§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Duff Cooper)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
A very full Debate took place on the subject matter of this Bill on Friday last, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the Financial Resolution. On that occasion Members had full opportunity to develop their views on the Bill and all the time at their disposal was not in fact used. I do not, therefore, propose to repeat what was said by my right hon. Friend, who explained in great detail the agreement with the London Passenger Transport Board which has been entered into by His Majesty's Government. The sole object of the Bill is to implement that agreement. There was one point raised by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition which was not replied to in that Debate, and to which I propose to reply briefly now. The right hon. Gentleman asked why it was necessary to have a company at all, how this company was to be formed, and who were to be the directors. The constitution of the company is now under consideration in negotiations which are taking place between the Government, the Bank of England and the undertakings concerned. We shall rely a great deal on the Bank of England to assist us in this matter. They will provide the purely nominal capital which will have to be put up for the company and they will probably recommend persons to act as directors. As to the necessity for having a company at all, the answer is that we are negotiating with three separate companies, the London Passenger Transport Board, the London and North Eastern Railway Company and the Great Western Company. If we had adopted the procedure suggested by the right hon. Gentleman of simply guaranteeing their loans it would have meant the issue of three separate sets of stock, three separate guarantees and three separate applications to Parliament. The method proposed is much simpler and much more expeditious. It commended itself to the Government for 1394 those reasons, and I think it will equally commend itself to the Opposition.
The hon. Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot) asked how the electrification of the railways was to be proceeded with and from where the electricity supply would be derived. I can still add little to what I told him previously. I can say, however, that the Ministry of Transport, since that date, have received a definite undertaking from the Chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board to the effect that nothing would be done by the Board in connection with reorganising electricity requirements without the fullest consultation with the Minister of Transport. With that brief explanation, following on the very full Debate which we had last Friday on the agreement and on the whole question involved, I think the House will probably be satisfied to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 10.18 p.m.
§ Mr. PARKINSON
There are just one or two points in connection with the agreement which I think ought to be cleared up to-night. One is pleased to see the provision in Sub-section (5) of Clause 1 to the effect that any amended agreement shall be submitted to both Houses of Parliament. It is possible that on a Bill of this character there will be a large number of alterations. There are certain questions which I desire to have answered either by the Minister of Transport or by the Financial Secretary. I observe that in the agreement, as set out in the Schedule, it is provided that the work is to be completed within five years, "or within such further period as the Minister of Transport may allow." I would like to know whether any extension of the period was contemplated when the agreement was drawn up? Had the Government in mind that it would not be possible to complete the work in five years. It seems evident that it is not merely a case of having a safeguard but that it is expected that this scheme may take longer than five years. If that proves to be the case, what action are the Government going to take? Are they going to allow this matter to slide along, slowly but surely, without any definite decision as to the period of the completion of the work? I know the difficulty of laying it down that work is to be finished by a certain date, but it should be possible to place some period 1395 on the work and I think it is only right that we should insist upon that being done. As a matter of fact I think there ought to be a guarantee that the work will be completed within five years.
The present transport situation requires urgent treatment and permits of no further delay, and in view of the statements which have been made as to the congestion of traffic and other conditions in the area affected there ought to be a definite provision for the completion of the work in the shortest possible time, in order to relieve the pressure and to give opportunities for further development. The Minister should give an assurance, in view of the urgent public importance of the matter that there will be the greatest possible acceleration, because during the time we are considering the position, it is bound to grow worse. The longer the matter is on the stocks, the more intense will the problem become.
On page 4, paragraph 3, contains provisions in respect of varying interest rates. I do not think this is a desirable practice. I think there are too many variations in the interest or the percentage which is going to be paid. It appears to me to create an invidious distinction between the various security holders, and that it would have been much better to have had one set rate of interest, say 1 per cent. or 1½ per cent. above the Bank rate. I think that would have been quite good enough, in view of the fact that it is a public monopoly. There is no reason against the adoption of the principle that the interest rate should be levelled out, or in any case I do not think the interest rate ought to be more than the 4 per cent. which is adopted for the debenture stock of the railway companies. I think that really ought to be the maximum.
In respect of another point, the Minister is authorised to agree to the extension of works. If any further works authorised by the Minister are in any way extensive, ought they not to be reported to Parliament? This is giving the Minister the option of a power which may carry the business on for a very much longer period unless something is done in the way I have suggested. I believe this is important and that the House ought to know of any changes made which are of a substantial character. No promise is 1396 given that a copy of the new authorisation should be laid before Parliament, such as is given in paragraph 5.
On page 13 it is stated thatif work is carried out by contractors, they shall be required to enter into contracts embodying provisions in terms similar … to the two last preceding paragraphs.We agree that the terms of any agreement entered into with contractors should contain the provisions of the clauses preceding the one which I am quoting, but at the same time I think the House will remember the difficulties that have been found in the past in connection with contractors not observing their conditions of contract, and even though the contracts embody these provisions I believe it will be necessary to be very vigilant in order to see that the terms of the contracts, so far as the fair wages clause and other conditions specified are concerned are carried out.
There is another question, and that is with regard to people losing their work after this work has been done. It is possible that it may mean a curtailment of employment to some extent, and I want to try to bring into the purview of these Bills the question of people who are thrown out of employment being found other work or at least not being worse off after the alterations have been done than they were at the beginning. It has been embodied in one or two Bills recently in this House. In the last Railway Bill which we had before us, I believe the redundancy of certain workmen was provided for by way of compensation to be paid or other employment to be found.
On another question, while there is no indication that there will be any rise in the fares charged for travellers in the extended area, I hope it will not miss the attention of the Minister and that a statement will be made by the Minister to the effect that the fares should not be raised after the alterations have been made. When the private Bills come before the House we shall closely examine them, and it is possible that we shall put down a considerable number of Amendments. I mention these points in order that the Minister and the Financial Secretary may have an opportunity of considering them before the Bills are introduced, with a view to trying to get the Bills through with the least possible delay.
§ 10.26 p.m.
§ Mr. DAVID MASON
I hope that the observations of the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) will receive the favourable attention of the Financial Secretary. I arrived on Friday when the hon. Gentleman was winding up, and I did not have an opportunity of saying anything on the Financial Resolution, but I am sure that on Second Reading of so important a Bill the hon. Gentleman will extend that courtesy to me which he always extends to hon. Members, and, if he is able to reply to the points I make, I shall appreciate that courtesy all the more. I should like to raise a point on the Schedule. In the agreement between the Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury and the London Passenger Transport Board it is stated:Whereas the Transport Undertakers concerned with the provision of those facilities are unable to undertake the whole of the said scheme.That is an important admission on the part of the undertakers. While I do not for a moment oppose the Bill—on the contrary, I welcome it—I wish to emphasise how much I appreciated the observations of the Financial Secretary when he said that when any scheme was brought forward, the Government would first consider the scheme as to whether it was advisable, and then consider the finance. That was an observation which will commend itself to the good sense of the country. While we all agree that the time has come to do something in the way of development, I think that when it is stated in an agreement that the undertakers are unable to undertake the scheme, and when the Government come forward with the credit of the country on behalf of the ordinary taxpayers, the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind the serious obligation which he is incurring in carrying out this undertaking. I hope that it will be successful, and I have no doubt it will be, but at the same time the position is that the Government are encouraging a risk and pledging the credit of the country to the tune of £40,000,000 to carry out certain works, which, no doubt, are very desirable.
On page 4 it is stated that the agreement will be made on such terms as the company and the Treasury may agree. The company do not volunteer to state to us what those terms are, but we assume that they will be carefully arranged. 1398 Reference was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) on Friday to a sinking fund. Is there any possibility of the undertakers agreeing to set up a sinking fund for the repayment of these advances? When the undertakers are unable to carry out the scheme—they have said so—and come to the Government to ask for assistance, we who represent the taxpayers are entitled to ask that there should be ample provision made. I believe that was in the mind of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs when he asked what terms, if any, were to be made regarding a sinking fund. I emphasise that point and perhaps the Financial Secretary will bear it in mind. At the end of page 5 of the Agreement there is a clause which says that:In the case of default in payment of any interest under the last preceding Clause the Company may with the consent of the Treasury give notice to the Transport undertaker so defaulting and if such interest be not paid within seven days after receipt of such notice the whole of the moneys borrowed by that undertaker then outstanding shall become immediately due and payable.May I ask whether there is a provision allowing foreclosure on the part of the Government in the event of a default? There is no reference to it in the Agreement, and I think it is very important that should there be a default—which I do not suggest, but it happens to be mentioned as a possibility, and it is no doubt in the minds of the Government that there might be a default, as the undertakers have admitted their weakness and come to them for assistance—there will be a right of foreclosure by the Government.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer made the observation that this transaction was due entirely to a policy of cheap money. I do not propose now to enter into a disquisition on that subject, but when the right hon. Gentleman has stated that it is only as the result of his perpetuation of this very artificial state of the money market from which we are suffering at present that we are able to add to our liabilities, I wish with all respect to offer a few observations on that point. This is a very great liability, and the right hon. Gentleman went on to say that this procedure might be extended to other fields, and while, no doubt, hon. 1399 Members of the Labour party are in favour of incurring almost unlimited liability, surely even they must remember that it is the taxpayer who has to meet it. To perpetuate a state of artificially cheap money, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer rejoices in, and to float loans may prove in the end to be a very costly policy. We cannot pledge the credit of the country to an unlimited amount; we cannot, without any idea of what our liabilities are, without any anchorage and without any check whatever on our liabilities, pledge our credit without knowing what we are doing.
§ Mr. MASON
The Leader of the Opposition cheers that, and I hope he will support me in making my protest, seeing that the Chancellor has said that his action in entering into this liability and pledging the credit of the taxpayers of this country for £40,000,000 is due to his artificial policy of perpetuating cheap money, paper money. I do not suggest that if we had a sound financial system it would mean dear money, but I am anxious to have a sound financial system, and as we are perpetuating this artificial state of affairs and incurring these liabilities I wish, in my humble way, to enter my protest, and to beg the Financial Secretary to convey to the Chancellor of the Exchequer this among the other protests I have made. I am not speaking in any sense in opposition to the scheme, because I thank the Government for the conservative sense—the best sense—in which they have brought forward the proposal. It is not a grandiose proposal, because it has been very carefully thought out.
§ 10.36 p.m.
§ Sir BROGRAVE BEAUCHAMP
There is support for the Bill in all parts of the House. I congratulate the Government on the decision to guarantee the funds of the London Passenger Transport Board and of the railway companies in developing their services. I cannot imagine a better opportunity to take advantage of the cheap money rates which have been brought about by the prudent financial operations of the Government. When the works are completed they will be revenue-producing; they will create a great deal of employment not only in the localities where 1400 they are being carried out, but in other parts of the country and, not the least important point, they will give additional travelling facilities to the travelling public in the districts concerned. When they go to their work and come back tired, as we all do, they will do so in much greater comfort.
My pleasure is not whole-hearted, because I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for West Walthamstow (Mr. McEntee) as to the overcrowded condition of the services from Liverpool Street to Walthamstow. I was disappointed that the Walthamstow-Liverpool Street line was not to be electrified, despite the growing population of Walthamstow and of the adjoining constituency represented by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill). Even if a scheme were decided upon to improve the travelling facilities in those areas, it would be many weary months before it could bear fruit. I was glad to note the statement on the part of the London and North Eastern Railway that directly the present works are in operation they propose to consider other schemes to improve their line. I sincerely hope that the Walthamstow-Liverpool Street services will be first on the list.
§ Sir B. BEAUCHAMP
Yes, including also my hon. Friend's constituency of Leyton. I do not believe that the full financial return from electrification as now proposed will show itself unless the London and North Eastern Railway Company electrify all their suburban services. There is the bottle-neck which has always impeded traffic going into and out of Liverpool Street at all times of the day, and I would ask the Minister whether he could not confer with the officials of the London and North Eastern Railway Company to see whether something cannot be done to obviate that bottle-neck. I know it will cost a great deal of money, and will create very little employment, but I do not believe that, while it remains, even electrification will solve the problem of the suburban traffic in that area. Even if it does involve a considerable cost, we have to remember that in the past the railway companies had to carry large financial burdens incidental to the obtaining of the land 1401 over which the railways ran, and I think that the only way in which, in that area, it will be possible to deal with the volume of traffic and to give the service which the people who live in the district have every right to demand, is, not only electrification, but also by doing away with the bottle-neck.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Mr. JOHN WILMOT
I should like, in the first place, to thank the Financial Secretary for his assurance, in reply to the point that I raised in the Debate on the Resolution, that, so far as the supply is concerned, there will be the utmost consultation between the London Passenger Transport Board and the Ministry of Transport, which I presume implies consultation with the Electricity Commissioners. May I take it that the same applies to the question of standardised and uniform voltage, which is equally important? It is very important, with this development in electrification, that the voltage developments shall be such that no undue hindrances will be created in the way of further main-line inter-extension, if such should be the future development of railway transport.
With regard to the rate of interest, as I read the Bill it authorises the Treasury to guarantee in such manner and on such conditions as they think fit the payment of the principal and interest of the securities to be issued, and limits the amount of those securities to an amount sufficient to raise in the aggregate £40,000,000. The capital, therefore, is limited, but the guarantee applies, not only to the repayment of capital, but to the payment of interest on that capital, and it is conceivable, since this money, I take it, is likely to be raised in stages, and not all at once, that changes in the money rates over these years might make very considerable differences as between one interest rate and another, which would affect the size and amount of the Treasury guarantee. While I am somewhat inexperienced in these matters, it seems to me that in a matter of this moment some indication ought to be given as to the precise limit to which public credit is to be pledged.
The thing is further complicated by the fact that I understand from the Schedule that the capital value of the works, and therefore the real capital value, is to be £35,000,000, and with the other 1402 £5,000,000 it brings the limit up to the £40,000,000 mentioned in the Bill as really the capitalisation, or possible capitalisation, of interest. Here, again, the rate of interest becomes of cardinal importance, because we are not only committed to guaranteeing the interest, but, because of this capitalisation, to the guaranteeing of interest on interest. Therefore, you get a compound interest varying in accordance with what the rate of interest may be at the time that the money is borrowed. The House will appreciate some more precise indication of exactly what the guarantee covers.
There is one other point. I think that it can properly be raised on the Committee stage in discussing the Schedule, and I will compress what I have to say into the smallest possible space. I read with some surprise a report in the "Times" of a speech by the superintendent of the Eastern Section of the London and North Eastern Railway. It was a speech which purported, according to the speaker, to give further details of what it is proposed to do under the scheme outlined in this Bill and in the agreement. I will not trouble the House by reading the speech, but I will read one or two disconnected lines from it as an indication of what I have in mind. I take this sentence:The Central London tube railway, which at present terminates at Liverpool Street, would be extended to a point in the neighbourhood of Stratford and perhaps on towards Ilford North. Part of the tube would possibly run on the existing surface lines to Loughton and Grange Hill.He went on to say that these developmentswould not give more than a comparatively small increase in the number of trains.He further said:On the Chingford and Enfield lines electrification would give such a small increase of trains over the present services as not to be justified from a purely financial point of view.Later on, discussing the five years' work which is involved, he said:The exact details of the electrification had not been definitely decided, and the existing plans were by no means complete.These statements—and I admit freely that I have picked these sentences out of their context, and the context should certainly be read—indicate a somewhat remarkable indefiniteness as to what is in 1403 the minds of those who are primarily responsible for this scheme. It seems to be somewhat of an innovation that these interests should come to this House to ask for guarantees for very large sums of money when they have not advanced their plans beyond a point when one of the chief operating engineers of the concern which is to receive, I think, 25 per cent. of this money, can say that it is all very indefinite, that the plans are not completed, and that, in his view, it would make very little difference to the service which is to be run. I do not wish to qualify in any degree what I ventured to say the last time I spoke upon this matter, that we welcome this whole-heartedly, but the duty lies upon the House, and especially upon Opposition Members of it, to scrutinise the method and the terms under which any scheme, however good, is to be carried out. I would, therefore, like to ask the hon. Gentleman if he could give us some more precise information about standard voltage, about the question of interest, about the question of repayments, and some more precise details as to what it is intended to do. If it is not possible to give us this information to-night, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could give us an undertaking that when we come to the next stage of the Bill these very essential particulars will be available.
§ 10.51 p.m.
§ Mr. HUTCHISON
There are one or two points which I should like to bring to the notice of the Minister. In my constituency it is a matter of general congratulation to the Government that they have introduced this scheme and this Bill. The only result has been that people have been so pleased that, like Oliver Twist, they ask for more. But I find only two matters in which they ask for more. One is the electrification of the loop-line between Romford and Upminster; and the other is the electrification of the four lines to Liverpool Street Station. Already we have heard from the hon. Member for East Walthamstow (Sir B. Beauchamp) about the bottle-neck at Liverpool Street and the necessity for widening the line there. Last Saturday there was a holdup on the line owing to a derailment, and the whole traffic out to the north-eastern suburbs was held up owing to this derailment. Should a derailment occur on the electrified line the same thing would 1404 happen again. From that point of view, therefore, it would be desirable to have the four lines electrified.
The other reason why I press this scheme is that the Superintendent of the London and North Eastern section said the other day that with electrification train services would be accelerated by only 12 to 15 per cent. at the peak hours, from 8.30 to 9.30 in the morning and from 6.30 to 7.30 in the evening, and that this was the time when the increase was most needed. The same gentleman said that the Ilford line is the only one upon which overcrowding exists during the rush hours. He added that he did not claim that the plan of electrification would improve the services to Ilford and stations beyond to any great extent except during the peak hours. Therefore, I do press once more for the necessity of four lines being electrified. We already understand by the Bill and the agreement that if the companies can show justification for further developments, the Minister can approve further developments. We know that London is continuing to grow, but we can help to relieve the growing pains of these enormous districts if we see to it that transport facilities are sufficient for the future.
§ 10.53 p.m.
§ Mr. SUMMERSBY
The hon. Gentleman who spoke a few minutes ago referred to several points raised on the introduction of the Financial Resolution, but apparently he did not remember a point which I raised, and I am taking the opportunity of raising it again. I asked him whether he would tell us why it was proposed to substitute trolley vehicles for tramcars on 148 route miles. All road-users had hoped that the Ministry had begun to realise that vehicles moving in the centre of the road probably cause far more danger and accidents and loss of life than fast-moving vehicles. If we see the tram being moved to the side of the road—whether we call it a trolley omnibus or a tram—it does raise a hope in our hearts that traffic will once again be allowed to flow freely along the road for the benefit and safety of everybody. We wonder why it is necessary to have these vehicles attached to overhead lines. If trams are to be done away with, why not substitute the self-propelled vehicle in the form of the motor bus, which surely is as economical, 1405 as easy to handle and as convenient? I should like to make an appeal to title London and North Eastern Railway Company. There are rumours that many tenants will be displaced by the electrification of their railway, and I think that dismissals would be prevented were the railway company able to make a statement as soon as possible as to what new land they will require and how many tenants are likely to be displaced. Such a statement would do much to reassure many business people.
§ 10.56 p.m.
I am afraid that I may be striking a rather jarring note if I suggest that I find this rather a depressing Bill. If the enterprise which we are discussing is likely to prove a profitable one, it would be possible to give the companies power to raise the money in the market in the ordinary way. If, however, it is not going to be a profitable enterprise, I fear that we may find one day that the guarantee we are now giving may become rather a burdensome one to the Exchequer.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Mr. GROVES
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Minister of Transport are aware that we are never unwilling to bestow thanks on the Government if they do things or attempt to accomplish things which are for the public benefit. Having been on the local committee with the hon. Member for Ilford (Sir G. Hamilton) dealing with this question for some years, I was extremely pleased when I heard that the Government were going to give this guarantee. Nevertheless, like all good things, there are unpleasant circumstances connected with it. Representing Stratford, and having been born there and worked in the railway undertaking, I feel that this is the moment to give an indication to the Government that that which has been in our minds as a great improvement and achievement is not sure of accomplishment. The overcrowding which we have protested against for many years in the East End of London is not guaranteed to be cured under this very great scheme, and I am wondering, if that be so, whether the guarantee of an expenditure of from £35,000,000 to £40,000,000 will be wholly warranted. May I suggest to the Government that before they commit themselves to this 1406 undertaking with the London and North Eastern Railway Company they should make perfectly sure for themselves and the public that the protests made by the hon. Member for Ilford and the protests which have come from Barking, Bow and Bromley, West Ham and East Ham, and which have been put before the Government for years, will be met, and that the travesty as regards the safety of the travelling public will be cured.
As a workmen's representative, it seems to me that underlying this great proposal is something of which we in the East End of London have dreamed so many years. There should be an improved and more efficient service, but in my opinion the Government must assure the House that no hardships will be imposed on the thousands of men who have built up the service to what it is to-day. I served my time in the railway works; and I know the details. On the London and North Eastern Railway to-day there are about 2,000 boilermakers, locomotive erectors and cleaners, and people connected with the locomotive engine, who will be automatically displaced because of age when electrical transport is installed. I am in favour of improvement, but Parliament and the company must ensure that these men who have worked from the age of 14 up to the present day will not be thrown on the scrap heap.
There will be other occasions when I can put before the Government the details of the conditions which I think should be imposed on the company in the Bill. It must be remembered that men over the age of 50 who are essentially locomotive men are not capable of becoming electric train drivers, and that people who have been constructing wood bodies are not likely to be engaged in the construction of steel cars. They are made in the great works in the North of England and Scotland and, therefore, I am only doing my duty in speaking for the men in my own area who have given their lives to the railway service and made it what it is to-day. They must not, in the process of achieving better facilities, be turned aside as of no account. I am saying this in the most friendly way. We are not niggardly in our thanks to the Government for the way in which they have brought forward this guarantee, but in trying to do this 1407 big thing we must ensure that these men are not thrown on the scrap heap. They must not be turned adrift.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of TRANSPORT (Mr. Hore-Belisha)
There has been some doubt on the Treasury bench as to who is the best Minister to reply to the Debate. This is primarily a question of whether or not a financial guarantee should be given for the execution of certain schemes which have been agreed upon after long and close consideration. It is, therefore, mainly a financial Measure, but, naturally, I hold myself at the disposal of the House to deal with the matter from the transport point of view, and, if hon. Members wish to direct their minds especially to that aspect of the question at any stage of the Bill, I am ready to do my best to make a considered statement in reply. I do not feel called upon to deal with the purely financial aspect of the question with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury dealt so fully on the occasion when the Financial Resolution was introduced. However, one or two simple points have been raised this evening. The hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Parkinson) asked what would be the rate of interest and why it should not be determined now and in advance. Naturally the rate of interest on the guaranteed loan will be the lowest at which the money can be raised, but it is impossible to say with precision and particularity what that rate will be before the actual arrangements for borrowing are made.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had also anticipated the questions raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. D. Mason) when he explained that it was not contemplated that repayment would be made by means of a sinking fund but from the proceeds of the stocks issued by the Board and the railway companies when the date of redemption of the loan arrives. At that time, of course, the companies should be earning profit on what after all, are expected to be lucrative as well as advantageous undertakings. I gather from the assent which the hon. Member indicated by the motion of his chin that he is satisfied with my recollection of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on that 1408 occasion as a sufficient response to the question that he has raised to-night.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Summersby) is shocked, I gather, at the appearance of trolley vehicles upon the streets in substitution for tramcars. The reason primarily, why trolley vehicles are proposed in substitution for tramcars instead of motor-buses is that plant which has had money expended on it is already in existence and can still be utilised. But there is no doubt that on grounds of amenity and quietness and agreeableness of travel, as well as freedom from accidents, the trolley vehicle is superior to the tramcar. The substitution of trolley vehicles for tramcars will affect at least 265,000,000 passengers a year, which is about one-quarter of the total number of passengers carried on tramways by the Board.
One cannot fail to be impressed by the enthusiasm and relief with which this agreement has been greeted. There are, of course, gaps in the scheme; nobody could possibly deny that; and I sympathise, as all of us do, with hon. Friends of mine whose constituencies have not been as well treated as they might have desired. The most notable gap in the scheme is, of course, the non-electrification of the lines in the direction of Enfield and Tottenham, through Hackney—which happens to be the constituency of my hon. and gallant Friend who assists me at the Ministry of Transport—and in the Walthamstow direction; but no scheme that can be undertaken in the period could possibly include every desirable undertaking, and the House as a whole has realised that, as the outcome of what they must appreciate have been very serious deliberations, we have reached the most practicable scheme that could be undertaken in the period. I have been told that this is the largest project ever undertaken, as regards urban transport, in a similar period of time in this country; and we must be grateful for the re-established credit of the country which has made it possible. The scheme will give very considerable employment and distribute that employment throughout the whole country; and, what is more important, it will diminish very serious grievances of which the travelling public in London have complained. I could have wished, and the Government could 1409 have wished, that it might have been possible to undertake an even vaster scheme, which would have met every reasonable request that could have come from any direction. As I see my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham rises to interrupt me, I must remind him, for he complained on a previous occasion that the improvements on the Bakerloo tube were quite unnecessary and redundant as compared with the needs of Tottenham, that these improvements mean that whereas 35,000,000 passengers a year are carried on the Metropolitan Railway north of Baker Street, it is expected that it will become possible to increase that number by 17,500,000 by this scheme and these 17,500,000 extra passengers will outweigh by their opinion and their appreciation the complaint of my hon. Friend.
Mr. JOHN RUTHERFORD
I was only going to ask the right hon. Gentleman if he would repeat the assurance given by the Financial Secretary on Friday that after this scheme has been started and is under way the first consideration will be the electrification of the line from Tottenham through Edmonton, for which I am the Member, to Enfield.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I apologise to my hon. Friend. He represents, of course, Edmonton and not Tottenham. They are so closely associated in these requests that I confused them for the moment. I do repeat the assurance the Financial Secretary gave that the improvement, which he so much desires, is by no means dismissed from consideration, but will, on the other hand, receive every consideration and will be undertaken at the earliest possible moment consistent with economic practicability.
I believe that I was asked some other questions, notably by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fulham (Mr. Wilmot). I think that the undertaking given by the chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board with regard to his intention to consult with us upon his electrical projects satisfied the hon. Gentleman, but to the other electrical question he asked, namely, the voltage to be used on the lines to be electrified, I reply that this is governed by an Order that I have apparently made. Hon. Members realise, of course, that the Government have inserted provisions in 1410 making this agreement that fair terms shall be given to those who are employed, and if hon. Members think that stipulation should be carried any further, the Private Bill will be the appropriate occasion on which to raise their views. The sympathy of the Government, at any rate, is indicated by the fact that they have inserted provisions in the agreement for the manufacture of goods to be undertaken in this country and for the wages of the men to be fair.
§ Mr. GROVES
I am sure the Minister will wish to give me a straight and categorical answer on this point, if he can. What I am troubled about is the position of men who are displaced by age or unsuitability for the new work. Are they to be thrown aside ignominiously? We want to see that they are provided either with alternative work or adequate compensation. Will the Government support any Amendments to the Private Bill to that effect which we put down, or put down Amendments themselves?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
This, of course, is a plan to increase, and not to diminish, employment. It is impossible to say whether, in the natural course of things, some people will be displaced. That happens every day in the ordinary course of business. But more people on the whole will be employed in the end. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that any further provision ought to be inserted, the Private Bill will provide the occasion on which he may be able to make clear his point of view. These schemes are all sound. They can be justified, not only as transport improvements which will add to the comfort and the leisure hours of millions, but as schemes which will ultimately, the Government believe, prove to be sound commercial propositions from the standpoint of the Board, the railway companies, and their stockholders. We think we are getting very good value indeed for the credits which we have agreed to lend, and that the travelling public will be enabled by this scheme to reap the benefits of the Government's policy of cheap money.
§ Mr. D. MASON
In the event of default what steps will be taken to see that 1411 the rights of those concerned—the rights of foreclosure—are maintained? There is no mention of that in the Agreement.
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
In the event of default the company will be in a position to call for the issue of stock, comprising the collateral security, as provided by paragraph 18 of the Agreement, and upon the issue of that stock the company will be able to exercise the usual power of sale. That is the answer.
§ Mr. WILMOT
Can the right hon. Gentleman throw any light on the speech made by the superintendent of the London and North Eastern Railway Company, which I mentioned?
§ Mr. HORE-BELISHA
I am unhappy to find myself in the witness box on this occasion. My reply must be that the arrangements of this scheme are embodied in this agreement and not in any statement made to the Press or to any other institution or body of persons by individuals occupying either exalted or inferior positions in any of the companies concerned.
§ 11.19 p.m.
§ Mr. G. R. STRAUSS
Why is this Bill being introduced now? The London Passenger Transport Board Act, which was passed many years ago, was originally brought forward with this very object. At any rate one of its principal objects was to enable this form of extension to take place. Travelling conditions have been very unsatisfactory ever since. Money has been cheap for the last two or three years at least. Yet we have had to wait till this moment before this Bill has been brought forward, and I think we are entitled to ask what has caused the delay and why the Bill is suddenly brought forward in an obviously rushed form. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will tell us that it is owing to pressure put upon him by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) or possibly owing to the coming election which is being talked of. In any case for three or four years it has been possible to carry out this very necessary extension, and we have to wait till now before the Bill has been produced. I think an 1412 answer from the Government on that point would be very illuminating.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for Monday next.—[Coptain Margesson.]