§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Mr. CHARLETON
I beg to move, to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months."
In rising to move the rejection of this Bill, I and those who are acting with me are taking advantage of the opportunities which Private Members have of ventilating grievances they may have against the promoters of a private Bill. Some time ago I could not have visualised myself moving the rejection of a railway Bill. It is not very long since hon. Members in this House and people elsewhere were accusing the members of the railway unions and the railway companies of having formed a syndicate, so well, were they working together. The matter which I wish to raise, and to which I take exception, is the way in which this company has broken away from a position which the railway union occupied with all the other railways. The right which I seek to maintain is not only the right of any employé or officer of this company, or any other railway company, to belong to a trade union, but the greater right that, when a man by good honest work, by well-known skill, has made himself so competent that his employer offers him promotion, it should not be a condition of taking that promotion that he should leave the union to which he may have belonged. Only to-day in interviewing, as I have done, very many men on the 1034 London Electric Railway, I interviewed a man who has had 35 years' service, and he belongs to my union. This man stands pretty well up for promotion, but, if he accepts promotion to the higher grade, he will have to give up his 35 years' pension right. Mr. Webb stated, in his famous book on trade unionism, that to some members of trade unions their membership was akin to religion. The men in my union have joined it, not for their own selfish interests, but for the general interest of the class to which they belong, and we feel that it is out of place, in the Twentieth Century, that this prohibition should be put upon men who have proved that they are praiseworthy, and capable by being offered promotion in this way.
What has the railway company to be afraid of? We are living in the Twentieth Century, and we have a Trade Disputes Act on the Statute Book. I understood when the late Government passed the Trade Disputes Act that for all time nothing wrong could be done by trade unions, and all would be well; and yet the railway combine is still hysterical, even with the Trade Disputes Act on the Statute Book. An hon. Member asked me whether this was not a question of strikes, but railwaymen hardly know the meaning of the word strike. Railways were inaugurated over 100 years ago, and during that time there have been only two national railway strikes. It is true that railwaymen did take part in the strike of 1926 which seems to be engraven on the hearts of hon. Members opposite. [Interruption.] Yes, we struck but the miners were locked out.
Some of my friends and myself met one of the promoters of the Bill, and we tried to get from him the reason why these men were not to be allowed to continue as members of trade unions after promotion, and he refused to give us any reason. We consider that, when a company comes up for assistance to enable them to get so many millions as they are asking for by this Bill, at least they ought to behave decently to everybody, and we ought to know their reasons for refusing these men their membership. The members of the Railway Union thought the question of membership was settled for all time. In the case of other railway companies you cannot go to an officer in any department who will not tell you that 1035 they are doing very well with the trade unions, and they have no need to put a bar on anybody whom they employ.
We are told that this is a domestic matter, but I deny that the employers have any right to interfere at all with men joining lawful associations for a lawful purpose. I put a little note about this matter in our union paper; it caused a great deal of indignation among many members of the staff, and they all say how indignant they are that these men should be taken away and treated in the manner that I have stated. The men lower down on the staff are asking where is it all going to end. They say that the powers asked for under this Bill are only the thin end of the wedge, and they do not like it. It is not so much that these men are prevented from joining the union, but they have to leave it on promotion. We are told that you cannot have these supervisors taking up the same attitude in a trade union as the ordinary workers, but we do not ask for that, as all the railway unions have special branches for supervisors. We do not ask that the men should mix with the supervisors in any way, neither do we expect that the supervisors should take an active part in the work of the union so far as rectifying grievances are concerned; but we do say that the men who have spent their lifetime in the service of the company and who have been members of the union all the time should have the right to remain members of the union after promotion.
If the railway companies cannot trust the men who belong to the union, what trust can we put in the companies when the men are not protected by their union. These supervisors are having the protection which the union gives them taken away, and they stand absolutely alone. They have no one to speak for them, and no one to approach the railway companies on their behalf. A railway company which denies the men that right is not fit to be trusted with these powers. In 1924, in company with the Lord Privy Seal, I did a good deal to oil the passage of the London Traffic Bill, and I think some of my hon. Friends remember that Measure. What did my friends tell me? They said, You are making a mistake, and in the end the London traffic will be placed in the hands of a great 1036 combine which will get its tentacles all round London, and every one will suffer." I am beginning to wonder whether I did not make a mistake in what I did with regard to the London Traffic Bill when it is proposed to give such powers to a combine. The little omnibus companies have been swallowed up by the big omni bus companies, and even the London County Council—
Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Robert Young)
I think the hon. Member is getting rather wide of the Question before the Chair.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
I am going to quote an old Teutonic legend, familiar to anyone who knows anything about German mythology, which will illustrate my remarks. A king was presented with two large eggs, and he gave them to one of his officers to get hatched out. In due course two little lizard-like creatures appeared, with which the children played, but they grew and they required feeding, and the more they were fed the bigger they grew, until at last they began feeding on the people round about them, and in the end the hero had to come in and slay the dragons. I say that, in the way in which the supervisors are being treated on the London Electric, there is this tyranny creeping in which is illustrated by that old German legend, and we of the railway unions object to it. For that reason I move the rejection of the Bill.
§ Mr. LATHAN
I beg to second the Amendment.
In rising to address the House for the first time, I feel that, whatever my difficulties may be, and at the moment they seem to be very many, I shall receive the consideration which the House traditionally gives to one in a position such as I occupy to-night. Like the Mover of the Amendment, I could have desired to be associated with a happier subject, and I can assure those present in all quarters of the House that we have not taken this course with any desire to create unnecessary trouble. I know that the Lord Privy Seal, to whom this Amendment may constitute a difficulty, and those on the other side who support what appears to us to be the entirely unjustifiable action taken by the company, will at any rate give us that credit. Whatever my difficulties may be in associating myself with a proposal which appears to be in opposition to the 1037 industry with which we are connected, I find at any rate some satisfaction in the belief that we are rising in defence of civic liberties and rights, to which I believe this House has never been indifferent; and I believe, also, that the House will testify its desire to protect those rights and liberties as strongly on this occasion as it has on others.
We are asked to give support to the Second Reading of this Bill. What does that involve? As I understand it, we are asked to give to a powerful combine further powers to extend its business, which, in the main, curiously enough, is that of providing transport facilities for the working people of London and the London suburbs. We are asked also to agree, and not for the first time, that, in addition to giving to this huge combine further powers, financial responsibility shall be accepted to a very substantial extent by the State, in order that its developments and the extension of its activities may fructify. With these general objects, in an ordinary way, I should find no difficulty in agreeing, because, whatever speculative or other views we may hold in regard to what is known as the London Underground Combine, I and a number of others who have known the combine at close quarters for a number of years, and who have differed from it, as we do to-day, in regard to some of its actions, will at least agree that the combine has performed striking work in connection with the organisation of transport arrangements in Greater London. We desire to see those developments, in the interest of the people of London, carried still further. We rise to-night, not with any wish to restrict the facilities desired in the north of London, where I happen to be living, or the extension of facilities in other parts, but we do feel that we are entitled to say that we should hesitate before giving power to a combine of the kind that this one has now become, when it is found that it is already exercising the powers that it has in a way which is detrimental and prejudicial to the civic rights of the men whom it employs.
The Mover of the Amendment has spoken of his experience in the trade union with which he has been associated for a number of years. I speak with a knowledge of the working of another 1038 organisation, which stands in a somewhat different position in relation to this question. The question of the organisation along trade union lines of the salaried and supervisory grades on the railways has been before this House on more than one occasion. In 1907, 1909, 1913, and on other occasions, the House was asked to indicate its views upon attempts that were made by great railway undertakings in this country to deny to the salaried staffs the advantages in regard to combination which, as was admitted at that time, could not be withheld from other sections of the staff, and I am glad to be able to say that from all quarters of the House support was forthcoming for the demands on behalf of the salaried staffs that they should be allowed to organise themselves in the way in which their more fortunate brethren in the professions have organised themselves, without dividing lines and restrictions of the kind that the companies were seeking to establish.
It is true that for some years we were not able absolutely to secure that position, but ultimately, in the early postwar times, the attitude of the employers became different from that which they are taking up to-day in regard to trade union organisation. There was then more talk of co-operation, there were more invitations to the staffs of great undertakings than are forthcoming today, and there was a disposition more readily to agree that trade unionism was desirable than we find is the case to-day. In those days, the railway companies and the Government finally agreed to extend to the salaried staffs on the railways or, at any rate, not to combat any longer their claim to, the rights which other sections of the staff had been enabled to enjoy. I have here the record of the negotiations which took place at that time. As the result of representations which were made to the Government of 1918–19, a meeting was ultimately arranged between the representatives of the Railway Clerks' Association, the Government, and the railway authorities, and the record reads:The Government is prepared to afford recognition to the Railway Clerks' Association, as representing station-masters, agents, and other employés in the supervisory grades, except those noted below.I am going to refer to them in a moment. It goes on: 1039Provided the Association is willing to make arrangements for ensuring autonomy to the supervisory grades within the Association, which the Government consider necessary for the preservation of discipline and public safety.In our case, as in the case of the National Union, to which the Mover has made reference:It was agreed that in order to carry out the arrangements, station-masters, agents and supervisors should have special branches, with separate voting, hold separate conferences, and organise separate delegations … It was agreed, on behalf of the Association, that no attempt would be made to make membership of the Association compulsory, and there would be no exception taken to other Associations seeking to represent grades included within the Railway Clerks' Association.So far as exceptions are concerned, I ask the House to note the deliberate attempt on the part of the London Underground Combine to extend the range of exceptions far beyond anything that was contemplated in the agreement made at that time. It was understood that this arrangement as far as exclusion or exception was concerned would only apply to offices where the general policy as to staff questions was decided, such as the general manager's own office, the secretary's office in so far as it deals with confidential matters, or the chief and personal clerks of chief officers. I ask the House to note that the London Underground Combine has gone far beyond anything that was at that time contemplated or, as the Mover of the Amendment stated, has been demanded by any-other railway company in the country. My own Association, with which I am proud to have been connected for a period of 25 years, has built up an organisation in which there are hundreds of men and women who occupy some of the most responsible positions in the railway service—station-masters in control at some of the largest stations in the country, goods agents who control the chief depots, clerks-in-charge and other men in the administrative offices of the companies, and supervisors of one kind or another.
We have never at any time—and we invite the railway company representatives to challenge or to contradict our statement—said or done anything other than to encourage those men to render the best service they possibly could in building up and carrying on the 1040 undertakings with which they are connected. We have claimed on their behalf that, just as all the railway companies are members of the Railway Companies' Association and have representatives in this House, and work very closely and solidly together in questions affecting their interests, so we claim that the men in the service, of whatever grade or section they may be, shall have the same right legally and properly to act together in support of their interests. It may be argued that these agreements to which I have made reference are agreements which were made by the railway companies other than the London electrical undertakings, and, strictly speaking, that would be true, but it is also true that the London Electric Railway has adopted in every case the agreements which were made with the trunk-line undertakings, realising that the advantages in that direction would at least be mutual. I cannot help expressing some measure of amazement that at this time the London Underground companies should have taken up this attitude. I am reminded that a gentleman who now occupies a position of honour at the head of their affairs was, in the days to which I have referred, when this agreement was made, a Member of the Government of the day and was the representative who acted on behalf of the Government, signed the agreement on behalf of the Government and negotiated it with my colleagues and myself. He was Sir Albert Stanley, now Lord Ashfield, the head of the London Underground Combine and, apparently, responsible for this step.
I have no desire unnecessarily to occupy the time of the House, and I want only to dwell on one aspect of the case. I have shown how in this agreement we met the railway companies. We undertook on our part not to attempt to exercise any undue influence to compel men or women to come inside the union. We have loyally adhered to that arrangement. When we desire that arrangement to be modified we will go to the companies and propose it, and see what can be done in that direction; but, just as in that respect we have refrained from attempting to impose our will in regard to trade union membership upon the members of the staffs, so we deny the right of the railway companies to impose non-unionism, and we ask them 1041 seriously to consider whether in their own interest they are doing the right thing in attempting a different course.
The House should understand that we have not come here and adopted this obstructionist policy, as it has been described in some quarters, without seeking very earnestly and sincerely to secure some adjustment of these questions by other and more pleasant means. We have been reproached because we have not used opportunities that, it is said, were open to us to bring these questions before the House in connection with other Bills. In that regard I have only to say that we have been discussing the matter, and have raised it in correspondence and in conversation. I am sorry to say that our approaches, especially in recent times, have not been received in the manner to which hitherto we have been accustomed. In a recent conversation with a leading officer of my association, a responsible official of the London Electric Company displayed some measure of satisfaction in the arrangements which have been made and, with a delicacy that I am sure the House will appreciate, said he had not only bought the men but that he had sterilised them. Those are harsh and undesirable words. It is, of course, for the London Electric Railway Company to say whether they think men who are sterilised are the best type of men to occupy positions as supervisors, but I beg leave to differ from that view altogether. They may, by force majeure, have imposed their will upon numbers of men and have bought them. Some of us can appreciate the temptation it is to a man to be offered, as some have been offered and have been given, £100, £150 and £160 increase in their pay if they accept these conditions, but I can assure the company they have not broken the manhood of their staffs, nor have they entirely smothered the feelings of revolt which have arisen because of this action of theirs.
Having said that, I would express the hope that even now it is not too late for them to adjust their position. We are not anxious on these benches to see anything happen which shall hamper or hinder the Lord Privy Seal in the very difficult work which he has undertaken. I only ask him to consider that the accident of circumstances has put him where he is instead of putting him in the posi- 1042 tion that I occupy, because I think he can conceive without any difficulty—for we have worked together in negotiations of the character to which I have made reference—the possibility that he might have had to plead the cause that I am endeavouring to put before the House. I believe we are justified in drawing the attention of the House to these circumstances, and I hope the House will support the protest that we make from these benches.
My first duty is to tell the House that I think I am expressing their views when I say there never was a case more fairly, honestly and sincerely presented than that to which we have just listened from the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. The House will agree that, after the Seconder's maiden contribution, we shall all look forward to hearing him on many more occasions. The only thing in his speech as to which I had doubt was his reference to the accident that places me here and him there. I am wondering which is the victim. The House generally is in a difficulty, and every Member on this side is in a real difficulty in connection with this Bill. I put it to the House in all sincerity that never was a Minister put in a more difficult position than I am in at this moment. Twenty years ago, long before Lord Ashfield's time, I moved the rejection of one of this Company's Bills in order to secure recognition. The agreement which is under review now, and to which objection is taken, I made. It is true that I made it on behalf of my Union under circumstances that I deplored and never acquiesced in. I deplore them just as much as my hon. Friend. What are the facts, and what is the advice that I give to the House? On the one side, you have the case put up clearly and definitely that this is the Twentieth Century. The right of combination has been too long established to be denied at this period. Stripped of everything else, that is the case put forward by my hon. Friend.
The answer the company give is this: It is true that this arrangement existed up to 1926 but, following the 1926 strike—I am quoting their own words as given to me—they said, "We are never again going to be left in that position, and a certain portion of our supervisory staff must choose between their loyalty to the 1043 union and their loyalty to us. Therefore, we impose this condition on one section of our staff." That is accurately stating both points of view. I hope, whatever the result of this Debate, it will not be assumed outside that the relationship between the great mass of the employés of this company, represented by many Members in the House and by a number of unions, outside this point is other than the very best. Neither the Mover nor the Seconder nor anyone else would desire that, as the result of this Debate, that relationship should be disturbed in the least. On the contrary, outside the point in dispute, every trade union leader knows that every phase of trade union principles is argued around the table with trade union representatives. I do not want, above everything else, that this Debate should in any way interfere, hamper, or make the relationship less cordial than it is at this moment.
If you take the advice that is now offered and vote against the Bill, the Company do not suffer. Let us keep that clearly in mind. The House must understand the peculiar circumstances. In the last Parliament, the London Traffic Bill passed every stage until it reached the other House. When it was assumed that it was going for the Royal Assent, it was discovered that, by a technical fluke, it had to come back to this House. In the interval, a General Election took place, and a large number of Members on this side of the House fought the election on that very Bill, among other things. When the new Government was formed the position was fairly put before the House and they rejected the Bill.
The rejection of the Bill created another difficulty. The combine had agreed to the extension, long overdue, of the Finsbury Park tube, an extension which ought to have been undertaken years ago, and which is more necessary to-day than ever, as well as other developments. On the rejection of the Bill, the Underground Company decided to take no further steps. Let us be fair and reasonable in understanding that that was the only position they could take up. Their own proposal had been rejected, there was no alternative proposal, and, so far as they were concerned, the matter was ended. The next stage was my own Development Bill. I called the trunk railways together, 1044 explained the Bill to them, and asked them to co-operate, which they did. The Underground Company, for the reasons I have stated, were not invited. I then sent for Lord Ashfield and urged him to respond. He explained the difficulties, and in the biggest possible way said, "Very well. Whatever the difficulties of the past may have been, I will see if I can join in and help in this problem." The result was that, not these proposals for the extension from Finsbury Park alone, which involved only £2,500,000, but a big London Bill involving £12,000,000 of expenditure was put up to the Committee. Before a copper of that money could be spent Parliamentary sanction must be given.
I ask the House to balance this position. I have explained, I hope fairly, the trade union difficulties. I have endeavoured to show the House how every man on this side fought years ago for the very principle which is involved here. I also want the House to observe that the position and the trade of the country are very serious, and the unemployment figure which is seen going up from week to week is due to a far more fundamental cause than is generally appreciated. The increase to be announced the day after to-morrow will be 11,000. [Interruption.] I have to ascertain what are the causes and what are the facts. All the time I have to consider any temporary effort which this Government can make. £61,000,000 has been sanctioned entirely independent of this Bill, and I assert without fear of contradiction that not £2,000,000 of it has been spent up to this moment, because it is all awaiting the sanction of this House. I am only stating the facts. When balancing both these things, strongly as I may feel with my hon. Friends, and do feel—and no one is more entitled to feel that than the one who fought so hard for the very principles about which we are talking—and knowing perfectly well that if this Bill is rejected, not only these improvements cannot be proceeded with, but that this £12,000,000 expenditure could not be undertaken for the next few years, can you wonder why I drop down absolutely on this side and say that you must give this Bill a Second Reading?
I would say something else. I have already indicated the relationship between the company and the general 1045 body of the staff. I was amazed to hear the reference to some official to the effect that he had bought and sterilised the men. Knowing Lord Ashfield as I have known him for all these years, negotiated with him as I have done on the occasion of every railway agreement, I cannot help but feel that I shall be expressing his views when I say that they are not his sentiments, and that he ought to be, and would be, the first to repudiate them.
In any case, a profound mistake would be made if we allowed that side of it to warp our judgment. I am going to say to my hon. Friends that they have stated their case to the House. I feel that, apart from hon. Members on this side, who are unanimous about the principle, there must be many Members on the opposite side of the House profoundly impressed with the fair, clear way in which the case has been presented. I hope that the Debate will be read, as I am sure it will be read, by those concerned. I am going to ask my hon. Friends to withdraw their Amendment for this reason. First, it is the duty of every Member in the House, though feeling strongly on this point, to say to himself that he has got to choose between this terrible unemployment problem, towards the relief of which this will be a contribution, and the principle to which I have referred. That is one difficulty.
There is another difficulty. I do not want, when they are put in the position of having to make such a difficult choice as that, the verdict of the House of Commons to go against the principle involved. I hope, therefore, that they will be big enough, as I am sure they will, to withdraw their Amendment, and that the other side will be big enough to appreciate what they have done, and with a unanimous Second Reading I hope it may be possible for both interests to come together and arrive at a common understanding. I will leave no stone unturned to bring that about. I am sure that my advice is the best. I hope that there will be no further speeches on the lines of aggravating or of embittering the controversy. If my hon. Friend will follow my advice I, as I have said, will use my offices to try and find a settle- 1046 ment, and I hope that it will mean, as a result of the Debate, that mutual understanding will be arrived at and that I may get a Bill for which I earnestly and sincerely plead in the interests of the unemployed.
§ Mr. J. WILSON
I have listened with intense interest to the statement in favour of the Bill which has been made by the Lord Privy Seal, but, in spite of his eloquent appeal, I have not the slightest hesitation in wholly and clearly associating myself with my colleagues who are moving the rejection of the Measure. At least as far as the opportunity for negotiations are concerned, there can be no complaints by the company, because in November last I first drew the attention of the company to the fact that this Bill would be blocked in its passage through this House, due to the unwarranted interference and the inroads they were making into the civil rights of the people whom they employed. So interested were they in this, and so seriously did they take the objection which we were making, that from November of last year until about three weeks ago, no representation at all was made by this company and no indication was given by anyone representing the company that they had any desire to enter either into consultation or into negotiation on a question of this character.
The objection to this Bill on first principles can very easily be defined. I do not know whether the Lord Privy Seal will have time to listen to the Debate, but I will say to him that the attitude which we are now taking is a perfectly-constitutional attitude, an attitude which he himself has taken and of which many of his successors have been guilty. I do not know whether when we go into the Division Lobby on this Bill, the Lord Privy Seal will be there prepared to give sanction to the railway company, and to vote for further public money being granted to a private company who impertinently in this twentieth century seek to interfere with the right of the people whom they employ to join the trade union. The spirit of the men and women who laid the foundation of this great movement still lives and shows itself on these benches. If the Lord Privy Seal, in these circumstances, goes into the Division Lobby in favour of the sanctioning of further money to a private com- 1047 pany, then the Lord Privy Seal, as far as this side of the House is concerned, will go into the Division Lobby alone. I hesitate to believe that in these days there can be a Member on this side of the House who will go into the Division Lobby in support of spending public money and in advancing schemes of a private company which in this twentieth century impertinently interferes with the right of the people whom they employ to be members of a trade union. This Bill does not square with any of the premises defined by the Lord Privy Seal. He has said in this House and in the country that we are not going to solve the unemployment problem merely by spending public money.
In order that there may be no misunderstanding, may I say that this Bill, in my judgment, complies with all the conditions that I have laid down, namely, that public money must be spent, but only by giving conveniences and advantages to the community? This Bill complies with those conditions.
§ Mr. WILSON
In answer to that interjection, I would say that there is no ground for the Lord Privy Seal to be impatient over the discussion. Many Bills have been allowed to pass on his certificate which would not have been permitted to leave this House in other circumstances without further determination. Therefore, I am entitled to put the point of view that I do not agree with the Lord Privy Seal when he says that the proposals in this Bill square with the principles that he has advanced in his anxiety to deal with the problem of unemployment. This Bill is not accelerating work. Every proposal, every extension contained in this Bill are proposals for work—
The financial grounds affected by this Bill are now before the Development Committee, and it is my duty to protect both sides against statements being made in this House that may prejudice an impartial hearing. Therefore, I must appeal to all sections of the House to keep the point in mind that the Committee has to investigate this matter.
§ Mr. WILSON
I am still not satisfied with the further exposition put forward by the Lord Privy Seal. He has said that if you can get private companies to 1048 accelerate work it may be justifiable to assist those private companies so to do, in proper circumstances. What is happening in this case? There is abundant evidence to show that the work now proposed to be done is more than 10 years overdue, that appeals from the local authorities and appeals from private individuals have been numerous, calling upon this wealthy octopus of a combine to extend the service in order to give proper facilities to the people of London and district. There is no evidence that there is any shortage of finance so far as this combine is concerned. Only the other day they declared their' dividends, which showed that, so far as their financial position is concerned, there is no impediment and no reason why this work should not be put in hand forthwith, without any assistance from public funds. On those grounds the public are entitled to call this great combine to the bar of public opinion, and to ask them why, in the light of the genuine demand and need for this extension, the proposals of this Bill should not be put in hand now, and they ought to be called upon to say why the work was not put in hand many years ago. I hope that the House will refuse to vote for any extended powers to be given to a company which has outraged the powers that it now possesses, and that the House will refuse to vote a single penny to the advantage of this company which, in the twentieth century, denies to the people in its employ the right to be members of their trade union.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Major GLYN
I hope that hon. Members opposite will allow rue, although I am not intimately connected with the London Electric Railways, to say a word, with authority, on behalf of the management of the railway. The British railways are more proud of the fact that they are in happy relationship with the trade unions than of any other single thing. The record of the railways in this respect is one that might well be followed by other industries. Therefore, when any question of this kind is discussed across the Floor of the House a wrong impression may be given outside we do not state the position accurately. It is an unfortunate accident in the procedure of Parliament that when any railway company wishes to do something for the benefit of the travelling public or for trade, by the laws of this House any question 1049 may be discussed, be it water-bottles in third-class compartments or the fittings of new third-class carriages.
§ Major GLYN
The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones) asks, why not. If the Bill in question is to provide, for instance, a new loop-line enabling a main line to be served with coal from a new coalfield, it seems hardly appropriate to the question under discussion. The present Bill is another example of the difficulty in which we find ourselves. I understand that this company are not particularly anxious to carry out the schemes mentioned in the Bill. The schemes are certainly overdue, but the work can only be done under the terms and conditions that have been authorised by Parliament at the request of the Lord Privy Seal for the purpose of doing all that we can to help the unemployed. I understand that if this contract goes through something in the nature of £9,000,000 will be paid out in wages. We may assume that some of the men who would be earning those wages are now in receipt of unemployment benefit. Surely, it is preferable in the public interest not only to serve the interests of the travelling public at this moment but to do all we can, irrespective of party, through public utility companies and other bodies, to promote trade and to give wages to men in their proper occupations. That quite briefly is the purpose of this Bill.
I do not wish to follow the hon. Member in his criticism of the financial arrangements under which this is going to be carried out, but it is essential that the House should give a Second Beading to the Bill in order to enable these financial arrangements to be made at the earliest possible date. In regard to the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment may I be allowed to tender my word of praise to the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Lathan) for the most excellent maiden speech he delivered. I am sorry that the hon. Member's friend and colleague was not here to listen to his excellent maiden effort, but even if he, with his greater experience, had been here the case could not have been put better than it was by the hon. Member.
1050 I feel acutely the difficulty in regard to the supervisor grade. While we believe that it is difficult for anybody to serve two masters, it has been proved conclusively that the right of the individual to belong to a union is not incompatible, when he has reached a certain state of responsibility, with responsibilities for discipline, and that some arrangement can be made by the goodwill and understanding between all parties concerned. Just as the railway companies are proud that the railway trade unions are really Brotherhoods, that we are intimately connected with the prosperity of the business, so I am authorised to say that the organisation which exists within the House of Commons will be used for the purposes of free and frank discussion. I can say no more than that, and I cannot pledge or bind anyone. I hope that is clearly understood, but I implore hon. Members to remember that we have this machinery. Let us use it, and I can give this undertaking that if this machinery is called into use the responsible officials and everybody concerned in this vexed question will attend and we shall have a perfectly frank and free discussion of the whole matter. More than that I cannot say, but I hope it will be sufficient. I ask hon. Members to realise the importance of this Bill from the point of view of London traffic and unemployment, and allow the Second Reading to proceed.
§ Mr. CHARLETON
In view of the speech of the Lord Privy Seal, and the promise of the conference by the hon. and gallant Member for Abingdon (Major Glyn) I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.