HL Deb 07 August 1907 vol 180 cc13-6

My Lords, I rise to call attention to the "Return of Railway Servants who were on duty on the Railways of the United Kingdom for more than twelve hours at a time for the month of April, 1907;" and to ask whether the Board of Trade will not revert to the former practice of publishing on the same page the total time from booking on to booking off, and also the additional figures supplied by the railway companies giving the time engaged upon responsible duty.

I have no doubt your Lordships are all familiar with the Returns to which I desire for a few moments to call your attention. They had their origin some time ago. I think the Act was passed, under which they are called for, at the time when the noble Viscount on the Front Bench was at the Board of Trade and I had the honour of serving there under him. For a considerable number of years Returns were asked for about once a year and were always rendered to the House in the same form. Recently the Board of Trade have asked for those Returns more frequently and have to some extent changed the form in which they are presented. I want, in the first instance, to assure the Government and the representative of the Board of Trade that in calling attention to the alteration which they have recently made in the form of the Return I do so in no spirit hostile to the Return itself. I believe these Returns are useful, and I think it is extremely desirable that the information sought for should be given in the fullest possible way. My case is not against the request for the Returns, but against the form in which they are presented, and I suggest to your Lordships that they are not now given in a form which does justice to the facts they are supposed to reveal to the public.

Down to the year 1902 when the Return was asked for no instructions were given as to the method in which it should be made up. But when asked for in October of the following year the Board of Trade issued instructions that the time to be taken for the purpose of the Return was the full time from start to finish, and that no kind of deductions were to be made. It is very desirable that the fullest information should be given, and it is quite clear that the bare fact of the number of hours on which a railway servant is supposed to be on duty does not reveal the whole of the case. I remember quite well that fifteen or sixteen years ago, when I was at the Board of Trade, a question was asked about one of these Returns, from which it appeared that a certain engine driver had been sixteen hours continuously on duty. That was true. He had served the company for sixteen hours and had received sixteen hours' pay, but what he had done during that period was this. He had run an excursion train from London to Brighton, which took him an hour and a half, and, after an interval of twelve hours, he had driven it back again, the intervening twelve hours having been spent on the beach at Brighton with his family, for whom he had obtained a free pass. It was for him an extremely light day's work, but for the exigencies of the railway company it was necessary that he should be on duty the whole time, and so, technically, he was on duty for the whole sixteen hours.

The point of the whole matter is this, that the first table in this Return gives the total time from the booking on to the booking off—that is, the whole time the man is away from home and on duty; but what you really want to know is the time in between those extreme hours on which the man has been really upon responsible duty. It is quite right that the whole time should be given, but it is not right that it should be given as if that particular table told the whole of the facts. Up till about six or eight months ago the additional figures were given in the same table, printed in italics. That has now been changed, and the additional information is put away in an appendix to the Return. The result of that has been that it seems as if during these recent months the number of times when excess duty has been worked has been largely increased, but that is not so; and the plea I make to the Board of Trade is that they should revert to the original practice if they can, and, if they cannot do that, for reasons of their own, they should in some way or other make it more easy to the public to ascertain the real facts.

I do not think I am making an extravagant request, because, after all, it is in the interest of everybody—the Board of Trade, the railway companies, the public, and the men themselves—that the facts, whatever they are, should be ascertainable from the form of the Return with as little trouble as possible; and when I tell the representative of the Board of Trade, as I do, upon the authority of the railway company whom to some extent I am representing to-night, that the alteration in the form has given rise to misconceptions, that we have received communication after communication commenting on the deterioration in our practice, which is not true in fact, I am sure he will see that we have, I will not say a grievance, because I am certain that in so far as we have suffered it has been unintentional on the part of the Board of Trade, but certainly something of which we may complain; and I hope that, either by the alteration of a heading or in some other way, the misconceptions to which I have referred may be got rid of. I believe it would help the public to obtain better and clearer and more accurate information if the Board of Trade were to revert to their original practice. All we want is that these Returns should be given in such a form as to render it easy for those who are interested in these matters to ascertain the true facts of the case.


My Lords, I agree with a great deal that has been said by my noble friend as regards this Return. The great object of the Return should be, of course, to give to the public the whole of the facts, and the noble Lord appears to be of opinion that, owing to the new regulation which came into force when the last Return was furnished, the Return is not now given in a form which does justice to the facts it is supposed to reveal to the public. As far as the Board of Trade are concerned we are anxious to give the information as clearly as possible, and we regret that the change has met with the disapproval of the noble Lord. I do not think, however, that the Board of Trade are very anxious to revert to the old system. They are of opinion that the present system is the best, but I can assure my noble friend that before the next Return is issued we will do all in our power to meet his wishes.

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