§ 2. "That a sum, not exceeding £21,220,000 (including a Supplementary sum of £9,000,000), 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, 1922, to meet Expenditure arising from the Government Control of Railways and Canals in Great Britain and Ireland under The Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871, Section 16, and Defence of the Realm (Consolidation) Regulations, 9 H."
§ Motion made, and Question "That the further consideration of the Resolution be now adjourned," put, and agreed to.—[Colonel Leslie Wilson.]
§ Resolution to be further considered upon Monday next.1728
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 1.0 P.M.
In spite of the fact that this matter came before the House-in Committee last night, it is necessary to comment on the fact that the House is asked to pass this Vote of a very large sum without any further explanation by the Minister of Transport. Last night we were fortunate enough to have the presence here of the Minister. He is not here now, and that is a misfortune, because, in spite of the great gifts of the Parliamentary Secretary, this matter raises very technical questions on which the Minister of Transport is an acknowledged expert. We are asked to assent to a Supplementary Estimate which calls for a sum of £9,000,000. This sum arises directly out of the liability of the Government under certain agreements between the Government and the railway companies, but it does not arise in the normal course. What brings the matter particularly before the House is the coal stoppage. When this subject was introduced in Committee last night, the Parliamentary Secretary used these words:The reason why we have to come to the Committee to-night for this Vote may be summed up in one phrase—it is entirely owing to the coal dispute."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1921; col. 1677, Vol. 143.]That is to say, that on account of the coal industry dispute the House is asking the taxpayers to find a sum of £9,000,000. This Estimate only covers the period up to the 18th June. We were told last night that the Estimate was made up to the date on which the miners ballot was taken, it being hoped that that date would put a period to the dispute, and consequently put a period to the liability of the country under these Railway Agreements in respect of costs arising out of the coal stoppage. That hope has vanished. June 18th did not put a period to the dispute. It is still going on, and in voting this sum the House will not be settling its liabilities, but will in due course be confronted by another supplementary Estimate.
It may be said that the Government to-day cannot be held responsible for the Railway Agreements. When they came into office the Agreements were made and the country was liable under them, so 1729 that the Government had nothing else to do but, from time to time, find the sums required to discharge the liabilities arising from those Agreementns. If we were being asked to-day to find nothing but a sum which had arisen in the normal carrying out of these Agreements, I am prepared to admit that no criticism could attach to the Government, and comment on the situation would be superfluous. But that is not the position. While it is true that so far as the Agreements themselves are concerned, the Government is not responsible, yet for the particular situation which has arisen creating a necessity for finding this £9,000,000, I maintain the Government is entirely responsible. That being so, I submit the House is entitled to ask the Government what step is being taken to put an end to the particular liability which arises here. That is the question which the Government has to face, and I repeat it is unfortunate that in such circumstances we are left entirely to such assistance as can be given to us by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. I am quite sure when I say that, my hon. Friend will recognise I am not in any sense minimising the importance of the assistance which he can, and does, give to the House. But where we have a liability of millions of pounds, which is also a continuing liability, there should be present the Leader of the House, or somebody who can tell us what the policy of the Government in this matter is going to be. So far from that, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was with us up to a few moments ago, has left the House, treating this matter as if it were of no importance whatever. The right hon. Gentleman is the last person from whom such an attitude might be expected. He is charged with the responsibility of raising the revenue to meet this, and one would think his anxiety would be to advance some method of meeting this liability. The Leader of the House is not here either, and we shall have to be satisfied with what can be said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. As I am reminded further, in order to meet this liability some steps will have to be taken beyond raising ordinary revenue. The Government actually has to go out and borrow money at a very high rate, in order to find what 1730 is necessary under this Estimate. This would seem to demand very serious consideration on the part of the House, and I do not think I am occupying time unnecessarily in drawing attention to the situation. Last night hon. Members exhausted themselves in an inquiry into a comparatively small sum, in which intense interest was taken, although it did not amount to more than a few thousands of pounds. Here we have a sum running into millions, and a sum which will go far beyond the Estimate upon the Paper. I may draw the attention of hon. Members to the statements made by the Minister of Transport in the course of a very frank effort to make the position perfectly clear and explain the extent of this liability. He said:As nearly as I can get it—the Committee I know will treat it as a rough estimate—fit" (the coal stoppage) "is costing about £6,000,000 a month.The Minister was, of course, dealing with the liability under this agreement, and not with the general cost to the country.The extra deficiency for April over March was £5,150,000.That is, comparing the deficiency on railway working in April with the deficiency in March. In the first month of the coal stoppage the extra deficiency under the Railway Agreements, for which the House is liable, was £5,150,000. The Minister also said:We allow the same sum for May. We allow half the sum for June. That is £13,875,000—it must be a little bit more than that now. The £6,000,000—I take it this was the £6,000,000 a month to which he had already referred.—is, directly or indirectly, attributable to the coal stoppage."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd June, 1921; col. 1699, Vol. 143.]The real position before the House is that we are not disinterested parties in this matter. Apart from our general interest in the coal stoppage as citizens of this community, we have a special interest as being liable to the country, for expenditure arising in connection with it. We have it from the Minister of Transport that this liability has reached the enormous figure of £6,000,000 per month. It is not necessary to quote any further from the Minister's statement in order to impress the House with the extreme seriousness and gravity of the situation or to give weight to the plea I am making, that the Government should put the House 1731 in possession of some information as to what they are going to do. Are we going to take any steps in order to deal with this situation or is the Government, faced as it is with this liability, merely to remain an idle spectator of the dispute now in progress? The Government might be entitled to take that course and it might be a proper thing for the House to assent in it, if the Government and the House had no responsibility for bringing about the situation which exists. That, however, is not the case. The present situation arises directly from the action of the Government in decontrolling the mines at the time they did. The present situation arises directly from that action. When the case was presented to the House and the House concurred in the decision which was taken, the only grounds upon which the Government based their action were the grounds of relieving the taxpayers from a liability which they were likely to incur under the Mines Act as it stood. Under that Act certain liabilities existed, and unless that were repealed those liabilities would continue, and when the Government came before the House with their proposals for decontrol, it was said that those proposals would save the taxpayers something like £1,000,000 a week or £4,000,000 a month. It was solely upon the grounds of financial relief that the Government asked the House to act, and if I were to suggest that the Government had any other motives and that they were endeavouring to weight the scales on one side or the other of the coal dispute, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport, I am sure, would repudiate that. That being so, we can see that the Government entirely miscalculated the situation. They were out to save the taxpayers £1,000,000 a week, but what they have succeeded in doing is to land the taxpayers into an expenditure of £1,500,000 a week.
I agree that the liabilities extend far beyond the railways, but I am dealing at present only with the railway agreements. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary again of the fact that when the proposals for decontrol were before the House most earnest appeals were put up to the Government, not only 1732 from these quarters, but from all parts of the House, to give a further period in which an opportunity for a settlement might be offered, but they were adamant and obdurate, and they would not give a month or a week, but forced the decontrol on for the date upon which they had made up their minds, and now we see the result. The demand for £9,000,000 is one evidence of it, and that is not the end, as we shall be faced with further Estimates. I submit that in the situation which has arisen we are entitled now to some guidance from the Government as to what they intend to do in this matter. They were reckoning on certain events which have not taken place. They are faced with a new situation and with the prospect of increased liabilities, and it is for the Government to tell the House what they propose to do. I am making a heavy demand upon the Parliamentary Secretary, I know, but I submit that the House is not being treated with the confidence it deserves by the Government in leaving such a matter as this entirely in the hands of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. SWAN
This Estimate is absolutely the result of the policy of the Government. We tried to take a long view of what the inevitable result would be of the policy which the Government were pursuing in regard to the financial obligations of the nation, but we were confronted with the guidance of men of extensive business ability and experience, and they counselled the House of Commons that in the best interests of the whole of the nation the mines should be decontrolled. We were advised then by the President of the Board of Trade that, in the event of a total loss to the community, all that the nation would be involved in was approximately £30,000,000, but instead of it working out according to that business and legal advice we find that, as the result of that policy, we have a charge upon the taxpayers of at least £6,000,000 a month, and we were told last night that what the nation is likely to be involved in is approximately £99,000,000 or £100,000,000. If the Government had carried out the findings of the Sankey Commission and had taken over the whole of the mines, they could now have been the property of the community. Now, when we go to our mining areas, and they find that the Government are seeking Supplementary Estimates for the £9,000,000 due to the deficit, what will their state 1733 of mind be? It is likely to make them more hostile and obdurate than ever. In the event of any common people such as we represent being on any local authority or involved in any such business transaction, what would have been the comment of the Press and of business men if we had signed an agreement that, in the event of a strike or lock-out, we would put a charge on the community to make up all the deficit of a normal income? We should be ridiculed and jeered at, and rightly so; but people who had all the brains and the business ability, and who were termed a business Government in the past, have made no preparation for any such exigency, and we submit that the policy of the Chancellor of' the Exchequer when he was at the Board of Trade inevitably led to nothing but this. His policy of turning down and dishonouring the Government's pledges to the miners, and taking sides with the railway magnates and shareholders, is costing this nation not only £9,000,000, but we should think nearer a thousand millions.
We have a criticism to offer to the Ministry of Transport, because we think it has failed to function as the nation expected. We are asked to make a levy upon the taxpayers to the extent of this £30,000,000 and the Supplementary Estimate for work that has never been done for the community. At the General Election the Secretary of State for War told his constituents, and got wide notice in all the Press, that as soon as the Government were returned to power they would nationalise the railways, because they were the life-blood of the nation.
§ Major MOLSON
Is the hon. Member in order in speaking on the nationalisation of mines and railways?
§ Mr. SWAN
All I want to say is that had the step been taken which we were persuaded the Government were going to take, we should not have been involved in this charge. We think that the policy which the Government has pursued has led the nation into a paralysis. It is seeking to honour a pledge to one section, who have almost bled the community white, and, on the other hand, it has never made an effort to retrieve its 1734 liabilities to the other section, the mining community. If it had been as loyal to the miners as it is anxious to be to the shareholders of the railway companies, we would have been in a much more prosperous state, and, instead of this House having to meet a Supplementary Estimate, the railways would have been a paying concern, men would have been at work, and we would have retained our markets overseas which we have lost, bringing bankruptcy upon our local authorities and likewise upon the nation.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I regret more than I can say the unfortunate turn which this discussion has taken. We are now, after twelve weeks of an unfortunate coal stoppage, at the most critical point, when there appears to be a chance of getting a settlement. There are now going on attempts at that settlement, and I for one am desirous to do nothing which by any chance can put an impediment in the way of an agreement being arrived at. There is a complete reply available to me for everything the hon. Gentleman has said. He has presented to the House an absolute travesty of what really is the truth of the matter. To-day I refuse to make the defence which is complete and convincing if made, and I would advise my hon. Friend just to look back upon two or three recent records of what has been happening for a complete refutation of everything he has said to-day.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I shall do it in my own time, but I refuse to-day to embitter a controversy by a single word of mine, and I intend to leave the matter there.
§ Sir GODFREY COLLINS
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has intervened in the debate this afternoon with an object, which, I am sure, is shared in every quarter of the House, when he stated that negotiations were in progress which, he hoped, might terminate this unfortunate dispute. At a late hour last night, this subject was raised in the House, and no word of comment, no note of interrogation, no word of disapproval was mentioned from the Government Bench. When my hon. Friends, earlier in the course of the afternoon, found that the Finance Bill was passing rapidly through its Committee stage, we thought—and I 1735 think the House will agree with me—that it was a suitable opportunity, at a time when large sums of public money were being voted, for the House for a short time to discuss and face this unpleasant situation. I agree with him, and I am sure every hon. Member on this side of the House has no desire to place any impediment whatsoever, either by any word spoken or by any action taken, to frustrate the desire of the Government. I can only say that the debate this afternoon has not been unfortunate if it has elicited this very important statement thereby giving encouragement to the 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 men who are out of work to-day, and to the traders throughout the country, who are feeling the pressure of economic circumstances. They will gladly appreciate the statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the Government are intervening, with hope, in this unfortunate dispute.
§ Sir R. HORNE
One has to be very careful about one's choice of words in this matter. I am not in a position to say the Government is intervening, nor am I in a position to use the phrase my hon. Friend used about negotiations being in progress. But opportunities for negotiation have, in my view, arisen, of which I should like to take the fullest advantage.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I have no desire to read into the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer anything further than the actual words he used, and I will leave the subject accordingly. At a late hour last night the Minister of Transport was asked what economies the Ministry of Transport were effecting in the working of the railways, with a view of avoiding, so far as possible, the heavy burden which is falling on the taxpayers through the present situation on the railways, and the House welcomed the statement that arrangements had been entered into with success between the railway companies and the unions, which mitigated, in some degree, the burden which is falling on the taxpayers. I am anxious this afternoon to press the Parliamentary Secretary a little more on that point. Can he give us any further assurances as to the economies the Ministry are effecting? Take, for instance, the officials in the railway world. The railway servants are receiving to-day a smaller wage than they did six or nine 1736 months ago. Is the same principle being applied in all branches of railway service? Are the men who are drawing monthly salaries being subsidised by the taxpayers, or are they sharing with their less fortunate fellow-servants in the situation in which the railway companies find themselves to-day?
There is one other point I am anxious to put to the Parliamentary Secretary. When the period of decontrol arises at midnight on 14th August, will there be any sudden fall in railway wages? Will there be large numbers of railway men dismissed? Have the railway companies to-day the power to settle these matters themselves? Are their hands tied by the Ministry of Transport? Can they manage their business in their own way? Can they look ahead and show foresight, and by showing it bring the working of the railways into keeping with the amount of haulage which the railways are taking to-day? The House will recollect it was the very sudden drop in wages which brought about the present unfortunate situation in the coal trade. I am entitled to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, therefore, whether or not a similar situation will arise on 14th August? What assurance can we give to the House that the period of decontrol will not put an end sharply and quickly to the present artificial condition? The situation in the coal trade before the period of decontrol started was largely artificial. The coal trade was being supported by subsidies out of the public purse. The same situation to-day exists on the railways. They are subsidised out of the public purse. When that subsidy is removed in August will there be any sudden and violent change in the working of the railways? I hope the Parliamentary Secretary can give some assurances before this Vote is passed that this sudden change will not take place.
The Debate in the House last night showed considerable sympathy with the Parliamentary Secretary. Hon. Members realised his difficulties. They are anxious to assist him as far as possible, and the requests put forward this afternoon are not put forward in any controversial spirit, but with a desire to find out the true situation; to find out what further sums will fall upon the public Exchequer. The total sum in this Estimate is £39,000,000. There is the further £30,000,000, which means that £69,000,000 1737 this year is being taken from the pocket of the taxpayer and passing into the coffers of the railway companies. We have been accustomed to speak in millions in this House during the last seven years, but the sum mentioned in the present figures shows an extraordinary situation. Last night the Parliamentary Secretary informed the committee that his estimate was based upon the supposition that the coal dispute would come to an end on 18th June. We have already passed that stage, and there will presumably be a further liability. I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary what he considers will be the total sum required if the dispute continues for a further fortnight, and whether there will be a further Supplementary Estimate for this object at an early date?
§ Mr. MYERS
It seems desirable to endeavour to get some little information with regard to this figure presented to the House. I confess I have done my best to understand the Estimate, but have not been very successful. We on this side understand that owing to the arrangement made between the railway companies and the Government in 1914, the State was committed to guaranteeing the railway companies their net 1913 receipts. That in round figures was £47,000,000.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Mr. Neal)
No, that is not quite so. My hon. Friend is, I think, confusing the sum paid in dividend with the total net receipt.
§ Mr. MYERS
In any case, the guarantee was that the railway companies should receive the 1913 net receipts. For several years, up to the end of 1918, the receipts from the railway working was equal to the guarantee, speaking roundly. There was no call made upon the National Exchequer under that head. Now, however, the responsibility of the Government to the railway companies is round about a million per week. The receipts from the railways are partly utilised in order to relieve the Government from that responsibility. Until the receipts come up to that figure there is no liability upon the Government. If there were no receipts at the present time the responsibility of the Government to the railway companies would be round about £1,000,000 a week.
§ Mr. MYERS
There are some receipts which at the present time go towards that figure. Last night the Parliamentary Secretary told us that the losses in one direction due to the coal dispute were round about £6,000,000 a month. What I would like to understand, and I am sure many of my colleagues are in a similar position. Under what heads are these losses incurred apart from the guarantee to the railway companies? If we paid the railway companies their 1913 net receipts the losses, I think, would not be as great by a long way to the State as is probable according to the evidence of the figures presented by the Parliamentary Secretary. We are anxious to know what are the liabilities of the State to the railway companies, and how long they are likely to continue?
§ Major MORGAN
It is with some reluctance that I rise to offer a few words in regard to the situation generally. The Chancellor of the Exchequer came into the House for a very short while, and attempted to deliver a lecture to us because we wanted some knowledge as to the charges arising in connection with the railways. I want to say at once that no words will fall from my lips to suggest that the Minister of Transport and the Parliamentary Secretary have not done all they possibly could; but we on this side do resent the growing practice in this House of Ministers affected by questions which may be raised not troubling to come into the House, and the moment we try to put a helpful question to get at the root cause of the trouble, being told that it is unfortunate to discuss a situation that is being allowed to drift. We are now in the 13th week of it. I am not disposed to go into the total cost, but I venture to say for the month of June altogether we shall not be discussing merely the loss of 1½ millions per week. If this dispute be allowed to go on and not seriously tackled our losses will increase day by day. I do not think I should be far wrong in saying that by the end of June we shall be asking for something close upon £2,000,000 a month to deal with the railways alone.
The hon. Member said he thought it was the duty of some of the Ministers to be present to put us in possession of whatever new information could be obtained, because when we go back to our constituents, and especially those of us re- 1739 turned in the main by the coal miners, they will want to know what steps are being taken to reduce the vast losses that, are being incurred, and for which the money will have to be found by the taxpayers. It is all very well for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say the moment we begin to discuss this situation that we are likely to jeopardise the negotiations which are going on. It is cant. If the, Chancellor of the Exchequer had remained away altogether from the coal question, I think this House would never have needed to discuss the question at all, and that is the way he treats the House on this very important question. [An HON. MEMBER: "He has walked out!"] Yes, after he has given us a lecture telling us that we are not to discuss this question at all.
I do not propose to go into the figures, but I want to say that this practice of Ministers treating the House in this way ought to cease, and they ought to be present, because they have misrepresented the situation as far as the coal trade is concerned from beginning to end. We asked the Government last February in regard to decontrol what they were going to do, and since then they have landed us into the present situation. We are now in the thirteenth week of a coal stoppage which will land the country into a little short of £100,000,000 in losses as far as the railways, the coal mines, and other industries are concerned. I think we ought to receive better treatment from Ministers of the Crown, because it is our duty to show that there is still some interest in this House with regard to this important and essential question.
In view of the remarks which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made in criticising the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Newcastle (Major Barnes), I cannot allow this opportunity to pass without entering a protest against the growing practice of Ministers lecturing us, and saying when a question is inconvenient for them that things are in such a delicate situation that it is dangerous for the House to meddle with the question at all. I have the greatest respect for the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I object to this lecturing of hon. Members, because in reply to our criticism the right hon. Gentleman himself gave us an announcement of a most 1740 important character which he should have been down here to announce to the House and the people who are panting for information of this kind. Instead of that, the right hon. Gentleman comes here like a butterfly just for a moment, and in a casual sort of way gives to us an important announcement of this sort and through this House to the nation. I do not think that either the nation or the House is being respectfully treated.
Before we heard of the rather nebulous condition of these negotiations, the House was discussing both last night and to-day the connection between the effect of the coal stoppage on the Vote we are at present discussing. It is a serious thing that the country should be burdened with a condition of things which compels the House to guarantee a certain sum of money to the proprietors of the railways of this country, while at the same time the Government is in a position, either by muddling or mishandling the coal situation, to bring a tremendous additional burden under the railway guarantees. It is impossible to discuss this Vote without debating the coal situation. My hon. and gallant Friend deserves the thanks of the House for pointing out the connection between the coal policy—I do not know that it would be successful even if angels had to deal with it—and this Vote, but it has not been a success owing to the fact that there are two parties, one of them anxious to have a fight to a finish and the other party want conciliation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been no longer in this House than I have, and I do not think he is entitled to come here and lecture us.
§ Mr. NEAL
It would obviously be improper for me to say anything in reference to the coal situation after the announcement which has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. For that reason I do not propose to pursue that subject. There are certain important questions which have been addressed to me by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Greenock (Sir G. Collins) which call for a specific and a direct answer. The hon. and gallant Member for Greenock and the hon. and gallant Member for East Newcastle (Major Barnes) are both perfectly familiar with the agreements under which this Vote arises, and I think I shall have the assent of both of them when I say that the present administration has no responsibility for those 1741 agreements further than to state that it is our duty, to recognise the obligations of the State and to give effect to them. I would like in connection with this question to say that but for the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport bringing these liabilities to an end in August next, control of the railways would have had to be continued for a further period of at least two years, namely, two years after the con elusion of the War. It is a matter of gratification to every hon. Member of this House that there is an end in view to the whole of the Government liabilities in this respect.
Fortunately in the course of the Debate last night and again to-day there has been no criticism addressed directly to the Ministry with reference to the Vote which I had the honour to submit to the Committee yesterday and again to-day. The questions which were put by the hon. and gallant Member (Sir G. Collins) I will endeavour to answer. He asked whether there was some reduction in the wages of the railway officials commensurate with the reduction which has been made with reference to the workmen. The answer to that question has been given once before in this House, but I give it again, though I do not think it is quite as germane to this Vote as some other observations which fell from my hon. and gallant Friend. There has been no reduction made in the wages of the workmen upon the railways during this coal dispute—I am not quite sure whether there has been a reduction automatically under the sliding scale—nor has there been any difference whatever between the Government as representing the taxpayers and the unions as representing the men. Under the agreements as they subsisted, the men were guaranteed a full week's work so long as they remained in the service, but it was quite open to the railway companies to have given notice to reduce their staff and to have put a number of men on the unemployment list. That would have been inevitable, because it is obvious that there is much less work for the ordinary workman on the railways while train services are reduced as they are to-day. The men, however saw the wisdom—I commend them for it—of distributing the wages among the men by reducing the time during which they work, so that there might be 1742 none left totally unprovided for, and that they might normally resume their position and full pay when the period of stress had ceased.
§ Major MORGAN
It is true to say that they work three days per week and that they had only suffered reductions due to each fall of five points in the cost of living.
§ Mr. NEAL
I would not like to pledge myself to the precise details of reduction, but it has been on the lines of short time rather than dismissal. When that question is applied to the officials, a totally different state of things arises. During times of anxiety and strain such as at present, the duties of the officials are not less; they are rather increased. Those who are responsible for the running of the trains and the regulation of the services have much greater difficulty in trying to adjust the services than they have in normal times. Therefore, so far as I know, nothing has happened with reference to them. My hon. and gallant Friend put more pointed and cogent questions to me with reference to what will happen as from 15th August. He asked whether the Government anticipated a sudden drop in wages to be sought by the railway companies, which might produce the same disastrous paralysis as obtains in the mining industry. Everything that human foresight can do to prevent that has been done with the goodwill of the railways and of the men. There is at present in existence an arrangement under which wages disputes are considered by a joint body of masters and men, and, if they fail to agree, they are carried over for consideration by a mixed tribunal. There is embodied in the Railway Bill the terms of an agreement come to between the railway companies and the men, whereby the functions of those bodies of arbitrators or tribunals continue until some permanent organisation is set up. I am happy, therefore, to be able to assure my hon. and gallant Friend that there is not the slightest reason, as far as one can humanly foretell, to fear that there will be any disturbance or dislocation at the end of the period of control.
He also asked me whether the companies were now in a position to manage their own business, and whether they would be quite free to do so at the end of control. That opens up a large field. The companies have really been 1743 managing their own business right through the period of control. It is one of the criticisms which was addressed by my hon. Friend, the Member for the Holland Division (Mr. Royce), last night, that the Government's control had not been sufficiently tight and effective, but that there had been freedom from control. There is, per contra, the interrogatory criticism of my hon. and gallant Friend on the Front Bench (Sir G. Collins), when he asked me whether they would be free to manage their own business, and, in particular, to negotiate with their own men. Certainly, the interference of His Majesty's Government with the railways has been of an extremely slight character, except so far as regards wages, hours, and conditions of work are concerned. It was pointed out that these agreements involved the State this year in payments at present estimated at no less than £69,000,000. That is perfectly true. One consolation is that we hope that we now see the end of it. The Minister made efforts in that direction before by authorising an increase of rates and charges, but there intervened conditions which could not have been foreseen, namely, acute trade depression and this disastrous dispute in the coal trade. Unfortunately, these charges do come upon the country, but £30,000,000 is part of the £60,000,000 which is to get rid of outstanding claims which potentially were estimated by the Committee presided over by Lord Colwyn and of which my hon. and gallant Friends were members at £150,000,000, with possible claims over and above that sum. We are getting rid of those claims by the payment of £60,000,000.
My hon. Friend, the member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers) invited me to explain the exact position of the figures relating to the guarantee for 1913. What was guaranteed to the railways, apart from the subsequent agreement as to deferred maintenance of stores and matters of that kind, was the net revenue on certain items—the traffic items principally—for the year 1913. Those items, of course, include the sum distributed in dividends during that year, and, speaking from recollection, I think that was something like £47,000,000. Those obligations still continue to make up the net revenue, and it is because there is a decline in the net revenue, owing to trade conditions, aggra- 1744 vated by the disastrous stoppage in the coal industry, that we have to come today with this Supplementary Estimate. I trust that I have covered all the points, and I shall be grateful if the House can now see its way to come to a decision.
§ Mr. HAYWARD
The Parliamentary Secretary, in his speech, disclaimed responsibility on the part of the Government for those losses arising out of the strike. I am not at all sure that the Government can disclaim responsibility, and I say so advisedly. The hon. member will agree at least that the Government is responsible for fixing the termination of the present control as at the end of August this year by the Transport Act. The hon. Gentleman said that when they came into office they found existing agreements under which the State would remain liable for a period of two years after the termination of the War. That time, as he truly said, has not yet arrived, and therefore under the agreement the railways would have had two years from a period which has not yet arrived. That is perfectly true, but the fixing of the period for the termination is something which is and always has been in the determination of the Government. When the Armistice came, in November, 1918, it was quite open to the Government to have got through the necessary Order in Council terminating the War for any particular purpose, and it showed a great want of foresight on their part when, knowing they had in view these continuing liabilities, they failed to take the necessary steps by Order in Council to terminate the War for such a purpose as this. It could have been properly done. It should have been done, and it is entirely owing to the lack of foresight on the part of the Government in not doing it that the country is now saddled with this enormous burden.
§ Mr. LAWSON
The effects of the great industrial struggle which has gone on during the last three months are apparent not only in the discussion in this House, but on the Estimates which are now being brought before it for consideration. It is especially so in connection with the Railway Estimates. I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day has asked the House not to discuss this matter in view of the very delicate situation that has arisen. That is a sort of statement which we are now becoming accustomed 1745 to in this House in regard to the coal struggle. It seems to me that it is the duty of the House to discuss matters like this. It is a tragedy almost unparalleled in industrial history that a million workers in this country, with four million dependants, and affecting besides millions of other workers by reason of the struggle in which they are engaged, should be asking for a certain thing while this House, which is supposed to represent the community, seems to be almost entirely ignorant of the real aspirations and real claim of these people. We have had this question put from various points of view. Sometimes we are told that the Leaders have misled the workers.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. James Hope)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I would remind him that I ruled yesterday, when in the Chair in Committee, that it was not in order on this Vote to debate the merits of the coal stoppage. Since then I have been fortified in my opinion by Mr. Speaker. It is obvious that otherwise the ramifications of the Debate might be enormous. Part of this money is required on account of the trade depression, and it might be argued that the Government ought to have stopped the trade depression by stabilising the foreign exchanges. It would be quite in order to criticise the Government for their policy of decontrol,
§ but to discuss the merits of the coal stoppage is not in order.
§ Mr. LAWSON
I can only repeat that this matter ought to have been discussed from time to time by this House. The day has gone by when we should be told that the situation is too delicate for the House to discuss it. The truth is the House and the country are in complete ignorance of the real causes of the dispute, and the sooner we get down to discussions of the question the better it will be for the country and for everybody concerned. That is all I want to say. It has been suggested that I should move a reduction of the Vote. I do not wish to do that, although it might afford an opportunity for securing a full debate on this matter, but I do hope I may be allowed to express the hope that, in future, the Government will keep the House informed stage by stage of all that is going on in this matter, so that we may have an opportunity of discussing the very grave crisis through which the country is passing, and will continue to be passing until the representatives of the people are allowed to express themselves freely and frankly on the situation.
§ Question put, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 132; Noes, 30.1747
|Division No. 197.]||AYES.||[2.1 p.m.|
|Amery, Leopold C. M. S.||Elliot, Capt. Walter E. (Lanark)||Jameson, John Gordon|
|Ashley, Colonel Wilfrid W.||Eyres-Monsell, Com. Bolton M.||Jodrell, Neville Paul|
|Bagley, Captain E. Ashton||Evans, Ernest||Johnstone, Joseph|
|Baird, Sir John Lawrence||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Jones, J. T. (Carmarthen, Llanelly)|
|Baldwin, Rt. Hon. Stanley||Fell, Sir Arthur||Kellaway, Rt. Hon. Fredk. George|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Fildes, Henry||Kelley, Major Fred (Rotherham)|
|Banner, Sir John S. Harmood-||Ford, Patrick Johnston||King, Captain Henry Douglas|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Forrest, Walter||Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ., Wales)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis B.||Lloyd-Greame, Sir P.|
|Bennett, Sir Thomas Jewell||Gardiner, James||Lorden, John William|
|Bigland, Alfred||Gardner, Ernest||M'Curdy, Rt. Hon. Charles A.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Gee, Captain Robert||Macdonald, Rt. Hon. John Murray|
|Blades, Sir George Rowland||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham||Macnamara, Rt. Hon. Dr. T. J.|
|Borwick, Major G. O.||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel Sir John||Mitchell, William Lane|
|Bowyer, Captain G. W. E.||Goff, Sir R. Park||Molson, Major John Elsdale|
|Breese, Major Charles E.||Green, Albert (Derby)||Moore, Major-General Sir Newton J.|
|Buchanan, Lieut.-Colonel A. L. H.||Green, Joseph F. (Leicester, W.)||Morison, Rt. Hon. Thomas Brash|
|Buckley, Lieut.-Colonel A.||Greene, Lt.-Col. Sir W. (Hack'y, N.)||Morrison-Bell, Major A. C.|
|Burn, Col. C. R. (Devon, Torquay)||Hacking, Captain Douglas H.||Munro, Rt. Hon. Robert|
|Butcher, Sir John George||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Murray, C. D. (Edinburgh)|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry||Murray, John (Leeds, West)|
|Clough, Robert||Harmsworth, C. B. (Bedford, Luton)||Neal, Arthur|
|Cobb, Sir Cyril||Harris, Sir Henry Percy||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Henderson, Major V. L. (Tradeston)||Nicholson, Reginald (Doncaster)|
|Colvin, Brig.-General Richard Beale||Hennessy, Major J. R. G.||Norton-Griffiths, Lieut.-Col. Sir John|
|Cope, Major William||Henry, Denis S. (Londonderry, S.)||Palmer, Brigadier-General G. L.|
|Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff, South)||Hewart, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon||Parry, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Henry|
|Davies, Thomas (Cirencester)||Hickman, Brig.-General Thomas E.||Pearce, Sir William|
|Denniss, Edmund R. B. (Oldham)||Hope, Sir H.(Stirling & Cl'ckm'nn,W.)||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike|
|Edgar, Clifford B.||Hopkins, John W. W.||Peel, Col. Hon. S. (Uxbridge, Mddx.)|
|Edge, Captain William||Horne, Sir R. S. (Glasgow, Hillhead)||Perring, William George|
|Edwards, Major J. (Aberavon)||Hunter, General Sir A. (Lancaster)||Pratt, John William|
|Edwards, Hugh (Glam., Neath)||Hurd, Percy A.||Rae, H. Norman|
|Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel||Smith, Sir Allan M. (Croydon, South)||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Rees, Capt. J. Tudor- (Barnstaple)||Smith, Sir Harold (Warrington)||Waring, Major Walter|
|Richardson, Alexander (Gravesend)||Smithers, Sir Alfred W.||Williams, C. (Tavistock)|
|Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)||Stanley, Major Hon. G. (Preston)||Willoughby, Lieut.-Col. Hon. Claud|
|Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Steel, Major S. Strang||Wise, Frederick|
|Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Stevens, Marshall||Wood, Hon. Edward F. L. (Ripon)|
|Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)||Stewart, Gershom||Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)|
|Sanders, Colonel Sir Robert Arthur||Sturrock, J. Leng||Worthington-Evans, Rt. Hon. Sir L.|
|Scott, A. M. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)||Surtees, Brigadier-General H. C.||Young, E. H. (Norwich)|
|Seager, Sir William||Taylor, J.|
|Shaw, Hon. Alex. (Kilmarnock)||Thomson, Sir W. Mitchell- (Maryhill)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T.)||Thorpe, Captain John Henry||Colonel Leslie Wilson and Mr.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis D.||Hayward, Evan||Polson, Sir Thomas A.|
|Barnes, Major H. (Newcastle, E.)||Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Royce, William Stapleton|
|Cape, Thomas||Hogge, James Myles||Sueter, Murray Fraser|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Holmes, J. Stanley||Waterson, A. E.|
|Galbraith, Samuel||Kenyon, Barnet||Wedgwood, Colonel Josiah C.|
|Glanville, Harold James||Kiley, James Daniel||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, Consett)|
|Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)||Lawson, John James||Wood, Major M. M. (Aberdeen, C.)|
|Graham, W. (Edinburgh, Central)||Lowther, Major C. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Grundy, T. W.||Morgan, Major D. Watts||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hartshorn, Vernon||Murray, Dr. D. (Inverness & Ross)||Mr. C. White and Mr. Swan.|
|Hayday, Arthur||Myers, Thomas|
Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.