§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL AND PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION (The Marquess of LONDONDERRY)
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed, in moving an 1051 Amendment to this Bill, to say a few words on behalf of the Post Office. My noble friend the Postmaster-General considered that it would be disrespectful to your Lordships' House if his Department did not explain why they have taken the course followed in regard to this Bill. I gather from the Postmaster-General that a mutual agreement has been arrived at between the Post Office and the Great Eastern Railway Company with regard to the proposed Amendment, but my noble friend the Acting Chairman of Committees holds the opinion that it might have been possible for the Post Office to have proceeded in this matter by means of a public Bill. If they had considered it possible to get a Bill passed in their interests on these grounds during the present session, they would undoubtedly have taken that course; but they considered that at this stage of the session, and in view of the various important matters before Parliament, it would have been futile to have proceeded in that way.
But I would point out on behalf of the Postmaster-General, that it is very important that his Department should assert their rights in connection with traffic of all sorts and kinds. The Department fully recognise that in all probability it will be some time before the motor system is developed to its fullest extent, and until that is the case it may not be the duty of the Post Office to take advantage generally of that system of transport for their mails; but they also feel that they should lose no time in asserting the rights they undoubtedly have of making use of all kinds of locomotion. The Postmaster-General is extremely anxious that every respect should be paid to your Lordships' House, and has asked me, therefore, to make these few remarks in moving the following Amendment—And whereas it has been agreed between the Company and the Postmaster-General that the following provisions shall apply with respect to the conveyance of mails by omnibuses, coaches, carts, and other road vehicles, be it therefore enacted that—(1) The Company shall convey by any omnibus, coach, cart, or other road vehicle provided, worked, or used on a regular or periodical service in connection with, or in extension "of, their railway system, and habitually moved by mechanical power, all such mails (with the 1052 officers of the Post Office in charge thereof) as may be tendered by the Postmaster-General for conveyance by such vehicle, and shall receive and deliver such mails from or to any Post Office or officer of the Post Office on the route of such vehicle.Then follow conditions with which I do not think I need trouble your Lordships. I beg to move the Amendment.
That this clause be there inserted." (The Marquess of Londonderry).
§ THE ACTING CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord BALFOUR of BURLEIGH)
My Lords, I think it would be right for me to say a few words as to the reason which has induced me to insist that this Amendment should be moved in the House rather than be put in before me when presiding over an Unopposed Bill Committee. One of the clauses in this Bill provides for the running by the Great Eastern Railway Company of certain motor-car services supplemental to the services on the railway, and though this proposal is novel, I believe that it will be generally speaking, a convenience to the public in those parts of the country where it is found suitable to adopt it. It will be mostly with the object of meeting the requirements of excursionists and others, and it will be very often only an intermittent service. But in consequence of this power being taken by the Great Eastern Railway Company, the Postmaster-General suggested to me, through one of the officers of his Department, that the provisions of the Act of 1893 should be extended to this Bill, and that it should be made compulsory upon companies, and this company amongst them, when providing motor services to carry in those vehicles the mails and the servants of the Post Office in charge of them. That was proposed as a compulsory obligation. It is, as your Lordships know, compulsory now upon the railway companies to carry mails and servants of the Post Office either upon their ordinary trains or upon their light railways "or tramways.
The company in question contested the justice of making the Act of 1893 apply to motor-car services of-railway companies upon the ground that the circumstances were essentially different 1053 They were seeking for no monopoly, they were not laying down special tracks or getting Parliamentary powers to make roads; they were simply, as members of the public, using the roads which were provided by the community, and they argued that the only object of Clause 41 of the Bill—the clause now before your Lordships—was to legalise their doing a thing which they wanted to do in the interests of the company. I took that view, and I told the Postmaster-General that, in my opinion, if he wanted legislation of this kind it should be by a public Act, and not by making a precedent in what was otherwise an unopposed Bill.
I took that view mainly on the ground that the motor-car service which it is proposed to establish is essentially different from the general service of trains, inasmuch as there is not the same accommodation, certainly not the same accommodation to spare. Secondly, there is no monopoly given to the railway company for this service, and under those general conditions under which this traffic is carried on the granting to the Postmaster-General of this compulsory power might be placing a very unfair burden on the railway company. On these grounds I refused to insert the clause, but the railway company and the Post Office, I will not say behind my back, but after the decision I had given, agreed between themselves that the clause which is now before your Lordships—an agreement clause—should be inserted in this Bill. I then said that I thought, as this was the first occasion that such a proposal had been made, it should not be accepted by me even though it was agreed to by the parties, but should be moved in the House so that your Lordships should know what was done.
I do not offer any objection to the insertion of this clause, but I think your Lordships will agree with me that when a new precedent of this kind is made it should be done on due notice, so that the whole House may know what is being done. I do not altogether agree with some of the statements made by the noble Marquess. He stated that the Post Office had undoubtedly power to insist on this service under the existing law. It is precisely because they 1054 have not that power that they are seeking the insertion of this clause. All I wish to say is that as this is an agreement clause it must not, of course, be taken to form a precedent to be compulsorily imposed on all railway companies who come to Parliament for these services. As the clause in question is an agreement clause and the House has had an opportunity of considering it, I do not propose to offer on this occasion any opposition to the Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to; Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.