§ Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Lytton.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY had given notice, on the Motion that the House do resolve itself into Committee, to move—
§ That it be an instruction to the Committee that they have power to divide the Bill into two Bills, the one Bill dealing with existing railways, light railways, canals, waterways and inland navigations and matters connected therewith; and the other Bill dealing with tramways, roads, bridges and ferries, and vehicles and traffic thereon, harbours, docks and piers and other matters connected with locomotion and transport; and that the Committee have power to report each Bill separately to the House.
§ The noble Marquess said: My Lords, the course which I invite your Lordships to pursue is founded upon a long line of Parliamentary precedents. I will not dwell upon it at any length, because I do not offer this course to your Lordships simply on that ground. It is upon the merits that I really recommend it. But it is right to point out that there has been in both Houses of Parliament a long succession of Motions promoted and carried to divide Bills into two parts. There was a Bill in your Lordships' House in 1841, a Drainage Bill, which was divided into two parts. In 1853 there was a Law of Evidence and Procedure Bill, on which there was an Instruction such as I am moving now to divide it into two parts—and the Bill was so divided. In the House of Commons in 1871 the Trades Union Bill was divided 1145 into two parts—into the Trades Union Bill, and the Criminal Law Amendment (Masters and Workmen) Bill.
§ All those are precedents. And the number of times in which the Motion has been offered in the House of Commons and not accepted are too many to mention. It has been done over and over again, and as late as in the National Insurance Bill, 1911, the Parliament Bill 1911, the Home Rule Bill, the Welsh Disestablishment Bill, and the Plural Voting Bill. In all these cases Motions were made to divide the Bill into two parts, and in a certain number of them either House of Parliament saw fit to agree to the Motion, and the Bills treated in that manner proceeded upon their way and finally received the Royal Assent.
§ There is only one particular in which the course that I now propose differs from the instances I have cited—namely, that it has reference to a Bill which has already passed through another House of Parliament. That is a difference undoubtedly, not of order but of practice. I do not desire to dwell too long on the case of precedent, but sufficiently long to offer to your Lordships citations which shows that the course I am venturing to suggest is well within the competence of either House of Parliament, and then I shall proceed to argue the proposal, as your Lordships would wish me to argue it, on the merits.
§ Your Lordships had a very interesting discussion on this Bill upon the Second Reading, and I think you were in the course of it reminded of the history of this Bill. But just let me recite for a moment its main features. This Bill has been the object of a good deal of suspicion and anxiety from the very first moment when it was produced in another place. It was, as your Lordships know, sent to a Standing Committee, and in that Standing Committee it was only carried, if I might venture to use the phrase, by the skin of its teeth. The Government were placed in very great difficulties over and over again. The Bill survived by majorities of two or even of one, and I think on two occasions the Government were placed in a minority. It is not surprising that in such circumstances the Bill underwent a good deal of modification. The Government were in retreat the whole time. As the pressure of feeling in the House of Commons was brought to bear upon them, and pressure from outside, they found it necessary, I think quite rightly, to withdraw from point to point, modifying 1146 their Bill in the direction of making it less extreme and less autocratic.
§ Various other circumstances appeared during the course of the discussions in the House and in Committee. In the first place, the financial basis on which the Bill had been argued—namely, the loss which it was alleged accompanied the railway administration—was shown to be in a great degree fallacious, or, if not fallacious, at any rate open to such misunderstanding as to amount to the same thing. Another very striking circumstance was developed in the discussion. The Minister in charge of the Bill, the Minister-designate as he is known, avowed over and over again that in the administration of the Bill, if it became an Act, he had no policy at all. He was in search of a policy. That I am quite sure impressed those who heard it; and the result was that the feeling—if I may venture to say so as in this respect a mere outsider—the feeling in the House of Commons grew worse and worse, more and more suspicious, and more and more anxious, and that feeling was reflected outside. The Bill is a very complicated Bill, and a good deal of it is very hard to understand and appreciate; but as those interested got to realise what it meant, they became more and more, concerned.
§ It is in the presence of feeling like this that your Lordships have to consider the Bill. I do not think it is difficult to account for the public anxiety. Not only is it due to the causes which I have mentioned, but it is due to the reaction after the war and to the new feeling which is, and ought to become, the feeling of the country under the new circumstances. When the war was first declared, and indeed during the whole course of it, we were all sustained by a great and noble enthusiasm, and we were all ready to dispense with the limitations and restraints with which our public life, and indeed a good deal of our private life, had been surrounded up till then. All sorts of new departures were readily accepted. No one thought of money. The only thing we lived for was to defeat the enemy, and it was our joy and pride to pour forth all the riches which this country had accumulated for centuries, in order to achieve that end. Everything was to be given with that object. Not only was all our wealth at the command of our 1147 Government, but all the abilities which we possessed, the talents of every man or every woman in whatever station of life, were placed at the disposal of the Government, and amongst others the great industrial experts were proud to give their talents and assistance to the Government.
§ That was the situation during the war—a situation which we not only defend hut are rightly proud of. Now it is different. The war is over and there is necessarily a reaction, and there ought to be a reaction. We ought to get back to the frame of mind not of lavish dispensing with all restraint, but back to the frame of mind of acknowledging those restraints as being the safest guides by which the Government and the administration of this country can be guided. Moreover, good though I think it was that we should have been willing to go to lengths in dispensing with the old limitations and restraints during the war, yet that necessarily had a good many ill-results which were very much to be regretted; and when public opinion begins to realise what those ill-results are it naturally shrinks from them and rightly shrinks from them. Public opinion sees, for example, a host of officials sprung up, who seem almost as if they were going to strangle the life out of the commerce and industry of this country. The public see a tremendous check upon private enterprise—a check which it wants strong faith to believe private enterprise will ever survive. They see dim policies indicated—a sort of vista of almost revolutionary change in the commercial and industrial policy of this country—called sometimes nationalisation—about which it is impossible to get from the Government a very clear idea of their own views. They see, last but perhaps most important of all, the financial straits to which this country has been reduced.
Your Lordships heard upon the Second Reading the very powerful speech of the noble and learned Lord who sits behind me, Lord Buckmaster. That was a most striking indictment of the financial attitude of the authorities at this moment, and the most striking circumstance in connection with it was this, that the figures which the noble and learned Lord gave and the conclusions which he drew from those figures were not challenged in any quarter of the House. The noble Earl in charge of the Bill spoke to your Lordships later in
the debate—not on the same day, but in the Second Reading debate—and used most ominous language. He said—
I do not believe it is possible at this moment to exaggerate or to draw too black a picture of the financial position of this country. I make no complaint that he (Lord Buckmaster) should have endeavoured to impress upon your Lordships the intense gravity of that financial outlook.
§ The noble Earl apparently admitted all that the noble and learned Lord had said. That is a most striking circumstance. In addition therefore to the host of officials, to the chill on private enterprise, to the dim vista of nationalisation, comes what looks, unless we are careful, like the preliminaries of national bankruptcy. Is it surprising that the common sense of the country is anxious? Is it surprising that people shrink back from legislation which may involve vast schemes—vast schemes unchecked by proper financial safeguards, involving perhaps heavy expenditure and administered at the will—the almost unlimited will—of a single minister. I do not think that we can be surprised at the growing feeling of solicitude in the House of Commons and in the country when we contemplate the provisions of the Bill.
§ I have, of course, nothing to say against Sir Eric Geddes. I believe him not only to be a man of the most distinguished character, but one of the ablest administrators that this country has ever produced. I agree to all that, but he is essentially typical of the war period. His record in France, magnificent as it was in railway reconstruction, would of course have been ruin to any country in time of peace if it had been applied there. It is perfectly right in time of war. The great thing was to lay those lines with immense rapidity and without thought of expenditure, but the particular quality which enabled him to be so splendidly successful there is not the one which we want specially in the reconstruction period of the time of peace. We want to restore confidence. We want to husband our resources. We want cautious administration. All these things may be found in Sir Eric Geddes' administration, but we have no guarantee of the fact, and we have no reason to conclude it. That is the situation.
§ If we look at the Bill itself we not only find that it involves all these risks, but we find it immensely complicated, involving an enormous number of new departures in 1149 regard to which your Lordships will have no doubt in committee a great deal to say. And if your Lordships look at the Amendments of which notice has been given—and I do not suppose they are anything like all the Amendments which will be suggested before the Bill is finished with in your Lordships' House—you will find the sort of topics with which we have to deal. I believe there is a series of Amendments which suggest that where new departures in expenditure are on a very large scale there should be machinery by which private Bill procedure should be preserved. That is a very important, very difficult, and very far-reaching Amendment, but it only illustrates the sort of subject which would have to be considered. Then there are the Amendments standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Midleton. He proposes, as your Lordships will have seen, not only that a great independent committee should be set up, but that a very important element of labour representation should be fully recognised upon that committee. That again involves principles of great moment which are dictated by the changing circumstances of the times in which we live.
§ What, then, ought the House of Lords to do in the face of a Bill such as I have described, complicated, far-reaching, and involving the risks which I have mentioned? We do not approach this Bill as if it had been introduced for the first time in your Lordships' House. It has been through the House of Commons. We owe, I need not say, profound respect to the attitude and action of the House of Commons. It is not as if we had to deal with the Bill for the first time ourselves. The House of Commons have passed it. We ought to deal with it therefore very tenderly. Moreover, as was said upon Second Reading, there is a large element in this Bill which may be properly described as urgent. All the railway part of the Bill, all the part that is to say which deals with existing railways, is urgent. Your Lordships will observe that this Bill really includes three separate parts. They are not as the Bill is drafted divided into parts, but substantially it includes the three separate parts. There is first of all the liquidation of the war situation of the railways. That is a very big subject in itself, and that I agree is urgent. Then there is the unification under one Minister of all the means of transport in this country. I admit that it is not complete unification, but it has all the 1150 elements of unification. Thirdly, there is the development of railways and other means of transport—the development to any unlimited extent in the hands of a Minister. There are those three elements, and I say that one of them is urgent and one of them, it may very properly be contended, ought to be dealt with, and dealt with without the smallest possible delay. That is another reason why, when we are dealing with this Bid, we ought to proceed with great circumspection.
§ The question is, How can we take the necessary precautions in respect to this Bill, while at the same time showing due respect to the House of Commons, and due respect to the urgency of one particular part of the Bill? In other words, how can we perform the duty which is incumbent upon the House of Lords, with the least possible opposition to the policy of the Government, and the policy which has been announced in the House of Commons? That is the point of view from which I have approached this Bill; it is from that point of view that I have placed the Instruction on the Paper. I have suggested that, notwithstanding the risks in the Bill, to which I and other better speakers than myself have called attention—notwithstanding its complication and all the other attendant circumstances, we should not reject the Bill, nor any part of the Bill, but that we should draw a distinction between that. which is urgent and that which is not urgent; that we should deal with the urgent part at once, and that we should leave that which is not urgent for a short time, during which we may be able to assure ourselves both of the real opinion of the country in respect to it, and of all the necessary precautions which it might lie the duty of your Lordships to introduce into it. Surely, that is a very moderate course to take.
§ I believe I am looked upon as a sort of profane revolutionist in the course which I have ventured to suggest, but I submit that the House of Lords, if they were going to deal with this Bill at all, could not have done less than I have suggested. In old days your Lordships' House was looked upon as co-ordinate with the House of Commons. Those days are gone by. Whatever may be the theory of the Constitution, we know that that is not the case; and later it has been contended, and it is contended still, that 1151 we have the right to ascertain by a General Election, if we please, what is the real opinion of the country before we agree to legislation. No such contention is put forward in the present case. All we ask for—it is the very least we could ask for—is time to consider, time really to ascertain, without a General Election, what the mature opinion of the country really is.
§ We represent in this House, I hope and believe, nothing but the interests of the country. If I may use the term, we have no axe to grind. We do not represent any interests, or any sections of opinion. Sometimes I am told, "Oh, the railway interest want this, and the railway Peers will vote in that way." I do not believe it. I do not know who the railway Peers are, but I believe that there is only one set of Peers in this House, and that they will represent the whole of the country and will vote for the interests of the whole country.
§ But we are not in any sense the masters of the country; we are the servants of the country, just as the House of Commons is. We are its trusted agents. It is not our business to dictate to the country its policy, but it is our business to find out what the opinion of the country is. Let us, then, take the necessary time to do it. Let us deal with the urgent part of the Bill at once; let us postpone that which is not urgent for a few weeks, and then let us approach the Bill with a confident effort to do our best to represent, by the form in which we shall return the Bill to the House of Commons, what are the true interests and the true opinions of our fellow subjects.
§ Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Committee that they have power to divide the Bill into two Bills, the one Bill dealing with existing railways, light railways, canals, waterways and inland navigations and matters connected therewith; and the other Bill dealing with tramways, roads, bridges and ferries, and vehicles and traffic thereon, harbours, docks and piers and other matters connected with locomotion and transport; and that the Committee have power to report each Bill separately to the House.—(The Marquess of Salisbury.)
THE CIVIL LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (THE EARL OF LYTTON)
My Lords, no one regrets more than I do the necessity for 1152 making another Second Reading speech upon this Bill. I am anxious to get into Committee on the Bill as soon as possible, because I believe that when we come to close quarters with it, and are able to discuss these questions clause by clause in detail, I shall be able to show to your Lordships that this Bill is not the fearful and terrible thing that it is represented to be, and that much of the opposition to it is based upon a misunderstanding of its provisions.
But the Motion which has been made by the noble Marquess is a direct attack upon the whole policy of the Bill. The noble Marquess has assured us to-night, as he did on the Second Reading of the Bill, of his friendly intentions and of the very moderate character of his Resolution. But I am concerned, not with the intentions of those who bring forward this Motion, but with the effect of the Motion if it is carried. What will the effect be? The position at this moment is a little difficult to follow to its ultimate conclusion. The noble Marquess has said that his Resolution is based upon precedent, but, as he admitted himself, there is no precedent whatever for one House issuing an Instruction to a Committee to divide into two Bills a Bill which has reached it from another House. He said that was a small matter, in which there was not, perhaps, a precedent. It is not a small matter. It is vital; and this Motion which is made is entirely without any precedent, and, being unprecedented, it is therefore difficult for us to see exactly what is going to happen.
At the present moment all we know is this. The noble Marquess has moved this Resolution. He has also put upon the Order Paper a number of Amendments of a purely drafting character in order to carry out the effect of this Resolution, if it is passed. That means that, if those Amendments were all accepted, this single comprehensive Bill, sent up by the House of Commons, would be divided into two parts. And we learn from the speech which the noble Marquess has just made that it is his intention to ask your Lordships to deal with one part only at this stage, and to send that part back to the House of Commons, leaving the second part for consideration later on in the Session.
What we have to consider is what will be the result in the House of Commons if your Lordships follow the advice of the noble Marquess. I cannot say what the 1153 ruling of Mr. Speaker will be on a question which, as I have told your Lordships, is without precedent. I can only tell what the attitude of the Government will be, and what I am perfectly certain the attitude of the House or Commons will be. I am perfectly certain that the House of Commons will say that, till they know what the intentions of your Lordships may be with regard to No. 2 Bill, it will be perfectly impossible for them to accept half the Bill which your Lordships send back. That is assuming that they adopt a purely friendly attitude towards a Motion, which I think is in the nature of a challenge.
This I can say with regard to the action of the Government, that in no circumstances will they accept the responsibility for carrying into law half of this Bill instead of the whole Bill which they have sent up to your Lordships. Therefore one of two things must happen. Either part of a programme which we consider to be vital—I will explain to your Lordships in a moment that we differ entirely from the noble Marquess in thinking that only part of this Bill is urgent; in our view the whole of this Bill is urgent, and what he proposes to put into the No. 2 Bill is in our opinion just as urgent as what he proposes to put into No. 1—therefore either an essential part of our programme will be delayed, or, what is more probable, the House of Commons will send back to your Lordships, not the half Bill which you have sent to them, but this Bill in exactly the form in which it comes before your Lordships to-day. The position will then be this. Your Lordships will have forfeited any possible opportunity of amending this Bill in detail, and you will be faced with the necessity of either having to accept the Bill which the House of Commons sends you—
THE EARL OF LYTTON
If you get back the Bill from the House of Commons it will come back, I imagine, in the form of a refusal on the part of the House of Commons to accept the Lords Amendments. Does the noble Marquess accept that position?
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY indicated assent.1154
THE EARL OF LYTTON
Then you will be in the position either of having to accept that decision of the House of Commons and not insisting upon the Amendments which you have sent to the House of Commons, or, if you insist, of losing the whole Bill, and in that case of precipitating a constitutional crisis of the greatest magnitude. That is the situation before us.
The noble Marquess has told us that he considers his Resolution to be a very moderate one. Lord Devonport foreshadowed on the Second Reading of the Bill his intention of using the knife; the noble Marquess assured us that he himself intends to use the knife only very tenderly. I doubt whether the noble Marquess would submit with perfect equanimity to place himself in the hands of a surgeon who proposed to cut him in two merely for the purpose of examining if it were really necessary that he should continue as an entity. I doubt, moreover, whether he would be all the more reassured by the fact that the surgeon had previously expressed in very strong language his opinion that, while the noble Marquess's head and heart might be necessary and urgent and vital to his existence, the possession of hands was a much more debatable matter—that they might, for instance, be laid upon other people's property; whereas the existence of legs was positively dangerous, because his feet might be applied with force to other people's persons. I doubt whether the noble Marquess would regard that as a very moderate proposal. At any rate, we regard this Motion as a direct invitation to your Lordships to dismember the Bill. In our opinion it is necessary that this Motion should be resisted; and, in order to justify our attitude, I am forced—as the noble Marquess himself has been—to a limited extent to cover the ground of the whole Bill to show your Lordships why it is necessary that it should be retained in its entirety. I have taken an active part in the debates in this House for seventeen years, and during the whole of that time I have been struck continuously by one feature—namely, that your Lordships have always shown that you are, if I may say so without disrespect to the House of Commons, even more amenable to matters of argument than that place.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
I believe it is true to say, without any offence to the House of Commons, that your Lordships have always given close attention to any argument that is put before you. I rely upon that characteristic of this House at this moment; because, after all, there is no question of Party prejudice involved in this Bill. In the measures of this Government there is not, I think I may say, the inherent vice—I mean, of course, in your Lordships' opinion—that there was for instance in the measures submitted to your Lordships by the Government of which the Leader was the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. I was going to say "the Leader of the Opposition," but I doubt now whether I ought not rather to refer to him as the "late Leader of the Opposition," because it seems to me that the noble Marquess sitting by his side (Lord Salisbury) has taken that position from him. But at any rate the Government which brings up this Bill is a Government composed of and supported by a large majority of the political Party to which your Lordships mostly belong. It is a Government which, I imagine, most of your Lordships helped to bring into power at the last General Election. Therefore I say that there is no question of Party prejudice here involved, and at least I may assume that the intentions of the Government may be taken as good.
Now that much I think is gained; and, if I may have the patience of your Lordships, I will endeavour as shortly as I can to put before you the case for this Bill as it is represented by those who have opposed it and as it appears to the Government. On the Second Reading of the Bill Lord Devonport said—They" [that is, the Government] "have justified it on a series of allegations and statements scarcely one of which was supported by evidence or fact.On the principle that "those who live in glass-houses should not throw stones," I think that any one making a statement of this kind ought to be particulary careful that those who take his point of view cannot be said to have fallen into a similar mistake. What about the speeches that have been made by your Lordships in this House? Can it be said that they have all been "supported by evidence or fact"? I will ask your Lordships to judge. Lord Montagu, in opposing the Bill, said—We are asked by the Bill to give the Government a monopoly in almost all forms of transport.1156 That is an expression of opinion, and I do not propose to deal with mere expressions of opinion. But the noble Lord went on to explain what he meant. He said—I spoke just now of nationalisation as being in every line of the Bill. I will give you three reasons. Suppose it is said that ships bringing a certain commodity shall not go in future to Southampton but to Liverpool—and then he argued that if this were done—shipping diverted from Southampton to Liverpool—it would be possible at the end of two years to go back to the original position. Then he went on to say, "Or, alternatively, take London and Bristol"; and he suggested that it would be possible under this Bill for the Minister to say that shipping which had hitherto gone to Bristol should in future go to London. If that were true, it would indeed be a serious ground for opposition to the Bill. And it is also the case that if we had this monopoly in all forms of transport which the noble Lord says we have, obviously we could do that. We, however, have not a monopoly in all forms of transport, and have never asked for it in this Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Midleton, took the same point. There is no clause in the Bill which will enable the Minister to divert shipping during the next two years from one port to another.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I ask the noble Earl, with great respect, what do the words in Clause 9 "It shall be lawful for the Minister to establish and work transport services by land or water" mean?
THE EARL OF LYTTON
I invite the noble Viscount to look at Clause 27, on page 25, which interprets the services by water. He will see that the meaning of those words is that the Minister has power to undertake the transport service which a railway company to-day has power to undertake if that railway company itself is unwilling to do so. There is nothing in that which gives the Minister power to divert shipping from one port to another, and if that is what noble Lords are relying upon it is only an instance of what I say, that when we get into Committee I shall be able to show that these allegations which are made broadcast and upon which so much is based are entirely without foundation.
Again, the noble Lord said, "Take roads. There is nothing to prevent him" 1157 (that is, the Minister) "with these complete powers, putting up toll gates." There is nothing in the Bill which justifies that remark. I explained to your Lordships on the Second Reading that with regard to roads the Government was asking under this Bill for no powers that were not already possessed by the Government through some Department or another, and I will challenge the noble Lord to state what Department of the Government today has the power to put toll gates upon our highways. No such power exists. It would be an illegal thing to and, therefore, no such power is transferred to this Minister.
With regard to the figures with which I explained to your Lordships the case for this Bill, the fact that there was an obligation on the State to contribute £60,000,000 to the railway companies was challenged by several noble Lords. Lord Montagu said that not only were those figures untrue, but he himself put in a Return—which, by the way, he did not read in your Lordships' House, and which we had no opportunity of discussing until we saw it in the newspapers the next morning or read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT—which obliges me, since that challenge is made, to make this point clear to your Lordships, because it is really fundamental to the necessities of the Bill. Let me ask your Lordships to examine these figures of Lord Montagu. He takes from the White Paper that was issued the working expenses of the railways in 1913 and puts them down as £75,000,000. These are all figures taken out of official documents. He adds for increased expenditure the full amount of £109,000,000. The White Paper stated that it might vary between £104,000,000 and £109,000,000. He gives that total as £184,000,000, and he takes the revenue for 1918 of £177,000,000 and produces a deficit of £7,000,000. He says that this, according to the Government's own figures, is what he calculates is the deficit in working the railways, and that the Government have said it is £60,000,000. The noble Lord has completely misunderstood the position. We have never said that the deficit on the working of the railways was £60,000,000. What we have said is that the Government is to-day under an obligation to pay to the railway companies their net earnings of 1913, which will mean a State contribution of £60,000,000 this year. From the noble Lord's own figures, which I do not accept, 1158 there is a deficit of £7,000,000. That deficit has to be made up to the railway companies, and upon the top of that you have to put £43,000,000, their revenue of 1913, and that in itself gives a figure not very far from the £60,000,000 which the Government has given.
§ LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
May I ask the noble Earl to give consideration to the fact that on the other side of the balance sheet there is about £41,000,000, which is not credited in the statement he gives, for Government traffic carried at pre-war rates.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
I think not. I believe those figures are included. It is difficult to argue on a question of figures before the House, but I think I can show the noble Lord in Committee that what I have stated is correct. What I will do, however, is to give to the noble Lord and to your Lordships the basis of the Government figures; because, after all, that is what we are discussing. We say that there will be this year an estimated deficit—and it is only an estimate—of £60,000,000. The figures are arrived at in this way. Let me say that although they are estimated they are estimated upon actual figures of the returns for the two months April and May. They are not Sir Eric Geddes's figures; these are figures prepared by the Board of Trade in consultation with the Railway Executive, based upon actual receipts and expenses for those two months of this year. The receipts for 1919–20 are estimated at £161,500,000; the expenditure at £173,000,000; leaving a net deficit on working of £11,500,000. The Government guarantee of net receipts comes to £45,500,000, making a total call for Great Britain on the Chancellor of the Exchequer of £57,000,000. An addition has to be made for Ireland of about £2,700,000, and interest allowed on additional capital which has become productive since the war began may be put at £1,000,000, making a total of £60,700,000. Those are the figures upon which the figure of £60,000,000 was taken by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget for this year.
Let me resume my examination of the arguments which have been used against us. The noble Marquess who has moved this Resolution said that enormous financial powers are given to the Minister, and that for the first time in this wicked Bill the direct 1159 power of Parliament in respect of large sums of money, provided they do not exceed a very handsome £1,000,000, is to be entirely withdrawn from the cognisance of Parliament. Is that not rather hard when the Government have placed upon this Minister, and upon this Minister alone, a restriction which is not placed upon any other Minister, that he shall not put into his estimates and submit to Parliament a demand for £1,000,000 in some cases and £500,000 in others without having previously obtained a Resolution authorising him to do so from the House of Commons? Having put that into the Bill it is used as an argument against us, and upon that argument is based the assertion that for the first time we are withdrawing from the cognisance of Parliament the Minister's control of vast sums of money.
The noble Marquess said that this Bill had been shattered in argument; but by what argument? The arguments which were used in the debate on the Second Reading were directed not against this Bill but against a Bill which exists in the imagination of noble Lords opposite. For that reason I am bound to deal with those arguments to show that all this opposition is based upon a complete misconception of what this Bill does in fact do. Now I make a perfectly fair offer to your Lordships. If you can show that this Bill contains powers to enable a Minister to divert shipping from one port to another or that it withdraws from the cognisance of Parliament its control over vast sums of money which are possessed in the case of other Departments, I undertake when we come to the clauses to make it perfectly clear that that is not the case. On the other hand if, as I think must prove to be the case, your Lordships are unable to support those allegations, am I not right in saying that the appeal to your Lordships on behalf of this Amendment is based on arguments which cannot be substantiated?
I have only one other thing to which to refer. Lord Devonport made what he considered was a sensational exposé to your Lordships of the Government's dealings with the railway companies. He said—Let us therefore take it as settled, when we get to Committee, that the Government have arrived at some conclusion as to the basis upon which the railways are to be taken over. … I hope, after this exposé, they will give up entirely pretending that they cannot make up their minds and that they want two more years in which to do so.1160 This exposé is merely an exposé of the imagination of the noble Viscount. These dealings with the railway companies, by which the terms on which they are to be taken over by the State are to be settled, have never taken place.
§ VISCOUNT DEVONPORT
That is not what I said. I referred to negotiations taking place, and I challenged the Government as to whether negotiations were going on. Lord Milner seemed at first to deny it, but when I directly challenged him he made no response.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT MILNER)
As I have been referred to, let me say that I shook my head because I thought it impossible that these negotiations should be going on without some knowledge of them having reached me and other members of the Government. In view of the very positive affirmation of the noble Lord, I thought I had better make some inquiry before persisting in my denial, and, having made those inquiries, I have no hesitation in saying that the noble Lord's assertion was Wholly false—I am sure not intentionally so, but he himself has been misled.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
I have here the words which the noble Lord used—Let us therefore take it as settled, when we get to Committee, that the Government have arrived at some conclusion as to the basis upon which the railways are to be taken over. … I hope, after this expos,", they will give up entirely pretending that they cannot make up their minds …I say to the noble Lord that this conclusion has never been reached. It has never been discussed with the railway companies. I speak in the presence of a large number of railway directors and I give them a free hand, if what I am saying is not true, to get up and tell your Lordships what negotiations for the nationalisation of the railways have ever taken place with the Government, what justification there is for saying that this is an exposé, and that the Government have made up their minds and are only pretending something which is not true. I think I have said enough to show your Lordships that all the arguments used by the opponents of this Bill are not justified by a reference to the terms of the Bill itself.
1161 I want to draw your Lordships' attention for a moment to the ease for the Bill—a Bill which I hold this Resolution, if it is carried, will destroy. This Bill is not a Bill, as Lord Devonport thinks, which is based upon the idea that all, or even any, of our transport services are inefficient or have been badly managed. Lord Devonport's speech was chiefly devoted to showing that all these transport services were very up-to-date and were in the hands of very competent people. If I said anything on the Second Reading to suggest that either our railways or our docks or our road were bad or that they were in the hands of incompetent people, I wish here and now to make amends. I have already stated to Lord Balfour of Burleigh that if that impression was created by my speech it was erroneous. I never meant to suggest for a moment that any of the directors managing any of these great undertakings were inefficient or incapable of managing their businesses.
We owe a great debt to the railways for what they accomplished during the war. They did wonders for us, and there is no member of the Government who wishes in any way to detract from what the railways have done. I imagine that neither Lord Balfour with regard to railways, nor Lord Devonport with regard to docks, nor Lord Montagu with regard to roads, will say that none of these things are capable of improvement. Even if they did, even if it were true that all these services were perfect, it does not affect in the least the case for this Bill, because the true test of efficient transportation is not whether you have got individually good roads or docks or railways, but whether passengers and goods are able to travel freely, quickly and economically from place to place over the whole system.
Is there any one of your Lordships who can get up in this House and say that this is the case to-day? The opposite is notoriously the case. It is known that railways are unable at this moment to deal with the greater part of the traffic which desires to come to them; that the transit warehouses in docks are used to-day as storage warehouses filled to overflowing with goods that they cannot get clear; that, even in the case of collieries, coal is stopped because the collieries cannot get clearance. There is congestion of traffic. It is in order to link up all these systems, to remove that congestion and 1162 these obstacles, and to expedite movement, that this Bill has been introduced, and if your Lordships do what the noble Marquess wants and cut off certain parts of the Bill, those objects cannot be carried out.
Transportation, with which this Bill endeavours to deal as a whole, may be regarded as a great chain composed of many links. The railways, to which your Lordships, if you accept this Motion, desire to confine the Government, are only one link in this chain. They are the middle link and at both ends there are terminals. The roads form the inland terminals and the docks form the seaboard terminals, and you cannot deal with transportation effectively if you cut off from the railways I any power whatever to deal with the terminals. If you do that, you will hamper the free movement of passengers and goods. You will perpetuate the congestion, which is almost a scandal at the present time, at the very moment when free movement is not merely daily but hourly vitally needed. I hope I am not wearying your Lordships by insisting on this point. I insist upon it because it is the root and kernel of the Bill. The whole point of the Bill is that to do any good you must deal with transportation as a whole. Our opponents who are moving this Motion say that the situation can be sufficiently dealt with if you are confined to railways alone. You have only to read the Report which came out yesterday dealing with London traffic to see how throughout the Committee insisted upon the necessity of dealing with the problem as a whole. What is true with regard to the traffic of London is equally true of the country as a whole. To hang up the power of the Government to deal with this urgent problem would be, as the Committee has said, little short of a scandal.
I want to deal with one other limited aspect of the Bill which the noble Marquess says is the only urgent thing in it. The Government of to-day is under an obligation to the railway companies to guarantee them their net receipts for the year 1913. That guarantee rests at this moment only upon a sentence in a letter written by Mr. Walter Runciman when he was President of the Board of Trade. It was not made by this Government, but this Government intends to honour the obligation which was then made and carry out the undertaking given by a former Government. Lord Faber, speaking on the Second Reading of 1163 the Bill, said the Government had always treated the railways very handsomely up to the present, and he hoped we intended to deal honourably and handsomely with them in the future. Let me assure your Lordships that the Government has every intention of honouring, literally and fully, the obligation which was entered into by their predecessors. They intend to give statutory sanction to that obligation, and the clause enabling them to do so is inserted in this Bill.
But the Government also have another obligation. They have an obligation to the public, as trustees to the public of the money which, if they fulfil this other obligation, they will have to pay over to the railway companies. Our obligation to the public is this—to do all in our power during the next two years, when we are spending public money in the fulfilment of this guarantee, to secure an improved transportation system. Let me assure your Lordships that the Government attribute just as great importance to this second obligation as to the first, and we have every intention of carrying out both obligations.
If your Lordships carry this Motion I will ask any railway director in this House, and any one of your Lordships who intends to vote for this Motion, to show us how it will be possible, if it is carried and this Bill is divided, to carry out these two obligations which the Government consider are both essential. The fallacy of the noble Marquess's Motion rests on his assumption that only part of the Bill is necessary and urgent. He thinks that of these two obligations which I have explained, obligation No. 1 (to the railway companies) is urgent and should be allowed to be fulfilled at once; but that obligation No. 2 (our obligation to the public) is not urgent and might wait for some weeks or some months. Exactly the opposite is the case. Our obligation to the public is more urgent than our obligation to the railway companies, and for this reason. All through the war and during this year we have been fulfilling up to this moment our obligation to the railway companies; we have not begun to fulfil our obligation to the public. That obligation is overdue, and the noble Marquess says that we are not to carry out this obligation until it pleases him and his friends to give their minds to the consideration of a problem to which the House of Commons has devoted close attention for more than a year.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
Until it pleases those who will support him in this Motion. The noble Marquess proposes that your Lordships should hang up those clauses which alone enable us to fulfil our obligation to the public until some time in the autumn when your Lordships can give more close attention to the problem. In the meanwhile the unification of our transport system, the linking up of our railways with their terminals, the economies which can alone be effected in that way, the starting of new services for the development of agriculture and housing (both essential features of the Government programme)—all these things are to be delayed because none of them will be possible until this Bill in its entirety becomes law.
I said that the House of Commons had given attention to this matter for more than a year. I said so for this reason. Before this Government came into office, and long before this Bill was thought of, a Select Committee of the House of Commons had been studying and considering the position as it existed in the war and the position with which any Government would be faced when the war was over. That Committee was unable to complete its inquiry because the Session came to an end last August. But the Committee had already, at that time a year ago, arrived at a unanimous conclusion upon two points. The first was this; that the transport agencies of this country, not merely the railways alone, could not be allowed to revert to their pre-war position, and the second point was, that this present temporary control of railways and canals (the alternative with which the noble and learned Lord is satisfied, and thinks we should also be satisfied) would not be satisfactory as a permanent arrangement. The very action to which the Government would be condemned, if your Lordships follow the advice of the noble Marquess, was condemned by the House of Commons a year ago; and it was because of the Report of that Committee, and the extreme urgency of dealing with the transport system as a whole that the Government, which pledged itself to the country to take up this question if returned to power, has introduced a Bill to do so, and has obtained from the House of Commons an almost 1165 unanimous support for the Bill in which their policy is embodied.
The noble Marquess, in his speech just now, endeavoured to convince your Lordships that the House of Commons was not happy about this Bill. He said that it was regarded there with suspicion and anxiety. He is perhaps of opinion that if he succeeds in carrying his Motion the House of Commons will thank him for doing so. It is quite true that when this Bill was introduced into the House of Commons, and at many periods during its discussion, it gave rise to much suspicion and anxiety, just as it does to your Lordships at the present moment. But this Bill was discussed at great length and with great care in the House of Commons. It was discussed for eighteen days in Committee, and four days on Report; and, as the noble Marquess has admitted, practically every clause in the Bill has been altered since it was first introduced, and many new clauses have been added to it. The result and the consequence of these changes is that the suspicion and anxiety to which the noble Marquess has referred has been removed, and evidence that it is removed is shown that when a Division was challenged on the Third Reading of the Bill (your Lordships are perfectly aware that a Division was challenged) not one single member of any party was found to go into the Lobby with the two tellers. I do not know what support the noble Marquess thinks he is likely to get, in these circumstances, from the House of Commons.
This is more a House of Commons Bill than a Government Bill. This Bill has been put into shape by the House of Commons, and if your Lordships imagine they will welcome the kind of change foreshadowed in this Resolution, I think you are making a very great mistake. The noble Marquess also seemed to suggest that there would be great relief throughout the country if this Resolution were carried. Let me read to your Lordships a letter which I have received from the county council of the county in which the noble Marquess himself resides, referring to one of the parts of the Bill that the noble Marquess desires to defer—I beg to inform you that the Hertfordshire County Council have passed a resolution in favour of the proposals of the above Bill so far as highways are concerned. They consider that it would be infinitely better if the highways of the county of Hertford were repaired by the various local authorities under the supervision of the 1166 Minister of Ways and Communications rather than by a Joint Board for Greater London, which they understand has been proposed by some of the opponents of the Government Bill. Such a scheme would involve the ratepayers of the county of Hertford in considerable expenditure, and would deprive the local authorities in the county of all local control. The County Council therefore trust that your Lordship will see your way to support the proposals of the Bill so far as highways are concerned.I have endeavoured, I am afraid at considerable length, to place before your Lordships the case for this Bill and the case as it has been made against it. I have only one more argument to use, but I think it is an argument which will appeal to the noble Marquess and those who may otherwise be inclined to vote for him in the Division. The Division we are about to take is a serious one. I think that is admitted by all your Lordships. The consequences will extend far beyond the merits of any particular provision in this Bill. The noble Marquess no doubt feels that he has a strong case. Perhaps he feels also strong in the support which he is expecting in your Lordships' House. The Government also feel that they have a strong case in this House, and if we are defeated here an overwhelmingly strong case in the House of Commons.
If the only issue were between the Government and the noble Marquess or between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, there would not be much involved, because if we win we get our Bill, and if the noble Marquess wins he will have to take our place and be responsible for bringing in a Bill which in his opinion will better deal with the situation. That, however, is not the issue. We must not forget that while we are fighting the only people who will get any good whatever from the conflict will be those against whom we ought to be fighting together. My Lords, it is only necessary to refer to the newspapers of this morning to remind your Lordships that there is a danger before us far greater than any danger which is in this Bill, far greater than any danger which is even believed to be in this Bill by any of your Lordships, and that is the danger from those who rely upon what they call direct action; in other words, revolutionary action—those who care nothing for any of our parties or for our Parliamentary institutions and who threaten us to-day with direct revolution.
1167 I say that against that enemy we ought to fight together, and that the only people who will gain if we fall out will be those who are our common enemies. Your Lordships say that this Bill is nationalisation. Those people, my Lords, will nationalise not only your railways but all your services, all your measures of production and distribution in this country, to-morrow if they get the chance. You say that in introducing this Bill we have surrendered an outpost in this important question. My Lords, if this Motion is carried, and if the consequence of it is a constitutional difference between the two Houses of Parliament, we shall have surrendered not an outpost in this question of nationalisation but we shall have given away the citadel itself.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
My Lords, I am sure the whole House has listened with admiration to the exceedingly vigorous speech made by the noble Earl, even though considerable parts of his speech were not strictly relevant to the Motion of the noble Marquess, and even though, as I venture to think, more particularly in his powerful peroration, he altgoether overstated the case which he desired to make for His Majesty's Government. My friends and I most fully recognise the extreme importance of dealing with all these questions of transportation, which means distribution, as early as possible, and it is not, I think, difficult to argue that there is nothing in the Motion of the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, which can be said to postpone in any serious degree such a solution.
It is quite true, my Lords, that some of us—I for one—regard this particular matter from a somewhat different standpoint from that which the noble Marquess and other members of your Lordships' House may regard it. He spoke with great moderation in saying that even he did not consider that it was possible to regard your Lordships' House as altogether co-ordinate with the House of Commons when the House of Commons has closely considered a measure such as this. I should probably go further than the noble Marquess, or many of your Lordships, in urging that view. The rejection of measures passed by a large majority in the House of Commons is very fresh in my memory and that of some of my friends when we occupied the opposite Bench, and when, as we thought, your Lordships took an excessive view of your powers and duties under the Constitution. And if I agreed with the noble Earl, 1168 Lord Lytton, that the effect of the acceptance of the noble Marquess's Amendment would be to wreck this Bill, I should once more say that, even though the House might not approve of certain features in the Bill, it was nevertheless the duty of your Lordships to proceed to consider it, having accepted the principle.
But does the Motion of the noble Marquess behind me tend towards what can fairly be described as "wrecking"? The noble Earl who has just spoken asserts in unmeasured terms that it does. He went so far as to threaten—I think that is not an exaggerated word—your Lordships' House with the argumentum ad invidiam as regards the powers of this House which, as he said, would be freely used in the House of Commons. That is to say, that in another place any such dealing with a measure coming up to us from there would be resented not on the merits of the case but simply and solely because it was the action of your Lordships' House. It does not seem to me to be quite in the power of His Majesty's Government, at any rate, to use that argument. Last year I ventured to urge on the Government of the present Prime Minister—the last Government—the necessity of undertaking the reform of your Lordships' House in order to avoid precisely such an incident as this; and, needless to say, my appeal received no attention from His Majesty's Government. That being so, it is not surely possible for His Majesty's Government to complain because your Lordships, having a right (as you conceive) and also a duty (as you conceive) to fulfil, now proceed to act according to the conception of what you think right.
There is in fact something of an almost ludicrous topsey-turveydom in finding His Majesty's present Administration, composed of such a very large majority of the Unionist Party, using arguments of this kind in order to persuade your Lordships not to take the action which you consider to be demanded by the facts of the case. The noble Earl stated that if the Amendment of the noble Marquess were adopted and the Bill divided in two, the effect would be that when the first part of the Bill—not Part I, but a separate Bill—was sent down the action taken in another place would be to disagree with your Lordships' Amendment, with the result that it would not be possible for us to take any steps towards amending the second half of the 1169 Bill if it were reinserted. That, I venture to think, is not the case. It is possible for your Lordships to deal with any Amendment inserted in another place. And if that Amendment took the form of reintroducing all the clauses which we had set aside to form the second Bill, clearly then it would be competent to your Lordships to take any action you pleased with regard to them, either to accept them as they stood or to amend them or do anything that you pleased.
The noble Marquess behind me spoke of the concern and alarm which was created by this measure, and the noble Earl devoted himself to art attempt to prove that, whereas there had been no little alarm of that kind during the early stages of the Bill in another place, during its progress upstairs that alarm had been dissipated altogether, with the result that the Bill was read a Third Time with the approval of everybody in the House. That does not, I confess, appear to me to convey at all a correct picture of what actually occurred. All those who have studied the report of what passed in the Grand Committee in another place will see that many of the important revisions now to be found in the Bill were only introduced by comparatively small majorities there. The Bill was no doubt greatly altered, but I think it cannot be said that even in its amended form it obtained anything like universal acceptance; and as for the fact that members in another place were not disposed to vote against the Third Reading, I confess that little importance need be attached to that fact. Your Lordships had no desire to divide against the Second Reading of the Bill and it was quite evident—knowng that the measure had received a great deal of consideration and had been materially altered in its progress in another place; knowing, too, that the general principle of dealing with transportation was accepted by everybody—that it clearly would have been futile to take a Division which would, if successful, have wrecked the Bill altogether. But I cannot take that as meaning that either in another place, or still more throughout the country, suspicion of this measure has been entirely dissipated by what has passed.
Nothing has been said in the course of these debates of the attitude and sentiment of the agricultural community on this, matter. They, I know, are deeply concerned 1170 with regard to this measure, and not merely by the fact of the unusual power given to the Minister for the alteration of railway rates, which, as your Lordships know, in the past have only been modified as regards their maxima after the most close and almost meticulous examination by a Parliamentary Committee. It was my privilege to sit during two consecutive years, through the whole of two sessions, on matters connected with the fixing of railway rates for every kind of article of transport;; and although, in the progress of this Bill, the powers of the Minister have been somewhat limited from what was originally proposed with regard to this fixing of rates, yet the novel procedure is causing concern, especially among those interested in agriculture, who feel that their interests may very well be sacrificed to the more powerful urban trading interests.
And I mention this because it is specially relevant to the point of the division of the Bill suggested by the noble Marquess. What is felt by the agricultural community is that, although it may be a serious matter to be at the mercy of the Minister, even though an advisory committee is appointed to assist him in the matter of rates, supposing that he has control over railways only, yet it is an infinitely more serious matter if he has control over all kinds of transport—road transport, as well as railway transport; and they would, I am certain, desire that further time should be given for the examination of those powers.
For there is, I think, a further argument in favour of the course suggested by the noble Marquess—the argument of time. Do His Majesty's Government think that it is possible at this time of the year to give to this measure, which I do not hesitate to describe as the widest in its scope of any Bill that has been brought under the consideration of Parliament for the last twenty years—do his Majesty's Government think that it is quite reasonable to ask your Lordships' House to deal with all these various matters, so to speak, offhand? When one considers the time which has been given to the consideration of Bills of infinitely less moment and far less complicated than this, it is a question whether it is quite fair to ask your Lordships at the end of July to undertake the consideration of the whole matter.
So far as the railway matters are concerned it would be, as I quite conceive, possible to consider them within the next 1171 few days of the session—subject, of course, to the not inconsiderable demands of the other measures which are now crowding up to this House from another place. The noble Earl in the course of his speech—in which, as was quite natural, on going into Committee, he took up a number of points from the second day of the Second Reading debate, which were not strictly relevant to the particular motion of the noble Marquess—turned somewhat sharply upon the noble Viscount, Lord Devonport, on account of some remarks which he had made regarding the supposed or intended nationalisation of railways. He complained that that noble Lord had indicated his belief that negotiations have passed, or were passing, between His Majesty's Government, or some member of His Majesty's Government, and the railway authorities with that intention. The noble Viscount, Lord Milner, having made due inquiry, states that there is no foundation for any such rumour. But I think it must be admitted that when so conspicuous a member of the Government as Mr. Churchill announced, within recent recollection, that the railways were going to be nationalised, some such error, if it was an error, on the part of Lord Devonport was at any rate excusable.
§ VISCOUNT MILNER
Surely that was not the allegation of the noble Viscount. As I understood it, it was that negotiations had been taking place as to the terms of purchase, and, to put it plainly, that the railway directors had been squared, and that it was because they had been squared that they were not opposing the Bill. That was the allegation, and it is perfectly groundless.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Unfortunately I was not in the House when the noble Viscount was speaking, although I read his observations afterwards. But it appears to me that after the very categorical statement of the Secretary of State for War almost any belief on the subject of possible negotiations might have been regarded as justifiable.
Then, on the particular point of this Amendment of the noble Marquess, it is impossible not to feel that His Majesty's Government, in taking the view that they do that this is an attempt to destroy the Bill, are seriously overstating their case. I confess that I do not entirely apprehend, after listening closely to what the noble 1172 Earl said, precisely what either His Majesty's Government will lose, or what the Minister will lose by the division of the Bill into two, and the postponement for a short period of those parts of the subject not connected with railways. I can understand that, if the effect of the noble Marquess's Amendment were to strike out of the Bill altogether those other subjects, strong protest from the noble Earl would be well justified. I was impressed, for instance when he spoke on the Second Reading, by his observation that the close connection that must be established between the control of the railways and at any rate a modified control over docks unless the control over railways was to be made in some instances altogether nugatory; at the same time it is evident that, unless the control of the Minister of Transport over shipping generally is carefully watched, the control over the docks plus control over the railways must mean something hardly to be called indirect control over a great part of commercial shipping. Those are matters to which, I think, closer attention ought to be given, for which more time is required than can be given if we proceed straight off to the consideration of the further powers which are to be given by what I venture to call the second part of this Bill.
I do not think that what the noble Earl said about the impossibility of the Government performing their obligations to the public, unless the Minister were able at once within the next few months to undertake the care of all these questions of road transport and the connected questions of shipping, can really be sustained. I cannot but believe that, if His Majesty's Government were willing to take the course indicated by the noble Marquess, until the second part of the Bill could be passed in the autumn the Minister of Transport would find himself fully occupied, and more than fully occupied, until such time as the further branch of his duties were entrusted to him. After all, it is important for a matter of this kind to be carried by general good will rather than against the opposition—beaten down, possibly, by political considerations—of a very large number either of your Lordships' House or of the public outside. That would be an argument to address to any Government—to a purely Party Government of old days—but it is infinitely more important surely for a Coalition Government such as this to live in an atmosphere of general good will and 1173 to carry its measures along a favourable stream. Look back for a moment or two to the Representation of the People Bill. That was a measure which, although it included a number of controversial subjects, was carried to the great advantage of the country by a general consent and concurrence of opinion.
Even though the rather terrifying arguments of the noble Earl should prevail upon your Lordships and you were to give way and not agree to the Motion of the noble Marquess, the new Ministry would begin its work in an unfavourable atmosphere which might react somewhat seriously, I think, upon its work and its general activities. I therefore altogether deny, and flatly contradict the noble Earl who spoke, that the adoption of the Amendment of the noble Marquess would in any sense justify either His Majesty's Government or the House of Commons in stating that there existed a casus belli against this House or against any section of your Lordships' House. I admired the eloquence but I was not impressed by the arguments of the noble Earl on this particular point. It has been my duty in the past, as your Lordships know, to stand up in a very heated atmosphere on behalf of the majority in the other House against the very great majority of your Lordships' House; but on this occasion I confess that those arguments leave me quite cold. Therefore, if and when (as I suppose it will) it comes to a Division, I, and I have no doubt any of those who think with me, will vote in favour of the Amendment of the noble Marquess.
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven if for a short time I take part in this debate. It is impossible, I suppose, for any of your Lordships—it is certainly impossible for me—not to take a keen interest in this Bill, which embodies one of the most important, perhaps the most important, of the schemes of reconstruction on which the Government have been engaged for a good many months past.
The Motion moved by the noble Marquess puts the Bill, I believe, in great peril, a peril which is not diminished by the announcement just made by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. I have read the Bill with great care. I do not find in it the grave perils to which the noble Marqess, 1174 Lord Salisbury, referred. For myself I detest nationalisation except where it is absolutely essential, but I do not find nationalisation in the Bill. I detest extravagance, which is never essential; but I do not find extravagance in the Bill. I should be glad if noble Lords would read the Bill with the endeavour to find in it what I think I find—namely, an attempt to deal with a very serious and important matter on broad and effective lines.
I think the Bill needs amendment in important particulars, but I believe that the effect of this Instruction would be not to amend but to destroy the Bill. I say that not only because of the announcement which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, made on behalf of the Government as to the advice which they would give to the House of Commons, although I agree with him that we cannot really expect the House of Commons to divide the Bill in the way which is proposed. The effect of the passing of this Motion would be to postpone perhaps for months, perhaps to the Greek Kalends, the passing of one-half of the Pill. One really ought not to forget that the other House passed the Second Reading of the Bill, including, of course, both halves of it, without a Division—
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
And after the Bill had been amended in Committee it passed the Third Reading in the other House without one Member being found to support the tellers in the Lobby. I really think it would be absurd to expect in that state of things that the other House would agree to the course now proposed to be adopted. If your Lordships think a course to be a right one, you should on a matter of principle insist on the view which you take. I should never dream of being one to advise this House to give way to minatory language on a matter of that kind. But, after all, the only point you are discussing is whether you shall take the time and give the pains to amend the Bill and deal with it as a whole, or whether you shall deal with half of it now and half of it perhaps at a later date. I do not think that is a question of principle. I think it is a question on which you may very rightly consider which is the more effective course to take. For myself, 1175 I rely much more upon the view which I take that quite apart from any Parliamentary consideration the Bill is one, and that if you cut out the part to which the noble Marquess referred you will destroy the Bill as an effective Bill. I know, of course, that this House, although it will not yield to threat, yields to argument, and for that reason I put far the greater stress, as far as I am concerned, upon this latter consideration.
May we for a moment consider it, and will the noble Marquess and those who support him consider it, from that point of view? What is the effect of his Motion upon the Bill as an effective Transport Bill? On the second clause of the Bill, the one which transfers to the new Ministry the powers of Government Departments relating to railways, tramways, and canals, as well as to docks and roads, the effect of this division would be that whereas the railway powers as to existing railways would be in the Minister of Ways and Communications, the railway powers as to new railways would remain with the Board of Trade. How ridiculous that would be? Again, the effect would be that whereas the powers as to existing railways would go to the new Minister, the powers as to tramways would remain with the Board of Trade; so that whereas for generations the powers of regulating those two kinds of communication have been in one Government Department, they would, under this proposal, be under two and would for the first time be divided. Again, there would be one Ministry for the railways and another for the docks which belong to the railways; so that you would have two Departments dealing for the first time with what is really one concern. That is only one illustration of the effect of this unnatural division of the Bill to which the noble Earl referred.
Apart from this, see what the practical effect would be of limiting the Bill in the manner proposed. Take railways first. You would by this division forbid that which I believe to be the most urgent work on which the new Minister should be engaged; you would forbid the making of new links between old lines.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I do not know what the noble and learned Lord means. I do not forbid that in any sense.
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
It would take from the Bill which the noble Marquess asks the House to pass that power. Until the second Bill became law the Minister would not have power to make new railways or to join old railways together. Then, again, take this point. Surely one of the most important matters is that the Transport Minister should be able to initiate and to make, if need be, new light railways and new lines of tramways in the country. The Government have in hand, as we all know, great schemes for housing and for the development of the agricultural industry. I believe that any practical man will say that one of the best methods by which those ends can be attained is by improving the means of communication by making new light railways and new tramways in the country. If you cut out from the Bill which you are asked to pass at once that power, as the noble Marquess's Motion would do, you would postpone for an indefinite period that which is one of the most urgent purposes of the Bill.
I know how deeply noble Lords are interested in the country and in the matters to which I have referred, and I really think they ought to consider before they share in a proposal which will have an effect such as that. If you do not authorise the Minister to do that work, you cannot expect that private enterprise will fill the gap. It is quite plain—is it not?—that under present conditions no private individuals or private companies would undertake the new work to which I have referred. Therefore you would by your action prolong the stagnation which is so injurious to the agricultural industry and to the country as a whole, and you would put a serious obstacle in the way of the housing as well as of the agricultural schemes of the Government. I hope I shall be forgiven for going into these things, because they do bear upon the merits of the questions which your Lordships have to decide.
Take another point about railways—take railway wagons. If this Motion is passed, while I do not doubt that the wagons belonging to the railway companies could be taken over under Bill No. 1, the railway wagons which are privately owned could not be so taken over. I think that is the effect of the Motion. We all know that they are quite one-half of the whole, and it would be a great pity that the changes 1177 which are urgently necessary to enable the fullest use to be made of all the railway wagons in the country should be postponed or hampered for reasons such as have been given to-day. That is a practical effect, and I think an injurious effect, of the course which is proposed.
Take tramways. I have already mentioned that the effect of the Bill is to give two authorities, one for railways and one for tramways. Apart from that, tramways—I am not, of course, speaking of tramways belonging to local authorities, which are outside the Bill—but other tramways need immediate attention. They should be strengthened; they should be developed; they should be extended; they should be linked together, and they should be increased. None of those things could be done under the Bill which your Lordships are recommended to pass at once. They would all have to wait. All matters relating to tramways would have to wait for the second Bill.
Now take docks. The effect of the Motion is, I think, to exclude from Bill No. 1 not only the docks which are in private hands or in the hands of statutory companies but the docks which belong to railway companies.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
If the noble and learned Lord will forgive me, he is entirely in error. All these are retained.
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
I am sorry that I differ from the noble Marquess. They are not retained by his Motion.
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
I think not, because by his Motion docks are postponed to the second Bill. I have studied the Amendment Paper and—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
It was very carefully framed by the drafts man for the very purpose which the noble and learned Lord suggests.
§ VISCOUNT CAVE
I must be forgiven for saying that I do not think he has attained his purpose. At all events, that is not the noble Marquess's object. He would do all he could to enable the Minister to take over the docks which are owned by the railway companies, for it would be 1178 disastrous, of course, to separate the two. Whether he could do that after the Instruction, I am not at all sure. Apart from these docks, the other docks—the noble Marquess will not differ from me in this—will be postponed to the second Bill. There is no power at all in the Bill to take them over except by consent. The only power given by the Bill is to require them to be improved and their working to be altered so as to fit in better with the railway system. I think it would be a great pity that you should not give that power to the Minister controlling railways. Of course, it ought to be strictly guarded, We are told—I have no doubt it is true, and I dare say it is nobody's fault—that difficulties do exist between the railway companies and the docks of the private dock companies—I mean, of course, the non-railway owned docks.—difficulties as to working together, with the result that congestion occurs at the ports and a good deal of trade is lost or injured.
The proposal in the Bill is to take power for the Minister of Ways and Communications, who is working the railways, to require certain improvements in the working of docks. That power ought, I agree, to be very carefully guarded. There ought to be, I think, some power to test the reasonableness of his requirements, but, subject to that condition, I do think it is very desirable that the power should be given. Under the scheme of the noble Marquess the power will disappear from the Bill which is to be immediately passed. The effect, supposing that the railways need for their working changes in the gauge or some improvements to the bridges of the docks or something of that kind, will be that the whole work of the Minister of Railways will be hung up because he cannot; compel these improvements to be made. I do not wonder that the Government ask that it shall be given to them, and I do not think it ought to be excluded by Instruction, although, of course, your Lordships could by Amendment very carefully limit it. I am afraid if you exclude it, you will do more than injure the Bill. You will seriously injure the foreign trade of this country.
About roads, I confess I do not feel so strongly as I do about the other matters to which I have referred. There is very little in the Bill about roads, although a good deal has been said about them. The Bill transfers to the Minister of Ways 1179 and Communications the powers which already exist in some Government Departments with regard to roads. It also does this—it authorises the Minister to establish new methods of transport, new transport services, which means, I suppose, to put motor cars on the roads in order to establish a link or a communication with some place in the country. I do not know why so much is made of this. I have a little doubt myself whether it is right to transfer to the new Minister the powers of the Road Board. I would very much like to hear that matter discussed in Committee. For myself I have a perfectly open mind upon it. Subject to that point there is really so very little in the Bill about roads that I do not at present realise why such great objection is taken to that part of the Bill. To me it is quite a minor part of the Bill. It might very fairly be dealt with by Amendment in Committee.
I have endeavoured to show why, at all events in my opinion, there are reasons on the merits against dividing this Bill. I am not troubled about tactical considerations. I do not care a farthing about them, but on the merits I think it would be a great pity to cut this Bill in two. As the noble Lord said just now, we have to-day, or we had yesterday, an illustration of the strong case that there is for having one transport system in the country. A strong Committee of the other House recommends that there should be one transport authority for the whole of Greater London and gives very strong reasons for its opinion. Many of those reasons apply—at all events, the same principle applies, I think—to the whole of the country. If you want your transport system to be improved, to make movement easier and trade more profitable, you must, I believe, in the end treat your transport system as one. I have detained the House too long, but it is for these reasons that I do venture to recommend the House to take a wider view of the question and not gravely to imperil the Bill by passing this Instruction, but to allow the Bill to go into Committee and then deal with it by Amendment in such manner as your Lordships think fit.
§ LORD BUCKMASTER
My Lords, upon the Second Reading of this Bill I made a Motion for the rejection of the measure upon grounds which I summarised in my Notice. They were briefly these—that 1180 this measure was, in fact, a measure for the nationalisation of the means of transport; that it involved a heavy expenditure; and that there were no known means by which that expenditure could safely be met. I have heard to-day a long discussion on the merits of this Bill, but those three central questions, which I submit to your Lordships should still underlie your action upon the noble Marquess's Motion, have remained entirely without reply. In the first place, we are told that this is the result of twelve months' consideration on the part of the Government. The Government must, therefore, have been considering it when Mr. Churchill informed the electors at Dundee that their policy was to nationalise the railways and it may, consequently, be assumed that this Bill is intended to carry out the policy that he then announced.
I do not desire to go over again what I said on a former occasion, but I think it must be plain to every one that if this Bill be passed as it stands the nationalisation of the whole of our system of transport must be complete; for, although I agree that the Bill proceeds merely by giving a complete and absolute control down to the smallest detail of these services, yet in the result it will be impossible to hand back again to the private people the property which the Government has so controlled; and, indeed, if the arguments to which we have just listened by the noble Viscount and the noble Earl are to be accepted, it would be the maddest thing in the world to do, because, if this unity of control is so good and useful and necessary to-day, it will be just as good and just as useful and just as necessary in two years' time. There will be no more reason why the Government should take their hands away from it then than there is why they should take their hands off it now.
In considering the Motion of the noble Marquess I think it is well that we should get back to the circumstances in which the Government have come and asked for this measure. The circumstances are these. By virtue of the Act of 1871 the Government were enabled to exercise complete control over the railways during the period of the war, and the terms upon which the payment for that service was to be made were arranged by the then President of the Board of Trade and the representatives of the railway companies. I must say that I 1181 find it a little difficult to know why the noble Earl suggested that it was such a great and honourable act on the part of the Government to abide by the bargain. It is perfectly impossible to conceive that they would have done anything else. There was a bargain, and the Government under that bargain (which was admittedly an extremely profitable one for the Government) have controlled these railways for a period of about five years.
What is the result? The result is that the railways are insolvent. As to the extent of their insolvency there is a dispute. For once the Government appear to make out their financial position to be worse than we believe it to be. We do not think they are as hopelessly bankrupt as their figures suggest, for taking them at the lowest limit there Las been a loss of £50,000,000 a year, which, if it be permanent, represents a capitalised value of £1,000,000,000. It is in these circumstances that the Government comes to this House and says, "We now ask you to redeem us from this difficulty by enabling us to exercise yet further control upon other means of transport, which up to the present have not been under our charge."
Further, they say the system of control as it is now exercised is such that congestion occurs at the terminals and that distribution is impeded. But they do not tell us why. What is the explanation? To what is it due? It may be due to the Government control of railways, and if that be so it is certainly no reason why you should assist them to get rid of that congestion by giving them control of the docks. We ought to know what steps they have taken to get rid of this congestion. Have they made inquiries as to whose fault it is? Have they done anything at all to stop the congestion? We have not heard a word about it, nor a single syllable to suggest that the only means of escape from this congestion is in a measure of this kind which they ask the Home to pass, let it be noted without delay.
And that is the real question which is involved in this Motion. It asks that the powers which the Government already possess over the railways should be continued—there is no great difficulty incurred in that; it will enable them to go on as they are going now—and that the rest of this measure should be reserved for a more fuller and ampler consideration than can 1182 be given to it at the present time. We are told that this cannot be granted. Why not? If this measure was of such urgent necessity, why was it not introduced earlier in the session in order that we might have had a better opportunity of considering it? We are told that it was discussed for eighteen days in Committee and for four days on Report, but there was a considerable margin of time which might have been well occupied in such a way that when it came here the discussions might have had full effect in influencing and maturing public opinion on the measure. That is what we believe will happen if part of the Bill stands over.
People have not realised all that this Bill means. I am not surprised that the Government are anxious—I will not say that the fullest investigation should not take place—but I am not surprised they are not anxious that this measure should be freely discussed in detail, because the more you proceed to discuss it in detail you will find that there is barely a line and a clause which cannot be made the subject of criticism. For example, the noble Earl says that it is important they should take charge of the tramways. Why? I find it difficult to understand. Tramways have nothing to do with the distribution of goods. I am quite unaware that tramways carry goods. They have to do with the distribution of passengers, and passengers have suffered considerable inconvenience for some little time; but the control of tramways by the Government will not help. Why should it be so essential to take charge of tramways and at the same time cut out the whole of Corporation tramways? Why, if it is necessary to have your undivided link, should you cut out great pieces of the chain in the middle? I am quite unable to understand it except on one consideration. A corporation tramway, if it be a success or failure, is in fact a national undertaking, a local concern, and the Bill does not interfere with them, because the object of the Bill is not to interfere with that kind of transport but to interfere with private concerns. It is to substitute Government control for private control.
I remain entirely impenitent as to my view about the Bill. The noble Earl says you will give up the citadel of nationalisation if you reject this Bill. I think I used too mild a phrase when I said that you are conceding the outposts. I think you have 1183 given up the citadel if you pass this Bill. It may be right or it may be wrong—I am not arguing that point—but my complaint against the measure is that it attempts by indirect means to effect something which ought to be definitely before the country, and upon which we and everyone should have the courage of their opinions and be able to make up their minds and act.
Finally, we are warned that the effects of our action may be very serious upon another place. I have taken part in these controversies of old. There is no doubt—there is no need to discuss it—that the action of this House has frequently been the subject of great resentment in another place, because it was believed that the action was not exercised in what the other place regarded as the best national interests. They regarded it as eclectic and sectional. That was their view, whether they were right or wrong I will not discuss. But who can say that about this Bill? It is wholly in the interests of the country, wholly in the interests of the trading community, the people who are engaged in our vast distributing industries, and all people who depend upon them for locomotion or their daily food. If your Lordships believe, as I do, that this Bill is a bad measure as it stands, the best course is to limit the powers of the Government to a continuance of their existing authority in order that they may be able to use the railways for the demobilisation of the troops and the collection of the aftermath of the war, leaving the other matter until we can give it fuller and better consideration than we can give it at the present time.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON)
My Lords, I ask the House to note the marked difference in tone and manner particularly of the two principal speeches to which we have listened against the Bill and those which have proceeded from the defenders of the Bill. The noble Marquess, whose speech I listened to with the attention that it deserved, spoke with that rhetorical vehemence which characterises his lightest incursion into the field of debate. He drew a picture of what he called the dim vistas of the future, ending in national bankruptcy and ruin.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I quoted the noble Lord (the Earl of Lytton) who sits beside the noble Earl.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
And he quoted him with emphasis and approbation. The noble Marquess drew a picture of my right hon. friend the future Minister of Ways and Communications in which I venture to say hardly anybody would recognise the characteristics of that right hon. gentleman. He described the country as relapsing into the old frame of mind, by which I suppose he meant in this House the inclination to resist from that quarter of the House anything which is proposed from this. Throughout his speech, lasting from twenty to twenty-five minutes, I heard nothing in the shape of argument about the particular Motion which he was moving. He invites your Lordships to divide the Bill into two parts, and the only argument which he adduced in favour of his Resolution was that one part of the Bill is urgent and the other part less urgent. He did not attempt to show why the one part was more urgent than the other. He did not attempt to demonstrate whether it was possible to carry out the bi-section which he recommended, and he devoted not one minute to discussing what the consequences of such bi-section might be. All the way through my noble friend Lord Salisbury tried to convey to your Lordships that his attitude was one of real friendship to the Government and to the Bill. It was a very suspicious friendship; but the mask was thrown off when we came to the speech of the noble and learned Lord.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
His attitude was one with which we are familiar. His speech was not only characterised by the moral fervour with which he flavours all his remarks, but it was one of undisguised hostility to the Government and the Bill. I, in this matter, if I may say so, feel complete detachment from Party prejudices and passions, because absorbed as I am in other affairs it has been my duty to look at it, not from a Party or political point of view, but from the point of view of the larger issues involved, which I am sure your Lordships, according to your practice, will bear in mind when you come to a Division.
What has been the situation with regard to transport in this country? The noble and learned Lord admitted that it is in a state of disorganisation. He alluded to the circumstances of the war and to the 1185 control which the Government were compelled to take over the railways—control which we know must last for another two years. The consequence, or one of the consequences, of that has been, firstly, that there has been a serious deficit, to which the noble and learned Lord referred—a deficit which on the railways, I believe, amounted to £60,000,000 in the past year—and, further, there has been no inducement to the companies under these conditions to embark upon new schemes, which are vital to a progressive policy. Further, the receipts of the railways are guaranteed for two years more, and so the inducement does not arise during that time. New capital cannot be raised, and important extensions and additions cannot be made.
Meanwhile, what do we see in the world around We see the cost of labour and of materials increasing every day. The cost of working of all means of transport must be greatly increased in the future, with no corresponding rise in receipts. Surely, if ever there was a moment when we should be urged to adopt a new policy, to take in hand and stimulate and encourage transport in every form, it is now. My Lords, what are the Government doing? They propose to hand over this matter to a powerful Ministry and to a singularly active and capable Minister. I was astonished to hear Lord Salisbury argue that Sir Eric Geddes was a man typical of the war period alone—in fact, a daring and dangerous spendthrift, who did not mind squandering the resources of the country because it was in time of war. Virtue does not go out of such a man with the termination of hostilities. Your Lordships may rely upon this—and I speak from my own experience—that a more uncompromising economist than that Minister does not exist.
One of the most important arguments for the Bill, and I am surprised that more stress has not been laid upon it in this House, is that this is a Bill which makes for economy, and that it will be justified by its effects upon the finances of the country alone. If we are to have this general control over transport, if we are to have this new and stimulating policy, does it not follow that it must apply to every instrument and agency of transport? You cannot apply it to railways without applying it to roads; nor to roads without including tramways; nor to railways, roads, and tramways, without embracing docks.
1186 I invite your Lordships to look at the Bill from the point of view of what happens in districts with which you are individually acquainted. We want, as I understand, to give every district a system of transport, whatever it may be, which will be best suited to its own requirements. We want power to decide whether the district will be best suited, and whether its development will be best facilitated, for instance, by a railroad or a light railway or a road service, or by any other means of transportation. Otherwise, we shall simply go on having the old competition between roads and rails which has been one of the most unfortunate characteristics of our present system for so long. I endorse entirely the contention of my noble friend Lord Lytton, demonstrated in mere than one portion of his speech, that transport is not really—I think he used the simile of a chain—a series of links which can be broken off and separated from one another, but one subject which requires to be dealt with as a whole.
There is another aspect of the case. Allusion has been made by more than one speaker to the fact that we have recently had a General Election. Allusion was made to it with a view to pointing the argument that it would be unwise for your Lordships to attempt to recast or throw overboard a policy accepted by such an overwhelming majority of the representative Assembly returned at that Election. There is another thing to which I ask your Lordships' leave to refer. A General Election is a series of events in which the contending parties put their schemes and policies before the nation. Was there anything which at the General Election excited more interest, to which the Government returned to power at the General Election was more definitely pledged, than the institution of a great Housing and Agricultural policy. I doubt not that many of your Lordships made speeches on the platform in that sense. How are you going to proceed with your housing policy? You acquire new areas—new pieces of land—and you proceed to build new houses upon them. You wish to draw people to those buildings which you are setting up. How are you going to make their life there economic or practicable unless you give them facilities of access? It may be that in one part you give access by a tramway, and elsewhere by a road, and it is not only the actual form of the road or railroad but also the vehicles which travel upon it. Yet if this Motion is carried it speaks of existing railways; 1187 and no new road, railway, or tramway is possible for the Ministry to carry out until your Lordships choose to give the Bill to an expectant House of Commons six months from now. Take again the question of the agricultural policy to which the Ministry are pledged, and for which the whole country is waiting. How can that agricultural policy possibly be carried out until you provide it with light transport—with transport by light rails or roads or whatever the means may be? If these two great policies of housing and agriculture are to depend upon the existing services pending the pleasure of your Lordships, pardon me for saying that the policies will be hung up and sterilised from the start, and that no small responsibility will rest upon the shoulders of your Lordships' House.
The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition—I am speaking of Lord Crewe—asked, What would the Ministry lose by the bi-section of this Bill at the present stage, and the postponement of the second part of it to a later period in the year? Let me say, in passing, that I think the other Leader of the Opposition—the noble Marquess who sits next bins (Lord Salisbury)—rather under-rated, from the point of view of time, what postponement would mean. He talked more than once in his speech about "a few weeks." My Lords, it is not a few weeks. Your Lordships will be fully occupied, I am sure you anticipate, until the latter part, of the month of August. You will then adjourn, I imagine, and you will be reluctant to meet again—either House of Parliament, after its great labours, will be reluctant to meet again—till the end of October. Supposing we were to accept the Motion of my noble friend, and supposing the House of Lords in the month of November were then to take in hand the second Bill, postponed upon the hypothesis I am discussing, and were to take it in anything like the spirit indicated by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, has the Government any guarantee that it would get its Bill by Christmas, or perhaps ever? And in the meantime are the whole of these matters to be held up in order to satisfy the anxieties or the scruples of your Lordships' House?
I come back to the question which I was about to answer. The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, put the question, "What, will the Ministry lose by bi-section and postponement?" It will lose, as I understand, 1188 this. In the interim before the second part, of the Bill is passed the Ministry would have no power to develop transport by road. It would have no power to insist on improvements—the greatly needed improvements—in harbours, docks, or piers. It would have no power to impose improvements in the present methods of working these various systems of transport. It would have no power to establish new undertakings. It would have no power to acquire privately-owned railway wagons. It would have no power to build or rebuild roads. That, indeed, would be a policy of procrastination, of delay, of "wait and see," until in the latter part of the year your Lordships informed us of what you wished to do. May I put the problem in another way? In practice the kind of subdivision which the noble Marquess asks your Lordships to favour is impossible. How can you sever, for instance, railways from docks? Several of the great railway companies of the country have docks of their own.
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
Oh! they will be included in the first Bill. The noble Marquess recognises the difficulty I wished to put when I was going to ask, How can you have a railway company owning docks under the control of the Government and the docks which it owns under the control of another body? I am glad to know that the noble Marquess has realised that difficulty.
Now I come to the political—the House of Commons—aspect of the case, and that is a point of view upon which I desire to lay chief stress. If this Bill was to be divided into two parts, if a good case could be made out for so dividing it, I submit that it ought to have been done in another place and not here. I hardly think that it falls within the proper functions of your Lordships House to impose—and my noble friend Lord Lytton pointed out that it was wholly without precedent—this sort of alteration upon a Bill which has passed through the House of Commons in the way in which this has done. When he was on the point of the House of Commons, my noble friend Lord Salisbury remembered that, he had once been a distinguished member of that House. He realised that, he was treading on delicate ground, and he said that he wanted to deal tenderly and 1189 with due respect with the house of Commons. How did his tenderness exhibit itself, and what was the amount of respect that he showed? Not merely, as has been pointed out, was the Bill carried without Division on Second Reading—we have been told that the same thing happened in this House, and that it does not commit the House to anything substantial—but, what has not been pointed out is this, that the Bill was supported in its concluding stages and its final form by representatives of all the great interests involved. It was not carried by a political vote of the House of Commons. Leaders of the Official Opposition were in its favour. The Labour Members were in its favour. And, what is perhaps more remarkable still in view of what has been said here is this, that the representatives of the docks and harbours were in its favour. I did not hear the speech of my noble friend Lord Devonport the other evening, but I believe that I am right in saving that the attitude which he adopted in the debate is repudiated by those with whom he is ordinarily associated, and that in speaking as he did he was speaking for himself alone.
Observe what passed in the House of Commons. It is easy to say that this or that change was carried by a small majority in the proceedings that happen upstairs in the House of Commons. There is very often a small attendance, and this or that provision of a Bill is often carried or lost by very small majorities; and surely my noble friend Lord Salisbury was hardly fair when, in the desire of the Government to meet any reasonable criticism they offered concessions wherever a case was made out, he described that attitude on their part as one of retreat. There was no retreat about the matter. It was the desire of the Government to make a Bill which is acceptable to all parties. Then, having passed through this process, the Bill comes downstairs, and I am astonished to hear anybody contend in your Lordships' House, particularly those who have been members of the House of Commons, that one can brush on one side or ignore a majority of 245 Members who went into one Lobby and whose movements there were only infructuous, because there was nobody found to enter the other. There is a body called the National Party which I believe exists in the House of Commons, though I doubt if it has any longer representation in your Lordships' House. On 1190 that occasion the only two gentlemen who were found not to vote against this Bill on its Third Reading but to tell against it, were the twin brothers who lead the National Party, but the National Party, itself evaporated into thin air, and beyond themselves they could not find anybody to go with them into the Lobby.
When we speak about this majority in the House of Commons, and the desirability which I am contending for of respecting it, I call, to my aid no less a person than the noble and learned Lord, Lord Buckmaster, himself. In old days before he was a member of your Lordships' House he was a valiant champion of the rights and authority of the House of Commons, and I recall an occasion when the noble and learned Lord thus addressed a meeting in Yorkshire in 1911. This is what he said—They" [that is, the people] "have to face the fact that we are a democratic Government, and that the essential principle of such a Government is that the will of the majority of the people expressed through its duly and popularly elected representatives shall prevail.Sound doctrine, my Lords! which I am quite prepared to accept. But how does the noble and learned Lord square that, doctrine with the position now before us, which, the House of Commons having voted in the proportions that I have described on the Third Reading of the Bill, the noble and learned Lord now invites us to take action which not for a moment would they accept But, of course, he may say, "Oh, I am not attempting to thwart, or to go against, the decision of the house of Commons. I am merely dividing the Bill. I am merely giving an opportunity for further consideration. The House of Commons will be very glad themselves to be presented with such an opportunity, very glad to consider our Amendments at a later date." No, I can hold out no hope, either that the Government or, so far as I know it, the House of Commons, will take that attitude. I endorse what was said in this respect by my noble friend Lord Lytton. I am afraid that there can be no doubt that the House of Commons will regard the bi-section of this Bill and the postponement of the second part of it to a later date which may be as much as six months hence, if it comes then at all—I am afraid the House of Commons will regard that action, if it be taken by your Lordships, as a deliberate attempt, to wreck the Bill. As such, I am bound in candour to tell your 1191 Lordships it will be regarded by His Majesty's Government. I do not say so in the least in tones of menace. I hope you will acquit me of that. I merely state it because I think it is my duty on behalf of the Government to do so.
I have often in your Lordships' House attempted to define what the duties of this Assembly are, whether you regard them under the heading of revision, or amendment, or postponement, or rejection. Postponement beyond a certain point under the Parliament Act, we know, is no longer possible. But, if you are told by a responsible Government that a certain action which your Lordships propose to take will be regarded not merely by the Government—put us on one side—but by the House of Commons (as I believe it will in this case) as tantamount to the rejection of the Bill, I think your Lordships ought to be very sure of your ground before you take up that position. In proportion as we in your Lordships' House are not returned here by direct representation of the people so ought we to be sure that when we act in the manner indicated we are the real spokesmen of the people, and that we have their support behind us.
The noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, seemed to think that the House of Commons would resent this action, or that it might be thought that it would resent this action, because it is the action of the House of Lords. Not in the least, and that is not the consideration that I put before you. The House of Commons, if they resent it, would I believe resent, it because they do not wish to see this Bill destroyed, and because, fresh from the constituencies as they are, they feel that their authority, given on the Second and Third Reading, was sufficient to give an imprimatur to the Bill which ought not to be ignored by the other House of Parliament.
One other point was made by the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, to which I may perhaps he allowed to refer. He said that this is a very important Bill, the most important Bill of its character that has come before Parliament for many years, if not in his time. He added, "Surely von ought to give us abundant opportunity to consider it. If you divide the Bill, how much easier will it be to take part of it before we separate and the other half at a later period of the year." Is that entirely reasonable? 1192 Admitting the importance of the Bill, is there any reason why, between to-day, the 29th of July, and the latter part of August, when we separate, your Lordships should not in Committee be able to give to the whole of this Bill the fullest measure of consideration that you cap desire. I, at any rate, so far as I have any control over the movements of the House, will place all our resources at your disposal, and I hope that the Bill may benefit, and benefit materially, by the attention that you will give to it.
The noble Marquess made another point to which I confess I do not attach much importance. He said, "Will you not create a better atmosphere for the Bill if, instead of passing it here in a rather reluctant. House in the latter part of the session, you divide it up, deal with it in a leisurely way, and have a general atmosphere" (to use his word) "of contentment when the Bill passes into law." I do not anticipate anything else. This Bill is surely not a Bill that provokes Party passion. And, whether your Lordships take it now or take it in October, or November, or December, I do not believe for a moment that the cauldrons of Party passion are going to be stirred. Far from it. The whole of my contention is that this is a Bill required in the interests of the country. I should not be standing here to argue it if this was a Party measure which we were trying to force upon a reluctant House of Lords. And whether we take it now or take it later in the year, so far as we on this side of the House are concerned, not one word will be said to inflame passion or to produce anything but an atmosphere of general contentment in which it may pass.
Your Lordships will be desirous, I imagine, to go to a Division. I should like only to say this in conclusion. If your Lordships take the advice which was given to you by the two Leaders of the Opposition I hardly think that you will be wise. I am pretty certain that your action will not be justified by the House of Commons. I am very doubtful, indeed, whether it will be justified in the country. Anyhow, the Government will be unable to accept such treatment as that of a Bill which they regard as one of their principal measures; and I would ask your Lordships, if I may respectfully do so, not to attempt on the present occasion to provoke—I do not like 1193 to use the term "a constitutional crisis"; it is perhaps rather in excess of the needs of the case—but to provoke a conflict between ourselves in this House and the House of Commons, which will certainly be seriously resented by them, and which I think will also be regarded with very great seriousness in the country, because it could be represented, and I think legitimately represented, as an attempt to delay the passage into law of provisions which are required for the amelioration of the lot of the people.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
My Lords, I share with my noble friend the Leader of the House the advantage which he claimed for himself. I approach this question in a complete attitude of detachment. Let me make three preliminary observations bathe I come to the very few arguments I will address to your Lordships in favour of the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Salisbury. In the first place, let me make it perfectly clear that the intention of the Amendment, and, as I entirely believe, the effect, is to separate the railway part from the other part; and when I say "the railway part" I do not mean only railways but the whole system controlled by the railway companies. If this Motion is carried the first half of the Bill will not only contain railways proper but all the services controlled by the railway companies. It will contain all the docks owned by the railway companies and even the steamship lines owned by railways; and it will leave the Minister free to make any addition, development, or extension of these services. Therefore there would be no interruption of any sort or kind in the development of the railway system in its largest and most extended meaning.
The second observation I wish to make is that my noble friend claimed for this Bill that it was going to be a great measure of economy. I am not going to argue that point; I am only going to remind him that it is a matter of contention. There are those who think that instead of being a measure of economy it will be a great addition to our national burden of expenditure. I only mention that because that is in itself a reason for caution. The third observation I wish to make is in reply to my noble friend's contention that you cannot deal with railways alone but that you must deal with railways, with roads with tramways, and with docks simultaneously. Why did my noble friend stop 1194 there? If his argument is good so far, surely it would be good also for shipping? If it is essential for the Government to deal in some capacity or other with all the national means of transportation, why omit shipping from that catalogue?
I do not think that my noble friend will correct me when I say that the idea lying at the root of this Bill is the supreme importance of transportation in the development of our national resources; and, while riot implying any censure on the private undertakings which have hitherto been responsible for the management, there is a strong feeling that the State has not done all it should do in assisting the development and in co-ordinating those services. That, I think my noble friend will admit, is a just description of the idea underlying this Bill; and speaking for myself I should entirely subscribe to that opinion. When once that premise is admitted, let me point out that there are only two roads by which that policy can be pursued—namely, the road of Government control and the road of nationalisation. It is because many of us are very doubtful as to down which of those roads this Bill will lead, we think we are absolutely bound to be cautious in our consideration of this policy.
This is not the occasion or the hour to go into the question of nationalisation; but I shall be permitted to remind your Lordships that it strikes fundamentally at the root of our national industry for good or for evil. It affects for good or for evil the whole power of national production, and on the other side it affects for good or for evil the whole of our system of national government. I am one of those who believe that our present system of government could not possibly continue to exist in its present form if the principal services of the country were nationalised. But be that as it may, I have not in the least degree exaggerated the importance of the issues raised by this Bill. Now, what assistance have we had from the Government in this matter? We do not know which of those two roads they desire to tread. For reasons best known to themselves they have hitherto given us no indication of whether they think the road is that of control or that of nationalisation.
My noble friend Lord Lytton, in a very eloquent passage warned us that at the moment when we were, perhaps, squabbling over a comparatively unimportant difference of opinion, there were great forces 1195 outside, purely revolutionary in character, which we ought to be united in opposing. I entirely agree with him. He also said that if those forces had their way it would be not only a question of railways, but that the whole of the means of production, distribution, and exchange would be nationalised. We all know that this description is accurate. It is precisely because we are not sure that this Bill as it is framed at present is not going to lead down the path which will assist the policy of those whom we ought to oppose that we feel we ought to have time most cautiously to examine its provisions.
I wish to make another observation to your Lordships. Both of my noble friends have raised directly what I may call the issue of the proper function of a Second Chamber. I am very glad that they have. Your Lordships know that ever since the Parliament Act was passed I have been one of those profoundly discontented with the present position, and I always expressed my belief that it was most uncertain, misleading, and dangerous. I rejoice to think that it is part of the declared policy of His Majesty's Government to try and deal with the situation, with the reform of this Chamber, and to arrive at a final adjustment of the relations between the two Chambers. But hitherto in this country there has been only a very small party in favour of single Chamber-Government. But the argument of both my noble friends really leads directly to single Chamber-Government; because, while those who have openly favoured single Chamber-Government have been a small party, the rest of the country—the vast majority—have ranged themselves into two camps. One, that in which my noble friend and I have always been, and which considered that there ought to be a Second Chamber with the fullest powers accorded to Second Chambers in civilised Constitutions; and, two, there has been the other party—of which my noble friends Lord Crewe and Lord Buckmaster have been representative—holding the view that a Second Chamber ought to be nothing but a revising Chamber. The whole question at issue to-night is whether this House is or is not to fulfil the functions of a revising Chamber. I have endeavoured very briefly to point out to your Lordships the great magnitude of the issues at stake. My noble friend Lord Lytton told us that the House of Commons had been engaged for more than a year in dealing with this Bill—
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Yes, with this subject; and for many months in dealing with this Bill. He told us how, from stage to stage in the House of Commons, the Bill has been changed in its features, and how what is now before us has finally emerged from a very prolonged consideration. It does not follow because the House of Commons has been engaged for nearly a year on this subject that your Lordships' House should only be engaged upon it for a few days. I am here to contend it is not possible, considering the immensities of the problems involved, for this House to deal adequately with this Bill by the ordinary process between the moment at which we stand and the hour of adjournment for the holidays. The course proposed by my noble friend is suggested with the specific object of enabling this House to fulfil with the greatest efficiency its function as a revising Chamber. It implies no spirit of hostility or of rivalship to the House of Commons. We admit the superior authority of the House of Commons. We know that the great majority of the House of Commons belongs to the same side of politics as that to which we belong ourselves. We admire the result of the labours they have put into this Bill. All we ask for is a similar opportunity to co-operate with them in trying to make it a better Bill.
I am told that if the Bill is divided into two sections, and one half dealt with now and one in October, that will be the complete destruction both of the Bill and of the policy of His Majesty's Government. That argument will not stand a moment's examination. My noble friend the Leader of this House says we might not come back here until November to consider the second part of the Bill; but we are ready to come back here at any hour or day at which he may summon us. All that the Government would have to do, if they are not satisfied to take the railway portion of the Bill in the first half, is to wait till they see how the second part of the Bill emerges. Then they can make up their minds whether the whole policy which is contained in the two halves of the Bill is one for which they can make themselves responsible. They can advise your Lordships of the Amendments they will not accept, what further changes are required to make it an acceptable policy to them, and at the end there is no reason whatever why a Bill should not 1197 emerge agreed to by both Houses and accepted under the responsibility of His Majesty's Government.
I deprecate, however, the attempt to rush this House and to make us abjure our powers of revision. In fact, to say that if there is a majority in the House of Commons for a measure, even a wholly non-Party national measure like this which is supported by His Majesty's Government, that argument is sufficient and this House is not to do its best still further to improve it, is nothing more nor less than an argument for single-Chamber government, which is not the conclusion my noble friend intends or will admit. I do say, however, that in his desire to carry out the policy of His Majesty's Government exactly by the
§ process which the Cabinet think best he has ranged himself in argument on the same side as my noble friend Lord Buckmaster and Lord Crewe in days gone by, and has practically not only told your Lordships, which is quite true, that this House as it now stands after the Parliament Act is no longer fully competent to do the work of a Second Chamber in this country, but he has practically said there is very little need for a revising Chamber at all. For those reasons, my Lords, I hope you will accept the Amendment of my noble friend.
§ On Question, whether the proposed Instruction shall le given to the Committee—
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 59; Not-Contents, 110.1199
|Argyll, D.||Bryce, V.||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Bedford, D.||Chaplin, V.||Middleton, L.|
|Somerset, D.||Cowdray, V.||Monckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Camden, M.||Devonport, V.||Monkswell, L.|
|Crewe, M.||Esher, V.||Montagu of Beaulieu, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Monteagle, L. (M. Sligo.)|
|Salisbury, M.||Ampthill, L.||O'Hagan, L.|
|Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Oranmore and Browne, L.|
|Abingdon, E.||Buckmaster, L.||Rathdonnell, L.|
|Brassey, E.||Chalmers, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Chichester, E.||Chesham, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Roe, L.|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||de Mauley, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Grey, E.||Denman, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Leicester, E.||Ebury, L.||Stanley of Alderley, E. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Mayo, E.||Erskine, L.|
|Onslow, E.||Fairfax of Cameron, L.||Strachie, L.|
|Selborne, E.||Farrer, L.||Sydenham, L.|
|Stanhope, E. [Teller.]||Forester, L.||Tenterden, L.|
|Waldegrave, E.||Hare, E. (E. Listowel.)||Willoughby de Broke, L. [Teller.]|
|Wicklow, E.||Harlech, L.|
|Canterbury, L. Abp.||Jersey, E.||Hampden, V.|
|Birkenhead, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Lindsey, E.||Hood, V.|
|Curzon of Kedleston, E. (L. President.)||Lytton, E.||Milner, V.|
|Malmesbury, E.||Peel, V.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Wimborne, V.|
|Rutland, D.||Morton, E.||Aberdare, L.|
|Sutherland, D.||Mount Edgeumbe, E.||Annesley, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Reading, E.||Askwith, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Atkinson, L.|
|Ailsa, M.||Shaftesbury, E.||Avebury, L.|
|Bath, M.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Balfour, L.|
|Dufferin and Ava, M.||Basing, L.|
|Linlithgow, M.||Farquhar, V. (L. Steward.)||Belper, L.|
|Normanby, M.||Sandhurst, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Brancepeth, L. (V. Boyne.)|
|Burnham, V.||Clinton, L.|
|Bradford, E.||Cave, V.||Clwyd, L.|
|Chesterfield, E.||Churchill, V.||Cochrane of Cults, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Cross, V.||Colebrooke, L.|
|Dundonald, K.||De Vesci, V.||Cottesloe, L.|
|Eldon, E.||Finlay, V.||Dynevor, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Goschen, V.||Egerton, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Haldane, V.||Emmott, L.|
|Howe, E.||Hambleden, V.||Gainford, L.|
|Glenconner, L.||Methuen, L.||Sackville, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Monk Bretton, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Grimthorpe, L.||Monson, L.||Shandon, L.|
|Harris, L.||Moulton, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Hindlip, L.||Newton, L.||Somerleyton, L. [Teller.]|
|Hothfield, L.||Phillimore, L.||Stanmore, L. [Teller.]|
|Hylton, L.||Plunket, L.||Stuart of Wortley, L.|
|Inchiquin, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)||Sudeley, L.|
|Inverforth, L.||Pontypridd, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Islington, L.||Queenborough, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Knaresborough, L.||Raglan, L.||Weir, L.|
|Lovat, L.||Ranksborough, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Ludlow, L.||Rathcreedan, L.||Wigan, L. (E. Crawford.)|
|MacDonnell, L.||Rathmore, L.||Wittenham, L.|
|Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)||Roundway, L.||Wyfold, L.|
On Question, Motion that the House do now resolve itself in Committee, agreed to.
§ Resolved in the negative, and proposed Instruction disagreed to accordingly.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The EARL OF KINTORE in the Chair.]
§ EARL CURZON OF KEDLESTON
I do not propose to ask your Lordships, in the circumstances of the case, to proceed further with the Committee stage to-night, but I propose to put it down to-morrow, in which case it will be taken after the Questions that already stand on the Paper; and I would ask your Lordships, in view of the urgency of proceeding with the measure without delay, to be willing to sit after dinner to-morrow.
§ THE EARL OF SELBORNE
Does that mean that the Acquisition of Land (Assessment of Compensation) Bill will come first?
§ House resumed.