HL Deb 25 March 1931 vol 80 cc492-506

Order of the Day read for taking into consideration the Commons Message of yesterday.

Moved, That the Commons Message be now considered.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE) moved, That this House do concur in the following resolution communicated by the Commons—namely, "That it is expedient that the London Passenger Transport Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons." The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this Resolution, which I think is more or less formal, I would say that it is simply a matter of your Lordships deciding whether this Bill should be sent to a Joint Committee of the two Houses. There are precedents for this procedure in the Port of London Bills, 1903–8, the Metropolitan Water Board Bill, 1902, and the Ouse Drainage Bill, 1928. I think your Lordships will realise that this procedure will save time and expense and will be for the general convenience, while not depriving your Lordships of a full opportunity at every subsequent stage of the Bill of giving it the fullest consideration and criticism. I would point out that the proposal that your Lordships should be invited to send this Bill to a Joint Committee was passed in the House of Commons without any dissent on the part of the official Opposition or of the Liberals. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House do concur in the following Resolution communicated by the Commons—namely, "That it is expedient that the London Passenger Transport Bill be committed to a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons."—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)


My Lords, with regard to the two Bills to which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, made reference—namely, the Metropolitan Water Board Bill and the Port of London Bill—he did not tell us that the circumstances were not exactly the same as in the case of this Bill. Both the Port of London Bill and the Bill that constituted the Metropolitan Water Board were more or less agreed Bills; but, as your Lordships know, there is very strong opposition to this Bill, and that fact is evinced by the numbers taking part in the Division in the House of Commons last Monday. I am glad, however, to think that, though this procedure is going to be adopted, we shall still have an opportunity of discussing the measure on all its stages in this House. I wonder whether the Government realise that, if we send this Bill upstairs in the way suggested, it will take a considerable time. I also doubt very much if there will be much agreement between the very numerous conflict- ing interests. But that, of course, is a matter that will be decided by the Committee.

I should like to utter a protest against some of the remarks made by the Minister of Transport when he introduced this Bill in another place. The Party to which I belong in London, the Municipal Reform Party, and the organisation known as the London Municipal Society, have no objection, of course, to references being made to their policy and programme, but one might at least request that their statements should be accurately quoted. I should like to draw your Lordships' attention for a moment to some very serious discrepancies in the Minister of Transport's statement in the House of Commons on Monday last. In the first place, alluding to the statement of policy which he issued on behalf of the Government on October 2 last year, he stated that the London Municipal Society had declared in a manifesto: — Mr. Herbert Morrison has sounded the death-knell of municipal socialism and nationalisation."— and he proceeded to lead the House of Commons to suppose that the London Municipal Society was at that time in favour of the policy of His Majesty's Government. The Minister of Transport entirely distorted the statement made by the London Municipal Society on October 3 last. That statement was as follows: — In effect, Mr. Herbert Morrison, in advocating a non-elected public Board subject to no political control, has sounded the death-knell of municipal socialism and nationalisation. The Minister of Transport made a most extraordinary omission and distorted the whole value of the statement. I am not going to say more and I leave your Lordships to judge whether this statement was in consonance with the facts.

The second terminological inexactitude made by the Minister of Transport in his speech was the statement that the London County Council was asked to be the Port authority in the days when that question came before Parliament. He said that the London County Council were of opinion that they did not wish "to be possessed of trading undertakings." As a matter of fact, that is not a correct statement of the proposition put before the London County Council, which I well remember, though I was not a member at the time. The proposition was that the London County Council should guarantee the stock of the Port of London Authority, and also that they should make good any possible deficiency out of the rates. The London County Council declined the proposal unless the Government of the day shared the responsibility with them, and the Government refused to do so.

At a later stage of his speech the Minister of Transport gave what he called— an illustration of the kind of danger that politics in the management or a public undertaking bring out. This was in the course of an argument regarding municipalisation. He stated that in 1929–30 the London County Council earned a tramway surplus of some £128,000, and that they made up their minds to "make away with the loose cash" in view of the Transport Bill, which would take over the County Council tramways, and also that they would make a reduction in the rates—a very pardonable wish on the part of the London County Council, in these days when economy is so necessary, and a practice which the Government does not follow. That, said the Minister— was the real motive of taking away the surplus earned by the travelling public and set aside quite properly for tramway purposes. I venture to say that that surplus was taken for political reasons, and not for transport reasons at all. That is the kind of danger of politicians playing about with big business undertakings. I should like to point out the absurdity of this charge.

Everybody knows that all over the country, where the tramways earn a surplus, that surplus is very often put to the reduction of rates. We also know that it has been the boast of the Socialist Party in regard to electricity undertakings that they make a much bigger profit than private undertakings and that the profit is used in relief of rates. That is an extraordinary charge in regard to the London County Council, as I shall proceed to show in a, minute. The tramway surplus of £128,804 is equal to a little over a halfpenny rate, and the reduction in rates made by the London County Council was 7d. in the £. I would like your Lordships to bear with me for one moment while I give the figures of this tramway account, because there is great misapprehension about this matter. Since the tramways were owned by the London County Council—I am not going to say a word about the policy of whether municipalities should own tramways or not—the ratepayers have paid towards the tramways for losses £1,500,000, and the amount refunded to the ratepayers from surpluses has been £325,000. Before the transfer of this £128,000 this year there had been a net contribution from the rates towards losses on the tramways of a little over a million and a quarter. There is, therefore, still a balance due to the ratepayers of over £1,000,000. Surely it is a just and honest transaction that losses borne by the ratepayers on a municipal undertaking should be repaid by that undertaking if and when it can afford it? The imputation made by the Minister of Transport in this matter really calls for an apology, and I hope it will be made by some member of the Government on the Bench opposite.

Later in the evening the Minister of Transport, in his speech, said he was attempting to prove that there had been general acceptance of the proposals and that there was a very strong probability of general agreement by the undertakings concerned before the Bill passed into law. In support of this argument he proceeded to read a letter from Lord Ash-field, which defines his position and that of his companies towards the Bill. The letter, after stating that the companies had not been able to consult their security holders, and that so far the companies had proceeded "on the basis of direct negotiations with you and your advisers" but had not yet proceeded far, said the companies assumed that if and when agreement is reached and we have consulted our stockholders the Bill will be adapted to give effect to such agreement. The letter further stated that the companies had pursued a policy for many years towards the principle that there should be consolidation of the local passenger transport undertakings of London under a unified control and with a common financial interest.

Then, if I may be allowed to quote further from Lord Ashfield's letter:— We are, therefore, not proposing to challenge this principle of the Bill. But when we examine the Bill section by section, we may find many things with which we are not agreed, which are also matters of principle. The last sentence of this letter is the vital one. As read by the Minister of Transport it implies that so far the companies had not found things in the Bill with which they did not agree, though they might do so later on. The Minister of Transport then went on to say that with two exceptions "none of the existing transport undertakings have really challenged the fundamental financial, economic and administrative basis on which this Bill proceeds." Later on in the debate the Minister of Transport said that he was instructed that he had misquoted Lord Ashfield's letter, and he had to intervene in the debate and state:— In residing a letter from Lord Ashfield I made him say 'But when we examine the Bill section by section, we may find many things with which we are not agreed, which are also matters of principle. The 'may' should not have been inserted, and the sentence should have read:—'But when we examine the Bill section by section, we find many things with which we are not agreed, which are also matters of principle.' Lastly, and I do not want to detain the House at undue length, because, no doubt, we shall have other opportunities of discussing this Bill, there is another contradiction which I should like to make as regards the statement made in the House of Commons by the Minister of Transport. The Minister proceeded to make this astounding declaration, that the London Traffic Act was not an issue at the recent London County Council elections. If I may venture to describe it I should describe that as another of Mr. Morrison's purple patches, which will fade away when the searchlight of truth is brought to bear upon them. The Labour Party, in the London News, the publication of the London Labour Party—it is a monthly publication, which I am sure the official members on the Government Bench read with great diligence when it appears—makes this question of London traffic a very prominent feature. It is a, very well got up paper. There are eight pages of it, and I have to read it, as I have to road all these manifestos, including that of the Liberal Party. There are no fewer than three pages which discuss this question of London traffic. As regards our own humble manifesto, which is not nearly as long, there were ten principal items in it. One is our usual principal plank, economy—a plank which has been endorsed by the electors for no less than twenty-four years during which the Municipal Reform Party has been in power. The next plank is, of course, the attack upon the Socialism of noble Lords opposite. Then we get Public Assistance and Poplarism, which last, as your Lordships can quite well imagine, is a question of vital importance at the elections. The next question is London traffic. I am not going to detain your Lordships with the other six items in our programme, all of which found approval with the electors, but I would state that it is not at all true to say that this question of London traffic was not an issue at the elections.

In conclusion I must say that I think it is a great pity that a large section of the public have been deceived by the Minister of Transport's statement that "the principle of public ownership would be combined with the principle of commercial management, thus ensuring the advantages of vigorous business enterprise." This State Board consists only of five members, and I notice that persons who are eminent in public life, who are not necessarily acquainted with commercial management, can be members. No doubt it will be convenient for some members of His Majesty's Government, when they are sitting on this side and not earning the salaries which they at present enjoy, but it does not seem to me to be a position which ought to commend itself especially to members of the other House, who are not allowed to share in the plums, because they are expressly debarred from being members of this Board.

This Board will be ruled entirely by Whitehall, and it will of necessity lag much behind private enterprises. Every concern of a commercial kind that is being managed by the State has always proved to be a failure, and this is what Mr. Morrison says is "the greatest Socialist transport scheme which has ever been before the country." It has been blessed by members of the Party opposite as the first real instalment of "Socialism in our time." The principle of this Bill, in my opinion, is all wrong, and we cannot have London traffic run from Whitehall. The companies and shareholders who have put money into this business ought, in my humble opinion, to be represented; above all, if you are going to have a monopoly, the municipal authorities should have some say in the matter, which they have not got at present. There will be no voice speaking for the public at all, as far as I can see. It is true that in the Bill there is some reference to the Advisory Committee, but their position is not at all clear. The Minister can, if he likes, pay no attention at all to their advice and recommendations.

Speaking for myself and for those who act with me in London affairs, we regard this Bill as a thoroughly bad Bill in every way, and, so far from its finding favour with the public, it was condemned root and branch by the electorate of London at the last election. The London County Council has found fault with it, and 19 out of the 28 boroughs have also disagreed with it. The only councils that have agreed with it are those of the Socialist boroughs. Woolwich—the late member for which in the House of Commons I should like to welcome here with the greatest pleasure, and to offer him our congratulations—Woolwich was, I think, one of the boroughs which agreed to this in principle. I hope I have not detained your Lordships too long in making what has been rather a Second Reading speech upon this matter, but I should not have ventured to address your Lordships unless I had thought it my duty at the outset to challenge the many misrepresentations—I will not say deliberate misrepresentations, that is perhaps too strong a word—but the misrepresentations of fact made by the Minister of Transport in introducing this Bill in the House of Commons.


My Lords, although this Bill goes to a Joint Committee, I understand that, if it passes Third Reading in the House of Commons, it will come here again for a Second Reading, and then for consideration in the Committee of the Whole House. In those circumstances, although I represent one of the principal undertakings that are to be absorbed by the Bill, the Metropolitan Railway, I should not like to say anything at this moment which would indicate that those whom I represent are hostile to the general principle of the measure. At the same time, this Bill of 64 clauses bristles with Second Reading points. It establishes very novel principles in our legislation. It permits a Minister of the Crown practically to control the whole administration of London transport under the guise of a small Committee of five, who are to be appointed by him, who are to act according to his instructions, and whom he may remove if their proceedings do not appeal to his sense of what is right.

That is a very strong proposition, and it is still more remarkable when you consider that, of all the undertakings that are to be embodied in this transport scheme only two—namely, the omnibuses and the Metropolitan Railway—earn any profits. The others are more or less obsolescent and unprofitable concerns, and some of those who have worked for years in developing these two great paying undertakings think it rather hard that at a period when we are reducing our dividends and spending our money in improved plans and improved provisions for the public benefit, we should now be told by Parliament that we are not to have the benefit of our enterprise and self-denial. At the same time, if it is in the public interest, of course one cannot let private interests stand in the way of reform, but when the Bill comes up for Second Reading in this House I hope it will be put into a shape in which many of the objectionable features will be eliminated, and that the Ministry of Transport's representative here will be able to satisfy us about the reasons why this Bill is introduced to-day.

There has been no demand for it from the public. I believe that the public are totally ignorant that there is such a Bill before Parliament. In the case of the London Water Board there was agitation for years in favour of unification, there was a Royal Commission appointed, the newspapers were full of it, and it was generally an agreed measure, which was of very great value in London. In this case, there has been no public demand for any amalgamation of these different forms of transport. The only complaint one hears is that there are too many omnibuses on the streets. I am sure there is no complaint which can be brought against the railways founded on anything like public inconvenience.

I hope that these clauses, with which the Bill abounds, practically depriving those who have made themselves masters of these transport agencies, and placing the administration in the hands of gentlemen whose names we do not know, and of whom we know nothing whatever, will be reconsidered. I do not want to say that those whom I represent are absolutely hostile, but we do feel that the terms which will be ultimately given to those who are dispossessed ought to be placed upon a very generous basis. There ought to be nothing in the shape of public robbery, and there ought to be nothing in the shape of meanness about the transaction. If one could get the assurance of the Ministry that those views will be accepted, and put before the Committee, and will not be opposed on the part of the Minister of Transport, I do not think I need say more than the noble Lord, Lord Ashfield, has already said in his letter, that my company will be quite prepared to give a friendly consideration to the Bill in its amended form.


My Lords, I rise only to enter my humble protest against the undue and wholly unnecessary haste with which His Majesty's Government have made this request for a Joint Committee to your Lordships' House. The Bill only passed Second Reading in the House of Commons, when the suggestion for a Joint Committee was made, on Monday evening, and I, for one, had not realised that this request was actually on the Paper till I received my Papers this morning—though I did hear about it late last night. All I feel is that such a very important measure as this, which affects so many interests, should be thoroughly discussed by Committees of both Houses of Parliament. I have no objection on the ground of principle to a Joint Committee, but I think that a matter of such importance as this would have been far better referred in the ordinary course to a Committee of the House of Commons and also in due course to a Committee of your Lordships' House. It is rather like those cases which we have so often deprecated in this House, and in regard to which both political Parties are equally guilty, where measures are rushed through this House at a moment's notice for the convenience of the Government at the end of a Session. In this case the House of Lords are asked to take a decision almost at a moment's notice. Beyond that I have no remark to make. I think it is a very great pity, if I may say so, that the Bill should not run the gauntlet of separate Committees of the two Houses of Parliament.


My Lords, I think that most of your Lordships will find yourselves in agreement with the protest which has just been uttered by my noble friend Lord Churchill. It is indeed somewhat inconvenient that this matter should come before your Lordships' House within thirty-six hours of the Second Heading taking place in another place, and without any real opportunity for your Lordships to go into the merits of the suggestion made or taking any action which you may think desirable in order to protest against the course which is proposed to be adopted. The noble Lord who introduced the Motion said that it was only a formal matter. He cited two or three precedents, the Metropolitan Water Board and the Ouse Drainage and, I think, another, when a Joint Committee had been set up.

I will not quarrel with the view that it is a matter of procedure. Indeed, the fact that it is a matter of procedure is the fact which mainly determines me in the view which I take of the Motion. But I think there is a more recent precedent than those to which the noble Lord alluded, only it is a precedent the other way. Two years ago there was a London Traffic Bill introduced into another place which passed its Second Reading there and with regard to which a suggestion was put forward that it should be investigated by a Joint Committee of both Houses. The opponents of the measure, mainly those Socialist boroughs which support the present one, violently opposed the proposal and I think in consequence of that opposition your Lordships were not able to see your way to accede to the invitation. Rumour, at least, has it—I do not say more than that—that the main instigator of that opposition was the present Minister of Transport. Now the Bill is again a Bill about London traffic, but this time it is the Bill of the Minister of Transport and he now proposes the very course which he is supposed, at any rate, violently to have opposed three years ago.

On the other hand, I remind myself that only three weeks ago we had a debate on a very similar question. The Motion in that case was that a Bill about wills and intestacies should be referred to a Joint Committee. That Motion was made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and he began his observations by saying: — This is not a Motion which commits your Lordships in any way to an expression of opinion in favour of the principle of the Bill, or to the particular means whereby that principle is sought to be effected. At this stage, therefore, it is not necessary, nor indeed would it be appropriate, for me to say anything upon the merits. If this Motion be carried, and if the Bill itself obtain examination by a Select Committee, and come before your Lordships on some future occasion on a Motion for Second Reading, your Lordships will be perfectly free either to accept or reject the Motion. In supporting the Motion the noble and learned Marquess, Lord Reading, intervened to say that: no one who supports this Resolution is prevented from taking any point he chooses when the Bill comes up for further discussion in this House. Everything will be as free to the members of this House as it was before the Motion which is now proposed. The noble and learned Marquess went on to urge that inasmuch as, unfortunately, it happens—I think we all regard it as unfortunate—that there is a grave disproportion between the numbers on each side of your Lordships' House, when the Government of the day is the side which is in the minority we ought to be careful not to refuse a Motion which Ministers think desirable and which they think will assist the better transaction of business when no matter of principle is involved and when it is only a matter of convenience. The very fact that the other side cannot carry a Motion of that kind against the will of the other two Parties seems to me a reason why the other two Parties should not make a stand against the Government, which, after all, is responsible for business, unless they are satisfied that there is a real matter of principle involved.

I know nothing of the merits of this particular Bill. We have heard from my noble friend Lord Jessel descriptions of it which certainly tend to make one very apprehensive. I have read something of the debate in another place and of the Motion made by members to whose opinion I attach great weight and which, if it be well founded, indicates that there are very grave objections to the measure. The Bill has passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons. It must go, therefore, to a Select Committee. The only question which we are discussing at this moment is whether or not it shall go to a Select Committee in another place and then, assuming it runs the gauntlet of their criticism and comes up here, it shall go to another Select Committee up here; or whether we shall accept the invitation which comes to us from another place to join in the Select Committee and then discuss the Bill, if it comes here, first on Second Reading and then in Committee of the Whole House. It does not in any way prevent our examining the Bill and amending it in any way that we see fit. Indeed, the fact that some members of your Lordships' House will be present on the Committee may tend to give a more careful scrutiny to its provisions at an earlier stage than would otherwise be the case.

In advising your Lordships, so far as I may, that we should accept the Motion which has been put forward in spite of the short notice with which we are confronted, I do so only on the very distinct and plain understanding and intimation that in doing that your Lordships are in no way committing yourselves to approval either of the principle of the Bill or any of its provisions, that we are perfectly free when this Bill reaches us for Second Reading to reject it if we believe it to be in principle wrong, or to amend it if we find upon examination that it has those defects which some of your Lordships believe. The fact that some members of this House have been present on the Joint Committee will in no way prejudice either the House as a whole or any member of the House from taking any action which is deemed fit when the Bill reaches us. In the words of the noble and learned Marquess, we shall be just as free as if this Motion had not been made. On that clear understanding—and I believe that noble Lords opposite will think that I am not unfair in stating it—my own view is that we ought not to stand in the way of a proposal which is made by the Government with its authority and its responsibility for the conduct of business, and therefore that we ought to allow the Motion to be passed.


My Lords, the noble and learned Viscount who has just sat down has described what this Motion involves perfectly accurately and I can only endorse precisely what he said, that your Lordships are left free after this Motion has been passed to criticise, amend, or indeed reject the measure when it comes before you on further stages.

I should like to say a word with regard to what fell from the noble Lord, Lord Churchill, because it would seem as if we had unnecessarily rushed this Motion before the House when the Bill only passed its Second Reading in another place last night. I think my noble friend, the Secretary of State for the Colonies, was anxious to consult the convenience of your Lordships by not prolonging our sitting before Easter into next week. It would have been quite in order for us to have sat next Monday or Tuesday in order to deal with this Motion, but I think my noble friend felt it was for the convenience of this House that we should, so far as possible, terminate our business on Friday of this week, and therefore, there was no alternative but to put this Motion down for to-day. There was really no idea of rushing your Lordships into a Motion without full notice.

The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, and the noble Lord, Lord Aberconway, both speaking for great transport undertakings that are closely involved in this measure, made some very interesting remarks. The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, spent a great deal of his speech in criticising the inaccuracies which he said occurred in the speech of the Minister of Transport in another place. I could not help feeling that it was rather a pity that somebody, who has as much knowledge of the London County Council affairs as the noble Lord, had not in the House of Commons confronted the Minister of Transport with those particular points, but I have no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, will see that those points are brought to the notice of the Minister of Transport in the House of Commons where he can reply to them. I am sure the noble Lord will not expect me on this occasion to take up those particular points. While the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, was very anxious to point out the inaccuracies of my right honour- able friend the Minister of Transport, I would mildly suggest to him that the phrase he used that traffic is going to be run from Whitehall was quite as inaccurate as anything to which he drew our attention in the Minister of Transport's speech, and I hope at a later stage I shall be able to show your Lordships that that will not be the case at all.

I was very glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Aberconway, while saying there were many points in this measure which would require very careful scrutiny, was not inclined to object to the underlying principle, although he hardly admitted that it was necessary at this moment. I want scrupulously to avoid entering into the general principles of the Bill at this stage, but I would say to the noble Lord that negotiations, as he knows, are proceeding between the Minister of Transport and the various undertakings, and his conciliatory methods and his anxiety to take into account every consideration put before him, whether it is by the Metropolitan Railway or the omnibuses and tubes or the various local authorities, make us hopeful that by the time the Bill reaches its further stages there may be a considerable amount of agreement with many of the enterprises that are involved. At any rate, as your Lordships will have noticed, there is a large section of the Bill devoted to the setting up of an arbitral tribunal which will settle the points which remain outstanding in dispute.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to acquaint them therewith.


My Lords, I have further to move that the Committee be proposed by the Committee of Selection of this House.

Moved, That a Committee of five Lords be appointed to join with a Committee of the House of Commons to consider the said Bill, as mentioned in the said Message, and that the said Committee be named by the Committee of Selection.—(Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.)

On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.