§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (The EARL OF LYTTON)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of a Bill which has been introduced by the Government in fulfilment of a definite pledge made to the electors during the last General Election. On several occasions in November and December last the Prime Minister stated that the improvement of our transport services, which he described as "an essential part of the problem of increased production," would be undertaken by the Government. In a general statement of policy which he made at the beginning of his election campaign in the Central Hall, Westminster, in November the Prime Minister included the subject which is
§ On Question, whether the words "the tenure of office to be for ten years" shall be here inserted—
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 43; Not-Contents, 25.855
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Howe, E.||Glenconner, L.|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E. (L. President.)||Powis, E.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Selborne, E. [Teller.]||Islington, L.|
|Yarborough, E.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Argyll, D.||Lovat, L.|
|Northumberland, D.||Chaplin, V.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Wellington, D.||Devonport, V.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Esher, V. [Teller.]||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Camden, M.||Newton, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Liverpool, L. Bp.|
|Lincolnshire, M.||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Annesley, L.||Shut, L.(V. Barrington.)|
|Salisbury, M.||Balfour, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Barrymore, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Bledisloe, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Terrington, L.|
|Brassey, E.||Erskine, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
|Bradford, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Rathcreedan, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Colebrooke, L.||Rathmore, L.|
|Denman, L. [Teller.]||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.) [Teller.]||Somerleyton, L.|
|Strafford, E.||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Armaghdale, L.||Farrer, L.||Tenterden, L.|
|Ashton of Hyde, L.||Phillimore, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Atkinson, L.||Ranksborough, L.||Wittenham, L.|
§ dealt with in this Bill among the questions "so much at the root of our national wellbeing and prosperity which we must face like patriots and not like partizans." I hope to show your Lordships this afternoon that in that spirit the Government have attempted to fulfil the pledge which was given at that time. The question of distribution is inseparably bound up with all the problems of reconstruction which face the country at the present moment. It has been placed in the forefront of the Government programme because without efficient transport none of the other items in our programme can be made successful.
§ I imagine that your Lordships will agree that the only thing which can save this country from the dangers that lie ahead of us—literally the only thing—is greatly increased production. I imagine that we shall all be agreed about that. But it is impossible to obtain full advantage of increased production unless you have efficient distribution at the same time. We have had a most dramatic object lesson in the last few years of the disaster which can overtake a country through the 857 failure of its distributing system. In Russia we have seen defeat at the hands of the enemy, revolution at home, and civil war, and all the chaos, confusion and anarchy which exist in that country to-day largely as the result of this particular failure. In all the other countries that have taken part in the war the distributing system has been strained to its utmost limit, and we have only escaped disasters similar to those which have overtaken Russia by the very narrowest margin. We are all suffering to-day from the effects of that strain, and I think it is true to say that the country which can first put its transport system in order and can do it most effectively will be the first country to recover from the war. Upon the success or failure of the policy which is embodied in this Bill depend the success of all our other schemes, the development of our trade and commerce, and the contentment and well-being of our people. The importance therefore of this Bill cannot well be exaggerated.
§ I would now ask your Lordships to consider for a moment the position of all these services upon which so much depends at the present moment. With regard to railways and canals, they both are dependent on State subsidies. As your Lordships are aware, the railway companies have been guaranteed by the Government their receipts of the year 1913. That guarantee has to be continued for two years. The State contribution which is involved in this guarantee is estimated in this year's Budget at £60,000,000. This deficit can only be made up by increase of rate charges and economies in working, but neither of these remedies is available to the companies under their existing powers to-day. Take the question of the raising of rates. Under normal procedure it would only be possible for the railway companies to obtain powers to increase their rates by the end of next year, and I am told that it would be five or six years before these increased rates would become finally operative. Your Lordships will notice that one of the clauses of this Bill—Clause 3, subsection (1), sub-clause (e) on page 5—deals with the question of the raising of rates. A provision is made that increase under the provisions of this Act shall continue in force for a period of eighteen months after the two years to which that power is limited. That is put in because the railway companies know that it will take them that 858 time to obtain the authority from Parliament to raise the rates themselves.
§ I might give your Lordships another illustration of the slowness of existing procedure on this point at the present time. In spite of special facilities which were introduced in a short Act passed at the beginning of 1913, an Act which removed some of the obstacles to obtaining Parliamentary powers to increase rates, a 4 per cent. increase imposed by the railway companies in that year is not at this moment fully operative. There are still many disputes not settled, still large sums outstanding. And it is the same thing with regard to economy. Nothing on a really large scale, nothing which could in any way place the railway companies once more on a paying footing could be undertaken without the powers given in this Bill.
§ Canals are in much the same position. The net receipts of railway-owned canals are, of course, guaranteed under the arrangement made with the railway companies, but in the case of other independent canals under the control of the Canal Control Committee the increased cost of all transport services in the last two years and at the same time the maintenance by the railway companies of their pre-war rates produced early in the year 1917 so serious a crisis that the Government found itself compelled to guarantee the 1913 receipts to those canal companies as well. That meant a subsidy of £410,558 in 1917. That amount was increased in 1918 to £676,014, a sum which was actually greater than the total net income of all these canals in the year 1905. And the estimate for this year of what is to be paid by way of compensation to canals and canal carriers amounts to £950,000, or just short of a million.
§ Docks and roads are not much better. Fifty per cent. of the existing docks are owned by railway companies, and these therefore also come under the arrangement made with the railway companies whereby their net receipts of 1913 are guaranteed. Of the remainder some have been authorised during the war to levy charges in excess of their maximum. But these powers will lapse with the Defence of the Realm Act. Others are at this moment obtaining, or have obtained from Parliament, powers to increase their charges, but this does not apply to some, including, for instance, the Port of London. And of all those dock 859 undertakings I think it is true to say that they must either obtain from Parliament a power to increase their rates, or they must look to the State for some assistance. And half of them, as I have already mentioned, are already subsidised.
§ The roads are in a somewhat different position, not being revenue earning, but, so far as their condition is concerned, they are no better. The roads have necessarily been starved during the war. No sums of money have been advanced for their improvement. Even at pre-war figures the maintenance of our roads in this country cost £20,000,000 a year out of rates and taxes. Owing to the starving of the roads during the war much larger sums will have to be spent in the next few years. A sum of £10,000,000 has been set aside in the Budget this Year, and many other large sums will have to be spent in order that the roads may be able to take their share in meeting the transport needs of the country.
§ Then, lastly, there is the very important coastwise service which has been absolutely destroyed during the war by the maintenance of the pre-war rates upon the railways. That traffic to-day is practically dead. This has created great congestion at our ports, enormously increased the transport difficulties generally, and produced the crisis with which the Government is trying to deal at the present time.
§ The position then is this, that at a time when quick, efficient methods of distribution are more necessary than they ever were in the history of the country, none of our existing transport services is able to give us what we require. All these services, as I have pointed out, are suffering from the war. The position really could not be worse than it is just now: At a time when energy and courage and enterprise are specially required, the existence of this State subsidy, this State guarantee, has removed all incentive to the exercise of those particular qualities. The crying need of this moment is for quick delivery of new plant, but the continuance of the State guarantee has acted as an inducement to the railway companies not to incur expense at this moment when prices are high, but to wait until the time when the period of the Government control is approaching its end and they have reasonable expectation that prices will have fallen.860
§ I do not think it is possible to exaggerate the disastrous effect of this State subsidy on an undertaking like the railways, but the evil effect of it is remarkably illustrated by the attitude of the railway companies at this particular moment. It is admitted by everyone that the railway companies are unable to deal with anything like the traffic which they are called upon to handle at this moment. They are short of wagons. Sir Eric Geddes when he was speaking on the Third Reading of this Bill in the House of Commons estimated the shortage at 75,000. But, anyhow, there are 30,000 wagons which have been sent to France and have not returned. They are handicapped again by the absence of skilled men. Fifty per cent. of the railwaymen who enlisted are still with the Colours. Their rolling stock is below what it should be, and in consequence of all this traffic is congested. But because of the existence of this subsidy, instead of clamouring to the Board of Trade to give new plant, to provide them with the latest pattern of locomotives, the railway companies are more disposed at this moment to seek a way out of their difficulties by restricting traffic.
§ Now, that is the situation with which the Government is faced at the present moment This guarantee has to be continued. It is a legacy from the past which would fall upon any Government in power at this moment. What, then, are the alternatives? There really are only three possible alternatives: to continue the guarantee and do nothing, to continue to pour out public funds without getting any return in the way of increased efficiency; to nationalise the railways, and to start immediately a system of direct State control—a course which has been urged upon us from many quarters; and (the only other alternative) to set up some machinery of co-ordination and unified control such as is provided in this Bill—to take power, that is to say, to ensure the co-operation of all the services engaged in transport, in eliminating waste, improving their plant, and securing economy. The Government have chosen the third alternative; and I think it is incumbent upon any any who think we have made an unwise choice, who think that we should have acted differently, to show what they would have done in the situation which I have placed before your Lordships. You will see, therefore, that some measure on the lines of this Bill—I do not say this Bill in 861 all its clauses—was absolutely necessary. The situation with which we have to deal is of such gravity that it will not admit of any delay.
§ Let me now shortly run through the clauses of the Bill and explain to your Lordships what the Bill proposes to do to meet the situation. It establishes a Ministry to supervise all existing transport services and to work out a transport policy for the country as a whole. The Bill gives to this Ministry certain powers, some of which are of a temporary character lasting for only two years, and some of them are permanent; and in reading the Bill I would ask you to keep before you the distinction between those powers which are temporary and those which are permanent. Clause 1 establishes the Ministry, and. Clause 2 transfers to it all the powers of existing Government Departments in respect of the services set forth in pragraphs (a) to (f) on page 1. I have seen it stated, that this transfer of powers includes any temporary emergency powers which may be exercised by a Government Department under the Defence of the Realm Act. That is true only during the period under which the Defence of the Realm Act operates; but it is, of course, untrue that any power under the Defence of the Realm Act which may be transferred under this clause will continue after the Defence of the Realm Act has lapsed.
§ Clause 3 is the most important clause which deals with the temporary powers of the Ministry. It is a long clause, subdivided into a great many subsections, but the effect of it is to define the powers which will be exercised by the Ministry during the next two years. Paragraph (a), on page 3 of the Bill, continues the control at present exercised by the Board of Trade through the Railway Executive, without the necessity of renewing a Warrant from the Secretary of State every week. Paragraph (b) gives power to the Ministry after one month's notice to establish control, or in the words used in the Bill, to "take possession" of any of the other railways not at present controlled—light railways, tramways not opened by local authorities, canals, and docks. The words "take possession" are adopted from the Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871, which is the Act under which the railways have been controlled during the war. It does not, of course, give to the Ministry any right to take physical possession. What it gives 862 to the Ministry is a right to take control and to exercise that control in the same way that the Government has taken control and exercised it over the railways during the war.
I would also point out to your Lordships that this clause makes no reference to roads. I doubt if that is fully understood. Roads come in only under Clause 2, which transfers to the Ministry all powers exercised by other Government Departments. I have here a circular which has been sent to me—I presume it has been sent also to other noble Lords—from the Automobile Association which makes certain very extraordinary statements with regard to the powers of this Bill in respect of roads. I find these two things stated. First—
The Bill contains no definitions; therefore it remains within the power of the Ministry of Transport to control even the private gig, carriage, or motor-car. For example, the Minister will possess the power to control the transport of goods between certain points or in a certain district by railway or canal or road, thus making it a misdemeanour for the private motorist to carry or convey goods on his own vehicle.
Second, with regard to local authorities—
It is necessary to paint out that local authorities will only retain control over such roads as the Ministry allocates them. They will be deprived of the administrative powers they have possessed for ages over all the highways inside their boundaries, and they will only deal with the Road Department on the question of the amount of the Government grant for which they may apply in relief of the rates or for special road improvement.
§ I can only say that from beginning to end there is not a clause in this Bill which justifies either of those two statements. The only way in which this Bill affects the roads in this country is to transfer to the Ministry, under Clause 2, the powers at present exercised by the Board of Trade and the Road Board, without alteration and without addition.
§ To continue my remarks on Clause 3. Paragraph. (c) gives a list of the kind of Orders which the Minister may exercise during the period of temporary occupation; they include all the powers that are referred to in sub-paragraphs (i) to (viii). All these are new powers not at present possessed by any Government Department, and they are all temporary—to be exercised for the period of only two years. The other clauses which confer powers upon the Ministry are Clauses 9, 12, and 16, and all these create permanent powers. Clause 9 863 authorises the Minister to establish and work new transport services by land or water, if he is satisfied that they cannot be worked by existing authorities, and subject to conditions. First, that Treasury sanction must be obtained to an estimate of the capital expenditure required to complete the whole undertaking; second, that the authority of Parliament must be obtained for a total capital expenditure exceeding £500,000 on any one service; and also to the acquisition of land compulsorily, or the breaking up of roads. Although that is in the nature of a permanent power, it is governed by subsection (4) which says that no new works may be commenecd after the period of two years without further sanction by Parliament.
§ Clause 12 gives power to the Minister to purchase privately-owned wagons on railways, the terms of the purchase to be submitted in a draft Order and approved by Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. Clause 16 gives power to the Minister to make grants or loans, with Treasury approval, for the construction, improvement, or maintenance of transport services covered by the Bill; and no advance exceeding £1,000,000 is to be made without the authority of the House of Commons. Those are the powers which are given in the Bill.
§ Let me say one word about the limitations, the safeguards, and modifications of those powers which are contained in other clauses. First let me draw your Lordships' attention to three Advisory Committees which are set up in the Bill. The first is an Advisory Committee on rates, which is provided for in subsection (3) paragraph (a) on page 6. This Committee is to consist of five persons—a lawyer, who will be the Chairman of the Committee, appointed by the Lord Chancellor; two representatives of the trading interest, to be appointed by the Board of Trade; one representative of transportation interests, to be appointed by the Minister; and one representative of labour interests to be appointed by the Minister of Labour—with an additional member, if necessary, to be nominated by the Minister. This Committee is to consider all questions dealing with alterations in rates, tolls, or charges. Before any alteration of that kind is made the Minister has to consult the Committee, and they must hold an inquiry and take evidence from any persons likely to be affected by such alterations— 864 that is to say, if the alteration is in the nature of an increase.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
The Committee, before reporting or advising shall, unless they in their discretion consider it unnecessary, enquire into the matter, and any persons affected may make representations to the Committee. If there is to be an increase of rates, before that increase takes place there must be an inquiry, when anybody affected by it may give evidence of the manlier in which they will be affected. Clause 20 sets up a Committee to advise in matters connected with roads. There are to be five representatives of highway authorities and five representatives of road users, who will give advice to the Minister generally upon all matters connected with roads. In Clause 21 there is a general Advisory Panel of experts representing all the services that will be affected by this Bill—trading and labour interests and local authorities. The Minister is to consult a Committee of this Panel before exercising any of the powers conferred upon him by Clause 3 (1) (b)—that is to say, before taking possession of any undertaking against the will of the owners of the undertaking, or before starting any new transport services himself. So much, my Lords, for those three Committees.
Then I would like to call your Lordships' attention to Clause 4, which provides a safeguard for statutory harbour and dock companies. This clause says that the Minister shall not take possession, without their consent, of any of these statutory undertakings; but he may give orders to them for improvements and extensions to their docks which he considers to be in the national interest. The owners of the undertaking, however, if they consider that such orders are seriously injurious to their interests, may appeal, in the case of England and Ireland, to the Lord Chief Justice, and in the case of Scotland to the Lord President of the Court of Session. If the Lord Chief Justice or the Lord President 865 considers they have made out a prima facie case of serious injury, he may appoint an arbitrator to go into the matter to decide between them and the Minister.
Lastly, I want to say one word about Clause 8, which is a compensation clause. This clause provides for a revision at the end of the period of two years of all the undertakings on the basis of their revenue-earning capacity. If at the time this revision is made it is found that their, value on this basis has either increased or diminished by the action of the Minister, by the exercising of powers given to him in this Bill during the two years—then the owners are either to pay for the increased value so created, or will be compensated for the diminished value by such sum as the Railway and Canal Commissioners may determine.
Without going into details which can be better dealt with in Committee, such are the main provisions of the Bill. The fundamental principle running through the whole Bill, the principle which I ask your Lordships to accept to-day, is the necessity for the establishment of co-ordination and unified control, not merely of competing systems in one service, but of all the services engaged in transport matters in the country generally, so that during the next two years one aim, and one aim only, will be pursued by the Ministry—namely, the improvement of every branch of transport so as to secure the carrying of all goods from their source to their destination by the most direct, the most economical, and the most efficient means. This purpose can only be carried out if all the powers asked for in this Bill remain intact.
I have seen it argued in the Press that these powers are too wide—that they place too great a responsibility upon one Department. "Let the Minister confine himself to the railways," we are told. "He is a railway expert. Let him see what he can do with railways, about which he knows something, and then, if he is successful, it will be time enough for him to come to Parliament and ask for power to control other undertakings as well." That is the nature of the argument, and I have no doubt it will be made to your Lordships in this House. That argument, however, ignores the whole point and purpose of the Bill, which is not to improve the railway system, but to improve the whole transport system of the country. Not only can that purpose 866 not be carried out without the powers we ask for, but even the limited object of the improvement of the railways, with which our critics appear to be satisfied, cannot be carried out if the Minister is confined to the railways alone.
Let me explain how inter-dependent these various services are one upon the other, and what waste of energy and money occurs at the present moment by the competition which exists between them. Take first the case of railways and docks. More than half the total traffic of the railways of this country passes through a port either by way of export or import. Sixty-one per cent. of the total freight traffic consists of coal, and one-third of this coal traffic passes through a port to be shipped either coastwise or to some foreign country. It will be seen how important is the provision at the docks of the latest and most up-to-date appliances for dealing with railway wagons, and also how important it is for smooth working to ensure the closest possible co-operation between the railways and the dock companies. That co-operation to-day only exists in docks which are railway-owned. Where the docks and the railways are under separate management it is impossible for the dock companies to know all that is necessary in order to deal with this shipment traffic. But in the non-railway-owned docks the appliances in general use can only deal with comparatively small wagons—wagons, that is to say, carrying from 8 tons to 12 tons of coal. There would be a great advantage and a great economy if the size of the wagons could be increased. Using the same wheel base there would be a great improvement in the paying load. But to improve the appliances is not to the direct advantage of the dock companies, and, therefore, the improved appliances are not provided and the wasteful system continues. I could multiply instances to show how inter-dependent the various services are on each other and how impossible it is to secure economy or improvement without co-operation between them, but I do not want to waste the time of the House by giving further illustrations. All I want to emphasise at this moment is that the policy of the Government is not to improve any one particular service, but to provide that each form of transportation secures, and is able to deal with, the traffic best suited for its particular equipment.
867 If any of your Lordships think that the pursuit of this policy, and the enforcement of it, will necessitate placing upon one Minister too large powers and that this Bill is unprecedented in that respect—and I have seen it stated in the Press, and, I believe, argued in the House of Commons, that in no country in the world are powers equal to these given in this Bill entrusted to any one Government Department—it may interest your Lordships to know that precisely the powers which are given to the new Ministry under the Bill are to-day being exercised by a Government Department in France. The Minister of Public Works in France is now also Minister for Transportation. This has taken place since the war and as a result of the same experience which faces us. To the Ministry of Public Works has been given the control of railways, docks, canals, roads and electricity. That Minister will have the same powers as are asked for in this Bill and he will pursue precisely the same policy. During the war we have learned much from France in the sphere of military operations. We have experienced the same difficulties. We have endeavoured to overcome them together. During the war we have watched each other, we have helped each other, we have learned from each other. Surely now that the war is over there is no less cause than there was then for each country to learn what it can from the other. We have the same difficulties to face. We have to deal with them in the same way and, if your Lordships feel that there is anything unprecedented in the demands we are making on Parliament, let me remind your Lordships that this Bill has its exact counterpart with our Allies in France to-day.
Now I come to the Motion which has been placed on the Order Paper by the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Buckmaster). The noble and learned Lord asks your Lordships to make your acceptance of this Bill conditional upon three things—first, upon a statement by the Government of their policy with regard to the nationalisation of railways; secondly, upon our providing information with regard to the financial obligations imposed by the Bill; and, thirdly, upon an explanation of the measures proposed to meet those obligations. My answer to the first part of the noble and learned Lord's Motion is that the policy of the Government to-day is embodied in this Bill. I have already explained to your Lordships that the 868 present situation cannot continue. Efficient distribution is absolutely necessary, but neither increased production nor efficient reconstruction of industry is possible without the co-ordination of our distributing system. All the transport undertakings at the present time are unable to give the service which is required of them. They must be improved, but, without unification such as we ask for, this improvement cannot take place. The State is committed already to a subsidy of £60,000,000 to the railways for this year and the increase in the price of coal (which I understand will come into operation to-day) will add another £5,000,000 a year to the railway bill. In addition to that there is the subsidy to the canals and the cost of roads to which I have already alluded.
Many people argue—and this argument is constantly forced on the Government—that in order that the State may reap some advantage from this huge State contribution, we should nationalise these undertakings and institute direct State management. I believe there are also many who hold that to do that would certainly add to the expense of administration—that State administration would be much more expensive than company administration. Those who oppose the policy of nationalisation have not, so far as I can judge, put forward any other alternative which the Government could accept for dealing with the situation. The decision of the Government is to be found in the provisions of this Bill. In our opinion this Bill is an alternative to nationalisation, and, moreover, it is the only alternative to nationalisation at the present moment. This Bill does not seek to substitute State management for private management. We do not say that in our opinion the State can manage more efficiently or more economically a railway, or a canal, or a dock, than can a railway or a canal company. What we do say in this Bill is that the State requires, in return for the financial assistance which it gives to these undertakings, that the companies shall subordinate their private and local interests to the transport interests of the country generally. In the Bill we provide machinery to enable them to do this. We give power to secure co-operation and to effect economy in these various services.
Therefore, if the noble and learned Lord asks me what our policy is to-day in the matter of nationalising the railways, my answer is that our policy is contained in this Bill. If, however, he wants to know what 869 our policy on the question of nationalisation will be in two years' time, then I think he is making rather an unreasonable request. We hope in those two years, partly by an increase of rates and partly by economies in working, to place these services once more on a paying footing. I cannot say, no one can say, what the result of this experiment may be. It will be for the Government and for the Parliament of that time to determine what kind of arrangement shall permanently take the place of this temporary provision. All I can say, and this I do say to your Lordships, is that during the next two years the powers contained in this Bill, if your Lordships pass it into law, will be honestly and impartially exercised by the new Ministry fore the improvement of all services, and without any bias one way or the other in favour, or against, any future solution for the treatment of the question.
I come now to the other part of the noble and learned Lord's Motion—the financial obligations imposed by the Bill. The noble and learned Lord wants to know to what expenditure we shall be committed if we pass this Bill. In the first place, let me remind your Lordships that the Bill itself does not commit us to any expenditure beyond what Parliament may sanction in any year. It is obvious, of course, but I do not think it is always understood, that the cost of the administration of the Bill will be set forth in the annual Estimates. The cost of purchasing privately-owned railway wagons must be submitted to Parliament and provided by Parliament in a Resolution authorising the terms and conditions of purchase. Again, any new service which the Minister may start, or any advance which he may make to existing services, must obtain special Parliamentary authority if the expenditure exceeds £500,000 in one case, or £1,000,000 in the other. But all other expenditure, whether it is above or below these limits, which may be undertaken by the Ministry must be submitted to Parliament in the ordinary way in the annual Estimates, and receive Parliamentary sanction before the money can be spent. I think that is obvious, but it is not always remembered.
But apart from this fact the terms of the Motion implies, I think, a mistaken conception of the policy and objects of the Bill. It seems to me to suggest that this Bill is only a new form of Government extravagance, and asks for some estimate of the 870 amount which may be spent. If I thought that this Bill only afforded new opportunities for a Government Department to spend money, to dispense Government patronage, to undertake vast new services, however desirable or necessary, I should not be standing at this Table and recommending it to your Lordships. I do defend this Bill conscientiously and enthusiastically only because, in my opinion, the provisions of the Bill will not only enable the Minister to improve our services, but will enable him (and I can see no other way of doing it) to effect considerable economies in the working of these services to-day, and by that means to diminish very considerably the financial burden which otherwise must fall upon this country during the next two years, either as tax payers if the present system continues, or as traffic users if the whole cost of the present State subsidy were to be transferred on to traffic users in the way of increased rates and charges.
The opportunities for spending money in this Bill are apparent, but the opportunities for saving it are not quite so obvious, and therefore, very briefly, I would like to touch upon the economies which will become possible if the powers asked for in this Bill are retained intact. Take, first of all, the acquisition of privately-owned wagons. During the war the "common user." of wagons owned by different railway companies has already effected am enormous saving in empty wagon mileage. I am told that in the case of one company alone the saving has been 34 per cent. or 35 million of empty wagon miles. That is by instituting the "common user" of wagons owned by different companies. That will go on under this Bill, but the saving will be enormously increased if you can bring into that "common user" the wagons at present owned by private individuals. Privately-owned railway wagons are 50 per cent. of the total wagons in the country to-day, and if you can bring in that number it is estimated the saving will be £2,000,000 to £3,000,000 per year in shunting alone. There is also the question of the provision of larger wagons to which I have referred, and which can only be undertaken with the co-operation of the dock companies. That will increase the paying load of the trains and effect considerable economies in the length of sidings. There are the other possibilities of standardising plant and appliances, avoidance of delay and unnecessary detention of wagons, the climina 871 tion of useless competitive services. All these are economies, but they can only be effected if you have unified control.
Your Lordships perhaps may think that this is a mere idle dream, that we may hope to do these things, but even if we succeed the effect will be counter-balanced by the increased charges which the administration of the Bill will create. I would, therefore, like to defer your Lordships on this point to what was said in the House of Commons by General Sir Hunter Weston, who had experience of the effect of precisely this system when carried out by the same people in the sphere of our Armies in France. He said—One of the fears most generally expressed is that the Ministry of Ways and Communications will be very extravagant, and in support of this the statement is made that the administration of the Director-General of Transport in France had no thought of economy.Then he said this, and these are the words to which I ask your attention—It is perhaps difficult for any one not conversant with the facts to appreciate the fallacy of this statement. It is true that the necessity for rapid action made a large immediate outlay necessary. But this outlay repaid itself even in pounds, shillings and pence before the end of the War, and the saving effected by it in men's lives was incalculable.He goes on to give instances how those savings were effected. I will not read it, but your Lordships will find it in Hansard.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
On the Third Reading of the Bill, July 10. I quote these words to show that we are not basing these expectations on mere hopes, but that they are built on the sure foundation of actual experience of what was none under this system recently in France. I have only one word to say in conclusion with regard to another of my opponents who last week had a Motion on the Paper to reject this Bill. Lord Montague's Motion has disappeared from the Paper, and I understand he has now gone into partnership with the noble and learned Lord. But since his grounds of objection are different from those of Lord Buckmaster I would like to say one word about them. The noble Lord is interested in roads. He is a member of the Road Board, and I understand he objects to the transfer of the powers of that Board to the new Ministry. The noble Lord has expressed his views recently very freely 872 in the public Press, and therefore I am able to gather from his articles the nature of his objections. The burden of the noble Lord's argument in these articles is somewhat as follows: the roads and railways are necessarily competing services; the new Ministry will be dominated by a railway interest and therefore the interest of the road users must necessarily suffer; this Ministry will be under the control of a great super-Boss, whose lust for power will compel him to get the roads of this country into his clutches, and when he has got them there lie will strangle them in order that the railways may be made to pay. That is the burden of the articles which the noble Lord has contributed to the Press.
It is all very shocking to those who only know this Bill through the speeches or articles of the noble Lord, but I venture to say it is a most fantastic conception of the policy of the Government or the provisions of the Bill. I have already pointed out to your Lordships the kind of inaccuracies which have been stated, with regard to this Bill, about roads, and based upon such inaccurate statements the noble Lord has pleaded that the roads should be taken out of this Bill. He will no doubt urge the same course upon your Lordships this afternoon. If he is successful he will create exactly the sort of mischief which he fears at the present time. Just imagine what the position of the roads would be if they were left under the control of the Road Board, which has no Minister to represent it in Parliament, and all the other transport interests were placed under the control of this super-Boss. There would be a competition in which the roads would have no chance whatever.
For the purpose of argument I will assume for a monent that the picture which has drawn of the character and objects of the Minister is accurate. How would he act if the noble Lord secures what he wants?—if he is deprived of all responsibility in respect of the repair or upkeep of roads. If he finds, as he will at this moment, that his railway system is congested, he can authorise the companies to start a service of motor omnibuses to relieve it, he can use the roads as much as he pleases, and inflict any amount of damage upon them, and put the local authorities to enormous expense, and yet he would have no power to contribute anything towards the cost of repairs. My Lords, the position at this moment is not so much a question of putting fresh traffic upon the railways as of easing 873 the traffic and getting rid of the present congestion. What would be the position if the Minister were called upon, as probably he will be, by some public Department or local authority to give a new service—perhaps for the improvement of housing or of agriculture. The Minister might know that the service could best be rendered by making a new road. He might feel that the traffic was of a seasonal character, best dealt with by a road, but having no powers over roads at all he would be compelled to lay down a light railway, and thus be forced to an extravagant, unwise and uneconomical arrangement, because he has no power of dealing with the problem in the best way.
My Lords, this talk about roads and railways, about competing services and rival interests, is very small, very petty, when we consider the magnitude of the issues involved. We have been thinking for too long in terms of roads and railways, and it is that which has brought us to the present position. If we are to survive, and if we are to recover from the position in which we have been placed by the war, we must accustom ourselves to think in terms of movement. Everything that moves or can carry, either upon the roads, the rail or by water, must be brought in and made to contribute to the solution of the difficulty. The country is to-day exhausted after four years of war. What it needs is food. Not merely food to eat but food for manufactures in the nature of raw material, plant and labour. Again, the country is impoverished. What it wants is wealth. Wealth means the products of industries, and these in turn have got to be conveyed by the quickest way to all the markets of the world. All this -means movement, and that is the need of the moment—the most efficient., rapid and constant movement—and it is because this Bill will go a long way to supply that that I recommend it in all sincerity and with perfect confidence to the favourable consideration of your Lordships.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Lytton.)
§ LORD BUCKMASTER had given notice, on the Order for the Second. Reading being read, to move to resolve—
§ That this House declines to proceed with the Second Reading of this Bill until the Government has stated its 874 policy with regard to the nationalisation of the railways, and has furnished further information with regard to the extent of the financial obligations imposed by the Bill and the measures it is proposed to adopt by which those obligations can be met.
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, if the success of this measure depended solely upon the skill and lucidity with which the noble Earl has explained its terms, its popularity would be assured, but in fact there are difficult and ugly questions that lie behind this proposal which no amount of persuasion can take away. In truth the whole structure of this Bill rests upon disputed territory. It is an attempt to place not merely existing transport, but the entire development of the transport industry of this country, for a period of two years at least, under Government control. It is not merely that it is an attempt to enable the Government, by the further continuance of its control over the railways, to extricate itself from the loss and difficulties which that control has occasioned, but it is co enable the Govern-merit, and the Government alone, to direct during the continuance of this measure every additional means that may be devised for the purpose of improving the transport, of this country.
§ I think the fundamental fallacy that underlay the whole of the noble Earl's argument was this, that he assumed that unity of control was in itself a sufficient explanation and justification of this measure; but, my Lords, the whole thing depends upon by whom that unity of control is to be exercised. In fact, why I say this Bill rests upon disputed territory is that it is impossible to escape from the conclusion, that the passage of this measure is the concession of one of the most important outposts in the struggle that is bound to take place between private and national ownership of the means of wealth. 'That is a struggle upon which we have got to make up our minds, and the sooner we face it the better. I do not agree with the noble Earl when he says that during the limited period for which this Bill operates it does not provide for nationalisation. It provides for nationalisation in everything except in the one thing of paying for the undertakings which are taken over. What greater powers could be possessed, if these railways were absolutely owned by the State, than the power which is given by 875 Clause 3, subsection 1 (c), which enacts that "the directors and other persons concerned with the management, and officers and servants of any undertaking" are to obey "the directions of the Minister … in relation to any undertaking or part or plant thereof of which possession is re-tamed or taken" in certain respects which together cover the whole area of management. There will be nothing upon which independent action can be exercised, if this measure be passed, in connection with any one of the undertakings which the Government control. Apart from the mere question of the payment for the undertaking that is taken over during the period of this Bill, nationalisation is complete.
§ But it is not merely that. The Government have power to direct all further extensions, and they have power of the most extensive character to establish and work transport services by land and water, and acquire land, etc. I gather that that is the power which is not limited by the two years to which the noble Earl refers. The noble Earl pointed out that there were two parts of the Bill, one of which was temporary and the other permanent, but he did not explain, what I was anxious to hear, what the permanent part was. I imagine that it is under Section 9. The Government have established permanently transport services by land and water, and I imagine that they have established there for the purpose of knitting them into the whole system of railways which they are going to control. How, after the lapse of two years, are you going to disentangle them? How will it be possible for the Ministry to continue to work the transport services under Section 9 without also having the power of continuing to work the other transport services that they have obtained under the earlier section of the Bill?
THE EARL OF LYTTON
May I explain. Any service started during this two years will of course be continued after that period ceases, but there is provision that no new service may be commenced without the authority of Parliament after two years.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
That is exactly what I am saying. It is the next two years when this development of the transport service is most essential, and you are going to introduce into what he says ought to be one whole and co-ordinated system of transport a series of new lines and new services which, at the expiration of the 876 two years, are permanently to remain in the hands of the Government for the Government to work, and it is assumed that you can hand over the balance back again to the individuals from whom they have been acquired. I submit it is impossible. I submit that this Bill in its effect and operation is a step along the road towards nationalisation of the whole of the transport services in this country. I cannot accept what the noble Earl says that the whole policy is contained in this Bill, and we must wait for two years to see what their policy will be. It is not I submit open to the Government to take that view, because a responsible Minister of the Crown at the time of the election said in plain language that the policy of the Government was to nationalise the railways, and although on a former debate I asked three times as to whether or not that statement was made with the authority of the Government, up to this time I have never received an answer. But the time has surely come when that answer has to be given, when we should know whether that statement was an utterly irresponsible one which had no authority whatever behind it, or whether it did in fact express the complete and considered policy of His Majesty's Government. This is to my mind the outpost in the whole controversy between nationalisation and individual ownership. It is a point upon which it is essential that we should make up our minds and act.
I saw in a paper yesterday that the noble Duke, the Duke of Northumberland, bad expressed himself in terms that he regarded this scheme of nationalisation as part of a class war. I trust the noble Duke will forgive me if I say that I regret the expression. To make such a statement is to my mind at once to confuse the real issue, and to taint the justice of the decision of this House. It is not a question as between class interest. It is a question which involves the clash of economic theories, and the question is whether the economic theory of individual ownership is to hold its ground against the theory of national ownership which is being so ardently urged. Both policies I believe seek the same end. I am opposed to nationalisation because I believe nationalisation will prove nothing but a curse to the poorer people of this country. I believe it will diminish the one thing that is essential if the condition of industrial people is to be maintained and even improved. It will diminish the production of the commodities 877 necessary for the support of life, on the abundant development of which alone we Call make the condition of the lot of the people of this country easier than it has been before.
Our objection as between individual and national ownership is upon these grounds: I and people who think with me believe that no success can be obtained in industries except by incessant and unsparing effort, and in order that it may be achieved men cannot work—I am not speaking of people engaged in industry; I mean the people at the head—limited hours, and they cannot be content with limited salaries. The real incentive to effort is the spur of ambition, the hope of reward, the fear of failure. And it is because these are lacking in Government control that sooner or later every Government Department that undertakes any great industry—though it be manned by men of great intelligence and Men whose integrity is higher than that of any civil servant in the world—becomes the home of waste and the grave of enterprise. Therefore I think we are entitled to know something more than the noble Earl has told us with regard to this question of nationalisation. We want to know whether the Government is at this time seriously contemplating that they are going to cut loose, at the end of this Bill, the new branches and services that they develop, and hand back the others to the people from whom they have taken them, and continue to work under Government control this mutilated and amputated fraction of a great whole?
That leads me—for I do not propose at this time to examine in detail the measures of this Bill—to the second question in the Motion that I have put down in my name. We surely ought to know to what it is that this Bill is going to commit us. It is going to commit this country to the expenditure that is required for such alteration and such extension as the head of this Department may believe to be necessary for the purpose of properly developing the transport industry. The limit of that no man can fix. I have seen it stated at £60,000,000. It is perfectly true that there are these limits imposed, that individual efforts cannot exceed £500,000 or £1,000,000 without the sanction of Parliament. But when that expenditure has been incurred and a Minister comes down to the House of Commons and says, "I have already begun this; it is absolutely 878 essential we must carry it on," he will use exactly the same argument that the noble Earl has been using here to-day, and saying that further money must be provided or the money already spent will be irretrievably lost. It is quite plain that the limit imposed will soon be exceeded, and that we shall find that we are face to face with an expenditure far greater than that which we contemplated.
The noble Earl has asked what is the alternative policy, and has said that we must produce one. I do not conceive that we are bound to produce any alternative policy at all, but I here is an alternative, and that is that tae Government should continue the control that already exists of the undertakings that are in their hands until they have cleared them up. And, when they say that in the course of that control we have incurred heavy liabilities, that in itself is no reason why they should have powers to obtain further control in order to minimise the loss which they have already incurred en those undertakings that are under their power.
The final part of the Motion which stanch, in my name is, I think, by far the most serious. I want to know if this measure is going to cost us £20,000,000, £30,000,000, £40,000,000 or £50,000,000, and—whatever it may be—how the Government proposes to raise the money. It is a matter of immense consequence, and I trust your Lordships will allow me to lay before you what appears to me at this time to be the true financial position of this country. There is no longer any reason why people should hesitate to speak about it. I have always thought that skeletons are only terrifying objects when you hide them in cupboards, and if you bring them out into the open day they cease to horrify. And if anything that I say is wrong no one would be better pleased than myself to have it corrected, but, if the view that I take of our present financial position be right, it is then incumbent upon the Government without delay to take steps to regulate our expenditure so that it does not exceed the amount that, with every reasonable and just expectation, we may hope to realise from the revenue of this country.
Let us deal for a moment with the expenditure to which we are bound—and I am only going to deal with main items and big things. There is no doubt that the interest on our Debt at the present moment, 879 as provided for by the Budget itself, is £376,000,000. I do not know whether that includes the interest on the loans which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has raised and proposes to raise during these twelve months, but I do not think I shall be exceeding the mark if I say that, when you have established a sinking fund and have raised the money that is necessary under this year's Budget, £400,000,000 a year will be the amount that we shall be compelled to provide in order to cover the interest and the sinking fund on the standing and irreducible charges to which we are committed.
Let us now turn to the next expenditure. I believe that every member of your Lordships' House will agree with me that next after that, and before anything else, comes the pensions which we have to provide for the wives and families of the men who have sacrificed themselves in our defence during the war. It is entered in the Budget at £70,000,000. I think myself that will prove to be inadequate. I do not believe that we shall be able to discharge the duty we owe for that sum. Because it is incumbent upon us to see that no man who has been crippled or suffered in this struggle can ever hereafter be brought before us a reproach owing to the neglect of the nation to secure him against the difficulties and disadvantages in which he will stand. I do not think £70,000,000 will be adequate, but I will take £70,000,000 as the figure.
There is, then, £35,000,000 for education, which cannot possibly be reduced. There follows on that £17,000,000 for old-age pensions, and £13,000,000 for industrial insurance—and no one of these figures can be reduced. I think your Lordships will find that this amounts to £143,000,000 on the Civil List. And I have hardly begun to touch expenditure yet. Added on to that you have to face this, that the Housing Bill, which provides for the erection of one million houses, must be considered as a Bill under which we shall incur an annual liability of not less than £20,000,000 a year. I have put it at the lowest figure, but I am quite satisfied that, taking them all round, each house that is built under this scheme will cost the State an annual expenditure of £20—that is, the difference bet weep the amount that you will have to pay on the money for building each house and the amount that you will be able to obtain from the person who occupies it. I 880 think that is an under-estimate. I say nothing about the essential need of it; it it absolutely essential that we should take steps without delay to re-house our people; but we are going to incur an expenditure of £20,000,000 a for the purpose. That makes £163,000,000 on your Civil List. The present loss on the railways, the noble Earl tells us, is £60,000,000 a year. It. may be more, but at any rate there is an obligation of £50,000,000 that we have got to meet. That would make roughly £210,000,000.
I have not touched the expenses of any single one of the innumerable Government Departments, except Education, and it is impossible to estimate what their expenses will run up to. They are all lumped together in the Budget under a lump sum. I suppose, if you take the total expenditure, knowing how these Ministries multiply and how difficult it is to get rid of the ones whose functions have been fulfilled, it would not be excessive to take £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 for that, thus making £250,000,000 as the amount of your Civil Estimates which are irreducible—that is to say, an estimate which is not merely with us to-day, not merely the temporary legacy of the war, but the permanent burden that we have to meet. That is £650,000,000.
And now there remains the Army, the Navy and the Air Service. I cannot credit the statement that has been made in the papers that an American general has assured a Committee of Congress of the United States that there has been an arrangement that we shall keep up our forces at four times the established strength that they were before the war. I cannot credit that; it seems to me to be beyond belief. It ought at least to be denied, for it has been made apparently with authority. I disregard it. Our expenditure on our Forces before the war altogether amounted' to very nearly £100,000,000. Will any one say that our irreducible minimum can be put at less than £150,000,000 when everything is cut down? £150,000,000 added to the figures I have given will make a total net immovable figure of £800,000,000 a year that we will have to face.
And how are we going to meet it? The indirect taxation at the present rate is £237,000,000 a year. I doubt if any one will think that you can increase that, because, if you add to the prices, you will reduce the returns, and £237,000 000 a 881 year may be regarded as the fixed figure. Then conies £12,000,000 or so for stamps. You may take the amount of the two at £250,000,000. That leaves £550,000,000 which has to be raised annually by direct taxation. I do not ere how you distribute it is between excess profits tax and super-tax and income-tax (probably the excess profits tax will go) £550,000,000 has got to be produced. At the present; time 1d. in the £ income-tax produces £5,000,000 a year, and you will therefore have to have an income-tax, to meet that figure or its equivalent., of 9s. 2d. in tire £.
And that assumes that our industries remain thriving and flourishing—that the returns will remain elastic and high. It is only on that basis that 1d. in the £ produces your £5,000,000, and I think a person would be sanguine who would suggest that in tire near future it is going to produce more. Therefore at the present time if our finance were on a sound footing that would be the amount that would have to be levied in some form or another on the income of this country to meet the expenditure which I have mentioned and which does not touch anything under this Bill, nor any of the undertakings to which the Government appears to be committed.
Then it may be said, "But this is a concern for which we shall have to borrow; capital expenditure is necessary, therefore it permissible to borrow it on capital account." Are you going to borrow the money? We have just had a very large Loan extensively advertised. I cannot say that the forms of the advertisements appealed to me. It did not seem to me that it was quite consistent with the dignity of this country to have placards on Government buildings, facing the members of the two Houses of 'Parliament, imploring to buy Victory Loan and "to follow Sam Butcher." It does not appear to me to show any great confidence in the resources of this country to advertise our loans with bands and banners, and all the, as I think, humiliating machinery of modern advertisement. But it was all used, and what is the result? £530,000,000 new money has been obtained, but that is £530,000,000 of the face value of the Loan subscribed for. If you reduce it by the 15 per cent. you will get £150,000,000. Of that it is easy to compute that the banks provided £100,000,000, and I have heard competent authorities say—though I myself do not profess to be able 882 to test this figure—that the loans made by banks to customers to enable them to subscribe amount to nearly £100,000,000. No man can call that new money; that is simply transferring a liability from one pocket to another.
That leaves £230,000,000, or whatever it may be, as the new money raised by this loan. Do you think that in those circumstances you are going to be able to avail yourselves of the great resources of this country whenever you need for the purpose of financing these schemes? What is the explanation of why more money was not provided? I think tire explanation is perfectly plain; it is t hat no one in industry knows where he stands. People in industry have no idea as to what the next step is that the Government will take; they do not know where they stand with regard to Labour; they do not know where they stand with regard to Government control. The consequence is that at a moment when above everything else we want boldness of decision and enterprise in industry, industry halts and hesitates because it is uncertain as to what may be the next blow which will be dealt it. The old system of Party Government had many defects, but it had the outstanding merit that from the moment a Government was sent into power people in industry knew where they were. They might not like the policy of the Government, but at least they knew what it was, and, within certain limits, what was going to be done and how to accommodate and to adjust themselves accordingly. But at the present time no one knows where he stands. The people never know what the next measure to going to be, and they never know the extent to which a measure like this is going to interrupt and to cut across the old paths of business along which their industry has been conducted.
I saw it stated the other day that the Prime Minister had said that this war had taught him that economic laws could be violated with impunity. I will suggest to your Lordships three economic laws which have been violated, and you will know whether or not they have been violated with impunity. The first great economic law is—it is very obvious—that if you inflate your currency you inflate prices; if you add to the burden of your debt you adversely affect foreign exchanges; and the result of these two operations is to produce social and industrial unrest. I would like to know which of those economic 883 laws has been falsified by the circumstances as we know them to-day. Social and industrial unrest is round us wherever we turn. One of the reasons I believe to be that, as the Government has not stated in plain and unmistakable language what its policy is with regard to the nationalisation of the railways and with regard to the nationalisation of the mines, people engaged in those industries—mistakenly as I think—believe that they can obtain their desire by continual agitation and disturbance. If the Government policy were once made plain, either on the one side or on the other, people would know where they stood, and we should be able to reason this matter out and see what was the right and just conclusion to which to come.
I must say that the prospect I see around me does not fill me with great confidence or pleasure. You have merely to look at the newspapers every day to see that old estates, associated with the same family sometimes for many many years and lit up with their own history, are being broken to pieces under the auctioneer's hammer. You find that personal heirlooms, which though they are private property none the less have always been regarded by us all with national pride, are filling the salerooms and freighting all vessels on their outward voyages. Sometimes one thinks that it is not merely that the old order is passing away, it seems that it has already passed and that we are moving in the vortex rings of a new world. I am often accused of pessimism, but I am no pessimist. I believe that, given courage and resolute economy and some chance of introducing into our industrial life some of the glorious comradeship which we all knew in the war, it might vet be possible to rebuild this broken world in a better form than the world that has passed away. The true pessimists are not people who, like myself, are anxious to know what are the true limits of our financial capacities and how we are going to meet the burdens that are being put upon us; they are the people who will mortgage the future without knowing how the debt is going to be redeemed, who think that economic laws can be violated with impunity, and who think that the difficulty of to-day may be avoided without regard to the question of how much greater the difficulty may be in a few days to come.
I believe that in regard to this Bill, and in regard to all Bills that come before your 884 Lordships involving public expenditure, a very solemn responsibility is placed upon this House. We no longer have the power to deal with the Budget, but it rests with us so far as is possible to keep public finance under control by considering the extent to which we are pledging, I beg your Lordships to understand, not ourselves, not the members of this House but the people of this country, by such obligations as are placed upon them by this Bill. The importance of discharging that duty cannot, I think, be too strongly emphasised; because, unless some step is taken quickly to reduce both public and private extravagance, bankruptcy lies before this country, and behind bankruptcy treads revolution with swift, impatient feet.
Moved to resolve, That this House declines to proceed with the Second Reading of this Bill until the Government has stated its policy with regard to the nationalisation of the railways, and has furnished further information with regard to the extent of the financial obligations imposed by the Bill and the measures it is proposed to adopt by which these obligations can be met.—(Lord Buckmaster.)
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I am prepared to agree to the adjournment of this debate until Wednesday. I should like to move that the adjourned debate be taken first on Wednesday, in order to enable us to pursue the discussion throughout the greater part of that day. As regards the progress of the Bill, I hope if we sit at three o'clock on Wednesday, assuming the Motion I have made to be carried, we should then resume this discussion at that hour, and that noble Lords would be able to give us the Second Reading of the Bill in the course of that afternoon. It is for them to say whether they prefer to give it to us before dinner or after dinner, but I hope it will be a general understanding that we obtain the Second Reading on that date. I shall then ask your Lordships to take the Committee stage on Monday.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, so far as the resumed debate on Wednesday is concerned, I share the hope that it may be found possible to conclude the debate on the Second Reading on that day, 885 although I think your Lordships would all agree that it is but a short time to give to the discussion of matters of vast importance such as those which have just been dwelt upon by my noble and learned friend behind me. If, however, it is the general sense of the House that the debate can be concluded then, I should not think of raising objections.
As regards the taking of the Committee on Monday next, I think the noble Earl will agree that this is rather a short interval between the Second Reading and the Committee for a measure of this great importance. I do riot know how far it is the desire of noble Lords in all parts of the House to put down Amendments upon this very large and complicated Bill, but it may be taken for granted that some Amendments of serious moment will be moved, assuming the Bill to be carried on Second Reading, and if noble Lords could be given a little more time it would probably be welcome to your Lordships generally. I am not, however, in a position to speak for anything like the whole House on this particular point of Amendments, and therefore, I can merely appeal to the noble Earl to give a day or two more if he can.
§ LORD STRACHIE
Before the Leader of the House replies, may I ask the noble Earl, as I have a Motion on Wednesday in which the agriculturists of this country take great interest, whether when he puts down the Transport Bill for Monday in Committee, he also means to move the suspension of the Standing Order so as to give precedence to the Committee stage as well, or shall I be able to have my Motion on that day as the first Order?
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
It is a little difficult to answer that question across the floor of the House. I should have endeavoured to see my noble friend behind the Chair had I been fortunate enough to find him, to ask his courtesy in postponing his Motion on Wednesday. I only made my Motion just now, because it is the last moment at which it can be made. I should not like to answer definitely with regard to Monday, but I will endeavour to suit the convenience of the noble Lord to the best of my ability.
As regards the appeal made by the Leader of the Opposition, may I say that I should be only too glad to secure to your Lordships' House a longer interval between the Second Reading and the Committee. 886 But really is the matter of as much importance as the noble Marquess appears to argue? After all, the material point is not the date at which the Second Reading is given to a Bill; the material point is the date at which the Bill is in the possession of the House. It does not seem to me to matter very much whether the Second Reading is taken to-night, to-morrow, or Wednesday, providing there is an interval in which noble Lords can be making up their minds as to the Amendments they desire to move—that is, the period from when the Bill is put into their hands to the period at which they are to take the Committee stage. As the Bill has been in print a day or two, I think your Lordships will be able in the week between now and Monday next to make Your arrangements in order to commence the Committee stage on that date.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Earl has dealt with the matter with so much courtesy that I feel we ought to try to do what we can to support him. I am very glad that he consented to allow the debate to stand over from now until Wednesday. I think, speaking for myself, that the arrangement under which he proposes to conclude the discussion on Wednesday is not unreasonable in the circumstances of the case, although, as the noble Marquess behind me has said it, does not give very much time for the Second Reading of the biggest Bill of this session, and probably the biggest Bill of the last twenty or thirty years.
When, however, the Bill reaches the Committee stage all we can do is to see whether we can manage to comply with the wish of the Leader of the House. He says it does not very much matter when the Committee stage is fixed after the Second Reading. I suppose he suggests that if noble Lords have made up their minds early in the proceedings on the Second Reading they will not alter them at all afterwards. I think my noble friend does not give much weight to the discussions on Second Reading in your Lordships' House. He seems to think that Amendments moved in Committee will be just the same whatever the course of the Second Reading. The eloquence of my noble friend and his colleagues may be such as to induce his friends not to move Amendments, or to move them rather differently. It is not possible to consider what Amendments will be moved in Committee until the Second Reading is con 887 cluded. Those are reasons which make it less easy than it would otherwise be to comply with my noble friend's request. It may be possible to take the Committee stage on Monday, but I doubt whether your Lordships will find it convenient to deal with so important a measure in Committee so soon after the Second Reading. We will, however, do what we can.
§ On Question, debate adjourned until Wednesday, and to have precedence of the other Notices and Orders of the Day.