§ Mr. REMER
I beg to move, in page 7, line 6, at the end, to insert the words:Provided that before any such agreement is ratified it shall be submitted for approval to the Railway Rates Tribunal and shall be published in such manner as the Tribunal shall prescribe and the Tribunal, after hearing all parties whom they consider entitled to be heard, may approve the agreement, or may approve it subject to such modifications as to the Tribunal may seem just.This Amendment is a very important one. It demands that before a railway company can charge freights under this Bill they shall be forced to go before the Railway Rates Tribunal. In order that traders may know what the freights are going to be it is provided that they must be decided by the Railway Rates Tribunal, and then it will be clearly understood what are those rates.
§ Mr. LAMB
I beg to second the Amendment. There is a certain relationship between this and the next Amendment which proposes in page 7, line 27, to leave out the words "give notice" and to insert instead thereof the words "furnish a copy." The railway com- 2608 panies are supposed to be given power to make agreements with other companies. This Amendment provides that these agreements shall be made public. If I may refer to the next Amendment, it provides that a copy shall be lodged with the Ministry of Transport, and, if we might discuss this next Amendment, I, personally, would not press the present one.
§ Mr. LAMB
Then I will speak on this one. If the railway companies are to be allowed to make agreements, it is very desirable that they should not be secret agreements, but that the public should be able to know what they are, and that the Minister on their behalf should have the opportunity of discussing whether the agreements are fair as between the companies and the general public. We were told, in the Second Reading Debate, that the only desire of the promoters was to be fair as between party and party, but, if we are going to allow these agreements to be made and to be kept secret, neither we nor the Minister on our behalf will have any opportunity of ascertaining whether they are just and fair as between party and party, and in these circumstances I hope the Minister will give us some reply on this Amendment.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I want to ask the Minister if he would be able to protect such working agreements as are at present in operation between the light railways and the heavier railways which latter are seeking these additional powers. I am not speaking from the financial point of view of a shareholder, but I have here conies of agreements which are in operation between certain light railways—the Shropshire and Monmouthshire, the Welsh Highland, and the North Devon and Cornwall—and the Great Western the London Midland and Scottish, and the Southern Railways. In these light railway companies public money to the amount of £250,000 is at resent invested, having been supplied by the county councils, urban district councils, and certain town councils——
§ Colonel ASHLEY
If my hon. Friend will forgive me for interrupting him, I really do not see what this has to do with the Amendment which has been moved.
§ Sir W. SUGDEN
I understood you to say, Mr. Speaker, when we were discussing an Amendment to an earlier Clause, that the Amendments as a whole should be discussed on that Clause and my Amendment thus is applicable to this Clause. What I want the Minister to do is to give us a definite assurance that he will not jeopardise public money belonging to the county councils, urban district councils and town councils who have invested this money in light railways, by permitting any agreements which he may be able to accede to or refuse, enabling the heavy railways to pick and choose their passenger or goods traffic as they please, and either crowd out or starve these light railways. I would ask the Minister, therefore, if he will give us this assurance of protection for public moneys, and not particularly for privately invested funds, in respect of these light railways.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I should like to bring to the notice of the House what the Committee did and what this Amendment really does. Under Clause 11 provision is made by which a railway company may make an agreement with any company or private person or local authority, or a working agreement for joint user of any system of omnibuses on the roads, and Sub-section (3) provides that notice of any such agreement is to be given to the Minister specifying the names of the parties and whether the agreement provides for the railway company having control over the service. The Minister, therefore, at any time can call upon the railway company, if there is anything wrong in the working of the system, and can see exactly what the agreement is. The Committee were satisfied, on the arguments put before them, that if such agreements were to come before the Railway Rates Tribunal for ratification, it would prevent any such agreements ever being made at all and as the Committee took the view that in many cases it might be desirable that the railway companies, instead of displacing local services should aid the persons who were running them and obtain mutual advantages they limited the particulars to be given as in the Bill. Every witness agreed that if these agreements had to be made public they would not be made. There are large numbers of these agreements in existence by and between the 2610 present omnibus proprietors and road hauliers none of the terms of which can be known to the public or even to the Minister at all. This Clause is going a great deal further in respect of the railway companies than the present position with the various omnibus providers and it enables the Minister to arrive at knowledge of the terms of the agreement whenever he wants.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I have no doubt the Committee have put adequate safeguards in the Clause. Speaking as a London Member, I am naturally suspicious whether the Minister will be very wide awake to the necessity of preventing these agreements. We have had some very serious experiences in London of secret agreements. The traffic combine has really got round the provisions of the London Traffic Act by a number of agreements which have not been made public. The London General Omnibus Company has a working agreement with Tilling and Company.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
By a previous Amendment we have excluded all these omnibuses from the London Metropolitan area.
§ Mr. HARRIS
I quite appreciate that London has been protected under the Bill. But it is very necessary that there should be safeguards and that there should not be secret agreements. We have seen in London what happens when you have these arrangements between railway companies and other forms of transport. We have to defeat monopoly in London Except for the County Council tramways, the whole system has come under the control of the traffic trust, which is a combination of omnibuses, tramways and railways. We have to be very careful that under this Bill similar arrangements will not be come to all over the country. If they are done in public, there is no objection. On the other hand, if they are done privately, under some secret arrangement, they are open to great objection. We want to feel sure that the Minister is going to exercise his functions as protector of public interests. I think that he ought to make it clear that when these agreements are arranged he is going to see to it that the purposes of this Bill are not got round.
§ Mr. E. ALEXANDER
I understand that in consequence of this Amendment being discussed, a later Amendment put down in my name will not be called. It reads as follows:—
In page 7, line 32, at the end, to insert the words,
and shall at the same time furnish to the Minister a copy of any such agreement, and such agreement shall not come into force until the same shall have been sanctioned by the Minister.
A copy of any such agreement shall be open to public inspection, and the Minister shall not sanction any such agreement if objection in writing is taken thereto by any representative body of traders within twenty-one days from the date upon which a copy of any such agreement is made available for public inspection. In the event of any such objection being made, the Minister may direct a public inquiry to be held in accordance with section thirteen of this Act.
§ In my humble judgment, my Amendment is a better Amendment, because I would not have these agreements referred to the Railway Rates Tribunal. It is quite true that the Committee have tried to provide some safeguards, but I would suggest to the House that those safeguards are very illusory. Simply the heads of the agreements are to be reported to the Minister of Transport. I suggest that, having regard to the working agreements which may be arrived at—one does not desire to stop all these agreements—the public interests should be conserved by working agreements being prevented which are not in the interests of the public. As a matter of fact, we all know what has happened in connection with railway companies and canals, and we do not want any such forms of working agreements to be perpetrated in the future. I suggest that the better way of dealing with this matter would be for the whole of the agreement, not simply the parties to it and the heads of the agreement, to be reported to the Minister, for the public, who are interested, should have the right, if they so desire, of entering their protest. I would even go further and suggest that these agreements should be ratified by the House of Commons by being placed on the Table for a certain number of days. If no objection was taken to them, then they could become operative. I think that it is wrong for these hidden agreements to be entered into; the public in- 2612 terests might be contravened in every line of an agreement which was being put forward.
§ Major HILLS
I want to recall to the House the exact meaning of this Amendment. Clause 11 is a Clause that is very much to the advantage of local authorities, for it enables combination to take place between the railways and local authorities. I believe that there is room for everybody. I believe that there is plenty of transport for everybody. I believe that it is possible for the railway companies to go on to the roads and that the local authorities will not find as much damage being done as they fear. Clause 11 is really very much to their advantage because it gives them the power to do what otherwise they cannot do—to make agreements with railway companies about road transport. What is to happen to these agreements when they have been made? My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) has suggested that they should go to the Railway Rates Tribunal. I submit to the House that of all bodies the Railway Rates Tribunal is the worst body to determine the terms of these agreements. It is a body which has to fix the rates to be charged by railways on goods. The Railway Rates Tribunal is very much overloaded with work, and you would never get these agreements dealt with expeditiously. It might take months, if not years, in which to get them through. The scheme of the Bill is much better. Under Sub-section (3) all these agreements have to be sent to the Minister. Clause 11 should be read with Clause 13, which provides that:If the Minister is at any time of opinion that the interests of the public are prejudicially affected by the exercise of the powers of this Acthe can order an inquiry to be held, and if the matter is not put right he can report to both Houses of Parliament. I admit that these agreements may not always be in the public interest, and that there must be some control, but I hope the House will accept the scheme of the Bill under which the responsible Minister is given the duty of looking at these agreements, and if he finds anything that he does not like in the agreement he has general power under Clause 13 to call the attention of the company to it, and if they do not put it right he can cause an 2613 inquiry to be held, and, in the ultimate resort, he can report to both Houses of Parliament.
§ Sir BASIL PETO
On a point of Order. If the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Remer) withdraws his Amendment, will the House have an opportunity of voting on the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. E. Alexander)?
§ Sir B. PETO
If the hon. Member for Macclesfield withdraws his Amendment, will the House have an opportunity of voting on the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member?
If the House agrees to the withdrawal of the Amendment and it is understood that a Division is to be taken immediately on the Amendment of the hon. Member for Leyton, we could take a Division on that Amendment; but it is for the House to determine whether the Amendment should be withdrawn.
The question was deliberately raised by the hon. Member for Leyton, who said that he had an Amendment on the Paper. He specifically stated that the present Amendment was not quite so wide as his Amendment, which he understood was not to be moved.
My point is that the answer we got from the Chair was that the other Amendment was not to be called.
It is in the hands of the House. Any hon. Member can prevent the present Amendment from being withdrawn. If it is negatived, then I shall take the matter as settled. Does the hon. Member for Macclesfield wish to withdraw his Amendment?
§ Mr. DIXEY
I hope my hon. Friend will stick to his Amendment until the Minister will give us an assurance that he will consent to some form being embodied in the Bill on the lines laid down in the Amendment standing in the name of the hon. Member for Leyton. I understood that some protection was to be introduced to guard against any possible monopoly, and those of us who opposed the Bill on Second Beading did so because we thought there was a possible monopoly. If the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept some Amendment of this nature I shall go into the lobby in support of it.
§ Colonel ASHLEY
On that point, broadly speaking, I am satisfied. I think Clause 13 gives to the Minister general powers which the House should regard as satisfactory. I understand that the Select Committee came to the conclusion that, instead of having a safeguard here, and a regulation in another place, it was far better to put in general powers or obligations on the Minister in a Clause so that if he considered anything was wrong he could order an inquiry; report it to the House and have the matter put right as soon as possible.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. The hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Major Hills) has told us that local authorities gist many advantages under this Clause because they are allowed to enter into certain agreements with the railway companies. Is it not the case that railway companies can enter into agreements with private companies and therefore unless the right hon. Gentleman acted instantly on receipt of any such agreement the railway company and the private company might come to an agreement which would destroy a municipal undertaking. Is that possible under this Clause?
§ Colonel ASHLEY
The Clause seems to me to be as secure as words can make it. It says "if the Minister at any time thinks". That means that he can act at once. In the course of a few weeks action can be taken and a report made to the House. Whoever was hurt by any such agreement would report the matter at once; it would become known through the press; and if it was against the public interest public opinion would be strong enough to put a stop to it.
§ Mr. T. WILLIAMS rose——
I must point out that we are not in Committee. The hon. Member can only speak again by leave of the House.
§ Mr. WILLIAMS
Is it not within the rules of the House even on the Report stage to follow up a question which is of such vital importance to local authorities all over the country?
Only by leave of the House. Perhaps I ought to have stopped the Minister of Transport himself.
§ Mr. A. V. ALEXANDER
I understand that the local authorities are not completely satisfied by this Clause, although they do not feel so strongly about it as about Clause 4. I have no doubt at all in my own mind that the hon. Members who put down this Amendment are not thinking so much about the interests of the local authorities. They are thinking about the interests of traders who will be affected by possible secret agreements. I want to tell hon. Members that I also am interested in this matter. After all, I am connected with one of the very largest users of the railways. We have not taken a hostile view of the whole question, because we are interested on the other side as well. We are not only users of the railways, but are interested in the financial side. We do feel some doubt about what the effect of secret agreements of this kind will be upon the traders. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) to say that the position in the country is that there is a whole network of secret agreements. What we are dealing with here is a statutory body who are entrusted with duties in respect of common carriage. Certain rates are fixed by the 2616 Railway Rates Tribunal. In some cases, for what reason I do not want to say—it must be for good or bad reasons—those rates may be onerous to traders, and they find alternative means of carrying their merchandise and get more favourable terms. But it will be possible to have secret agreements between the alternative means of transport to which resort is at present made by traders and the railway companies who take powers under this Bill, and for such agreements not to be sufficiently public to the public who are the biggest users of the railways. I think that it would be a good thing if the railway companies would meet the traders in this matter, and I am not at all sure that the wording of either of these Amendments on the paper is very suitable. If the promoters of the Bill would consider the matter seriously and fix on a form of words and have them put in in another place, it would meet the point raised by the traders and would facilitate the passing of the Measure.
§ Sir H. CAUTLEY
I said by leave of the House. The hon. Gentleman opposite has misunderstood what I said. What I did was only to tell the House what was, as far as I understood it, the view of the Committee, and there I left it. The view of the Committee was that there would be no agreements made if any further particulars were to be given to the Minister, because it was a question of an agreement with a private omnibus company which could make any kind of agreement in business without any control of any kind, and it would not make an agreement with the railway company under the circumstances suggested.
§ Sir R. HORNE
I think there is some misapprehension in the House about the effect of this whole matter. As we know, if you take private concerns, they make agreements constantly as matters of 2617 business, and you do not suggest anything sinister about them by calling them secret agreements because they are not published to the world. Agreements of the nature suggested between a railway company and private individuals are no more to be labelled secret than are the transactions of the ordinary private business. Observe what goes on from day to day. Take the case of two 'bus companies, each working on a particular route. There is tin possible objection to the two companies making what agreement they choose and running in competition with other 'buses on these routes. For some reason or other there are Members of this Committee who seem to think that as soon as a railway company makes an agreement with a bus company there must be something sinister and thievish about it. From my point of view as a member of the public I can imagine that it was of the greatest possible benefit to the public that where there are existing 'bus services you do not want immediately a cut-throat competition between the railway and the 'buses with the result that someone is ruined. It is far better, in the interests of everyone, that an agreement should be possible between the railway company and the 'bus services, but from my own personal experience of ordinary business I am certain that you put a great impediment in the way of such agreements if you are to have every detail advertised to the public—the conditions under which a thing is bought, the price paid, and all the other materials. I am certain that many agreements would never be made at all under such conditions, and instead of the public being served, the result would be greatly to the detriment of the public service.
But what have you got? It is true that the railway companies are statutory bodies. It is also true that if, instead of coming in this way to the House of Commons in order to get these powers in the ordinary way, they had chosen to go to the shareholders and to suggest the putting up of money for the formation of omnibus services, they would have been doing exactly what they propose to do in future, and this House would have had nothing to say about it. What is all the bother about? They have chosen, instead of taking that method, which would have put them entirely outside the 2618 control of the House of Commons, to come to the House and ask for powers. You have had a very powerful Select Committee which has gone into the whole matter with meticulous care and has arrived at a certain number of devices for safeguarding the public interest. Those devices include, so far as any agreements are concerned, that the names connected with them shall be communicated to the Minister with a direct statement as to whether control is to be exercised by the railway company. The importance of that is this: that as soon as the railway companies exercise control the controlling body must immediately become subject to all the obligations of the railway company, with the publication of its fares and so on. What is the interest of the public in the actual terms upon which that company buys out the omnibus enterprise? Their only interest is in the fares. They are net interested in the price paid. The question is, are the fares to be charged larger than the public ought to pay in the circumstances? There will be complete control in that matter by the publication of the fares and the power that toe local authorities have to appeal to the Rates Tribunal against any fares which they regard as unjust or exorbitant. That is the whole of the public interest in the matter. I suggest that we are taking up much more time than is called for. This is really a very small matter in the actual working.
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."
§ The House proceeded to a Division.
§ THE DEPUTY-SPEAKER stated that he thought the Noes had it; and, on his decision being challenged, it appeared to him that the Division was unnecessarily claimed, and he accordingly called upon the Members who supported and who challenged his decision successively to rise in their places, and he declared that the Noes had it, three Members only who challenged his decision having stood up.
Amendment made: In page 8, leave out from the word "passengers" in line 7 to the end of the Clause, and insert the words:
Who on my one journey are both taken up and set down in the area consisting of
the Metropolitan Police District and the City of London."—[Sir H. Jackson.]