HC Deb 24 June 1920 vol 130 cc2510-36

Postponed Proceeding resumed on consideration of Question, That a sum, not exceeding £848,642, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1921, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Transport, including sundry Charges in connection with Transportation Schemes, etc., under the Ministry of Transport Act, 1919, and certain Repayable Advances under The Electricity (Supply) Act, 1919.

Debate resumed.


I beg to move, that the Vote be reduced by £750,000.

This is one of the first opportunities we have had for years of seeing an Estimate Committee at work. I hope the Committee of the House has found it advantageous to have the Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure before them when hon. Members were considering the matter which is now before us, in view of the fact that it devoted its primary attention to the Estimates of the Ministry of Transport. I have never been able to understand the objection of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accepting the advice and recommendations of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, or an Estimates Committee. I do not propose to develop this, for it would not be in order, but I would point out to hon. Members that to-day we have had an example of the assistance which a Committee of this House can be in preparing work for the consideration of the House in connection with Estimates. I do not think that the Government can complain of the manner in which this work has been done, or that the Committee overstepped the line in considering the expenditure, which it should always draw between policy and economy. The care of the Committee has been always not to criticise policy, but to show how, within the limits of the policy of the Government, saving could be effected either by readjusting items or the manner in which they are dealt with, or by economies of staff, and other cognate matters. The effect of these Estimates, to our mind, was that such savings were possible, and might be effected, not because the expenditure was large which came under our eye, or there was extravagance intentionally or otherwise, but we thought it was not the right thing the quite unnecessary margins of possible expenditure at the will of the Department should be provided for, or that the House should be asked to vote large sums of money which were reminiscent of the War Vote of Credit atmosphere.

There was another matter. We found the utmost difficulty at the outset in finding out really what the figures meant, because there is not a sufficiently good method adopted. You have to look amongst old volumes and through many pages which are not in juxtaposition. Then if you examine the accounts and the salaries paid, and consider how those salaries are likely to be affected by such questions as war bonuses, and so on, you have the utmost difficulty in finding out what is the real position of the accounts of the Department. We had to go through these accounts with the various heads of the Departments, and find out what were the duties of the staffs, before we could form an opinion as to whether the work was being economically done, and within the limits of Government policy. The Ministry of Transport is in an exceptional position, because, for the first time, a special official of the Treasury and, I think, one of the most highly paid members of the Civil Service, if not the most highly paid—and what struck me at once when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Asquith) was commenting on the scale of salaries in the Civil Service was that he did not allude to the fact of a prominent Treasury official receiving a salary of £5,000 a year, which does not appear on the Ministry of Transport Vote, but on that of the Treasury—is sitting day by day in the Department supervising its work, and dealing with matters frequently sent by the Treasury. I think this last estimate is probably right and proper; at the same time the Ministry has had special facilities for preparing the work for the Committee of this House. I regret very much indeed that we found that the accounts necessary to be presented to the Committee were in such an obscure form that it really took several weeks of hard work before the Committee, composed primarily of business men, were able to make up their minds as to what was really going on. If that be the position of Members of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, what, I ask, must be the position of private Members of this House?

The pressure on the time of Members of this House is to-day, as we all know, very considerably increased. It is not possible to study deeply all the matters on which we have to form a judgment. I think it is, therefore, specially incumbent upon the Government and upon Government officials to see that where information is supplied to this House upon which this House has to form a judgment it shall be presented in the simplest, plainest, and best-arranged form possible, so as to diminish the work of private Members, and so that they can understand the accounts upon which they have to pass a judgment. That, to my mind, is the most important matter which the Committee could decide. To my mind, it is far more important than the question on which the country seems to have been misled largely by the Press—believing that there has been great Departmental extravagance. The Minister of Transport was perfectly correct in saying that we found no such extravagance going on. We might, perhaps, have had, I will not say suspicions, but, at any rate, we might have felt, if we had more time, disposed to criticise certain matters in more detail. But that is not, I think, what the House wishes from this Committee. We can only give to the best of our ability and judgment a general impression, and a general view of the Department and its work. Where one finds, on the whole, the work of the Department properly and well done, I do not think the House wants the Committee to go into small matters of pounds, shillings, and pence. That, then, is the impression that I bore away as to the work effected at the Ministry of Transport. It has taken a considerable amount of time, great care, and attention on the part of the Committee, which has been, I think I may say, and I have been on a good many Committees, a particularly hard-working and capable Committee.

That brings me to the point of the margins. We must bear in mind that these large margins are not included in the Estimates, though that does not in the least prevent the Department incurring extra expenditure as may be really necessary. After all, Parliamentary control of expenditure is highly elastic. When it is necessary that a check should be imposed, it is much better that the Department should be asked to estimate as closely as possible, and they should not be given the power of accumulating large margins out of which they can spend money at will. I entirely disagree with the views expressed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) in saying that the checking of this immense mass of accounts could be done by ordinary firms of private accountants. I think one very good service which the Ministry has rendered to the nation is through their special knowledge in realising that this work requires not only an accounting audit, but a technical audit, and auditors unsupported by trained engineers' advice could not possibly form a right and correct judgment on many of the complicated questions that come before them. Ordinary questions of current expenditure are not the same as large questions of capital expenditure to which many other considerations apply, and in regard to which a technical investigation is necessary.

Another matter which the Committee gave the Ministry a clean bill of health upon was in connection with the roads. The Committee did not think the amount of money provided in the Estimate for this service need be questioned. Another matter we had some doubts about was in regard to the amount which was being spent by the Ministry in doing work we all know is required for the general improvement of the transport system of the country. In ordinary business one desires to do general work of that kind, and we say in business, "How much can we afford to spend upon this?" I am afraid there was no such check imposed upon the work of the various Department, who all seemed to be doing what they could to improve the transport system of the country. This branch of research and the compilation of statistics is a branch upon which we can spend large sums of money, and I think there should be some counting of the cost before a Department runs riot amongst beneficent schemes for the general benefit of transport. The Minister has alluded, I think with justifiable pride, to the new statistics which he has compiled, but this is a very difficult question, and the House should realise that at the present time the cost of the compilation of those statistics, except in so far as a very small proportion of them is concerned, is not included in this £400,000 which appears on the Estimates for the Department. The greater portion of the cost comes as an addition. A few men have decided what statistics are necessary and they have cost comparatively little, but what has cost the money is the large staff in the Railway Clearing House and other places, whose time has been occupied in doing this work, and it must amount to a considerable sum. Such work may be very useful, but before it is undertaken on a very large scale I think the House should know how much it is really proposed to spend on this sort of work. We are spending large sums of money to improve the transport service, but I think we should know in advance, at any rate, what amount we propose to spend, and then we can be told afterwards what has actually been spent I think that is a necessary part of financial control.

I come now to a larger item, the sum of £1,000,000 which appears on the Vote for assisting and establishing new development schemes. On this point there is nothing to complain of. The Minister is going very carefully into the schemes which have been submitted by a number of people, and he has announced that he will not support any schemes which he does not think will be financially self-supporting. We consider that is a very proper precaution, the more proper when we hear that every scheme that so far has been submitted has been turned down. If we are to have this sort of control over these transport schemes, why is it necessary to provide on these Estimates such a large sum as £1,000,000 to carry out schemes for which the Minister of Transport has not the least idea what they will be for, or what they will cost, or, indeed, whether they will ever be recommended at all? That I regard as a lavish estimate which is not in the least required, and can be provided for later.

Therefore I intend to move that this Vote be reduced by the sum of £75,000. The Motion I put down on the Paper was placed there before the revised Estimates were submitted, and I am prepared to give the Minister credit for such reduction as he has already expressed himself prepared to make. He is prepared to reduce one item from £100,000 to £50,000, and I was very glad to hear that decision, because I could not in the least understand why the larger sum was required. As the Chairman of a Select Committee on Transport in 1918 I did give a great deal of consideration to these matters, and I could not understand how this particular statement could possibly be inserted to spend £100,000 in this way. Before the Committee over which I presided evidence was given by one of the greatest enginering authorities in this country, and he brought up to date the scheme. Before such a large sum as £100,000 is spent it will be very much better if the Departmental Committee will consider really what they intend to do in the matter.

There is a general question of policy involved. Is it proposed to try and make the canal system of Great Britain comparable to the Continental canal system and to form a network all over the country, regarding the canals as vehicles for carrying through traffic from end to end of the country, in the same way as is done by road? If that is what is intended, then we shall have to expend not only large sums on surveys, but a very large sum on works, and I can hardly believe, in the present state of the finances of the country, that any such ambitious policy can be contemplated. This question of policy will have to be considered, as well as the questions of short-distance traffic and the control and management of railways. I had proposed to move to reduce the Vote by £75,000, which would have allowed the Departmental Committee to expend £25,000 for the purposes of inquiry, but I now wish to move to reduce the whole of the Vote for the Ministry of Transport by £750,000.

With regard to all these schemes, whether of railways, canals, or roads, it is relevant to remind the Committee that we are to-day in a very different atmosphere from that which existed when the Ministry of Transport was set up. We were then filled with visions of a new heaven and a new earth. Peope's minds were inflamed by the attractive prospects of the future held out to them in these directions. But a good deal has happened since then, and these prospects are appearing less alluring. People have begun to count the cost. There is a tendency to condemn any rapid delivery of the new heaven until it is known how much it is going to cost to get there. I think a large number of people are realising that the cost of travelling there, even with the assistance of the Minister of Transport, is likely to be very high indeed, and the way of getting there is by no means so certain as at one time appeared. There is great danger that the wrong road may be taken and that we may find ourselves on that broad high road to a place euphemistically called "'Destruction," which certainly is not in the vicinity of the new heaven. Therefore I ask the Minister of Transport to consider seriously the views which are put forward, views shared by large numbers of hon. Members, in regard to the provision he is asking the Committee to make for new schemes. If he will be content to accept a much lower amount at the present time I feel sure he will find it amply sufficient for his purposes in the new financial atmosphere which surrounds us. People have got to learn in this country that financial success lies in doing without things and, secondly, in making things do. After the War there was an idea that nothing which was useful and pleasing to the old world was sufficiently good for the new. We have learned the lesson that we can only get into a sound financial position again by adopting these methods of making things do. That is even more true with regard to Government schemes than to private expenditure. After all private expenditure will follow the Government if it shows the way. Therefore I re-echo the request made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) a little while ago, when he appealed to the Minister of Transport and to every other Minister who is proposing to the Committee the expenditure of large sums of money, to take this lesson to heart and to try and make things do.


My reason for rising is one rather of a personal character. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport, in the course of his speech, stated that his Department had saved the country at least a sum of £1,000,000 owing to the fact that they had discovered an agreement which he described as very improvident in character entered into by my right hon. Friend Mr. Walter Runciman when he was President of the Board of Trade. What are the facts with regard to that particular transaction? As far as I am able to understand them they are these. The agreement was entered into by my right hon. Friend after he had entered into the agreement with the other railway companies. This particular agreement related solely to the underground railways of London, and I rather think that the moving reason for it was that a large amount of traffic was coming down from the north which, for military reasons, had to be got on to the southern railways, and a certain part of the District Railway was thereby affected. It became necessary, therefore, to bring the underground railways within the scope of the general agreement. Whether that may be the reason or not, I do not know, but I rather think it was something like that; and so this particular company came within the general agreement. With whom was that agreement made? It may surprise the Committee to know that the chairman of the Underground Railway Company who negotiated the agreement with Mr. Runciman, was, as we then knew him, Sir Albert Stanley, who himself became the President of the Board of Trade in December, 1916, when Mr. Runciman demitted office. For the whole time during which this nefarious agreement was in operation, Sir Albert Stanley, the chairman, was himself the President of the Board of Trade, and he remained in office until about May, 1919. By whom was he succeeded? He was succeeded by my right hon. Friend's distinguished relative, who was President of the Board of Trade until March of this year. Therefore, we have these two very able men, each of them President of the Board of Trade, personally responsible for this nefarious agreement; and my right hon. Friend to-day produces this as the prime, leading example of what the Ministry of Transport can do when it gets to work.

The story that my right hon. Friend gave us to-day was this, as it appears to me. We went to the chairman of this Company—Lord Ashfield, who is the chairman of the Company to-day, and is better known to us as Sir Albert Stanley, the former President of the Board of Trade—my right hon. Friend went to him and said, "I have discovered an agreement, a most improvident agreement. What do you think of it?" He said at once, "Horrible; let us tear it up, without any consideration." 'Of course, I do not know, but I suspect that the consideration for the cancellation of that agreement is to be found in the Bill which is now upstairs for the increase of the fares on the London Electric Railways. If anyone is to be called to the bar of public opinion to answer for this improvident agreement, it is not Mr. Walter Runciman, who entered into it under the stress of war conditions, which applied to all other railway companies at the time, and who only had six or eight months of the working of that agreement. It is Sir Albert Stanley, who is now Lord Ash-field. I am sure, from what I know of him, and from. what we all know of him, that he has a very good answer. It is for him to make that answer. My right hon. Friend has not very much experience of this House. He would have a lot more if he came here oftener. His genial presence and cheery smile would be welcomed here every time he was kind enough to come. I am sure that if he had been here oftener, he would not have made that attack upon Mr. Runciman. He will excuse my saying so, but it is not quite the way in which we do that kind of thing.


I should like to add a question or two with regard to this agreement. To those of us who heard the whole of my right hon. Friend's speech this afternoon, the best point he made appeared to be the discovery of this improvident agreement. Those of us who heard the Minister's speech were convinced that he had discovered an agreement of the most improvident character, and that it was he, and he alone, who was able to go to the Chairman of the Underground Railway Company and say, "This must be torn up," and it was torn up forthwith.


It was only one of many of which he knew.


It was only one of many of which he knew. He told us that this agreement was one in connection with which he could clearly point to a saving of £1,000,000 next year, and probably more the following year. I think we are entitled to know more about it. I think we are entitled to know what was in it and what was the cause of its being made. Was it, in fact, an agreement, like so many other of the railway agreements, that the Government should pay to the railway company the extra cost of wages and labour which they, the Government, insisted that the railway company should pay to their workmen? If so, it does not seem to me that there was anything very bad in it. On the other hand, what did the Chairman of the Underground Railway Company do? When my right hon Friend went to him and said, "Here is this monstrous agreement, which is costing the country £1,000,000 a year," he gave us to understand most clearly that that agreement was given up without any consideration whatever. May I put this question quite frankly? I have the honour of knowing Lord Ashfield. Although I do not act professionally for the Underground Railway Company, I am connected with him, and know him, and do not believe that the charges which have been partially levelled against him by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles are in any way true. I ask the Minister if he will, here and now, state to the Committee what were the negotiations between Lord Ashfield and himself which caused that agreement to be given up, and what quid pro quo the Government gave to the Underground Railway Company. If it gave them nothing, I agree that the right hon. Gentleman is entitled to take the credit of tearing it up. If, on the other hand, the Government gave the Company something worth £1,000,000 in meal or malt, my right hon. Friend the Minister had no right to come here, as he did, and take credit for saving that money to the country. I put that question to him, and leave him to answer it. No doubt after the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Peebles, there will be, and, indeed, there must be, an answer from Lord Ashfield to-morrow; but I invite the Minister, for his own sake, to make a fuller statement to the Committee before we adjourn than he made this afternoon.


I rise with very much pleasure to reply. I only regret that my right hon. Friend has unfortunately had to go away to catch a train.

The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Sir E. Cornwall)

Do I understand that the hon. Baronet the Member for Twickenham has finished his remarks?


I had not finished, but I am quite willing to give way to the right hon. Gentleman for the moment.


This is not an interruption. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is going to reply.


I tender my apologies to the hon. Baronet.


There are so many other Members wishing to speak, after the right hon. Gentleman resumes his seat, that I doubt whether the hon. Baronet will catch the eye of the Chair again.

10.0 P.M.


If you will not look my way, Sir Edwin, and tell me that you will not, I am afraid I must make a few more remarks. I really want to draw attention to the way the Ministry has grown, compared with the suggestions a year ago when the Transport Bill was brought in. My withers are unwrung. I never expected it would do any good, and I and several of my friends warned the House as to what we might expect in the way of salaried officials.


Did you help it?


No, I did not. I opposed it all the way through. The Leader of the House said that we had passed the Bill, and therefore we must accept the Ministry. The Home Secretary in introducing the Bill said: I will be surprised if there are many officials. It cannot be a big Department of new people apart from those already being paid by the taxpayer. In other words, he brought the Bill in as a consolidating and gathering together of officials from various other Departments and said there would be very few new officials and very little, if any, extra cost to the ratepayers. It is not for us to say that the Committee of Investigation has sat and said this particular official is good or that is not overpaid. That is not the point. What we as a Committee of Supply have to consider is whether the work that is paid for is necessary and not merely whether A or B is getting £3,000 or £4,000 salary. I am not one of those who think brains can be paid too highly. I do not say the individual salary, if the work is necessary, is too high, but in these times to have an accumulation of officials, with sub-directors, under-directors, clerks, and so on, is far higher than the country can stand or ought to stand. I was very pleased when my hon. Friend opposite moved a comprehensive reduction of £750,000. It is no good the Government saying, "tell us which particular item you object to and we will answer you." Of course they can always defend any particular item. If the Leader of the Opposition discusses the salary of some particular individual of course the Minister can say that particular individual is not overpaid, but the point is whether the work that is being done by the Transport Ministry generally is really essential at this juncture for the well-being of the country at large. I suggest it is not. A great deal of the work is really of no use.

What was the other thing upon which the Minister claimed the acceptation of the Committee this afternoon? First, the agreement which we have referred to; and, secondly, that he has employed at the Government's expense an agent provocateur to go round the hotels and drink bottles of champagne paid for by the taxpayer. He could have sent for a wine list from the refreshment room. Actually the Transport Minister employed and paid a man to go round to the railway hotels in order to find out, by testing, I am told, whether they were charging a fair price for the champagne they sold. Really, that seems to be a monstrous waste of public money on the appointment of a public official to do that kind of thing. After all, the right hon. Gentleman has been a railway manager and knows the railway managers. He spoke highly of the directors. He could at least have sent for some of the principal railway directors and said to them, "I do not think you are making enough profit on your hotels. You are not charging as much for your champagne as they are at the Savoy or the Ritz. Could you not put it up?" And they, as honourable men, would have put it up. Instead of that he sends agents sneaking round the country in order to find out whether a fair price is charged. I do not think that is a de- sirable way for this new Ministry to start its work.

I should like to say something about the road administration of this country. This is the one part of the Ministry which we were told has worked well. It is admirably worked by Sir Henry Maybury, but it was admirably worked by him under the Roads Board before the Board was taken over by the Ministry. The right hon. Gentleman has merely taken over the staff of the Roads Board, added to it, and interfered a little more than the Roads Board did with the local authorities of the country. I am not at all sure that his road schemes are going to be for the benefit of the country as much as we expected. For instance, he is going to pay out of Government funds half the salaries of the road surveyors. Of course, all the local authorities like to have their road surveyors paid out of public funds. The Roads Board did not do it, why should the right hon. Gentleman do it? Because he wants to get his hand in the appointment of the road surveyors. Because he wants bureaucracy to extend its hand a little more into the road administration of this country. Therefore, he says to the local authorities, "I will pay half the salaries of your road surveyors, then I shall be able to have a hand in their appointment, in their dismissal and in the control of their work." Surely the local authorities have been able to manage their road surveyors pretty well up to now. They have been able to appoint them, to dismiss them, to look after them without the right hon. Gentleman paying half their salaries. Speaking as one of those who are paying these large road taxes of £8,000,000, which were to be used for the improvement of our roads, I should like to say that so far as we can find out—we have had no statement on it from the right hon. Gentleman—instead of the money being used for the improvement of the roads, it is going to be used very largely for the saving of local rates and for the maintenance of roads which have got out of repair during the War. I agree that they want repairing, but every Government Committee, every Departmental Committee for years past, has laid it down that the road expenses should be borne partly locally, partly governmentally, and partly out of the taxes on motorists. Instead of that, about seven-eighths of the taxes on motorists are being taken by the right hon. Gentleman for road maintenance, and there is no other grant from the Government towards the maintenance of the roads of this country.

When the Bill was going through Committee we did our level best to put this Roads Department on a proper basis. My hon. Friend opposite says that it is the one Department which is working well. We fastened on that Department, with the consent of the Cabinet and with the assent of this House, a Roads Advisory Committee, composed of representatives of road users, local authorities, and people interested in the roads of this country.


Not cyclists.


My hon. Friend says there are no cyclists on the Committee, but some of us do our best on the Committee to look after the interests of cyclists. I am not dealing for the moment with the composition of that Roads Committee, but I want to tell the House that though it was decided by this House to appoint this Roads Advisory Committee to help the right hon. Gentleman to control his administration of the roads, it has only met once since the Bill was passed, no work was done, and heaven only knows when it is going to meet again. My right hon. Friend was so taken up with his railway case this afternoon, leading up to the grand proposal which he is going to put before us in a White Paper, but of which we were un fortunately deprived, that he gave no information in regard to his road policy. I do not know whether he will have time to reply to-night. I am not at all sure whether he ought to reply to-night. Having regard to the fact that he spoke for two hours, that a private Bill intervened for an hour this evening, and that the real purpose and object of Votes in Supply is to enable criticism to be made by private Members, because it is the only opportunity we have for dealing with points of administration in the Government, I am not at all sure that there ought to be a reply to-night, but that this Debate ought to be carried over to another day to enable a large number of Members to take part. I hope sincerely that that will be the case. Finally, I appeal to the Committee not to be carried away by statements of the right hon. Gentleman as to the essential character of this or that individual clerk or Director-General, or whatever he may be called, but to say that the time has come when we who are supporters of the Government desire to see an effort at retrenchment, and an example set to the people of the country. We cannot go on spending money as we are doing. We are entitled to say to each Minister who brings Estimates before us, "Take them back and set down their four-score instead of the hundred you are asking."


I desire to reply very briefly to my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) on the subject of the agreement in which Lord Ashfield's name has been mentioned. It was suggested that I had attacked Lord Ashfield, and that I had suggested that something which he had done was improper. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] That was suggested. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The history of the agreement is not what my right hon. Friend gave. It is this: The Metropolitan District Railway was taken over with all the other railways on the outbreak of the War. In 1915 Parliament sanctioned pooling the rates from the various London transport agencies working in that combine. In order to get a pool on to a proper working basis you naturally have to fix the proportion which each party to the pool draws out of the pool. That was fixed by agreement between the Board of Trade and Lord Ashfield's company and the proportion agreed to by the Metropolitan District Railway, which was the controlled railway, was the 1913 receipts. The receipts were fixed, but the agreement made no provision for the two points I mentioned.


Did Lord Ashfield know that?


Certainly. He was negotiating with the Government.


He was President of the Board of Trade.


He was not. Mr. Runciman was President of the Board of Trade. The agreement was made between Lord Ashfield, negotiating for his company in an honourable fair way, and Mr. Runciman, President of the Board of Trade.


indicated dissent.


I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will have an opportunity of speaking. But I am trying to meet a point which unfortunately has been put forward, which touches the reputation of a very honourable man, and I do beg that I may be allowed to give this explanation. The agreement was made between these two parties, Lord Ashfield's combine on the one hand and the British Government, represented by Mr. Runciman, on the other. They standardised the receipts on the 1913 basis. There was no Clause in the agreement which provided either for a maintenance of the services of all parties to the agreement, so that each might carry a proportionate share of traffic, which is a common, elementary Clause that hon. Members with experience of traffic agreements will know is in every traffic agreement. Another Clause that was omitted was this, that if any of the agencies over-carried they should receive a working expense.


Why did not Lord Ashfield suggest this Clause? Doing the British Government!


It was a bargain between business men, and each man looked after himself.


During a time of war!


I do not think at that time either saw the way it would work out. It turned out in the way I have stated to the Committee. Year after year, it meant that the District Railway was carrying more than its full proportion and that the Government was getting as receipts the 1913 receipts. The receipts were standardised and the expenses were not, and the expenses went up. That went on. The last two years, when the accounts were audited, it was seen that the sum was getting large. There were certain minor adjustments. Those adjustments are allowed for in the statement I have given to the Committee. When I became Minister of Transport this very agreement was mentioned by Lord Ashfield voluntarily at an inquiry held into London traffic. There can be no suggestion that he has not acted perfectly honourably. When it was mentioned by him I saw it. I said, "Look here, I have looked at that agreement. It is working in no way as we intended. You ought to cancel it." He agreed with me and said he would cancel it. He has repeated that in evidence. I have put it in my Report to the Committee upstairs, and we fixed a date, quite properly. It was an agreement. I had no right to cancel it. When two men sign a document one of them cannot tear it up. He agreed to cancel it He said, "You shall have a right to bring it to an end when the increased fares I am applying for are through the House." What was wrong with that? It was perfectly right. He said he would fix a date. He had been incurring increased expenditure everywhere. The Committee upstairs have considered it and, without noticing my Report, they have not made it a condition. My Report suggested it should be a condition in the Bill as sent upstairs. Lord Ashfield fixed that date and very properly fixed it. He acted as an extremely honourable business man. He made a bargain as an honourable business man, and if there is any suggestion to the contrary, it is unjustifiable. The agreement was drawn up on behalf of the Government. For some years, owing to defective organisation, it was never pointed out. I do not know how it could have been seen if the auditors had not raised it. During the Board of Trade control, passenger fares were increased 50 per cent. There was no arrangement then that the agreement should come to an end. The Ministry of Transport has a right to claim that this is part of its work.


I came down to the House having no fixed intention to say a word on these Estimates. I came down in the hope, if not altogether in the belief, that I should hear something from the Minister of Transport which would, at least, satisfy me that now we were going to see some of the fruits of the labour of that Ministry during the past year. I have been moved to speak after listening to the speech of the Minister of Transport. When the Leader of the House got up to reinforce his speech I thought, Well now at last I shall hear something which will justify the existence of this Ministry. In my view, the Leader of the House felt that there was a missing link. He felt that there had been no justification made for the expense of this great Ministry, and I recognise that he touched very lightly on the points, because, I suppose, he felt that to do so too forcibly would only direct added attention and cause added attack as to those particular points. The Minister did not deal with the Estimates, the Minister did not deal with the Report of the Select Committee. The Report of the Select Committee was divided into two parts, the first of which consisted of 92 paragraphs and a second part of one paragraph. The first 92 paragraphs deal entirely with the arithmetic of the position. I take no exception whatever to the conclusion to which the Committee came, nor do I take any exception to the conclusion come to by them in the 93rd paragraph, which has nothing to do with the previous 92. In the first 92 paragraphs they say that they looked over the work which was being done by this Ministry, and that they checked the number of men employed, and found that the men were fully employed, and that if that work is going to be done it is going to cost a particular sum of money. That is a very easy process and programme to be carried out in any investigation. But in the 93rd paragraph, they call attention to the fact that it was not within their scope to say whether or not this work was necessary, and that the determination of that problem lies with Parliament. It is that problem, and that problem alone, which falls to be dealt with, as I understand, by this Committee to-night in considering these Estimates. The Minister of Transport said that the Ministry of Transport Act was the creation of this House. He twitted the Committee by saying that the First Reading was passed without a Division and that the Second Reading was passed without a Division, and that the subsequent stages were carried by large majorities and, as an hon. Friend reminds me, of a docile Coalition. I agree that is so.

I, for one, was a consistent opponent of this Measure until it reached the Statute Book, and when it did I certainly had every desire to do everything in my power to make it succeed. I have waited until to-day and listened faithfully, fairly and squarely for the proofs from the Treasury Bench in order that I might say at last this Ministry has suceeded. No such proof has been forthcoming. This Measure, it is true, was passed by the House, and a faithful Coalition acting in full faith on the word of the Minister. The hon. Baronet (Sir W. Joynson-Hicks) was quite right when he cited certain of the promises then made. We relied on those promises, and what were they? We were to have a Ministry established which was to bring about co-ordination. Thank God that word has been given up lately in this House at any rate. As well as coordination we were to have improved facilities in connection with the railways, and for what? For housing and agriculture. Those were the great big things which lured the House on to tolerate this gigantic organisation. What has the right hon. Gentleman said to the Committee? Has he defended one of those things or has he given the least hope that one of those things will be accomplished? Not one! What has he done? He has told us that it has become a great Accountancy Department in order to check war expenditure in connection with the railways, which could very well have been done by a Department in any one of the great Ministries of the Government.

I submit that he has failed entirely to prove to this House that this expenditure is justified on this broad base. He has not justified one of the promises that were put before this House last year. He has done nothing more than to deal with 5s. on a bottle of champagne and to say that we required all this huge expenditure in order to check up the allocation of expenses between the ordinary maintenance charge and the capital charges of the railways. Is that or is that not sufficient to justify this expenditure? I think I have said sufficient to direct the attention of the Committee to the main principles involved in this Estimate, and I now say plainly, that in my judgment this Estimate has not been justified and cannot be justified unless there is something more to be said about it, and if the hon. Member who has moved a reduction of the Vote goes to a Division, I shall certainly vote with him.


I came down to the Committee this afternoon, like the hon. Member who has just spoken, wondering whether I should vote for the Vote or against it, and I am bound to say that, taking all the arguments so far as I have heard them this afternoon, I have seldom heard a case that has been so unconvincingly made out for a vast expenditure like this as that which has been made out this afternoon. I would just like to refer briefly to the case of the agreement with the Board of Trade about the Under- ground. I do not think the Minister was in the least degree fair to the two hon. Members who preceded him. The last thing, as I understood, that they wished was to make any attack whatsoever on Lord Ashfield, and no defence from the right hon. Gentleman was needed with regard to Lord Ashfield at all. On the contrary, what it seemed to me they were anxious to bring out was the real nature of the agreement, the discovery of which, we were told by the right hon. Gentleman, was sufficient to justify the whole existence of his Department. I will only just ask one question or two, as a layman and not as a railway man, with regard to that agreement. Were those Tubes taken over or were they not? Because if they were taken over, did not the taking over give the Government afterwards the power to require that the service they wanted, within physical possibility, should be kept up, and if the Government had that power, why all this stress on the absence of a clause in the agreement which by the nature of the circumstances was not necessary, however it might be under ordinary conditions? Or, again, this agreement has been adduced by the right hon Gentleman as being a reason why the Department is needed as contrasted with the poor old derelict Board of Trade, and then, in the course of his remarks, as I understood them, he said that what happened was not humanly to be foreseen. It seemed to me that by those very words he exonerated the Board of Trade and Mr. Runciman from the blame which he wished to put upon them, and which was the reason for the existence of this Department and the virtue of the action he has taken.

Lastly, whatever has happened, is it not true that, so to speak, there was a quid pro quo on the giving up of this agreement now by the Underground? Was there a quid pro quo or was there not? If so, how was there a net gain to the country of £1,000,000, or whatever it was, as we understood from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks? We would like to have the facts quite clearly brought out, as I have no doubt they will be brought out in time. The impression left upon my mind as an outsider is that there was not this net gain of £1,000,000 a year to the country, as we were inclined to believe at an earlier stage, and that consequently if it is action like this which, on the right hon. Gentleman's own claim, is to justify the existence of his Department, then I imagine that no clearer condemnation of it could have been uttered by anyone. There are one or two other points which, it seems to me, are really very material to the judging of this question. What were the other agreements, the dealing with which constitutes again a reason why this Department should be kept in existence? By what ignorant men were these agreements made? Were they by Lord Ashfield, when he was President of the Board of Trade, or were they by his successor at the Board of Trade? I am sure everyone in the Committee would be anxious to know that. What we need in this country at this state of the finances, before indulging in this further expenditure, is the detailed facts with regard to all these matters, to show whether such expenditure as this can possibly be justified.

Far too much, in my opinion, has been made of that incident about myrmidons being sent round by the Department to test the price of champagne. Too much, indeed, was made of it by the Minister himself. Is that really the way in which the whole finance of the country is to be dealt with? If you are going to strike a balance between the great railway companies and the Government, is it to be done by testing the prices of bottles of champagne? I do not want to labour the point, but the very fact that this sort of point was made of so much substance by the right hon. Gentleman seems to me to point out a fallacy in his whole method of dealing with the matter. If one big business company was going to deal with another big business company, that is not the way it would set to work, and if a good balance is to be struck, I think it could be done infinitely better by other methods. Lastly on which leg are the Government really standing in this matter? Are they going to justify the existence of these officials by the fact that it is temporary work of great importance upon which they are employed, in order, finally, to settle up between the railway companies and the Government? That was the defence given by the Leader of the House. Is that to be the defence, or is the defence to be that this is a great permanent scheme, without which the "old world" cannot be "shored-up" or the new world brought in? Which is it to be? You cannot justify it on both grounds. If it is going to be temporary, let us have the assurance that once this temporary work is done, this whole network of megalomania shall then be swept away. If it is not temporary, then the sooner we arrive at a right understanding of what is required the better.

I would venture to suggest that so much interest attaches to this matter, both in itself and from the point of view of principle, that it would be well worth having this Debate continued on another day, when Members of the Committee may be able to read with care the speech which has been made by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon. I do not for an instant wish to be impolite to the right hon. Gentleman, but two hours were taken up, to start with, by his exposition of facts, another twenty minutes or so on a point of order, the best part of half an hour by the Leader of the House—and I daresay we are going to have a reply from the Government this evening—and an hour or more was taken up by Private Business in the middle. Clearly, on a matter of this kind, it would be well if it could be carried over, and the full sense of the Committee taken upon it. One point has not been sufficiently emphasised. I know of a case in which a man claimed £15,000 from an insurance company on the ground that in a fire at his house his wife's jewels had perished in the flames. The company quite naturally sent a representative to make inquiries. The man said, "I do not want so much bother as all this. Take your bill and write £7,500."What was the natural result?


I should think the man found himself in prison.


Yes, the man in the end was put in prison. But the first and natural result was that the company, instead of taking less care, took more care. Here we have a somewhat analogous case. We have a large sum of money for salaries and there arises a cry for economy. There is a cry for economy in the public Press, which is scorned by many Ministers for what it does, and, as a result, the Bill for salaries is at once reduced by one-fifth. That reduction is not a reason for passing the Estimates as they stand, but for looking into them with more care than previously appeared to be necessary. I really hope that in this case the Government will listen to what I think is the preponderating opinion of the Committee. It is no good saying, with any wish to convince us, that the whole policy of the Ministry of Ways and Communications is the settled policy of the House. Anyone here who knows the circumstances, what is known anywhere else, under which that Bill was brought in, under which it was discussed, and under which it was finally passed, would be a rash man if he said that it represented the settled conviction of this House. We have this wave of economy, and we have the Prime Minister writing a second letter saying that economy must be carried out in the Departments. I have no doubt we shall soon have Ministers saying:" Look at the magnificent zeal of the Prime Minister for economy. Look at him writing to all the Departments urging economy. By his negligence he may have let the horse out of the stable, but look how quickly he is running after it now that it is out." The whole course of the Debate this afternoon proves that the case for this vast expenditure has not been made out. It ought to be much more fully established if the country is really to believe that this Committee is in earnest about economy, and I sincerely trust that either the Government will give way about this matter, or that the Debate will be carried over in order that the facts may be fully ascertained before we come to a decision.


I think the Committee feel that the Government should accede to the wish which has been expressed by the right hon. Baronet who has just sat down, and that we should have another day for this Debate. If, as I gather, the Government are disposed to agree, and to give us another day, it would satisfy, not only the Committee, but also the country. An entirely new situation has arisen out of the Debate. We have learnt to-day for the first time that the Ministry of Transport is engaged upon a work which was never mentioned when the Ministry of Transport Bill was brought in. We understand that the main cause of the great expenditure to which the country is being put is the fact that the Ministry of Transport has to deal with a situation that arises out of agreements made in the early part of the War. Nothing was said of that when the Bill was brought in. Now we are told that this situation has arisen, that a great staff is required, and great expenditure necessitated because of these agreements. The country will want to know about these agreements. Who made them? Upon whom does that responsibility lie? We ought to have the truth, no matter on what part of the House it falls. If the Government in 1915 were responsible for these agreements, let us know it without any consideration as to what party suffers from the revelation of the truth. I think the right hon. Gentleman must regret the line he took in defending his Estimates this afternoon. He never intended—I am quite sure—that any reflection should fall upon the honour or probity of Lord Ashfield. Nothing has been said from this side of the House which reflects on Lord Ashfield's honour or probity. As was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles, Lord Ashfield has a perfect answer, if one be needed. The test is as to whether any consideration was given for the transfer in the agreement. The right hon. Gentleman said if there was no consideration no answer was required. We have learnt from the right hon. Gentleman that was a consideration—that this agreement is to be cancelled at the date when the increased charges have been agreed to in the Bill now before the House of Lords. Then it is asked whether there is any real gain to the Government out of the transaction? The situation seems to be a gain to the general taxpayer, but that the burden will be on the users of the trains in London.

Let me put this—if it be true—and I believe it is—that the agreements under which the right hon. Gentleman is acting now were made in 1915, when Mr. Walter Runciman was at the Board of Trade. The imputation made is that these agreements were disadvantageous because at that time you had a President who was not versed in railway matters. Let us accept that. But it is fair to remember that these agreements have been in operation for four or five years, and that within a year or two of their being made, there was at the Board of Trade a man who was versed in railway matters. He had no opportunity of revising these agreements. These agreements were made in the early days of the War, when Ministers had the War to think of as well as agreements. Might the Minister then not believe and expect when he was making agreements with men versed in railway matters that they were agreements in the public interest?

The Minister in charge of the Vote was so keen to make a point against Mr. Runciman that he overlooked the other side of the case, and if any reflection has been made upon Lord Ashfield it is due to the way in which the right hon. Gentleman presented his case. He stated that at that time neither of these gentlemen could see what the result of the agreement would be and that I believe is the position. I would like to know at what moment did it become apparent that the agreement was not in the public interest? That is a point which remains to be cleared up. According to the Minister of Transport the moment it became apparent was when he heard by chance that this agreement had been made, and he brought this forward as an instance of the value of the Ministry and a reason why these estimates should be passed. The moment he realised that this agreement was not in the public interest was when he heard of this agreement by chance.

One advantage of having this Debate is that we shall hear more about this question. We shall hear Mr. Runciman's story and we shall heard Lord Ashfield's story. Was it during the period Mr. Runciman or Lord Ashfield was in office that it appeared that this agreement was to the public disadvantage? There are a great many other things to be said on this matter, but the real interest of this Debate and its importance is that it will concentrate the interest of the country upon the question of the whole relationship between the Government and the railways. When the country begins to look into that question and realises the nature of the agreement, they will see the favoured position in which the railways have been placed in every respect.

There is to be an inquiry into the indemnity question in regard to the requisition of property during the War, and a great deal of attention has been directed to that question. Many people feel that they have not had fair play and that the decisions of the Defence of the Realm (Losses) Commission have not been satisfactory, and that people have not received proper terms. The railway com- panies have not been subjected to the decisions of this Commission, before which merchants have appeared who have had their goods requisitioned and they have only been paid the value at the time they were requisitioned, quite irrespective of the cost of replacing them. The railway companies have received entirely different treatment. Nothing but good can come of postponing this discussion. This Debate does not present a very pretty picture to the country in which one Minister is attacking his predecessor, and in which the head of a great Department proceeds to discredit another Department. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I am speaking now as a man who has been through the Civil Service. I want to take this opportunity of protesting against the way in which the Civil Service is being treated by the Government of to-day. It is not the way to ensure the best work from it.


I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."

I am sure this Motion will meet with the unanimous assent of the Committee, as there is a general consensus of opinion that this matter is worth another day's Debate. Thanks to the assistance rendered by the Opposition, who have a controlling voice in this matter, we have been able to arrange that the Debate shall be continued this day week.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

On that Motion—


On a point of Order. As this Motion has been proposed from the Treasury Bench under the impression that the Committee unanimously accepts it, is it in order for the hon. Member to continue the Debate? Had that been in order I should have risen myself, and I do ask we shall all have a fair start if it is to be continued.


The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull will certainly not be allowed to continue the Debate on the subject recently before the Committee, and he must confine his remarks strictly to the Motion to report Progress, which is quite a different matter.

Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY

That is the question on which I propose to make a few remarks, and if hon. Members will only bear with me I can quickly make my point. I wish to draw attention to the position in which we find ourselves in having to spend another day on this subject. It shows an extraordinarily bad arrangement of business, and I want to enter my protest against the proposal to give another day when there are so many much more important subjects requiring discussion. Yesterday we only gave four hours to the discussion of an expenditure of something well over £40,000,000; yet the whole of to-day have been devoted to debating the affairs of one Department, which I consider is unnecessary.


That is not at all relevant to the question before the Committee.

Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY

On a point of Order. Am I in order in protesting against reporting Progress to-day? I want more time on another Vote.


On a point of Order. Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman in order in discussing this question when he has not been here during the progress of the Debate?


I am afraid I can give no other reply than I have already given.


May I ask whether the hon. and gallant Member for the Soviet Division of Hull is entitled to waste the time of this Committee?


Before the Question be put, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote whether the White Paper which he promised in the course of to-day's Debate will be published before next Thursday?


I certainly hope to get it out by then.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit a gain To-morrow.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.