurdum. I am not quite so sure that it would be a reductio ad absurdum for the other right hon. Gentleman. The right hon. Gentleman who is to have charge of this Ministry is a man of most grandiose ideas. So far as we can gather from his distinguished service hitherto, which have been connected entirely with the War and on an entirely different footing, his idea of efficient administration is measured by the degree of extravagance he can throw into that administration. In this particular matter we are dealing with something quite different. The Home Secretary said it was impossible to give an estimate because you might find some work which, required to be done which would mean £50,000 or £100,000 beyond the estimate, and that the work would be held up because there would not be any authority to sanction it. This is not urgent work in the sense that war work was urgent. If a large expenditure was required, they could come to Parliament and obtain its sanction before it was incurred. What is the possible objection to such procedure?
The fact of the matter is that this is an example of the way in which national expenditure has grown out of all bounds and out of all control. The Government have made up their minds that if expenditure is desirable at any particular moment the money must be obtained. They have given up the idea which governs all other human undertakings, that you must cut your coat according to your cloth. Possibly there may be many desirable things to be carried out by this measure, but they will be so expensive that they ought not, to be done without delay. There are many things we desire to do which we have to put off until next year because we have not the money to do them. That is not the sort of idea which occurs to a Government Department, least of all to the right hon. Gentleman who will be in charge of this one. The method by which we ought to be governed is quite different. We ought to say to this Ministry, "Very likely you may want to do things we do not want you to do, and before you carry out these expenditures of £10,000,000 or £15,000,000, or any much smaller sum, you must come to Parliament, explain what you are going to do, what the basis of the procedure will be and what the country is to gain by it." Then let Parliament, not the Minister, decide whether or not it is worth the money to be expended. It is quite clear from the feeling expressed here 827 this afternoon, that this spendthrift manner of doing things, this reckless refusal to give any estimate at all, does not commend itself to those present. It is more or less by accident that this Resolution is down for consideration on a Friday afternoon. It is very unfortunate that a very important matter, both in principle and in its application to this particular measure, should come on on a Friday afternoon. If the Home Secretary recognises, as I think he must, the very strong body of opinion against the proposal the Government are putting forward, I would ask him to consider whether it would not be better to defer a decision upon this matter until another time, in order to give him an opportunity of affording some guidance on the subject. I, therefore, make my Motion.
§ Mr. CLEMENT EDWARDS
I hope the Committee will not accept this Motion. Quite frankly, I suspect the point of view of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) and my hon. and learned Friend who spoke last. The hon. Gentleman opposite has delivered a speech attempting to show grounds from a purely Parliamentary point of view why this, that, or the other should not be done. I for one, have knowledge, as most hon. Members have knowledge, that by methods as ingenious as they were mischievous, he utilised his position in Parliament to stir up a great and spurious agitation in the country to defeat this measure. There must have been hundreds—where they came from I do not know—there must have been thousands of pounds spent in telegrams and in the agitation to secure the defeat of this measure.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will not wish to say anything which is not absolutely correct. So far as I am aware, not one single telegram was sent other than was paid for by the people who sent it. Certainly I, and no organisation I had anything to do with, paid for a single telegram.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I would like an estimate such as the hon. Member asks for. All I can say is that I received telegrams from at least fifty of my Constituents.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I am very glad the hon. Member made that observation. As a matter of fact I met some of them in the 828 Chamber of Commerce the day after this spurious agitation exploded in futility, and the Bill got through without a Division. I asked a good many how they came to do this. They said, "We do not know. We were wired to to send telegrams." I asked who had sent the wires. They said they were sent by certain people, one of whom was the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks).
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
If the hon. Member is going to make a suggestion of that kind, he must produce at least one wire containing my request to any one of his Constituents. I had no part or lot in sending a single wire to any one of his Constituents. The only wire I sent was to Members of the House asking them, to attend and vote.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
I suppose it was some genius who thought he was entirely representing the mind of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and took upon himself to forge his signature. I shall be very glad indeed to produce evidence of the statement. I return to my general statement that the hon. and learned Gentleman utilised his position in Parliament to promote an entirely spurious agitation in the country to secure the defeat of this measure. Having said that, it is a little remarkable that he should come here this afternoon, and in a reasoned speech, from a purely Parliamentary point of view, ask that this, that, and the other should be done. I should have a great deal more confidence in the proposition if it had not been that the hon. and learned Gentleman had done his level best to smash this measure altogether. I therefore suspect that behind this reasoned speech there is an effort to block the passage of this Bill. Then we get the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. McNeill) who says he hopes this matter will be deferred. That is the object of the whole opposition to the Government, and it is one of the great Parliamentary methods to secure that the matter shall be indefinitely hung up. Both hon. and learned Gentlemen say it is a perfectly monstrous proposition that the Government should ask practically for a blank cheque. I have no doubt a great many hon. Members take that view. Some take it with knowledge, because they are opposed out and out to the measure, and some take the view not quite realising what is the extent and character of the problem with which the Government is faced. I do not know whether hon. 829 Members realise quite what is the true deduction to be drawn from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill when he said there was a deficit in the railway earnings of something like £100,000,000. We are all clamant, indignant and irritated because of the slow, long drawn out railway service at this moment. We still have a prohibition on the main lines against running at more than forty miles an hour. What that means is that the permanent way and the rolling stock are in a hopelessly defective state, and if the permanent way is to be repaired, and we are to get that accelerated service which we all desire there is bound to be expenditure. That expenditure cannot come from the £100,000,000 of the railway company. It has got to come from somewhere, and if and when this measure passes into law and we get the Ministry of Ways and Communications responsible for the expenditure it becomes imperative that that should be authorised to be expended if the railway service is to be put in a right condition.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
By the general terms contained in the Bill without there being any limitation such as is suggested in the Amendment.
§ Mr. EDWARDS
Parliament, recognising exactly what the problem is that has to be faced, recognising that expenditure may be required on the permanent way in different part of the country, and on the rolling stock shall entrust the Ministry of Ways and Communications with power to incur that necessary expenditure and to see to what will be the cost of the upkeep of the permanent way during the next two years. When one remembers that owing to the absence of labour and the costliness of material very little has been done during the War period, it is perfectly ridiculous to talk about limiting the power of the Ministry of Ways and Communications to an expenditure of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 as was suggested by the hon. Member (Sir C. Warner) and it is absolutely absurd and ridiculous to limit it to the figure of £250,000 as suggested here. We are going to create this Ministry with a great flourish of trumpets and deprive it of the necessary power to do its work. The Ministry is called upon 830 to do one of the most far-reaching and important pieces of reconstructive work and we are going to entrust that duty to it in the confidence that it will discharge its trust to the country as it ought, and that will be the view taken by the House of Commons.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I cannot help thinking there has been a good deal of misunderstanding in the course of the Debate and that many hon. Members who have spoken have forgotten the fact that the power to move by Order in Council in the really big matters has been given up by the Government. The Debate has continued as if it were a question within the next two years of expenditure on nationalisation or expenditure on such large works and such reconstruction as permanent possession by the Government and permanent purchase. With regard to all these matters nothing can be done without coming to this House. When the Government gave up the power to proceed by Order in Council it involved of necessity the further provision that in order to nationalise the railways or to carry out any big scheme of that kind it must come to this House.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Supposing the Minister of Ways and Communications desires to set up a vast electric distribution scheme, will he have to come to this House?
§ Mr. SHORTT
I think that is so. I do not think it is within his power to set up an electric scheme.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
May I remind the right hon. Gentleman of the reply which was given by either himself or the Minister in charge of the Bill to the question I addressed to him? The powers now taken in the Bill apply to the new services. It was a direct answer to my request. One of the new services was the electric question, and there is power under the Bill, if it passes in anything like its present form, to pledge the Treasury and the country to this without coming to the House.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
May I refer the right hon. Gentleman to Sub-clause (f) of Clause 4, which gives him power to establish, maintain, and work transport services by land or water, and which he says he is going to transfer from the omitted Clause 4 into the new Clause 3? Therefore, he will have these powers.
§ Mr. SHORTT
I was asked if we could set up a great electric distributing plant without coming to Parliament. I say we cannot. We take over the powers exercised by other Government Departments, but we do not take the power of creating an enormous generating station, with mains, and all the rest of the paraphernalia. We take the power to purchase such electricity as may be necessary for the purpose of running any transport schemes within the next few years which it may be necessary to set up. That is the extent of these powers. I hope hon. Members will realise how difficult it is to make an estimate. It is perfectly true that we are unable to give any definite information to the House of exactly what it is we propose to do or exactly how much, or even approximately how much, it would cost. Of course, that is so. If it were not so, the Bill would not have been framed as it is. The Bill would not have asked merely to make control effective for two years, in order that during that period of control the Government may make up their minds what is possible to be done. If the Government had already made up their mind, say, upon nationalisation of the railways, the Bill would not have been framed as it is. It would have been a Bill to nationalise the railways, and so on, and it is because no one has sufficient experience or knowledge or thought to say whether the railways should be nationalised or should not be nationalised that the Bill is framed as it is. The very necessity which makes it imperative to frame the Bill in that way, and to give two years, as sufficient control in order that matters may be carried on during the two years, is the reason which makes it impossible to say definitely what will be done or approximately how much it will cost.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
I gather from what the right hon. Gentleman says that the Resolution is to confine the operations of the Bill during the two years. I do not see that in the Resolution at all. It is a permanent matter.
Would it be possible for the Government to take a substantial sum 832 of money in hand for two or three months and then come to the House with some sort of estimates, having inquired into the matter, and to give us come idea as to what the expenditure may be for the remaining period of the two years?
§ Mr. SHORTT
In reply to the hon. Member (Mr. McNeill) I may say that the powers given by this Bill cease in two years unless we come to Parliament for a renewal of the powers or for more extensive powers. Therefore, although it may not be worded so, the Resolution is for the purpose of those two years. I will deal with the point raised by the hon. Member (Mr. Doyle) later. Let me give an example-of the difficulty of making an estimate. One of the surest methods of reducing, to some extent, the enormous deficit on the railways at the present time would be the pooling of rolling stock. The pooling of wagons is one of the-surest of measures for a very substantial economy. More than half the-railway wagons in this country to-day are privately owned, and as more than half the wagons have the right to lay on the-lines, the right to block the sidings, the right to be marshalled and shunted in such a way that they can be kept for their specific purpose, it is essential that the privately-owned wagons should come in the pool.
§ Whereupon the Gentleman Usher of the-Black Rod being come with a Message the CHAIRMAN left the Chair.
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.