HC Deb 22 November 1920 vol 135 cc29-31

asked the Minister of Transport whether the rail way executive has refused to give evidence before Lord Colwyn's Committee; and, if so, can he make a statement on the subject?

83. Mr. MYERS

asked the Minister of Transport whether the Departmental Committee on Railway Agreements has power to summon witnesses and compel their attendance to give evidence; if not, whether any witness who has been invited to give evidence has refused; and, if so, Whether measures will be taken to enforce the attendance of any witness whose evidence is essential to the proper conduct of the inquiry?

84. Mr. HIGHAM

asked the Minister of Transport whether, as stated in the press, the Railway Executive have declined to appear before Lord Colwyn's Committee, and what action he proposes to take in the matter; whether this refusal on the part of the Railway Executive will delay the Report of this Committee, and if there is any likelihood of an interim Report being given to the House covering the investigations already made; and can he inform the House when this Report is likely to be forthcoming?


It would be convenient if I reply to the three questions together. The Committee have no power to compel witnesses to attend, and the selection of those they invite is entirely a matter within their discretion. I have received no report from them on the subject. I have been informed, however, on the 19th November, by Sir Herbert Walker, that with the concurrence of his colleagues, he has felt unable to give evidence for reasons given in a letter to the secretary of Lord Colwyn's Committee, on 10th November, which he asks me in fairness to himself to read to the House. It is rather long, but I think in the circumstances the House will allow me to read it. The letter is as follows:

"L. & S.W. Railway,

General Manager's Office,

Waterloo Station,

S.E. 10th November, 1920.

Secretary to Departmental

Committee on Railway Agreements,

Ministry of Transport 6,

Whitehall Gardens, S.W.1.

Departmental Committee on Railway



With further reference to your letter of the 1st instant, I have now had an opportunity of consulting those general managers who were my colleagues on the Railway Executive Committee.

I was desirous of doing this as it seems clear that any member of that body could only give evidence in a representative capacity.

We have carefully considered the request that evidence should be given before your Committee by me, as Acting Chairman of the Railway Executive Committee, and a precis of such evidence submitted in advance, and we are unanimously of opinion that it would be improper for any one of us to take this action in view of what we understand to be the scope of the inquiry to be held by your Committee and of the fact that the agreements in question affect the rights of individual companies and may be the subject of litigation.

With regard to the agreements mentioned in the reference to the Committee, the general managers who formed the Railway Executive Committee were acting, not as representatives of the Government, but as negotiators for the railway companies.

We feel strongly that, having regard to future possibilities in relation to those agreements, the position in which any one of us would be placed as a witness before the Committee is not one which he should be asked to occupy.

So far as we are aware, all the facts relating to the agreements in question can be obtained from the officials of the Government Departments concerned, but if this is not the case and there is information within the knowledge of any of the members of the Railway Executive Committee which your Committee desire to have, I would suggest that you should indicate the questions to which an answer is desired, and the matter shall at once receive careful attention.

Yours faithfully,

(Signed) H. A. WALKER."