HL Deb 23 November 1927 vol 69 cc177-99

LORD MONKSWELLhad given Notice to ask His Majesty's Government whether they will institute a public Inquiry into the record of the railway companies of Great Britain, with particular reference to whether, during the century for which railways have been in existence, the progress in the facilities offered to the public has been reasonable; whether reasonable encouragement has been given to new inventions; whether facilities have deliberately been withheld from the public; and in case things are found to be unsatisfactory what steps should be taken to put them right; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on two recent occasions I have ventured to put before you at some length certain facts regarding the failure of the railways of this country to provide the public with a service as good as might reasonably be expected. My remarks are on record and I do not propose to occupy your time by repeating them. I gave full particulars of a number of matters which urgently require reform. Apart from certain small movements in the right direction by the Great Western Railway Company, on which I take this opportunity of warmly congratulating them, the railway directors and managers, in accordance with their almost invariable plan of treating with contempt suggestions for any considerable improvements coming from an outside source, have done nothing. No one is better aware than I am of my extreme insignificance, and if it were a personal matter I should not dream of troubling your Lordships further. But it is no personal matter. It is a question of the neglect of the public interest by a clique strongly entrenched behind a high wall of privilege. In these circumstances the interest of the public is the first thing and the insignificance of the source whence the movement comes is of no consequence whatever. The one thing that matters is whether the facts alleged are true.

I have given, with all the publicity that membership of your Lordships' House affords and in the most elaborate detail, particulars of matters that urgently require reform. Instead of attempting to justify themselves, the managements, with one exception to which I shall come presently, have thought fit to boycott the very precise and detailed statements which I have made. They do so obviously because there is no satisfactory answer, while at the same time the ignorance and impotence of the public, including the shareholders, is such that they think it safe to presume to any extent upon that ignorance and impotence. The fact of the matter is that the railways are, and always have been, in the hands of a clique consisting of directors, managers and officials. A seat on the board is hardly ever anything more than a social distinction. Officials usually treat the directors with the utmost outward deference and the directors, who in any case seldom know anything about railways, respond by leaving all real power in the hands of the officials. The share- holders nominally elect the directors, who are nominally responsible to them. No one with the slightest knowledge of the facts is for an instant deceived by this sorry make-believe. There is no machinery by which the shareholders can control the dominant clique, while the clique can use the company's money to any extent they please to suppress any revolt against their authority if, by any extraordinary chance, the initial difficulties of organisation and propaganda are overcome by the malcontents.

When I ask for an Inquiry, I hope that we shall not hear anything about the undesirability of interfering with private enterprise. The private enterprise that provided capital for building and running the railways has about as much chance of controlling its own property as it has of controlling Jupiter's moons. I therefore ask the Government to hold a public Inquiry into the record of the railway companies of Great Britain, with particular reference to whether, during the century for which railways have been in existence, the progress in the facilities offered to the public has been reasonable; whether reasonable encouragement has been given to new inventions; whether facilities have deliberately been withheld from the public; and in case things are found to be unsatisfactory what step should be taken to put them right. I suggest that the Inquiry should cover the relations of the railway managements with the Press. The managements obviously control very large payments to the Press for advertisements, and equally obviously a great number of the more important newspapers are intensely reluctant to publish anything displeasing to the managements. I am myself prepared to give details before a Committee of Inquiry of several instances of such criticisms, awkward for the railway managements, having been suppressed by the newspapers in a manner so extraordinarily convenient for the managements that there is no reasonable doubt that it was due to influence exercised either by them or on their behalf. That things are very far from right is, I fear, obvious. The whole idea of the clique is a quiet life for itself, to be secured, if necessary, by evasion and concealment.

Some idea of the length to which they will go can, I think, be gathered from the following narrative. Shortly after I last addressed your Lordships on the subject of the deficiencies of British railways, the Chairman of the London and North-Eastern Railway Company made, in a speech that he delivered at Bradford, some extraordinarily uncomplimentary references to what I had said. I quote from the report that appeared in the Yorkshire Post. Mr. Whitelaw said:— You must have noticed one particularly pernicious piece of nonsense. He talked about the value of faster running and making up time on late trains in order to preserve the safety of our lines. It was unfortunate to be told by a man in his position that one of the great dangers of accidents on the line was because trains were late, and drivers, once they were late, did not make up time. As you know, the whole foundation of the safety of travelling depends upon the system of signalling, and it does not matter if a train is a day late. Your safety is just as great whether trains are an hour or a day late. If our signalling system cannot provide against dangers of that kind, it had better be scrapped altogether. That is the sort of twaddle you get from people you imagine ought to know better. Your Lordships will observe that Mr. Whitelaw, having the whole of my remarks, which I am ashamed to say took no less than three-quarters of an hour to deliver, from which to choose a point of attack, fixed upon this one point, which he presumably thought gave him the best opening. He laid the strongest possible stress upon the perfection of the signalling arrangements, which, he said, were so good that precautions tending to decrease the strain put upon them were completely superfluous.

A few days before this there had been a serious collision on his own line at Hull in which twelve people lost their lives and many more were injured. The accident is stated by the Government Inspector in his official Report, which I have in my hand, to have been due to the mistake of a signalman. It also appears that, unless one of the trains concerned had been late, the accident would not have occurred, for the exceedingly good reason that one of the colliding trains was timed to reach Hull before the other started. In fact the circumstances exactly illustrate in every particular the contention that I advanced to your Lordships, that the making up of lost time is conducive to safety. Hardly had Mr. Whitelaw's words passed his lips before there occurred, also on his own line at Penistone, another collision, also due to the mistake of a signalman—again I have the official Report in my hand—in which more than forty people were injured.

I subsequently attended the general meeting of the London and North-Eastern Railway Company's shareholders and reverted to the speech of Mr. Whitelaw at Bradford, repeating at the same time some of the remarks that I had made to your Lordships on the subject of increasing safety by making up lost time. Though this was after both these accidents had taken place, Mr. Whitelaw, in answering me, still had the assurance to say: Lord Monkswell's view upon this subject is his view and not mine, and I say deliberately that in my judgment he is talking nonsense from top to bottom. When any one makes statements of this kind, which are demonstrably at variance with recent facts within his knowledge, it is fair to say that he is showing contempt for the intelligence of his audience. The audience before whom this last remark was made was a general meeting of the shareholders of whose interests he is, more than any man alive, the trustee. I have thought it right to give the London and North-Eastern Railway Company notice of my intention of making these last remarks, as it is only fair that they should be given an opportunity of answering them by the mouth of one of their directors who have seats in this Assembly. If no answer is forthcoming, your Lordships will not fail to draw your own conclusions. The position is that the clique already referred to has applied its policy of resistance to change with such iron rigidity and such complete success that it has hopelessly overreached itself and manœuvred itself into a position which is tenable only so long as public attention is not directed to it. Hence come these desperate measures of evasion and concealment to which the managements habitually resort. This is, I know, a strong statement, but I am prepared to substantiate every word of it at a public Inquiry.

Ridiculous statements are often made to the effect that the railways have already reached the limit of their development. The fact is that, as a means of rapid transport, the possibilities of railways have hardly been considered. In safety, reliability, comfort and economy, the railway possesses, and so far as can be seen will always possess, advantages with which the aeroplane and motor car cannot compete. To raise railway speeds to those of ordinary commercial aeroplanes is merely a matter of perseverance tinged with imagination. I have with me the official record of a recent run on the Pennsylvania Railway, in which a train of weight sufficient to accommodate at least 150 passengers ran 216 miles at an average sped of 74 miles per hour. A four minutes stop and several prolonged slowings were included. The train was worked by one of the ordinary steam locomotives of the company. If speeds such as this were introduced into this country very nearly three hours would be knocked off the time of the fastest train between King's Cross and Edinburgh. It is quite certain that this is only the beginning of the accelerations which are possible. The railway managements wish permanently to deprive us of that mobility which the railways offer us. Why should we acquiesce in a policy so blind and imbecile?

I have ventured to revert, to this subject sooner than I should otherwise have done because I understand that the railway companies intend shortly to introduce a Bill to extend their powers to run road vehicles, and that a considerable amount of lobbying is now going on, with a view to ensuring the passage of that Bill through another place. If we wait until that Bill has reached this House any action on our part will be futile. In all the circumstances I do not see how the Government can refuse the Inquiry for which I ask without laying themselves open to the charge of aiding and abetting the policy of concealment which alone makes possible a continuance of the present system, and I do most emphatically say that the railway companies of this country, till they have purged themselves of the vices which are obvious to any one who has studied their history, but which are too technical for the general public to grasp, are unfit to be entrusted with largely extended powers.

If these powers are accorded them we may confidently expect to see them use their vast financial resources to stifle competition and hold up reasonable improvements on the roads as they have done on the railways. To avoid any possibility of mistake I must repeat what I have said many times before, that in making these charges against the official clique as a whole, I fully recognise that there are many individual railway officials both enlightened and progressive, whose first desire is to give the public a good service. The pity is that they can make so little headway against the massed obstruction of their colleagues. I beg to move.


My Lords, I beg to assure the noble Lord that Mr. Whitelaw was not the only person who made uncomplimentary remarks about his speech, either in this House or outside of it. I and others have made uncomplimentary remarks too. I did not hear his speech, but I remember reading it. He accused the companies of not accelerating the speed of their services, and again quoted an illustration taken from America. My view is that so far from being slack in the acceleration of their services they go in too much for speed. Take the two trains running from Edinburgh and Glasgow to the South. No doubt in some sense those trains are a good advertisement for the companies, but personally I believe they are perfectly unnecessary. The saving in time is very little, and really it is a waste of energy. If the noble Lord agitated for improvement with regard to the cross-country services I should be with him. There are lines not taken advantage of for the convenience of passengers going from East to West, and so forth. There are also a number of details of minor importance, as to which I agree with him the management might be more alive to the wants of the public.

He accused the companies, finally, of wishing to stifle competition by having power over the roads in the running of motor traffic. I agree with him to a certain extent as to the disaster arising from lack of competition, but that is not the fault of the companies but the fault of the Government, who passed the Act for the amalgamation of the railways. I believe that that amalgamation has had the most disastrous effect, and that Government interference on that occasion, and on others, with regard, for instance, to the number of hours worked by railway servants, has done nothing but impair the efficiency of what I believe to be the very best railway system that the world has ever seen. If, as a result of this Inquiry for which the noble Lord has asked, there was further legislation, I should look upon it as most disastrous. I fancy that individual enterprise, shown by that most competent body of men, the railway experts, may fairly be trusted to have the best interests of the public at heart.


My Lords, I do not think that the noble Lord who introduced this subject was really very sanguine that it would be possible for the Government to accede to his request, because he, I think, menaced the Government with being held in some way responsible for what he considered the shortcomings of the companies, if they did not agree to this Inquiry. There is a singular amplitude, if I may say so, about the Inquiry which the noble Lord desires. Your Lordships will observe that it is an Inquiry "into the record of the railway companies of Great Britain," and these subjects have to be particularly dealt with.

First of all, what is the period that the Inquiry is to cover? It is "the century for which railways have been in existence." I can recall a good many Government Inquiries, but I cannot, for the moment, think of any which covers such a period as a century. Further than that, they have to consider "the progress in the facilities offered to the public"—whether they have been "reasonable." I suppose that that would involve going into every one of the changes or improvements that have occurred during the last century, and examining carefully to see whether those facilities have been reasonable or not. Again, it is to inquire "whether reasonable encouragement has been given to new inventions." Surely that is a very difficult thing to enquire into. There have been innumerable persons with new inventions and patents, hundreds of which have been pressed upon the railway companies. I am afraid that many of these gentlemen have now passed out of existence during the century which has elapsed since the railways began to run, and therefore, I think, it would be an exceedingly difficult and wide subject into which to inquire. Again, it is to inquire "whether facilities have deliberately been withheld from the public." These negative propositions are notoriously very difficult to investigate, and I am not quite sure that I see how it would be possible to show, over that long period of time, what facilities have been withheld or given to the public.


I am able to give the noble Viscount any number of them, if he will arrange for an Inquiry.


The noble Lord's Question goes on: "and in case things are found to be unsatisfactory, what step should be taken to put them right." That, no doubt, would be a matter for very long consideration. But one of the difficulties I find in considering the request of the noble Lord, is this. I cannot think of anybody who would be competent to conduct so stupendous an Inquiry. And even if you could discover somebody with the requisite knowledge, capacity, and experience, he would have to be, first of all, a centenarian of some standing. I can hardly think of anybody with the spaciousness of leisure requisite for so gigantic and roving a commission. And indeed, if the noble Lord himself were to enter into competition for the Chairmanship, I am afraid that he would find it very difficult to find colleagues who were competent enough to advise him on all these matters. I cannot think that so vast and roving a commission is necessary. Considering the number of Commissions already in being and the necessity of saving public time and expense, I really do not think that the public advantage would be much served by an Inquiry of this kind.

I want to make two or three observations on the speech of the noble Lord. One is that, though an Inquiry of this kind would be beyond any practical possibility, the Government in its relation to the railways is by no means averse from specific inquiries on particular subjects. I note that during the last few weeks the Minister of Transport has appointed two Departmental Committees, one to consider the question of the standardisation of railway electrical equipment, and another to consider the question of automatic train control. I had, as a matter of fact, armed myself, in view of the possible criticism of the noble Lord, with a long list of improvements that have been introduced on the railways during the last century. But the list is so long and so complicated that perhaps your Lordships will acquit me of the necessity of reading it out.

I think the most important part of the noble Lord's speech was directed to the question of new powers for the railways. Railways, he said, are seeking for new powers to run transport over the roads. I think it is a little hard upon the railways, I am bound to say, that, when they have been abused so much and so vigorously and in such unmeasured language by the noble Lord for their neglect of opportunities and their lack of originality, the moment they do display some desire to burst out in a new direction and run a service over the roads they are severely criticised for the efforts they are trying to make. And I am bound to say I do not see any reason to suppose, from the noble Lord's advocacy, that if they did get these powers there would be very much chance for them to run all the other transport companies off the roads, because he has already told us that they are so singularly incompetent in the management of their own business that it is difficult to believe that, if they transferred their energies to another business, they would be any more successful. So that I do not think we need be very anxious as to any trouble in that direction.

I was very glad indeed, however, to hear the noble Lord's opinion, because as a small shareholder in one of the railways I had not noticed from the size of the dividends that they had such a large amount of money to distribute, or such vast funds on which they might call for the setting up of other transport systems. But, of course, this is a very difficult problem. I understand that some of the railway companies are introducing Bills this autumn, which will probably come before your Lordships next year, asking for powers to run services over the roads. Those Bills will be considered when they come before your Lordships, and I think you will agree with me that it would be premature at the present moment if, before seeing these Bills and the measures they advocate, I should try to give any indication of what might be the attitude of the Government towards them.

There are only two observations I should like to make in addition, first with reference to the organisation of the railways. Your Lordships will very well remember that the whole matter was very fully reviewed in 1921, only six years ago, and a Tribunal was set up, specially constituted, to deal with systems of rates and charges and other matters, and I understand that the new scheme of rates and charges, as examined and decided upon by the Tribunal, will take effect from January 1 next. No doubt the noble Lord who introduced the subject will study that with his usual sympathy for the activities of the railways. Then there is the other point about facilities. That is one of the subjects which the noble Lord wanted to introduce into his proposed Inquiry. I should like to call his attention to Section 16 of the Act to which I have referred, which increased the scope of the applications which might be made for affording improved services, facilities and conveniences, with a view to securing and promoting the public safety or the interests of the public, or of a trade, or of any locality; so that there seem to be considerable powers given to those persons who have a locus in the matter to take action under Section 16, and to ask for new facilities, if they are required.

The only other point dealt with by the noble Lord was in reference to some rather critical observations, as they appeared to me, made by the Chairman of one of the great railway companies upon some speech made by the noble Lord. That is, as he will agree, a purely domestic matter, and it would be very presumptuous in me to interfere in any controversy carried on between the noble Lord and the Chairman of that railway. In conclusion, I think I am bound to refuse the request of the noble Lord, because I have shown that this Inquiry for which he asks is so wide, and embraces such an immense number of subjects, that it would be almost wasting the public time if such a far-reaching Inquiry were set up by the Government.


My Lords, I always think it is a pity that the noble Lord who sits on the Cross Benches uses such violent language in regard to this question. There are a great many important points about the railways which could be debated in this House with great advantage, but he always seems to imagine that every railway director is a criminal, or nearly a criminal, and that all railways are managed extremely badly. I suppose they are like all other businesses in the world: there is good management and bad management; and mistakes have been made in the past by railways, which I suppose the railway companies would themselves acknowledge. Of course, the railways at the present moment are having rather a hard time owing to bad trade, and the competition of road transport, and other things. I do not know whether the noble Lord's motto is "When a man is down do not hit him, but kick him"; but he seems to have taken this opportunity of rubbing it into the railway companies that they have not done all they could.

I stand in a more or less independent position. I was brought up on steam railways, and later on I studied mechanical transport, including motor vehicles. I am not interested either way financially, but, taking a wide survey, certainly the British railways to-day are the best managed railways in the world. Whether particular railways are well managed is a different point. Of course, in some cases their speed is not what it might be, and there I agree with the noble Lord. When we read about non-stop runs and trains running, with a great flourish of trumpets, between London and Edinburgh and only stopping once, that is rather a stunt. We read of an eight and a quarter hours' run on the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, the train only stopping at Carlisle, and on the London and North Eastern Railway only at Newcastle, but those runs are only done in the same time as a train occupied this time last year, when it was done habitually every day, with either two or three more stops, as the case may be. As a matter of fact, if the public only knew it, this non-stop train runs at a considerably lower average speed than ordinary trains ran at years ago. I have worked it out that if this non-stop train ran at anything like the average fast speed of trains on the Great Western Railway more than half-an-hour would be taken off the time occupied in making the journey.


It would be more like an hour and a half.


However that may be, these non-stop trains have been of some advantage. They were responsible for the introduction of the principle of water troughs between the rails to an extent which did not exist before, and they have shown that a modern locomotive can run three hundred miles or so without a stop; which is quite a long run. In regard to what was said about road transport by my noble friend who replied for the Government, I do not propose to deal with that at any length today because I hope to place a Motion on the Paper in the coarse of a week or so dealing with the whole question of transport, in connection with which the forms of transport used by the railways can be considered. It is a big and interesting subject and it could hardly be raised to-day. Those who talk about railway companies and road transport sometimes forget that the railway companies already have over 35,000 vehicles on the road, nearly 6,000 of which are motor vehicles; so they are very large users of motor transport to-day. The railway companies have nearly all the powers they require for the purpose, and the road transport people are not as yet really terrified at the idea of the railway companies taking to road transport.

I would suggest to His Majesty's Government that if any inquiry is wanted it should not be one which looks back into the past but one which enquires how we can, to use a long word, co-ordinate all our traffic. What the railway companies will have to do in the future is of very much more importance than what they have done in the past. Supposing they have been as criminal as my noble friend alleges they have been, they can reform themselves, other people have done the same thing, and I would suggest to the Government that if there is to be an inquiry into this matter it should consider what could be done in the future to enable the railway companies to earn their bread in a reasonable manner. It seems to me that noble Lords do not realise the extent of the depreciation in the cumulative value of the stock of our great railways. I took the values out yesterday and found that they amount to £790,000,000 out of a nominal total of rather over £1,200,000,000. From that it will be seen that one-third of their value has been knocked off already. That is a very considerable loss. It varies, of course, on the different railways. So far as one can see, there is not much chance of that valuation going up, at any rate for a very considerable time to come. So that whatever they may have done, the railways have been severely punished by the loss of one-third of their capital value.

Really the railways need more capital and, with all respect, they want more initiative enterprise and more elasticity in their work. You cannot get more money unless you can establish confidence in the minds of financiers. The railway companies used to be able to raise money very nearly as cheaply as the Government could raise it; but everybody knows that they cannot raise money on the same terms to-day. They could only do it at the expense of the junior stocks. Supposing the railways doubled some of their main lines, I think they would add very extensively to their business, and in view of the competition on the road it would probably be wise if they did something like that. It seems to me to be quite a natural thing that they should ask to get out on the road. The mistake they have made is in not doing it before. They ought to have done it more than twenty years ago. It has been done by other railways in many other countries. It has been done in France and in the United States. There are, I believe, about eighty companies in America which have road transport. In England the railway companies have been very slow to take it up.

It must, however, be said for the railways that they have done a great deal for the trade of this country. Over and over again they have helped the traders, and I think it ought fairly to be said that at the present moment they are rather between the devil and the deep sea, because if they lower their rates for the benefit of trade generally they will have to reduce their dividends, and if they increase the rates they will affect trade. The fact is that the big railway labour organisations have been able to keep wages from going down. I congratulate Mr. J. H. Thomas on having worked his union up to such a pitch that it can command higher wages than almost any other body in the country. But every ton of goods and every passenger carried over the railways pays too much in proportion for labour as compared with other means of transport. Let us take, for example, a parcel going from Harrod's Stores or any big store of that description to any destination in the country. I have taken the figures out and I find that a parcel going by rail is handled nine times as against being handled only twice if it goes by road. That means that every time the most expensive thing in the world, the human hand, touches a parcel, the price of transport must be put up. It is the handling, the want of elasticity, and the number of times that an article has to be handled which really puts up the cost of transport by rail.

It is a very big problem for my noble friends whether and how they can bring down their labour costs. As far as they can they are doing away with the expenses of the smaller stations, and in my opinion they ought, to do away with many more of those smaller stations altogether. Their branch lines are not feeders; most of them are suckers. If those suckers were cut off they could be made in many cases into motor roads. The railway companies ought also to run lighter and more frequent trains wherever possible. I have a whole heap of suggestions that I could make, but it is not my business to make them now. There may be opportunities of doing that later on. The time may come for the railway companies when, if they cannot pay reasonable dividends, these questions will have to be faced. If the companies are not serving certain parts of the country as they should do that contingency will also arise. Some noble Lords have been, no doubt, to the great commercial show at Olympia and I expect have seen staring them in the face the future of transport, which is mainly on the road and only to a certain extent on the railways. There are motor omnibuses there which will carry sixty-eight people. The average bogey third-class coach takes only seventy-two or, in the case of the larger ones, eighty passengers. Some of the motor vehicles running on the roads now will carry almost as many people as the largest-sized passenger coach of twice their length. I think it is more evident than ever that transport, as a whole, is going on to the road and the railways will have a hard time to live. I think they will eventually have to cut down their expenses far more than they have yet done.

May I say one other word in conclusion? I am afraid I take rather a gloomy view of the future of all rail traction. I think that the rail has had its day in tramways and in railways. I do not say that the railways will not be useful for the purpose of conveying certain classes of goods. I do not say they will not be used for some purposes for many years to come, but the trend of development is towards free-wheel vehicles and to the road. That need not necessarily kill railways if the railways take steps in time, if they get on to the road, as they should have done before. But it is quite clear that all rail traction is going to suffer more and more as each year goes by, and nothing done politically or in this House can alter that trend. The change is going on all over the world, in every country where there are railways and roads. In America, in France, indeed everywhere, you hear the same complaint. Therefore if there is to be an inquiry I think it should be into the future—as to how railways might be able to earn reasonable dividends—without delving into the past. I am not going further into the question of road transport to-day because that is a subject which in itself would justify a debate.


My Lords, you will agree that the speech to which we have just listened fully justifies the noble Lord on the Cross Benches in having once more brought this matter before your Lordships' House. It also illustrates a favourite theme of mine, that your Lordships' House can produce experts on every subject which comes up for discussion. In the noble Lord who has just spoken we have an expert on the subject of traction, whether upon railways or roads. Our thanks are due to the noble Lord on the Cross Benches for having once more brought this subject before your Lordships' House for discussion. His persistence has made this an annual affair. I think that it will continue to be an annual affair, and that members of your Lordships' House will be able to discuss the methods of transport every year with regard to the special circumstances of the time. In view of that I regret the tone of the speech of the noble Viscount who responded on behalf of His Majesty's Government. This thing is not entirely to be treated as a jest; it is a serious matter. I can assure the noble Viscount that as time goes on we shall ensure that this matter is to be treated more seriously than he has treated it to-night.

This has been a useful discussion. It is a difficult subject, because members of your Lordships' House, unless you have special knowledge of it, can speak upon it only from the point of view of your personal experience. Those of you who travel by one railway can speak of what happens on that railway, but it is difficult for you to speak of what happens, on another railway upon which you do not travel. If I may be allowed to say so, I am glad to see the noble Viscount, the Chairman of the Great Western Railway, present. His railway ranks among the first in this country. It is in the first rank and, being in the first rank, I hope it will continue to do even better in the future. I hope the noble Viscount will not allow his company to rest upon its laurels, but will see that it continues to remain in the very first rank. I should like to speak from personal experience and to say a word on behalf of a railway which is much too often decried and that is the Southern Railway. I think the Southern Railway does provide, for a great many of the places upon its system, a very good and a very punctual service. Unfortunately the newspapers have chosen to make it a subject of comment, but with one or two exceptions—I will not refer to those exceptions—the Southern Railway does, I think, on the whole, provide quite a good service, in spite of one or two exceptions which I shall not mention.

For my own part I think that an inquiry of some kind would be very useful. I find it very difficult, to get useful statistics upon this subject. I want to know a great deal more about railways than I can find out at the present time. I confess that there is a great deal to be said for more speed upon the railways than we get at the present time. I remember a friend of mine amongst the friends I have who are directors of railway companies, saying on one occasion that he did not think the British public wanted speed upon the railway. I wholly disagree with that. I am sure we do need speed. We want to move as quickly as we possibly can. It is difficult for me to speak upon this subject because the railways in some instances are so slow that I prefer, as many of your Lordships do, to go by motor car, which is in some cases faster than the railway service which is provided for us. I think an inquiry of some kind would be useful. The noble Viscount scoffed at the idea of inquiry.


I did not scoff at the idea of inquiry; I scoffed at the idea of an inquiry extending back to one hundred years.


Whatever the noble Viscount may say he deprecated the idea of inquiry. I am here tempted to give an example of what the Government of which he is an ornament do when they want an Inquiry. When they want an Inquiry they generally refer to my friends in order to find a suitable Chairman. Whether it be upon a question of coal or upon a question of India they come to my friends in order to find the most suitable person to preside over any Inquiry which His Majesty's Government may wish to have upon the subject. But so far as the general question is concerned I think we may perhaps on another occasion go into this in a little more detail. We want a little more knowledge with regard to the statistical aspect of the railways. The noble Lord mentioned a fact which is not generally known with regard to the speed on railways. It is realty only a stunt to speak of a non-stop run from England to Scotland when it is slower than a run with stops at two or three places on the way.

I want to know a little more in regard to the real speed which our railways give us. I think we might know a great deal more about the speed which might be given to us on the railways if they were inclined to give us the speed to which modern engineering and science give us the key. I believe if some of these railways in the North were to give us the admirable speed which is given by the railway of the noble Viscount, the Chairman of the Great Western Railway, upon some portions of his line, the journey to Scotland would be shortened very appreciably. I really do not know why we should not have some reason given to us as to why that is not done. I think that in most matters a public Inquiry is a very useful thing and in this matter I am quite sure it would be equally useful, not perhaps upon the extensive scale to which the noble Viscount objects, but upon some scale that perhaps we might think over between now and next year when we shall have another discussion upon the subject.


My Lords, I think this is the third occasion upon which I have heard the noble Lord on the Cross Benches deliver an elaborate treatise in the shape of an attack upon the railway companies, and upon each occasion he has been fortunate enough to obtain the approval of somebody. On the previous occasion I think he was thanked by the Government representative for his interesting statement. I did not observe any gratitude, however, in the tone of my noble friend Lord Peel, when he made his reply. My noble friend Lord Beauchamp has, however, expressed his gratification at the speech. It seems to me that if anybody is to express any gratitude at all, the persons who ought to do it, are the railway directors, because the astonishing weakness of the attack is such that the more the noble Lord goes on the more public opinion will take the side of the railway directors.


Will the noble Lord deal with the precise facts which I stated?


I did not get any facts from the noble Lord. The noble Lord appears to be one of those persons who are under the impression that the great object of railway directors is to prevent the public from travelling and to put every possible impediment in their way. That is the burden of his remarks. I remember once seeing in Paris a representation in which the travelling public were portrayed expressing great indignation more or less in the terms employed by the noble Lord in the course of the debate. They were met by a station-master who expostulated with them and said: "What unreasonable people you are. Why on earth do you travel at all? Look at me, I do not travel." The noble Lord appears to be under the impression that that is the permanent attitude of railway directors in this country. The noble Lord would have made more impression, certainly upon me, if he had brought forward any facts in support of his denunciation, but I have never been able precisely to find out what it is he wants. I think I am getting nearer to it now. What I gather the noble Lord wants is a public Inquiry at which he shall appear himself and put forward his case against the railway directors. I am not at all sure that he is going to get any support for that unless it is from the noble Earl, Lord Beauchamp. I do not think there is any general desire upon the part of the public that there should be an inquiry at all.

What I submit to the noble Lord is that when he comes forward and makes these ridiculous charges he might at all events cite one country where railways are better administered than they are here and where the public is better served. I presume the noble Lord has travelled, probably he has travelled extensively. Perhaps before we adjourn he will cite some country where railways really are better managed than they are here. I have some experience of travelling—I do not think I am at all insular in my disposition—but I say unhesitatingly that there is no country in the world, so far as I am aware, where the public is served so well. Until he can give concrete instances where the public in other countries are better served I think the noble Lord may well leave the subject alone.


My Lords, I think perhaps, if I may say so without offence, the generalisation of the charges made by the noble Lord who introduced the subject, and perhaps the occasionally unfortunate phraseology, do a good deal to damage his cause, but I do not think that we ought to part from the subject quite on the note of the noble Lord who has last spoken, that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds and that railway directors have nothing for which they need amend their ways. I think the general public certainly have grievances against the railways. I think there are many ways we can all think of, and of which we all have experience, in which travel for the public might be made more comfortable than it is now. It may be that in other countries it is worse than here, but it is not so good here as it might be, and do not let us go away with the impression that it is.

First of all it is true that speeds might be increased. On the journey to Edinburgh I am told there are perfectly wonderful runs made to Carlisle and perhaps to Newcastle, but I am also told—I do not know whether any of the competent noble Lords I see opposite will tell us whether it is true or not—that there is an agreement between the railway companies that nobody is to get to Edinburgh in less than 8¼ hours. If that is true I do not know that that agree- ment is necessarily in the interests of the public. That seems to me to be a sort of thing that might be brought out in an inquiry. Then there is the question of the present very high fares. I think the first class fare is 2½d. per mile or something like that. I was travelling by railway on Monday and that was the fare. The sort of accommodation that was given for that very high price was that on a very cold day people had to travel in a carriage fitted for steam heat which was not heated, and supplied with three lamps in the roof—in order no doubt that it might be illustrated in the newspapers as the latest type of rolling stock—of which only one was lighted. That is the sort of way in which passengers are treated and of which passengers complain.

Then there is another point, which has not been touched upon to-day. It has always seemed to me to be a legitimate grievance of the travelling public that, alone among those who carry the public, alone among those who are allowed to carry the public for profit, railway companies are allowed to carry them without giving them seats so that they have to stand in the trains. That seems an injustice to a person who has paid for a seat. It is so common that apparently it is treated as being a normal thing and as something which railway companies have not to apologise for. I am inclined to think that in that matter, and perhaps in some other matters, there is room for two or three clauses to be added to the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act and to be included in all Railway Bills, putting some obligation of that sort upon the companies. The public are not treated by any means with that consideration with which they might be treated, and I think no one will deny that there are many ways in which they are not treated with the common sense with which they might be treated. There are various restrictions imposed which have their roots apparently in—what shall I say?—in the formal brains of those at headquarters. It is also true—it may be rightly true, but it is undoubtedly true—that railway shareholders cannot be said to have any very effective control over their boards. No doubt if there were cause for real dissatisfaction, serious dissatisfaction, they could take steps, but in fact and practice they have very little control.

I do not think we ought to part from this subject without recognising that there are matters in which there might be considerable improvement, and particularly matters dealing with the comfort of the public and the fares which are charged. In saying that I ought also to endorse what was said by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, which of course we all recognise. Railway companies financially are in a very difficult position and they deserve really the greatest sympathy for that reason. They have immense difficulties of a financial kind to trouble them, and they are compelled to put up their rates for passengers and for goods to a figure which I am perfectly sure they do not wish to adopt. That is a misfortune which perhaps time may remove, but something can be done to remedy it, and something I believe is being done, by administration of the railways and by economy. But I do not think that economies which lead to the putting out of lights in railway carriages and the absence of heat in cold weather are desirable forms of economy. Since there are so many noble Lords opposite who are interested in railways I take the opportunity of presenting them with that complaint.


My Lords, I do not know that there is a great deal for me to say in reply to this debate. The trouble I find is that when I come here and give the most precise particulars time after time, exactly when everything happened and where, somebody like Lord Newton gets up and says he has no particulars. I do not know what is to be done. I do not know what he means. If he would do me the honour to listen to what I say, or if he would go through my past speeches he would find them absolutely crammed full of particulars of the most precise kind. I do not consider I have made one single remark that has not been most carefully thought out from every point of view. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, deplored the vigour of my language. Again, what am I to do? I have taken an interest in railways all my life, I have had endless interviews with railway directors and railway officials, I have put suggestions before them over and over again with all the tact at my command—no doubt I am very deficient in that—but there it is, there is nothing done and there is not the least attempt to answer me.

The noble Lord has not taken hold of any single detail and given a definite answer. I do the best I can. All I can think of is to go on stating the facts in public and then perhaps gradually the drops of water will eat away the great cliff of opposition. It is extraordinarily difficult to think what more I can do. Nobody has answered my very definite statements. There is no definite answer forthcoming of any kind whatever. I do not know that it is worth while occupying your Lordships time very much further with this subject. One of the points to which I particularly wish to draw attention is that railway officials—not railway directors, they know nothing about it—railway officials are very strongly entrenched. One of their defences is the practical control of the Ministry of Transport, which was most carefully arranged by Sir Eric Geddes when he staffed the Ministry of Transport almost entirely by railway officials. I think some of them have been changed now, but the spirit is exactly the same. When the noble Viscount was answering me it was just as though railway officialdom were speaking. The voice was the voice of the noble Viscount, but the sentiments were the sentiments of the railway officials. That is really the trouble; but, after having said these few words, I propose to leave the matter for the present, I hope that my words will gradually sink in. I think they are bound to do so, because my case is a most extraordinarily good one and, I say again, has not been answered in any particular. In these circumstances I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.