HC Deb 01 February 1940 vol 356 cc1260-2
46. Mr. Herbert Morrison

asked the Prime Minister whether this House will be given an opportunity of discussing the proposed financial agreement between the Government and the railway companies before it is finally ratified on behalf of the Government?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Chamberlain)

In connection with the prosecution of the war the Government is entering into a very large number of financial agreements of all kinds, and the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it would not be practicable for the terms of such agreements, when still under negotiation, to be submitted for discussion in this House. The responsibility for such agreements must remain with the Government, although it is, of course, open to the House to debate the conditions of any arrangement, when made and published, if it wishes to do so. In the particular case to which the right hon. Gentleman refers I understand that it is the intention of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport to circulate in the form of a White Paper an outline of the agreement between the Government and the railway companies, as soon as it is finally concluded.

Mr. Morrison

Can the Prime Minister inform the House whether he has some approximate idea when this agreement is likely to be completed? Does he not recognise that agreement with the railway companies is bound to be a major financial operation, and of major importance to the country at the present time, and, indeed, after the war? Does he rot think that in these exceptional circumstances the House should have an opportunity of expressing an opinion upon it?

The Prime Minister

In regard to the date of the conclusion of the agreement, I understand that my right hon. Friend hopes to be able to make a statement on the subject next week. In regard to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's Supplementary Question, of course it is a matter of greatest importance, and if the House wishes to discuss it, it will, of course, have an opportunity. I think discussion will be better after the White Paper is published.

Mr. Garro Jones

Would it not be better, before entering into this agreement, to make it subject to subsequent ratification by the House?

The Prime Minister

If the House after seeing the agreement is of the opinion it was such that it should not be confirmed by the House, that would upset it.

Mr. Attlee

May I ask whether the Government has not already entered into a contractual agreement with the railway companies? Therefore, should there not be an opportunity for the House to discuss the general basis of this agreement; otherwise it is far more difficult to get out of an agreement of that kind which has already been signed?

The Prime Minister

It would make it more difficult, but I do not think the course the right hon. Gentleman suggests would be more convenient in the long run.