§ Mr. WATT
asked the Prime Minister whether he has considered the wisdom of introducing legislation enabling the Government, on behalf of the State, to purchase some part at least of the railway system of this country under the Act of 1844, instead of giving the railway companies power to increase their rates for merchandise and passengers; if so, will he state to the House why he prefers the latter method?
Railway companies already have the power to fix and vary passenger fares and rates for merchandise within the statutory maxima, subject in the case of rates for merchanise to an obligation to justify an increase if challenged before the Railway and Canal Commission. All that is now proposed is to make it clear that an increase in the cost of labour due to the improvement of conditions for the staff would if established be a valid justification for a reasonable increase of charges within the legal maxima if challenged before that Court. The purchase by the State of the whole or a portion of the railways involves many other considerations, and I do not see how it is in any way an alternative to the above proposal.