HL Deb 14 August 1919 vol 36 cc923-35

After Clause 19, insert the following new clause:

"Rates advisory committee.

".—(1) For the purpose of giving advice and assistance to the Minister with respect to and for safeguarding any interests affected by any directions as to rates, fares, tolls, dues, and other charges or special services, a committee shall be appointed consisting of six persons, one being an impartial person (who shall be chairman) nominated by the Railway and Canal Commission two being representatives of trading interests nominated by the chairman for the time being of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, one being a representative of agricultural interests nominated by the chairman for the time being of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, and two being representatives of labour interests nominated by the chairman for the time being of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress together with, if deemed advisable, one additional member who may at the discretion of the Minister be nominated from time to time by him.

"(2) Before directing any revision of any rates, fares, tolls, dues, or other charges, or of any special services, the Minister shall refer the matter to the committee for their advice, and they shall report thereon to him, and where such revision is for the purpose of an increase in the net revenue of any undertakings which the Minister determines to be necessary, the committee shall also advise as to the best methods of obtaining such increase from the different classes of traffic, having due regard to existing contracts and the fairness and adequacy of the methods proposed to be adopted. Before prescribing the limits of rates, tolls, or charges in connection with a new transport service established under section nine of this Act, the Minister shall refer the matter to the Committee for their advice.

"(3) The committee before reporting or advising on any matters referred to them under this section, shall, unless in their discretion they consider it unnecessary or undesirable to do so, give such public notice as they think best adapted for informing persons affected of the date when and the place where they will inquire into the matter, and any persons affected may make representations to the committee, and, unless in their discretion the committee consider it unnecessary, shall be heard at such inquiry, and, if the committee in their discretion think fit, the whole or any part of the proceedings at such inquiry may be open to the public:

Provided that, for the purpose of this provision, the council of any city, borough, burgh, county, or district shall be deemed to be persons affected in any case where such council or any persons represented by them may be affected by any such proposed revision as aforesaid.

(4) The committee shall hear such witnesses and call for such documents and accounts as they think fit, and shall have power to take evidence on oath, and for that purpose any member of the committee may administer oaths.

"(5) There shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament to all or any of the members of the committee such salaries or other remuneration as the Minister, with the consent of the Treasury, may determine.

"(6) For the purposes of this section, special services means the services mentioned in section five of the schedule to the orders relating to railway rates and charges, and in the corresponding sections of the schedules to the orders relating to canal tolls, rates and charges confirmed by various Acts passed in the years eighteen hundred and ninety-one to eighteen hundred and ninety-four."

The Commons agree to this Amendment, but propose the following Amendment:

In line 5 of the Amendment, leave out from ("of") to ("together") in line 13, and insert ("five persons, one being a person of experience in the law (who shall be chairman) nominated by the Lord Chancellor, two being representatives of trading and agricultural interests nominated by the Board of Trade, one being a representative of transportation interests nominated by the Minister, one being a representative of labour interests nominated by the Minister of Labour").


The next matter on the Paper is an Amendment by the Commons to your Lordships' Amendment dealing with the composition of the Rates Advisory Committee. I beg to move that your Lordships agree with the Amendment of the Commons. In recommending this course to your Lordships I would ask leave to refer once more to the discussion which took place in Committee on the composition of this Rates Advisory Committee. Your Lordships will remember that the noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, who moved the Amendment dealing with the composition of the Committee, stated that there was a question of principle involved between himself and the Government. Throughout the discussion in Committee in your Lordships' house I argued that there was no difference of principle between us, that there was merely a difference as to what steps should be taken to secure the best possible advice. If there is a difference of principle it is merely because the noble Viscount who moved the Amendment regards the duty which this Committee will have to perform in a different light from ourselves.

As I ventured to point out on the Third Reading, in the opinion of the Government all these Committees were set up for the purpose of giving advice and assistance to the Government, and, in the case of two of them, one of which we are now discussing, to safeguard the interests of those who would be affected. The noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, met my argument by saying that the Committees could not possibly have been inserted in the Commons with that object, because the Minister could quite well have called in the advice of those bodies without inserting any Clause in the Bill at all. That fact was quite within the knowledge of the House of Commons when the Clause was inserted in Committee. The Minister on that occasion said quite frankly," It has always been my intention in carrying out my functions under this Act to consult the large bodies whose interests will be affected by its operation, and if there is any doubt about that I am quite willing that it should be made clear in the Bill." But, he added, "There is nothing in the composition of this Committee which I could not quite well do, without this Clause being inserted." And it was inserted in the Commons in order to ensure that the Minister should have advice, and the best possible advice, from those who could speak for the large interests which would be affected.

If your Lordships accept the view of the Government, that these Committees have been set up for the purpose of giving them advice and assistance then the only question which we have to consider is whether the Committee inserted by the noble Viscount or the Committee which would be set up if the Commons Amendment is accepted is the best for the purpose. Let me remind your Lordships of the interests winch are concerned. In the first instance I painted out when the House was in Committee that the Government attached great importance to securing, as Chairman of this Rates Committee, if possible, one of His Majesty's Judges, or, in any case, a very high legal authority. The Railway and Canal Commission" which was, according to the noble Viscount, to appoint the Chairman, could not, unless they appointed one of their own number, which would be obviously undesirable, appoint a lawyer of the first grade. And because of the great importance which the Government attached to securing a lawyer of the first rank in the country as Chairman, the Commons have moved to re-insert the original proposal of the Bill, namely, that the Chairman should be appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

The next point is the question of the trading interests. In the form in which the Bill came to your Lordships two representatives of trade were to be appointed by the Board of Trade. In time Commons Amendment which we are now considering it is proposed that there should be two representatives appointed by the Board of Trade to represent the trading and agricultural interests of the country. As it is wane time since Lord Midleton's Amendment was inserted in the Bill we have had an opportunity of gauging the opinion of the large trade organisations of the country on the two alternatives. The two main trading associations that will be affected—the Colliery Owners' Association and the Iron and Steel Trades Federation—are strongly in favour of retaining the right to nominate with the Board of Trade. The same view is taken by the Shipbuilding Federation. There are three other associations—the Mansion House Association, the Federation of British Industries, and the Timber Trades Federation—who favour the Amendment proposed by the noble Viscount. Of these, however, two would be prepared to accept time nomination by the Board of Trade, if it was done in consultation with bodies representing trailing interests. Therefore, of all the big bodies that can speak for the trade of this country there is only the Mansion House Association which is definitely in favour of retaining the representation in the form provided by the noble Viscount. Therefore, not only in the opinion of the Government is the Board of Trade best qualified to obtain the best representation of trading interests, but these large and important bodies have expressed their approval of the form of the Government Bill.

Now with regard to agriculture. We had always intended that agriculture should be included in trading interests; but I did, however, give an undertaking when we were in Committee that we should be willing to consider a special representation for agriculture. Here, again, it is noteworthy that a noble Lord who put an Amendment on the Paper and who can speak in favour of agriculture—Lord Bledisloe—asked that the agricultural representative should be appointed by the Board of Agriculture. He did not ask that the representative should be nominated—


He did not speak on the subject at all.


He put an amendment on the Paper.


That is a different thing.


The Amendment asked that the agricultural representative should be appointed by the Board of Agriculture. The Commons regarded an increase in the numbers of the Committee—the members let me remind your Lordships will be paid out of public moneys—as a breach of their privileges; because to increase the number of the members of the Committee so paid would be to increase a charge on the public funds. They have therefore endeavoured to meet the wishes of those who desire to secure agricultural representation by an Amendment which provides that of the two members nominated by the Board of Trade one shall definitely be a representative of agricultural interests. Then we come to the question of labour. Here, again, there are many in the House of Commons who speak definitely for labour interests, and the Labour Members, not only in the first instance when the composition of the Committee was first settled but again when your Lordships' Amendments were under discussion, unanimously preferred that their interests should be secured by the Minister of Labour rather than by the machinery proposed by the noble Viscount. Lastly, there was no provision whatever for representation of transportation interests in the noble 'Viscount's Amendment, and, as I pointed out to your Lordships at the time, we consider that to be of vital importance.

Therefore our objections to the composition of the Rates Committee, as proposed by the noble Viscount, are these. First of all, there is no precedent for a body whose members shall be paid by the State out of public funds who shall have powers to hold public inquiries and to take evidence upon oath and whose members are to be nominated by private, independent, outside, unofficial bodies. We do not believe that this body would secure the best men, and we are fortified in that view by the opinion of those whose interests the members of the Committee will represent. All those in the House of Commons who can speak on behalf of these interests uphold the view of the Government, and this was the only one of your Lordships' Amendments upon which a Division was taken. The Amendment which we are now considering was made, on a Division, by 132 to 14. There were only fourteen Members of the House of Commons who could be found to support the Amendment of the noble Marquess. For these reasons I trust that your Lordships will accept the Amendment of the Commons.

Moved, That this House cloth agree with the Commons in the said Amendment.—(The Earl of Lytton.)


My Lords, I hope the noble Earl will not think me disrespectful if I refuse to follow him into the number of questions he has raised, most of which are merely a réchaufée of past debates in this House. I will deal at once with the remarks he made at the close of his speech. The noble Earl has based himself on there being no precedent for such a Committee. I venture to say that there is no precedent for this Bill, or for the enormous, exaggerated, and, as we think, undesirable powers which are going to be placed in the hands of one man with regard to the commerce and trade of the country. I do not think that the noble Earl fortified his position by alluding to the number of Members who voted for this in the House of Commons last night. If the noble Earl had served in the House of Commons as I and many other of your Lordships have, he would know the sort of way in which it is necessary to discuss these matters at six o'clock in the morning, after a sitting of fifteen hours, and especially at a time of year when a large number of those who had given their vote before were not even in town. Therefore I would say that the number induced to go into the Government Lobby—in what was at that hour an anæmic and jaded Assembly—need not worry us.

The fact is that we cannot get the Government to understand that, so far as we are concerned, we ask for an independent committee, while they want a tied Committee. We ask for a committee which is competent and which will feel that it has to give an account to others; the Government ask for a committee which is going to give an account only to the Minister or to the other Ministers who have appointed it. The noble Earl formed an impression in his mind, and endeavoured on several occasions to persuade your Lordships, that such a committee as he proposes would have a strong bearing on the decisions of the Minister. Well, there have been at least 100 committees sitting during this war—in fact, there have been as many as 100 sitting at one time. Any number of committees have been appointed to advise Ministers, and if these benches were manned by even one representative of each of those committees, and they were to say how much of their advice was taken by a Minister, I think you would find that a large percentage of the work done by those committees had been altogether thrown away. I regard the committee which is going to be appointed as on the same level with those whose advice the Government has in most instances consistently disregarded; and the appointment of such a committee really becomes sheer camouflage, and will not carry out the desire expressed by the majority of your Lordships' House.

I have only one other remark to make. There is, although the noble Earl does not recognise it, a great division of opinion in the country as to the desirability of this Bill. When the noble Earl obtained a majority for carrying the Bill at the end of this rather crowded fortnight, he did so by the use of suggestions as to the effect which would be produced by any serious change in the Bill. I would ask him, is it wise to carry that proceeding too far? No really great change has been made in the Bill. With the exception of Lord Emmott's Amendment this is the only change which would have the effect of bringing any outside check to bear. As we hold the view that an independent committee is essential, if we cannot obtain it in any other way I trust that your Lordships will assist me in insisting upon this Amendment.


My Lords, I am sorry that His Majesty's Government and the majority in the other House have taken so unfavourable a view of the Amendment which was carried in your Lordships' House. As the noble Viscount has said, there is a definite difference of substance between an independent committee and what be has described as a "tied" committee. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill has spoken of this Committee as not being designed to operate as a check on the Minister but to advise and assist him. However, that advice and assistance ought not, I humbly submit, always to take the guise of complete agree-meat, and the less independent the constitution of a Committee of this kind, the more it is nominated on purely official lines, the more likely it is simply to fall into the habit of saying "Ditto" to the right hon. gentleman or the noble Lord who mar be the head of the Department. I think therefore that if a Committee is constituted as designed in the original shape of the Bill, or now in the Commons Amendment, it really forms a very superfluous, addition to the Bill. I confess I do not see great purpose in supplying this particular Minister with this highly expensive Committee. The cost, we are told, of this body is going to be considerable. At the same time the Minister has frankly pointed out that he could get the advice quite as well in some other way. I do not know whether it would be a breach of the privilege of the House of Common, if we were to say that sooner than have a Committee of this kind with its large expense we would have none at all. We might be saving public money, but I am afraid we should be diminishing a public charge, and that naturally is regarded in another place as one of the most serious and improper steps that your Lordships' House could take. As matters are, however, I confess I am disposed to support the noble Viscount in insisting upon this form of independent Committee, if there is to be a Committee at all.


I supported my noble friend when he carried this Amendment during the Report stage of the Bill, and I am glad to hear from him now that he intends to insist upon it. I feel that the Committee as appointed by the Minister must, from its very constitution, be more or less of a tied Committee. I am strongly supported in that view by the persistent manner in which the Government refused to accept Amendments during the Report stage which offered the only possibility of that Committee assuming an independent position—that was, that it should report annually publicly to Parliament its findings and its considerations. That proposal was refused by the Government. If it had been accepted undoubtedly the Committee would have been to that extent more responsible in character; because whatever decisions it comes to on these very important questions of tolls and dues it would have to give reasons for so doing, and those reasons would be published and would undergo the full consideration of Parliament. That proposal was refused, and therefore it goes back to the secret tied Committee, and a very expensive one at that. These gentlemen will have to be paid very high fees, and it really means that this Committee will be paid high fees in order to confirm the decisions of the Minister. In those circumstances it seems to me that the proposal is not in the best interests, and not in the interests of independent action. If, therefore, my noble friend persists in this Amendment and goes to a division, I shall support him.


I do not think adequate justice has been done to the statement made by my noble friend Lord Lytton, that since this question was discussed he has made it his business to find out the views upon this subject of the great trading interests directly concerned. Lord Lytton has told us the result of his inquiries. The coal interest disagrees with Lord Midleton. To a certain extent the great timber interest differs from Lord Midleton. Iron and steel do not want Lord Midleton's Amendment, nor does shipbuilding; and labour also does not support Lord Midleton's proposal. Those are interests which cannot be ignored.


It is very strange that they have not confided in us any of these things.


Does Lord Salisbury doubt the accuracy of what Lord Lytton said?


I have no guarantee of it.


Lord Salisbury is not asked to guarantee the accuracy of what Lord Lytton said. Lord Lytton, on his responsibility as a Minister, said that he had consulted these interests and that they gave those statements. I do not think your Lordships are entitled to disregard those interests. They are tremendous interests representing an immense volume of trade, of capital, of labour, and 50 per cent. at least of the railway interest. If they ask that the Board of Trade shall nominate, or the Ministry of Transport shall nominate, and not according to the Amendment, I really think that their request should be respected. It is quite obvious from what your Lordships have said that there is some idea that these bodies are going to be tied Committees—that is a word which has been used more than once—or creatures of the Minister, which was the phrase used last time, and that this proposal is mere camouflage. I do not know whether. I am less suspicious than other people, or more easily taken in, but I confess I am not afraid of them. These are not temporary or casual Committees like those to which Lord Midleton refers; they are whole-time Committees. They are part of the permanent departmental organisation, and I frankly say I do not believe that a man who is put on to a Committee of this kind to represent shipbuilding, if you like, or coal, or steel, or iron, or timber, or labour, is going to be a man who will simply do what he is told by one Minister and forfeit his right and his duty to act as a man of independent judgment and personality. These men are not going to be nobodies, and certainly the last thing they are likely to do is to act as tied servants and to become the mere creatures of the Minister. I therefore hope that your Lordships will accept the proposal made by Lord Lytton, in view of the very strong fact that he has brought forward that it is agreed to by those who are directly concerned in seeing that these Committees are properly manned.


When this matter was before the House previously I took the uncourageous course of walking out without casting my vote. I did so for this reason. I entirely sympathised with the noble Viscount opposite in his desire to have an impartial Committee, but I did not feel, and I do not now feel, that you would be certain to get the kind of Committee that would be most useful and desirable under the precise form of nomination which he proposed. The real point is whether this Committee, would be a tied Committee or not. That depends I think, first of all, on the men chosen, but also to some extent on the line which the other Government Departments who are to appoint under the Government scheme took in regard to their nominees—whether they looked for somebody who would be a check upon the Minister of Transport and who would look after the interests of other classes of the community, or whether they did in fact appoint practically nominees of his who would do his bidding. I think that is the real point at the bottom of this discussion.

I am afraid it is too late to make any suggestion of compromise, but for what it is worth I would like to throw out one or two suggestions in regard to the appointment of this Committee. In the first place, it is said that the nominee of the Lord Chancellor would be the nominee of a very important member of the Government, who is of course absolutely lié to the Government under our present constitutional system. In that case why should not some eminent Judge, either the Lord Chief Justice, or the Master of the Rolls, appoint the legal member who is to preside? I do not know whether this is feasible or not. I have not inquired and I do not know what the precedents are. If, however, the objection is to a Government nominee the difficulty could be got over in that way.

Then, with regard to those to be appointed by trade organisations or otherwise by the Board of Trade, why should not the Board of Trade appoint in consultation with bodies of traders? I do not like the idea of the nominated Committee bound to the Government. At the same time this Committee will have very important functions to discharge, and you will need men not only of real capacity but of balanced mind, and you would probably get them better by the Board of Trade consulting trade organisations than by the trade organisations appointing them, as is suggested by the noble Viscount opposite. In regard to agriculture the same course might be taken. The President of the Board of Agriculture might appoint after consultation with the Central Chamber of Agriculture.

With regard to labour, I do not care particularly how it is done, but I should have thought that the Labour Minister would have been as likely to make as good a nomination as anybody else. There is the addition of the representative of transportation, nominated by the, Minister. That is part of the Government proposal. I do not quite see the necessity of such a nomination, inasmuch as there is to be one additional member who may, at the discretion of the Minister, be nominated from time to time by him. I am afraid it is too late, and I merely throw that out as a possible suggestion of compromise. I find myself in a real difficulty about this matter. I am not at all sure that tinder the noble Viscount's proposal the country would get the best form of Committee; neither do I like the idea of what is called a tied Committee.


I waited to see if the Government would make some response to the suggestion just advanced. I frankly say that I am in some difficulty about the clause. I do not like appointments by a Minister, without some other advice, of those whom he is to consult. All through this Bill we find that this Ministry which is to be set up has, at first at any rate, endeavoured to allocate to itself extraordinary powers, and has thereby created a certain amount of distrust of its impartiality. Therefore, I have a strong feeling in favour of somebody other than the Minister selecting at least a part of this Committee which is to advise him. I am sure the advice given by the Committee would have greater weight if it were felt by those outside that it was not composed of persons who might have been chosen by the Minister because he believed that they would give the advice that he wanted.

I should like to add that I frankly admit that to an unusual extent we have been met in regard to this Bill by the Government and another place. They have put themselves to a considerable amount of inconvenience. I do not feel very strongly about the Amendments, except the last on the Paper, in regard to which I am of opinion that money should not be expended without the consent of Parliament. I have some doubt as to what is the wise course with regard to this, and I appeal to the Government whether they cannot make some suggestion in reply to that made by the noble Lord who has just spoken.


With your Lordships' permission, perhaps I may add one word. I think I can make this absolutely clear—that it is obvious that none of the nominating Ministries in the Government clause are the least likely to appoint members without consulting the interests which their nominees are to represent, and I should have no objection, if that would meet your Lordships, to state in the Bill that these representatives shall be nominated after consultation with the trading and agricultural interests concerned, or in the case of the Labour Minister, after consultation with labour organisations. I am perfectly certain that that is what, in fact, will be done; and if your Lordships' wish to insert it in the Bill, I shall have no objection.


My Lords, I do not know whether any of your Lordships would care to make any observations with reference to the suggestion just thrown out by the noble Lord. As my name has been mentioned, I may perhaps be allowed