HL Deb 27 March 1919 vol 33 cc1114-7

EARL RUSSELL rose to ask His Majesty's Government how many special trains have been run in connection with horse racing since the 1st of February, and what train mileage, this represents; and whether in view of this fact the Government still refuse to grant facilities for travel to the working part of the population at the Easter holidays.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the very interesting and serious discussion to which we have just been listening has pushed my humble Question to rather a late hour, but I think your Lordships will see that it is a matter not altogether without importance. The particular point that I want to call attention to is this. I wish to ask what facilities for travelling will be granted to the poorer portion of the population at the Easter holidays. In connection with that I have inquired, and am inquiring, how many special trains have been run in connection with racing. Your Lordships may think that the two questions are not particularly intimately connected, but in fact they are rather intimately connected. The public notice that locomotives and carriages, officials and coal, are all available to run special trains for what I may call luxury or pleasure purposes, and they then see a statement like that which appears in the Press this morning, made by Sir Albert Stanley to a deputation in connection with this matter, in which he deals with the shortage of locomotives and railway stock and the difficulties of giving additional facilities at Easter. He ends, I am glad to see, by saying that some additional facilities will be given.

I think that the sensitive part of the public which we have been discussing on various occasions of late, whose condition is much too vividly present to our minds—I mean the labouring portion of the population, which is in a state of somewhat nervous unrest—is apt to note these two facts in a somewhat simple manner. What they say is this—"We find that accommodation is available; coaches are available, officials found, and even coal can be burnt for this mere useless purpose of luxury, and then we art told that we cannot have accommodation for excursion trains at Easter." I should not myself, not, I think, would any member of your Lordships' House, find it a particularly entertaining thing to do to get up early in the morning to go down in a crowded uncomfortable, slow train to Margate, eat shrimps on the beach all day, and then come back in an equally crowded train at night; but this process affords, I suppose, a change of scene and a glimpse of romance in the somewhat drab life of the working population, and it is much appreciated and much enjoyed. There is a very strong feeling that they do want, after all the anxiety and tenseness which we have all been through, as much of this relaxation as can reasonably be afforded when these important statutory holidays come round.

I am satisfied that it is of importance, of real importance, from the point of view of avoiding the kind of comment to which I have drawn attention that, having provided services of a luxury character, we should at least provide equally good, or better, services for the purposes of the recreation of the population. It is to give the Government an opportunity of making a statement upon these contrasted points, and assuring this House—and, what is much more important, the great public outside—that the matter is present to their minds, and that they are not unmindful of their obligation to the working classes in this matter, that I have put down the Question which stands in my name.


May I assure the noble Earl at once that it is not in the least the desire of the Government, or of the Board of Trade in particular, that any distinction should be made between the different classes, as he seems to think might possibly be insinuated by what has happened. In the first place I should like to inform him that since February 1 the principal railway companies concerned in Great Britain have run 193 trains in connection with race meetings, representing a total mileage of 6,442. All passengers travelling to race meetings, I need hardly remind your Lordships, pay the present full ordinary fare—that is to say, what was the full fare plus the 50 per cent, which was added. No distinction has been made in any way, and I would like to remind your Lordships of what has taken place in this matter.

Early in the war it was found necessary to suspend entirely the arrangements which had previously existed for the grant of cheap tickets at week-ends, holiday-times, &c., and later, owing to the continued depiction of the railway companies' staff and rolling stock during the war, it was found necessary to increase passenger fares by 50 per cent. There have been numerous resolutions, chiefly from watering places and labour bodies, urging that cheap facilities should be given during the coming Easter holidays, and several Questions on the subject have been asked in the House of Commons. The Board have consulted the Railway Executive Committee in the matter, and the Committee have informed them that while they are considering the question whether, and to what extent, it may be possible to give cheap travelling facilities this year, such facilities could not be allowed at Easter. The replies given to the Parliamentary Questions have been to this effect. It has also been explained that while, as already stated, it will not be possible to give cheap travelling facilities at Easter, the railway companies will endeavour to meet the holiday-makers by an argumented train service.

In addition, to the serious financial loss at which the railways are run just now (of which a full explanation has been given in Parliament) the difficulties of the companies in regard to shortage of men and rolling stock are still sufficiently acute to make if desirable that an excessive amount of traffic should not be encouraged. For rolling stock we are no better off now than before. Some 700 locomotives were sent abroad. and it is true that sixteen came back, but they came back for repair. A consideiable percentage of the locomotives here now are standing idle, labour and material for repair being inadequate.

The transport position in France is no better than it was, and our own lines of communication are longer than they were. The Board of Trade will improve the railway service when possible, and they greatly regret that they cannot give such Easter facilities as they would like. May I remind your Lordships that this country alone has maintained its transport system intact, and we hope, to see at an early date more normal conditions reached.

May I add that, in view of the present conditions obtaining on the railways, no reduction of fans can be made during the forthcoming Easter holidays. The railway companies will endeavour to meet the requirements of the holiday-makers by augmenting their ordinary services as far as practicable, and special trains will be run for this propose. There will be no differentiation in any way, and no desire to grant greater facilities to race-goers than to worker. The Government, and the Board of Trade in particular, are concerned in seeing that the workers get their full share of all that can be given in railway facilities, and we greatly regret that, while special trains can be arranged, it is impossible to go further under present conditions and grant a reduction of fares, which would involve an enormous increase in railway travelling—a far greater increase than that which has been made.


The noble Lord will notice that I did not say a word about fares.


No; but I thought the noble Earl would like to hear a statement on that point.