HC Deb 16 December 1935 vol 307 cc1485-93

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Schedule be the Schedule to the Bill."

7.8 p.m.


We find that the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company have in the Schedule the rebuilding of Easton terminus, and I want to know, as that will involve a good deal of additional employment, where that additional labour is likely to be found. Is it to come from the London area, where the percentage of unemployment is something between six and eight? There is also the question of the construction of 270 new carriages to be undertaken by the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company. I understand that the company has special machinery at Wolverton for this type of work, and also at Earls-town. Wolverton has an unemployment percentage of two, and the other place a percentage of 15. I would like to know whether we can get an assurance that the additional labour will be brought from the distressed areas. In the case of the Southern Railway most of the schemes will be confined to the Southern Counties, where the percentage of unemployment is very low. I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he can give us an assurance, and if not whether he would undertake to make a recommendation to the railway companies, that where they have to draw on additional labour they will as far as possible do so from the distressed areas.

7.10 p.m.


By your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Chairman, you have made it clear that it is not within the province of the Committee to alter this agreement, but I think we are entitled to mention the omission from the agreement of something which we think might reasonably have been included. In all these matters of nationalisation of industry, the changing methods of production, and the adoption of new motive power which it is indicated is likely to take place under this Schedule, there is a growing fear that labour now engaged on productive work will ultimately become redundant. When that fear has been expressed in the House we have from time to time attempted to incorporate in our legislation, and succeeded in incorporating on occasions—notably in connection with the Electricity Acts—some provision by way of compensation for workpeople who are dismissed because of the changed conditions governing their employment.

It will be seen that in parts 2, 3 and 4 of this Schedule reference is made to electrification of various lines. It is clear that this will not be done all at once, but we can visualise a state of affairs when the electrification will be complete and the motive power will not be the magnificent locomotives now drawing the passenger and goods traffic, but will be powerful motor and electric engines that will take their place. Unless there is some attempt by the railway companies to absorb on the manufacture of electrical machinery the highly skilled workers now employed in the manufacture of locomotives, their labour will become redundant. It may be that unless care is taken we shall have some railway centres becoming almost distressed or derelict areas because the manufacture of the requisite machinery will have been transferred to some other district. Therefore, I think we are entitled to ask that in this agreement, having regard to the future development of industry which we are now encouraging by State aid, we should ensure that the workpeople shall be free from the grave danger and distress of being made redundant and possibly becoming derelict and increasing the charges thrown on the local rates.

I would appeal, therefore, to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, if in the course of this policy of developing industry similar agreements are entered into, there should be some Clause which would remove the fears and meet the dangers which are ever uppermost in the minds of working men who have nothing to sell but their labour power. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) is not now in his place, because he was in such a genial mood that I was hoping to hear from him that the railway companies, and particularly the one with which he is associated, take a generous view of this matter. While I admit, Captain Bourne, that under your Ruling the matter cannot be discussed now, I venture to hope that we may have an assurance that this aspect of the development of our industry will be kept in mind, and that in future provision will be made against these unfortunate occurrences which create so much distress not merely to individuals, but to the localities in which they reside.

7.17 p.m.


Since this Bill was introduced, some opinions have been expressed with regard to the subject of railway electrification. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne) is not now in the Committee, but I would like to say, in reply to a remark of his about ignorance, that in my case it, is not a question of ignorance, but of knowledge which I possess, not only of this subject but of others. Many people shout about the question of electrification without knowing the first thing about it. Unless you can use the full amount of power generated by any electrical machine, it does not pay to run it, and that has not been understood by the railway companies. The engineers employed by the railway companies have that knowledge, but are not allowed to give it to the great directors such as the right hon. Gentleman who has just left the Committee. They are too insignificant to speak in the presence of these great railway magnates. That is the mistake that the railway companies have made—they have not allowed the trained brains and intelligence of the man who run the railways to have some say in regard to electrification.

In this subject the Germans have always led, and they are leading now. Let me give an illustration. In Glasgow we have two sections of underground railway running through the City, one owned by the London Midland and Scottish and the other owned by the London and North Eastern Railway. On the London and North Eastern Railway the trains start from Edinburgh and go down to Helensburgh, while on the London Midland and Scottish they are generally run from Bothwell through the City to Loch Lomond. In passing through the City they go underground for six or seven miles. It would be false economy to electrify those six or seven miles, despite the fact that at the mouth of each tunnel there is one of the biggest generating stations in Britain. General electrification pays, but partial electrification does not pay. In Germany, however, they use a combination of steam and electric traction. When a train running on steam comes near to an underground section of the line, the change-over to electric traction is made. In running through very long tunnels this obviates the presence of fumes which cannot be condensed. When underground railways were first started in Glasgow, there was such an outcry about the fumes that they tried to condense the smoke, and alongside the boiler of each locomotive there was built a right and a left condenser. The right condenser—


I fail to see how the hon. Member connects this argument with the Schedule.


I am trying to show a means whereby electrification might be used in combination with steam, whereas if some such combination were not used a great opportunity might be lost. In tunnel work it is necessary, if you are to get traffic, to suit the passengers' convenience. In the case of the Glasgow trams, or any trams that run in the same direction as an underground railway, unless the railway is electrified the trams get the business, and, with the increase of road transport, it behoves all underground railway companies to put their lines in the very best condition. Electrification ought to be the whole purpose of all the companies—


This is not the moment for a general discussion on the subject of electrification. The hon. Member will have an opportunity of raising that matter when the Bill itself is before the House.


During the passage of the Electricity Bill in 1926, the railway companies fought against being included within the national supply, and surely it is in order, in dealing with a Schedule mentioning electrification, to deal with the fact that they refused to take the national supply as against a point supply of their own?


Not on this occasion.


I should like to know why electrification is mentioned at all if it cannot be discussed. I am not discussing it apart from the question of railways. If I were, I could understand being ruled out of order, but I fail to understand why I am ruled out of order when I am dealing with it only as it applies to railways.


The reason why the hon. Member cannot raise the subject now is that we are dealing here with specific works. We are not dealing with the general question of the railways, but with specific works which are mentioned in a: Schedule. The question which the hon. Member is raising goes far outside anything of that kind.


Since certain places in Scotland are mentioned, surely I am in order in bringing in other places which should be included in the Schedule, and suggesting a better application from the engineer's point of view?


In that case the hon. Gentleman would be attempting to amend an agreement which he cannot amend.


I am only trying to show that from things which now exist something could be learned by those who are handling this Schedule. Surely, the experience of the past should guide the present.


The hon. Member is reall bringing in something which would amount to an Amendment to the Schedule, but which, if it were put down as a specific Amendment, would clearly be out of order.

7.25 p.m.


I desire to supplement the observations of the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Short) with regard to labour which might be displaced by the changes which are likely to take place as a result of the expenditure of this money. We on this side of the House would be lacking in our duty if we did not make it clear that in our view any great industrial changes ought to take cognisance of the industrial workers who may lose their employment. The principle is not a new one, for, in the creation of the electricity supply grid in the North of England, engineers from the lesser concerns which were closed down as a result of the grid received sums in compensation for the loss of their employment, and it would be merely a rational state of affairs if all employés in similar circumstances were to be compensated and protected when their employment was taken from them owing to causes over which they had no control. I think that this is doubly so when the State is an interested party, as in the case of the advances—


The hon. Member is now getting perilously near to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) which I ruled out of order.


I rather thought that I was. May I say finally that it is our business and duty to request the Chancellor of the Exchequer or those in charge of this matter to give attention to this particular aspect of the case, and see whether the skilled labour that will be displaced as a result of these changes should have some monetary protection?

7.28 p.m.


In the course of the discussion on the Schedule two points have been raised, and, if I may, I will deal first with the one that was raised last, namely, that raised by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Short). Everyone knows that the advance of applied science and new inventions which come along from time to time, and the effect of which is to reduce costs by saving labour, do result in displacement of labour, and that is one of the major problems of industry to-day. Everyone, I think, agrees with that, and everyone sympathises with the efforts that are made from time to time to mitigate the effects of a change which may ultimately be beneficial to employment, but the first effect of which is to displace a number of individuals who may find it difficult to obtain other employment. Therefore, on the general point, I have nothing but sympathy for the view put forward by the hon. Member. At the same time he will see that, if anything is to be done by legislation in that respect, a specific agreement of this kind is not the place to do it. You cannot pick out a particular piece of work and apply to it conditions which do not apply to the industry in general. If people who were displaced, supposing that people were displaced, by anything that arose in consequence of this agreement, were treated better than others who were also displaced by works carried on by railways in the normal course of their practice, there would be complaints at once. Therefore I would say to the hon. Member that, while his general point is a good one, it does not seem to me to be possible to deal with it in connection with an agreement of this kind.

At the same time, I think I can give him some re-assurance as to the effect of the work contemplated in the agreement, and, in particular, with reference to the electrification of which he spoke. I remember that the same point was raised when we were dealing with the London Passenger Transport Agreement Bill. The railways, when questioned on the subject, said at that time that as a matter of fact they had not had to dismiss any men on account of electrification schemes, and that it was their practice to carry redundant men until they could find some other means of offering them employment. Therefore, I do not think there is any reason to apprehend in this particular case that men will be thrown out of work by reason of electrification, and I noticed only a few days ago that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport answered a question of the hon. Member for Doncaster in these words: I understand that in the past railway companies have not had to discharge men as a result of electrification and I see no reason to suppose that the schemes of electrification now proposed … should have such a result."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th December, 1935; col. 930, Vol. 307.] To pass to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Anglesey (Miss Lloyd George), that is a matter affecting so-called additional labour to be employed consequent upon this work. The words "additional labour" do not refer to labour additional to local labour. They refer to labour additional to the normal staffs; therefore, I cannot say to the hon. Lady that instructions will be given or appeals will be made to see that the first people to be employed by way of additional labour shall be people in the areas in which she is interested. With regard to the works being undertaken in the Wirral Peninsular, the first people will be the local people in the immediate neighbourhood of the work carried out or in areas contiguous to it. Of course, the area of Holyhead is contiguous, and that will be one of the first places from which additional labour will be had after the local supply has been drawn upon. I think a good many of the unemployed in the Holyhead district would be men with railway experience. They would be particularly in demand and particularly suitable for work of this kind and I believe they will be submitted by the Employment Exchanges. I have applied to the Ministry of Labour to know what their practice would be, and I am assured by them that it is their normal practice to go first to the scheduled depressed areas, and that the Employment Exchanges in the areas in which these works will be carried out will be specially reminded to do so. I do not mean special areas which are strictly defined by statutory definition. Depressed areas are areas which are scheduled by the Ministry of Labour for their own purposes. They tell me that, while they will necessarily have regard to the claims of suitable unemployed people in their own or in contiguous areas, particularly if they are areas of heavy unemployment, they will endeavour to give employment to suitable men from the depressed areas.

I have mentioned that in the Holyhead district a good many of the men have special skill for this work and, as far as skilled men are concerned, the hon. Lady may be certain that Holyhead will have ample attention given to it, and probably there will be a considerable demand for those men. With regard to unskilled men, men who have been attending instructional centres are those who will have first attention after the local supply has been tapped. There, again, I think Holyhead will be one of the areas from which the men are recruited.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the Third time To-morrow.