HL Deb 19 July 1928 vol 71 cc1170-88

My Lords, I should like to say one thing. In Committee it was found convenient to take the general discussion on all four Bills on the first Bill, and I suggest that that would be the most convenient course to-day.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Donoughmore.)


My Lords, I think it may perhaps be for the convenience of the House to say a word about the contents of these Bills, which have excited a great deal of interest and, it is perhaps only fair to add, have received a great deal of consideration. I have been asked also to say a word by my noble friend Lord Chelmsford, the Chairman of the Joint Select Committee, who regrets that he cannot be here because of another public engagement. As your Lordships perhaps have gathered from the public prints, the Committee sat from April 26 to July 5 on every Parliamentary day and on a good many days that were not Parliamentary days, they heard a great deal of argument and a great deal of evidence, and as a result they made a Report, which was first considered in the House of Commons, where the Bills had received their Second Reading, and on Report in another place certain Amendments were made to which I shall refer more particularly in a moment. I might say at once—and I think I shall be right in speaking for the noble Chairman of the Committee—those Amendments in our view improve the Bill and have done them no harm.

The discussion centred principally round the question whether there was danger of a monopoly in this form of transport being created if these powers to run road vehicles were given to the railway companies. We heard a great deal of argument upon that point and a certain amount of evidence, although your Lordships will appreciate that the matter was naturally one rather more for argument than for evidence; one could hardly give evidence as to a future state of things. But we came to the conclusion that the safeguards which are now in the Bill, and which include a good many safeguards added to the Bill as deposited, would sufficiently protect the public, and I propose to call your Lordships' attention to these safeguards in a moment.

There was one Bill which disappeared and I might say a word about that—the Bill of the Metropolitan Railway. Some surprise has been expressed about that, but not, I think, by those who were present at the proceedings of the Committee. It disappeared for the perfectly obvious and simple Parliamentary reason that the promoters failed to make out their case and were unable to convince the Committee that there was any case for the Bill, and therefore the Committee rejected it. As regards the four Bills which are now before your Lordships, the main line companies Bills, powers were sought as they first came before the Committee in the widest possible form and with very little limitation indeed, and there may have been some reason for the apprehensions which were felt as to the result. Your Lordships will appreciate that what was suggested was that with their very large resources and their large capital the railway companies might flood the roads with omnibuses, which they might perfectly willingly run at a loss for one year, or, it may be, two years, or even longer—a loss which they would be well able to stand until they had driven their competitors off the roads—and that they would then be in a position to raise the fares against the public, and the public, instead of having as it has now both in goods and in passengers two alternative forms of transport under separate control at its disposal, would have at its disposal two alternative methods of transport but all under one control, which naturally would not be in the public interest in the matter of rates and fares.

The evidence before the Committee showed that there was already in existence a very large system of omnibus services throughout the country, a system almost as large as the system of the railway companies themselves, of very powerful interests financially linked and otherwise linked together, and it seemed to us improbable that such a service would in any case be displaced without a very considerable fight. But your Lordships will appreciate, as we fully appreciated, that there was another danger which was even more serious and that was that this service, being already established, and being, as I say, more or less under one control, might by agreement with the railway companies, instead of fighting them, cause a state of things in which the public would be injured. Well, in these Bills the Committee have done what they could to prevent any danger of that sort, and I would ask your Lordships to consider for one moment some of the protection that is afforded.

In the first place—I am dealing for the moment with passenger traffic—the fares which are to be demanded are to be exhibited in a conspicuous place in every omnibus, so that they will be known to everybody (that is Clause 9). Then power has been given to any local authority including a county council to make representations as to the fares (that is in Clause 8 (3)); and those representations are to be made, of course, to the Railway Rates Tribunal as being the persons most familiar with rates, and not in this instance to the Minister of Transport, and they will consider whether the fares are such as should be charged. And there is a further point which is of great importance. Clause 11 gives power to the companies to make agreements—the kind of agreements that I have been referring to. Those agreements are to be reported to the Minister of Transport and in every case the company are to tell the Minister of Transport whether the company with which they have made agreements is one which they control, that is to say, whether it is, in fact, an extension of the personality of the railway company under another name; so that the Minister of Transport will be advised of that. The particulars of the agreements will not be given to him, but I have no doubt he has means at his disposal of obtaining them should any necessity arise.

As to goods it was represented to us that the same dangers might arise, that the disunited bodies which now carry on the road transport of goods might be crushed one by one, that gradually there would be no rival to the rates and charges of the railway companies, and that it would not be possible to bring pressure to bear upon them either for lower rates or—what appeared to us was quite as important—better facilities and better services. In regard to that, it is provided that, so far as there are regular services, the rates shall be announced where they can be seen by the public. But your Lordships will readily understand that regular services are practically non-existent in ordinary road transport. You cannot always tell how your load will be made up or where it is to go to. Therefore such a thing as a regular set of routes is really almost non-existent.

But the clause which the Committee consider to be the real protection to the public is Clause 13. That provides that if the Minister is at any time of opinion that the interests of the public are prejudicially affected by the exercise of the powers of the Act, he may give notice and so on and hold a public inquiry and if, after inquiry, he is still of the said opinion, he shall report to both Houses of Parliament. That clause may be objected to on the ground, of course, that it is an extremely vague one, and that it uses very general words; but I am bound to say that in my view that really is its merit, because all we were asked to guard against were not small matters here and there, small incidents, but a general public abuse of these powers by the railway companies. This clause seems to me fully to cover that case. The Minister of Transport has full opportunities for holding an inquiry. We excluded various words that were suggested that he should be moved by this, that or the other body, and we left it at large as to how he may be moved, as to who should apply to him, as to what should initiate his motion. He is, of course, a representative of the public responsible to Parliament and our view is that Clause 13 gives a real protection, the best protection you ever can give against the abuse of any monopoly.

There are one or two minor points which are worthy of mention. The Committee excluded the administrative County of London. That was, I think, in many ways, a very unfortunate area. It is an area which is unknown to the London Traffic Act. It was a new transport area and in another place, on Report, an Amendment was introduced which, I suggest to your Lordships, has really improved the Bill. Passenger omnibus services are excluded from the Metropolitan Police area, which is an area that is already familiar to the London Traffic Act, and a concession has been made to the railway companies that long-distance traffic may be run into that area and may start from that area but must not take up or set down passengers in that area; that is to say, you can have a char-a-banc service but you may not have an omnibus service. It is hardly for any member of the Committee or perhaps for any of your Lordships who are not connected with the working of the railways to offer them advice or to criticise them. I confess for my own part that I think the railways will be very unwise if they abstract any further traffic from their lines by running char-a-banc services. They have their railways and their trains and they would be wise, one would think, to keep as much of their traffic as they can upon those lines. But if they desire to meet competition by running char-a-bane services from distant parts to the centre of London they have now been given that power.

I should like to mention one more point, the protection accorded to local authorities. Local authorities have both tramway and omnibus systems and those systems have two characteristics. First of all, they are set up with public money; that is to say, the ratepayers' money; and secondly, in each case they have to have statutory sanction. They have therefore obtained the consent of Parliament to the expenditure of public money in this way and it seemed proper to the Committee that they should be protected. The Committee protected them within their municipal areas. There has been a slight extension of that protection in another place to cover joint boards which work what is really one system but which happens to be in two municipal areas. That, I think, is a reasonable enough extension of what the Committee decided. An attempt was also made in another place to exclude altogether competition with any service of whatever kind which was run by local authorities. Your Lordships may be surprised to hear that by joint working and other arrangements of that kind local authorities are running regular services between towns ten and even twenty miles apart, which services are definitely in competition with the railways and which cannot reasonably be regarded as municipal services. The Committee did not think that those services ought to be protected nor, after discussion, did the House of Commons. I would say this because I think it is in accordance with the facts, that if you did, in fact, exclude the railway companies from operating in all the areas covered by all the activities of local authorities you would leave them nothing but the unpopulated parts of England in which to operate. Therefore the Bills would not be of so much use to them as it is hoped they may be.

The ground upon which the powers were asked for was very largely the amount which the railway companies had suffered on account of the abstraction of their traffic. That is sufficiently familiar to your Lordships as to make it unnecessary for me to dwell upon it; but very considerable evidence upon that point, both as to goods and passengers, was given to the Committee and we felt, and I think we probably all feel, that it was most undesirable that the railway companies should go under that it was essential that this system of transport should be maintained; and that if these powers would assist them to continue in being and to render service to the community, it was desirable that they should have them, subject, of course, to these proper provisions for control. Those, I think, are the only points that occur to me as having been particularly discussed upon these Bills, and I think that in what I have said I have stated what on the whole was the general view of the Committee. We were not entirely unanimous.


My Lords, we have listened with great interest to the speech of the noble Earl, who took such a great interest in his work on the Committee and, if I may be pardoned for saying so, brought to that Committee a great deal of knowledge of a technical character which, possibly, some other members of the Committee did not possess. We ought, I think, to thank that Committee for the great patience with which it investigated the whole subject. It is a very complicated subject, and the Committee sat, I think I am correct in saying, for a longer time than almost any other similar Committee of recent years. It sat and took evidence during a time of year in which attendance at Committees is very onerous upon members of your Lordships' House.

On May 10 last I raised a debate on this subject in your Lordships' House. I stated then that I was in favour of the railways having these powers subject to proper restrictions. In my opinion the restrictions which have been inserted in this Bill are adequate and sensible, and, so far as I am concerned, I shall certainly support the Motion for Second Reading to-day. A restriction or a provision which is almost more valuable than any other that has been mentioned by the noble Earl is that, if there is any suspicion of unfair competition, the Minister of Transport can hold an inquiry and can then lay the case before both Houses of Parliament. I agree with the noble Earl that you cannot frame that provision in any words very much simpler than those which are already in the Bill and it would be undesirable to do so even if it were possible because the object of that clause is to cover any case that might arise. There may be some criticisms as to whether the whole question of road transport being run on a big scale by the railway companies ought not to be the subject of a Government Bill and not a Private Bill. I think there is a good deal to be said for that, though, as it happens, the result has been on the whole satisfactory and, possibly, this is more a theoretical than a practical objection.

From the railway point of view the only regret I have is that these powers were not asked for many years ago by the companies. They have come into this business, in my opinion, fully ten years late. They ought to have started after the War. Most of the best, lines of traffic have already been taken by other companies and unless the railway companies can buy out the road transport companies or amalgamate with them, I do not think there is much chance of the railway companies making any large amount of money on their road transport. In many cases, of course, the companies already have considerable powers. The Great Western Company, which was one of the most enterprising of the companies in the earlier days, runs a great many very efficient motor services in the West of England and elsewhere. Possibly the noble Viscount near me [Viscount Churchill] will not agree that they have made much money directly in that way, but they have opened up new districts and at any rate they have prevented competitors getting into the districts which are already served by railways.


Without powers.


Without any powers at all. I believe, as a matter of fact, if a common informer had been on the war-path he might have put up a very good case against several railway companies in this matter. It is very often forgotten that the railway companies have already on the road nearly 3,000 motor vehicles and 32,400 horse vehicles; therefore they are not at all new to this business. The sort of plea which was made ad misericordiam that these companies should be allowed to do what their competitors were doing falls rather flat in view of that. At the same time they will now be able to run services which are not necessarily from station to station but general services all over the country. That, of course, is something new, or at any rate it is authorised for the first time.

I am often asked, and I often wonder myself, why it is that the railway companies, speaking broadly, have become so unpopular. All kinds of shortcomings are attributable to many great companies, but I think it is partly owing to the fact, that in the past the railway companies have been rather autocratic in their dealings with the public. I constantly come across both passengers and commercial firms who are dissatisfied with the way they have been treated by the companies in the past, and who say that whatever happens they will never go back to the railway as their sole source of transport. That is an unfortunate feeling, and there is no doubt it exists. The railway companies are quite conversant with it. How far it is their fault or not their fault I am not here to discuss to-day. To come to the question of what may happen, I may mention that one of the biggest trading companies, which has just been amalgamated with several other big supply companies, paid the railway companies of this country nearly £750,000 last year for freight. They have now ordered from Mr. Morris a number of one-ton and thirty cwt. vehicles, and in a very short time nearly the whole of that £750,000 paid to the railway companies last year in freight will no longer be paid. I am afraid there is no remedy for that. The railway companies can only hope to recover that kind of traffic by lowering their charges for freight and by cultivating more friendly relations with their customers. When I recently talked to some gentlemen concerned in that great organisation I found them in a state of hostility to the railway companies which may, or may not, be justified, but it has evidently been caused by all kinds of little pin-pricks, which have produced this unfortunate state of affairs.

The only staunch friend the railway companies have seems to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has put a fourpenny Duty on petrol in order to handicap road transport against railway transport, and who, on former occasions, has put up the tax on heavy vehicles. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in doing this, has shown a distinct favouritism. Whether it is justified or not is a matter of opinion. He has introduced a new and a rather dangerous principle in my view, because he has set up a kind of internal protection within the limits of the Kingdom, not protection as against the goods of foreigners coming into this country, but protection of a particular system of transport as against another system. The railways have had in the past great advantages, but I am not sure that they have made the best use of them. They had great social and political influence far in excess of that possessed by road transport. I think I am right in saying that two members of the present Cabinet have been railway directors. Everybody knows the charming and persuasive manner and statements of my noble friend on my right, the noble Viscount, who is Chairman of the Great Western Company [Viscount Churchill].

The railways have had greater political influence, much greater, than road transport has possessed. That has had its effect on railway transport in the past, but I would point out that, though that may have been very useful to them in the past, it will not save them now if they do not reform their own business. One of the things that they should do when they get these powers is in my opinion to have a thorough reform in regard to their smaller stations and branch lines. Whether they need legislation to do that I cannot say, but I am told that they do. They will have to make some rather drastic alterations. Merely to go into the road transport business in a half-hearted way will not serve them. If they only use road transport to try to bring back traffic on to the railway I think they will lose money. They must go into the business wholeheartedly and take people from where they are to where they want to be. Then I think the railways may prove profitable. But people are drifting away all the time from the railways to the roads, and in many cases nothing that the railway companies can do will stop that drift.

We find everywhere a desire on the part of the public for greater speed, but many railway directors think that that is unnecessary. I do not believe, that opinion on the part of railway directors is quite sound. In shipping we find that the big liners are more speedy, while road transport is becoming more speedy and aeroplanes are being used at higher speeds and with greater safety every day. Meanwhile, the railways practically remain where they were. Almost the only noteworthy development has been in the last year or two. Non-stop trains to the North have recently been instituted, but that, I think, is more of a "stunt" than something which is of real value. In fact, the other day a friend told me that there were only sixty passengers in a non-stop train that left Edinburgh for King's Cross. That is a very small number compared to the distance and the size of a train of that kind.

It has been said that we must not allow the railways to go under. Of course the railways ought not to go under. There are many ways in which they can keep themselves alive. Almost all the big concerns in this country—the great iron works, the great steel works and all kinds of industries—have Lately had to scale down their capital and reduce the charges to be paid by them to their shareholders. There is no sign of the railways doing that at present, but I think the railway shareholders will have to make sacrifices to some extent as well as the employees if they are to remain solvent. The valuation of all the stocks of the different railways was on the Stock Exchange on July 14 just over £715,000,000 as against a nominal capital of £1,143,000,000, so that fully one-third of the capital is already considered to be lost. All over the world there is this trend away from the railway to the roads. In France last year the railways, I believe, lost £3,500,000, and friends of mine in America write telling me that even there road transport is beginning to cut into the receipts of some of the railways. I believe that to be true. Railways not only in this country but all over the world will have to face this new situation. The same state of things has occurred in regard to tramways. Tramways have been very much depreciated, and in some cases they have been so damaged that they have had to tear up the rails and resort to motor omnibuses, because they found they could not compete against the motor omnibus. I dare say railways will have to do the same thing, but I never thought it fair that Parliament should have allowed tramways to indulge in road transport and have prevented railways doing the same.

It is largely upon these grounds that I think railway companies should have the power of going on the roads. The noble Earl said that the area in which the railway companies should not be allowed to operate on the roads has been enlarged from the administrative area of the London County Council to the Metropolitan Police area. I entirely approve of that. I think it would have led to considerable disturbance in the arrangements set up under the London Traffic Act, 1924, if the London County Council area only had been barred to the railway companies. Now that the wider area, the Police area, is substituted, I think it will be for the benefit of all concerned. The smaller area would have led to the traffic congestion in London being even worse than it is now. I do not intend to occupy your Lordships' time any longer except to say that I hope that the railway companies will take these powers seriously and work them, not only for their own good, but with the object of linking up different systems of transport for the good of the public. I have no doubt they will do their best in that direction. If they use these powers merely for the purpose of killing their rivals the people of this country will not allow them to go on for long. There are many ways in which they can help themselves and I hope a new spirit will come into the railway board rooms in regard to road transport. But I think they will be under a false impression if they think that the mere use of road powers is really going to put them on their financial legs again. Something much more drastic, something much more radical is wanted, although these powers will help to a certain degree. If there is a Division I shall vote for the Second Reading and I hope that these powers will be used for the benefit of the public.


My Lords, I was very glad to hear my noble friend Lord Montagu of Beaulieu speak so strongly in support of these Bills, and, if I may say so, nothing could have been more lucid than the way in which the noble Earl explained the decisions of the Committee to the House. I can speak to a certain extent as a member of the public because I am not a director of any railway company and have but small practical interest in railways except as a member of the public. But I was head of the Railway Department of the Board of Trade for a part of 1907 and in 1908 when the right hon. gentleman who is the present Leader of the Liberal Party in another place was President and when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer was President.

I must say that it appears to me that these Bills are, if anything, rather belated. The railway companies come almost as suppliants. Strong interests have sprung up and have naturally laid down as many conditions as possible before allowing the railway companies to come upon the roads. The railway companies have been in great difficulties owing to the conduct of the railways during the War and the amalgamations and difficulties since the War, and they have been perhaps too slow in taking note of the great inroads that have been made upon, I will not say their rights but their position by the, new enterprises that have sprung up of recent years. As members of the public we must all wish for continued good service, for low freights, especially for the great basic industries, and for the railways to continue in such a way that the public at large may be properly served.

If I have a criticism to make of the Bills, it is that there may be too many litigations and too many statistics arising out of them. The Minister of Transport may complain at any time under Clause 13, the local authorities may complain under Clause 8, subsection (3), and any trader may complain under Clause 8, subsections (2) and (3). I hope that much litigation will not arise in consequence of that, and that the Railway Tribunal will not have too much to do. Then as to statistics, which, after all, cost money, though they may be very valuable in some senses, some of them might very well be reasonably cut down. When we find that under Clause 8, subsections (2) and (3), under Clause 9, under Clause 14, subsection (2), under Clause 44, subsection (4), and under the Schedule statistics may be required, and when we find also that no Act of Parliament, no order, or by-law and no regulations at present existing, which may all include the requisition of statistics, is in any way to be infringed, it will be realised that you may get a large number of clerks and bureaucrats engaged in the collection of statistics which will really be comparatively valueless and which the competitors of the railways do not have to give. I do not know whether much can be done at the present time to lessen the number of statistics.

No doubt the greatest precaution has been taken to prevent the railway companies going in for the policy which many people think they did according to historical tradition in the past, when they were competitors of the canals, and to prevent them obtaining a position so that they can unduly compete with the roads. There is another clause to which I will refer, and that is the one which provides that when once a railway company has started a road service it should not be allowed to withdraw except by special permission of the Minister of Transport. That is rather a drastic clause because it may make them very cautious about going into any such enterprise at all. Personally I should rather like some explanation as to the reasons why a railway company is not to be allowed to build the chassis of road motor vehicles, although they are free to manufacture the bodies of the vehicles. I should strongly support the principle that a certain amount of elasticity should be given to the railways in present circumstances, and also, from the point of view of a member of the public, that this small sop should be granted to the railway companies to aid them to maintain a position in which they may be of value to the public at large.


My Lords, at an earlier stage I ventured to suggest to His Majesty's Government that the point of supreme importance in regard to these Railway Bills was the safeguarding of the interests of the public and that a matter which went to the root of the question was the character of the organisations which were asking for extended powers. Had they in the past on the whole shown reasonable energy in the service of the public, or had they rather given first place to the interests of the clique of officials who control them? As they had behaved in the past so were they likely to behave in the future.

There is much evidence to show that the railway companies are not primarily commercial undertakings at all. This is a hard saying, so I will give examples of what I mean. For many years the London and North Western Railway had a locomotive engineer who had all sorts of ingenious but quite unpractical ideas. For at least twenty years this gentleman kept on turning out locomotives embodying these ideas. For instance, one of the mechanical arrangements he introduced sometimes had the effect of making two pairs of driving wheels under the same engine revolve in different directions at starting. When he retired he left behind him large numbers of engines that simply had to be swept away. As soon as they could be replaced they were thrown on the scrap heap by scores, if not by hundreds. After they were got rid of it was found possible permanently to reduce the staff at Crewe works which had before been necessary to deal with the complicated arrangements of these engines. All that time—as I have said, for at least twenty years—his colleagues and superiors allowed this to go on. That is why I say British railways are not primarily commercial undertakings. It would be nearer the truth to describe the London and North Western Railway at that time as a subsidised home for the feeble-minded. Something of the same kind is going on at the present time on the London and North Eastern Railway. The officials lately made up their minds to put, I suppose, not less than £500,000 into building sixty enormous Pacific locomotives for which there is no work that could not equally well be performed by much smaller and cheaper machines.

The first object of the managements of the railways is the continuance of the conditions that ensure for them an easy and untroubled existence, remote from the cares that beset ordinary men. There is much evidence that there is rigid combination between the managements to produce this result. I need not labour the public importance of such evidence. It is obvious that, if it can be made good, it should profoundly affect the attitude of Parliament to these Bills. The Bill before us is recommended by the Joint Select Committee appointed to consider its provisions. In the proceedings before the Committee the question of the efficiency of railway management was on one or two occasions just touched upon. No attempt whatever was made to examine it at length and the Committee have taken no action about it. I am, of course, aware that the Committee abode by the strict rules that govern their procedure. It is sufficient for my purpose to point out that this vital question did, in fact, receive no consideration worth speaking of. Of its importance there cannot, I think, be any doubt.

Your Lordships cannot fail to have noticed that the endeavours that I have made to describe to you the defects of railway management have met with no response from noble Lords who sit on railway boards except a few vague general assertions, and that no attempt whatever has been made to deal with the definite facts given. Challenge after challenge has been refused. The noble Lords' one chance is boycott, and well they know it. To such an extent have they carried this policy that the noble Viscount who represents the Ministry of Transport, and who can, I think, by no stretch of the imagination be considered as favourable to the point of view that I represent, was on a recent occasion constrained to call your Lordships' attention to it. No one is better aware than I am what an anomaly it is that a person so insignificant as myself should take so large a part in ventilating this question. I have one asset, and one asset only, and that is that I know what I am talking about because I have taken time and trouble to look into the facts. I have no distinguished record of public service to recommend me, like so many of those whom I am addressing, but nevertheless I should feel that I was neglecting a public duty if I failed to call your Lordships' attention to things that I know and that profoundly affect the future of this country.

No one who does not deliberately shut his eyes to facts can be unaware of the fate that threatens to overwhelm us. Our very food, which we cannot produce for ourselves, is dependent upon plentiful and unhindered production of our factories, which in turn is absolutely dependent upon large supplies of cheap capital. Every year we are living on capital to a greater extent. I understand that in pre-War years we saved on an average £400,000,000 a year. Last year we saved well under £100,000,000, and every political Party tries to buy votes by promising yet further non-productive expenditure. Obviously the thing cannot continue. A fall in the exchange is a matter of a few years, and when that comes about there is no more food for this country. A few more years down the slippery slope and disaster will be upon us such as has never yet overtaken a civilised country.


My Lords, if I may address your Lordships on a point of order, though the noble Lord's earlier observations had very little connection with the Bill before us except that they contained the word "railway," the observations which the noble Lord is now making seem to have departed even from that connection, and I venture to suggest that they are not in order in this discussion.


Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to continue. If the noble Earl had waited for one second more he would have seen where I was leading. Our one chance is to improve our methods and increase production. One of the worst troubles that we are suffering from is the enormous cost of transport, which is bleeding the country white. The politicians, for their own purposes, put up the pay of railway servants to a level which, so long as the present system of railway management endures, it is impossible for the railways to find without inflicting the gravest damage upon the industries of the country. Railway officials, who themselves stood to lose nothing, accepted the politicians' demand over the heads of the shareholders, who were not consulted. The only chance of its being possible for the railway servants to continue to receive their present scale of pay without bringing about disaster is immensely to increase the efficiency of the railways, and so to make the work of each railway servant much more valuable than it now is. Instead of doing this the Bills before us merely authorise the railway companies to extend to the roads the slackness and inefficiency which they have made permanent upon the railways. There is absolutely nothing in the Bills which is calculated to increase the efficiency of railway management, and there is a good deal that tends in the opposite direction by reducing the stimulus of competition from independent road motors.

The introduction of these Bills provided a favourable opportunity for a complete investigation of the methods of the railways and for exacting from them, in return for any privilege that was given them, a much higher standard of efficiency in the service of the public. Nothing was done. The public and the railway shareholders are to be left more helpless than before in the clutches of the managements. I do not suggest that it is in all circumstances unreasonable for the railway companies to have extended road powers, but I do think that it is the greatest mistake for Parliament, if it grants these powers, not to take every step it can to ensure that the public shall be well served both by road and by rail. The fundamental trouble lies in the fact that the railways are managed by bodies of officials the less enterprising of whom have almost absolute power to block reasonable improvements. I know well, and have often stated, that there are many railway officials who intensely dislike the present state of things, but they are powerless to move. I recognise that it is hopeless at this juncture to throw out the Bills or to amend them as they should be amended. The only place where this could have been done was in the Joint Committee. I did everything that I could to get the question of the efficiency of railway management considered by the Committee, but every door was bolted and barred and the opportunity has passed away. The only people whose point of view has been heard are the organisations who could afford to appear before the Committee as regular Petitioners, and the heart of the matter has been ignored.

On Question, Bill read 2a: Committee negatived.




Read 2a: Committee negatived.


My Lords, perhaps it may be convenient if I say, with reference to the four Bills to which your Lordships have just given a Second Reading, that there is, as you will realise, no Committee stage to follow, since the Bills have been before the Joint Committee, and the only remaining stage is the Third Reading. I have heard rumours, though I have no certain knowledge, that there are one or two points that some members of the House desire to raise on the Third Reading, and I suggest, therefore, putting the debate down for Wednesday of next week. I understand that a Government Bill will come up on that day, and I suggest that the Government Bill should have precedence and that then the Railway Bills should be taken.