§ LORD LOVAT had the following Notice on the Paper—To call attention to the statements in the public Press made by the road and rail transport interests, and to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the increase both in the county road rates and in many of the "goods" railway freights, the time has not come for an impartial inquiry to see whether our inland traffic is being handled to the best advantage of the public; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, when I put my Motion down I had intended only to call attention to the amount, of money which appears to be not spent to 966 the best advantage in inland traffic, and to urge the Government to take action along one of the lines which might possibly be the most fruitful in economy—that of local administration—at the present time. This morning we see an announcement in the newspapers to the effect that the Government have appointed, excepting the Chairman, a Committee to go into the whole question of road and rail transport. But the essential point on which His Majesty's Government's proposal differs from the suggestion I ventured to put forward, is that while I suggested an impartial inquiry the Government have seen fit to appoint a Committee of two of the three interested parties. I would, therefore, ask your Lordships' permission to alter my Resolution at the end of my Question and to move that "four members representing local authorities be added to the Committee proposed by the Minister of Transport."
§ I do this in the interests of economy and also of justice so that at all events not only shall those who actually run on the roads be represented, but also those who pay rates. Naturally, in the short space of time between, say, half-past eight this morning, when I read The Times, and a quarter past four this afternoon when your Lordships met, I had not very much time to get information as to what the various county council and other associations feel about this matter, but I have already received replies from 23 county councils of Scotland and I have had a reply from several associations showing that they cannot understand the attitude of His Majesty's Government in having a matter of such great importance handed over to a tribunal in which frankly they have not the least confidence.
§ May I read one letter which represents clearly, I think, the opinion of the majority of the county associations and municipal authorities? It is from the Association of Municipal Corporations and it is in these terms:
§ "With reference to your Motion in the House of Lords for this afternoon, may I call your attention to the announcement appearing in the Press this morning that the Minister of Transport has agreed to set up a Committee with wide terms of reference, including the investigation of the facts relating to the costs of the highway system (including the regulation of traffic) 967 and the incidence of those costs, and to report thereon, and amongst other things on the nature and extent of the regulation which should be applied to goods transport by road and by rail? The Committee, you will observe, is to consist solely of representatives of the four large railway companies and representatives of the goods transport by road.
§ "I have been trying to get into communication with the Chairman of the General Purposes Committee of this Association, but up to the present time without success, because I feel sure that he, and indeed the Association, will take the view that, having regard to the terms of reference, the constitution of the Committee is not satisfactory.
§ "If the Committee had consisted entirely of independent persons, I do not think that any question would have been raised, but that is not the case, as it is to comprise only representatives of the two principal systems of transport.
§ "In view of the wide terms of reference and of the fact that the Committee are to investigate such matters as the costs of the highway system and the regulation of traffic, my Association will, I feel sure, submit to the Minister that highway authorities should be adequately represented on the Committee."
§ I need not read any of the other twenty three telegrams that I have received, because I feel sure that after such a strong expression of opinion to the Ministry of Transport they will see their way to grant what I think is a very reasonable demand. I should feel it my duty, however, to test the opinion of the House if the noble Earl is not in a position to accede to what I think is a reasonable request.
§ I think that probably anyone who has spent much time in local administration will agree that the whole question of road transport, and the management of the roads, has been left far too long without any decision from what you might call the headquarter staff. We have slowly felt our way forward, and have done so at considerable expense to the ratepayers. May I give your Lordships in a very few words a few typical cases? I am going to confine my examples to Scotland, because I know there are other Peers who are going to speak of similar figures in England. I take in Scotland three typical counties. They have not been selected by me, but by the secretary of the Association of County Councils for Scotland, and they represent, (1), a purely rural and poor area; (2), an agricultural area, fairly rich; and (3), an essentially town area, in Lanarkshire. 968 The figures will give your Lordships a rough summary of the increase in rates as between the years 1912–13, which are taken as typical pre-War years, and 1929–30, taken as typical post-War years. In some of these areas, as for instance the Lower Ward of Lanark, the road rates have gone up from 6¾d. to just over 1s. 9d., rather over three times. In a similar way the road rate for Midlothian has more than doubled, and in one case practically trebled. In Inverness-shire, a poor, sparsely-populated district, in some cases it has gone up by five times the amount it was before the War.
§ I am quite aware that the Front Benches are much more occupied over tariffs and 10 per cent. duties than over the question of road rates, but we in the country view quite calmly the question of 10 per cent. duties, when we have our road rates going up by from 50 to 500 per cent. This is not the only fact which is of importance. These are the actual figures that have been paid by the local ratepayers. In 1912–13 money was not poured in in that liberal way from the central funds, and moreover, apart from that question, in all the calculations which I have seen made by the two contending parties who are most articulate on the subject, a great deal of the capital expenditure incurred by the counties is not counted in the grand total of expenditure. The question therefore is, I say, a matter well worth investigating, and one which should be investigated not by two of the interested parties, but by the whole of the three parties interested, and perhaps you might even include the ratepayers, who, as individuals, are always forgotten by everyone, except my noble friend Lord Banbury.
May I refer to the actual Committee which is going to be appointed to go into this matter? I would like to point out to your Lordships that I have only got a copy of The Times and it may not be correct, although I believe it to be correct. This Committee has been appointed:
To investigate the facts relating to the total costs of the highway system (including the regulation of traffic), the incidence of those costs and the contributions of the different classes of users of mechanically propelled vehicles …
Please heaven that what they are going to investigate is a system which is not going to be retained for all times. We hope that with an Economy Committee
something is going to be done to correct the activities of a Transport Committee. We know that those wonderful roads, those speedways created for motorists, are now things of the past. We even have reason for hoping we shall have much more money spent in the classification grants. We also have reason to hope that the whole of the work of the Committee will be done by classification grants and exceptional classification grants. If this subject is going to be investigated by two bodies who have no real knowledge—practically no knowledge at all, for admirable as these gentlemen are I have never seen their names associated with county administration—how are they going to get at the facts happening at the present time, or at what is likely to be the policy of the county councils in the near future?
I will only ask your Lordships to read the end of this reference:
to assist the two skies of the industry to carry out their functions under equitable conditions, which adequately safeguard the interests of trade and industry; and to report by the end of July.
No mention is made of the ratepayer. Eave we not got a right to insist that this most important inquiry, which I hope will be a turning point in the consideration of the whole of our road transport question, shall be conducted by Parliament, instead of the matter being reported on by two groups of people to whom the county councils and the ratepayers are, no doubt, objects of exploitation rather than objects of interest? I therefore move my Motion—I have the support of every single county in Scotland, and I should not be surprised if I had the support also of a very large number of county councils in England, and of municipal authorities—that we should be given a reasonable hearing at this important inquiry.
§ May I say one word in conclusion, even though perhaps it is not quite cognate to the subject directly under discussion? We who spend a great deal of our time in running our districts are getting more and more dissatisfied with the way the permanent officials rule every single action of the county councils. We have rule by bureaucracy now, rather than rule by democracy, and nowhere is that more felt than in the local administration of the British Isles. At the county 970 councils it is a question of how many papers from a Minister you can get through in a certain time. I suggest, therefore, that this is one of the points upon which the county councils should stand firm, and I trust that your Lordships will back up their undoubted desire to be properly represented on this Committee. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the road and rail transport interests, and that four members representing local authorities be added to the Committee on Road and Rail Transport proposed by the Minister of Transport.—(Lord Lovat.)
§ LORD BANBURY OF SOUTHAM
My Lords, I am much obliged to my noble friend Lord Lovat for having brought forward this Motion, but I am afraid that I must rather disappoint him when he expresses the hope that your Lordships will support that part, of his Motion which would necessitate members of county councils being appointed on this Committee. I am a strong supporter of economy, and I hope that this Committee will result in economy, but I do not see that any object is to be gained by making the Committee larger. The larger it is the more time will it take, and probably the worse the conclusion it will reach. You cannot really go into matters in a large Committee. I think it has been said that a Committee of three is the best, and a Committee of one still better. But, at any rate in this case, I think that the Committee of eight which the Government propose is the best number that you can have. My noble friend Lord Lovat must also remember that the railway companies are ratepayers. They are very large ratepayers: that is one of the reasons why they are not successful: they have to spend so large an amount in rates. In these circumstances I shall support the Government with pleasure if they refuse to accept the addition to my noble friend's Motion.
I may perhaps be considered a little suspect by Lord Lovat when I admit that I was Chairman of the Great Northern Railway for a good many years, and for more than twenty years a director. He may possibly think therefore that I am a little prejudiced in this matter. I had handed to me this morning a paper issued, I suppose, by some persons representing the motor industry, in which 971 they give the amount of receipts in 1913 and in 1930, and they then give the expenditure, which has gone up by some very large amount (I forget what), but they omit to say that the rise in expenditure is not in any way the fault of the railway directors—it is the fault of Mr. Lloyd George, to whom we owe all our misfortunes. Mr. Lloyd George during the War insisted with the directors—much against the opinion of, I think, all the Chairmen at that time—that the hours of the railwayman should be reduced to eight. I need not go into the reasons for that, but it had a very great effect upon the increase in wages. In addition to that, he insisted upon a very great rise in wages. The chief items of expenditure of the railways are wages and coal. Now coal has gone up through no fault of the railway directors, and wages have gone up—no fault of the railway directors either.
Further, in 1921 or 1922, when the Bill for amalgamating the railways was before the House of Commons, a clause was put in providing that the railway companies were not to be judges of what they were to pay in wages, but it was to be settled by a tribunal consisting of a given number of representatives of the railways, a given number of representatives of the men, and a certain number of the public; and, to make the thing, if possible, more ridiculous—I opposed it in Committee, but ineffectually—it was said that if the men did not like to accept the verdict they need not. It seems to me an absurd thing to set up a tribunal whose verdict need not be accepted by one of the parties. Of course, the directors were equally at liberty not to accept the verdict, but I ask you what would have been their position if, when the men had accepted it, the directors had refused it. They would have been held up to criticism and obloquy by every newspaper in the country. I think it is absolutely necessary that something should be done. I should not be anxious to preserve the railways if there were a better form of transport, but if the railways are fettered in this way and the companies which own motor vehicles are left unfettered, that is not fair competition.
I have in my hand a paper from the Pedestrians' Association. I have not checked their figures, which I presume are correct, but they point out that during 972 1930 7,305 people were killed on the roads, and 177,895 people were injured; whilst in the twelve years since the War 1,400,000 men, women, and children have been killed or injured in road accidents in Great Britain, a number equal to more than half the British casualties in the Great War. Just conceive what those figures mean. And unless something be done they will increase. I am quite aware that last year the number of fatal accidents decreased slightly, and other accidents increased; but any of your Lordships who go about the roads must see that the number of motor cars and heavy motor lorries is increasing every day, and their speed is increasing, too.
I saw in a local newspaper a day or two ago the report of an inquest on the body of an unfortunate man who was riding a pedal bicycle and was killed. This is what happened. A doctor is driving somewhere between six or seven in the evening in a motor car. He sees another motor car coming towards him. He dims his lights, and the other motor car also dims its lights. The doctor, having passed the oncoming motor, hears a "scrunch," he stops and goes back, and finds that the other motor car has knocked over a man on a pedal bicycle and killed him. He is asked by the coroner: "Was the motor car that knocked over the man going at a fast speed?" "No, an ordinary speed." The chauffeur of the car that killed the man then gives evidence, and he says he did not see anything "till he was on it." He then put on his brakes and swerved to the right. "What speed were you going?" "Oh, a moderate cruising speed, 40 miles an hour." Can you conceive it? Here is a man driving at 40 miles an hour, with the lights dim and not seeing anything that was in front of him, and apparently not caring. What happened? The jury found that he was free from blame.
If that sort of thing goes on, irrespective of whether railway shareholders are ruined or not it will not be safe to walk upon the road. Anybody who goes about the roads even as little as I do must know that these enormous lorries are increasing every day and the wear and tear to the roads must be something tremendous. Unless something is done to prevent that the burden on the ratepayers will increase and the danger to the public will also increase. I saw in 973 yesterday's newspaper an account of a motor lorry 75 feet long, carrying a weight of 55 tons. Fortunately, I think it only went at 5 miles an hour. But can you conceive what happens to the roads with a motor lorry 75 feet long, carrying 55 tons passing over them? I have not included the weight of the lorry; I do not know what the weight of the lorry is. It was not stated in the paper.
I am very glad that I shall be able to support the Government because I think, for once at any rate, they have done the right thing. I hope sincerely that this Committee will really be a Committee which does something and that it will not be appointed in order to avoid doing anything.
§ LORD LAMINGTON
My Lords, for once I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Banbury. I am a supporter of the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, because I believe that the position of the ratepayers with regard to the use of the roads should be stated and fully considered. In this connection I should like to read Paragraph 296 of the Report of the May Committee, which says:As it is now being administered, this Fund has become a liability on the national finances and in our view drastic action is necessary to remedy the position. First among the steps we recommend is the abolition of the Fund and placing expenditure on road grants on the annual Votes of Parliament.I believe that is the proper system to adopt. These road users, whether railway companies or motor transport concerns, both state that they are carrying on the national work of the country in the matter of transport. In that case surely the nation ought to bear the full expenditure in regard to it. I dislike nationalisation in the ordinary way of the Government carrying on a business, but where they have, control the liability ought really to lie on them and it is really very hard on the ratepayers that they should have to pay 25 per cent, of the expenditure on these great national highways.
My noble friend Lord Banbury certainly read out a statement from the Pedestrians' Association; but. over 3,000 pedestrians were killed last year on our national roads and if you placed the corpses of these pedestrians side by side you would have over a mile and a quarter of people killed on the roads. It really 974 cannot be said that pedestrians get any benefit out of these great roads. In regard to those who use horses on the highways, such as farmers, we know it is almost impossible for them to use the roads in wet or frosty weather because the surface is so slippery. These great roads really are of very little use to the people of a locality, and therefore it is a gross injustice for the ratepayers to be saddled with any of the expense in connection with them. I would suggest as a remedy that the system of administration introduced by the late Lord Haldane in connection with the Territorial Army associations should be adopted in this case, and that the Government should find the whole of the money. These Territorial Army associations have worked very economically, and a body of men selected or nominated on some such principle as that adopted in connection with those associations would give you all the benefit of local supervision and strict economy, while at the same time absolute regard would be paid to the conditions of the county concerned Therefore I hope that whatever line is taken my noble friend Lord Lovat will persevere in seeing that the ratepayers have their position fully considered by this new Committee.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I had the honour of being in the House of Commons for a good many years at the same time as my noble friend Lord Banbury. It was always our opinion there that whoever wanted to get a Motion through had better apply first to the hon. Member for Peckham as my noble friend was in those days. I am sorry that my noble friend Lord Lovat did not bear that little adage in mind when he counted upon my noble friend Lord Banbury as a supporter. Like my noble friend Lord Banbury I have been connected with the railways. Unfortunately, when the amalgamation took place there was no room for me and since that time the railways have not been so prosperous.
Apart from that, many members of your Lordships' House were invited—I think the noble Lord the late Minister of Transport was present—to a very interesting lunch at the Savoy Hotel on March 9. It was a very good lunch and it was given by the Commercial Motor Users' Association. The reason why I refer to it is not because of its excellence, but because a very important announcement was made by Mr. Pybus, the Minister of Transport, 975 who adumbrated the formation of a Committee. It was a very representative gathering of commercial motor users, and the Minister of Transport told the assembly, which was extremely interested, of the many difficulties connected with the use of the roads. Allusion was also very properly made, as one would expect, by the Home Secretary to the accidents on the road, the figures of which have just been quoted by my noble friend Lord Banbury. I think that is really the genesis of this Committee.
Mr. Pybus said:I have in mind to summon at an early date a conference of a few representatives of a limited number of organisations concerned in the operation of heavy commercial transport, including representatives of the railway companies. If that conference were favourably disposed to the suggestion, I shall be inclined to propose to them a reference to a very small group of five, or certainly not more than seven, persons, including an impartial Chairman, to report to me their considered views as to the proper functions of rail and road.I do not know whether your Lordships are in the same position as myself, but I have received from the Commercial Motor Users' Association and from the railway companies pamphlets which I have read with great care stating their respective sides of the ease. I think everybody was agreed after hearing the speech of the Minister at the luncheon that some such Committee was extremely necessary and would be very useful. But I must confess I expected that the Committee would only deal with the question of heavy motor transport; that it was not going to touch the passenger side at all, but was really to see whether any businesslike agreement could be come to upon this, very vexed and important question as to what should go by rail and what should go by motor transport, not forgetting, of course, the most important question of the damage that is done to the roads by vehicles which are too heavy and which carry too much transport.
I was rather surprised this morning therefore when I read in The Times—and I presume that The Times is correct—the names of the Committee. First of all there were seven members of that Committee instead of five, and they were all either members of the railway companies—very important members, the General Managers, who are all so well known that I need not mention their 976 Names—or of motor transport organizations—namely, four representatives (including the representative in Scotland) of the Commercial Motor Users' Association and one representative in London of the haulage contractors. The secretaries are the secretary of the Railway Companies' Association and Mr. Bristow, whom I know very well—he is a most able person—the secretary of the Commercial Motor Users' Association. But the reference is far greater than was adumbrated by the Minister of Transport. It goes into the whole question. We are told it is to investigate the total cost of the highway system including the regulation of traffic. I cannot understand how they can go into the question of the regulation of traffic or the cost of the highway system, witthout the representatives of the highway authorities, who must know these matters better than the railway companies or the Commercial Motor Users' Association. It does seem to me that something ought to be done in this matter by the Government.
I quite agree with my noble friend Lord Banbury that twelve is too many for a Committee of this kind. Could not two of the railway Managers, who are very busy people, go out, and also two representatives of the Commercial Motor Users' Association? Then two representatives of the highway authorities might be added to the Committee, with an impartial Chairman. I think that would give universal satisfaction; otherwise you will get grievances all round. We had a very fine Committee on traffic—the Royal Commission on Traffic—which took a great deal of evidence and was presided over most ably by an old friend of many of us in this House, Sir Arthur Griffith-Boscawen. Things have moved quickly since then. I think it has been a great feather in the cap of the Minister of Transport that we should have got these two associations, the Railway Companies' and the Commercial Motor Users Associations to agree to investigate the matter and come to a conclusion. I do hope the Government will not resist the appeal of my noble friend Lord Lovat. There is a way out, as I suggest, and it would give much greater satisfaction if all sections are represented upon what, after all, ought to be a small Committee.
977 There is no mention of the Chairman. I suppose the Government have an idea in their minds of having some eminent person who is not connected with any of the interests—an impartial person not connected with either railways or commercial motors or traffic generally—to preside over this small Committee. I hope it will be set up and get to work quickly. The questions are becoming more urgent every day. There is no doubt a strong feeling all over the country in regard to the damage that has been done to the roads, and there is also on the other hand great anxiety on the part of the railways as to what is to be their future, and whether their legitimate share of the heavy traffic of this country has not been diverted from them. For these reasons I shall support my noble friend Lord Lovat, unless the Government meet him half way in the object which he desires to attain by his Motion.
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
My Lords, as one who was connected officially for some years with both the railway and road interests I would crave your indulgence for a few minutes in order to deal with the first few lines of Lord Lovat's Notice in which he raises the whole question of what should be the proper functions of railway and road transportation in this country. Incidentally I may say that I entirely agree with Lord Lovat that it would be well that the self-governing bodies in this country should have representation on the Committee, not necessarily confined to the county councils, because county boroughs are equally entitled to be represented. But, having said that, I would like to deal, if I may for five minutes, with the general principles as I see them.
It seems to me that there are two things we must aim at. We must obviously in this country have an efficient up-to-date railway system. No road transportation can possibly take the place of our railways. On the other hand, it would be retrograde, it would be going backwards, if we so burdened road transportation by restrictive regulations and taxation that it could not carry the goods of passengers offered to it. The railways complain of unfair road competition. Well, if extra taxation and regulations are put upon the roads, who would suffer? The consumers would suffer, because they would have to pay more for the goods 978 which are taken to them by road, and the passenger on the motor omnibus would have to pay more for his fare. Therefore, though it might benefit the railways as entities, it would certainly cause a loss to the community as a whole. One hopes that this Committee which has now been set up may strike an even balance between the two.
May I say one word about the position of the railways as I see it? I hesitate to say this in the presence of my noble friend Lord Snowden, but I do think that the programme of the Labour Party, which still holds good as far as I know—namely, that as soon as possible they intend to nationalise the railways—must be bad for the railways at the present moment, because if one great Party in the State says that as soon as they can they are going to abolish private enterprise in railway business, it must rather damp the ardour of the railway directors and all their officials to think that all they are striving for is to hand over an efficient railway system to a nationalising Government. But I hope that the railway directors and the General Managers will not take that view. It would be far more difficult for the Socialists to nationalise the railways if the railways were in an efficient state and carrying on the business of the country well and properly, than if they were moribund, or at any rate not carrying out their duties as efficiently and as well as they ought to.
There is a statement often made—I have come across it several times lately—that the railways are in a very bad way because between 1923 and 1930 they lost no less a sum than £16,000,000 net revenue, which loss is ascribed in the publications issued on behalf of the railway companies, entirely to road transportation. A moment's thought will convince anyone of the inaccuracy of that statement. It is quite clear that a certain amount—what the amount may be is unknown, but that a great deal of railway business has been taken on to the roads. That is clear. It is equally clear that a great deal of the loss of £16,000,000 net revenue arises from bad trade. If you have bad trade in this country obviously the railways, as one of the chief transport agents, must suffer very heavily. I am fortified in this opinion when I read that in 1914 the railways carried 300,000,000 tons of coal and minerals, whereas the year before last they only 979 carried 230,000,000 tons, a diminution of 70,000,000 tons. That has nothing at all to do with rates because obviously coal and minerals are not carried by road. That is owing to bad trade and one may hope and trust that when trade improves a good deal of the £16,000,000 will come back to the railways, which properly should carry that traffic.
I think that the public ought to be grateful to the railway directors and to their able General Managers for the improvements and economies which they have made during the last four or five years. When I was a younger man, before road transport came, the railway companies were singularly autocratic. I say that with deference in your Lordships' House, where three out of four members, I understand, are railway directors. They were, however, singularly autocratic, I think, when railways were the only means of transport, and traders and others suffered a good deal. That is long past, and now, under stress of competition, railway companies undoubtedly have done a very great deal. They have worked very hard to make economies and improve their position and thereby to get more traffic. They have not only made economics, but they have put into operation cheaper fares, week-end tickets and facilities for traders, and I am glad to see that they are adopting co-operative pooling when using joint lines, which is hoped will ease the situation a great deal.
But is that quite enough? That is rather trading in comparatively small items. Should not the big railway companies rather aim at carrying out the policy which has been so conspicuously successful in the last ten or fifteen years in the case of London traffic? Lord Ash-field has made a marvellous transformation under very great difficulties in London transport. When his omnibuses did not pay he so improved his Underground lines that they carried the deficit oil the omnibuses. When the Underground lines ceased to pay, as they did some seven or eight years ago, then by his up-to-date omnibus traffic—with omnibuses which are now the finest in the world and a service which I think is also the finest in the world—he made good the losses on the Underground lines. I hesitate very much even to seem to attempt to teach railway directors their business, but is it not worthy of consideration that they should cast their bread upon the 980 waters and go ahead with a really bold policy of speeding up trains and speeding goods traffic, almost, I might put it, gambling upon a return for anything they may do? In another place I heard year after year a proposal for third-class sleeping coaches. I duly voted against the imposition upon the railway companies of the obligation to provide third-class sleepers, not because I did not think third-class sleepers a good thing which probably would pay the companies, but because I was averse from compelling railway companies by Statute to do something which they were not willing to do.
§ LORD MOUNT TEMPLE
My noble friend Lord Banbury says they would not pay, but if they do not pay now I am sure they have been a great boon, which the travelling public have much appreciated, and I feel sure that they will pay in a very few years. May I very respectfully suggest that there are three directions in which railway companies may make economies, and in two of them really may make very substantial gains for themselves? In the first place, I think it is worthy of investigation whether all the minute regulations and controls to which the railway companies used to be subjected by the Board of Trade, and are now by the Ministry of Transport, are really necessary under modern conditions; whether a great many of the regulations which were quite right and proper twenty or thirty years ago are absolutely necessary now. I know that when I was in the Army the number of returns we had to send in to brigade and divisional headquarters was so large that no staff could possibly ever have read them all. It may be said that while I was at the Ministry of Transport I did nothing—that is a good point against me—but I think that if the matter were investigated in the Ministry of Transport and the Board of Trade it would be found that a great many returns sent in are never read at all. That seems to me one direction in which a saving of labour on the railways could be achieved.
Then my noble friend Lord Banbury mentioned the question of rates of wages and hours of work. He told us, and told us with great truth, that they were imposed on the railway companies by Mr. 981 Lloyd George in the years succeeding the War. I think it is about time that somebody said quite clearly that the present rates of wages paid by the railway companies are perfectly ridiculous under present circumstances. The average increase in wages over 1914 is, I understand, 115 per cent. The increase in the cist of living is 46 per cent. I grant you that probably—and in fact certainly in some cases—employees on the railways in 1914 worked too long hours and were paid too low wages, but that does not extend through the whole hierarchy of the railway service. Even allowing for legitimate increases in wages, I submit that there is a big field for saving on the railways in the margin that lies between 115 per cent, increase in wages since 1914 and only 46 per cent, increase in the cost of living.
There is another subject which has not been mentioned at all to-day, but which I respectfully suggest is really worthy of very serious attention by the railway companies. That is electrification. Lord Weir was appointed about three years ago to conduct a Departmental inquiry on main line electrification. He is a very acute business man and, as you would expect, he produced in a short time a most interesting Report. His considered opinion, and that of Sir Ralph Wedgwood and another gentleman, was that if the railway companies could see their way to electrify their lines they would receive a return of 7 per cent, on the outlay. That was based on the existing traffic, and obviously electrification, as the experience of the Southern Railway Company shows, always increases traffic.
I would draw your Lordships' attention to the altered circumstances to-day compared with only two or three years ago. Under the Electricity Act of 1930, as your Lordships will remember, the Central Electricity Board was set up under the able conduct of Sir Andrew Duncan. The Board's duty was to build an inter-connecting grid across the length and breadth of these islands. The final link of this grid will be finished by the end of next year. That means that any company who wishes to undertake suburban or main line electrification will not have to build its own power station at very high costs and face the difficulty in present circumstances of borrowing 982 money, but will be able to go to the Central Electricity Board and say: "How much will you charge me for electricity?" I am told on the best authority that the Central Electricity Board could say to the railway companies: "We will provide you with any amount of electricity at either a half-penny or 4 of a penny per unit." In the case of the Southern Railway, under Mr. Baring, Sir Herbert Walker and other directors, they have gone in for an extensive scheme of suburban electrification—so extensive that by the end of next year the lines will be electrified as far as Brighton. They have reaped a good harvest in cash and in traffic through their foresight and enterprise. Among the brightest features of the Southern line are these electric trains which are doing so much to make it easier for people to travel as well as for the Southern Railway to pay their dividends.
I would ask with all respect why the London and North Eastern Railway cannot do the same from Liverpool Street, where, heaven knows, there is enough congestion? And why cannot some of the companies who work round Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham do the same thing? They are not now launching out into an uncharted sea. They can know exactly beforehand what rolling stock and signalling are going to cost and the cost per unit for current, and therefore there is no difficulty in dealing with electrification, either of suburban or main lines, if they so wish.
I do not desire to detain your Lordships, as other noble Lords who have spoken have been models of brevity. I hope something may come out of this Committee. I am not really very hopeful because, as the railway companies for the last two years have been engaged extensively through existing companies in road transport, it seems to me that so far as co-ordination is concerned what road transport do not know is not worth knowing, and I do not think the Committee can teach them much. As to whether further restrictions and regulations should be placed on road transport, the Committee may be able to give some light and lead, but I sincerely hope that no further taxation and no further restriction will be placed on road transport than they now suffer. At present the taxes on road transport are penally high.
983 If you work an omnibus in some cases the taxation from licence and petrol equals the whole wages paid for working the omnibus. The principles of the Act of 1930 were good, but there have been 50 regulations issued since the Act came in which the wretched owner of road transport has to go into and observe. Surely that is a quite sufficient burden already. If, voluntarily, some arrangement can be come to whereby the proper goods shall be directed to the railways and the proper goods shall be directed to the roads, that will be all to the good, but I do not build quite so high an expectation of the labours of this Committee as some of your Lordships who have already spoken.
My Lords, may I claim your indulgence as it is the first time I have had the honour of addressing your Lordships' House? I also claim some indulgence because I am, so to speak, a suspect, as I have been a railway director for many years. We are not here, it seems to me, to discuss any points connected with the opposition or the friendly competition of road and rail. If we are to have a discussion on that subject let us have a full dress debate on railway matters. It is always understood that the last person who knows how to manage a railway is a railway director, and that the person who really knows how to do so is a Member of Parliament. I cannot see how a great part of the speech of the noble Lord who has just sat down had anything to do with the subject before us to-day, which is solely whether representatives of the ratepayers are to be added to this Committee or not. We have had several views upon what would be the proper number for a Committee. Lord Banbury came to the conclusion that three would be the best, but all the same the noble Lord for many years presided over a company with a board of about eighteen or twenty.
An unlucky number; but they were successful. Lord Jessel wants certain members to retire so as to make a smaller Committee and he tells us that Mr. Pybus at a luncheon suggested five. As a result of that excellent luncheon he sees double—he has doubled the number. Anyhow, it seems to me that the ratepayers have an absolute 984 right to be on any Committee of this sort, and for the reason that travelling up and down the country, as we must all do, we see what immense damage is being done to the roads by the constantly increasing traffic, and we notice that the loads on lorries are constantly increasing. In the County of Hertford we view with alarm the enormous increases that will take place when the Government's five years of maintenance are over. You may say, the railways being ratepayers, that the ratepayers are already represented and that all the people on the Committee are ratepayers, but we want ratepayers there ad hoc to look after their interests and it seems to me that that is only fair. I thank your Lordships very much for your kind indulgence.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY OF THE MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT (THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH)
My Lords, a large number of questions connected with this subject have been raised this afternoon. I will try to deal with as many as possible, but I should like first to apply myself to the specific points raised by my noble friend Lord Lovat, about which I would venture to say with all respect there is really a complete misunderstanding. As you know, the Minister has set up an inquiry into the fundamental problem of the relationship between road and rail, and the terms of reference are those which your Lordships have read, I think, in this morning's newspapers. In these circumstances I think your Lordships will all agree with me that any attempt to discuss the respective merits of the views put forward by the two sides which are most directly concerned in this problem, would probably do no good and might prejudice, in fact, the success of the forthcoming conference. I therefore hope that your Lordships will excuse me from dealing with a very large number of points which have been raised both in connection with road and rail transport.
It was the intention of the Minister, in setting up this inquiry, to draw the terms of the reference widely enough to enable that Committee to cover all the relevant facts with regard to this specific problem; that is, the relative functions of road and rail in respect of goods traffic. At the same time he wished to restrict the scope and to prevent the discussion of extraneous matters, so as to prevent delay and to 985 enable the Committee to report quickly. It was therefore decided to set up a small Committee consisting of members of the two branches of that industry. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has suggested that to this Committee of eight should be added four representatives of the county councils. Of course I must tell your Lordships that I was quite unaware, when I came down this afternoon, that he was going to make this proposition, but I should like to say forthwith that I fully appreciate the noble Lord's concern for the ratepayers and highway authorities throughout the country, and to add that the Minister has every sympathy with the ratepayers.
But Lord Lovat would suggest that their interests are going to be neglected, and that they are not going to be consulted with regard to this very great question. I venture to say that that is an entire misapprehension. It is quite inconceivable that the highway authorities should not be brought into consultation at the right time. Of course, they will be consulted, and consulted very fully indeed, but I think that the noble Lord misunderstands the object of this conference which has been called together by the Minister. This is not a tribunal in the generally accepted sense of the word. It is nothing like the Royal Commission on Transport which has been sitting recently and which has recently reported. It is not the object of this conference to investigate road expenditure on its merits. It is rather to enable the parties to the road and rail controversy to discuss with one another, and if possible agree, the facts which they have been so vigorously disputing, as to whether taxation and regulation are fair as between road and rail; of how the burden falls upon the different classes of road users, and upon heavy vehicles as compared with light vehicles; and matters germane to that subject. Of course there can be no question of any conclusion being arrived at with regard to this great problem, or of the Minister committing himself in any way to a definite policy with regard to it, until he has taken the highway authorities, and a considerable number of other organisations as well, into consultation.
As I have said, one of the first objects of this conference is to try and get at the facts of the matter, and I venture to say that one of the advantages in 986 setting up a small group of expert people, who are directly concerned in this problem arid are able to speak with authority with regard to it on both sides of the industry, is that it will put a stop to the flow of memoranda and counter memoranda with which the public mind has been deluged and confused in the last few weeks. That is one of the first objects of this conference—to establish certain specific facts and, if they are not able entirely to agree, at any rate to narrow down the points on which they differ, and to give the public the true facts with regard to the situation. There are quite a large number of other industries, some directly concerned and others more indirectly concerned with this question, which have not been given representation upon this conference. The noble Lord, Lord Jessel, referred to the road passenger transport interest. That industry has no representation. It has been left out for a very obvious reason, and that is that this problem was dealt with to a very considerable extent by the Road Traffic Act, 1930, and in addition to that a substantial amount of co-ordination has been secured by the railway companies having a financial interest in the road companies under the powers conferred upon them by the Acts of 1920 and 1928. There are other interests, such as transport by canal and coastwise shipping, who are very closely concerned in this question and will have to be consulted in due time. Commercial and industrial interests will also have to be consulted when the difference of opinion on these points has been narrowed down, and when it will be possible for the Minister to approach these different interests with some prospect of success.
That is the point that I wish specificially to make this afternoon—that these interests, the county councils and the ratepayers, must naturally be considered with every sympathy, and that clearly those who represent the highway authorities up and down the country will have to be taken into very close consultation indeed before a final decision is come to on the subject. But I venture to say that noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have, I think, misunderstood the object with which this conference has been set up, which is primarily to bring together the two interests more directly concerned in this 987 transport problem, and to try and get them to hammer out the facts, and if they have to differ and are unable to issue an agreed report, at any rate to secure that these points of difference are narrowed down and made quite clear to the public.
I venture to say that it is of the utmost importance that the numbers of this Committee should be kept down to the lowest possible limit. As your Lordships will have noticed in the terms of reference which have been published to-day, there is specific mention of the fact that the Committee has been asked to report by the end of July. In the opinion of the Minister this Committee is a Committee which is likely to work well and to produce practical results in the course of a comparatively short time. If once you begin to include in this Committee representatives of other organisations—and there are a great number which are very directly interested in this subject—then the numbers will swell up, and the only result will be that the conference and the inquiry, instead of being narrowed down to specific points, will roam over a large field, there will be delay in making the report, and the facts of the situation will not be elicited as quickly as they might be. That, I think, is of the utmost importance, as your Lordships have already admitted this afternoon that this is a very pressing problem indeed, and that it is to the advantage of everyone concerned, more particularly the public at large, that the facts with regard to it should be established at the earliest possible moment. That was the object of the Minister in setting up this Committee, and I venture to say that he has not wasted time, for it was only about a fortnight ago that he made the announcement, to which Lord Jessel referred, of his intention to set up an inquiry of this kind.
There were a large number of points which were referred to by various noble Lords during the course of this debate. I really think that it is impossible for me to deal with them at all in detail, for the reason which I have already given—namely, that the whole question must now be considered sub judice; that this conference is about to commence its labours, and that therefore it would be wrong for me to express any view upon the merits of the respective cases which have been 988 put forward by the two sides. It might prejudice the success of the conference, and I think it is far better for me in the circumstances to leave those questions alone. At the same time we have, as usual, had a very interesting debate. Your Lordships take a great interest in transport problems generally, and this debate, like others to which I have listened, has, I think, made a very valuable contribution indeed. I do hope, however, in view of the explanation which I have made, that the assurance which I give once again to the noble Lord (Lord Lovat) that the county councils will be taken into consultation most certainly and most fully in due time, will perhaps have some effect in inducing the noble Lord to withdraw his Motion.
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, I will not detain you for more than one moment, but there is one point which I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention. I started by not being very favourably impressed by the Motion which is before your Lordships, but I hope I have an open mind, and I was very shortly convinced that this Motion was completely justified. I assume that some of your Lordships are ratepayers, but, even so, I noticed that the delights of the controversy between the railways and the road led many of your Lordships to deal with that and nothing else. When I heard the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, I am bound to say I was even more astonished because, first of all, he tried to explain to us that what is set up as a Committee is not a Committee but a mere conference, and it is to deal with a single question. Then Lord Plymouth said that this body consisted of members of the two main interests. I should like the noble Earl to tell me whether or not he considers that there is a third main interest—namely, the ratepayers, the people who pay for the roads. It seems to me idle to branch off into canals and other forms of transport. The representation that we are asking for on this Committee is a representation of the people who are asked to pay, and those are the ratepayers. It is quite true that the noble Lord who raised this question suggested that members of county councils should be appointed, but he specifically said that they should be appointed as representatives of the ratepayers.
989 The noble Earl tried to reassure us by saying that the ratepayers and the highway authorities would be consulted "in due time." That makes the whole difference. Your Lordships know what is likely to happen. We know perfectly well that there has been some dispute going on for a long time between the railways and the road interests. They set up this Committee, and they come to some agreement between themselves. Having done that, they are graciously pleased to consult the ratepayers or the highway authorities. What hope is there of altering the conclusion that is once agreed to between these two sides of a Committee? It may be said: "Oh, but you cannot reopen this question all over again. They have discussed it over and over again, and at last, owing to this Committee, they have come to an agreement. You cannot disturb that." Why not consult now the people whom you say you are going to consult "in due time"? Why is it not now "due time"? Surely if the Government are serious, as I am sure they are, in appointing not only a representative Committee but a Committee that can work efficiently and quickly, there can be no sort of difficulty in making that Committee, as Lord Jesse I suggested, a Committee of six. You have three interests; they could each be represented by two members, with an impartial Chairman, and this would produce very much what Mr. Pybus said. It does not seem to me reasonable to say that representation of the third interest ought not to be pressed because that would mean a Committee of twelve. If there were a real desire to give representation to that interest, it could be done quite easily and in the form of a Committee that could work in small numbers and just as quickly as the body which it is proposed to set up. For these reasons I am going to follow the noble Lord who moved this Motion into the Lobby if he divides.
My Lords, I claim to have had some foresight in this matter, as twenty-two years ago I endeavoured to do my best to induce the county councils of Scotland to take up this question. I was not quite so fortunate as my noble friend Lord Lovat, but I managed to get, I think, nine county councils to promise to take it up, and the matter was duly discussed. Unfortunately, the War came, and, of course, 990 everything was upset. Like Lord Lovat, I confine myself to Scotland. Without going into figures, I would like to point out to your Lordships what has happened. I can go back to the year 1909 when the expenditure on the roads was about £40,000. By 1916 it had risen to £50,000 and to-day, 16 years after, it is £288,000. I suppose it is the same generally.
In all the discussions we have heard to-night noble Lords who have spoken have referred mostly to the ratepayers and the railways. We heard a good deal about the railways from the noble Lord, Lord Banbury. I have a good deal of sympathy with the railways, but I may say that I do not own a single railway share. We have really heard nothing at all, however, about the road users except from one noble Lord, who said that they could not stand any further taxation. After all, if you use the roads you ought to help to pay for them. If people have to pay rates to keep up the roads, why should not the omnibus user pay move for his fare, and why should not the man who sends goods by road transport pay more for having his goods carried in that way? To hear many road users talk one would imagine that they produced enough money to keep the whole of the roads going and that the unfortunate ratepayer had no existence.
It happened not very long ago that I was talking to a somewhat irascible old General, who said to me: "Here am I, I have only a little motor car and I have to pay £15 a year." I replied: "Well, General, I have to pay for my motor and I have, unfortunately, to pay a road rate of 3s. as well." He then told me that I did not know what I was talking about, so I left him alone. It is as well to leave such dangerous people alone. My point in addressing your Lordships is to say that I shall have much pleasure in supporting my noble friend Lord Lovat if he divides the House.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I have watched the setting up of this Committee with the greatest possible attention. Like the last speaker I am not a railway shareholder, but I am a ratepayer and a road user. It seems to me there is a class of road user who is likely to come out of this Committee very badly and that is the ordinary private motor car owner. If 991 you take the private motor car owner today and the cost of the roads, the amount that the private motor car owner is contributing in taxation is out of all proportion to the damage done. The damage done to the main roads of this country, and road costs generally, are the result of the heavy traffic which very often proceeds, as my noble friend Lord Banbury has pointed out, rather fast along the roads. Therefore, I hope very much that if, in this late stage of this debate, I appeal to the Minister of Transport in this great controversy between road and rail, so to speak the upper and the nether millstones, he will take such steps as will safeguard the humble owner of the Baby Austin, the motor cycle combination, and the various much poorer interests who also are road users, and will not allow them to be lost in the great controversy that is going on over their heads.
So far as the cost of the roads is concerned, it is very often the result of, or is very often regulated by, the cost of road construction. I am firmly convinced that the cost of maintenance of many of our newest highways in this country, the arterial roads, will be out of all proportion to the amount of use to which they are put, because I am convinced that in many cases their construction has been altogether too hasty or has proceeded on wrong lines. Many of them are already deteriorating to a serious extent. At any rate, I hope that all road users will have every opportunity of putting their case before the conference or Committee which has been set up, and I hope very much indeed that the ratepayers will have a sufficient representation upon it.
§ LORD PONSONBY OF SHULBREDE
My Lords, I do not want to delay the House for more than a very few moments. I have listened to this debate with very great interest and I know sufficient about the question of transport to realise its extreme complexity and difficulty. No Government ever sets up a committee without people making suggestions that it ought to be different. I sympathise with the Government in that respect. But I listened most carefully to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, and I hardly think that he met the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Lovat. It appears to me that this Committee, consisting of what might be described as the two protagonists, is going to be a sort 992 of dog fight. We want the other interests to be represented on that Committee. We may all have our different views as to what interests should be represented and I think the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, made a very good case for the representation of the ratepayers; that is to say, the county councils and the municipal bodies. I would like further to plead for the representation of labour, by representatives of the unions of the railwaymen and the transport workers. I think it is very necessary that they should have their say.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, who suggested that the numbers of the Committee should be reduced, and I think that two railway managers, two transport managers, two representatives of the municipal authorities and two labour representatives would make an efficient body. I do not suppose for a moment that the noble Earl can listen to a suggestion of that sort, but I believe that a mistake is being made at a very critical moment in this very vexed question of the competition between road and rail, in not allowing into this Committee, which is being set up to deal with it, other interests who can act as moderators between the two, and not only that, but can represent people who are as closely interested in this matter as the railway directors and the directors of road transport. I could wish that the noble Earl, Lord Plymouth, could reconsider even at the last moment his final decision, because I think that he would carry public opinion with him very much more if he could broaden the basis of the Committee which is being set up.
My Lords, may I for one moment tender the olive branch to the Government by suggesting that as far as I am concerned, provided the principle of representation is maintained, I do not wish to fight on the question of numbers? I think that if the Government refuse what we consider the very just demand, not from the county councils, as I have said already, but from the whole of the municipal authorities, they will have given the greatest setback to the county councils and the municipal authorities that they have had in modern times.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, we have listened to a very interesting debate, and I am sure you 993 will realise that I have no desire to take part in the discussion except in the most conciliatory manner, and anything I can do to assist the noble Lord in the ideas he has in mind I will gladly do. Before I come to the substance of the debate, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Knutsford, on his maiden speech. His presence in the House brought very forcibly to us the memory of his predecessor to whom we listened with very much interest and attention, and I am sure it would be the wish of your Lordships that the noble Viscount should often contribute to debates on those subjects on which he knows so much. I am sure we shall listen with great interest to his contributions.
To return to the subject we have been debating, it is true that there appears to be a difference of opinion, but I am inclined to think that the noble Lord who has moved this Motion has not appreciated exactly the object of the formation of the Committee which has been announced to-day in the newspapers by the Minister of Transport. The question is one of the greatest importance, and it is one in which the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, has been interested for a great many years. I hardly think that he need have any fear but that the full interests of the ratepayers will be duly considered in your Lordships' House. I think that every one here is a champion of the ratepayer, because we are all ratepayers ourselves, and we know the very great difficulties with which ratepayers have been faced by the increasing burden—I might almost say the daily increasing burden—that has been placed upon their shoulders; and it is obvious that in a great question of this kind the Government must move forward with the approbation of the ratepayers of the country. I hardly think the noble Lord need have any apprehension that the very just claims of the ratepayers will not be duly considered.
I think the noble Lord opposite approached this matter from a different point of view. The moment representations were made calling for extra representation on this Committee, we found the noble Lord opposite saying that if certain interests are to be added he considers that additional interests should 994 also be included. That is not the conception which the Government have in their mind with regard to this matter. We know that recently the newspapers have been full of this great controversy. We have been memorandum after memorandum telling us of the difficulties, the divergence of opinion and the disagreements between the railway and the road transport associations. I should have thought your Lordships would agree that it was of the highest importance that the facts should be ascertained, and that the body which could ascertain those facts and place them before the public in the shortest possible time would be the representatives of the railways and the representatives of the road interests. We know that all these matters are passing through very rapid changes, and that it is of the highest importance that all these differences of opinion should be considered, and that the interests of the public should not suffer. I think your Lordships will agree when you consider it from this point of view, that the best tribunal which can really go quickly into these matters is the one which is detailed in the terms of reference. On consideration I do not like using the word "tribunal," but the best Committee which can decide these matters and report as rapidly as possible to the Minister of Transport is one composed of the four railways and of the four road interests.
I hope your Lordships will accept that. But the Minister of Transport is prepared to consider the case of the county councils and to discuss this matter with them to see if he can arrive at some agreement with them. I do not know if that would meet the noble Lord who has brought this Motion forward. I am sure that he, with his fair-mindedness, will realise that his proposition has been thrown at us this afternoon without our having had any notice of it whatsoever. We have really had no opportunity of considering this particular point. Yet he has moved a Motion in regard to it, and is threatening your Lordships that he will divide the House. I hope that he will agree to the compromise which has been suggested by the Minister of Transport, that he should see the county councils with a view to coming to some agreement with them. I hope, when those steps have been taken, they will satisfy the noble Lord, and that there need be 995 no difficulty about the matter upon which we are all agreed. We are all desirous of ascertaining the facts, and I feel sure that when the noble Lord considers the matter from that point of view he will realise that what has been done is the best method of ascertaining the full facts.
My Lords, I take it that as a question has been asked by the noble Marquess who is leading the House I have your permission to answer. If the noble Marquess will accept "local authorities" which include "county councils," instead of merely county councils alone, I would certainly accept what he says. It is obviously not a question for the county councils only, but is one that concerns all municipal authorities, and what they desire is some assurance upon the specific question of their representation on that Committee. If that is conceded, so far as I am concerned I am prepared to accept that.
§ THE EARL OF PLYMOUTH
My Lords, if I may, by leave of the House, I will answer the question of the noble Lord. The Minister is prepared to meet representatives of the local authorities, not merely the county councils, with a view to discussing this question of their representation on this Committee.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.