§ This Act shall continue in force for five years after the passing thereof and no longer, unless continued by Parliament.
§ Mr. FREDERICK WHYTE
I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."
When a new Clause similar to the one I am now moving appeared on the Paper, I, in common with a great many Members, 1334 imagined that the Government would offer no objection to it. Our reason for supposing that was that this is frankly an experimental measure. I think all parties concerned in it, and certainly the traders themselves, are very much in the dark about it. They would have liked to have seen a limit set to the time of its operation. I do not think the President of the Board of Trade last night gave us adequate reasons for the course he took, especially in view of the fact that the Amendment in itself is, I believe, in the opinion of the majority in this House, quite unexceptionable. We had one reason given to us by the hon. Member for North Somerset, namely, that what would happen would be that at the end of three or five years, as the case may be, the measure would be put in to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, and so continued from year to year. I conceive, if this is a proper measure, it is just such a one as should be placed in the scope of that Bill. A great many Bills are included in the Schedule of the Expiring Laws Continuance Act which should be removed. It should be reserved exclusively for Bills of this kind. We have the precedent in this case of another experimental measure, namely, the Minimum Wage Act, which was passed in the early part of this Session. Clause 6, Sub-section (2), of that Act places a time limit of three years on the duration of it, and I think I am entitled to maintain that this measure now before the Committee has in some degree been brought forward in unexplored territory, and even if the supporters of the measure say it is not a step in the dark, and that the traders are wrong in saying so, the acceptance of this new Clause would remove the uneasiness which the traders feel. That such uneasiness prevails was made plain on 22nd August, 1911, on the Motion for the Adjournment, when hon. Members on both sides of the House rose and pressed the Government to explain what was the pledge given to the railway companies. That uneasiness found further forcible expression both on the Second Reading and the Committee stage of this Bill, and I maintain it would be greatly alleviated if the President of the Board of Trade could see his way to accept this new Clause. In that case, the traders would know that at a given period, if there was anything to debate upon, the measure would of necessity come up again for discussion. They would know by the very fact that a time limit was 1335 established that it would be very much easier to have the question reopened in Parliament than it can possibly be if the measure is left without any time limit of any sort. I am sure it would greatly smooth the small remaining part of the passage of the Bill through Parliament if the right hon. Gentleman would accept this proposal or, indeed, any other time limit in regard to the Bill. I wish to refer to a question not unconnected with the time limit, namely, the suggestion—I will not call it the promise—the Government has made that inquiry should be made into the general question of railway management. Nobody could be more explicit on this particular point than was the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Second Reading of the Bill. He said:—My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade is considering the matter, and he is hopeful of being able to make an announcement at no distant date.He went on—I am sure that something should be done. No one is satisfied with the situation now.In another place he said—I think there certainly ought to be some further investigation into the position. It is one of the necessities of the situation.If the right hon. Gentleman can accept those points or accept this Clause or as an alternative make a definite pledge that a full inquiry will be given, this Bill will receive a greater measure of Parliamentary assent on the Third Reading than it is likely otherwise to get.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I desire to second this new Clause. There is an outstanding debt due to the traders of this country in respect of many grievances as to which repeated promises have been made to deal with them. An attempt was made to deal with them in the former Bill introduced this Session which has now been withdrawn and we are left in a condition of doubt and indefiniteness, in consequence of this one Clause Bill, as to whether and when these grievances are to be met. In these circumstances, it is only fair to the traders that some limit should be placed on this Bill so that meantime the Government may have an opportunity of introducing those Clauses which are not in this Bill.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. Buxton)
I do not think I can add much to what I have already said on the part of the Government in oppos- 1336 ing this proposal, which is in substance the same as the proposal we had last night. The House should remember that the undertaking given by the Government was not, as some seem to think, conditional for a particular time and to come to an end at an early period when the events connected with that time had ceased to exist. It was a condition of the acceptance of the Report of the Royal Commission, through the Conciliation Boards, to improve the pay and conditions of labour, and to impose on the railway companies obligations which have led already to a considerable increase in pay and improvement in the conditions of work. I understand that it was not intended that this should apply to the first series of this matter, but to successive series as well. The Conciliation Boards and the machinery connected with them are current, and I am glad to think that so far they have worked smoothly and satisfactorily, and will continue their operations, and will be current when this Clause will come into operation. From the trader's point of view it is an advantage that there should be these Conciliation Boards. Strikes are very serious from the trader's point of view, and everybody desires that they should be avoided. The object of this Bill is to remove a stumbling block from the path of the railway companies by removing a doubt which has arisen from time to time in reference to the method by which they can meet the increased charges due to improved wages and conditions of labour. That is the extent to which the Bill goes and the object with which it was introduced. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Amendment, said, as to a Clause discussed the other night, that it would operate on wages after 1914, which, I think, was the date of that Clause. The same argument applies to this proposal, and if a particular time limit is fixed, it would operate on the wages after that date. It would not be in conformity with the undertaking of the Government; and, secondly, it would be destructive of the main object of the Bill if my hon. Friend's Amendment were adopted. The hon. Member in support of the time limit mentioned that there were other questions, besides wages, in which the traders were interested. Obviously, it is the duty of the Government at no distant date, to deal with the various questions which were contained in Railways (No. 1 Bill). I hope the House will support the Government in rejecting a time 1337 arrangement which would not be in the interest of the traders, which I am sure would be detrimental to the men, and which would be opposed to the undertaking which the Government gave.
§ Mr. STEPHEN WALSH
I spoke upon a very similar Amendment last night, and I feel that a few words ought to be said against this one. I think it is desirable that both the leading Ministers and subordinate Ministers should be in their places when statements are being made as to the reasons for a particular line of action. We were asked last night by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to remember the conditions under which the Government's promise was made. We are told that as a matter of fact the promise was not made so much as a settlement of a particular strike or great difficulty existing at the time, as to enable certain Conciliation Boards to be continued. I do not know whether there is a time limit applying to those Boards or not, but I believe there is, and I see no reason why in regard to a measure of this character its continuance should not always be within the competence of Parliament to determine. Indeed, neither the right hon. Gentleman nor his subordinate officer has given a single reason to the House why the matter should be taken out of the competence of Parliament itself. Still, I would ask the House to remember that two cases, very similar in character and in their national gravity occurred—one the railway strike, and the other the strike of miners a little later. They were both of overwhelming national importance, and they were both dealt with on very similar lines. The State is represented by the Ministers on that Bench, and this House was asked to consider the best thing to do. They were both matters affecting the very low wages of the people engaged in very fundamental toil, and that was really the reason why this House was invoked to assent to a Bill of this character. The men were being very badly under-paid, and the Bill is to enable the railways to lift up those wages. The same conditions applied in the case of the coal mines. An inquiry was held by the leading officers of the State. They admitted the case of the men, and they said, "This is unique; we will put a time limit to it. The men are entitled to very much better wages; we will lay down a condition which will guarantee to them a certain minimum wage, but we will limit the operation." The right hon. Gentleman 1338 himself has very carefully refrained from making any attempt to discriminate between those two cases. They are both alike in fundamentals; they both originated because of the cruelly low wages of the men. They asked this House because of those low wages to assent to certain proposals in one case, the Minimum Wage Act for miners, and in the other case this Bill which is now under consideration. I am not, of course, setting one case against the other, but I submit if it was right to put a time limit of three years in the Coal Act, unless Parliament otherwise determined, that it is equally right that a similar principle should be adopted in this Bill. The hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. C. Bathurst) submitted an Amendment for three years last night. He spoke of the grievances of the traders, which have been for many years before this House and with which no honest attempt has been made to grapple. There is not the slightest doubt but that those grievances have a right to be settled, not as a result of a bargain on this Bill, but on their own merits. I hope that that attempt will come, and speedily, because all of us know how very serious are the grievances under which the traders of the country labour, particularly in the matter of owners' risk. Apart from that, I submit it is not the proper way for such grievances as those to be settled by coming to a bargain as to the duration, limit or no limit, of a Bill of this character. I would ask the attention of the House to what is in the newspapers to-day. [An HON. MEMBER made an observation which was inaudible.] This matter has not been mentioned before, but even if it had I am not to be debarred from mentioning it because of the fact of one or two discontented railway directors sitting on this side of the House.
What is the case to-day? The "Times" to-day contains the record of the railway dividends that have just been declared. In some cases those dividends are the highest that have been paid for forty years. In the case of the London and North-Western Company a half-yearly dividend of 8 per cent. is declared, which has not been decleared before for about thirteen years. The amount of money for the previous half-year has got well on to over half a million. They carried £220,000 to the reserve fund—a greater figure than has been carried for a number of years. The same kind of thing applies to the Great Western. In the Midland a very 1339 similar condition prevails, with greater dividends than have been declared for many years. On the great mineral lines, the exclusively mineral lines, the dividends are also largely increased. I submit that is a condition of things which justifies this House in asking that a time limit shall be imposed. We, of course, are perfectly aware of the compact that has been entered into with the railway directors on both sides, and we know with what cool indifference they are treating our entreaties. We know perfectly well they can sit quiet in this House and that the Government will come to their assistance, and that this Bill is to be driven through without any single Amendment of any importance being accepted. I have listened to a great deal of the Debate, and I say distinctly that no Amendment of any real importance has been accepted. There have been offers qualified by a good many "ifs" and "buts," and assurances that the right hon. Gentleman was not able to make a definite offer, but would do his best to get something if something else followed; but it does not require many years' experience of this House to know what is the value of that kind of offer. We have all been made acquainted with the genuine alarm felt by the traders of the country. We know that handsome profits are being made upon the wages already paid. If slightly better wages are being paid, the railway companies are more than compensated by increased profits. The public are already being bled; and the process ought to be stopped at the earliest possible moment. I regret that the three years' limit has not been again submitted. At any rate five years is sufficient time to enable railway companies to justify their case, and at the end of that time Parliament ought to resume its competence to deal with cases of this kind. If, at the end of five years, we find that the measure is a good one it can be continued; but if we find that the measure is bad, as I believe it to be in inception, and in detail, it ought to be within the competence of Parliament to bring it to an end.
§ Mr. PETO
I find myself in agreement with almost all that the hon. Member for Ince has said. There are, however, two points on which I differ with him. The first is that, although he is supporting an Amendment moved in the interests of the traders, he does not seem to see that the interests of the traders and the interests 1340 of those whom he represents are on this matter, as I believe they are on most economic questions, identical. Nor can I agree that the President of the Board of Trade has not inserted a single Amendment of any importance. I recognise to the full that the right hon. Gentleman has met a very difficult situation with the utmost impartiality he could command, and has done his best to get out of the impossible situation created by the very improvident bargain entered into last year. The Bill has been materially amended. At the same time I could not help thinking that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was consulting the Attorney-General as to whether this Amendment could not be accepted. His sole argument against it was that there was no specific word in the agreement of August last limiting its operation to any particular period. The Memorandum issued to the House states that the Bill carries out the undertaking given by the railway companies on the settlement of the railway strike. Therefore it seems to me obvious that there can be no question that in respect to the whole of this agreement, which relates simply to the conditions that existed at that time that some term must be placed on its operations. This extraordinary arrangement is, I venture to say, made for the first time in any Bill presented to Parliament enabling a particular industry in this country to hand on by Act of Parliament, to the other industries of the country the obligations that they may incur in the future in regard to the labour staff that they employ.
There are three reasons why I support this Amendment. I shall state them categorically. The first is that I say it is perfectly impossible for the Railway and Canal Commissioners to carry out the terms of the arrangement entered into by this Bill justly and equitably till they have full details of the accounts provided by the railway companies, a course advocated by the Committee that reported so lately as 1909. The trading community of the country will then be in a position to know precisely in respect to what particular traffic and what particular part of the conveyance of that traffic or terminal charges the increase is charged; and what is put on for transport, and what for terminal charges. They will be able to see then how to adjust the burdens which it is proposed to place upon them under this Bill. That appears to me absolutely essential before any questions that are 1341 brought under this Bill can be equitably and judicially decided. I do not believe that it is possible for this great commercial country to go on for a period of another five years without statutory recognition of the fact that it is the duty of the railway companies to produce not only financial accounts but statistical accounts which will be able to justify them—if it is possible to justify them—in the increase of the present exorbitant rates for the carriage of the goods traffic of this country. The second reason is that this Bill must be limited because of the cost of the carriage of goods in this country which is at the present time so enormously greater than that of every other country that I do not believe for a moment that that state of things will be allowed to remain for a period of another five years. When we consider the economies which can be effected in handling goods before they get on to the rails and before they are ever started on their journey, then we shall see the whole reason and basis of this Bill removed. Then I want to point out the fact to which the hon. Member for the Ince Division alluded, and that is that at the present time certain railways in this country are earning large dividends, and besides earning dividends are experiencing now a period of unparalleled prosperity.
The net and gross receipts in the case of the Welsh railways have increased enormously for 1912 as compared with 1911. I will give the House the percentage in the case of the Taff Vale, Barry, and the Rhymney Companies. In the first case the gross receipts increased by 11 per cent; in the second ease by 18 per cent.; and in the third case by 8½ per cent. The result was that the net dividend increased by 1¼ per cent., 3 per cent., and 1 per cent. respectively. I say if that was the result in the case of the mineral-carrying railways, where they have got a simple problem to meet, and a largely increased bulk to carry, is it not possible for the railways of this country, where they have a more difficult problem to meet, through their management, not to provide similar or somewhat similar results? The moment that happens the whole justification for this Bill is gone, and therefore we are bound to apply a time limit to this arrangement, which I regard as a wholly improvident arrangement. The bald fact is that the traders of this country are handicapped by our railways in comparison with the foreign competition we have to meet to a gigantic extent to-day; and, therefore, if we are to have any 1342 relief in future, if we are to carry on the trade of the country and give employment it is absolutely childish that it should be urged by these great railway corporations that it is impossible for them to increase the remuneration of their employés without having power to add to railway rates, which at the present time are three times greater than those of the United States of America and are over double he rates in France, Germany, and Holland. I think that is a disgrace to this country. I do not believe this should be allowed to continue for a period of five years, and, therefore, I beg the House to accept this Amendment to put an end to a condition of affairs that permits no improvement in the conditions of labour unless we impose a further handicap upon the trade that employs the labour of the country.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
The whole trading community of the United Kingdom, as represented by almost all its organised bodies, looks with the greatest possible amount of suspicion upon this Bill. They do not like it; it causes them grave misgivings. It starts by throwing the necessity for complaint upon the traders, and I think that the suggestion that it should have a reasonable time limit to see how it works is the only thing we can do now to meet this general suspicion. This is not a political matter, and I trust that the House, as a whole, will see that it is a most reasonable suggestion that a five years time-limit should be put into this Bill.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I desire again to impress upon the House that in passing this Bill without a time limit it must prove disastrous to the traders. Nothing in this Bill gives us any information to enable us to arrive at what the cause of the increased rates is. Traders will go to the Court without having any information to enable them to say what cause the railway company has for putting on the increased cost on any particular service. The President of the Board of Trade said last night that it will have the effect of making the railway companies separate their charges. It has been repeatedly recommended that these accounts should be separated in order that the country should know what the cost of working this monopoly is at the present time. Anyone who has had any experience before the Railway Commissioners knows that the railway companies hold all the trump cards and the 1343 traders hold none. This Bill must place a burden on the traders of the country. I know that we must let this Bill go through, but I think I am entitled to say in the interests of the trading community that it is perfectly monstrous for the Board of Trade not to have safeguarded the interests of the traders and the community at large by insisting upon separate accounts. The savings effected by railway companies and the large profits they have made during the last twelve months owing to the general prosperity of the trade of the country; also the dividends have been very substantial, but, notwithstanding that, when trade gets bad the railway companies will still be entitled to keep on charging the higher rates whether the state of trade justifies it or not.
Can the President of the Board of Trade give us an assurance that he will ask the railway companies to separate their accounts? I have asked him several times in the House, and he seems to remain perfectly indifferent to what, after all, is the crux of the whole question. If the railway companies by amalgamation are going to make economies, is it not reasonable to say that at the end of five years this Bill should cease to operate? I know that we are bound by the pledge of the Government. We are in that difficult position, but because the Government have foolishly entered into this agreement without a time limit, is it reasonable when trade is likely to be on the down grade that the railway companies should be able to pay increasing dividends at the expense of the community. Nevertheless, the President of the Board of Trade is willing to allow that state of things to go on, giving to what is a pure monopoly the right to continue those charges. This Bill is not only antagonistic to the trader at large, but it is a premium on bad management. However bad the management, and however inefficient the general conduct of railways, it is of no matter to the railway companies. Up go the rates, and the trader has to pay them, because when he gets into court he has no means whatever of proving his case. It is interesting to notice that although this Bill is of such enormous importance to the trading community there is not a single right hon. Gentleman on the Front Bench opposite. I was going to say I hoped there was some right hon. Gentleman opposite who would support those on this side below the Gangway who feel so 1344 strongly on this subject. If my hon. Friend goes to a Division, I shall certainly support him.
§ Mr. C. E. PRICE
I have never known a Bill which has been so strongly opposed by Members on this side of the House, and I am quite satisfied if we were free to vote on this Bill it would be lost. Unfortunately, we are bound by the Prime Minister's pledge, but the Amendment before the House is one which does not destroy that pledge. The pledge is fulfilled, and at the end of five years we have an opporutnity of revising what the House has done. The reason I think everybody should support this Amendment is this: Last night I unfortunately referred to the Act of 1894 when I was really speaking of the Act of 1888 whereby railway companies were allowed to revise their rates. That Act was not so much opposed by large traders, such as coal-owners, but when it came into operation it was found that it very materially and injuriously affected the interests of the small traders, or, if you like, the large traders who deal in small things. When a traveller goes to a town and collects the whole of their orders, they are able to include the whole of the goods in one consignment, and get a lower rate; but, supposing any customers send an order between the visits of the traveller, it is necessarily small, and the charges are extremely high. The Act has proved very disastrous indeed to the small traders of the country. I maintain, if the directors of railway companies had been as anxious to consider the conditions of their workers as they have been during the last ten or twelve years to increase their dividends, there would have been no strike. The hon. Member for Ince (Mr. S. Walsh) gave the figures with regard to the London and North-Western. I happen to have some figures which cover a period of ten years, going back to 1901. The Midland Railway Company in that period have increased their dividends by 40 per cent., the North-Eastern by 16 per cent., the Great Northern by 50 per cent., the Lancashire and Yorkshire by 20 per cent., the Metropolitan and District by 45 per cent., and the London, Chatham and Dover by 60 per cent. I am not going to say that these dividends are too high, but I do say that the increased dividends which have been earned in this period warranted the railway companies in considering what they should do 1345 for their servants. In order that the House may realise the condition of the servants whilst the companies were paying these high dividends, let me give some figures. The largest group of railway employés in England and Wales earn from 23s. to 25s. per week. In Scotland they get from 19s. to 20s., and in Ireland from 12s. to 15s. I have no hesitation in saying that these wages at this time of day are a positive scandal. Every manufacturer knows, and everyone in the habit of dealing with wages knows, that you may have an increase in wages and at the same time a decrease in the actual cost of production. Suppose a railway company increases a driver's wages by 5s. per week, are they warranted on account of that in claiming an increase of rates? It is the easiest thing in the world to put on extra trucks, or, for passenger traffic, extra carriages, and whilst there is an increase of wages for the men employed on these trains the company may at the same time be working at less cost by reason of increased carrying power. I hoped something would have been done with the Bill so that railway companies would not be able to justify increased rates on wages alone, whether or not they have been able to work on the whole at a lower cost. That they have been able to work more cheaply is proved by these increased dividends. I say this Bill is unwarranted. The only reason for it is the pledge of the Prime Minister, and this proposal does not destroy the pledge of the Prime Minister.
§ Mr. MORTON
Certainly it does appear to me that when it is admitted by all independent authorities, and when the Government cannot deny it, that the Bill is a bad one, they might agree to limit it to five years, when we may have a Government which will be more independent. It was admitted by the President of the Board of Trade that he could not allow any Amendment to this Bill without the consent of the railway directors. We have a right to ask: Does the Government represent the railway directors or the nation? It is well known that if the Government took off their Whips they would not get a single Liberal vote except from the few they have in the railway interest among them, and I doubt whether even they would like to go against their constituents. This is a very moderate proposal, and cannot damage even the railway directors. Considering we have a Liberal Government in power, or in the power of the railway directors, should I 1346 say, and when we have a so-called Liberal majority, I think it is a shocking state of things that the Board of Trade and the Liberal Government should be entirely under the authority of the railway companies. The sooner we get rid of that state of affairs, lock, stock and barrel, the better.
§ 11.0 P.M.
§ Mr. HUDSON
I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Clause. It will not in any way endanger the Bill or hinder the Government in carrying out their pledge. I have several reasons for urging that. The first is, that the scheme which has been set up so far as the men are concerned can be terminated or amended at the desire of either party at the end of 1914, after notice is given. There is another point which materially affects the whole situation. Since 1900 we have witnessed an evolution in the methods of manipulating traffic upon our railways. There has been a vital change during that period. That change is continually going on, and it may be anticipated that during the next five years there will be far more rapid progress than there has been during the last five years. We are now witnessing a scientific organisation with regard to the handling of traffic. If hon. Members have noted some of the recent announcements, even with regard to some of the very small railways, such as the Taff Vale Railway, they will have seen that they are adopting the control system, which is set up to control traffic in very wide areas. It means that they avoid congestion of traffic at various points on the system and thus save in management a very large sum. This system is but in its infancy. The Midland Railway Company were the first to largely adopt it, and they are to-day saving very large sums of money thereby. Neither the companies nor the traders know what the cost of working will be five years hence in consequence of these alterations. Where there has been a normal cost of management up to about 63 per cent. of the total receipts over a number of years, it might reasonably be expected that in the next five years the total cost of management will be reduced to under 50 per cent. In consequence of that there will be no need whatever for this Bill to operate, and it would be a fitting time to take a review of the whole situation. So far as I am concerned, as representing the railway men, I have no objection to these improved methods of management, provided that those who do the work have 1347 an adequate opportunity of reaping their share of it. And then, of course, the trader should have an opportunity as well of taking a share of this advantage. You have your Americanised engine which takes one and a-half times the weight of traffic they took formerly, and you are adopting now everything that the genius of man can devise in order to save in the working expenses, and from all these points of view it would be, I think, wise on the part of the Government to give a limit of time at the end of which they can take a further view of the whole of the circumstances and thus satisfy all parties concerned in this matter. For these reasons I appeal to the Government to accept the Amendment, which would do no damage whatever.
§ Mr. STEPHEN COLLINS
I trust the Government will accept this Amendment. The hon. Member (Mr. Hudson) has spoken about economies which have been put in force by the railway companies lately. I believe it is common knowledge that, if not directly, at any rate indirectly, they have increased their charges to traders during the last few years. For instance, I believe they have now dropped out altogether paying any claims for goods carried at owners' risk, whereas formerly their custom was to meet traders when gross negligence on the part of their servants was proved in handling the goods. They have also considerably enlarged the list of goods which they refuse to carry at the common risk unless packed in a particular manner suitable to themselves. Then as to demurrage. I believe they have become far more strict than formerly. So altogether the companies have been having a general tightening up in favour of themselves and to the disadvantage of the traders. I hope that will be taken into consideration by the President in considering whether he will accept this Amendment, and on the general Bill, if it is passed to-night, I hope and trust the railway companies, in the time of their success, will remember so many of their poorly paid employés, and let them share in their success.
§ Sir A. MOND
I feel that the Debate to-night must surely make it evident to the Government how strong the feeling is in favour of a time limit being inserted in the Bill. I have been very doubtful as to the propriety or utility of having a time limit, and I was greatly influenced by the 1348 arguments of the President of the Board of Trade that it would interfere with the existence of the Conciliation Boards, which we all wish to see preserved. But since I have learned that the Conciliation Boards themselves have a time limit, and that we have no guarantee that they will continue for more than another three years, I do not see how the argument that the time limit will interfere with the existence of the Conciliation Boards holds good. In fact it is rather the other way. The fact that Parliament would have an opportunity if it so chose—a rather remote contingency—of being able to refuse an arrangement which was merely come to in order to reestablish Conciliation Boards on a new basis, would be rather a guarantee that Conciliation Boards will remain in existence, and if it did not I cannot see any justification for this Bill remaining on the Statute Book. Surely it can never have been intended, when the Government gave this pledge—and there is not a single word in the pledge that has been published in the memorandum or the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which mentions the question of an indefinite time—that the railway companies should be put in the position that they should have exceptional advantages as far as the traders were concerned on this question whether Conciliation Boards should be continued or not, and whether or not the whole consideration on which this pledge was given has ceased to exist. I cannot conceive whether or not that was the intention. Our difficulty has been that the pledge has been given, and that it must be honourably observed, but the words of the pledge do not bear out a single contention of the President of the Board of Trade. There is nothing in the pledge that makes it a breach of it to insert the period of five years or any definite period. After all, Parliament can repeal this Act any year, whatever pledge any Government gives. That is obvious. But the repealing of an Act is a very much stronger and more difficult measure than simply grappling with the automatic renewal of an Act. Parliament would never dream of interfering with the Act without very good cause. I cannot see that as regards the pledge of the Conciliation Boards the right hon. Gentleman has made out his case. He advanced another argument yesterday, namely, that the railway companies, if there was a time limit, would endeavour to raise rates as much as possible during these five years. I have 1349 enough confidence in the sanity of railway directors and managers to know that they would do nothing of the kind. The Act would not be on the Statute Book twelve months if they carried out a policy of that kind. Has the right hon. Gentleman read how the Act of 1894 came into existence? It was because in 1892 and 1893 they endeavoured to carry out a policy of that kind. The Act was carried out with great celerity to prevent anything of that sort being done. Everybody knows that the proceedings before the Railway and Canal Commissioners will be little else than a farce, because a trader when he gets there is in an absolutely hopeless condition. Railway experts appear, accounts are thrown at him, and he is asked to prove that they are not reasonable, or that they are not properly allocated. It is almost impossible to do so. That is one reason why the Act of 1894 has been used so little. I do say in all sincerity that the Board of Trade must be made to feel that we want more sympathy than we have had all through the Debates up to now. I ask him seriously to accept the Amendment, and thus give the traders of the country the feeling that they have in him a champion who will look into matters in the near future.
§ Mr. CHARLES DUNCAN
I think the House will agree with me that, there is no greater champion of economy in this House than the hon. Baronet, the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). Time after time he has moved Resolutions in this House putting limitations on Money Votes on the ground that he does not wish to give the Government a blank cheque. It has been pathetic to sit during the Debates on this Bill and find that one of the greatest orators in the House has not been able to make a speech on this Bill, and for once he remained silent. What is the position now? It seems to me that if the Bill goes through, instead of giving a blank cheque for one year as the hon. Baronet would have said on a Money Resolution, we are giving to the railway companies a blank cheque of a perpetual character. It is against its perpetual character that the Amendment before the House is aimed. No reason has been advanced why the conditions laid down in the Bill should continue for ever. This is called a time limit, but it is only a conditional time limit. The House of Commons would give the Bill a run for five years, but would always reserve in its 1350 own hands the responsibility and duty of putting an end to it if the conditions warranted it.
Suppose a railway company does advance the wages of its workers and gets thereby a justification for increasing certain rates, there is nothing to prevent it later on from reducing the wages of its men—and we have no guarantee that they will not do so—and there is nothing in this Bill to prevent them going on reaping the advantages of the increased rates, while the men who were instrumental in bringing this Bill to the attention of the House may lose the advantages that were intended to be given to them during the late dispute. As far as management is concerned railways are in a condition of chaos. We have proof of this in the way in which in recent years numbers of the railway companies have come together and obtained running powers over each others lines. We have also seen that they are abolishing the different parcels offices, and in this way great economies are being effected. But there is no getting over the fact that you have an enormous number of Boards of Directors of the various railway companies in this country, and the mere fact that a Bill of this description is going through with no time limit of any character will have a tendency to perpetuate the chaos existing on the railway system to-day, whereas if the House of Commons continues to retain within its own power the chance of limiting the operation of this Act there would always be an incentive to the railway directors to keep endeavouring to improve their systems and bring them up to date.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)
I am afraid that the greater part of this Debate has proved once again, if that were necessary, that this Bill is not very popular. It is necessary to remind the House that at a time of great stringency and difficulty a promise was made by which the Government is bound; and the view taken in the House of Commons was that it meant that a Bill should be introduced. My right hon. Friend has said to the House more than once, and he has repeated it through me, that it would be much better to leave the matter open to Parliament in the future to deal with this measure as it can with any other measure. If we inserted the Amendment, it would look as if the intention of Parliament was that the Bill should be limited. But that was not the pledge given by the Government. When an obligation is incurred 1351 everybody is ready to bear his share of the burden, to put his hands in his pocket, and almost to pay money in a time of great stringency and difficulty; but, unfortunately, when that period of stringency and difficulty has passed, hands do not go into pockets but rather button them. The Government is bound by the pledge it has made, and ought to be supported in carrying out what the whole House, or the vast majority of the House, wanted at that moment in the interests of the vast majority of the people, and which the vast majority of the people also supported.
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
When the Government gave this pledge was there any undertaking given by them to the railway companies that the traders should not have full facilities for ascertaining before the charges were raised what was the cost to the railway companies of dealing with any particular traffic, irrespective of the future?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I was pointing out to the House how the matter stands with regard to the Government, and why it is that the Government cannot give way to the views which have been expressed
Am I to understand that this question of the time limit was definitely discussed with the directors?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
No, I do not say so; it was stated by the Government that there should be no time limit in the Bill, but that it should be left to Parliament to deal with if it thought fit, and whenever it thought fit. The effect of a time limit would be to take away the benefit of the valuable Clause introduced by my right hon. Friend yesterday, which gives an opportunity for reconsideration in the interests of the traders from time to time. I submit that it is much better to leave the matter to Parliament. Another Parliament might be returned which would take a different view, and it is entirely a matter for Parliament to deal with. I do submit that this is a case in which the House should support the Government in carrying out the undertaking which they have given.
§ Mr. HIGHAM
My right hon. Friend has not quite apprehended the effect of 1352 this Amendment. It is not going to put an end to the Bill in five years, if adopted. If this Amendment be carried then in the fifth year the Bill will pass into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill, if the Government so desire, and we shall have the opportunity of discussing the question. An important matter like this ought to remain in the hands of Parliament. It is a very different thing to have a Bill included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill from having to pass a new Bill. In the latter case we are entirely at the mercy of another place and does the House think that a Bill repealing this Bill would be passed in another place. That Bill would thus have to be passed three times, whereas under the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill the Bill could be discussed each year. If the cost of working has kept up during the five years by proper conditions to the men no one will wish to repeal the measure, and it will automatically be carried each year. We all know there are Acts of Parliament in existence which every Member of the Government wishes were in the Expiring Laws Continuance Act and which we cannot repeal on account of the other place. If we pass this Bill without a time limit we shall regret it every year as the years go by. I do appeal to the President of the Board of Trade to accept this proposal which does not invalidate the promise or weaken it in any way. If he does so, we will be more ready to support him during the remainder of the night. We recognise the pledge the Government have to carry out, but we ask some concession for the traders and that they shall not be bound for all those years.
§ Mr. HAROLD SMITH
I cannot help, on looking round the House, asking those who are in charge of this Bill, "Where are their friends?" [An "HON. MEMBER: "Where are yours?"] There are very few of them in this House, and those who will support the Government in the Division Lobbies show little enthusiasm for the Bill and are now in the smoke rooms or the library. In view of the criticisms which this Bill has received, criticism which I am sure my hon. Friends opposite will see has not come from this side of the House in any party spirit, but which they will agree has mainly come from the Benches which support the Government—under those circumstances I do not really think that the Government are doing a wise thing or a proper thing in using the machinery which they always have at their disposal to run 1353 through a Bill of this sort which has not been attacked in any party spirit, and a Bill which in the minds of those who have considered it arouses great hostility and great opposition. What is the only justification the Attorney-General put forward a few minutes ago for the refusal of this Amendment? It is that the Government have given a pledge. In his very first words he commented on the unpopularity of his own Bill. What is Democratic Government? Surely, the first elementary principle of Democratic Government is that no Government ought to pass a Bill which the representatives of the people in the House of Commons consider unpopular.
We have it from the lips of the Attorney-General himself that he regards this Bill as unpopular. He went on to justify the passing of an unpopular Bill because the Government had given a pledge. I understand that he says it is always unpopular to pay a debt. It is always unpopular to pay a debt which one ought never to have incurred. This is one of those debts. The Government incurred it when, having lost their heads at a critical moment, they gave, under circumstances with which they were unable to grapple, a pledge which will be very serious to the trading community generally. The Attorney-General said that this was a debt of honour. Although I am opposed to the Bill, I am glad to find that the Government have some conscience left when a debt of honour has to be paid, and I hope they will carry that principle in other directions. The Attorney-General used one piece of special pleading which was quite unworthy of him, when he said that this House could not bind a future House of Commons. That is the veriest platitude and does not carry us any further. The Attorney-General is the first to realise that there is a great difference between repealing a Bill and having to pass it again at the end of five years. If there is so little in the Amendment why does he not accept it? I can only add my protest to those already made in every quarter of the House. I believe that if the Bill is passed in its present form the Government will deal a damaging blow to the trading community and do enormous injury to the millions of people who use the railways. They will benefit nobody except themselves and the people to whom they gave the pledge which I believe everyone now regrets. The right hon. Gentleman says that Parliament is free to decide that question. The House will be free only if 1354 the Government take off the official Whips, and if they do that I have not the slightest doubt as to the result of the Division.
§ Mr. ROWNTREE
Those of us who differ from the Government on this point are not trying to prevent the carrying out of the Prime Minister's pledge. That pledge was given at a time of hurry and commotion, and certain things were not thought of. The President of the Board of Trade admitted yesterday that the question of Ireland was not thought of, and we have had to make special arrangements in regard to that. The Attorney-General has just admitted that a limit of time was not mentioned. Surely it is right for the House of Commons to determine as to the length of time that this pledge shall be carried on. The Attorney-General said that it would be a simpler thing for those of us who objected to this proposal to repeal the Bill. But surely directly any Motion was made to repeal the Bill the representatives of the Government would say that a pledge had been given that could not be broken, and we should be in the same position as we find ourselves to-night. My fundamental objection to this proposal is that just at the time when the nation is increasingly in favour of giving a minimum standard of wages this House is practically saying: "When you raise your wages and give a minimum you are going to raise your cost of working." I consider that an absolute fallacy. When you give a decent minimum wage you are not necessarily raising the cost of that production. It is for that reason I am extremely anxious that there should be a time limit to this Bill, so that the question may be raised in the proper way at a future time. The statement I have made is borne out by the figures that have been quoted in respect to the takings of the railway companies for the last half-year. Many of the railway companies have done better than they have done for years. [An HON. MEMBER: "Forty years."] Yes, forty years. Many of them, I am glad to say, have been paying this higher rate of wages. Yet even so, many of them, I am glad to say it, have made a larger profit than for forty years. I think that that shows that those of us on both sides of the House that ask for a time limit are on solid ground. I ask the Government to grant us this request. In making it we are not, we believe, interfering with the pledge the Prime Minister gave.
§ Mr. ROWLANDS
Earlier I presented a petition against this Bill from a number of traders, not only in my own Constituency, but throughout the country. I entirely agree with the sentiments of the hon. Member for York that we wish to see the Prime Minister able honourably to redeem his pledge. While we wish that we think there are certain conditions under which it can be done without in any way compromising his position. The acceptance of the time limit will not in any way interfere with the redemption of that pledge. The Amendment has not been read carefully enough. It says:—
"This Act shall continue in force for five years after the passing thereof and no longer, unless continued by Parliament."
"No longer unless continued by Parliament." There, to my mind, is the entire saving of the position of the Government. I endorse everything he has said as to the difficulty at any time of repealing an Act of Parliament when it is once upon the Statute Book. But if we had this time limit, then at the end of five years, when the question came up for reconsideration we could offer our criticisms, and, to my mind, what is far more important, you would have the railway directors anxious to facilitate the Government in dealing with the grievances of the traders. The grievances of the traders have to come up, and the sooner they are dealt with the better. That opportunity will arise if this Act is passed only for a period of five years. Therefore, as one who is desirous of supporting the Prime Minister in the redemption of his pledge made under difficult circumstances, when the minds perhaps not only of the Government, but of people throughout the country, were not in the most cool and deliberate state, I would appeal to the Government to accept this Amendment. We must stand by the Government in the carrying out of its pledge, but we have a right also to safeguard to the fullest extent the interests of the traders of the country, and also to see that whatever the traders have to pay goes directly into the pockets of the employés. I beg the Government to accept this Amendment It relieves the difficulty and I am sure it is only an act of justice to the traders of the country.
§ Mr. JOWETT
Listening to the Debate on this new Clause one feels instinctively the truth of the remark made by an hon. Gentleman opposite that this Bill has no 1356 friends. Look where you will no hon. Member has a word in favour of the Bill. One naturally asks the question why on earth is the Government averse to accepting the proposition now before the House? The only reply I imagine that would meet the case is this that for once the hon. and learned Member for Waterford is not the dictator of the Government. It is the Noble Lord the Member for Kensington who is the dictator, and if the Government would simply go behind the Speaker's chair and persuade the Noble Lord to allow them to accept this new Clause they would please their followers as well as the Opposition
§ Sir RYLAND ADKINS
I quite agree with the Attorney-General that there is a debt of honour to be redeemed, and if one ought not to be too meticulous in one's criticisms of the position of the Government, and if I understand my right hon. Friend aright I think he said there was no mention made in the negotiations with the railway representatives of the time limit. What does it mean? It means that it would be very unfair to the railway representatives to fix a time limit. I submit to the Government that there is nothing in the pledge which forbids the fixing of a time limit if there is a considerable period allowed to begin with. While we are all anxious to assist the Government in discharging the pledge which they gave in a moment of national crisis, I think it is desirable that the House of Commons should indicate that that pledge is really carried out by an arrangement which insures the matter coming up for discussion after a reasonable period without having to resort to the inconvenient method of moving to repeal the Act. I am authorised by the Member for Perth to say that if the Government would consent to the Second Reading of this Clause—there is no need to fix five years, and if the Government would accept six, seven, or eight years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!" "No," and "Four years."]—I still adhere to my argument that the real point is not exactly five years, but to have a period which ensures this measure automatically coming up for reconsideration at a stated period. I ask for some reasonable period. If the Government accepted this Clause, then it would be a matter for reasonable Debate exactly what the period should be. I associate myself with all that has been said as to the desirability of having a period fixed, but I say that it should be long enough to carry out the pledge of the Government.
§ Sir NORVAL HELME
As one who belongs to the commercial classes I desire to say how thoroughly they appreciated the efforts of the Government at the time when the railway strike was paralysing the industries of the country, and knowing the full responsibility that rested upon the Government their decision was gladly welcomed when they promised the railway companies that on the advance of wages provision should be made for it by an increase of rates. Under these circumstances, while I recognise the loyalty of the Government in carrying out by this Bill their undertaking, I appeal to them not to go beyond that promise after the expression of opinion in this House. I think the Government would be well advised if they would meet the feelings which have been expressed, and by some arrangement let it be felt and recognised that there is a strong force of public opinion which has to be reckoned with.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I wish to fully recognise the feeling of the House in this matter. I appreciate the loyalty of my hon. Friends to the Government, and I am sure that, as the Minister in charge of the Bill, they recognise that I have had a very difficult task. I am grateful for the kindness and the loyalty which has actuated those who have supported me, very often, I know, against their own desires. The Debate has developed very largely, and it has been entirely on one side. I have stated more than once that in my opinion the undertaking of the Government was a continuous one. But circumstances—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—Perhaps hon. Members will wait till I have done. The feeling of the House generally has to be recognised in this matter. A large number of hon. Members behind me, who up till now have given the Government their support, as also hon. Members on that side of the House, have appealed to us, without exception, to allow this Clause, or something similar to it, to be inserted in the Bill. I have, therefore, taken it upon myself to be in communication with the Prime Minister about it. He is unable to be here. He did not know this was coming on in this way, but he authorises me to say that in his opinion, if a limited time is fixed and it is understood by the wording of the Clause this Bill continues in the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill until Parliament otherwise directs, he would not consider in the circumstances that in any way a breach of the undertaking. I think the House will 1358 accept that. The Act will come to an end after five years, but the wording of the Amendment I would accept would show that after that it would be included in the Expiring Laws (Continuance) Bill till Parliament otherwise directed. I see opposite me some of those who have been interested in this matter and with whom I have had negotiations, and I would like to remind them I did myself point out that it is difficult to resist some period of years. I said I would resist it because I felt I was bound to resist it, and I would do it if I felt I could carry the House with me. It is clear that is not so. I have it from the Prime Minister that, with the conditions I have mentioned, the undertaking of the Government would be carried out, and, therefore, I shall be prepared to accept this Amendment if the words are in the direction I have indicated.
§ Lord CLAUD HAMILTON
I acquit the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade of any attempt whatever on his part to depart from the engagement into which the Government of which he is a Member entered with us in August, 191], but, after what he has said about the Prime Minister, I cannot aquit that right hon. Gentleman of an endeavour on his part to do that which I think is contrary to the honour of a statesman and the honour of an English gentleman—trying to depart—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—yes, trying to depart from a solemn engagement—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw."] I withdraw nothing—a solemn engagement which he entered into during the discussions between the right hon. Gentleman and the railway companies in respect to the Trade Unions dispute in August, 1911. The House will remember that the agreement was forced upon us against our will and against our better judgment. I was one of those—I do not mind saving—who never doubted for a moment that we had the country at our back, and that it would have supported us against an unjustifiable strike for which there was no possible reason whatever, so far as the railway employés were concerned. [An HON. MEMBER: "£1 a week." Another HON. MEMBER: "16s. a week."]
When it was represented to us that if we did not come to terms with our men not only would national interests be involved, but we might be brought into international complications, we then, contrary to our convictions and better judgment, agreed, having regard to the interests of the whole 1359 community, to come to terms with the Government. In those terms no time limit was either suggested or mentioned. And now, because there is a show of opposition on the part of certain Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House, and a few hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House, the Prime Minister, who has not felt it his duty to come here during these three nights of Debate in redemption of his debt of honour—[Interruption]—not only to us, but to the country as well—he has not seen that it was his duty to come here except for ten minutes. He now sends a message, and instead of coming here in person, he delivers it to the President of the Board of Trade, that he thinks a time limit which was never mentioned in these negotiations is a proper thing to insert in this Bill. I say it is a gross breach of honour on the part of the Prime Minister. He departs, in making that proposition, from the solemn agreement entered into on behalf of the community of this country with the railway companies in order to terminate that strike. [An HON. MEMBER: "Toe the line."] So far as I am concerned, and the railway I represent, and the other railways, I believe, we will repudiate such a proposition on the part of the Government.
§ 12.0 M.
§ Mr. HILLS
I wish the House would take itself back to August, 1911, when this strike was settled. Do Members know the circumstances under which the strike was settled? Do they know the pressure that was put upon the railway directors and managers to settle that strike? Let them ask themselves—if at that time a Bill had been brought forward immediately, and that Bill was limited to three or five years, would anybody have regarded that as a redemption of the pledge of the Government? After what we have heard, after the speech of the President of the Board of Trade, I should like to know, what becomes of the eloquent speech of the Attorney-General? He said, truly, in that speech that there was no time limit needed. In his speech he appealed to the House to pass this Bill as being only a redemption of the Prime Minister's pledge. I quite accept the fact that there is a strong feeling in some quarters of the House against the Bill; I do not quarrel with that; but is not a debt of honour higher than a feeling of that sort? The Attorney-General's words are far more eloquent than any I could use to tell the House that the only way to redeem that 1360 debt is to pass this Bill. Now the House is told that there is an easier way to escape from that debt. They know they are not paying that debt. They know, as the President of the Board of Trade has said, that the pledge given by the Prime Minister as the responsible head of the Government and of the Liberal party was a continuous pledge. They know very well there is no time limit. When you say you will do a thing, you do not mean you will do it for a certain time, you mean you will go and do it, and that that pledge is to be redeemed. I ask the Government, and I ask the Liberal party, when is a promise not a promise? When its fulfilment is inconvenient. I hope the House will redeem its own honour, for its own honour is involved in this question.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I did not intend to take part in this discussion, but having regard to the last two speeches it is well that the House should know something else about the 19th August than has ever yet been stated, even by me. It is quite true, as the noble Lord (Lord Claud Hamilton) said, that pressure was put upon the railway companies.
§ Mr. THOMAS
It is equally true that pressure was put upon us. [AN HON. MEMBER: "By the military."] On the 19th August we had, at two o'clock in the afternoon, five of the trunk lines of this country absolutely paralysed.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I will answer that intimidation at once. Let us see exactly what the intimidation was. I have said, and it is assented to, that on the 19th August these men were out. This is a copy of a circular issued on the 16th August by the hon. Baronet's company; it is similar to that which was issued by every other railway company as private and confidential to their station masters:—Great Northern Railway. The Government having assured the railway companies that they will provide ample protection to enable them to carry on their services, the railway company will, in the event of a general strike, give an effective though restricted service to the public, and to this end the Great Northern Company rely upon the local support of their staff.Three days before the strike here was the pledge given of the military 1361 by the Government. Then we talk about a debt of honour to the men? Let me follow that for a moment. The strike was not justified, the Noble Lord said. Let us see. Three times in this House in 1910 and 1911 I myself begged and pleaded with the Board of Trade to do something to compel the railway companies to keep their contract. I, in face of the hostility of the men, in face of demands for my resignation, in face of condemnation from all quarters, said I am going to stand for conciliation. I know conciliation was in danger. I wanted to give conciliation a chance, and I pleaded with the Government to take some strong line which would compel the railway companies to observe that contract. The hon. Member (Mr. Hills) remembers that he had to try and defend his own company when an arbitrator had given an award of 20s. a week to carmen, and by a subterfuge they employed casual men in order to give them 19s.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am speaking within the recollection of the House. The answer of the hon. Gentleman was that the statement made by me was not borne out by the evidence that he then had, but on further inquiry his company altered it at his own request.
§ Mr. THOMAS
Let us see about the debt of honour. If the Government was under a debt of honour in this matter what, again becomes of the hon. Gentleman's company? Last week a Commissioner re-ported—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I fail to see what this has to do with the question of limiting this Bill to five years. It is raking up old scores.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I most certainly would not have introduced it were it not for the noble Lord and the hon. Member.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
They were surely entitled to point out that at a certain time a promise was given and was not, in their judgment, being kept, but I do not see that the hon. Member is relevant in going into other matters which preceded the particular promise which was then made.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I am submitting that when the promise was made by the Government, which the hon. Member accuses the Government of breaking, the Government were equally responsible to them for another promise that I am saying has been broken on their side.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
How does that affect the question of limiting the Bill to five years? That is the point now.
§ Mr. THOMAS
I was led to believe that the debt of honour was included in the five years. At all events I will not pursue that question further than this. Coming to the question of the five years let us see exactly the situation. There was no agreement made that August beyond 1915. Let that be perfectly clear. No matter what the Board of Trade or anyone else says. I challenge anyone to deny that there is any agreement fixed up by any railway company in the country which goes beyond 1915. That in itself is twelve months beyond the period of the conciliation scheme. I do not hesitate to say I hope the conciliation scheme will continue, but I am not unmindful of the fact that there are thousands of railwaymen at this moment anxious to break it up, because they feel that they are not getting fair treatment. We want conciliation. We want this scheme to continue. Supposing this proposal is carried—and I now realise that it is accepted by the Government—what happens? You are in this more fortunate position. In 1914 new agreements will be made. When these new agreements are made the railway companies will be in a position to say to the House when this Bill is reviewed here: "Here are fresh contracts which impose further responsibilities upon us." I submit that it is the strongest possible argument for the Government accepting this particular Amendment. I hope it will not be necessary to refer to the events of August, 1911. I wish it to be distinctly understood that, whatever pressure was brought to bear on the railway. companies, there was, as I know, equal pressure brought to bear on the representatives of the men. We who were in the position of leaders did something in defiance of our men. We have felt that there was an honour and duty attached to us, and we have fulfilled our obligation. I hope that, whatever the result of this Debate may be, the railway companies will recognise their obligation, because, if they do not, the conciliation scheme, or any other scheme, will not prevent what happened before.
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
The right hon. Gentleman has agreed to a course which has taken me by surprise. He has had considerable negotiation with the representatives of the railway companies upon this Bill. The representatives of the railway companies informed him two or three days ago that if they accepted the three Amendments he carried yesterday, it was on condition that he would refuse any other Amendments to the Bill. That being so, the right hon. Gentleman indicated last night that he would accept a further Amendment in breach of the agreement which he had arrived at with the representatives of the railway companies. Those representatives met him this afternoon, and being anxious if possible to come to a peaceable solution, they made a proposal which was accepted by the right hon. Gentleman at six o'clock this evening in the Foreign Secretary's Room, but not one single word was said about any other Amendment being accepted, and we left the room under the impression that he would stand or fall by the agreement at which he had arrived. That is the plain fact as to what has taken place. Under those conditions we are, of course, in a very difficult position, and I really cannot say, speaking only as an individual member of my board, what we ought to do, but my own belief is—[HON. MEMBERS: "Withdraw the Bill," and "Refuse to accept the Bill."]—my own belief is that we ought to say to the Government that as they have failed to carry out their pledge we will have nothing more to do with it. I cannot take that responsibility upon my shoulders myself, and I am inclined to think that the real course which we ought to follow is to adjourn the Debate.
Mr. MacCALLUM SCOTT
I listened with very close attention to the somewhat incoherent remarks of the Noble Lord and English gentleman who made such a violent attack on the personal honour of the Prime Minister. I was endeavouring to understand what he imagined to be a breach of faith or a broken pledge. The Government promised to introduce this Bill. It has introduced the Bill, and has recommended it to this House, and has used its influence in the strongest way with this House. There has been considerable reluctance on the part of many Members on both sides to accept this Bill, but the House is accepting the Bill. This has been a very crowded Session. We are meeting in exceptional circumstances. I do not suppose 1364 that the Noble Lord will deny that this Bill is a measure of first-class importance, involving great interests and deserving of the fullest discussion. We are not able to give it full discussion this Session. We are not able to consider it fully on its merits and discuss all those important aspects. Yet, without considering it fully on its merits, or discussing all those important aspects which ought to be discussed, the House has been willing to pass this measure. But no Government, no Cabinet, by any pledge which it can give, has any power to bind this House. If this House thinks that the lines of this Bill are deserving of further consideration, the House, while fulfilling the Government's pledge in passing the Bill, has got a perfect right to insert in this Bill a statutory provision securing that at least in five years there will be another opportunity of considering the lines on which the Bill is framed. I submit that the Government has absolutely and fully fulfilled its pledge and that its honour stands unshaken in the matter.
§ Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Clause added to the Bill.
§ Mr. GEORGE TERRELL
I beg to move, after the word "charge," to insert the words "for the carriage of goods other than agricultural produce, products of the United Kingdom."
I do not wish to repeat the arguments used when moving this Amendment in Committee; but there was a great deal of misunderstanding as to its effect on the part of hon. Members opposite. I think even the Chairman of the Committee regarded it to some extent as an Amendment involving the fiscal question. It is nothing of the sort. Objection was taken on the opposite side that this was a protectionist Amendment seeking to protect agriculture in preference to other industries. One hon. Member suggested that cotton should be likewise excepted, and another suggested coal, while the Attorney-General, who is very capable in avoiding difficult issues, suggested biscuits. This Amendment simply seeks to put agriculture on the basis on which it is at present, so that by the passage of this Bill it should not be hampered in any way. The ground which I took was that in regard to agriculture there were at present certain rates for the carriage of agricultural produce from inland towns to 1365 London; that there were certain through rates from continental towns which involved carriage by sea and by land to London; that for the continental trade there was a great deal of competition between the different railway companies, who own their own lines of steamers; and that, if this Bill is passed, the rates for continental produce would remain exactly as they are at present. That seems to me the only outcome of the Bill in its present form. I pointed out to the Committee that agriculture in this country was an industry heavily taxed in many directions, that any fresh burden put upon it would react on the agricultural labourers, and that it was a poor way of showing sympathy for them if we were by this Bill to put them at a disadvantage in regard to foreign competition.
I ask for no Protection, but I do ask that the agriculturists, and particularly the agricultural labourers, who would be hit by this Bill, should not be put in a worse position than they are to-day. That is a request which I again repeat to the House; in fact, I will carry it a stage further, and ask the President of the Board of Trade whether he will deal with it in this way, that any increase which is put on the rates for British goods from inland towns to London should be similarly put on the through rates for continental goods sent to London. To illustrate my case, the rate paid on English milk from a town like Chppenham to London is 1s. 5d. per churn; the rate from France to London is 2s. 6d. If by the operation of this Bill the rate from Chippenham to London was increased to 2s., then I ask that the increase of 7d. should be put on the through rate from France to London. That is reasonable, it is only fair, and if you do not do it you put agriculturists at a greater disadvantage than they are in to-day in dealing with foreign competition, and you will also lessen their chance of increasing the pay of the agricultural labourer, which to-day does not represent a fair living wage. I appeal to the President of the Board of Trade, I appeal to hon. Members below the Gangway opposite, who profess to represent the interests of labour, and who are anxious enough so long as that labour is of a trade union character. They are full of sympathy for their fellow trade unionists, but I am afraid they have very little sympathy for the down-trodden agricultural labourer. Every vote given in opposition to this Amendment will be a vote hitting the 1366 agricultural labourer. It will be carefully watched. When hon. Members start their land campaign—
§ Mr. G. TERRELL
The Amendment speaks for itself. I trust that the President of the Board of Trade, having given way in regard to Ireland, and in regard to the time, will see his way to give some concession to the agricultural interests which I have at heart.
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to second the Amendment.
The argument generally used on the other side was that if exception were made in favour of agriculturists, similar exceptions would have to be made for other trades. I think that agriculture is in a peculiar position, and that we are justified in asking that, at any rate, the agriculturists of the United Kingdom should be regarded from an exceptional standpoint. The Members of the Labour party realise fully in this Bill what I think has not been fully realised by the Government, namely, that it is not in the interests of the wage-earning classes to pass a Bill which will impose fresh burdens on the trade of the country and so tend inevitably to diminish employment. That argument is irresistible in its strength when you 'apply it to this particular case of agriculture. It is desired by all parties in the House to increase the intensive cultivation of land and the number of people who are cultivating the land. Therefore, if you carry out that intention there will be a larger number of very small men producing those provisions referred to in the Amendment, and the average producer will therefore be less able to compete with the great railways and to defend himself against this proposed increase in rates. It is precisely upon small consignments of agricultural produce that the rates press most heavily to-day, and therefore, any general increase in rates will inevitably press much more hardly upon the small trader generally, and the small agriculturist in particular, who is not able to consign very large quantities of goods to the railway company. Therefore, I hold that there is an entirely separate case to be made out for agricultural produce—which is needed by the wage-earning classes, who have, not only as possible members of the agricultural community but as consumers of this produce, a direct 1367 and personal interest in seeing that there is no increase in the cost put upon it by increased rates charged by the railway companies and it is on that ground that I feel justified fully in seconding this Amendment.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Mr. J. M. Robertson)
Both the mover and the seconder of this Amendment have, I think, themselves indicated that it is not possible to accept this Amendment. Members on both sides of the House who are in full sympathy with the claims of agriculturists have made it clear that they could not assent to a reservation in the case of agriculture, and that if agricultural products were to be removed from the scope of this Bill they were bound to raise the claims of their constituents engaged in other industries. Hon. Members who represent districts famous in the cotton industry, for instance, point out that if agriculture is to be given special facilities under this Bill they would have to make a similar demand for everything connected with the cotton industry. If one industry is to be reserved from the operation of the Bill, obviously all the other industries will make the same claim, and this absolute antagonism of interests all round must, I think, be recognised as making the acceptance of this proposal impossible. It really cannot be accepted.
§ Mr. CLYNES
So many appeals have been made by the mover and seconder of this Amendment that I rise just to say that we have our definite point of view as to how railway companies should be treated in respect of charges imposed upon this or any other industry. If the wages of postal employés are increased we are not expected to pay more for our stamps, and if the conditions of railway servants are improved you should not permit the railway companies to impose additional charges upon the goods they carry. The remedy for this is the Labour party's remedy of making railways national property like the Post Office.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I beg to move, in Paragraph (c) after the word "whole" ["is not, in the whole, greater"], to insert the words, "having regard to all relevant circumstances."
1368 This was a matter debated at some little length in Committee upon a similar Amendment moved from the other side of the House, and the only difference between the Amendment moved by the hon. Gentleman opposite and the Amendment which I am now moving is the insertion of the word "relevant," in consequence of a suggestion that was made by the Attorney-General in the course of his speech on that Amendment. It is perfectly clear that this proposal, at any rate, is not one that conflicts in any way with the pledge which the Government gave to the railway companies. In fact, so far from conflicting with the pledge which the Government gave, unless the Government intend that all these relevant circumstances shall in future, as in the past, be taken into account, they will in fact be stretching their pledge in the interests of the railway companies and against the interests of the traders, so as to inflict a quite unnecessary and unjustifiable burden upon the traders of the country. I should like to ask the Government whether they do intend by the Amendment which they propose presently to move, assuming this is defeated, to go beyond the undertaking given, and to limit the discretion which has hitherto been exercised by the Railway and Canal Commissioners in dealing with the question whether an increase of rate is or is not justified. It is common knowledge that in the past there has been the power to take into account all the circumstances, including the economies which, as has been pointed out in this Debate, can so well be effected nowadays, in reduced cost of raw materials, or in other ways, including even railway amalgamation and working agreements between one company and another.
These are circumstances which have been taken into account in the past, and we ask that they shall be taken into account in the future. The President of the Board of Trade, speaking yesterday upon a similar Amendment, assured us that they would be taken into account. The right hon. Gentleman has an Amendment which I for my part would be quite willing to accept, but the right hon. Gentleman is not going to move it. He has met the railway directors, as the hon. Baronet has already explained, at six o'clock last evening in the Foreign Secretary's Office with the result that he proposes to move a different Amendment, for kindly allowing me to see which I am bound to thank him. After consultation 1369 with my friends I must say that it does not carry out the purpose of the original Amendment put on the Paper, and does in fact carry out what the railway directors claimed in this House the other day under this Bill, and which we as traders entirely repudiate, unless it is intended to go outside the jurisdiction hitherto exercised by the Railway and Canal Commissioners. I would like to remind the House quite shortly what the right hon. Gentleman told the Committee on this matter to show that the new Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman does not quite tally with the assurance which he gave to the Committee. Either my Amendment or the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman is going to be carried, and we have to choose between the two.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I would point out that if the hon. Member's Amendment be negatived, that, of course, disposes of the question, and no other Amendment on the same subject can be proposed.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I am very grateful to you for putting it in that way, for I sincerely hope my Amendment will be carried and the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment will not be brought in.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
There is the danger that if the hon. Member's Amendment be negatived, the subject matter cannot be introduced in the Bill.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I think, Sir, you will agree with me that it will be quite impossible to discuss this Amendment without also taking into account the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman is going to submit to the House.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
That is the very reason why I say that if the hon. Member's Amendment be negatived, we cannot afterwards take the Amendment of the President of the Board of Trade, and, therefore, the hon. Member is prejudicing it by moving his Amendment.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
If I understand your ruling, Sir, and your advice to be that I should withdraw my Amendment with the possibility of effecting the same purpose by possibly amending the right hon. Gentleman's Amendment, I will save the time of the House by asking to withdraw. I, therefore, ask leave to withdraw the Amendment on that footing.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1370
§ Mr. BUXTON
I beg to move after the word "justified" ["increase of rate or charge as justified"] to insert the words "Provided that nothing in this section shall be construed as preventing the Commissioners from taking into account any circumstances which are relevant to the determination whether an increase of rates or charges is or is not greater than is reasonably required for the purpose of meeting the said rise in the cost of working."
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn his Amendment because if negatived, as it would have been, I should not have been able to move this Amendment. The House will remember that we discussed this question as to how far the Bill, as drawn, carried out what undoubtedly we had in our minds, namely, to make it clear that, in considering the increase of rates due to the increased cost of wages and improved conditions of labour the Commissioners would have full discretion to take into account relative circumstances. That was the object we had in proposing this proviso, as I stated clearly to the House more than once yesterday. The hon. Member said it did not carry out the intention. He had some suspicion in his mind that it had been doctored or altered or whittled down by the railway directors. I can assure him that while I naturally, and I think properly, discussed its terms with the representatives of the railway companies, I afterwards submitted it to the hon. Gentleman himself and gave him a copy of what I intended to propose. My right hon. Friend last night read the words which appear on the Paper, but said that he did not commit himself to them. We altered the words into those I will read in a moment, but I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the intention is the intention expressed last night, and if he is "smelling a rat," I can assure him there is not the minutest mouse in this Amendment to which he need object. We want to make it clear that in considering a rate under this Bill the Commissioners will be entitled to consider all relevant circumstances just as they can at present in regard to the increase of any other rate. If the hon. Gentleman can show that these words do not carry out that desire, we shall be very glad to consider any remarks he has to make. I will move the Amendment in these words instead of in the words on the Paper. There is no real material alteration, and we consider that they more accurately carry out the intention.
§ Mr. BARNES
Do not these words imply that the Commissioners, if they think proper, can consider that the railway companies may sustain a claim to make up from the traders the whole amount of any increase of wages that may be given? That would in my opinion be the interpretation likely to be put on the words, and if so it seems to me that instead of being an improvement on the words on the Paper they are really going back to the position which existed before the words on the Paper were put down.
Sir RUFUS ISACS
There really is not any alteration in that sense. The first words in the Amendment now propos3d, "Provided that nothing in this Section shall be construed as preventing the Commissioners from taking into account any circumstances," are exactly the same as they appear on the Paper, and then it goes on, "which are relevant to the determination whether the increase of rates or charges is or is not greater than is reasonably required for the purpose of meeting said rise in the cost of working." That is exactly what is intended and what we said last night. The only point raised was that there might be some doubt or ambiguity. We put the words in so that there should be no difficulty about it, and we have taken the words bodily from the preceding Sub-section.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I beg to move to leave out from the proposed Amendment the words "for the purpose of meeting the said rise in the cost of working."
I may remind the House that last night the railway directors in this House were extremely apprehensive when the Attorney-General adumbrated the Amendment which he has now put down in this particular form. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hills)—I regret he is not present—said in so many words that what the Commissioners should consider was, what amount should be added to the charges which the consignors of goods would have to pay as representing the equivalent of the amount which would be added to the remuneration of the employés of the railway companies—in fact the very point which has just been put by the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow. In affect this will be the instruction to the Commissioners, that in future they must not use their discretion in considering all the circumstances which may make for economy on the railways and which have hitherto been credited to the account 1372 of the trader when these matters were under consideration, but that they must limit their consideration to the actual amount by which the employés' remuneration has been increased, and by that full amount they will be justified in adding to the charges imposed on the trader. That is exactly what the railway companies want, and that is exactly what we, as traders, do not want them to have, because it will very seriously limit the jurisdiction of the Railway Commissioners, as hitherto exercised in the interest of the traders of the country.
I move to omit these last words in order to leave the Amendment substantially as it was moved by the hon. Gentleman opposite and afterwards put down on the Paper by the Government. If you are going to add these words you are asking the Railway Commissioners to take into account those circumstances which are relevant to the determination of the increase which is reasonably required "for the purpose of meeting said rise in the cost of working." "Said rise in the cost of working" is the rise which is consequent on an addition to the remuneration of the railway employés. It is exactly what we traders say is unfair. We say that in the future as in the past, the Railway Commissioners should have absolute latitude and discretion in considering all the circumstances of the case, and in giving to the traders, to some extent, the benefit of the economies the railway companies are able to effect; and that you should not impose on the traders the whole of the additional cost which may be considered as resulting from an increase in the remuneration of the employés. It is a technical point not at all easy to put to the House. If the House could get this Amendment down on a sheet of paper, they would see that these last words do, in effect, limit the discretion of the Railway and Canal Commissioners to the detriment of the trader and to the advantage of the railway companies.
§ Mr. GRETTON
I rise to second the Amendment to the proposed Amendment.
I think I can put the point of view which I hold very shortly to the House. Clearly these words would not be inserted unless there was some reason, and the reason is that there has been a conference. We are entitled, on that account, to look rather carefully at the meaning that would be attached to this section. This proviso is intended to give a discretion to the Commissioners. These 1373 words clearly do, as my hon. Friend has just said, limit that discretion. They take away with one hand what has already been given with the other. I want to point out that this seems to me to be the crux of the whole matter, and that these words, which we want to omit, prejudge the case. They assume that a rise has taken place in the cost of working, when, as a matter of fact, that is exactly what the Commissioners have to judge. There need be no rise in the cost of working resulting from increase of wages, because economies may be effected in the management and other directions. But these words assume that that rise most necessarily take place, and they confine the consideration of the Commissioners in determining how far the rates may be raised, to one ground alone, namely, that of the railway companies proving that they have given higher wages. With these words attached to the proviso, no other circumstances can be considered by the Commissioners under this Bill. I look, in the first place, with great suspicion to the word "relevant." It might be held by legal construction that the word "relevant" might be relative only to this Bill, and that no other circumstances outside the four corners of the Bill would be considered relevant in considering the matters with which the Bill deals. But that, at any rate, is a rather finer point, and, as I am not a lawyer, I do not propose to argue it. We have a clear issue; these are limiting words which are going back, as we contend, upon what the House, in all except one quarter, agreed to last night, and therefore I contend that these words should not be passed.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I cannot help thinking that we should not have had this discussion had it not been for the fact that the words have been inserted as the result of some discussion with the directors, and are therefore looked upon with some suspicion. If these words are considered, however, it will be seen that they do nothing except make quite plain what we said last night, and what we intended. The proviso says that the Commissioners shall not be prevented from taking into account any circumstances "which are relevant to the determination whether an increase of rates or charges is or is not greater than is reasonably required for the purpose of meeting the said rise in the cost of working." What is the purpose? It is "of meeting the said rise in the cost of working." Consequently, all the Commissioners have to do is to remember all 1374 relevant circumstances in order to determine whether the increase is greater or not greater than is reasonably required for the purpose, exactly as it would have been if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Wilton (Mr. Bathurst) had been carried. That is the purpose; there is no other purpose dealt with in the Bill; it is the purpose of meeting the rise in the cost of working. The hon. Member will see that there is really no division of opinion between us. We mean exactly the same thing. If I had introduced the words last night there would have been no discussion. It is all due to the odour of suspicion that clings round the result of conferences. These words neither add to nor take away; they satisfy the directors; and they make plain what the intention of the Bill is. What we are doing is carrying into effect what the hon. Member for Wilton desires.
§ Sir ALFRED MOND
Owing to the Amendment not being on the Paper, we are in a little difficulty in snaking up our minds on this drafting point. I regret that the President of the Board of Trade did not find it possible before this discussion to give us a draft of his Amendment so that we could have discussed it previously. A great deal of trouble would thus have been saved. I, personally, cannot see that very much is bound up in the matter. It seems to me quite unnecessary to add the words. The word "purpose" must refer to something, and the only thing it can refer to is plain. I do not think the whole Amendment makes much difference to the Bill, one way or the other. Nobody can say what view the Commissions may take on the point until it comes to be interpreted by them. I do not wish to commit those I act for in any way. As we have not seen this Amendment before, we do not wish to enter any objection to it if the Government say it carries out the arrangement made last night.
§ 1.0 A.M.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
It was understood, at all events by some of us, that as a result of the very exhaustive discussion that took place last night on this point, that these words would be left out by the Government on Report. It is very difficult, at a moment's notice, on a manuscript Amendment, for those who are not used to looking carefully at the effect of the exact wording, to see what is the precise idea which has called forth this 1375 counter-proposal which we have here to-night from the Government. But, if you look carefully at the words, and look also at the place where it is proposed to insert them in the Bill, I think it will be fairly obvious that there is a very great distinction between the one set of words and the other. If there was no great distinction between the one set of words and the other, why propose the words to-night that have been changed? I think it is fairly clear why these words are proposed in a different shape. There are two reasons. One is that they mean something altogether different, and the other is that they are the result, as we now understand, of a conference which the Board of Trade has been having, in the course of this afternoon, with the railway companies.
I think the House is very tired of listening to the question of broken pledges, but here we have got another illustration. The pledge that was given last night was that words would be introduced on Report by the Government, and those words were practically settled in the form in print on the Paper. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The meaning of those words was this, that when the Commissioners came to deal with the question of what the amount of increase should be on the rates, they were not merely to take into account the extra wages that were being paid. but should take into account all kinds of surrounding circumstances, which bore on the question as to whether or not that was a fair increase. I understand that that was the effect—and not only the effect, but the actual words—of what the Government last night undertook should be inserted upon Report here, now.
When we look at the words now proposed by the Government, we find that they have been carefully altered this afternoon, so that when this alteration is taken into consideration, the Railway Commissioners will be bound to give, notwithstanding any other outside facts, as much increase on the rates as they actually have given in wages. That is to say, the whole effect of taking additional circumstances into consideration is wiped out again by the altered words, and I think the House, if it really did consider this question on the merits, would see two things—first of all, that the Government has broken the pledge that was given last night, deliberately broken the pledge; and secondly, that the effect of the altered words is this, that no other outside circumstances would really be taken into con- 1376 sideration at all in allowing the increase, but that the whole of the increase in wages would be represented by the increase in rates. Some very strong language has been used, which some of us have listened to, already in this Debate, but it seems to me that not a single word of that language was too strong to express, in proper words, one's opinion of the course that is now being adopted over this Amendment. It is the same kind of thing, exactly. Here we have the President of the Board of Trade; when the railway directors came to see him this afternoon, he did what they wanted. When he was here last night, face to face with the commonsense of the Committee, he agreed to what the Committee wanted. He gave us a pledge last night, which did not prevent him from eating that pledge this afternoon.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
We are now supposed to be discussing an Amendment to the proposed Amendment, to leave out the concluding words. I do not see how you can raise any general question. It is strictly the more technical question.
§ Mr. WATSON RUTHERFORD
I agree it does seem to raise a very technical objection, but when you come to look at the meaning of it, you see that by leaving out these words the whole sense and the meaning and benefit that was intended to be got from the words agreed to last night is being taken away. I think it is a disgraceful proceeding, and one which ought not to be allowed.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I do not know what the hon. Gentleman has in his mind. Can he explain in what way this differs from the undertaking which I gave to the House last night? In our opinion, it is exactly the undertaking we gave last night. The House knows, and the hon. Gentleman, if he was here last night, must know quite well, that, the words my right hon. Friend read last night were words carefully thought out. The hon. Member said that my right hon. Friend was practically reading the words to the Committee last night, but if he was here—
§ Mr. BUXTON
Then he knows quite well that he was reading words drafted on the spur of the moment, and he would certainly alter them—
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
I do not want to detain the House at this late hour—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide! divide!"]—but when hon. Members call "Divide, divide," they should remember that this is a question affecting great industrial interests, affecting important organisations, and all the trading interests of the country. The Government have put down a manuscript Amendment, and that at the last moment, which hon. Members have not had the time to read. They could have had this Amendment printed long since, and have put it into our hands. I submit to the Attorney-General, and to the House, that when the Government are passing legislation in this drastic form they should give the traders of this country an opportunity of seeing these Amendments on the Paper, so that we can refer them to our own Solicitors. I am not a lawyer, but I am called upon, at the last moment, to construe an Amendment which I do not understand, and it is for this purpose that I want to get a reply from the Attorney-General. I have a copy of the Amendment, and, so far as I understand it, it means this, that the Commissioners will have to determine whether an increase of rates or charges is or is not greater than is reasonably required for the purpose of meeting rises in the cost of working. Does not this clearly mean that any savings that railway companies may make by amalgamation or by increased economies is not to form part of the decreased cost or the benefit that the railway companies are to be given. The traders will have the burden, and what the Commission only have to have regard to is the increase due to the increased cost to be paid for labour. Let me remind the House of what the President of the Board of Trade said last night. It was as follows:—Mr. C. Bathurst: Do I understand it is not intended by this Bill to fetter the existing discretion of the Commissioners in taking into account such economies?Mr. Buxton: The words I used were that, as regards the 'unreasonableness.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1913, col. 1055.]
§ Sir A. MARKHAM
Very well, if that is a misprint that will explain the matter. Will the Attorney-General tell us whether it is definitely clear to his mind and to minds of his colleagues sitting by slim that if a complaint has been made by 1378 a trader as to a charge being excessive the Commissioners will have regard to the fact that the trader is saving money in other directions by other economies, and that the trader is entitled to say "you are not to have any increase of rates because you have increases in other directions."
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
Certainly I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The Commissioners are entitled to take into account all the circumstances which will determine this particular point. What they have to do, according to this Amendment, is to take into account the circumstances which are relevant in order to determine whether or not the increase is relevant or not. They are entitled to take into account all relevant circumstances. We have provided that all relevant circumstances should be taken into account after full consideration. We say in plain terms that nothing in this Bill shall prevent their taking into account all relevant circumstances. I hope my hon. Friend will accept that.
§ Mr. PETO
By putting in the words which the Attorney-General now proposes he does not deal with the main question that is put to the Commissioners as to whether taking into consideration all relevant circumstances relating to the case, an increase is justified or not. What I want to provide is that consideration should be given to the question of whether an increase of rates and charges is or is not justified or whether it is or is not greater than is reasonably required, I think that is essential I think if the Attorney-General is going to give us this Amendment it is absolutely essential that it should be altered in some manner or else it should be inserted as we ask at the end of Sub-section (c).
§ Mr. HIGHAM
I think the Clause as amended by the President of the Board of Trade is clear and definite, and I think the misconstruction that has been placed upon it arises from dwelling too much on the last two lines and in not noticing the first two lines of the Clause. The present law has been made very clear. In one of the celebrated cases Mr. Justice Wright distinctly said that if it is shown that all elements of cost and economy have been taken into consideration they have the power to deal with it. It combines cost and economy, and in all cases they have dealt with it on that basis. Last night the Committee had fear that under paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of the Clause the 1379 element of economy would be omitted by the Commissioners, and the Amendment brought in by the President of the Board of Trade is to obviate that fear. I think it does clearly obviate it. It says distinctly "Provided that nothing in this section shall be construed as preventing the Commissioners from taking into account any circumstances which are relevant." Now they will decide whether circumstances are relevant and what economies are relevant. Therefore, this Clause automatically protects the traders.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
I ask leave to withdraw my Amendment, as I am quite sure the House is not in a position clearly to understand the point.
§ Amendment to proposed Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed be there inserted."
§ Mr. PETO
I beg to move at the end of the Amendment, to add the words, "or is justified." I want to make it perfectly clear that what is contemplated in the Amendment is not only the question of a greater or less increase in rate, but whether any increase in rate is justified or not. These words might perhaps read better earlier in the Amendment, where I first suggested them, but if they are not inserted you are not leaving to the Railway and Canal Commissioners whether, when they have considered all the circumstances, there is any increase justified at all. If the words remain as they are, it assumes that a rise of some kind is justified, and it is only a question whether the rate claimed is greater than is justified under the circumstances.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
These words are quite unnecessary and out of place, because if the hon. Member will look for a moment he will see that the proviso comes in after the various conditions which are laid down by the Bill, and all that the proviso does is that when these conditions have been satisfied, there comes the next question whether an increase is greater or not as is reasonably required for the purpose, and then they have to take into account all relevant circumstances in order to determine that. The proviso preserves to the Commissioners the discretion which is vested in them for that purpose.
§ Amendment to the proposed Amendment negatived.
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Mr. BARNES
I beg to move after the word "justified" ["or charge as justified"] to insert the words "Provided that the improvements made shall be published by the Commissioners, giving the rates of wages which had been paid to the different sections of the staff and the increase which had been held to justify the increased rate or charge."
I have put down this Amendment again to-day mainly for the purpose of getting some more explicit information from the President of the Beard of Trade as to his intentions. Last night we discussed the matter upon its merits, and from what I could glean from the House on both sides there was a very general desire that this information should be obtained somehow or other. I know this Amendment of mine does not carry us very far, because it would only give us the rate of wages paid before and after the change in those cases where traders brought forward a complaint; but I understood from the President of the Board of Trade last night that he was willing that the Board of Trade should publish some figures relative to the rates of wages on the railways generally, and I can only say now, that if I understood him rightly and he is willing to carry out that promise, as I understood it, I for my part would not press this Amendment.
§ Mr. BUXTON
Last night I suggested that we should endeavour to obtain as far as we could the information which is desired in connection with the rise in wages and improved conditions under this Act and under the Conciliation Boards, which two, of course, go together, and that I should publish from time to time as official the information and the results of the Conciliation Boards, and, so far as is thought advisable, the judgments and reasons given by the Commissioners, and any other information available. I am not now in a position to say to what that infor- 1381 mation will amount. Though I cannot exactly indicate at the present moment the extent of that information, I am certainly anxious to go as far as I can.
§ Mr. BARNES
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what he means by "so far as is advisable"? Surely it is in the interests of everyone that the facts that emerge from the Conciliation Boards should be published.
§ Mr. BUXTON
I was not aware I said that. What I said was in connection with the judgments of the Commissioners. I do not suppose there will be any difficulty on their part in publishing their judgments and reasons in some accessible form. As far as I am concerned, I am anxious to get that information, and I do not expect any difficulty in getting it from the Commissioners. What I said was, I would publish any information I could.
§ Mr. WARDLE
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman one question. Will the information which he says he is willing to publish be published at an early date?
§ Mr. BUXTON
It is difficult to publish at an early date information as to the working of this Act which has not yet come into force. I am afraid I cannot undertake that.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ Mr. BARNES
I am not going to detain the House more than two or three minutes but I hope a vote will be taken against this Bill, and for my part if that vote is taken I shall certainly vote against it. In the Debate which took place an hour ago I heard one or two hon. Members—
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I did not know the hon. Member was rising to move anything. Perhaps I should say I had notice from the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) that he intended to make a Motion on the Third Reading. Of course as I have called on the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division he is entitled to proceed if he chooses.
§ Mr. BARNES
I beg to move as an Amendment to leave out the word "now" and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
That is the point. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme had given notice to the Chair of his desire to move that the Bill be read this day three months.
§ Mr. BARNES
I shall move it if you will allow me, and I shall say only a few words. I heard some Members a short time ago express the opinion that if this Bill were found to be working well, and if the workmen got increased wages, for their part they would not mind at the end of five years continuing the Bill because of this rise in wages and these improved conditions of labour. I disagree absolutely with that sentiment. If working men cannot get increased rates of wages and increased comfort without that being passed on, and without arrangements being made in this House whereby the monopolists can pass it on to the consumer and the trader, then it seems to me that we are in a parlous position, and, therefore, I am against the Bill, root and branch. I quite understand the position in which the Government find themselves. A promise was made. The House was not consulted about that promise, and, therefore, for my part I feel absolutely absolved from any responsibility in regard to it. But still I recognise that the Government is in a peculiar position, having made a promise that a Bill of this character should be passed. But what was the promise?
As has been said over and over again, it was that a Bill would be passed making up to the railway companies any increased charges consequent upon a rise of wages following on the strike. The strike is already two years old, and, therefore, it seems to me that we have already got beyond a reasonable time limit; but it becomes absurd when we consider that this Bill is to continue for another five years, nothwithstanding anything that may take place during that period, as a result of which the railway companies may increase their dividends, as they are already increasing them. I heard figures given by an hon. Member showing the returns of various railway companies. It so happens that I have some figures which bring the position of the companies right up almost to date. I have here a diagram showing the position of the various companies in regard to the price of stock and the returns on that stock from the beginning of 1908 to the end of the year 1912. I find, for instance, that the Great Northern Railway Company return shows that their stock 1383 was £4 13s. 3d. at the time of the strike in September, 1911, and at the end of December, 1912 that £4 13s. 3d. had increased to £5 8s. Take the three railway companies in Scotland. The stock of one increased from £5 2s. 9d. to £5 12s. 6d., another from £4 8s. 9d. to £4 18s. 6d., and so on. I find the Great Northern Railway Company has increased its dividend, and the price of its stock has also increased since 1908, and is increasing now. In fact, that applies to nearly all the railways. From the end of last year pretty nearly every railway company has stocks rising and returns to shareholders rising.
From these figures there seems no reason why there should be any provision made for a long term of years to enable these companies—as I still believe this Bill will enable them—to put on the trader practically the whole cost of any increased wages given to their workmen. I have here a letter sent to the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. W. Thorne) by the secretary of one of his branches on the Great Northern Railway—this railway that has experienced prosperity for all except its low-paid workmen. Last month an application was made for a rise of wages. Yard labourers are being paid in the North, two years after the strike, the magnificent wage of nineteen shillings a week. They vary from that to twenty-two shillings a week. Tube sweepers are paid nineteen shillings a week, and so on. Because this branch of the Gas Workers and General Labourers' Union ask for an increase on these miserable rates seven of them were discharged and young fellows at lower wages taken on in their place. There is nothing in these facts to justify the House in passing a Bill of this sort giving increased power to these railway companies, in spite of the fact that they are not carrying out their obligations—nothing to justify these railway companies getting five years of increased power to go on sweating their workers, or, if they give an increase of wages, turning it over on to the trader. As I am totally opposed to this form of syndicalism I intend to vote against this Bill, and I hope a large number of hon. Members, will vote with me.
§ Mr. WEDGWOOD
I wish to second the Amendment for the rejection of this Bill, and I think the fact that it is unpopular in this House, and the prospect of its being exceedingly unpopular in the country is 1384 our main justification for rejecting the measure. What will happen? As soon as this Bill is passed you will have all over the country constituents—many of them small traders in country districts—complaining that this House in the year 1913 passed an Act of Parliament which enables the railway companies, already regarded in many districts as the chief enemy of industry in those districts, to further increase the local rates on produce—farm produce and manufacturers' produce. We shall have complaints coming in to us in shoals in consequence of the passing of this Bill. I wish, in seconding its rejection to-night, to point out that this Bill has been brought in by a Liberal Government, and I do hope that it will not be used as a political weapon by hon. Members opposite against the Liberal Government. After all, hon. Members opposite know that they, as well as we on this side, have to a large extent been responsible for this Bill being brought in.
It was hon. Members on the other side, just as much as hon. Members on this side, who pressed to have the strike ended at all costs, even by this gigantic bribe to the railway companies. I think it, would be most deplorable, therefore, if, after we have passed this Bill into law, that a great agitation be got up against it in the country, and if it should be used as other measures, which were originally of a non-party character, have been used before now against the party in power, for, in this case, the weapon would be of an extremely deadly nature. I want to exempt myself and some other Members on these benches from any sort of charge of breaking any kind of pledge in voting against the Third Reading of this measure. I certainly, and I think a great many other hon. Members below the Gangway, deeply regret that that pledge was given by the Prime Minister in August, 1911. We feel that if the Government, instead of bribing the railway companies, had brought such pressure to bear upon them as was brought to bear upon the men; if there had been the suggestion of a receivership, as was made in the time of the coal strike; if the railway directors had been told that the railway service would be carried on with the men, but without the railway directors, then I think pressure of that sort would have produced exactly the same result, that is to say the cessation of the strike, and we should have had this country without this grievous burden to bear, due to 1385 the legislation now being passed into law in order to carry out the promise made by the Prime Minister. I think it ought to be quite clear that that promise was a conditional promise.
The Prime Minister said he would do all he could to pass through the House such an Act, but he by no means pledged any individual Member of the House. And it is absolutely necessary that we should recognise that Members of this House cannot be bound by any pledges made by any other Member of this House. We are responsible to our constituents alone, and therefore we are not bound even by a promise made by a Prime Minister that every one of his followers would vote for any Bill; and that promise was, of course, not made. There is another reason why we should vote against the Bill, and that is that the railway companies have not played up to their part of the bargain. Since the great strike, if only one-tenth of the stories one sees in the Labour newspapers are true, it cannot be doubted that victimisation has been going on. People who have held advanced views and have taken part in agitation have been dismissed. I have in my mind the case of a man, whom I have been helping to some extent, who has been thrown out of employment, and for whom I see nothing but emigration. The cases we see in the newspapers, especially from the Midlands, show that there is a spirit among the directors of desiring to weed out all dangerous elements, as they consider them, from among their employés. I do not think that is playing the game. It is not carrying out the spirit of the promise they made when the strike was brought to an end, that in return for the Bill they would reinstate all the men who had gone out, and not penalise any of them by reason of the strike.
I do not complain in the least of the fact that the railway companies are now able to pay bigger dividends in consequence of the good trade. But I do not think we ought to overlook the fact that they are getting a very good share of the improvement in trade. What I do object to is the fact that we are, by passing this Bill, definitely improving railway property all over the country. The very fact that this Bill is passed to-night, instead of being thrown out, will undoubtedly make a difference of about five points in the price of ordinary railway stock all over the country. You are giving to the railway com- 1386 panies power to increase their rates on a scale they have not been able to do up to now, and the very fact that you are giving them this power will improve the value of their property by five per cent. Five per cent. improvement in the value of the ordinary railway stocks in the country, which amount to something like five hundred millioms, would give a bonus to the railway companies of twenty-five millions. That means a million pounds in interest a year, equivalent to an improvement in rates of that amount. Thus, a probable increase in the earnings of the railways of a million pounds a year would result from the passing of this Bill. That is a very substantial bonus to give to any vested interest, and I do submit to hon. Members that we ought not to increase the power and wealth of these vested interests. We ought to remember that everybody who invested his capital in railways before the present day, took into account all the facts of the case. But now, whenever the railway servants get increased pay the investor knows it will be got back in increased rates. If, by altering the conditions of the control of the Government over railway companies, you increase the value of the stock, you do something to rob the rest of the community for the benefit of one particular interest.
There is one other point to which I wish to refer, and that is that in passing this Bill we are practically doing away with the traders' complaint altogether. We know that under the Act of 1894 there have been very few actual complaints from traders, and very few cases in which rates have been brought down through complaints. But in future, the position of a trader making a complaint will be an absolutely impossible one. He will not be able to prove anything concerning an entire railway system. We may regard it as certain that there will be no complaints from traders before the Railway Commissioners. We are leaving, from now, entirely in the hands of the railway companies, what the freights shall be. I feel certain that that state of affairs cannot endure. The railway companies are combining together more and more for these great trusts, and it is undoubted that, as they combine together, so freight rates will increase more and more, and particularly these through freight rates which are at present competitive, but which will cease to be competitive when the great railway companies really get together.
1387 Therefore we shall be faced with a, position of affairs where the Government and the Railway Commissioners will have no control whatever over the freight rates charged by the railway companies—because the latter cannot act, except on the complaints of traders, and subject to the maximum increase, which is at present 50 per cent. in advance of the present rates. That position cannot possibly endure for long. I feel certain that as traders are brought face to face with conditions such as that, there will come an overwhelming outcry for the nationalisation of the railways. Though, personally, I am opposed to nationalisation, though I wish to see competition amongst the railway companies, I do think that after we have passed this Bill into law, the position of those of us who dislike a national service, and I do not want to see the State the only master in this country, will be weakened, and we shall be driven logically into the position of curbing the trusts in the only possible way by buying them out at a figure which will leave them a further handsome margin. I am opposed to the Bill, and I shall go into the Lobby against it, but I think that before very long those hon. Members who vote in favour of the Bill will be agitating against it.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
Being connected with a railway company, I rise with very great diffidence to say a few words on this subject. I should like to bring a reasonable spirit to bear. Figures have been given by some of my hon. Friends which I know to be absolutely ridiculous. So far from the railways being prosperous, they are needy at present. A few of them, with mineral traffic, may be making money, but they have not all got mineral traffic—only a few. My hon. Friend spoke of the London and South-Western Railway. A few years ago their stock was over 200, to-day it is 135.
§ Mr. J. M. HENDERSON
The London and South-Western, some time ago, stood at 200, now it is 122. [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide, divide."] I do not want to raise any discussion. I am just as anxious as other hon. Members are that everybody should be prosperous, including the working man. I recognise, and everybody recognises, that the first claim on all industry is the working man's wages. It 1388 always has been said in this House that the railway companies have no souls to be saved, but bodies to be kicked. Everybody has something to say against them, but nobody has anything to say in their favour. What is the result of it all? It becomes rather a serious matter, and it is a very short-sighted policy to adopt—this constant crabbing of the railway companies. After all, they have a duty to perform—a duty to the community—and if they are to be in the position of performing that duty they have got to have proper assistance and proper consideration. What is to happen if you deprive them of all means of performing that duty? At the present moment trade is extending throughout the country. You want more competition, you want bigger stations, and where is the money to come from? People will not invest their money in railway stock to-day. Therefore you will only be starving the railways, and they will not be able to meet the demand. Then what will happen? The Government may take them over, and I hope so—no one will welcome that more heartily than I should. But what will happen? They will take them over, like the telegraphs, and there will be £1,000,000 of loss every year. The Minimum Wage Bill, passed for the coal miners, was a totally different affair. The result was that though it added three halfpence or so to the cost per ton of coal, the price was raised to the consumer by 1s. 6d. Hon. Members speak of the railway companies as being inimical to the interests of outsiders or workmen, but they are not so to the extent that is made out. During late years there has been great competition of motor traffic, and the suburban traffic of the railways has been largely injured by that, and also by motor travelling. When a man becomes associated with a railway company he does not lose all his human instincts and desires, and we are not all the villains people think. I say, for those with whom I act, and so far as I am concerned, that this Bill shall not be used in any other way than to advance the trade of the country, and the best interests of everyone connected with them.
§ 2.0 A.M.
§ Mr. SUTTON
I shall not keep the House for more than two or three minutes. It is not very often that I get up to speak, but on account of the large number of letters I have received from traders, the Manchester Chamber of Commerce and other bodies in Manchester, I feel it my duty on the Third Reading of this Bill to 1389 enter my protest against the Bill, and I hope the House will reject it in the Division lobby. I think this ought to be a lesson to the Government, at least in the future never to enter into any pledge with any railway or other company, even when a strike is on—
§ Mr. SUTTON
I would not say not to intervene in a strike, but not to give a pledge which they are not certain to carry out. I think everyone will recognise that the Government has had a very hard job, and, indeed, the Attorney-General and the President of the Board of Trade have admitted it. The Attorney-General said they had a debt of honour which must be paid, but it is to be hoped that the debt of honour will not be paid and that it will be defeated to-night. Let me say that, so far as I am concerned, and I believe so far as my colleagues on the Labour Benches are concerned, we shall vote against the Bill because we believe it is the wrong way of raising the wages of the working man. Figures have been given to-night by different Members of the House with reference to wages paid to employés on the railways at the present time. Since the railway strike the companies have already raised their rates on the passenger traffic. People going to Blackpool have an extra threepence to pay, and those who come to London for one day have an extra shilling put on. I think, therefore, the railway companies during the last few months have been able to recoup themselves without there being any need to raise the freightage. This is inviting the railway companies to exploit the traders, and I am of the opinion of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Wedgwood) that the only way in which we can prevent this taking place in the future is to nationalise the railways of the country, and I hope that will be done. I hope the House will defeat the Bill because it is a bad Bill. It is going to exploit the traders as it has already exploited the public, and I hope a large majority will be given against it.
§ Mr. JOWETT
I want to offer my sympathy, if I may do so without offence, to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade for the very great and awkward task he has had given to him as a legacy from his right hon. colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is really the villain of the piece. The Chancellor 1390 of the Exchequer has done more for vested interests than any other Minister who has been in office since I closely followed politics. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman is not here. It would surely have been an education to him to see how unpopular his bargain is, and I should have liked him to hear what I have to say. He has been responsible for encouraging agreements between different railway companies which has enhanced their income, increased the capital value of their shares, and, over and above that, has made a bargain which the Government regards as a pledge of honour in order to settle a strike in that huckstering way which seems to be characteristic of him. He is a born hucksterer. He cannot help it, and if he ever gets to the gates of Heaven he will bargain with Peter. If he goes elsewhere he will have a deal with his Satanic Majesty. It is in his nature to have a deal. The result of the present deal is this—that we are going to determine that wages of railway workers, if they are raised, shall be raised at the cost of the public. Literally, what does it mean? It is beating the dog with his own tail. The working men do not want their wages raised in that way. It is no use increasing the wages of the working man unless the increase is to come from those who can afford to pay.
Of the £126,000,000 total income of the railways of this country, £78,000,000 goes in working expenses and £48,000,000 to the shareholders. It may be all very well for my hon. Friend (Mr. J. M. Henderson) to say that it reckons out at a small percentage per pound on the share capital, but that is not saying what is actually the fact, namely, that there is £198,000,000 of watered capital which consists of mere entries in books. He does not state in addition to that that the railway companies have never carried out a policy of allowing sufficient for depreciation, and their capital is a fictitious capital. Any ordinary business concern which had failed to reckon depreciation when it had landed in the position in which the railway companies have landed themselves, would have had to write their capital down repeatedly. They would have had to say that their pound shares must be written down to five shillings, and if the railway companies did that their share capital would have appeared less. Before the strike a hundred thousand men were working for a pound a week or less for the railway companies. That was a disgrace 1391 to civilisation, for the removal of which the public ought not to be called to pay, and I shall gladly vote against the Bill.