HC Deb 13 March 1928 vol 214 cc1805-13

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."


I want to ask advice on a matter arising here, Mr. Speaker. I have looked through this Bill, and I find that it relates particularly to the taking over or the laying down of a railway in England. I have put before the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, certain grievances relating to certain people in my constituency, and I wish to ask your ruling as to whether it is possible for me to raise this matter on the Motion for the Second Reading of this Bill even though the portion of the railway to be laid down by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, is to be in England.


I think the hon. Member will be in order.


I want to raise a point with the Chairman of Ways and Means and also with the Minister of Transport. I have had a question before the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company now for the last two or three years. In the South-Western end of my constituency, there are four housing schemes which have been practically completed within that time. There is a railway station immediately adjacent to those housing schemes. Since those schemes have been completed, between 4,000 and 6,000 inhabitants have come to reside in that particular part of the constituency, but there has been practically no addition made to the transportation facilities for those people by the railway company in order to take them to their employment in the city. I have raised this question, as I have stated, on several occasions, and I have always met with a blank refusal on the part of the railway company. Reasons have been given but upon examination they have been found to be not exactly watertight.

The first excuse was that, if they stopped the trains coming from the coast or from Paisley at this station, which is already built, every train following would be delayed three minutes. I Immediately pointed out that that could not be so, because there was a double track of lines running through this particular station which carried the trains from Paisley practically into Glasgow. Consequently, any train which stopped at Cardonald Station to pick up passengers could not delay a train following, because such a train could go along the inside line and run right into Glasgow without being stopped or pulled up in any way. Immediately I put forward that view, which was borne out by a sketch which was sent to the railway company, I was informed that they knew perfectly well that there was a double track there and that the objection that they had to stopping the trains was the bottle-neck entrance at St. Enoch's Station at Glasgow. That, to my mind, is the only rational objection that could have been urged. But after they had put forward that objection, the people who were objecting to the stopping of trains at the station because of this bottle-neck, immediately erected a new station at Ibrox for the purpose of using it once a fortnight to accommodate the sports-loving crowds who travel down to the Rangers football park at Ibrox. There was no objection to large numbers of trains being run from the central station right through the bottle-neck to Ibrox Station and back again in order to convey big crowds of football lovers and sports people

I wish to submit to this House and to the Chairman of Ways and Means or to whoever is to see the safe passage of this Bill through this House, and to the railway company, that there was no occasion for the railway company to put forward objections of that nature and then almost immediately afterwards to show how feeble was their objection by providing facilities for greater numbers of people and larger numbers of trains travelling through this bottle-neck which they complained about when it came to a question of stopping trains at this station. My principal reason for urging this is that about two miles distant from this station upon another line belonging to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, and running practically parallel to the line upon which the station to which I am referring is situated, there is another station which is serving another housing scheme which was laid down by the Glasgow Corporation. There are almost as many people residing upon that housing estate as there are upon the housing estate which I have just mentioned in the South-West of Govan. There is a station which taps this particular district, and the same railway company which objects to providing facilities and stop the trains at the station at Cardonald makes no objection to the stopping of their trains at Cokerhill station in order to serve this pàrticular housing scheme.

There are two terminal stations in Glasgow which can be used quite effectively for these two housing schemes. One is being used at the present time to serve the station to which I have referred, while Cardonald Station is being left high and dry, and the people who have to travel to the city have great difficulty in finding conveyances. There is no car service affecting this particular housing scheme except one some distance away. In regard to the other scheme, a car system has been laid down right through the centre of the scheme, enabling the people to be carried to the city. The only way that the Cardonald people can get into the city is to go down the main road and find cars which are usually crowded. No trains stop at the station, and the inhabitants are put to many disadvantages in order to get to their work in the city. The consequence is, that many of them have to leave their homes at a time considerably earlier than they otherwise would do if the railway company were to provide the transport facilities which are possible.

I am not opposing this Bill, and I do not intend to press matters to a Division, but I think the time has come when this question must be raised publicly. These five or six thousand people connected with these four housing schemes round Cardonald Station have been held up far too long by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company. I have in my pocket a diary giving the timetables for the two stations referred to. The time-table for the station at Cokerhill shows a considerable number of additional trains which have been put into operation by the railway company since the Moss Park housing scheme was opened, but the housing schemes in Govan are not being attended to, and there have been practically no additional trains provided at all. As a matter of fact, judging from the time-table which I have in my pocket, it is practically impossible for anyone living in those houses to work in the city and get home for their lunch and back again. With regard to the scheme at Moss Park, the same company provides several trains in order to take workers from the city home for lunch and back again in good time to get to their work without any loss of pay or anything of that kind.

I want to put it to whoever is in charge of this Bill that he should make the necessary representations to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company that facilities must be given to the public who have to travel any distance. If they can provide facilities one day in 14 for thousands of people because the Rangers Football Club first eleven play at home each fortnight without any upsetting of the time-tables of the company, I consider that it is high time the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company gave the people in other districts who have to travel every day to their employment adequate facilities to do so. Now that the company is applying to this House for powers and privileges under this Bill, I hope that we shall impress upon them that it is their duty to see that the people whom they are out to serve get proper facilities whenever they desire to travel.


The House will understand that I am not in a position to answer the complaints that have been made against the London, Midland and Scottish Railway with regard to the running of certain trains in the neighbourhood of Glasgow. If the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Maclean) had told me what points he was going to raise, I would have tried to make myself acquainted with those points and then, perhaps, I could have explained the position to the House. I can assure the hon. Member that the question he complains of and the points he raises with regard to what he considers to be the inefficiency of the services at certain stations shall be carefully looked into by the railway, company, whó, if possible, will try to meet the requirements, as he puts them, of his constituents.


I do not intend to detain the House very long, but I notice that in Clause 10 of this Bill reference is made to the maintenance of roads over bridges. I want to say, speaking from my own experience and particularly from my experience of the last few years, that the railway companies ought to be compelled to bring the roads where their bridges are situated up to the general level of the roads maintained by the public authorities. If there is a bit of bad road anywhere at all, you will discover it over a railway bridge. If ever there is humbug about the maintenance of a road, it is somewhere in the neighbourhood of a railway bridge. There is a case where I live myself. It has nothing to do with the London, Midland and Scottish Company, but it is applicable to all railway companies. When the Bill gets into Committee the Minister should do all he can to stiffen up every Clause referring to the maintenance of roads over bridges. The Minister of Transport may spend a large amount of money on the maintenance of roads, but as likely as not there will be an abominable piece of roadway somewhere in the neighbourhood of a railway bridge. Railways ought to be compelled to keep their roads in a condition equal to the surfacing done by the local authority.

There is another point. Some provision ought to be made whereby railway companies provide bridges wide enough for the traffic that will pass over them. This is a very serious matter. In the town where I live we have a dispute with the Ministry of Health over the question of the widening of a bridge. The whole town is held up simply because of the persistence of the North Eastern Railway Company. The dispute is as to who ought to widen the bridge in order that the town may develop, and who shall maintain the road and carry on the resurfacing in a thorough manner, and that dispute has arisen simply because the railway authorities are doing all they can to avoid their bounden duty to pay their share towards the develooment of a town from which they derive considerable profit. I think powers ought to be obtained by the Government and given to local authorities to compel railway companies in this direction. With our changed methods of transport by road, this is an exceedingly important matter.

There is a further point. As far as I am personally concerned I should feel far more sympathetic to railway companies and their Bills if they were to play the game with regard to the men whom they victimised over the dispute of 1926. I am not going to press that matter now, but I would remind the House that we on the Labour Benches do not forget it. I am under the impression that there are a large number of men still suffering unjustly for the action that was taken in 1926. It seems to me that these great corporations, these railway companies, which are coming here for special powers, ought not to arrogate to themselves the right to keep men permanently unemployed for some misdemeanour that occurred a couple of years ago. The companies ought to be big enough to overlook that. They talk about peace and a better spirit in industry. They will have a chance if they will set an example of the kind of spirit they would like to see.

The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Colonel Ashley)

I had not intended to intervene, and would not do so now had it not been for the point raised by the hon. Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wallhead). I can understand his feeling on the subject—a feeling that is widespread not only in this House but in the country—that it is bad for trade and very inconvenient that a lorry should come to a bridge and find that it is impossible to cross that bridge because a notice is posted up, "Nothing over five tons can pass over this bridge."


What about broken springs?

Colonel ASHLEY

If I may respectfully differ from the hon. Member, I do not think that the blame can justifiably rest upon the railway companies. When the railway companies were given their powers—that is, when their lines were built and their bridges constructed—they took on a certain liability, and that liability was that they should put up a bridge sufficiently strong to carry the traffic of the day. It is not fair to a company to say that because conditions have entirely altered, the company should take the entire charge of making a, bridge fit for the traffic of the present day. But, having said that, I would indicate to the House that there is a Bill which is the third Order on Friday next—unfortunately I do not think it will be reached—which has been brought in by an hon. Member to deal with this very important subject, and it embodies, I believe, a more or less general agreement between the local authorities and the railway companies as to the terms upon which the bridges should be taken over by the local authorities. The railway company is to pay a certain sum to get rid of the liability, and the local authority is to take over the bridge, which thereafter is to be a charge on the local authority, which has to put the bridge in order so as to make it fit to carry all the principal traffic.


I can understand the Minister's point with regard to past commitments, and I probably agree with him there. But there is a new development taking place and provision should be made for it. That is one point to which attention can be paid in this Bill, which provides for an extension of the railway system. Prevision should be used as well as provision.

Colonel ASHLEY

Prevision is being used to deal with this subject, in the private Bill to which I have referred. That Bill would enable the bridges to he dealt with properly by the local authorities, no doubt with a grant from the Road Fund to enable the difference between what the railway company can provide and the cost of maintenance to be met, in order that the bridge may be kept in proper order.


The occasions on which we can raise matters affecting the railway services in our constituencies are very few, and I take this opportunity of referring to one point on which I have been in correspondence quite recently with the Minister of Transport. That is the immense help it would be to the young men and young women of Scotland if special rates could be given them for travelling to and from the universities. They are not a very large number of people who are affected, but they are not an uninfluential section of the population. They are people who deserve well of the country. Particularly in the north of Scotland they have very long distances to travel, and, of course, that travelling is a very heavy charge on their family budgets when they are attending the universities. There is an analogy which I think the railway companies might take into consideration. When a political party is holding a conference or a learned society is having a great meeting in any part of the country, it can get cheap fares for its members, provided that a considerable number attend such meeting or conference. It might be a meeting of the Primrose League or the Liberal party.


Or the Independent Labour party.


Or the Independent Labour party. In the universities of Scotland there are four great centres of learning to which young men and women congregate three times a year from their homes, hundreds going to each of these great centres. The Primrose League or the Independent Labour party are entitled to attend their conferences on payment of reduced fares, and surely these young students should be entitled to cheap fares to attend their universities. Such a concession would be of the greatest help to these young men and women, and I would urge very strongly on the Minister, and still more on the representatives present of the railway companies, that this policy should be taken into careful and sympathetic consideration.


I should not have risen but for the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr (Mr. Wall-head). As far as is necessary I would supplement that plea to the railway companies, but I feel it is at least my duty, as a representative of organised railwaymen, to say something to the House lest a wrong impression be left on the minds of hon. Members by what my hon. Friend said. I believe in giving the devil his due, although I am not saying that that is an appropriate epithet for the representatives of the railway companies.


Am I the devil in this case?


I certainly would not apply that epithet to my hon. Friend, but if he is searching for compliments and cares to apply it, I am not averse from his doing so. I merely thought that it would be well that the House should not think that the railway companies have not been considerate of their employés since the dispute of 1926. I am sure that neither my hon. Friend nor any Member of the House would like that wrong impression to be created, when the railway companies are putting forward a Bill which will be exceedingly useful to the particular district that it covers. I would say that the railway companies, following the strike, set an example to very many employers of labour. Out of some hundreds of men who were sufficiently unwise to get themselves within the pale of the law, I believe that we have left fewer than six victims, and they are at the moment receiving the consideration of the officers of the particular companies that employed them.

For a great many years there has been a standing order by all railway directors that, to keep their service on a high altitude, any servant who is ever convicted in a Court loses his employment on the railway. Out of some hundreds who were convicted during the strike of 1926—many of them, I am afraid, by some prejudice on the part of those who tried them and not for very grave reasons—the companies against their own directors' rules have reinstated all but about six in their former positions and seniority, and the cases of the six are now receiving attention. With regard to those six, I would add my plea to that of the hon. Member for Merthyr, and express the hope that their cases will soon be put right. I had the pleasure even this morning of visiting the chief office of one of our great companies with regard to a man who was dismissed for what I must admit was a very foolish offence, and I was told that he could start again in his old position. I thought the House would like to know that, although there may be one or two cases still requiring attention, the railway companies have set to other employers an example which might be followed. I hope that plea will not delay the passage of this Bill.