In rising to continue the Debate which was opened yesterday, I desire to say that those who are taking the same view as myself in this matter are not in the slightest degree opposed to reconstruction. We desire to assist the Government in everything that can possibly make for reconstruction or improvement, or for the welfare of the people of this country, but there are certain points in this Bill which I think require further examination and upon which I want to ask certain questions of the Minister before we come to the point of Second Reading. The Minister in charge of the Bill made a very good case yesterday in regard to the railway position. Seldom have I heard a worse description of the railways of this country than that made by the right hon. Gentleman, who seemed to think the position of the railways was absolutely impossible unless they were brought under Government control and managed as a whole, and in fact he made out what seemed to me a very good case for the appointment of a Railway Minister, who could manage and control our railways as they are controlled in several other countries in the world, but I know of no country where the Minister of Railways, which must be the primary object of any transportation system, has the enormous powers over other means of locomotion and transport which my right hon. Friend is asking this House to give to him in this country. He told the House there was a deficit of £100,000,000on the railways at the present time, but he did not tell us how it was made up, and I think we are entitled to know. I think that we ought to know whether the whole of the Government war traffic has been included or excluded in that calculation, and how much of that is owing to the great increase in wages which has been given—and in many cases very rightly given—to the railway workers since the War began. He gave us no figures at all, but simply came down to the House of Commons and gave as one reason why we should appoint this new Minister that the railways were making this huge loss of £100,000,000. He told us that the shadow of nationalisation had been over the railways for many years past. I am not at all sure that under this Bill he is not riveting the shadow of nationalisation a little more strongly on the shoulders of the railways than before. I do not quite see how, with the certain comparatively small economies which the Minister thought he could effect with regard to our railways, he is going to get rid of that enormous deficit of £100,000,000 until the Government make up their minds whether they are going to nationalise the railways or give them back to their present owners. I should like to ask for a statement from the Government as to the finance of the railways during the last four years. It must be in their possession. I think before the House passes such a Bill as this the House is entitled to this information, that they might know whether this huge deficit of £100,000,000 is made up in such a way that it could be got rid of by better methods of working, or whether it is absolutely impossible, owing to the enormous increase in wages—which, as far as one can see, is not likely to be reduced for many years—whether there is any probability even under this Bill, and even with the Minister dealing with all forms of transport, of getting rid of that huge liability, or whether it is going to be fastened on the shoulders of the taxpayers, not only for the next few years, but practically for all time to come?
One point which struck me was that he confessed that all the railway systems had broken down, and he quoted the case of the Central Powers of Europe. If I understand railway work at all, the Central Powers of Europe are nationalised, and are under State control, and are managed by exactly the same kind of management as that which my right hon. Friend suggests our railways should be put under by the provisions of this Bill. That did not prevent the railways of the Central Powers breaking down from the transport point of view just as our railways have broken down from the financial point of view. I do not think from the transport point of view our railways have broken down in anything like the same way as the railways of the Central Powers have broken down. I noticed that my hon. Friends representing the Labour party cheered the Minister, and from the speech of the right hon. Member for Derby (Mr. J. H. Thomas) I gather they are going to support this Bill. I should have thought that the Labour Members would have been the last people in the world to support such an autocratic measure, a Bill which gives the Minister more power than has been given to any living man in history, King or Commoner, at all events since the Middle Ages. I have always thought that Labour was a democracy, and that Labour wished for control by the democracy. If they get this Bill they will find that the Minister has been given such powers as would give him absolute control not only over all transportation, but over the servants of the railways as well.
I also want to ask my right hon. Friend to give some idea of the cost of his new scheme. I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer some few days ago whether the Cabinet had considered the cost, whether he had any idea how many clerks, how many servants, how many officers and men it was intended to employ in this new Ministry? I could get no information. As far as one can gather, no definite statement has been put before the Cabinet, and no financial estimate is put before this House to consider whether it is desirable or not to make this huge experiment in State Socialism. I agree that our transport needs improvement. I quite agree that it needs co-ordination, and that it would be desirable that some of the powers now vested in these numerous Government Departments should be collected together and vested in the Minister. But that is a very small part of this Bill. The Bill proposes many things, and the least objectionable part is the consolidation in the Minister of Ways and Communications of all powers now held by various Government Departments dealing with transportation. What these powers are the Minister has not told us. I asked the Minister a fortnight ago whether he could give the House a list of the various Acts of Parliament and Orders under which the various Government Departments exercised their powers in regard to transportation? He said, firstly, that he could not do it; secondly, that it was not worth while taking the trouble to get together a whole list of Acts of Parliament and Orders which would be transferred to the new Minister. In other words, we are going to transfer to one man an enormous mass of powers under various Acts. The Government themselves do not come to us and give us a list, as I should have thought they would have done, of the various Acts which he is going to administer. I wonder if he himself has any idea of the numerous ramifications, and what powers are going to be transferred to him. Will this Bill, assuming for the moment that the powers are transferred to him, effect the objects which he has at heart?
The principle seems to be to get rid of that huge deficit of £100,000,000 a year, and he told us not that he could get rid of it, but that he could manage the railways and transports much as he managed the railways and transport in France. I suggest to the House that managing transport during a war, with all the autocratic powers of a major-general or vice-admiral—I forget which he was—in France are totally different from the way in which he will have to manage democratically controlled railways in this country. He will not be able to say, "Go here" and "Go there," "Do this," or "Do that." He will have to deal with various boards, with enormous trade unions. There are no trade unions in the Army that worked under my right hon. Friend in France, and we here do appreciate—the country does appreciate—the work my right hon. Friend gave in the transportation work in France. We desire to give him all the credit that is due to him for the wonderful work he did in organising and co-ordinating the transport work in France; but that is not the way in which he will run the railways of the transport in this country. There was no need for economy during the War. I also agree with him—I like to agree with the Front Bench as far as I possibly can—that all the great processes of reconstruction in this country are dependent on transport—housing, land, agriculture, more largely—particularly in rural districts—on road transport than railway transport.
The great point he made yesterday was in omitting Clause 4. There are certain portions of the Bill which are temporary provisions, and others are permanent. The transportation powers is a permanent provision. The work during the next two years is a temporary provision, but the power of acquiring docks and everything else that has to do with transport is a permanent provision, and my right hon. Friend proposed to do this by Orders in Council. If he were an older Parliamentary hand, I should have suspected that he had put in that Clause in order to focus opposition on it, and then to gracefully give way and destroy a good deal of the opposition to the Bill. Whether that was his Machiavelian idea I am not sure, but it succeeded admirably. I am bound to confess this House would never have passed a Clause giving any Minister the enormous power to acquire practically everything in regard to transport under mere Orders in Council. The opposition was naturally focussed on that, and my right hon. Friend bowed to the storm and said he would withdraw the provisions. For that I desire also to express my thanks. It has removed a very great blot on the Bill, but it has put great difficulties for the future in the way of my right hon. Friend.
I want the House to realise what is the real underlying principle of my right hon. Friend's speech. It was to get rid of competition. It was really to establish a huge State Socialist system of transportation,
to destroy altogether the competitive system under which the transport of England has been built up for the last 200 years, and built up very efficiently. My right hon. Friend is proposing not merely to eliminate railway competition, but to eliminate all competition. I especially want to draw the attention of the House to one or two sentences in his speech. I think they will affect not merely the railway question, but the road transport. My right hon. Friend said:
With our transportation agencies in the condition in which they are it appears almost inevitable that to a greater or less extent we must forgo the luxuries of competition.
Further on my right hon. Friend went more fully into this question of competition. He said:
The Government has been forced to the conclusion that, in addition to eliminating competition and restricting at any rate to some extent, the freedom of private enterprise and private management, the transport agencies—
(I do not know whether the House realises the extent to which the Government are going. This is not only railways, but alt form of transport)
—the transport agencies will be comparatively barren and sterile in economy and development until this unified control is brought in. For my part, I think with the situation as it is that it would be nothing short of criminal to let the old system of competition between light railways and roads, between railways and canals, and between different docks go on.
In other words, the whole thing is so fixed that private enterprise is to be forbidden on our roads if they come into competition with our railways. Private enterprise or company enterprise is to be forbidden on the canal if they come into competition with the railways. One knows all about canals. As soon as the railways have got hold of a canal, by purchase or control, competition no longer exists, and the canal becomes derelict in the course of a very few years. The very object of the Bill is to prevent competition. Where there is a railway and a canal which would be in competition, the purpose of this Bill is to prevent competition; in other words, to prevent the trader having the alternative method of transport and the alternative of getting cheaper rates on one or the other. That is going to be prevented. My right hon. Friend put it quite frankly. "The era of competition is gone," he said.
I want the House to be quite clear that this is the real gravamen of the whole Bill. You must put every means of transporta- tion under one control, and not leave out anything, otherwise you will have competition immediately. In other words, free competition in transport is no longer to be allowed in Great Britain. One Minister shall have the power, if this Bill passes, to decide, not in the interests of the ratepayer or the consumer or the commercial man, but in order that this deficit of £100,000,000 may be got rid of, in the interest of the transport agencies. He is to have the power to decide whether it shall be road, light railways, or canals. I would venture to suggest that it is undesirable these powers should be given to any individual—powers which I should hesitate to give to a board, and I have been brought up in the school which believed that competition is the soul of business and that, if you want your goods or your passengers carried cheaply, rapidly, and well, it is very desirable to have a competitive method of transport rather than that you should leave it in the hands of any one board. [An Hon. Member: "Free trade in transport!"] I entirely agree, yet I understand that my hon. Friends who pose as Free Traders on some things are going to be intense Protectionists in regard to transport agencies.
May I turn from the permanent powers to the temporary powers which my right hon. Friend is claiming under the provisions of this Bill? In the next two years he is to control everything—railways, light railways, tramways. May I ask my right hon. Friend one question? He told us yesterday that tramways were excluded from the Bill. Does that mean he is going to bring in an Amendment to exclude tramways? Because my reading of the Bill is that tramways in a particular district may be brought under the provisions of the Bill. Does he really mean to eliminate tramways altogether from the Bill, or does he really mean that there is power under the Bill not to include them unless the municipal council intends to put them in? Tramways, canals, roads, bridges, harbours, docks, and then the supply of electricity—all the directors, officials, and servants of these undertakings for two years are to obey—that is the word used in the Bill; it is a somewhat strange word to use in an English Act of Parliament—to obey the direction of the Minister in all questions of rates and fares, and he may even move about, during these two years, the servants of any company without their assent. I should have thought that, at least, my right hon. Friend, before moving a station master from Cornwall to Newcastle, might ask the man whether he wanted to go or not. But, no; under the provisions of this autocratic Bill he has power for two years to move anybody he likes without the assent of the person who is to be moved.
I do want to ask my right hon. Friend a question, or perhaps I ought to ask my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary: What powers has he got to do this? What penalties are there if anyone does not obey these enormous powers? Under the provisions of the Bill, everybody is to obey my right hon. Friend's directions, but I see no penalties in the Bill. Does it mean that the Defence of the Realm Acts are going to be perpetuated for another two years, and that anybody who refuses to obey the decision or direction of my right hon. Friend on any point, including the question of wages, is to be penalised and condemned under the provisions of D.O.R.A.? There seems to be no need for wages boards at all. My right hon. Friend can settle autocratically under this Bill questions of wages. He, and he alone, can decide what wages are to be paid to the 650,000 railwaymen throughout the country during the next two years. The Home Secretary, who, I need hardly say, is a much more experienced lawyer and Parliamentarian than I am, and will instruct me if I am wrong, but if I am right, what is the position of the Trade Union leaders under this Bill? If there is a penalty at all—I put this to my right hon. Friend as a dilemma—under this or under any Act of Parliament, then you are putting the labour of this country as to wages under penalty clauses for the next two years under the decision of my right hon. Friend. If, on the other hand, there is no penalty at all, the whole powers which he seeks to get under the provisions of the Bill go by the board. It is quite clear we must have an answer from him on one or other of those lines.
I want to go further, and to press for an answer as to what the policy of the Government is at the expiration of the two years. My right hon. Friend complained bitterly yesterday that there was no transportation policy in this country. So far as I can see, there is none to-day either in his Bill. There is a temporary transportation policy, but we have no great line of policy, nor do we know whether railways and docks and harbours are going to be nationalised or not. My right hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Mr. Churchill) is openly an advocate of nationalisation. The Minister himself is believed to be not an advocate of nationalisation. At all events, the Government ought to be able to make up their minds, and I think they ought to tell us whether their policy is to drive forward to nationalisation as their ultimate goal or whether their policy is after they have managed—or shall I say, possibly, mismanaged—all these great transportation agencies, to hand them back at the end of two years, and say to the companies, "There they are. We have done our best. We have tried to evolve order out of chaos. We have failed. We hand you back your property, and we pay you what compensation the Railway Commissioners choose to give." I want to ask the House whether they think the experience of State management is such as to convince them that it is really desirable to put all these powers under one Minister? We have had some experience of State management during the last four years. We have muddled through the great War successfully, but in many ways we did muddle, and muddled very badly. I need not go into details. The whole House knows what the opinion of the business community is as to the way which many questions during this War have been muddled through by the Government Departments, and I am not at all sure the House to-day is satisfied with the position of many Government Departments with regard to matters, such, for instance, as the Slough Motor Depot, or the Loch Doon scandal, and the fact that we are spending between £5,000,000 and £6,000,000 per day on winding up the War which is practically over. We can find throughout the whole Government Departments no idea of economy whatever, no possible suggestion that there is any one member of the Government or the head of any single Department who is making it his primary duty to cut down the ruinous expense from which the country is suffering at the present time. I have yet to learn that my right hon. Friend, who managed things so well with an unlimited purse in regard to transportation in France, is really likely to do it even more economically than these directors, officers and servants who have the direct incentive of personal profit at the present time.
May I, for one moment, deal with the question of roads? I quite frankly admit that I began my opposition to this Bill because I thought it was directly contradictory to the best use and development of roads to put them under the same Ministry as railways, and, in consequence of my reading and study of the Bill, I am convinced the roads will suffer greatly if they are put under my right hon. Friend who is also to be the Minister of Railways. There are 160,000 miles of roads, and there are 1,866 different road authorities, but their powers are not going to be transferred to my right hon. Friend. Commission after Commission has reported, and I think the Select Committee, presided over by my hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Mr. Wilson-Fox) reported that the roads should be in some way centralised, but under this Bill the actual powers of local authorities in regard to roads are not taken over. The 1,866 different authorities still remain, and my right hon. Friend will need to be a master of tact if he is able to control those 1,866 local authorities without getting at loggerheads with them. What he is doing is to take over powers of the Road Board. I venture to suggest to the House that the Road Board has not had fair play up to the present time. It is the child of the present Prime Minister. It was started by him some ten years ago. It did very good work before the War. It was started with a view, not of dealing with the ordinary wear and tear of the roads, but to provide for damage done by motorists out of a special fund provided by the motorists themselves. Speaking for a moment as a motorist, I may say that motorists pay special taxation to this road fund of £1,250,000 per annum. I think we are now paying in taxes on vehicles and petrol some £4,000,000 per annum, and I calculate that next year, as soon as the motor transport gets into full working order, and the lorries come back from France and are sold and put into trade and commerce, the motorists will be paying in special taxation for the relief of the roads £7,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman told us yesterday that the roads cost £20,000,000 a year to be kept up. In other words, the motorists, by special taxation, will be paying one-third of the total amount spent on the roads during every year. That is not a bad contribution, for a special form of traction which is put upon the roads, not for the amusement of the motorists, not for the benefit of the motorists, but for the benefit of the whole community. Of course, I am speaking now of commercial motoring, which is by far the most important.
What will be the position of the rural authorities with this all-powerful Minister? The rural authorities have been complaining for years past of the railways. I never found them complain of the motorists, for they like the motorists' contribution, but they complain that the railways do not pay enough towards the general rates. The total contribution of all railways to the rates of our country is only just over £5,000,000 a year, which is less than the motorists will pay for special taxation next year, and my right hon. Friend and his friends have always been trying to reduce the rates paid by the railways to the rural authorities. I wonder what power the small rural authorities will have when they come up against my right hon. Friend, the all-powerful Minister, representing all the railways and all the forms of transport. Roads may be looked upon as feeders to railways. That is the light, I am sure, in which my right hon. Friend wishes them to be looked at. I want to look at them for a moment as competitors to railways, and as being the things, if competition is to be squashed, which will be the first to go, because undoubtedly they are a very strong competition against our railway system. A Member of this House told me only the other day that just before the War his firm in the Midlands had great difficulties with the railway rates and railway men, and so decided to give up railways altogether and to institute a fleet of motor cars. He told me that his firm now never send any raw material to London or elsewhere, or get the manufactured goods back again by railway, but that the whole thing is done by their highly-trained and efficiently-managed fleet of motor vans. Another hon. Member told me of an instance in Ireland, near Belfast, of his own personal knowledge of a railway that put up the rates against the consumer. His firm thereupon instituted motor transports running alongside and in competition with the railway. What happened? The railway company has come to his firm now and said, "Will you give up your motor transport. We will reduce your rates to the original rates that were charged in pre-war days." My hon. Friend said, "No, we are quite satisfied with the motor transport. We do not want to put ourselves back into the hands of an autocratic railway." What would be the position if, instead of one small Irish railway, there is a great combination of railways headed by my right hon. Friend? When they put the rates up and anybody starts a line of motor transport, the first thing the Minister will say is, "My railway must be made to pay. I must get rid of the competing road traffic in order that these goods, which are now transported by motor, can be put on my railway. "Roads are becoming increasingly the competitors to railways. I do not want to trouble the House with figures of road transportation. Everyone knows that, as soon as the War is completely over, as soon as these thousands and thousands of motor lorries come back from France and are sold to the traders of the country, the roads must be an increasing competitor to the railways. I suggest to the House that it is desirable, in the interests of the country, that this should be the case, that there should be an alternative and competing body. What, then, does my right hon. Friend say?
He gave us, or so it appeared to some hon. Members, a great concession in regard to the roads. He said, "I propose to establish a sub-department of roads in my Ministry." How could he have possibly managed the roads otherwise? What did he mean by saying, "I am going to set up a sub-department in my Ministry, with a special head, in the person of General Maybury, to look after it"? How on earth could he manage the roads of the country as well as the railways and the rest of it, unless he sets up a special department for the roads, a special department for the railways and a special department for the ports? It really would not be possible. I put it to him. He has managed great concerns before now. He has had other managers under him—a manager of the traffic department, a manager of the passenger department, a manager of the locomotive department, and so forth. If anyone of these managers came to him or before the board and said, "I am very sorry, but I think your main policy is wrong; I think the policy on which this railway is being run is a wrong one," what would my right hon. Friend have said to that departmental manager? He would have told him to go back to his locomotive or other department. "You are," he would have said, "the manager of this or that department, I am responsible for big questions of policy." Do hon. Members think that General Maybury—for whom I have the greatest possible respect, as I have the privilege of his friendship—is going to do otherwise? I know the work that he did for the Road Board prior to the War. What he did for the roads of the county of Kent! But what power will General Maybury have? If he goes into the board room of my right hon. Friend and says, "Your system of working your road transport, because it competes with the railways, is wrong," my right hon. Friend will reply, "That is for me to decide; it is my duty, as Minister responsible to the House of Commons, to attend to that matter; it is for you to manage and repair a particular road, or roads; it is for you to say whether this bridge or that has to be strengthened, but that is the limit of your authority." I submit to this House that the suggested concession yesterday was in the nature of camouflage.
Now we know exactly where we are. I appreciate the candour of my right hon. Friend, and thank him for it. There is no concession whatever so far as this Bill has gone to the road users and those responsible for the roads. The last point I want to make is that the road authorities are exceedingly up in arms against this Bill. I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House some little time ago whether he or the Prime Minister had received any resolutions against the provisions of this Bill. He was good enough to say that he had, but that their character was variable. I will give the House the figures that during the last ten days I have received. I venture to suggest to the House that the great county councils of this country are not going to be influenced by any circular sent out by myself or half a dozen Members of this House. It is too idle to suppose that the resolutions of which I am going to speak are against the opinions of the local authorities of this country. In ten days I have received 335 resolutions against the provisions of this Bill, so far as they affect the roads, and I have received five resolutions in support of the Government. I should like to challenge the Government to give the figures of the resolutions they have received, because I believe nearly every one of these letters say, "We have sent a copy of this resolution, either to the Home Secretary, or to the Prime Minister." County councils to the number of thirty-two have passed resolutions in the sense I have indicated, so have eighty-six town councils, ninety urban district councils, and 119 rural district councils. Thirty-two of the great county councils of this country have passed resolutions against the road Clauses of this Bill.
No. There was a circular sent out, and that was the point I made a moment ago. Do hon. Members really suppose that the county councils of Surrey, Lancashire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Huntingdonshire, and so forth, and the great town or county councils of such places as Liverpool, Portsmouth, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Huddersfield are going to be influenced in a matter of this nature by a mere circular sent round by a few Members of this House?
No, no. My hon. Friend is wrong there. Certainly the resolutions have been pouring in during the last two or three days, and even to-day resolutions have come from different county councils by telegram in order that they might be in time for me to say to the House that they had come from these local authorities. I suggest that there is an overwhelming consensus of opinion amongst local authorities who are responsible for the roads that they do not want to be put under the provisions of this Bill. I have spoken against the main principles of the Bill and against the inclusion of the roads in the Bill. I would ask my right hon. Friend, who is responsible, whether he cannot meet us? I and many of my hon. Friends are loyal supporters of the Government as it is, and we ask whether the Government cannot meet us in regard to the provisions of these road Clauses. The right hon. Gentleman admits that what he calls a concession was not even meant to be a concession. If he would establish and revivify the Road Board and make it once again a real live Board with two or three representatives of this or the other House and two or three representatives of the great county councils upon it, a Board which will have power to say to my right hon. Friend far more strongly than any paid official, like General Maybury, can do, "We think your policy is wrong"; a Board, say, in the same position as the Air Council under my right hon. and gallant Friend the Under-Secretary—if he would give us that, so that he would co-ordinate at the same time the road users and the road authorities, so that they may feel they have the same Board between themselves and direct access to the Minister to whom they could go to put their complaints, that, I believe, would go a great way to satisfy them. I do ask in conclusion, and still more I would ask the Leader of the House, to take his Bill on the floor of the House in Committee. I think it is a foregone conclusion that the concession made by the right hon. Gentleman yesterday will have its effect in the Division Lobby on the vote for the Second Reading, and that the Second Heading will be carried by the enormous mass of the Government majority. Having regard to the many main factors of the Bill on which there is no difference of opinion on either side of the House, if the right hon. Gentleman would say he would take the Committee stage on the floor of the House, so that all those great interests that are very vitally affected by the provisions of this Bill may come here to the House of Commons, the governing body of this country, and, through their individual Members, may state their case, it would go a very long way to meet the opposition which I and others feel towards the Bill.
I wish to intervene for just a few moments at this stage of the Debate to deal with a question on which there is a considerable amount of misapprehension and misunderstanding about the relationship between the docks and the railways. It is desired on the part of some hon. Members that the docks should be left outside the scope of this Bill. I can quite understand that those who have not been conversant with the inner working of our railways and docks should have that opinion. Two years ago last month I had the advantage of being appointed Chairman of a Committee which had to deal with a quicker turn round of the ships in the docks, and the general management of the traffic in and out of these docks, in connection with the railways, roads, and so on. If I had not had that experience I have no doubt I should have been of the same opinion as those hon. Members who have spoken. It was a very strong Committee. As Chairman I was able to be quite unbiassed. I quite admit that at that time, as I have said before, I knew very little about the matter, but I had the advantage of the co-operation of such experienced men as Sir Francis Dent, South-Eastern and Chatham Railway; Sir Ernest Moir (manager of the Traffic) of Ministry of Munitions; Sir Norman Hill, who is, I think, secretary of the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Association; and Mr. Arthur Francis Pease, who is chairman of Pease and Partners. We started first taking evidence in London. The state of affairs was almost incredible. It was certainly almost appalling. Just at that time the submarine campaign was at the very greatest, and ships were being sunk at a rate that it was thought would never be reached. I do not quite remember the amount of tonnage sunk, but at the time I refer to, February to April, it was very large. The state of affairs seemed to us incredible.
We considered that the only way to do what we had been appointed to do was to go round and visit the main docks of the country personally. We, however, found that personally none of us had time to spare from our duties to spend in making a tour of the country. So I got a Sub-committee formed under the very able chairmanship of Sir A. G. Lyster, the well-known civil engineer; Mr. West, of the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway; Mr. Jardine, general manager of the Greenock Docks; and Mr. Roberts, general manager of the Leith Docks. They visited the principal ports, as I have said. They found that although things were in such a very awkward and dangerous position, that those concerned were still continuing the same methods and the same way of going on as they had been doing in time of peace. There was no coordination between the various people who were there. One representative of a company was trying to put a sprag in the wheel of a competitor in the hope of getting back that particular traffic for his own company. Generally speaking, everything was in a state of flux, as it had been before the War and during the time of peace. I do not say that any single authority or any class of authorities were at fault in this. It was simply the system which was at fault, a system which had grown up and still continued. There was no central authority at all to deal with all these main questions. Whether that is going on at the present moment or not I could not say. If it is, I am afraid that when the Ministry of Shipping loses control these various ports will drift back into the old state unless something is done by my right hon. Friend.
No, Sir; so far as I know they were carried out. The transit authorities generally consist of four chief interests—shipowners, dock authorities, the land transport authorities (who have to do with railways, roads, and canals), and the consignees. Perhaps it may be more acting if the consignee is put down as a victim instead of an interest. These, at any rate—railways, roads, canals, and docks—were not co-operating with one another. They were always in opposition and in competition, which delayed things very much. The result was that there was a great deal of congestion in the ports all over the country. Like my hon. Friend who has just sat down, I am not one who can say that competition is a thing that should be done away with entirely. I do not say that at all, but I think that in these matters competition carried to extremes is very disastrous to the national interests. The Committee to which I have alluded found the same state of things in all large docks in the country in a greater or less degree. For instance, there were ships waiting for empty wagons in connection with a certain line when at the same time wagons were lying empty on another line. Up to this time the pooling of the wagons had not been carried out generally. I think only two or three companies had arranged for the pooling of their wagons, and we recommended that pooling should be generally adopted all over the country, and that was one of the first things that the railway companies were only too glad to carry out in connection with our recommendations. The same applied to wagon covers, ropes, and other odds and ends, which were practically all pooled, and this relieved the situation considerably. Then, as now, these particular ports were very short of railway sidings, and where there was more than one railway at the port they could not decide which company should have the trouble and expense of making the sidings which were very necessary to move wagons out of the way, and make room for the empty ones until such time as they could be taken on their journey. The result was that nothing was done, and the national interests suffered very considerably while these people were discussing who should do these things. Had this Bill been passed into law before the War the saving to this country by co-ordination and the bringing together and management of these different interests would have been beyond belief and would have relieved the shipping situation very considerably. The larger the number of interests in a port, the greater was the delay up to that time.
I do not wish to mention any individual cases by name, but I will give one typical instance and one glaring example which was brought before my notice at the time. A ship discharged its cargo here, and then she went away to Canada to be filled up with wheat, she came back to the same port and wharf here, and was unable to discharge her cargo there because her last cargo was still in the shed, which was wanted to warehouse her new cargo. All this was quite unnecessary if the various authorities had acted together and helped one another instead of always acting in opposition as they always had done, more particularly in this port, for many years before the War. Some hon. Members think that if anything is done in the way of getting all under one head it should be done by private enterprise, but I am afraid that in that I for one could not agree. In a great monopoly there would be a danger that those running it would wish to make an enormous profit out of it, and they might bleed the public and do immense harm to the trade of the country.
I am convinced that the only way is to have a central authority established by law and represented by someone who is responsible to this House, and who has to come to this box to meet the charges made, and explain from time to time what is being done in regard to the trust imposed upon him. The hon. Member for the Scotland Division of Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor), in an interesting speech which to my mind was very unconvincing, said my right hon. Friend the prospective Minister of Ways and Communications would have plenty to keep him busy with the railways for the next two years. I can assure hon. Members that unless my right hon.
Friend has control of the ports, no improvement in transport can take place, as the old abuses would spring up again and continue. This is a most vital point of the Bill, and unless it is included you might as well drop the measure at present and let things go on as before. In support of his contention, the hon. Member said that Mr. Roper of the Board of Trade before the Select Committee on Transport was against our proposal, but I do not think so, because Mr. Roper was asked by the Chairman of the Committee:
3494. In fact, you maintain your jurisdiction rather by very careful balancing the use of your functions so as not to interfere with local initiative?
Mr. Roper's reply to that was:
That we have endeavoured to do at present, but I do think more should be done than has been done in this way of co-ordination, and not merely co-ordination amongst harbour authorities here, but by making more use than has been made in the past of the experience on the Continent. The great Continental ports, Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Hamburg have gone ahead in the last ten or twenty years, and I think something more might be done in watching those ports than is perhaps done now.
I am sure Mr. Roper was quite in favour of something in the way of further co-ordination and control. The difficulties of transport during the War have been taken notice of thoroughly. I think we ought to make use of our experience gained during the War to put our transport on a sounder and more economical and more expeditious basis, which I am sure this Bill will do, and then it would be a lasting benefit to the whole of the community.
The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has based his whole case upon the experience gained in the War. I should be the last to say that we ought not to benefit by the experience of the War, but at the same time I think we ought not to be led away into grossly extravagant and uneconomical attempts to improve our general organisation merely because of what happened during the War. I only wish that the same experience which my right hon. Friend has spoken of is going to be in many other respects the policy of the Government—as regards defence, the Navy, and the Army, and the straits in which we found ourselves as regards feeding the great population of this country during the War. I hope this is not an isolated instance for the purpose of supporting this gigantic Bill in which, in my opinion at all events, the concentra- tion in one individual of great interests has really gone stark mad. In the first place, I should like to say that I mainly rose to say a few words because I represent a city which has a port of very considerable importance; I mean Belfast. I should like to say that as regards the port authority there, which has been one of the most successful boards in Ireland in making and maintaining that port, both the Board and the Chamber of Commerce of Belfast are entirely opposed to this Bill. The port of Belfast is not run for private profit, but it is run by the board as a public body. That authority found originally there a small stream, which was turned to the interests of the citizens, and mainly through money subscribed by the public there that small stream has now been turned into a great port, in which probably the largest ships in the world are built.
When I tell the House that within the past few years—certainly within the past seven years—the revenue of that port, which used to be insignificant, has now reached the sum of nearly £300,000 a year, I do not think anyone can say that the board which has managed it have been neglectful of the interests of the citizens. I am not at all appeased in my opposition by the announcement which my right hon. Friend made yesterday, that he is going to establish a department of his office in Dublin. That may seem to be a very sensible method of carrying out the Bill, if it becomes law, to hon. Members of this House, but it will be the very worst instance of the introduction of political interference into the management of the port of Belfast. In the first instance, I predict with confidence, having watched what has happened in Ireland for the past fifty years when I first began to take an interest in it, that in the first place this office in Dublin will become simply a nest of politicians, who will be all selected because of their political influence with various authorities in Ireland. All these politicians will be no more thinking of the interests of the port of Belfast than is the Kaiser in his retirement at the present time. That is the way things are managed in Ireland, and one of my main objections to the whole of this Bill is that by bringing these boards, which have hitherto managed these undertakings with great success, great ability, and great local pride and patriotism into the arena of politics in this House, you will introduce an element which will be very disturbing to those who really look upon these as business transactions.
I will tell the right hon. Gentleman what will happen to his office in Ireland. If he thinks that he is going to get rid of this difficulty by establishing it there, he is greatly mistaken. He will be inundated by Nationalists and Sinn Feiners, because although they will not come into this House they will try and use their influence outside to do everything that they can to take away the traffic from Belfast and to divert it to Dublin or to Cork or wherever else it may be. Probably he will be tempted to be influenced by their advice in other directions. He will be asked for money day after day to make improvements in the harbour of Dublin in order that the harbour of Dublin may be the better able to compete with Belfast, and he will find that he will get nothing done in the nature of private enterprise in Ireland once this Bill passes. After all, the city of Belfast contains one-tenth of the whole of the population of Ireland and nearly all its industries, and I look with the greatest anxiety upon what will happen when this Bill passes and we have this political agency set up in Dublin. At the same time, although I know that the Chamber of Commerce and the Port and Docks Board at Belfast are opposed to this Bill, I would not oppose it on any local ground whatever. I am quite aware that local interests must yield to national interests. If I thought that this Bill were going to promote national interests in relation to transport, I would be an ardent supporter of it even though the local board or the local chamber of commerce, of which I have spoken, were against it. I think that every Member of this House ought to look upon the Bill from a national and not from a local standpoint. But what have we to convince us that it is in the national interest? What have we to show us that this Bill is the right way to go about promoting this great national interest of transport? My right hon. Friend, as I understood his speech yesterday, said that he wanted to take over these interests and to work generally with the railways in order that he might try once more to restore the railways to a state of solvency, in which case it would not be necessary to nationalise them. That seems to me to be a very vague hope on his part, and at all events I object to gambling with the interests of the roads, the ports, the canals, the docks, and the electric lighting companies for the purpose of trying once more to set up the railways. I do not believe that it is possible, and I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why.
Believe me, the House is now face to face with a question which goes far beyond even the Clauses of this Bill. What did he tell us? He told us that at the present moment the railways of this country were being run at a loss of £100,000,000 a year, as much, when I came into this House more than a quarter of a century ago, as it took to run the country. What has caused the deficit? The deficit has been caused by the increase of wages and the increase in the price of coal, which again means the increase of wages. [Hon. Members: "No!"] Well, to a very large extent. Do not let hon. Members imagine that I am quarrelling with it. I only want to face the facts. Those are the main things that have caused this deficit. Is that likely to be increased? Why, the moment you tell the people that you are prepared, as you have told them, to pay out of the taxation of this country £100,000,000 per year, what limit is going to be put upon the claim for higher wages? Do you think that the claim is likely to be less because the railways are going to be put under this House or under a Minister? There is not a Member of this House who will not be inundated from day to day with letters from constituents of every kind saying, "After all, what does it matter? It is not the shareholders who are deprived of anything. It is not the people who make the line who are deprived of anything. It is only the taxpayer." I venture to say, when you have passed this Bill, that will apply not merely to the railways, but it will also apply to every other undertaking that comes within the Bill. You will have the same applications made and you will have the same deficiencies in a very short time as regards the other undertakings which are to be handed over to the right hon. Gentleman by this Bill.
I heard the right hon. Gentleman yesterday talk of economy—economy when you work undertakings by the Government! Let us not delude ourselves about it. Where is the instance of economy in anything that was ever worked by the Government? [An HON. MEMBER: "Chepstow!"] I know nothing about Chepstow except what I read in the papers, and I never believe much that I read there. There will be no economy. I will give my right hon. Friend credit for this. He really was only laughing at that argument, because he did not profess to give us any single instance in which any economy could be made. On the contrary, lie talked of large and wide expenditure. I know something of my right hon. Friend, and I know something of the great success which he had in running his railways in France for the purposes of the War. I give him full credit for it. But what was his condition before he would undertake it? It was that he should have unlimited money. Yes; unlimited money will always bring great success if you have great ideas. I should have liked before my right hon. Friend sat down to have head some estimate on his part—I do not mean in detail, but in a general way—as to what these various schemes are going to cost the country and what were the economy which he hopes to enforce by bringing into the political arena the roads, the canals, the docks, and the electric light. I do not believe that a shilling of economy is possible. That being so, I discard altogether, and I ask the House to discard, the idea that by this Bill you are going to set the railways upon their legs once more and make them pay. I do not believe that it is possible with the trend of public opinion at the presenat time, and with the great demands that are being made every five or six weeks for increased wages and increased facilities upon these railways.
I make this argument for this reason. In my opinion, the railway question is now a burning question of grave anxiety, and it ought to be tackled at once and not left over for two years with the chance of what may happen, meanwhile working it, as it is going to be worked in the future, with a political head. I believe that when you come here in two years time things will be far worse and far more difficult than they are at the present moment. In my opinion it would be quite enough, and quite the better course at the present moment to confine this Bill to the railways. I can assure my right hon. Friend, if he will apply himself solely and entirely to solving the railway question at the present moment, that he will have quite enough work even to occupy him for some time. What we ought to have before us at the present moment is not a nebulous suggestion, such as this Bill, that by co- ordination and by moving a barge here and a barge there you are going to get rid of a deficit of £100,000,000 a year. No, the fact is that you are driven to nationalise the railways by circumstances. Do not think for a moment that I like it, but it is the reality of the situation, and you had better face it before it goes from bad to worse. Instead of this Bill going on one or two years until the Government have made up their minds as to what their policy is to be—the exact words of the Bill are "With a view to affording time for the consideration and formulation of the policy to be pursued"—I should like to see the Government set about and apply their energies to the railways and not to getting up a Department, which I suppose will take at least a staff of from ten to fifteen thousand people to run if you are going to run it at all with real attention to all these interests. Take your Bill and take all your powers as regards the railways, and tell your Minister of Railways that things have come to this pass, and we face it; that the country is paying £100,000,000 in taxation, and is likely to pay more, and that there is no prospect of restoring the railways as private undertakings. Frame your Bill and bring it before the House, and let us see whether we will not pass a Bill for nationalisation and settle the question once and for all.
Would not that be far better? Would it not be far fairer towards those who have found the money to build the railways? You have not said a word about what you propose to do for them. You are going to pay them, forsooth, an artificial dividend which will not have been earned and cannot be earned. You are going to spend money upon their property, and I should like the right hon. Gentleman, before this Debate closes, and because I know the question is causing a great deal of anxiety outside—I should like him to give some indication of how it is proposed to deal with these people. Are you going at the end of two years to come here and say, "Our deficit is, perhaps, £200,000,000, or £150,000,000, or whatever it may be," and are you going to make use of this as an argument when you have done what you like with the railways for two years, and run them at a loss or part of them at a profit—are you going then to say to the shareholders, "You have no claim for compensation. All you have is your share certificate, which represents nothing because we are making nothing out of the railway." No, you will have dealings going on on the Stock Exchange. People will be deluded into buying these things day after day, and they have a right to consideration at the present moment. I say the only reasonable, real, and statesmanlike solution of the question is to face the actual facts—to face your real losses at the present time, and not to try—and I am not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman would do any such thing—to in any way mislead the public into the idea that you are going to perform the Herculean task of getting rid of a deficit of £100,000,000, and at the same time meet the demands for newer and greater facilities which are being continually made on the railways.
If that is not sufficient for the Minister, let me take the first Clause. He is to take over, if you like, all the existing duties of all departments with regard to railways, light railways, tramways, waterways, roads, bridges, harbours, ports and docks, and the supply of electricity. Is not that enough for one man? No, Sir. The Government are gluttons for centralisation. They will find, I firmly believe, that this department, if ever it can be set up, will break down under its own weight, because the whole tenour and the whole course of what has been found necessary in the legislation of the last thirty years has shown that decentralisation has always led to greater efficiency. But this is centralisation of all the greatest industries in the country to be worked by one man. It is impossible. What is he going to do? He said yesterday he would work through the local boards. Let me take as an example the Belfast Port and Docks Board. Could any port and docks board carry on with the knowledge that they had behind them a Minister with the powers which the right hon. Gentleman will have? What are they to do? Every director, officer and servant, it is provided, shall obey the directions of the Minister as to the user of their undertaking. At the present moment the Belfast Port and Docks Board have got a Bill to very largely extend their port, and a very valuable Bill it is. It is very much required. Are they to go on with it, or are they to wait until the policy, as the right hon. Gentleman called it yesterday, the policy of transport is declared. It may not suit the right hon. Gentleman at all to have these extensions there. He might say, "I know another place where it would be far better to spend two millions than in Belfast." Do you really think you will get responsible men to go on these boards, and work as they hitherto have done, when every bit of policy they want to carry out, every improvement and every extension must first be taken, say, from Belfast to Dublin and then be remitted from Dublin to the right hon. Gentleman, whether it be a matter of making a road, or starting an electric lighting company, or running a railway? I say that that is really an impossible state of conditions to set up at this time.
The right hon. Gentleman is to have full power to do what has always been jealously regarded by this House, and that is to interfere with rates, fares, tolls, dues and charges. We have had eighteen Bills I think this Session so far from port and dock boards asking to be allowed to raise their charges. In future the opinion of this House will not matter at all. It will be the right hon. Gentleman who will decide. He may want to divert traffic from A to B, and therefore he will put increased tolls on A and reduce the tolls on B, on the plea that it will be better for the policy of transport. Yes, but the policy of transport may ruin A locality, and that will be nothing to the right hon. Gentleman if he can only show that by having denuded one of these ports and docks of their income, and having stopped their extension and diverted their traffic elsewhere, he gains. He will say to the House, "By doing this I increased the traffic on the railways and I show by that a diminished loss upon them." I do not believe you can run the transport of this country in that way. I believe if you take away the local interest, which is the great interest that has built these docks, the local patriotism and the local pride which people have taken in vieing one port with another just as they do one city with another, you will have taken away one of the greatest incentives to advancement and progress in the various localities. I should be glad if the Government would confine this Bill to railways. That is quite enough. It is a gigantic problem. It is a problem which at the present time is threatening the country with great disaster. It is threatening the taxpayer from day to day and week to week, and we ought to settle it. I know that the striking out of these other matters from the Bill is in a sense a Committee matter. But to my mind, and that is why I have spoken, you are over-weighting your Bill, and you are over-weighting it in such a way as to make it impossible for any man to run it with real success. With the conditions in which we find ourselves as regards the railways, I myself would rather deprecate a Division on the Bill, but I do hope that the Government will consider whether it would not be wiser at least to confine the Bill for the present to the first Clause, and not to interfere in the gambling kind of way indicated by the other Clauses of the Bill with organisations and institutions which are perfectly solvent at the present time.
We have just listened to one of those extraordinarily clever speeches which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division of Belfast (Sir E. Carson) occasionally makes, and I have been wondering whether the speech is not intended to destroy the Bill rather than to support the principle of the nationalisation of railways. This is the first time that the right hon. Gentleman to my knowledge has spoken in favour of the principle of the nationalisation of anything. While he was speaking I was at first disposed to invite him to cross the floor and join the Labour party, but I came to the conclusion we would not be able to retain him long, particularly when we engaged in the serious undertaking of endeavouring to nationalise not only the railways but other industries of the country. I could welcome with the right hon. Gentleman a scheme for the nationalisation of railways, although the proposal to wait for two years is from my standpoint rather weak. I am at a loss to understand why those who are opposing the Bill do not attempt to realise the serious situation in which the country is placed. To talk about economics in the same sense as they were talked about before the War is really to guide the ship of State to disaster. We have, whether we like it or not, to engage our minds upon important proposals of reconstruction such as the Minister of Ways and Communications has brought before us. I do not see myself how he could do less than he has proposed in the Bill. It is not, as the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Carson) would lead the House to believe, for the purpose of finding the deficit of £100,000,000 sterling in connection with railway administration that this Bill is brought forward. The object is to give to the nation a transport system which will allow it to rebuild its social, economic and business life, and because, in the absence of such a Bill, it would entirely fail to reach that standard of prosperity which is essential to this nation. We are not peculiar in the sense of having our railway system in a chaotic condition. According to what one is told the railway systems of Germany, France, Italy, and every other country, including America, but excepting South Africa, are at this moment in an absolutely chaotic condition so far as organisation is concerned. It was interesting to note that the right hon. Gentleman said that the only country which at this moment had a railway system in a position to do its work thoroughly was South Africa. The South African railways are managed by a Minister of Railways, and in addition to managing railways he has power over the docks as well. What is the use, if we are going to engage upon a great scheme of transport to meet the needs of the times, of contenting ourselves merely with dealing with railways? Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen know quite well that it is quite easy for a dock to paralyse railways. It is because of my fear that the whole question of nationalisation is going to be jeopardised during these two years that I would more heartily welcome this Debate if the question of the nationalisation of railways, docks, canals, and roads were the subject-matter of discussion rather than the Bill as it is at present drafted. I should like to put a question to one of the Ministers in charge—I do not know which of them is going to take notes.
I see that at the end of the two years we are to review the results of the operation of this measure, and that at the end of the two years the question of the nationalisation of railways, and, presumably, of the docks and all the undertakings mentioned in the Bill, is to be determined. What is the real test when that time comes? Is the test to be the success of the working of these undertakings during the two years? Is that to be the factor which is to settle whether we are to have the nationalisation of these great national undertakings? If so, then I put in a caveat on behalf of the Labour party. We cannot, indeed, be bound by any such test. It is a direct inducement to every person in this country who disagrees with the nationalisation of the key industries to use the opportunity during the next two years of preventing the success of these schemes, so as to provide an argument against nationalisation when that time comes. From our standpoint, without nationalisation we shall have no chance in the coming days to rebuild British industry. If the transport systems of Germany, France, America, and Italy are in the same chaotic condition as our own, then the Government are to be commended for coming down so early with this proposal; for assuredly the nation that first settles satisfactorily this transport question will have made such an advance in the industrial and commercial competition for the world's markets as to demand from every Member of this House the sinking of all petty differences in order to concentrate upon a scheme which is based upon co-operation rather than upon competition. Unless we do nationalise these key industries, I see enormous trouble in the future. Of course I see much trouble in any circumstances, but nationalisation is one of those dramatic things which seem to appeal in a special sense to the working classes.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division of Belfast said that whether the railways and docks and the other undertakings were under the control of the Government or of private enterprise would not affect the workers. I assure the House that the workers of this country take and will take an entirely different view when they have to deal with an undertaking as a national undertaking as opposed to being called upon to make sacrifices in an undertaking when the incentive is private profit and not national welfare. That being so, from the standpoint of high national politics, if you like to call it so, the whole question of the unification of these great transport systems is one of the things which ought to demand from the House of Commons not only our enthusiastic support, but our enthusiastic co-operation. Take the question of railways. Railways are in such close connection with the docks that unless the one is working in sympathetic co-operation with the other you cannot have success. One of the reasons for industrial unrest is the inequality of employment. It is not unknown in the case of collieries which are side by side for one to be working very slack time, whereas the other is working full time, not only because of the private ownership of wagons, but because of the docks and the slackness of the docks in some particular, or because of some special kind of organisation or special influence which one company would have there over another. Under national control they would all be in the same category, and we should by that very operation take away one of the reasons for industrial unrest. Speaking in the name and on behalf of the Labour party, I therefore say that from our standpoint it is not only necessary to have control of the railways, but you must have control of the docks. Control of the railways and control of the docks can be made ineffective unless you have control over the wagons. So one is driven stage by stage to the conclusion that the Minister of Ways and Communications would have been lacking in his duty unless he had come down and taken power to take control of railways, waterways, docks, harbours, and wagons.
In connection with transport, one is brought right up against the great question of housing. I tell the House of Commons quite solemnly that the labouring classes will not willingly and without protest live under the same conditions in the future as they have lived in the past. The evidence given before the Coal Commission last week was a revelation to many of us who thought we knew the problem. I am glad to think that all mining districts are not upon the same low standard of life as some of the mining districts cited by Mr. John Robertson, the president of the Scottish Miners' Federation. But the best mining district is a grey place to live in. Do what you will, you cannot make a mining village a health resort or a place where men and women would elect to live all their lives if they could avoid it. How are you going to get them away from it? You have not any amount of land. My hon. Friend knows the valleys of Wales. Take the Rhondda Valley, the western valleys in Monmouthshire, the valleys in South Wales, and any of the valleys in Scotland. The valleys are very narrow; the pits are at the bottom. You cannot have land there, no matter what you are prepared to spend. Therefore, if we are going to rebuild the miners' homes, we must get away from the collieries into the outer districts. How can you get out unless you arrange to have a transport system sufficiently elastic, and one which will be adaptable to meet these requirements? One of the great reasons why I so heartily support the present scheme is that I look upon it as a step towards the solution of the great housing question. The House would make a mistake if it did not appreciate in all its fullness that the housing problem is one of those tremendous human problems which cause more unrest than even one of the great wage questions. When you touch the house and the home you touch the women. Whether the men will like it or not, after the revelations which were made last week as to the conditions of miners' homes, everybody will be alert to survey in a much more careful manner their own surroundings. There will be demands that the new housing schemes, which it is proposed to bring into operation under Government sanction and control and with Government help, shall be arranged not down in the valley at the river bed, which is the cause of no end of tuberculosis, but shall go away from it out into the more open country. That cannot be done, unless we have the whole of the transport system in this country under the control of one Minister and one Department. It is because we look with great hope to these proposals dealing in a many-sided manner with many of these problems, that the Labour party support the Bill, not because they are content with the Bill, but because it is an instalment of something larger, larger in the sense that not only will British workers demand the nationalisation of railways and transport, but that they will demand the nationalisation of mines and of land. This is only an instalment. Unless this House of Commons realises that we are living in a new world and that what might have suited before the War will not suit now, then we shall not be acquitting ourselves as the Mother of Parliaments in dealing with those great industrial and commercial problems which are causing such an upheaval in all parts of the world.
I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is taking out of the Bill those provisions dealing with Orders in Council. We can have no Orders in Council touching fundamental questions. This House of Commons cannot be too jealous of its rights, and I hope we shall jealously guard the right of the House of Commons to consider all these things. In these days the great sheet anchor of democracy is the faith held by the mass of the people that this House of Commons is not only the great sounding board of the nation, but that it is the place where all sections with any grievance can come and have it heard, discussed and settled. If we in the House of Commons once allowed our power to be taken from us by an Order in Council, and placed in charge of a Department or a Minister, no matter how august or how capable he may be, we should indeed be leading the democracy of Britain to the conclusion that the proper place to settle their grievances was not here but outside. I am, therefore, very pleased that the right hon. Gentleman has taken out of his Bill the proposal for taking action by Order in Council. I am quite aware there are certain things which may very properly be done by Order in Council, but such things as are proposed in this Bill ought never to have been thought of as proper things to be done in that way. They are matters which ought to come before the House of Commons.
We shall reserve to ourselves the right of trying to amend the Bill in Committee, and if the Labour party thought it was the working of this scheme for two years which would determine yea or nay upon nationalisation, we should hesitate a great deal as to where we ought to stand on this matter. If the right hon. Gentleman realises that he may have to contend with the opposition of every anti-nationalist in this country, if he realises that they would be glad to provide an argument against nationalisation by making his schemes non-successful, he will appreciate that he has a task before him, and we shall be very glad to co-operate with him in making that task as little difficult as possible. I have been impressed by the way hon. Members have cited the experience of the War as reasons for not going on with the scheme. I should have thought our war experience was the very best experience that we could found ourselves upon to prove the value of the scheme. I thought it was common ground that when we attempted to feed our Army and our Navy with food and ammunition, with the old system of private enterprise in operation, we were a colossal and ghastly failure, and it was as the result of our experience in connection with the War that we had to place the railways and many other things under Government control, so that by unifying the whole of our systems and acting upon the principle of co-operation rather than of competition, we were able to give our men a fighting chance for their lives. Had we not taken the action we did in placing the railways under the control of the State during this War, we should have stood a great chance of losing the War. And when it is remembered further what the railway service was able to do with a large portion of its plant, and a large number of its personnel, and some of the best part of it, sent to France and other parts of the world, I feel that the argument of the War is not against nationalisation, but all in favour of it; and it is because the Labour party look upon the proposals of this Bill not as meeting all they would like to meet, not as covering all they would like to see covered, but as an instalment towards placing the key industries of the State under national control, to be worked for the national interest and the national welfare rather than for private profit, that we shall give the Bill our support.
I have listened to the Debate with very great interest and attention, but I have noticed with some regret that although controversy has ranged round railways, roads, docks, and harbours, there has been very little said about what is an important part of our transport system, and that is our inland canals and waterways. I was not altogether surprised at that. There have been recommendations passed by county councils praying that canals might be excluded from the Bill. Hon. Members have not been overwhelmed with showers of telegrams on the subject. As far as I know even the anglers' clubs have hardly yet realised the danger of the right hon. Gentleman's activities to their favourite amusement. But the canals and waterways have long been the cinderella of our transport system, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, who in his time has played many parts, will on this occasion impersonate the fairy godmother and with his wand turn Cinderella into a princess and revivify our inland water system. But I found the right hon. Gentleman's remarks somewhat vague and somewhat slighting. He spoke, indeed, of taking the canals into his system, but he suggested that to spend £38,000,000 upon improving a property which was only valued at £6,000,000 was rather a tall order. I must agree that that is a tall order, but it is not necessary to spend £38,000,000 in order to test whether it is or is not worth while to improve our canals. I have never advocated, and do not advocate now, that the whole of the system known as the Cross should be improved at once. I have always thought the proper and the profitable course was to take that part which appeared to have the greatest return for the smallest expenditure of money, and having improved that, to profit by the experience gained in working it before proceeding to larger and more costly schemes. But why is it that our canal system is only valued at £6,000,000? The canals as we see them to-day were all constructed about the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century. At that time goods were carried mostly in packs upon horseback, and when the canals were first introduced the economy and the comparative rapidity of the transport at once brought them into popularity, and they entered upon a period of great prosperity. Then came the railways, and immediately from their superior speed and through the better opportunities that they offered both to passengers and goods, the canals went under, and from about the year 1840 until now, with the single exception of the Manchester Ship Canal, there has been no extension of our canal system, and the actual useful mileage is less to-day than it was then.
It may be said this was a necessary result of the introduction of a superior system of transport. It has been said that canals areas obsolete as the stage coach, and that it is no use trying to revive them. But before you can answer the question as to whether this is a necessary result of the competition of the railways, you must see what has been done in other countries. Precisely the same experience was gone through on the Continent as was gone through here. There, again, the canals, when they were first constructed, went through a period of great prosperity, and there, also, they were practically killed by the railways, but at that point the similarity between the two practices ceases. Instead of starving and neglecting their canals, Continental countries formed a canal policy. They deliberately spent large sums of money upon the improvement of their waterways, so that between 1870 and 1890 France alone spent upwards of £28,000,000, Belgium spent also large sums, and Germany entirely reorganised her waterway system. Again, at the beginning of the present century, all these countries returned to their old situation once more. They had then behind them the experience of what they had done, and they were so well satisfied with the result that in every single case they started new programmes; they voted again large sums of money, all of which practically had been spent at the beginning of the present War, and then once more they had started on new programmes of improvement and construction. Is it likely that all these great industrial nations went on deliberately throwing millions of pounds into a quagmire? Does it not stand to sense that if they continually renewed this policy and developed it, they did so because they found that it paid them? It was that consideration which was responsible for the appointment of the Royal Commission on Canals and Waterways in 1906. It reported in 1909 in favour of nationalisation. They regarded nationalisation in precisely the same way as the right hon. Gentleman, not as an end desirable in itself, but as a means to an end, because their investigations showed them that what had held back canals in this country was the multiplicity of ownership. If you want to send a barge to-day from the Thames to Birmingham, it has to pass through navigations belonging to no fewer than seven different authorities. From Birmingham to Liverpool, again, there are seven different authorities; and from Birmingham to Hull, on another route, the canal would have to pass seven or ten different authorities in going from one end of its journey to the other. That has resulted in absolute disconformity of dimensions of locks and bridges, so that to-day the barges upon the northern canals are too wide to enter the locks upon the southern canals, and the barges upon the southern canals are too long to pass through the locks on the northern canals. It is perfectly hopeless to get any kind of improvement in canals without unifying the control, and the Commission felt that it was impossible to get unity of control unless you nationalised the waterways. One principal reason for that was that in almost every through route you found somewhere or other along its length a piece of canal which was either under or controlled by a railway.
When you suggest that the railways have strangled traffic upon the canals they are always indignant. They always deny it stoutly. They always say that the canals are a great loss to them, and that therefore it must be to their interest to put as much traffic upon them as they possibly can. An illuminating remark fell from the right hon Gentleman yesterday. He said the railways love a long haul. Yes; they do love a long haul, and they love to shove a short haul on to the poor old canals. The Birmingham Canal is a great complicated system which coils round and round in the Midlands, through the Black Country, and forms the connection between all four main routes from the Midlands to the sea.
It is, therefore, an enormous collecting ground for traffic which would, if it could, pass out to the ports. What happens? The Birmingham Canal is controlled by the London and North-Western Railway, and six-sevenths of the traffic upon the canal is loaded and discharged upon the canal itself, although it is only about 150 miles long. That speaks for itself. I am not particularly blaming the railway for what they have done. They have looked after their own interests. Their interests have been to develop traffic upon their own rails, and to take away traffic from the canals. Although the Royal Commission reported in 1909 nothing has been done to carry its recommendations into effect. In 1911 there was formed the Waterways Association, consisting of traders and local authorities in different parts of the country, which had for its object the pressing upon the Government to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission, and to educate public opinion to press for the carrying out of those recommendations. They saw the President of the Board of Trade from time to time. There is one important achievement of the Waterways Association which I should like to mention. On the Continent the practice has been for the Governments which have constructed new canals to go to the local authorities upon the routes, and to ask for their financial co-operation. There has been a sort of system of bargaining between the central and the local authority whenever it has been proposed to construct a new canal or to improve an old one. The Waterways Association of this country has gone round to the different authorities and have endeavoured to induce them to accept a principle of that kind, and they have been signally successful. They got no less than forty-one local authorities to pass resolutions to the effect that they would view with favour a proposal which asked them to contribute to the improvement of their canals. Anyone who knows local authorities will, I think, agree that that is a very consider- able achievement to get them to pledge themselves favourably upon a proposal of that kind.
The House will see that, in so far as the Bill indicates an intention on the part of the Government to unify the canals and then to improve them, it is entirely in accordance with the policy which was advocated by the Royal Commission and which has since been adopted by the Waterways Association. But a new factor has arisen since the War, and that is the control of the railways by the Government. Therefore the question arises whether we should support the handing over of the canals and waterways to the railways which have been so inimical to them in the past. I put aside at once any suggestion that the right hon. Gentleman is not impartial in this matter. We have to legislate for a system, and in my view there can be no possible doubt that the right system is one which puts both the railways and the canals under the same central authority. I must confess that if the poacher is going to turn gamekeeper, I am very much less afraid of him in that capacity than if he retained separate control of the railways. I frankly admit that I am not a Free Trader in this matter. I want Protection for the canals. They are not in a position to-day to stand upon their own legs, and if the right hon. Gentleman had the railways and someone else had the canals I should feel that the canals had not a dog's chance. But if he is going to take them over and if, as I am sure he means to, he is going to give a fair chance to the canals to show what they can do, then I feel that a new era will have dawned for inland waterway navigation and I shall give my hearty support to the Bill.
As a new Member I am only going to make a plain business speech, and as briefly as possible. I am one of the few Members of this House who have had a long practical experience in dock management. I have been a member of the Clyde Navigation Trust since 1887 and I have been deputy chairman for the last eleven years. I have held various offices and I still hold many, such as the convener of the Traffic Committee, the Harbour Committee and the New Works Committee. Therefore, I can speak from the most intimate connection with private dock management. Not only so, but in that capacity I have had, along with my colleagues, the opportunity of visiting all the principal ports of the United Kingdom, and a great many Continental ports. We do not, as the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill said, wholly take a parochial view. We make ourselves acquainted with what is taking place at the other great ports of the Kingdom and the great ports with which we compete on the Continent. I should be the very last to take exception to this Bill if I felt the course which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to follow will attain the end which he hopes to attain. If there was one thing which impressed itself upon me at the last election I think it was that most candidates, certainly it was so in my case, had the idea that we were coming to Parliament to demand that the hand of Government control should be taken off at the earliest possible moment. Strange to say in regard to the docks, while the Government hand was on shipping and on shipbuilding and many industries in this country they did not control docks. Why? There can be no other reason than that they found the private-owned docks were giving them a perfectly efficient service.
One of the things that rather alarmed me in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and which seemed to need a reply, was the statement as to the paralysis of the private docks and that they were almost bordering upon bankruptcy. It is a particularly dangerous thing to have said that they are almost on the verge of bankruptcy. What has happened? Why have we come to the Government to ask for help? We are not asking for Government Grants. We have never had a Government Grant or a municipal grant. We do not want either of them. What we do ask is to be allowed to continue during the period succeeding the signing of peace to maintain that which the Board of Trade has allowed us to do during the War, namely, to increase our dues beyond the statutory scale. Our statutory scale is antiquated, and before the War we had made up our minds, after great inquiry, to come to Parliament for a totally new scale. We are limited in a great many of our dues to an antiquated rate, entirely out of date, and yet we have managed to get along without increasing our rates. In fact at times we were able to give a rebate. We do not trade for profit. Whatever is realised out of the annual balance is either put to the sinking fund, or if it accumulates in a short time it is used for the purpose of reducing the rates and dues. We have not come to ask for it to be put into our pockets, but like every concern in the country we have had to advance wages. We know what the advance is in connection with the railways. My trust will have to meet an enormous advance in wages and it is absolutely impossible to carry on the undertaking without authority to exceed the statutory rates. If we had been a private concern we should have asked nobody for authority, but because we are under Parliamentary control we have to come and ask Parliament. It is not because we are in a state of bankruptcy; it is because we have had to do what every concern in the country has had to do, namely, to pay advanced wages.
The right hon. Gentleman said that before the War the private docks were not in a state of efficiency. If we were not in a state of efficiency before the War how was it we were able to give the splendid service we did during the War, although we were subject to interference every now and then by one Government Department or another. I could give instances, but I do not want to take up the time of the House with details, because we are discussing large principles. In regard to the authority I represent it is one of the most striking successes of the present day, that in the year 1800 the Clyde was simply a little stream; but by the foresight and energy of the citizens of Glasgow it has become one of the great rivers of the country. I ask this House whether it is conceivable that progress like that, in that period of time, could ever have taken place if the Government had had control of the River Clyde. We have had innumerable difficulties, physical as well as economic to contend with, and yet we built up the great port of Glasgow, which is visited from all parts of the world by people who wish to see the success we have achieved in that great undertaking. Before the War broke out we had come to Parliament and got sanction to undertake a great in crease in the accommodation of the port—400 acres of land and many miles of quays. The cost, in these days, was to be about £3,000,000. There was also to be one of the largest, if not the largest, dry dock in Great Britain. We shall have no difficulty in going on with that undertaking as soon as we can get the men and material. We will find the money. We are not going to ask the Government for the money. We have got permission to raise it.
Someone said in Glasgow the other day that this was an investment for the rich citizens of Glasgow. But I say that while we have £7,000,000 invested by 16,000 investors, 10,000 of these are for sums of £300 and less; and in reply to those who would say that we are extravagant or inefficient, I may say that we have been able to borrow money at less than the Government itself. [An Hon. Member: "In Scotland?"] Our investors are not confined to Scotland. We were competing against the Government, and yet we were able to borrow at a reasonable rate. That goes to show that in the districts in which Glasgow is situated we have the confidence of those who have money to invest. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of what he found in France, and stated with regard to docks and railways there that they were in a chaotic state. Why? French docks are under national control, and anyone who has had the misfortune to have a vessel in these ports knows the conditions that have had to be endured. Here, again, is one of the dangers which some of us feel. It was alleged in France—it may or may not be true, but I believe it has all the appearance of veracity—that the Government was starving this port and feeding these other lines, and that you could not get accommodation in that place for the wagons that were coming in, which were often exposed to the weather because you could get no decision from Paris as to what was to be done. We feel that if we are to be controlled from London we will not be able to give the efficient service that we have given in the management of these docks.
We have the municipality of Glasgow, the county councils of the neighbouring counties, the chamber of commerce, and the ratepayers, shippers, merchants, and engineers, all represented on our body, a body of forty-two men, knowing all the requirements of the districts in which the docks are situated, knowing what the localities require and also knowing something of the subject of national wealth. For we do not build our ships on the Clyde for local accounts. These great Leviathans and "Dreadnoughts" that were floated out from the Clyde were able to be built there owing to the foresight and energy of those who had the management of these docks all these years. I do not believe that under Government control we could perform the efficient work which we are performing now. We were told about our dry docks in Glasgow, and it was said that sometimes complaints were made about them, but I noticed that the late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Shipping took credit for one of the most magnificent national operations that he had ever known as an example to all dock authorities—Chepstow. I will only say that while I have the greatest possible respect and admiration for permanent officials—for the country at the present time has some of the ablest permanent officials I have ever known—at the same time the system is bad, and you cannot get things done in the proper way if you have to come here to London to consult some Department which probably later on you will find is not the Department to deal with the matter.
One of the troubles which we have had, and every dock authority has, is with the railway companies. There is a good deal of necessity for control of railways, but docks are in an entirely different position. You may pool wagons and co-ordinate railways, but you cannot pool ports. You can never feed the great ports of this country by rail. You can never feed the immense population of London by rail. Sea traffic, which is the cheapest traffic of all, comes into London, and who would ever dream of feeding the Port of London from any other quarter? In the same way the mills of Lancashire are fed from Liverpool and Manchester, and in the West of Scotland we have ports for bringing in ore and exporting coal. And what better authority can you have than that which has made these ports the great success that they are at the present time? The right hon. Gentleman says that by co-ordination he is going to make up in some mysterious way for the loss which the railway companies are showing at the present time. But I do not believe that any of the private dock systems of this country can be run more economically than they are at present. I am confident that they would cost a great deal more to work, and you would not have the same efficiency.
The Harbour Board is not like a body of directors, a paid body. We give our services gratuitously while we are always out for efficiency and looking to serve not only the great shipping community but our great exporters and importers. We manage these great interests in a thoroughly careful and economical manner. As regards railway control, one of the great difficulties which we often have, and which I suppose other ports have, is that we cannot get all the railways to run into our docks. Out of three in Scotland in our new dock scheme we have only been able to get two of them brought in. There are many ways, such as the pooling of wagons, which is a very good thing, of relieving congestion. But we were not standing idle. We besought the railway companies to depart from their wasteful policy, and the shippers did their best, as did also the importers, but the railway companies took up the position that if the importer of ore did not discharge that ore in a given time they would give him no more wagons until he had discharged it. These are not matters for the port authorities and there is no reason why we should cease to control the ports.
My advice to the right hon. Gentleman is that he ought to get the railway companies organised under one control, and then if he found, as I am sure he would not find, that the ports are lagging behind, he could come and say, "I want to take control of them also." But during the War there has been no complaint by the Government against the docks. If there had been they would have taken control of them as they did with shipping. Think of the millions of tons that have passed in and out of these ports. The ports have been strained to the uttermost during the War, and yet I defy any Government official to say that the Port of Glasgow through the whole war was ever congested. The nearest approach to congestion was when the War Office insisted upon keeping, unnecessarily, for weeks, thousands of tons of hay in our sheds, and if we had had no interference from the authorities in that matter there would have been no cause for complaint in any quarter. But even with that interference the causes of complaint were few and far between. The right hon. Gentleman the Postmaster-General, who made some strictures on the docks, sent round a roving Commission to inquire into congestion at the Ports. We were never given an opportunity of going to that Commission. They came into the districts of the Port Authorities, knowing very little personally about it, and managed to get some extraordinary tales from some outside people, and then a report of the most ridiculous character was sent in to the Shipping Controller, with a request that he should put the Port Authority of Glasgow under four gentlemen, one of whom had been the manager of a dock which had not been a success.
Jealousy between the ports was another reason that seemed to be alleged why they should be put under one control. Jealousy is one thing, and rivalry is another. We have had very healthy rivalry. There are certain trades which have grown up round certain ports, and those have had to be cultivated For instance, there is the iron and coal industry in the West of Scotland, the cotton industry in Lancashire, and the cosmopolitan trade of London. If those various trades were not encouraged, they would not be as they are. That is all to be given up for the control of a Minister in London. I did not quite follow what the right hon. Gentleman said in regard to the form of the control. I understood him to say that heeded not wish to do away with this very valuable asset and the splendid management of the docks. But I do not think that many of us would care to continue our gratuitous services under the proposed new system. I am not going to leave my business and give my time, as I have done, if I feel that we never know, when we come to a decision, whether that decision may not be overridden by some official in London. It may appear to some hon. Members that there is an amount of exaggeration in some of the remarks that I have made, but I can assure them it is not so. I have had some very strenuous years in shipping. I am a shipowner as well as having given my services to the management of the docks. While we have had a most sympathetic Shipping Controller in the person of Sir Joseph Maclay, and while undoubtedly he has done marvellous things, at the same time a largo part of one's time is taken up in the interviewing of officials of other Departments. I would like to point out that we have had up till very lately a most contented set of men in our employment. We have had men with us for a lifetime. It is a great matter for us to see that our men are contented. We have a superannuation fund as well as the standard wages of the district, and in many ways the men are exceedingly well placed in regard to our employment. If this Bill passes and the control is exercised from London matters will be different. Then there is this suspensory period of two years. I do hope that after the Bill passes the right hon. Gentleman will as soon as he possibly can tell us what our fate is going to be, because we have great financial undertakings. We have always, for instance, to be renewing bonds, and therefore it is important that we should know what the position is to be. A good deal of what I have said might be more properly urged in the Committee stage, and I quite admit that a great many of the speeches made here have been Committee stage speeches, but at the same time, when those remarks have been made, and when they find their way into the newspapers and into the districts and amongst bondholders I thought it was absolutely necessary that something should be said to dissipate some of the ideas which might be produced in that way. I hope when the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply that he will make it clear that what we came to Parliament for was to ask power, through the Board of Trade, to raise our dues until things get back to the normal conditions. Already our old traffic is beginning to come back, and I hope, though wages will be higher, that with other expenses reduced and with traffic and revenue increase that instead of using the powers which the Board of Trade are about to grant, that we will be able to do with very little, if any, increase. We have no antipathy, of course, as port authorities to the improvement of the transport facilities of the country. I stated during the election that I would help the Government in an endeavour to increase the transport facilities, but in doing so I would ask the Government to leave us alone to carry on what we have been doing with great credit to ourselves.
I support this Bill as one who was in favour of the nationalisation of railways long before the War. I have been in touch for a great many years, not only with railwaymen in the great railway centre I represent, but also with railway directors, merchants, and financial authorities, and I found that long before the War there was a general movement in favour of the nationalisation of the railway systems of our country. That movement came because so many of those men, who are strongly opposed to the principle of nationalisation, had come to the conclusion that it was inevitable. We all know that, except in the vicinity of large towns and great industrial centres, railway development in this country had practically become dormant long before the War, and the four and a half years of war, I believe, turned what was a policy into a great national necessity. The rise in the cost of living and the consequent increase in wages has forced the country to face the question of an increase in the railway rates, unless the country decides that the user of railway facilities is to get them at less than cost. The Minister, in opening, stated that in his view such a policy was wrong, and I entirely agree that to carry on our transport system with an annual deficit paid by the taxpayers is impossible. In putting this increase on rates, I should like to recall the fact that since the Railways and Canals Act, 1888, there has been a great number of increased charges made in railway rates in the country, and in almost every instance those increases have been strenuously opposed by trading interests. Those increases are negligible in amount compared to the increases that must be made in future, and I do not think it would be possible for the railways in private hands to secure the assent or agreement of the public to the increases that are inevitable on railways. I am not quite sure that the country is looking at this question of an increase of rates in a sufficiently broad spirit. We are even now receiving—I think this is the experience of all hon. Members—statements from various bodies that the railway rates ought to be reduced. That appears to me to be impossible if we are to face this enormous increase in wages. We must remember, also, that the increased cost is going on in every other country similarly to our own. The question of transport in this country cannot stand by itself; it has to stand in relation to the transport of other countries. We know that in Germany, France, Belgium, and America the costs are doubled, and those countries will have to face 100 per cent. increase, or they will have to face the same trouble as ourselves and will have to ask the taxpayers to enable them to meet it. We shall be able in this country to face a very large increase in railway rates, an increase sufficient to meet the deficit and yet not injure our position in competition with other countries, or injure our foreign trade, which it is life and death to us to maintain.
The most important point to me in the question of nationalisation has always been the question of the development of our country. That seems to me to stand out above any other question of finance or of any individual or sectional interests. We have in this country railways which on an average have been paying dividends of 4 per cent., but we have 2,000 miles of railway in this country on which no dividend has been paid, and thousands of miles of other railways in this country on which the dividend has been between 1 per cent. and 2 per cent. The fact is that there are great areas of this country where for fifty years railway transport has stood still, and here we are to-day, as far as transport facilities are concerned, in the position we were in fifty years ago. Those areas are ripe for development, and with proper railway facilities there are areas known to every Member of this House which would bear a larger agricultural population. There are many of those areas where fishing and mining and other industries could be developed if transport existed. It is quite impossible under present conditions, with railways paying no dividends, or dividends under 4 per cent., for private enterprise to raise the capital for which these districts are starving. One of the points in the Bill which appeals to me most is that point where the Minister is given power in the next two years to provide capital for these purposes, and in the present conditions of unemployment and the urgent necessity of the moment of immediately looking out for new areas in which our returning soldiers can be settled, I trust the Minister when the Bill is passed will first of all devote his attention to providing capital for those lines which are now starved, and have been unable to develop their railway transport in the past few years. With regard to roads, I had some fear, like other hon. Members, of the effect of centralisation, but I am very pleased to see that there is no intention of altering the present powers of the local authorities. I hope that when the Bill is put into its final form, provision will be made for the local authorities to be very strongly represented on the central authority which will control the roads under the present Bill. If you are to get the complete scheme of transport which has been promised to the country, it is essential, in my opinion, that the roads should be brought in under the same Ministry. The light railways which, have been tested in this country during the past twenty years have not, in my view, proved a success, and I believe that the future is going to lie more in the utilisation of roads, in getting into the outlying districts, and with the tremendous im- provements we are getting year by year in road motors, the light railway will be a thing of the past, and that the development which we want to assist our agricultural and other country interests will be in the direction of road transport.
So far as electricity is concerned, I regret that it is in the Bill at all. It seems to me that the whole of this scheme—canals, railways, roads, harbours—forms a great whole, and that to bring electricity in is really putting an excrescence upon it. The railways at present are not using anything like 10 per cent. of the power of the country. The Minister, in introducing the Bill, said that they expected to use 20 per cent. of the electric power, but I very much doubt if they will use any more power in future, in relation to the total power of the country, than they have used in the past, because if our railways are to develop it must result, unless it is going to be a complete failure, in a relative side-by-side development of the power-using industries of the country, and it appears to me to be wrong that the Department which is only using from 10 per cent. to 15 per cent. of the electric power of the country should be put in complete control of it. The case of the North-East Coast seems to me to go strongly against the case for putting electricity into the Bill. That great company, which is producing electricity certainly as cheaply as and probably more cheaply than any other industrial power undertaking in the Kingdom, has co-operated with the railways for the benefit of both, but whilst co-operating with the railways it has, with an immense amount of initiative and energy, succeeded in linking up a large number of industries of every sort and description, and I fear that if electric power is taken out of the commercial and industrial hands in which it now rests it would not be for its future good.
The only strong and effective opposition to this Bill has been in relation to the docks. One fear seems to be that the passing of the Bill and the control of the docks by the Government will be the destruction of local initiative. I can only say that if that is so, either in respect of docks, or railways, or canals, or roads, the whole scheme of the Government is going to be a failure. When the Bill is put into its final form it is essential that every possible protection shall be inserted so as to give the greatest play to local initiative. These harbour trusts, these dock authorities, and dock companies, we know, have done an immense work in the past in the development of our foreign trade. Wherever you go abroad you see literature and advertisements urging their claims on foreign shippers, shipowners, and merchants, and we want that to continue and to be increased and accentuated. But when the Government take over these docks, they are not going suddenly to put in a new staff. They will take over the whole concern, and they will take the fullest advantage of the expert knowledge, from the harbour board itself down to the foreman and workmen. The docks will go on as in the past, but they will have the whole backing of a great Government system, and, what is of even greater importance, they will have the financial backing of the Government. A vitally important point in connection with docks is the question of standardisation. We have seen America during the last twenty years revolutionise its rolling stock. The unit, the wagon, has continually advanced, and I believe they are now getting up to eighty and a hundred-ton wagons. One of the greatest causes in stopping similar development in this country has been the lack of dock facilities. I know it has been so in South. Wales. When the eight-ton truck became the ten-ton truck a great many of the coal tips in the South Wales docks were unable to take them. Slowly they were improved, but to-day, when the twelve-ton truck is practically a standard, there are many tips in those docks where small wagons have to be specially selected in order that the tips should be used. There is no greater economy possible in connection with rolling stock than that of increasing the standard size of the wagons of this country, and that is particularly so in handling the great export and import traffic that rolls in and out of our ports. With great cargoes going out and coming in, cargoes ranging up to 10,000 and 15,000 tons, there is no reason why we should not use as large wagons as America.
The other point that appeals to me, particularly in regard to the docks, is this. One of the greatest questions in all import and export traffic is expedition. A trader in almost any trade would rather pay a considerably higher rate so long as he could get his goods more quickly handled from the producer to the ship and from the ship to the consumer, and that has been found a difficulty. The hon. Member who last spoke referred to the difficulties they have had with the railways even in their great harbour trust on the Clyde. It is a difficulty that unless the railways and docks are working under one control, with the sense that the dock is really the terminus of the railway, there is no question that you cannot give the maximum of expedition, and in that respect alone I think an enormous case can be made out against excluding the docks and thus destroying the symmetry of this Bill. Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Mr. Thomas), I do not believe the taking over of the railways, docks, and canals is going to bring about any economies. If it does it will be the first time that a Government or any great authority like a Government succeeded in the history of the world in economising as a result of taking over undertakings. I remember being told that when a young Frenchman is thinking of getting married he says to himself, "How can I economise?" and that when a young Englishman is thinking of getting married he says to himself, "How can I increase my income?" That is the British method, and that is the system which I hope and I am sure the Ministry which is going to take over the transport system of the country will adopt. It is the bold policy of development, of increasing the trade of the country, of developing the country, and it is by that policy alone that the railways and the docks will be gained back to a successful financial result for the benefit of the whole nation.
The Bill is the first fruits of the coalition election promises, and as such the House has given it a warm welcome. Transportation underlies industrial, agricultural and social reform, and I think the House is right in treating the Bill as a courageous attempt on the part of the Government to begin laying the foundations of the new order, but whilst that is true, and whilst I think we should be grateful to the Government for dealing with it courageously, I venture to think that we should look at it with great care, bearing in mind the position we are in. We are essentially, so far as all the transportation services are concerned, in a period of transition, of transition from an independent, individualistic system to one in which unification in one form or another is believed by all of us to be essential. Unification, of course, in itself does not mean either nationalisation or non-nationa- lisation. It does not beg that question. But the Report of the Select Committee that unification is essential is, I venture to think, the view of the very great majority of those present in this House. Whilst expressing that opinion, I think there are two principles which, just because we are in a transition stage, it is extremely important to bear in mind. One is a general principle, applicable to all questions of departmental power. This House ought to retain in its own hands the power of legislation, and ought not to delegate any legislative functions whatever to any Department of the State. Secondly, whilst aiming at the advantages of unification—advantages which are essential to all modern commercial and industrial undertakings whatever—we should also make certain that we do not lose in the process the advantages of individual and local initiative and energy. In my view, against the first of these principles this Bill, in its original form, and even in its present form, offends. In regard to the second principle, I venture to think that the House would insist, on this Second Reading stage, in getting from the Government more undertaking than it has yet received for safeguarding local and individual initiative and enterprise. The danger of Clause 4 was patent. The House was all agreed, and the Government bowed before the storm broke. But the result of the Government concession on Clause 4 has, I think, left on the House an impression that the gravest danger in regard to that particular subject has gone. I venture to think that that impression is not well founded. We have been told that for the two years, or nearly two years, of experiment nationalisation is not decided on, and that all the questions will remain at the end of the two years, and that no interest or opinion will be prejudiced by what happens in the interval. These assurances should be received with caution and, I venture to think, with scepticism.
Let us look for a moment at the Bill, just to see what it says as it is now left. In Clause 2 the Government takes power to transfer to the new Minister all powers and duties of any Government Department in relation to the seven categories of the transportation service. I pause, parenthetically to observe that there is no Definition Clause in the Bill, and the scope, therefore, of these services is left very vague. For instance, in regard to railways, are private colliery railways taken over or not? That is merely an illustration of the absence of any Definition Clause. The Ministry gets in its hands what, I think, the whole House will agree is right, the powers of the Departments as they exist to-day, so that they are collected together. That can only make for the convenience of the whole community and for efficiency in the working of the new Ministry. Then we come to Clause 3. The preamble of Clause 3 says that, with a view to affording time for the consideration and formulation of the policy to be pursued as to the future position of undertakings to which this Section applies, there shall be a period of two years. Note the preamble. Is that preamble justified? Does it represent the truth, that it is to afford time for the consideration and formulation of the policy? Not for the decision of the policy, but in order merely to formulate the policy for the future? Or is it mere camouflage? I fear that it is the latter. It is no use telling the House that the first Sub-section of Clause 3, paragraphs (a) and (b) is merely the Regulation of the Forces Act, 1871. That is not the point. It may be that under that Act during the War the Government has left the management of the railways to their various boards of directors. But that again is not the point. The point is what the words of this Sub-section say. If we want to know what can be done under a Statute the only thing to do is to see what the Statute says, and if we look a little closely at what this Clause says I venture to think we shall find that the powers given are truly alarming. Paragraph (a) only relates to railways that have already been taken over. Paragraph (b) says that the Minister may take possession of any one of the other categories of transport services, excepting—and this is a noteworthy exception—electricity, that is not mentioned. In order to see what "taking possession" means under this Clause, let us see what the Minister who is taking possession has to do under it when he has got possession—we know what possession is, in spite of the gentle, disarming words of the Minister. When he has got possession he can give orders to the directors, officers, and servants of the undertaking of which he has taken possession, and those orders, whatever they are, whatever their import, have to be implicitly obeyed, with the result that if they are not obeyed the direc- tors and so on can, I presume, be overridden. That is the essence of this Bill. The various topics on which the Minister can give orders to the servants of the railways taken over are mentioned in that long series, from (i) to (ix) in paragraph (c). For practical purposes they include almost everything that any one of these undertakings could ever do. If you add to those categories the provision in Clause 4, which is to be incorporated in Clause 3, that the Minister shall have power himself to establish, maintain and work transport services by land and water, then that threat, coupled with the power to give directions to the servants of any undertakings in future, gives the Minister absolute power to do whatever he likes to any one of these undertakings throughout the period of two years. I do not say that is necessarily wrong, but I do say it is essential that the House should realise the degree of power that the Minister is taking under this Bill.
The next point is this. Although the language is permissive, if you look at paragraph (d) you can see that the Minister may, by Order, authorise the acquisition of land for improvements, alterations, and so on. In other words, coupled with the power of giving directions to the servants, he may, without any inquiry before any other authority, take any amount of land, make any amount of alterations, and insist, by his power of directing the directors of the undertaking, that that should be carried out. That is to say, he may transform the character of any one of these services from a small undertaking to a large undertaking, and, vice versa, by his power to give orders he may cause any undertaking to be brought to an end wholly or in part, or he may cause some part of the service to be given up or to be reduced to an insignificant proportion. These are the powers. During two years he is going to have all these powers. He insists, in spite of the objections—for instance, of the independent dock authorities—that he must have the whole of these powers, and no less, over all the dock undertakings in the Kingdom. If that be so, I submit to the House that to talk of the two years being a mere period of experiment for the purpose of making possible the consideration and formulation of a policy is idle nonsense. When he has finished with his two years, the transportation services of the country cannot possibly be in anything approximating to the same position as they are to-day. I do not say that we want it, but let us realise where we are. At the end of these two years the Minister has not the least intention that they should be the same as they are to-day. But the point is this, that, for practical purposes during these two years, the future policy will be determined, and determined by the Minister, without consultation with Parliament. It is quite impossible that at the end of the two years this House should be as free as it is to-day to discuss the question, "Is nationalisation a good or bad thing for railways, docks, canals, or any of the other services?" It cannot be, and therefore—and this is the Conclusion to which I invite the House to come from these considerations—we ought to be extremely careful, both on the Second Reading here to-night and in Committee, to make sure that we preserve to Parliament such measure of control over the future destiny of our transportation service as will enable Parliament to decide whether the policy adopted by the Minister during the two years is a sound policy or an unsound policy. The safeguards that one can suggest are not easy to think of. It is difficult. In regard to railways it maybe that the position is different from what it is in respect to the other services which will be taken over by this Bill. It may be that the fact that they have been run as one concern during the War practically settles the question as to whether they should go on being run as one concern or should revert to their previous condition of separate concerns. I think it is clear that unification to that extent for the railways has proved to be necessary, but when you come to a question such as docks and harbours you are up against a totally different consideration. I submit to the House from that side that the Minister has not only not made good his case for taking them over but has made no case at all for taking them over. By taking them over, I mean assuming the powers that Clause 3 purports to confer; those absolutely dictatorial powers.
The last speaker said that the ports, docks, and harbours were the terminus of our railways. They are not the terminus at all, they are points of junction between this country and all the rest of the world across our ocean routes.
They are just as much the terminus for the Atlantic liners that come to Liverpool, for instance, as they are for the railways that go through this country to the port of Liverpool. I think, from the point of view of considering whether their policy and administration should be guided most from the standpoint of the railways or from that of shipping and oversea commerce, the answer is obviously in favour of the latter. A modern port is a complex organisation, in which a very large number of factors combine to make the port what it is. It is not merely a question of its geographical position. You have got built up in a large modern port like Liverpool, or London, a vast series of different organisations—warehouses, different industries, markets, the men that manage the markets, the dealers and the brokers in all the various commodities that are imported into that port, all the elaborate machinery for managing large steamship lines and ship repairing, their superintending staffs; and the docks which are suitable have been adapted in the course of their history to receiving commerce of a certain volume and a certain kind. Take as an illustration a big modern Atlantic liner, like the "Celtic," bringing into port 10,000 to 15,000 tons of cargo. It arrives on Wednesday night, and has to be ready to sail next Tuesday. It has to unload its cargo in three days, and then load its outward cargo, all its stores and perhaps 1,000 passengers. All the time it has to do its coaling. It is of very great draught, and only two or three ports in the Kingdom can accommodate it. The port of Liverpool during the past twenty-five years has been dredged to a considerable depth. All that vast expenditure of money by countless interests has brought into existence the complex organisation that we know as a modern port that sub serves our shipping and oversea commerce far more than it subserves the railways. You cannot apply to ocean commerce the principle of the shortest haul on the railways here. That is not the determining factor. The organisation you have in a big port like Liverpool is the product of the brains of an enormous number of men, knowing the local circumstances and applying the local circumstances not from the point of view of the local interests, but from the point of view of the trade and commerce of the country as a whole, upon the prosperity of which they all live.
I venture to submit that no proposal should be allowed in this Bill that the Minister should, by a purely autocratic power, be able to turn the local independent authority or trust that manages one of these great ports at the present time into a purely subordinate body by a stroke of his pen. We want—it may be that in Committee is the proper place to do it—some provision inserted in the Bill by which, when the local port authority fails —if it does fail—to take a reasonable step in altering its accommodation at the request of the Minister, some independent authority—by choice a Committee of this House—by which that question can be decided. I venture to throw out a challenge to the right hon. Gentleman on that point. Can he say—to take as an instance—that the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has ever once during this War failed to carry out any expressed wish for an alteration in its accommodation? The Postmaster-General, this afternoon, said that the Committee of which he was Chairman had considered the question of congestion at the ports, and come to the conclusion that it was due to ineffective co-ordination, but that very Committee was appointed at the request of Sir Norman Hill, the Chairman of the Ports and Transit Committee during the War, at the request of the Liverpool Shipowners and the Liverpool Dock Board, in order to bring about effective co-ordination between the docks and the railway companies, and Government Departments, like the Minister of Munitions and the Army Departments, who were causing difficulties in the administration of the docks. It was through the solution of those difficulties, and not by any alteration of the administration of the docks, that a proper flow of traffic through the ports was obtained.
There are many others who wish to speak, and I therefore leave on one side the other subjects of this Bill. But I hope very much that the House will insist on the point, which, I submit, is so vital, that there should be some machinery by which, before it is too late, the Minister with his vast powers and responsibilities should have to come to this House before an important question of policy is finally decided beyond revocation. One word about electricity. I venture to think that in that case, as in the others, unification is essential, and I for one am in favour of nationalisation of electric power supply stations, on the ground that in no other way will there be a supply of electric power to develop backward districts as early as we should otherwise get it. As regards roads, there again, after very anxious consideration and doubts, I think it is right that the roads should be taken over, and one particular reason I have is that the small roads in country districts are so important for the development of agriculture, and, as long as they remain on the local rates, they will not be developed as they ought to be. In connection with that question of rates, may I commend to the sympathetic consideration of the Minister, the view that the Local Taxation Commission reported in favour of the burden of local rates in respect of roads being shifted to the National Exchequer, and I hope he will see his way to lifting some of that burden off agriculture.
I desire to endeavour to represent the views of manufacturers in this country towards this Bill, and I am quite sure that the House will recognise that the conditions created by the War compel us in this, and in every other matter that, comes before the House at the present time, always to give a very special consideration to any legitimate views or claims from the manufacturers in the country, because it is only in proportion as we can stimulate production in this country that the country will be able to bear the very heavy financial burden created by the War, and find the money necessary for the reconstruction upon which this Government is now, and will be in the immediate future, so closely engaged. I think it is beyond dispute that manufacturers—and let me say that, in any large body of people, one always finds a certain divergence of opinion on every matter of interest, large or small, and with regard to this Bill there is no doubt a certain divergence of opinion with regard to its main principle—but I do think it is beyond dispute that manufacturers, like most other sections of the community, do regard the broad principle underlying this Bill as being right, and if only they felt that the Government under this Bill, taking over these enormous powers for the purpose of carrying out a very desirable and excellent principle, were going to administer the Bill, and were going to carry on these gigantic undertakings, in a really busi- nesslike and economical manner, I, for my part, do not believe that there would be any serious elements of opposition to this Bill, or even, as may happen at the end of two years, to any extension of it.
We all know—and no one in this House has denied it—that the transport system of this country before the War was bad enough. We know that, as the result of the great demand made by the War itself, it is, as the right hon. Gentleman said yesterday, practically in a state of chaos, and it is, I am sure, beyond question that only by some great co-ordinating influence and unification are we going to get that improvement which could easily be obtained, and which would benefit the whole community. The general verdict that has been given towards this Bill, as it has been presented to this House from all commercial communities, has been one of very strong opposition. That, of course, was created principally by Clause 4, which was considered not only objectionable because of the excessive powers taken by the Minister over the head of Parliament itself, but because under such powers it was quite hopeless to expect the provisions of this Bill to be carried out to the general advantage of the community; and the fact that the Government yesterday informed us that it had deleted this Clause, with the exception of two paragraphs, has made a very great difference to the views of the commercial community generally towards the Bill.
I would just remind the House that the Government stated last week, according to the Press, that it was going to stand or fall by the Bill, and it does seem to me rather an undignified role for the Government to take at the very opening of the Debate to withdraw what was always regarded as the great and important foundation of the Bill itself. But we need not quarrel with them over that. We are glad that, at this last moment, the Government have recognised that this House has not in the past, and is not going in the future, to allow enormous changes to be made by Order in Council at the single will of a single Minister, and, as was possible under that Clause before it was deleted, to commit the country to the expenditure of millions of pounds without this House having the opportunity first of determining whether the proposal was a wise one, and whether the money was going to be wisely spent. Yesterday my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Stevens), speaking also on behalf of manufacturers, read to the House a resolution which had been passed by the transport committee of the Federation of British Industries on Friday last, and the wording of that resolution was one of absolute opposition to the Bill, principally to the provisions of this Clause 4. I want to make it quite clear, and I want to say this on behalf of the Federation, that this body—and I believe it is equally true of other bodies of manufacturers—are not opposed to the principles of this Bill. They were opposed, entirely opposed, to Clause 4 and desired to fight it with all the power which they could command. Now that this has been deleted it has entirely changed the general attitude of these bodies towards the principles of the Bill.
There is another important point which I should like to bring before the Government. It is one which is felt very strongly by manufacturers generally, though, as I say, they support the principles of the Bill in order to get those principles carried into effect. I think most people desire to see them carried into effect, though we recognise that it cannot be done unless the State itself steps in and takes action. But there is an enormous difference between the State stepping in and taking action by control—which is, as we know, very easily done—controlling the developments and movements of these great industrial transport undertakings, and, on the other hand, taking over the actual direct administration down to the last detail of these undertakings. Whilst I believe that most people in the country would cordially support the Bill, which was understood only to give the State that necessary and primary control for administration—while I believe that, I also believe a very large number of people distrust and disapprove of what is without any question the outcome of this Bill, and that is the absolute administration of the State in the form of nationalisation. I cannot conceive how the Government during these two years is going to exercise powers which will presumably be accorded to them by the Bill without at the end of that time being in a position from which they cannot withdraw, and in which they are bound, for the good of the country, and to carry out the transport of the country to develop very quickly into nothing less than absolute nationalisation. The reason why I, and I think the manufacturers of this country, look with great anxiety upon nationalisa- tion, or State administration in detail, is because our experience, not only during the War—that has been very bad—but even before the War showed that the Government or the State handling of any practical concern has inevitably meant not economy, which we ought to get if the transport system of this country is probably dealt with, but inevitably enormous additional expenditure.
The enforced administration of many industrial concerns in the State during the War has surely taught this House and the country a lesson that it ought not to forget. Consider the bureaucracy! Did not the right hon. Gentleman who administers the old system tell us yesterday week that the Government had to support and to continue it, because if the Government suddenly stopped it would produce such chaos, especially in regard to wages and employment! So it is admitted by the Government that they are maintaining bureaucracy now and a large State administration which the Government recognise under normal conditions might very easily be cut down. That means nothing less than an enormous expenditure of money, an absolute waste of money, every penny of which the taxpayer has to find now or in the very near future. The country and the House had very forcibly brought before it quite recently those cases like the Cippenham affair, which is going on now after the War is over, where the contract has been given out for an enormous amount of money, and having been signed, I suppose, has to go forward, national shipyards, and the like of these great industrial undertakings. We know for a fact that the expenditure has been carried on with the most reckless extravagance and incompetence on the part of those who had to administer it.
I want to say this, perhaps in defence of the right hon. Gentleman, who is to take charge of this Ministry when it is formed. I believe the country generally has a good deal of confidence in him, and looks upon him as I do, as, at any rate, better than a successful politician who has to be found a position in the Ministry, and who is bandied about from one Department to another for a few months. The right hon. Gentleman has a commercial reputation behind him. Yet I want to say this to him in respect to the business men who have been drawn into the Government administration during the War. There are very few of them, if any, who have really been a conspicuous success—very few of them! Many of them have been absolute failures. Yet they were men whom we all knew were well acquainted with their work. When, however, they were put into the State administration they were unable to prove a success in that particular work. I would like to make this suggestion—because it is one firmly rooted in my mind. I believe that the failures to which I am referring have not been due to a lack of ability on the part of the individual or through any incompetency, certainly not through any corruption, or anything of that sort, but from this cause: If the best business man in the country were put into a State Department he would find himself at once so enmeshed by the Civil Service system under which he was bound to work that he would be doomed to failure and could not possibly extricate himself. When I say that, I say it as one who has been in a Government Department and seen what has gone on. I have seen business men "downed" in that way. I have seen a man give up his work and another take it solely because of departmental jealousy, because you are dealing with feeling on the part of permanant officials, and because the man was so enmeshed that it was perfectly hopeless, and he could not move, and he was thoroughly glad to get out of it.
I say that for this reason: Before this country places in the hands of the most able commercial man such an important and far-reaching commercial enterprise as the transport system of this country, we want all reform—perhaps of the political system itself—but certainly we want reform of the Civil Service and the system under which appointments are made, and the system under which, as I am sure my right hon. Friend knows, even to-day incompetent men have to be promoted in order to get them out of a particular place where they are not wanted. That has gone on very freely during the War. It is a system which everybody knows is costing us an enormous sum of money as well as producing all these great complaints of inefficiency, incompetence, and extravagance. For my own part I am, as the House knows, one of those who do not hesitate to take a strong line in one direction or another. Whilst I believe in the principles of this Bill, whilst I hope that the right hon. Gentleman may in the near future show that he is that super-man who has the power will and determination to override all those administrative influences which will surround him in administering the transport of this country, yet I am so convinced in my own mind that this Bill, if passed into law, will not act the part that it should do, that it is going to prove a failure, and will not effect those economies which the right hon. Gentleman pointed out to us yesterday, and which all of us who has any knowledge of the sending of goods on the railway and dealing with railway companies, and railway wagons, and so on, know about, whilst I am convinced of all this, I know that, at any rate, on broad principles he is perfectly right in the views which he presented yesterday. Enormous amounts in the way of economy ought to be saved in the transport of the country. Heaven knows some of the manufacturers, producers, and traders badly require such economies in their production and in the cost of delivering their goods that this Government or any other can possibly afford them. I am convinced in my mind, though, that under the present system this Bill does not stand a chance of being properly and economically worked.
For that reason I shall reluctantly vote against the Bill. I feel this—and it is my last word—I cannot help thinking that now that Clause 4 has been deleted that the Government has already the necessary powers to carry on and complete the arrangements into which they entered during the War. I do not suggest that the Government should be satisfied with that for the two years, but what I do suggest is this: I think it is most unusual for a far-reaching Bill to be put before this House where the Government frankly tell us that it has no policy—that it is not brought in to carry out a definite policy. The right hon. Gentleman stated yesterday, and stated perfectly truly, that there is an enormous lot of information to be acquired and of examination to be made in every direction of the transport services before he or anyone else proposes a really practical, businesslike scheme to carry out the principles which underlie this Bill. Surely the Government, which has to continue for some months, under powers which they now possess, to administer, as they are doing, the transport services of this country, can in the meantime get to work and collect the necessary information, find out what is really the proper solution of this great problem, and come down to the House then with a Bill for carrying it into effect. So the Government will be in a position to give us chapter and verse and convince us not only that their proposals have been carefully thought out, and have been submitted to business men or to Members of this House generally, but we will see that the Government has discovered a means by which the transport of this country can be carried on, not with greater expense, as I fear is going to be the case, but with genuine economy and so with great advantage to all sections of the community.
In approaching this subject to-night, I do so with a desire to support from the Labour standpoint the Bill that is before the House. We all realise the great importance of the Bill. We all realise the vast machinery which it seeks to control. We all realise also that transport is the very mainspring of the industrial life of our country. On general lines we desire to support this Bill, to give the Government our utmost and cordial support in bringing it into effect; to make it the success which some of us at any rate believe it can become. The tendency to co-ordinate the various sections of industry and the transport industry is evident. We have heard a great many speeches to-day. If some of these were followed out the Bill would become so mutilated that it would be useless and hopeless when finished with. To attempt to deal with the railways and to leave the docks and ports as well as other parts of the railway termini out of the Bill to me seems extreme folly. We fully realise and appreciate the fact that the railways and the docks must co-operate and work together to bring about success.
We have listened with a good deal of interest to some of the speeches that have been made and to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill. I want to confine my remarks to my own personal observations as a representative of the dock workers, with thirty years' experience. I have seen many of the difficulties of our dock works that have been described. We take the country as a whole because we are compelled to look at this question from a national aspect. We cannot localise it or deal with it in sections. We must take it as a whole, and consider it from that standpoint as to what is best in the interests of the nation. We could enumerate if we had the time the successful and unsuccessful sections, and elaborate upon that, and we might make out a good case or a bad case, but we have to consider the position from a general standpoint, and how it will affect the vast interests of the nation. Whichever way we look at it from our side here, we are bound to look at the question from the workman's standpoint, and look at it through Labour spectacles, so to speak. We are compelled to judge it from that standpoint. We know that the different railways running into our various centres are very often congested with traffic. No one knows this better than some hon. Members opposite, who have their ships held up and their works stopped, and the workmen speaking in no complimentary terms about the management of these things.
If the workmen are on piece-work they lose their earning power because they have to wait for trucks and wagons. We have seen ships held up with valuable cargoes which sometimes have been of the utmost importance to the consumer, and we have heard the old tale so often, "No trucks or wagons." And yet we have seen hundreds and hundreds of wagons in the sidings or returning empty to the districts in which the goods could be carried. We have often thought these things over, and if they could be so organised and so arranged that all empties should be utilised, and all work could proceed as expeditiously as possible, it would expedite the work and carry on trade in a far better way than at present. The alarming statement we heard about the 700,000 privately owned wagons illustrates my point, and gives strength to the argument that these wagons are sometimes a bit of a nuisance in themselves, because they hinder rather than facilitate the carrying on of the work. A good deal has been said to-day about the impossibility of the Government conducting their business. We have heard that we ought to learn experience from the War. I have been all over the country during the War period and some of the docks have been controlled and some have not. I have been brought into touch with the dock authorities in various parts of the country and I am willing to make this statement here because I know it is true and correct, that I have never heard a dock authority complain because they were controlled, but I have heard plenty of people complain because they were not controlled. The docking interest and the dock work has been conducted far better under the control system, and if they had not been controlled and left to run their course as previously I am convinced that the transport of the country which has been so essential in the carrying on of the War would not have been so good, and the winning of the War could never have been accomplished unless the Government had taken control of the railways and the docks.
Whatever other people may say or complain of, I think that the transport work of the country during the War period has been carried on in a most successful way. There have been many difficulties of course, but there would have been many more if it had not been for the method adopted. Unification and co-operation in the work between the docks and railways I believe will bring about very much better result. I have also been brought into touch in my official capacity as a trade union official with the canal workers. I listened with great interest to the speech of the Member for one of the Birmingham constituencies, in which he described from a capitalist standpoint the position of four canals. I represent practically the whole of the workers on those canals, and I have to deal with the question from the workers' standpoint. I say if this Bill does nothing else but draw attention to our canals and waterways which are left unused and which ought to be utilised to greater advantage and with better results, then it will have accomplished a real good work. The railway companies have either bought up the canals in order to close them down, or when they have got them into their possession they have competed with them in such a way as to make them absolutely useless.
There are miles and miles of waterways which are not used which could be used for carrying purposes, but they are not used because the railway companies do not want them to be worked. This Bill deals with "the construction, improvement, or maintenance of canals or inland navigation." That is an essential and important Clause because we want to develop our inland waterway system. Somehow or other in the construction of the canals in the old days they were built in such a way that they had to construct tunnels, but I do not know how or why it was that they never provided any satisfactory means of getting the boats through the tunnels. There is a system existing on these waterways which is called "Legging the tunnel," and it is a most painful and laborious process. If any hon. Member requires a very happy experience and an enjoyable holiday let him go on one of our canal boats, and be led through the tunnel. These tunnels have been constructed without any path or any motive power to propel the boat through them. Generally the captain's wife has to take the horse over the top, and the man has to lie on his back on the top of his cargo, and, with his feet on the top of the tunnel, he has to propel his boat through. Some of these things I know have been remedied, but to utilise cur waterways fully and completely it is absolutely necessary that some power should be provided for bringing the boats through the tunnels in a very much easier and quicker manner than the old system. Some of the canal companies keep up their waterways remarkably well, while others neglect them and leave them in a very bad state. Frequently we have had to call the attention of the Board of Trade to the dilapidated condition of roads and tunnels, and good results have sometimes followed.
Thousands of people are employed in this arduous work, and hon. Members should not forget that in the carrying out of the duties of canal work women, as well as men, are employed, and frequently a whole family live upon the boat on the canal. I believe by the co-ordinating and bringing together of all these systems under one Government control these things will be attended to and improvements brought about, and if we can improve the working life of the men and women employed in this work it is worth doing, and it is better even than profits in a financial sense. If there is any Section of the Bill that appeals to me and makes me a firm supporter of it, it is the hope and belief that the Government can bring about very many improvements in the working lives of the people who carry on this important branch of the industry of our country. I support the Bill for these reasons as well as from the general standpoint. Already this measure has added immense revenue to the Post Office and Telegraph Office. I have had such a shoal of letters and such an avalanche of telegrams during the last three days that I never thought I was such an important man before. I really never believed that so many people knew me or cared about sending telegrams and even registered letters, and everyone of them without a single exception asked me to vote against this Bill unless the roads are struck out of it. I may say that among all the letters and telegrams I have received not one of them came from a dock labourer or a road labourer or a miner, but they have all come from people who own motor cars. I do not find fault with them on that account. Motor cars are very useful, very enjoyable, and very convenient, but the people who own them must not live under the foolish impression that all the roads were I made for them alone. The roads were constructed for the good of the community and for the transport of the nation's needs. Consequently, the person who thinks that the roads are reserved for him or his friends is under a false impression. I had rather a strange illustration of this during my election campaign. In the Forest of Dean you want a lot of motor cars, because there are very few railways and very few other means of transport. Coming away from a meeting in the afternoon, we overtook a dear old lady who was trudging along. We stopped the car and inquired which way she was going, and we said, "Get up in front, and we will drive you along." We had gone some distance, and presently we saw a lady and gentleman standing on the side of the road. The old lady got awfully excited, and said, "Splash them, splash them!" I could not understand what it all meant. We stopped the car, and I said, "What are you getting excited about?" She said, "That lady and gentleman own a motor car, and they always splash me when they go about. If you only knew what joy and pleasure it would give me to splash them for once, you would understand something about it." I may say that we did not splash them. The driver had more consideration for them than apparently they had for the old lady. That is the point that we want to get at. The roads are for the good of the community. They must be used for the good of the nation and to the best advantage for the transport of the commodities which the nation needs. We do not begrudge people the motor car or any conveyance that can or may be used, but we say that the first consideration must be the needs of the nation and the good of the community. For that reason we do not feel constrained to-day to vote against the Bill because the roads are included in it. We are con- vinced that the taking over of the roads is important to the working of the scheme that has been outlined to us.
The railways, the canals, the harbours, the docks, and electricity should each be a distinct section in itself, conducted and controlled under the supreme authority of the Ministry that is to be set up. There should be Committees elected. I do not like the words "Advisory Committee," because an advisory committee very often means nothing at all. It merely means, "Give us your advice. We do not want it. Good afternoon. Get out." We need a controlling committee, a committee appointed to act in conjunction with the heads of the Department, and a committee composed of representatives of all the sections interested, the harbour boards, the dock authorities, and even labour. An hon. Friend says, "Why, even Labour?" Because there are some people in the House who do not think as we think, and it is important that the worker, who after all is essential to the carrying out of the transport of our nation, should have a voice in the control and management of the works. One feature which condemns all our harbour boards to-day is that they are the most exclusive bodies on earth. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Liverpool (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) the other day condemned the Belfast Harbour Board because Labour is not represented upon it, and to-day he condemns the Bill which is before us. I know from experience that the man on the job, the man who is working every day, the man who can give advice and can point out many defects and suggest many improvements, because he is in touch with the Labour point of view, is ignored. If he attempts to suggest things he is very often told to mind his own business, and sometimes he is cleared out because he is considered to be too impertinent. We have had in some of the later Bills that have been passed dealing with harbour boards Labour representation introduced, but those boards are very few and far between, and I do hope that this suggestion which I make in all humility to the representatives of the Government will be taken into consideration, and that in setting up Departments to deal with the various sections included in the Bill due regard will be had to the claims of Labour for representation on these committees. That will materially assist the Government in making the Bill a real success. In con- clusion, I would urge upon the Government to stand fast by their Bill. We would have fought it for all we are worth if the right hon. Gentleman had not removed from it the provision with regard to Orders in Council. We did not like it, and we would not have had it, but that objectionable Clause having been removed we are prepared to give the Government our support in carrying the Bill into effect, and trust that it will prove to be a great success.
My excuse for addressing the House is that I represent one of the largest ports in the Kingdom. I am a member of a port which is conducted, like most others, by a harbour trust. I cannot claim that we have had any great success, but we do claim that we have done our bit. I have had the honour of being on the board for the last thirty-seven years, and as chairman of it I claim to know something about the work in connection with ports. When I first joined the harbour board in Sunderland, sometimes vessels of 1,000 tons could get to sea and sometimes they could not. We had at the outside 3 feet of water on the bar at low-water spring tide. We set to work and ran out two piers some 1,000 ft. long, and, as a result, before the War we had 18 ft. of water at low-water spring tide. But for the port being practically closed we should now have 24 ft., and we shall not be satisfied, if we are left in office, until we get 35 ft. Our ambition is to make it one of the finest ports in the Kingdom, and that, I believe, is the ambition of all the other harbour trusts. This Bill will have very far-reaching effects. Under it the Minister will be able to close any port. He can say to Sunderland, for instance, "You are not required. All the trade of the county of Durham can be done by the Tyne and the Tees." Under the ordinary reading of this Bill, we shall not be allowed to order even a crane or to put up a shed without referring to London. I am not afraid of the Bill. I take quite a different view from my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Sir W. Raeburn). I am, like him, a shipowner, and I have seen the very great changes that have taken place. Already in Sunderland we load ships of 10,000 tons. They can come to us almost at any time of the tide and there is no detention.
The right hon. Gentleman, as one of the reasons for taking over our harbours, said that he wished to bring everything up to date. We all agree with that. We were bringing things up to date at Sunderland when the War broke out. We were then putting up coal shoots to take the 50-ton wagons which we were told were coming, but this was all shut down and stopped by the War, and we are now in a state of transition. Each of these coal shoots would have been capable of dealing with 800 tons per hour. We had four under construction, so that 3,200 tons per hour could have been shipped. We have been very badly hit by the War, and it is absolutely essential that we should get increased revenue. For that purpose we have promoted a Bill, and we must either have that Bill carried through or we must be taken over as is suggested by this Bill. I for one intend to support this Bill by my vote. It has been said that we are giving extraordinary powers, such as have never been given before to any one man. I agree, but it is only for two years, and, unless we give these powers, we shall make no headway at all. It will take two years to get behind the vested interests and the passive resisters in the way of officials. That, at any rate, is my experience. It is, therefore, absolutely essential that the right hon. Gentleman should have these powers to enable him to get behind all these obstructions.
The Minister may also fix the rates of toll. That also is essential. We shall then all be put on the same basis, and it will not be possible to discriminate between one port and another as is done at the present time. We perhaps are in a different position from the Clyde, in that we have railway-owned docks to the south, at the Hartlepools, and also on the Tyne. If the railways only were taken over, such rates might be fixed at these particular docks as would ruin the town that I represent. We know that the railways have only created these docks as feelers. I believe I am speaking within the mark when I say that as railway docks they have failed to pay their way, and the deficit has had to be made up out of the railway funds. Another point I would like to be considered in connection with rates and control, is that we shall have to deal with the question of through rates from foreign countries. We have suffered from that in the past. May I give a concrete case. My works are a mile and a quarter from Sunderland; the railway company charges me 18s. 4d. per ton for carriage to Birming- ham. Under exactly the same conditions goods coming from Germany or Belgium are sent through at 10s. per ton. I am paying rates and taxes. I am finding work for men roundabout, while the foreigner does nothing of the kind, and because he is able to import his articles in ships carrying light cargo, and the vessels can carry more deck cargo, the goods are carried at practical nominal rates from Germany, and certainly for very much less than from Sunderland. Works have now been set up on a large scale at Hartlepool, and I hope the Minister will see that the through rates from Hartlepool to any place in this country will not be any greater than from Germany or Belgium.
There is one point which will have to be considered. If I remain in my present position I shall have to take my orders from the Minister in London, and I would ask him to remember that all ports are not alike. I hope, therefore, they will not be standardised. For instance, the Tyne and the Clyde are in a far better position than Sunderland, where we have taken our docks from the sea and have to protect them against the sea. We are, therefore, at a great disadvantage as compared with the other places I have mentioned, which are protected by rivers. We have a barrier of rock across the harbour mouth, which we have to cut away, and that work can only be done under certain conditions; we certainly should require rather different treatment from that which is required by other ports. I do not know whether this is the proper time to mention it, but under Clause 4, Section (3) and Clause 6, Section (4), I do not think our bondholders are sufficiently protected. But I am satisfied that the Minister cannot go on without the assistance we shall be able to give him, and if he asks our advice it will be given patriotically. We must not look at this question from a parochial point of view. We have not to consider our dignity or threaten to resign if we cannot get exactly our own way, but we must deal with these questions from a national standpoint.
With respect to canals and roads, the Bill, in my opinion, does not go far enough. Take the case of the ports of Hamburg, Antwerp, and Rotterdam. I believe that before the War the trade at any one of those ports was equal to that of London, and that was entirely owing to the way in which the waterways of those countries had been developed. I very much regret that they have been so much neglected in this country. I believe the development of our waterways and canals would help us immensely. Antwerp is now the centre of the wool trade. When I was first carrying wool, it came to London, and was distributed from there. Now it goes to Antwerp, and is distributed from there. Then with regard to the iron ore trade. At first the Rotterdam imports of iron ore were immaterial. Now Rotterdam is the largest port in the world for its importation, and this is entirely owing to water carriage. To my mind the time has arrived when our roads should be reconstructed. The roads of this country, with the exception of the old Roman road and possibly a few military roads, are not straight and direct. They never had a proper foundation. They were simply occupation roads, made by proprietors of estates, and gradually joined up and made into semi-main roads. I had hoped we should have new roads with proper foundations to take the heavy traffic we shall get from motor lorries. A heavy strain will be put on the roads, and before long they will have to be reconstructed with better concrete. I hold it would be cheaper in the long run to begin this work at once, rather than to keep patching up the existing roads. It is my intention, as representing the harbour and shipping trade, to support this Bill. The very large powers conferred under it will have to be exercised with great tact. It will not do for the Minister of Shipping to say that a vessel coming from Australia with a cargo for both London and Liverpool must discharge all her cargo at London. The ship should be allowed to go to her two destinations in the ordinary way. I have sufficient confidence, however, in the right hon. Gentleman who is to act as Minister of Ways and Communications to believe that he will not exercise his powers unfairly or unwisely.
In the King's Speech to which we listened last month we were informed that a Bill would be introduced to establish a Ministry of Ways and Communications for the purpose of developing and increasing the agricultural and industrial resources of our country by improved means of transport. We were also told in that speech that for the well-being of the community we should stop at no sacrifice of interest or prejudice. The Bill, as originally drawn, presented an obstacle which even some of the staunchest supporters of the Government felt that
they could not overcome, but by its withdrawal yesterday, and after the lucid and able speech of the Minister in charge, I cannot see how we can help voting for the Second Reading, the more so after the promise given by the Home Secretary that in Committee the Government would be prepared to meet any reasonable Amendments that might be put forward. There is, however, one point I should like to put before the Home Secretary in the hope that he will see his way to have it altered. In Clause 2, page 2, line 1, it is provided that
any powers of any Government Department with respect to the appointment of members on the procedure of the Railway and Canal Commission
are handed over to the Minister of Ways and Communications. Later on, we find that in the case of any dispute arising between him and somebody else with respect to financial relations, the question shall be determined by the Railway and Canal Commission. I am sure that the Government would not wish, if the Railway and Canal Commission is to act in a judicial capacity, that they should be appointed by the Minister who would be affected by their decision. The Bill, as amended, really only hands over to the new Minister the war powers at present held by the Government and the powers and duties, of many Government Departments. I cannot help feeling that if they had been handed over to the Board of Trade, with the future Minister at its head, there would not be the slightest difficulty about it in the country. We are all afraid of something new. We do not know how far it is going to be carried. It is largely due to that fact that there has been so much nervousness felt in regard to the Bill.
On the question of roads, I went over to Paris in 1908, as one of the representatives of the London County Council, to the International Road Congress. Even at that date we were told there that the old roads of the past would have to be done away with, and that we should have to construct modern roads. It was pointed out to us that those dear old roads of England, those shaded roads, so dusty in summer and so muddy in winter, would not stand the traffic, and that we should have to have modern roads. We were told by General Maybury and others that the cost of the modern roads was so much higher than that of the old roads, and the cost, of maintenance would be so much greater, that it would be difficult to know how the roads would be kept sufficiently strong to take motor lorries, traction engines, and motor cars. I was very glad indeed when I heard that General May-bury was going to be put in as head of the Department, because we there found out what he knew about roads, and many of us who have driven over the roads in Kent realise that he is one of the best engineers and surveyors we can find in England.
The point upon which I wish to dwell particularly is the condition of transport in Ireland. Last autumn a Sub-committee of the Select Committee went over to Ireland. I acted as chairman of it. We went all round Ireland and visited some twenty ports. I should like to refer to one or two of them. I shall not say much about Belfast, to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division (Sir E. Carson) referred this afternoon. We all realise that it is one of the greatest ports in the Empire, having in it merchants and manufacturers who are prepared to keep not only abreast but ahead of the times. But there are other ports in Ireland which have been sadly neglected. There were places where you found twenty-three feet of water in a dock and only seventeen feet of water in the channel leading up to it. I found places where they had fairly decent docks but no communication with the railways. I found other ports where there were three or four different Government Departments, all dealing with the same port, overlapping, and no one feeling any strict responsibility in connection with the port, but all desirous of doing their best to run the port on business lines. The Home Secretary, when he was Chief Secretary for Ireland, got fully to understand the thing and was keenly anxious to get something done. Something should be done, because Ireland is an agricultural country. If we want to make her an industrial country as well, surely it is our duty to see that she has proper transport facilities in order to encourage her industries. I made a suggestion in the Report to the Committee that one of the best things we could do was that the Imperial Parliament should control all navigable waters, that it should do the dredging up to the entrance to the harbours and carry it into the harbours, that the local authorities should then look after the harbours, and that there should be a Central body in Dublin who would see that they did look after them, and if they did not look after them, should take charge. Also that if the local authority did the work properly there should be no interference, but that if they did not do their work properly then the Government should dredge and that the central authority in Dublin should take charge and see that the harbour was properly kept. I found one ease where the lack of transport was so bad that cattle were brought from one island in small rowing boats in order to be put upon the ships. If there is one place in the world which wants a Deputy Minister over there, it is Ireland. I hope very much that the Bill will not only pass Second Reading but that with Amendments in Committee it will become law.
I rise to make a few observations on this Bill, not in any spirit of any adverse criticism of the Government, but rather in the nature of inquiries. The right hon. Gentleman who is to be in charge of transport by his amending speech of yesterday made it much more easy for those whose desire it is to assist the Government in the policy that they have put before the House. In this Bill there are no provisions which affect to any extent services of public utility such as privately-owned motor buses, tramways and other such services. There is no disability put upon them under the Bill, but at the same time there is no encouragement given in the Bill to assist such enterprises, which undoubtedly in existing circumstances labour under many disadvantages and have many obstacles in their way. When the whole question of transport is under review one would hope that some provisions might be put in the Bill which would give greater facilities to such enterprises. They are enterprises which undoubtedly are of immense value to the country. They meet many requirements, and it is no exaggeration to say that they are of great national service. Under the Bill as it stands provision is made, very properly, for the care of the employés of transport services. But there is nothing in the Bill which eases the path of those who desire to promote services of such utility as those to which I refer. On the outbreak of war such companies had many new routes under purview, many plans were ready, many were being made ready, and it is greatly to be hoped that such propositions may be carried out. Under existing conditions it is undoubtedly the fact that the initiation and carrying out of such schemes labour under grave disabilities. The promoters of such schemes are practically under the heel of local authorities under present conditions. Local authorities impose conditions of such severity that they greatly impede the initiation of such schemes, and they are often so onerous that they almost strangle the schemes at birth. I hope the Government during the passage of the Bill will favourably consider the idea that there should be some appeal from the local authority which controls the initiation and carrying out of such companies to the Minister who will be in charge of transport. Further, in Sub-section (3) of Clause 3 it is laid down that Section 20 of the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Bill will be continued for another two years. That is a very hard blow at any private transport enterprise. I do not suggest that the Government desires to impede in any way such a movement. On the contrary, I believe it is their desire to assist in anything which will facilitate the transport service of the country; and if they would consider during the passage of the Bill the condition which practically prevents for two years the initiation of any such company, they would be doing good service to the country not only in helping the great agricultural industries, but also the labour question and the housing question. His point is of great interest to the country considering the great facilities it might give to provide these transport facilities in our rural districts.
Having observed since my entry into the House the consideration and courtesy extended to new Members, I presume to address the House in the full assurance that if I should inadvertently transgress it will be sympathetically considered by those who have more knowledge than myself. I think I am expressing the views of, at any rate, a large number of the new Members when I say that to us this is an immense and vast measure. Some of us have almost stood aghast as we have contemplated the enormous powers which are sought to be conferred upon one man. In an evening paper yesterday was a figure of a very fine, stalwart individual standing astride of all the railways, waterways, docks, harbours and electricity undertakings of this country. He was termed the Colossus of transport, and to any of us who are uninitiated this is a colossal measure. One is wondering how far it can be carried into effect by any one man, even supposing he were a super- man, because the powers are so far-reaching and of such vital interest. What I am urging—and I feel confident it will be conceded—is that in the administration of this measure it shall not be strangled by the tradition of Government service, but that it shall be in the hands of capable, sympathetic, well-trained business men. A picture was drawn yesterday of the railroad enterprise of this country. I almost gathered from it that in many respects the railroads of this country were in a very hopeless position. They were paying very small dividends and in many cases none at all. In face of that statement from the right hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading, is it small wonder that throughout the country there is a feeling that probably, with a view to safeguarding the interests of the rails, the roads may be neglected. I listened to the hon. Member (Mr. Wignall) in his remarks regarding rails, and roads, and the use of motor-cars. I, like him, and in common with other Members, have been snowed under with communications, and even had I devoted the whole of the brief period that I give to repose in endeavouring to cope with them, I could not possibly have got through them, and the attempt would have been chaos and confusion. But the roads of this country are a very important item, and I think I have no need to appeal to the right hon. Gentleman, although we have been led to believe that his proclivities and training in the past have been mainly in the direction of railroads, and that he is going to take a great and comprehensive view of the duties and powers imposed upon him under this Bill, and that all railroads, roads, waterways, docks, harbours, and electricity are going to be dealt with on thoroughly business lines with a view to the national interest. That is what we are out to serve. I represent a highly industrial area of Middlesex, and they are materially and particularly concerned as to the make-up and maintenance of roads. In the past they have very largely had to depend upon their roads, because the railway services did not meet them in every possible direction.
Last week, here at Westminster, a meeting was held representing the authorities of Greater London. It was mainly composed of the borough engineers and other representatives of the large metropolitan boroughs and urban authorities around London. I was present at that meeting, and if I learned anything from it it was that the authorities of London, in its boroughs and urban areas, were pleading for a little more time. The consensus of opinion expressed on Thursday afternoon was that they had no time to consider this great, far-reaching, comprehensive measure. If that is true regarding London, it is equally true regarding the whole country. These authorities are particularly concerned in this measure, and important as it is, desirable as it may be, and pledged as most of us are to some great improvement in our transport service, yet I suggest there should be a little reasonable delay or a little reasonable time to enable those who are so materially concerned to give this measure in all its intricacies their calm deliberate judgment. After all, the right hon. Gentleman will remember that it does not always lie within the power of the borough engineers or surveyors to say yea or nay. Matters have to go before committees, and from the committees to the various councils, and he is a bold borough surveyor or engineer who is prepared to jump in and take all the responsibility upon his own shoulders unless he is fortified by the recommendations of his committee and the resolution of his council. Many of these committees have not yet been able to meet. I can quote cases in which many of these councils have not been able to meet. They are asking for time, time to go carefully into the matter and then to make whatever reasonable suggestion they may think fit to the right quarter, not with a view to upsetting this Bill, not for the purpose of throwing it out, but for the purpose of strengthening it.
The right hon. Gentleman must pardon me if I refer to a personal incident which occurred at the meeting last Thursday. There was a circular issued—I speak subject to correction—by the Municipal and County Engineers' Association, and in that circular was a quotation from a letter addressed, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman to this association. Attention was called to it by one of the borough surveyors present at the meeting, and he spoke strongly and vehemently against this letter having been issued. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to tell the House why he addressed this communication to the Municipal and County Engineers' Association. In that communication there were certain promises, and the gentleman who called attention to the matter indignantly repudiated the idea that a bribe should have been offered to the borough or county engineers of this country. They were promised—and again I speak subject to correction—that if they came under this Bill and willingly accepted its proposals there would be ensured for them fixity of office.
I spoke subject to correction. I will endeavour to produce before the evening is out a copy of the communication, because there is an extract in it said to be from the right hon. Gentleman.
I think I can assure the House and the hon. Member that there is a mistake. Speaking as far as one can, and speaking from my recollection, there has been no bribe and there has been no such letter sent. No such bribe has been offered. Bribe is a very extreme word to use. There has been no offer of the kind, and no promise of the kind.
The House will excuse my having used the word. I was only quoting what was said by this gentleman in the Grand Committee Room on Thursday. I will endeavour to convey to the right hon. Gentleman before I leave the House this evening a copy of this particular letter, so that he may satisfy himself as to what it really contains. On account of the far-reaching nature of this Bill, and the immensity of the problems with which it deals, I beg that after its Second Reading my right hon. Friend will concede the point that it shall be considered by a Committee of the Whole House. In my judgment, it is of such vital significance, it is so full of difficulties and perplexing problems, and it will touch our interests to such an extent, that it should be submitted to a Committee of the Whole House in order that it may be made as perfect as possible. I have been asked to make a plea to the right hon. Gentleman in respect of Sub-section (e), Clause 4, dealing with the power to purchase, hire, or lease railway wagons. The House knows to what a great extent private ownership obtains in the matter of railway wagons, and more particularly in respect of coal-owners and those who deal in coal. In this Section it is proposed to give power to purchase or to take on hire and lease railway wagons belonging to private owners. I am asked to point out to the right hon. Gentleman this particular Clause and to ask how far he would safeguard the interests of those concerned who in the past have been enabled by private ownership to guarantee to owners of works a more or less constant supply of coal. They are under the impression that this Bill will seriously affect their business, and that they will be unable to make these promises and keep these compacts to give a constant flow of necessary coal if all the trucks are pooled and they have to take their chance as to what they may get or what they may not get. Although that point is infinitesimal compared with much that is contained in the Bill it affects the interests of a considerable number of persons in this country. In the event of their coming to a determination as to the absolute necessity and desirability of acquiring the wagons of private owners, what will be the valuation upon which they will be acquired, and will it be in keeping with the valuation recently made, I believe, on behalf of the Rolling Stock Department of the Ministry of Munitions by a gallant lieutenant-colonel? These points are of great interest to private owners of wagons and I submit them with great respect to my right hon. Friend in the hope that he will give them consideration.
In common with a great many other Members, my attitude towards this Bill has been modified as a result of the elimination of Clause 4, by which the Minister took powers which are generally vested in Parliament. The great majority of Members of this Parliament have been elected for the purpose of carrying out the policy enunciated by the Prime Minister prior to the election. The two very important measures recently introduced, the Ministry of Health Bill and the present Bill, are, I take it, part of that programme which is necessary to carry out the policy of reconstruction approved of unanimously by the country. From what I have seen in this House any criticism that may be forthcoming in regard to either of these two great measures, far-reaching as they may be, will be prompted with the desire of offering helpful rather than destructive criticism. Speaking as one who has had experience of virile and active opposition occasionally, I am of opinion that the present Government are to be congratulated on the fact that Mem- bers on all sides seem extremely desirous of putting their shoulder to the legislative wheel in order to get it moving so that we may repair the ravages of war and secure the position which we as a producing nation are entitled to in the industrial world. That can only be achieved by every section of the House working for that end, and it is in that spirit I offer a few observations on this Bill.
The Ministry of Ways and Communications and the Ministry of Health may be regarded in some quarters as an addition to what is already considered to be an overloaded Ministry, so far as numbers are concerned. But I do not think that anyone will deny the necessity for creating the Ministry under this Bill. The portfolio of railways is recognised as a very responsible one, both in European, countries and in the various Overseas Dominions and States. But the responsibility of those Ministers is absolutely insignificant compared with the responsibility which it is proposed to entrust to the right hon. Gentleman under this Bill. To my mind the Bill has been framed to suit the capacity of the Minister, and while we have a knowledge of the versatile experience of the right hon. Gentleman during the War and the success which has attended his operations, whether as Director-General of Communications in France or as First Lord of the Admiralty, we have got to realise that the working of this Act does not depend so much on whether the Minister is a specially qualified expert as on the permanent official Ministry, created under this Bill, being so organised as to work in harmony irrespective of the capacity of the Minister of the day. Ministers come and go, but the Bill goes on for ever.
Authority is taken under this Bill to create huge State trading commissions employing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of men. Consequently the permanent body controlling these commissions should be responsible to Parliament through the Minister, and as far as possible political influence should be eliminated from the actual working of the policy laid down by Parliament. This principle has been followed with considerable success in different self-governing countries of the Empire where the railways are owned by the State. In some cases a single Commissioner has been appointed, and in other cases boards of commissioners; and these boards of commissioners report direct to Parliament through the Minister of the day. I hope sincerely that, if effect is given to this Bill, a similar procedure will be followed here. The Home Secretary in moving for leave to introduce this Bill, pointed out the importance of transport and communications and the impossibility for developing industry without adequate facilities for cheap transport. I do not think that there is any industry to which this applies more than to agriculture. In a new country I have no hesitation in saying that railways ought to be owned by the State. It is absolutely impossible in a new country to develop it properly unless they are owned by the State. I doubt if in any part of the Dominions you would find any section of the community advocating a return to privately-owned railways. Without State-owned railways vast wheat areas in Australia and other places would have remained virgin forest, and where smiling homesteads now deck the landscape a few head of stock would have been the only evidence of life.
The same applies to the great mining and timber industries of Greater Britain which have been developed largely as the result of State-owned railways. You would get no railway company to lay down a railway to develop unknown territory without a prospect of some special revenue, and it is only the Government that can afford to take the risks and use its power for the purposes of development. I am disappointed that in his speech the right hon. Gentleman gave us no indication as to the policy of the Government in regard to the development of agriculture and its assistance by the State. As an instance of the assistance given to agriculture, I may mention the giving of low rates. For instance, take the case of superphosphate, which was carried at a farthing per ton per mile in order to increase the output of wheat; and the same was done in connection with breeding stock, and in many ways the railways have been the greatest factor in the development of new countries.
While the general question of the nationalisation of railways is a matter which will require the closest examination, I cannot conceive that any opposition will be forthcoming to the construction by the Government of new railways in this country, and authority is taken under this Bill for that purpose. But the method of Order in Council does not commend itself to me. Each proposal to construct new railways should be brought before the House, and the necessary arguments in support of the proposition should be brought forward, and each case should be dealt with on its merits. In the case of the absorption by the Government it is necessary—and there is no time to be lost—to appoint and constitute some properly authoritative body empowered to make the necessary inquiries to enable the Government and Parliament subsequently to come to a decision. Without more information than I have at present in my possession I would not commit myself to supporting the nationalisation of the railways existing in this country except on such terms as, while securing justice to the owner, would not burden this country with an asset so over-capitalised as not to be productive. If at the present time the railways are losing £100,000,000 per annum and are likely to do so after the War, it would seem to me a very good proposition for the railway shareholders if the Government did take over the railways. I am surprised that up till now we have had no opinion offered by anyone purporting to represent the shareholders of the railway.
This is a business matter which can only be dealt with as a definite proposition setting out the full value and the conditions of acquisition, etc. No doubt a very big saving would be effected as a result of undivided control while the convenience in many respects would be improved. I do not consider that the Minister controlling the railways of this country, representing capital as they do of, I suppose—[An Hon. Member: "Thirteen hundred millions!"]—and employing something like 750,000 people, can look for further spheres of activity. If the canals were added, Parliament would be well advised to delegate to another Minister the question of roads and bridges. I think that is the unanimous opinion of the various local authorities throughout the country. Owing to the War, they are certainly not in good condition, and big capital expenditure is necessary to restore them. As the railways will be running to a large extent as trading concerns with certain defined channels of revenue, there is always the possibility of the roads being starved in order to provide increased capital to spend on the railways. Road transport cannot compete with the railways in long-distance transport, and the argument used as to the Ministry of Health, that it would be a mistake to overload that Ministry at the very start with too much work, applies equally to ways and communications. Consequently, I hope, as far as roads are concerned, that they will be transferred to another Department. In the Bill power is taken to control electricity undertakings. In my opinion, legislative control of electricity undertakings for the purpose of cultivating the efficient generation, distribution and supply of energy, as well as the guarantee of the supply of current in a reasonable manner at a reasonable price to the consumer, is absolutely sound. The actual nationalisation and administrative control, on the other hand, which would interfere to a great extent with the personal initiative and make large numbers of people dependent on the State, is not so sound. It seems to me, so far as the question of electricity is concerned, that the control of electricity generation by itself is wrong unless it develops into the control of generation energy of all sorts, including, therefore, gas undertakings. Any such control should be only technical control for the purpose of securing the greatest possible efficiency in energy generation for the whole of the country, and for the purpose of securing a supply of those commodities at a reasonable price to the consumer. On the other hand, nothing should be done to retard the development of our private enterprises. Electricity, after all is said and done, is not a staple industry. Every branch of electricity is in a state of fluidity and evolution. It is the basis of the reconstruction of other industries, and it is only by encouragement given to private enterprise, research, and experiment, with the incidental risks, that we will be able to hold our own in the big struggle between different nations for supremacy in this great industry. My knowledge of the question of transport in this country is very limited compared with that of many hon. Members who have spoken or intend to speak.
My association, brief as it is, with business organisations, has made it clear to me that the railways at present and prior to the War were not satisfactory for a country claiming to lead in industry. I have knowledge of big engineering concerns being retarded in expansion by the refusal of railway companies to provide railway sidings, and old agreements between railway companies have also affected those concerns. There is also the question of the lack of encouragement to undertakings which would have started factories away from congested areas had facilities been made available and if the railway companies had given cheaper workmen's tickets. Worst of all, the rates permitted foreigners to pass goods over our railways at half the rates charged by home manufactures. I can give an instance for which I can vouch of the preferential treatment that the foreigner gets for his goods over English railways. It is in reference to an article made in Berlin and shipped viâ Hamburg and Hull to London for 8s. 6d., while the rate for the same article from Hull to London was 17s. 6d. No such discrimination is shown to the importer of British manufactured goods. What is the Government's policy as far as this matter is concerned? Surely this is an opportunity for the administration to say how far they propose to give encouragement to the home manufacturer. They have the opportunity to encourage the home manufacturer and to prevent the dumping of German and other foreign goods. Everyone is agreed that the old conditions cannot continue, but what is the alternative? This Bill, perhaps, but, in my opinion, with drastic alterations in Committee. Not nationalisation, certainly, on the incomplete information we have available and with this observation, that it would make a big proportion of our population servants of the State. The other alternative is to further develop the unification of control, that has proved fairly effective during the War, and at the same time to prevent the profligate waste of movement that existed, to secure standardisation of equipment in regard to all classes of rolling stock and to provide for the management of this arm of national service by those best qualified, and to make such safeguards so that the people and the industry of the country shall not be exploited in the interests of the railways, but rather that the railways should be utilised to the fullest extent for the benefit of the community. That, within reason, can be secured by the Government taking command and securing equitable treatment for all classes of the community, and, as I think, by constituting a Minister of Railways, and not of Ways and Communications.
Those who have listened to the speeches to-day and yesterday must have been struck by the fact that practically the whole of the criticism has been destructive. Most of the speakers have discussed these new proposals with great anxiety, but they proposed no alternative whatever. Perhaps the only exception was the speech this afternoon by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division of Belfast (Sir E. Carson), who said that we ought to immediately nationalise the railways. Nationalisation is of course beyond the scope of this Bill. It is a matter which you could not possibly put through in the few months which are at our disposal this Session. There is a big difference between nationalisation and our present system, our present system being State control but management by the companies, as against nationalisation which would bring the State into direct relations with railway labour. That is an innovation which needs a very great amount of consideration and very careful legislation if we are to tackle it. The speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Duncairn Division was an extraordinarily gloomy speech, because although he said we wanted nationalisation he practically admitted it would be very inefficient. He deplored this Bill as an instance of further centralisation. If you really consider this Bill in its true light I think it is an instance of decentralisation, because as a matter of fact we have got an impossible form of centralisation at the present time. We are not living under a Cabinet system at all. The Prime Minister is in Paris, and I do not know how much longer he will be kept there, and now the various Ministers go their own sweet way with very little co-ordination or co-operation. We shall get much more efficient administration if we get all these services, which really in their essence are correlated, into the hands of one Minister able to take a broad view, than if we continue the present system by which they are scattered among a lot of Departments. I was very much surprised in that same speech of the right hon. Gentleman to hear that he deplored the extension of the provisions of this Bill to Ireland. If there is a country in Europe which wants better transport facilities it is Ireland, and I think every Chief Secretary for the last twenty years has been trying to improve the conditions in that respect. I hope this Bill will enable us, not perhaps to get a Channel tunnel to Ireland, as that may be too expensive, but anyhow to get a Channel ferry, which would do a great deal to improve the relations between the two countries. I do not speak as a representative of railway interests or with any experience in the administration of docks, canals or harbours, but from the point of view of the taxpayer I do hope that this Bill will pass. I listened carefully to the railway experts, and none of them have suggested that it is possible under present conditions to hand the concerns back to the railway companies. Admitted that we have got to have State control, surely the sooner we make this control really effective the better. We cannot go back to the system which existed before the War, and we cannot hope quickly and satisfactorily to tackle our problems of reconstruction if we are hampered by a transportation system which is crippled by the disorganisation due to the War and starved for capital owing to the enormous cost of the service under present conditions.
There is one point, which, perhaps, may be objected to in that it is a Committee point, but I want to make it, because one may not be on the Committee. I am rather afraid that in this Bill the rights of the individual traveller are not secured. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will so alter this Bill as to make certain that the public rights are maintained against the Ministry in just the same force as they now exist against the companies. I understand that in the way the Bill is drawn any legal redress will be limited to petition of right, which is an act of grace and nothing like so satisfactory from a public point of view as if an action for tort can lie, as in the case of a common carrier, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will in Committee amend Clause 9 so as to make this point quite clear. The only other point on which I wish to say a word is the agitation which was got up by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks), who appears to have invented a new political Road Party. I listened to his case this afternoon, and I did not find it very conclusive. He assumed that the Minister for Ways and Communications would want to strangle the roads, but he absolutely neglected to give any point in the Bill which would enable him to have the power to do this even if he had the will. After all, in a matter of this kind we have to remember that the Minister is responsible to public opinion, and that if there were any discrimination against the roads there are plenty of opportunities for bringing him to book. The Road Board has hitherto been under the Local Government Board, but that could not continue, because the Local Government Board is being merged into the Ministry of Health, and a regrouping of Ministerial responsibilities was inevitable, and someone has to be answerable for the Department of Roads. Roads are going to remain, in spite of the alarmist statements which have been made, almost entirely under the local authorities. Central interference is really negligible under present conditions, and if further central interference could be given with the necessary corollary of more money, I am quite certain that every road-user would be very much benefited. If you have to regroup your Ministerial responsibilities, the most natural Ministry under which to put the roads is obviously the Ministry in charge of Ways and Communications. The hon. Member for Twickenham assumed that the Minister of Ways and Communications would necessarily be a railwayman, and in a leaflet which he has sent round it is said that the Department would wholly be controlled and staffed by railway officials, who would adopt a pro-railway attitude. You cannot assume such a bias on the part of any Minister in this country, and when the newly-formed Road Party sweeps the country at the polls, perhaps we shall have the hon. Member for Twickenham responsible for Ways and Communications. Under those conditions I do not think anyone would suggest that because he is interested in motors he was necessarily going to discriminate unfairly against railways. I think the whole of this agitation has been very much exaggerated, and, in view of the promise of the right hon. Member for Cambridge, that the Road Department will be kept separate from railways, and that its head will be directly under the Minister and responsible to him, there is every hope that the development of roads, so far from being blighted under this new arrangement, will be very much encouraged and very much improved.
I cannot claim, in taking part in this discussion, to have the expert business knowledge of most of the hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in it. I can only claim to be a member of one of the organisations affiliated to the National Transport Workers' Federation. We have no love for those who look at transport or any other kind of public service from the point of view of how much they can get out of it. A large number of hon. Members, in the course of this discussion, have told us of the enormous amount of interest they take in the people, but they have not yet mentioned the amount of interest they have taken out of the people. Therefore, to that extent, there is some antagonism of interest between us when we come to discuss great measures of this character. I am one of those who have been described in the past as a paid agitator, and I have generally received for my services more kicks than halfpence. I thought I was a bit of an agitator before I got here, but since I have arrived I have discovered that I could not agitate for nuts, because I have found that a number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, who would repudiate the term "paid agitator," have beaten us at our own game. I have received telegrams, post-cards, registered letters, and a correspondence which my post office at home is incapable of fulfilling the necessities of, informing me of the absolute ruin which would fall upon the country if I dared to vote in favour of this measure. But I am taking all the risks. My stake in the country is so small that I can afford to risk the chops. I own so little property that none of the provisions of this Bill are likely to affect my dividends and consequently, having received from the Minister in charge of the Bill the assurance that all those legitimate public interests that are likely to be affected are going to receive due consideration, I am willing and anxious to bear any sacrifice that may be entailed in suporting the measure to the fullest possible extent. I happen to be a member of a public authority in the East End of London, and if any part of the country has been affected deleteriously by lack of control, by lack of co-ordination, and by lack of proper public understanding of the traffic problem, the outer area of London takes the biscuit. Might I inform some hon. Members who have spoken on this matter that in the East End of London, and the outer area, Greater London as it is called, we are generally the owners of our own tramway system, but that as a consequence of the present method of control of these tramway systems, although they may be linked up from the standpoint of running and controlling passenger traffic, so far as the control of roads is concerned they are absolutely out of the picture every time. Our local municipalities in all these districts maintain their tramways, and they have to pay the whole cost of the maintenance of the roads within the outer rail. And not merely within the outer rail, they have also to pay for the maintenance of the roads for 18 inches each side of the outer rail. What does that mean? The railways do not have to take such charges on their shoulders. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, oh!"] Yes, but I want you to remember this. While the railways can claim the free usage of their own roads, and no other traffic can run on them, the tramway authorities in all parts of the country, and particularly in London, have to bear the full cost of the maintenance of the roads, and the people who compete against them do not pay a single brass farthing towards the mantenance. Consequently, we claim that if you are going to have co-ordination of public service you must take into consideration all forms of traffic. You cannot have one section in and the other section out. You cannot allow the docks—there are two sections of opponents to this measure, so far as I can understand it. There are the dock rats, and the road hogs. Those of us who know transport work know what the dock rat is, and those who have to use the roads, particularly at holiday times, know what the road hog is. He wants the best kind of road, but that nobody should use it but himself. The dock rat wants the best possible kind of accommodation without any inconvenience to himself.
I want hon. Members to understand that there has been a good deal of eulogy expressed in days gone by of the two principles of competition and private property. I never dreamt that I should live to see the day when hon. Gentlemen interested in private property would begin to take part in its funeral. The right hon. and learned Member for Belfast (Sir E. Carson) informed us that he was quite willing to make the nation a present of the railways, but "for God's sake keep away from the docks." Why should we have the railways? Because they do not pay? The nation can take over, as at present, at a profit to those who own stock in the railways, the manipulation of the railways, but where we have the privilege and power to make a dividend, "keep your hands off." It has been the policy right through, as far as I can understand it, that anything that did not pay the people could work, but anything that did pay somebody else must have. We, on these benches, have reached the stage when we are inclined to say that things that are essential for the lives of all should not be the private property of any. It may be possible that under existing conditions we may not have the best men to manage. Has private enterprise managed everything so successfully that it can afford to throw bricks at other people? Who have managed all our industries for hundred of years now? Those who claim to be the champions of private enterprise. Have they made such a magnificent success of it? [HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] Yes! Only the other day you had to appoint Commissions from this House to inquire into the miserable failures you have made in the management of the coal mines. The Mines Commission is a proof of the magnificent success you have made of private industry. You have made a profit; out of what? Out of the misery, out of the tears of the women who are the most unable to help themselves. [Hon. Members: "Oh, oh!"] I understand that these opinions will not meet with the approval of hon. Gentlemen around me, but I have not come here to express opinions that you like, but the opinions of the people living in the district that I represent.
It has nothing to do with it? It has a good deal to do with my being here, and a good deal to do with the position that we are discussing this evening. Why do we want co-ordination of transport? So that we may remove the people from the slums and the miserable surroundings in which they have lived in times past, and give them the free, open country, and a better chance to start life in future. We are not supporting this Bill because we want to see dividends for the State or for private individuals, but because we believe that it is the first necessary step in the direction of the creation of that new England which the Prime Minister promised us before the election and during the election. Now, when he comes to deliver the goods, the first people who turn upon him are those who were his most enthusiastic supporters when he was fighting the election—the men who posted the walls with his portrait side by side with that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite and asked us to vote for them, because a vote given for them would be a vote for a better England. Has competition become so grand a thing that you believe in it yourselves? The alternative to the position contained in this Bill is either ownership by the nation of the national necessities or trusts, syndicates, or combines controlling them in the interests of the private owners. You have either got to have trusts controlled by the individual or have the nation acting as one huge combination on behalf of the people it represents. Management is another matter. That is where we come in. Up to now we have been like cripples at the cross, begging for permission to live, going on our knees to ask other people kindly to do something for us. Now we are taking up the position that there is no useful or essential thing done by the capitalist for the people to-day which the people, organised, cannot do for themselves Consequently we take this measure as an indication of more blessings to come. Hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not look at this Bill in the same light as we do; they look upon it as a little bit of sugar for the bird; we look on it as an instalment of justice too long delayed, and consequently we want, on this occasion, to record our approval of things done by people with whom we generally do not agree.
One hon. Member, who ought to have known better, talked about the magnificent success of the principle of decentralisation. I am not a business man—you will know that by the way I have spoken—but so far as I have been able to study business, and so far as I can see it, I have discovered that the most successful businesses are those conducted from one centre. In the distributive trades or the productive trades—and I only know by having read and studied so far as a trade union official can—I know that the most successful businesses in Great Britain to-day are those controlled and organised from one common centre. Take distribution, Has there been a more successful business than the Maypole Dairy Company, or the Home and Colonial Stores, or the International Tea Company, or any of the other great firms with which Members are well acquainted? They do not merely do their work of distributing goods, but they have also started as builders and manufacturers, and, to all intents and purposes, inside their own particular industry they do the work from A to Z—production and distri- bution all rolled into one. Take the London and North-Western Railway Company. That is not merely a railway company. It is a hotel proprietor, has interests in coal mines, has big engineering establishments, and it runs practically every kind of trade there is represented inside the industrial affairs of Great Britain. Hon. Members opposite are inclined to think that competition is the best. We say that, on the contrary, all successful businesses to-day have simply been able to take advantage of their opportunity, and, by correlating and co-ordinating their functions, have made their businesses more successful than they otherwise would be.
Now, is it a bad thing for the nation to do what private companies and combines have discovered it possible to do? In so far as the question of transport is concerned, surely there is no greater and more vital national service than transport. Every other industry depends upon it. Without transport, the vitalising energy which gives a possibility to industry becomes a negligible quantity. Therefore, we on these benches take this measure as an indication of that reconstructive idea which we have discovered to be absolutely necessary as a consequence of the War. I was surprised, as a new Member of this House, not having the experience all the Members have had, and thinking that things were just what they seemed, when I heard the Debate on Conscription last week, that it was absolutely essential, in order that we might maintain the victory which we have achieved, to keep the men in. the Army compulsorily longer, so that the victory might finally be sealed. [Hon. Members: "Order!" and "Go on!"] Surely I am entitled to draw an illustration. I find that whilst it may be good enough to retain longer than they originally believed it was in the power of the law to keep them, the young men who entered the Army in the belief that when the War was finished in the ordinary way they would be able to go back to their occupations in civil life. Now that we are asking, in the interests of the whole country, that industries should be correlated, that property should be taken—not without compensation, but with due regard to the interests of all parties concerned—we are told that, while it is good enough to take the bodies of our men, it is not advisable to interfere in any war with property.
I want to appeal to the House. We as Labour men are in the minority. We can admit that that minority is due to circumstances over which we had no control. But we will have control over those circumstances. Difficulties were only made for strong men to get over, and we believe that when the glamour of the War has passed over; when, having done our bit, so far as we knew it, to win victory for the country on the military field, we will be able by unity amongst the great mass of the people outside to win victory on the economic and industrial field for the country we defended in its hour of necessity. Therefore, I want, if I can, not merely to cast my own vote, but to appeal to hon. Members opposite that, although they may talk about the position of Belfast, Cork, and Dublin—of course, I know Belfast is a beautiful and an enterprising city, but I am sorry they so often indulge in the game of cracking one another's skulls for the love of God—I appeal to all, whether they be Irishmen, Scotsmen, Englishmen, or Welshmen, to unite upon the common principle in this Bill and let us begin the building of that new England that we all promised the people we would do our best to achieve.
I wish to say, first of all, with what delight I have listened, not only to the humorous, but to the exceedingly wise and helpful speech of the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Jones). I should like to say that, while I regard his views as one of the portents to which this House will have to listen, I also regard equally the views of the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Lieutenant-Colonel W. Guinness) on the ground he has taken in this Debate to-day, although belonging to the old and active young Tory party of pre-war days. I have listened to nearly every speech, I think, that has been made in opposition to this measure, and the thing that has struck me more than anything is this: Here is a great measure, and, except for the criticisms that have come from representatives of local harbour trusts and bodies of that sort, the criticisms that have been passed upon this Bill have been entirely negative. There has not been an attempt on the part of any single speaker who has spoken against the main provisions of the Bill, either to suggest that there is a problem that has got to be dealt with or to suggest a method by which these problems should be tackled. We have had the hon. Member for Twickenham making a speech of half an hour's duration in criticism of the Bill. From beginning to end there was no suggestion that there was a great, big problem that had got to be dealt with—a great, big problem that he, in common with other Members in this House, was obliged to deal with, but, instead, a purely negative statement, fastening with debating skill on to the observation of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, that the railway companies were in difficulties to the extent of a deficit of £100,000,000 a year, as though it were that deficit that was the real point at issue. That deficit only represents the measure of the impossibility of utilising the present railway system under the present conditions of dealing with those problems which we have been sent here to deal with. What are they? We have been sent here to revolutionise the housing system in this country. We have been sent here to find, if we can, a permanent solution for agriculture. We have been sent here to save and to develop the trades of this country. Linked up with every one of these problems is this essential problem of transportation. The hon. Member for Silver-town talks about the difficulty in the outer region of London. What is the position of the housing question? Our workmen have to pay three or four times as much to get to their work for an equal distance as the workmen of the capitals of Europe have to pay. Our housing system has been allowed to develop under the most appalling, under the most awful, conditions. How comes it that London is developed out across the marshes of Essex instead of developing right out over the beautiful stretches of North-West London, of South-West London, and South-East London?
The whole explanation is to be found in our haphazard railway policy. It happened thirty-five years ago when the Great Eastern Railway Company was in a state of bankruptcy, when it had running powers through the Essex marshes. An enterprising manager of that company conceived the idea that if he could only introduce cheap fares for workmen he could develop the district out there. The district has been developed out there, and with what results? We have had an inordinate death rate, with all its consequent casualties—because, remember, parallel with the line of mortality there runs a casual death, ill-health, and sickness rate. You have had an anti-social state because of this condition of things, an anti-social state in which you have had the workman's district springing up without any intermixture with people belonging to other classes. You have had a concentration barrier of the wage earners in one district with a particular type of property involving two things—a much larger education rate coming out of that community, and a much larger sanitation rate coming out of the community, and having to come out of that community because it was poverty-stricken, and being a concentrated poverty-stricken element was less able to bear it. The Great Western Railway Company, the South Western Railway Company and the North Western Railway Company for years fought against even so elementary a thing as the provision of a single workman's train lest it should interfere with the social amenities of well-to-do districts. That is one aspect of the thing. That would be corrected by coordinating and unifying the system. Take the case of agriculture. An hon. Member speaking opposite spoke of preferential rates. It has been said by a great agricultural authority in this country that agricultural depression was very largely a railway question. I wonder whether hon. Members realise that the difference even to this day in the rates that are charged for home agricultural produce as compared with foreign agricultural produce is a difference of 10s. per acre of the cultivated land of this country? What is to be said to the Kentish hop-grower who finds hops coming from France through his own stations at exactly half the price that he can send hops from his own station to London? Would it be thought that English people who buy Danish eggs, butter and cheese do so because they prefer these things to the home-grown? It is a question rather of the long journey under the existing railway system, of the long haulage under the existing railway system. You have the absurdity until now.
I am glad to have that interruption. The right hon. Baronet inquires what about the sea voyage? His interruption affords a very excellent background to the very next instance I was going to give. You have two stations at Southampton, the dock station and the town station. When supplies arrive at the Southampon Dock Station they have finished their sea journey so far as London is concerned. Butter, cheese, and bacon from Southampton Dock Station to London is 6s. 6d. per ton. Bacon, cheese, and butter from Southampton Town Station, 700 yards away, is 20s. per ton.
An hon. Member asks "What quantities?" We are quite up against that formula. Precisely the same quantities. I will tell the hon. Member what happened. When there was a dispute over this, thing, quantity for quantity was taken before the Railway Commission, and the traders won the day. Then what occurred was that the foreign importer was got to alter the shape of the particular box or case so as to differentiate the foreign shape from the English boxes, and cases, and so comply with the condition of—
I dare say they did, but I am on those cases that were perfectly well founded. I cound multiply them. What about fruit from Ashford to the London market at a time when it did not pay the growers, because of the railway rates, to market their fruit? So much then for that side. I do not want to elaborate my speech in view of the time, but I want to make this point, and make it emphatically. New conditions have come about in the agricultural districts. There can be no going back by the agricultural labourer to his own old housing conditions, to his own old health conditions, and I say that Parliament will have to look definitely to help agriculture to bear the burdens of an increased wage. I prefer that that should be done by, among other things, transport facilities for the great agricultural needs of the country. Trading was mentioned. One takes steel trade competition, china, woollens, and so on. Exactly the same condition of things prevails. I could point out district after district, industry after industry, that has been entirely killed owing more to the difference in the railway rates for the foreign stuff and the charges by the railway companies in this country. These are some of the problems that we have to face, and here comes this Bill.
Hon. Members say: "Oh, it is all very well, but we are killing competition." Is there a single right hon. or hon. Gentleman in this House who for a single moment believes that the factor of competition is operative in the railway systems of this country? The right hon. Baronet is a great authority. There has been; competition in facilities. I challenge anybody to point, within the last fifteen years, to a single case of competition in the essential matter of railway rates or railway fares. Competition has been killed. It has been killed by a very definite series of processes which are very well known to the Gentlemen who in this House represent the railway companies. You have had first of all the policy of amalgamation. One of the great railway authorities, and I think probably one of the most enlightened of the older school of railway leaders in this country, Mr. Robert Stephenson, son of the great George Stephenson, once said before a Select Committee of this House what I think is the perfect truth, that where amalgamation was practical competition became impracticable. So the process has gone on, and so has amalgamation with the railways. It is that not only has competition been killed by amalgamation. It has been tilled by subsidy. At this moment you have 405 railway companies in this country controlled by twelve great railway boards. Of those 405 not less than 257 of those companies perform absolutely no other function except to receive a subsidy from the great companies and divide it up among their shareholders by way of dividend and among the directors by way of fees. You have had the great process of pooling but what the ordinary public are not aware of is that you have had competition killed by the four Railway Rate Conferences that control railway rates in this country. This may be best illustrated when I say that if the Brighton and South Coast Railway manager was willing to give a special rate from Worthing to Chichester, he could not do it without a Railway Rate Conference embracing the representatives of the railways going to the North. For years and years you have had the amazing fact of railway companies actually having running powers given by Parliament to engender competition actually being paid by the other companies so much not to utilise their running powers. For seventeen years the South- Eastern Railway Company have paid £34,500 a year to the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway on the condition that the Brighton Company did not utilise its running powers into Eastbourne. It comes to this, that the factor of competition is absolutely dead. What remedy is there? People talk as if there is no State control. As a matter of fact, there has been State control to a certain extent for some years over the railways.
The State has sought to exercise its control by three methods. Firstly, by the maximum rate; secondly, by Royal Commission revision; and, thirdly, by litigation. The maximum rate has done more harm than good in the protection of traders against extortionate rates. When the trader has been found to be paying more than what he ought to do, and has protested, he has promptly been menaced by the company that they would bring down upon him the maximum if he was not prepared to accept the actual rate. There has been the element of revision by Royal Commission and by Select Committees. Every Commission and Committee which has sat to revise railway rates has resulted in many railway rates being reduced, but in a still larger number it has resulted in increases. In 1893 the rates were increased by the Great Western Company, but they were ordered by the Select Committee to reduce them to the extent of £80,000 a year. They were reduced, but then complaint was made that £94,000 had been lost by other rates. I could give hundreds of instances. There was the case of the traders of Northampton. It took them two years to get decided by the Railway Commission what they thought was right, and it cost them thousands of pounds. They thought, when they had got that decision, it was going to regulate the price in 2,700 cases. At the end of two years they had won their case, but the railway companies I said, "That settles this particular rate, but it does not affect the others, because the circumstances are different." When hon. Members realise that there are 250,000,000 separate railway rates they will realise how perfectly hopeless it is for the ordinary trader ever to expect any redress of conditions by litigation under the existing system. The whole position from the traders point of view is perfectly hopeless because you have dividends payable twice a year. Every experienced railway manager will tell you frankly that he does not think this particular rate is an ideal one, and he will say that a rate very much lower would in time develop trade and coax the necessary customers. He will, however, tell you you that he dare not ask for that rate because in the meantime there is bound to be a drop in the return; and before he can recoup himself there will be a half-yearly meeting of the shareholders, and a possible diminution of the dividends, and that is more than his position is worth. It is from these points of view that I regard as far as traders, agriculturists, and housing is concerned the existing system as perfectly hopeless. On behalf of the party for whom I speak I welcome this measure. I could give further instances of the waste of the present manifold system of ownership.
Let hon. Members realise why that system under which demurrage is paid on trucks that run from the home railways to the foreign railway constitutes a great element of waste. No less than two-thirds of the haulage cost in this country is for hauling back empties. At every junction where two railway companies meet there have to be employed checkers and number takers, and from the moment a wagon or anything else passes on to a foreign railway, its daily history has to be recorded by the necessary responsible authority, and all this is sent out to the railway clearing house to check and counter check, and check again. Some time ago in Liverpool there was not sufficient warehouse accommodation for the whole of the six railway companies running into Liverpool. One particular railway happened to be controlled by the dock companies, and here the right hon. Gentleman may look for very strong argument for the retention of the docks in his Bill. The Midland Railway Company thought they would take a jump, and they put up new warehouse accommodation at a cost of 3s. per ton. All the other five railway companies followed, and erected accommodation at a cost of from 3s. to 4s. 6d. per ton, with the result that there was a surplusage of warehouse accommodation erected at a cost of over £17,000,000. Do hon. Members realise under the existing system these enormous expenses? No less than £150,000,000 under the existing system have been spent here in mere Parliamentary expenses. Do they realise that while on foreign railways the cost per mile is roughly £15,000, in this country, because of extortionate land charges and Parliamentary expenses, the cost works out at an average of £46,000 per mile. The consumer, the railway trader, and the agriculturist have to pay the burden. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Belfast (Sir E. Carson), speaking sarcastically, said that he did not think for a single moment that any Government could economise. One of the very bedrocks of my belief in this measure is that enormous economies can be effected. The economy can be effected of avoiding duplicated trade. The economy can be effected of running the full load on one line, instead of running half-a-dozen partial loads on half-a-dozen lines. It was estimated by the greatest railway authority in this country fifteen years ago that unification of management would alone effect an economy of 20 per cent. I believe that the present estimate is very considerably more than that. I am not talking of waste on this individual or extravagance on that individual, but from the mere fact of unification of management there is bound to be a huge saving which will eventuate for the benefit of the traders, the agriculturists, and the community. If that be so—and I do not think that any railway authority will deny that there can come a huge saving by unification—it is impossible to contemplate that unification is to be in private hands and not in the hands of the community as represented by a Government Department.
If the State is to take over the railways, then, in the name of the whole experience of the railway system from its earliest inception to this day, I say that common-sense demands that the Government shall take control of all the possible elements that may compete with the railway system. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) talked about the roads being left out, because there is going to be a great development of motor traffic. It is for that very reason that they should come under control. Here we are at the beginning of the motor trafficon the roads. I wonder whether he is aware that precisely the same conditions prevailed with regard to locomotion on the railways in their early days. To begin with, all that the railways provided was the iron road. They did not even provide the locomotives or the trucks. They did nothing in the way of collection, and delivery, and so on. Just the same conditions prevailed for the first fourteen years of the railway era in this country that will prevail on what I call the turnpike roads of this country, in relation to the motor traffic. If we are going as a State to take the responsibility of running the railways, it is important that the whole problem should be looked at, and that every element that can possibly diminish the revenue, if worked in other directions, should be under the common control. Hon. Members have spoken very strongly in favour of saving the position with regard to their own particular docks or harbour trusts. I am perfectly certain that we all recognise the large amount of earnest and patriotic devoted work that has been put in on many of these bodies by the representatives, but after all, under the existing state of things the docks of this country are a constituent part of the railway system, and for the docks with their warehouses to be shut out and left to play with the traffic as they will in their particular locality, with a possibility of doing it as against the railway system, would be uneconomic and unwise. Therefore, I profoundly hope that the right hon. Gentleman, who has not had his Bill damaged one iota in the discussion, will stick to the whole policy that this is to be a measure of transportation, and that there is to be no escape for the roads, or the docks, or the canals, or electricity, or any of the real elements that are required to make this a great and demonstrative success.
I think that the Government have every reason to feel not only pleased but in the highest degree gratified by the reception which has been given to this measure on Second Reading, and I am not paying an undeserved compliment when I say that a considerable part of that reception is due to the impression created on the House by the fact that my right hon. Friend is going to deal with this gigantic task. There have been plenty of signs of opposition. I have got a good deal of it myself in the form which was indicated by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. J. Jones), who convinced the House that he was quite wrong when he told us that he could not agitate for nuts. It came in a form with which we are all familiar, in letters and telegrams. That was inevitable. It would indeed have been surprising if this Bill had not created tremendous opposition. It touches at every spot, not only vested interests and vested prejudices in the ordinary sense, but it touches the vested interests and prejudices of localities. That opposition is more formidable for the reason that the motive is always above suspicion, because it is carried out not for any selfish purpose, but in the interests of the locality from which it comes. This is a very ambitious measure, but I do not think that it is to be condemned on that account, nor, on the other hand, is it to be assumed merely because it professes to do so much that it is able to undertake it. My right hon. Friend put the case of this Bill so completely that I am afraid that I can do very little more than repeat what he has given to the House. What is the motive for this Bill? It is perfectly true that up to this moment there has been no transport policy in this country in any real sense of the word, and there is nobody, no Government authority, which is in the smallest degree responsible for producing a transportation policy. It is true that great powers are given to different Government Departments, but these powers, whether that was the intention or not, have been used in every case not for the purpose of initiating transportation but for the purpose of regulating it, and that regulation has been altogether in the interests of particular members of the public, and has tended to hinder rather than to develop transport facilities in this country.
One familiar instance of that which everybody knows about was the system, adopted when motors first appeared on the roads. Let me give one experience of my own. When I was at the Board of Trade there were constantly private Bills of the utmost importance because they dealt with large centres of the transportation problem, and although we did not even feel justified in urging the House to adopt their policy I remember very well in one case of this kind where I convinced myself that the measure was a necessity in the interests of the transportation of the country. I was accused of playing an unsuitable part in using the Government influence in favour of a course which the Board of Trade thought right. That is the position to-day. The House will understand that by passing the Second Reading of this Bill we turn our back entirely on the past, not merely with regard to this particular question, but in respect of the whole economic policy of this country. Our policy in the past has been negative—to do nothing to hinder and not to accept the responsibility of helping. Now for the first time, if we pass this Bill, for good or for evil we do accept the principle that the Government is responsible for the initiation and development of transport.
But there is another principle at stake. If this Bill had been introduced five years ago it would not have had a more vigorous opponent than myself. I do not believe that under ordinary conditions there would be the smallest chance of a Bill of this kind being passed. But we are not living under ordinary conditions. The sole and I think the complete justification for this Bill is the position in which the country is placed. The justification is this, that just as in the emergency of the War so now in the conditions which have been partly created by the long continuance of the War, in the conditions which face us in connection with the new problem of reconstruction in every direction, it is the business of the Government and of this House to use the rough-and-ready methods which they adopted in the War in order to do quickly things which must be done if there is to be any reasonable prospect of a return of prosperity to this country. It has been truly said that though there has been a good deal of criticism there has been no alternative policy suggested. I think that is true. This plan may succeed or it may not succeed to the extent we hope, and something has to be devised to deal with the position. During the whole of the two days' Debate I have heard no suggestion of any other method of dealing with this difficult problem. I am going to state the grounds on which I think it is to be dealt with. Great evils have to be dealt with by heroic measures. No one will deny that the position of transport in this country is so dangerous that if it cannot be dealt with satisfactorily it may be almost fatal to the development of the country. Take the case of the railways. There is, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, a deficit of something like from £90,000,000 to £100,000,000, which for two years has had to be paid out of the taxation of the country. Unless something can be done to remedy it, the evil will not end there. When the two years are over it will still face us. because even if it were conceivable that you should neglect altogether the interests of the shareholders who have put money into railways, it is obvious to the House that the railways cannot be allowed to cease to run and to run efficiently, and that, if they are to do that, capital must be expended—expended wisely, I hope but at all events without parsimony in the necessary circumstances. As regards the question of the railways, there have been two sides of the discussion which, I think, are both exaggerated There are those who rejoice in this proposal because they like nationalisation for its own sake, but there are others who complain that the passing of this Bill means the abandonment of the competition of private interests. But my hon. Friend below the Gangway is perfectly right: there has never been in any real sense competition in the railway interests. There has been no competition in rates. They have never been allowed to cut each other's rates in order to try to get traffic in the ordinary way of competition. There has not been competition for another reason. Railways are a monopoly. It is a monopoly in any case. There would have been competition if anybody who could raise the money had been allowed to build a railway at any place he liked. That was never allowed. There was always a monopoly, and the sole question is in what way that monopoly can best be used in the interests of the country as a whole. Long before these difficulties arose I was myself convinced that the system under which our railways were run was one so disastrous and so stupid that, however badly they were managed in a central way, the saving must be so great that it would far more than counterbalance better management under private interests. The position was simply absurd. My hon. Friend is right in saying that the sums of money spent merely in coming to this House to get powers would have been enough to develop large tracts of the country. What is more, the hostility to the railways which occurred in connection with every private Bill in respect of railways, not from Labour only, which I could understand, but from the Mansion House Committee and those who represented the traders, made it exceedingly difficult for the railways to obtain the capital which was absolutely necessary if their system was to keep up any proper development. That kind of thing has got to end.
My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Duncairn Division of Belfast (Sir E. Carson) made this afternoon a very powerful speech against the Bill. That is not surprising. In criticism he would make a powerful speech on any subject, but it is far easier here. I confess to the House that if it were merely a question of debating, I am perfectly certain I could make a far better speech against the Bill than I am going to make now in. its favour. Look at my right hon. and learned Friend's case! He did offer an alternative. He said it is all nonsense to say that we require time to consider whether or not the railways are to be nationalised. I think he is wrong. The Select Committee which discussed this question last year came to the conclusion that they had not the data to enable them to formulate a scheme. That is the opinion of the Government also, that we do need time and opportunity. Then he went on to say, "Talk of economy in anything run by a Government! It is ridiculous. What you ought to do is at once to nationalise the railways, and be done with it." But how is that going to save us? The deficit of £100,000,000 would still be there; the absence of economy, according to him, would still be there, and the only advantage, if it is an advantage, of that method would be that all the evils he predicts would still exist, and there would be an absence of that possibility of economy which comes from the control of the other sources of transport as well as of the railways.
It is quite true that there is an enormous deficit. It is quite true that it will be very difficult to meet it under any circumstances, and certainly my right hon. Friend would not hold out any hope for a moment that it would be possible to bring in anything like equality in two years, or far more than two years. But great economies are possible—not so much in paying different salaries, or anything of that kind; for that kind of economy you will not get—but great economies in the centralisation of the use of the material of transportation. That is possible. And there is something else possible. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. J. H. Thomas) said, perfectly truly I think, that the railway worker must not be treated worse than other sections of the community because the railways do not pay and his remedy was—and it is right, up to a certain point—thatyou must raise rates. That is perfectly true. If the cost of everything rises what the railway has to sell must be raised also to some extent. But in that direction there is no salvation and no hope. To meet the deficit would require a rise in railway rates of something like 70 per cent. or 80 per cent. That would be disastrous to the general trade of the country. But more than that, once you have raised rates on anything beyond a certain point you do not get an increased revenue. The traffic falls off, and in that way, at all events, there can be no hope of meeting the deficit. It has got to come in the direction indicated by my right hon. Friend. It has got to come by utilising in the right way all the machinery of transportation, by not having trucks going with a load one way and coming back empty another, by not having trucks standing idle at a part which belongs to one railway company while goods are waiting for transport by another company for which no trucks are available. More than that, the traders themselves, the manufacturers, have to practise economy too. They have to realise that unless they pay their share, unless they send their goods in large quantities, and learn to try to use storage on wheels, they will pay for it in higher rates, and it is their interest to join with my right hon. Friend in securing economy in every direction in the working of the railways.
My right hon. Friend (Mr. Brace) asked a question to which he wanted an answer. He said he and his Friends would not be prepared to vote for the Bill if nationalisation or not were to depend on whether or not the railways were successful and he gave a curious reason, and it was, that if that were the arrangement everyone would do his best to make them not successful. I can answer the question satisfactorily, but I do not agree with his reasons. Surely it is obvious to my right hon. Friend that if the railway companies choose to play that game the only result would be that they would still further lower the value of their property, and at the end of the time, when it was handed back to them, it would be of far less value than it would have been if they made the best use of it. It is certain, apart from the decision of any Government, that in the interests of the country, quite apart from the interests of the shareholders or any other individuals, there must be in some form or another central control. That is inevitable, and the whole decision as to that policy will depend on far other considerations than whether or not the railways have been made to pay in the interval.
I now come to the crux of the Debate. People have recognised, and recognised fully, the need of some such policy as is here defined, but everywhere you find there are interests which, say it would be a splendid Bill if they were left out. I shall deal with those in turn. Take, first, the roads. I did think there was some kind of case made out for the docks, but I did not hear a single word said against the inclusion of the roads which would not have convinced any impartial listeners that the roads must be included. There really is no case for excluding the roads. If there is to be a system of transportation it will be ridiculous if the roads, which ought to be used more and more in every direction, especially for the development of agriculture, are not to be included in the system. What is the argument that is used against the inclusion of the roads? It is that they will be sacrificed for railways. I think part of the enthusiasm with which that was urged was due to the past career of my right hon. Friend. I would point out that a man who has spent all his life in the railway interest, but has given it up, is no more bound to the railway interest than he is to any other; but he has this further advantage, that he knows the whole case against railways better than anybody who has not had railway experience. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Neville Chamberlain) dealt with the question of railways and canals. Everyone listened with pleasure, and no one with greater pleasure than I, who was one of the devoted followers of his father, to the speech of the hon. Gentleman, which was a foretaste of the part which, I am sure, he will play in subsequent Debates in this House. He put the case quite clearly. My right hon. Friend (Sir E. Geddes) has no more interests in canals, railways and roads, but his knowledge of railways enables him to deal fairly with them, and to deal fairly with other means of traffic. Nobody denies that there is to be use of the roads in transport. According to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) you ought to have a Minister of Railways and also a Minister of Roads. What is the result of that? You start competition right away. One of the attacks made upon Government Departments, and I think with some little justification, is that they act each like independent States. His proposal is that we shall have one Minister fighting another in order to get money out of the State in order to develop transportation. So far as the roads are concerned, I think the case for exclusion is ridiculous. They are a means of transportation. They are certainly in some respects competitors with railways, and if this Ministry is to be of any use at all the roads will be put to what will be their chief function as feeders of the railways, and generally distributing the produce of the country.
Now I come to the docks, and I confess there is a stronger case there, but I do not think it is very strong. Let me put a case The docks are the terminals of the railways, and, on the face of it, would it not be almost as absurd to say that the Minister of Railways who has everything to do with the running of the trains is to have nothing to do with the status? It is really very much the same thing. The docks are the terminals of the railways, and when I tell the House that of the whole goods traffic of this country fully one-half passes through the docks and of the coal and coke traffic one-third goes through the docks, surely I have made out an unanswerable case that unless the Minister of Transport has some say in the way in which these docks are equipped it is absolutely impossible for him to control the railways.
But a case has been made out, and I admit that it is not so easy to meet, that the powers given to my right hon. Friend are far too strong, and that during two years he can do practically what he likes. I think that one of the hon. Members for Liverpool said that if he chose the Minister could take such steps as to start building a second Great Northern Railway, which would make it impossible to give the House the opportunity, such as we have given it, of deciding these big questions of the permanent use of those means of transport. In theory that is true, but you must give even Ministers credit for a certain amount of common sense. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] I will tell my hon. Friends why. If there is to be this sharp division between Members of the House who sit on this bench and those who sit on other benches, then, if we are to judge others as we would wish to be judged ourselves, the reason is that we give Members of the House of Commons credit for a certain amount of common sense. We start, then, with the assumption that the Minister must have a certain amount of common sense. In addition, he cannot exercise these powers where spending money is concerned without the consent of the Treasury, and I think that he will find that that is a slight bar on his operations. Then his Vote can be brought up in the House of Commons, and the House really does exercise control over it. But the real justification of my remarks to-night is this. We cannot afford delay. In one way or other power must be given the Government to enable the work, to be done and to be done quickly.
There is another consideration in regard to docks. We have heard a great eulogy of them, and I think that it is deserved. I listened to a very interesting speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Dumbartonshire (Sir W. Raeburn) about the Clyde Trust, with which I was once very familiar myself. It may have changed now, but when I was in Glasgow I did hear it criticised occasionally. But it is necessary to point out that a dock may be run very efficiently for its own purpose, and yet those in charge of the dock may have no direct personal interest in making the best arrangements for the whole system of transportation. In one of the biggest and best ports of the United Kingdom it was reported during the War that there was no proper system of lighting in any of the sheds. That meant an enormous amount of work and difficulty for the railways, but the improvement would not have brought a single penny revenue to the docks. In addition there is the idea, which on the whole is well founded, that if a dock satisfies the shippers it must be run in the interests of the nation. That is not quite true, though in the long run it ought to be. It is quite true for this reason: that what the shipowner wants is a quick turn-over. If there are arrangements in any big dock by which he can put his cargo on the quay that would suit him just as well as if he had to put it into trucks, which would make a tremendous difference in the transit interests of the country. I do not for a moment deny that the Dock Trusts have been well managed; but what are they afraid of? Do they suppose that my right hon. Friend is going to try and manage everything from his office in Whitehall? [An HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] They are wrong. Something has been said about centralisation and decentralisation. There will be central control and central policy, but I am sure that nobody knows better than my right hon. Friend that all these problems can only be done by proper delegation. The last thing he would wish or expect would be that those great trustees would not still continue to play an effective part in the control of the docks. If, as I believe in the main, they are well run, they will be very little interfered with. We have heard speeches which seem to suggest that he is going to interfere with everything. As a matter of fact, all the powers which my right hon. Friend is going to have, for those two years, have been preserved under D.O.R.A. Regulations during the War. They have been, utilised, but not to the full extent even during the War, because material could not be got to make changes. What my right hon. Friend will do will be to see that the best facilities are available, and any good dock trustees would welcome that help and do their best to profit by it. Let me give an illustration of my own experience on the Clyde in one dock. I am speaking from memory, but I am pretty sure I am correct. In one of the docks one of the railway companies had a siding right on to the ships. Another railway company came within 100 yards, but they could not get that 100 yards completed. I believe they tried over and over again to get it from the House of Commons, but they failed. By this Bill my right hon. Friend will have the power in a case like that to say that this has got to be done and done right away. Somebody has suggested that these dock businessmen who run these docks will refuse to work if the Bill passes. I do not believe it for a moment. I have had some experience of them. Do not let us make any mistake about it; in some cases, regard from purely local interests may not be in the national interests of transportation. They have great influence these men. I know, when I was in: Glasgow, I thought it a great honour to be elected. They are very patriotic bodies, and I do not believe for a single moment, if this House after a complete examination of this Bill in Committee comes to the decision that this is the right method in the national interest, that these men will not serve the nation just as they have served their localities in the past.
The only other branch which my right hon. Friend will take is electricity. When the subject first came up for discussion in the Cabinet I was against that. It seemed to me on the face of it more natural that it should be under some body which is looking after manufacturing interests rather than railway interests. I have changed my mind, and I think I can give some good reasons why the House should take the view which I take now. In the first place, I believe, apart from centralisation, the greatest saving is the use of electricity. It so happens that when, due to circumstances over which, like the hon. Member opposite, I had no control, I ceased to be a Member of this House, in 1906, I became chairman of a big electric power company. I do not profess that I have any special knowledge on that account, but I have always been greatly interested since I saw the first electric locomotive in Pittsburgh in 1906 that had ever been built. It has developed enormously in the United States, and there is one railway of 400 miles on which electricity is used. I do believe there is an immense economy to be got from the use of electricity on the railways. If so, is it not a natural thing that the Minister who is responsible for transportation—and if the railways are electrified the whole transportation will depend on electricity—should like his Department to have the direction of the extension of electrical appliances? But there is another reason which is stronger still. If you are developing railways by electricity in districts where no big power station exists to-day, the only economical way to do it is by using the railway line as the means of transfer of the electricity. I know from my own experience, and everybody will agree with me, that one of the greatest difficulties of these power stations was to get rails, not only on account of the expense, but also on account of the delays—the natural way is the railway. And it is more than that. If pioneer work is to be done in electricity it is more easily done by the railways than in any other way. They can use lines capable of carrying three or four times what they themselves want, at almost no additional expense for carrying what is wanted for their own purposes. Once they carry electricity on their own lines, it is their interest, apart from its being a national service, to develop the use of electricity, for this reason, that every additional unit which comes on the generating station lowers the whole cost of the electricity, and it is not merely total quantity, but the diversity of the load which cuts down the expense. If different kinds of users of electricity can be got, there is at once an enormous economy in the electricity which is required for the railways, and in addition to that electric power can be used to develop industry enormously, not merely in big factory towns, but all along the countryside, and it is the railways which form the most ready means of pioneer work in that connection.
I think there is a pretty good case for all the functions which my right hon. Friend is willing to assume, but I wish now to put before the House what seems to me the strongest reason for this Bill. We are all pretty fresh from the election, and we all recognised in that election that the country was in a peculiar condition. I do not mean the labour unrest at this moment, but I mean that the conditions were peculiar. We all recognised that nothing had been going too quickly before the War, and that was the arrears that the War had created; there was an amount of work to be made up that must be dealt with at once, or the consequences might be almost fatal to the whole life of this country. No part of our reconstruction programme was dwelt upon with more vehemence by the Prime Minister than this, that proper transportation is the basis of our commerce. This is the first of the big schemes of reconstruction which this Government has undertaken, and its success is and will be regarded by the country as the test of whether or not what we said was meant or if it was merely said to win the election. We have got to go through with this, and go through with it thoroughly. It is the basis of everything. We shall introduce in a few days, I hope, a Housing Bill and a Land Settlement Bill, and an Electricity Bill as well. Take, first of all, housing. Everyone recognises that that problem has to be dealt with at once at all costs. There is only one way of dealing with it. You cannot deal with it effectively by clearing out the slums, because by doing that you are turning people into the streets, and they will have nowhere to go. You can only deal with it effectively by making it possible for them to go outside and away from where they are working to live. For that purpose a really effective system of transport is absolutely essential. It is just the same with land settlement. We are all committed to that, and we all want to do it. I confess that I am rather afraid of it. If you cannot get the produce of these small farms, or whatever they are, sold at a paying rate, you are giving a very doubtful gift to the men put on these farms. I am convinced that the one method of giving some chance of making that sort of life a paying thing in a money sense is to improve the whole transport facilities of our agricultural districts. I listened with some interest to the speech of my hon. Friend below the Gangway, and, in spite of the interruptions of my right hon. Friend above, I agreed with him. I was at the Board of Trade, and consequently, I had to answer questions about the very thing to which he alluded, that the same kind of materials and produce could be brought from France and St. Malo at half, or less than half, the price of taking it from Canterbury to London. I had to give the answer that there was no breach of the arrangement, because it came in larger quantities. It really meant, and it was nothing less, that we were giving a preference to the procedure of other countries over the produce of our own country. How is that to be put right? As long as you have had competition with the railways there would be no remedy and there could be none, because it paid them far better to devote their whole energy to going for the big traffic and to neglect the small traffic in their own neighbourhood. Take away the inducement of competition—and remember that no amount of facilities for building extra docks, at places where docks are already, would increase the trade, it would only take it from one to another—but take away that competition and it is the direct interest of the railways to spend all their energies, not cutting each others throats, but in developing the traffic in their own district. It is in that way that I hope for some real improvement in the agricultural districts. That is the ground on which I recommend the Bill to the House. We are not merely pledged to it—I do not say much about that—but, speaking for myself, I have accepted the principle, and believe in it, that we must do things now and do them quickly, which were not necessary before, or there may be disaster in this country. We have got to do it, and it is on that ground mainly that I recommend this Bill to the House.
Before I sit down there is one other subject on which I would like to say a word. Many hon. Members have come to me and urged that this Bill should be taken in Committee of the Whole House. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I know, apart from those cheers, that there is a strong desire for that. I need not assure the House that the Government would wish to meet the feelings of a very large section of the House, and I am sure hon. Members will give me the credit for saying that, personally, I have always tried to do that. The chief criticism against my attempt to lead the House has been that I have been too lenient in that respect. It may have been true. In this case we cannot do it. It would be just as much as rejecting this Bill on Second Reading—a complete negation of the whole policy of the Government. We have undertaken to do at once, or as quickly as we can, what in the ordinary course would take the ordinary life of a full Parliament to accomplish. When I introduced the Procedure Rules, I made it quite plain that the Government regarded these Rules as essential if we were to fulfil the pledges we gave to the country. Apart altogether from the time this Bill would take—and it would take a very long time, and I doubt whether we should get through it in the House this Session—we are going to introduce a large number of other Bills. I was asked, for instance, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean) to take the Military Bill on the floor of the House. I would be asked to do the same with every other big Bill. My hon. Friends who have sponekn to me to-day say, "This is quite different from the others—the Housing Bill and the Land Settlement Bill." I said, "Oh, no, it is not; you have not seen the others. If we had talked about the Transportation Bill before you saw it you would have said it was quite simple and could go upstairs." If we allow this to be taken on the floor of the House, I should have no ground for resisting requests in the other cases.
No; I cannot give it any time. As the House knows, in the first place, we have no time. But I do really believe that, from the point of view of effective criticism in Committee, it has a better chance of being done upstairs than it has in the Whole House. But, apart from that, the House will have the opportunity on the Report stage of going into all these questions, and unless we adopt that principle, I say to the House quite frankly, unless we stick to this principle, it is absolutely impossible for us to fulfil the promises which we made at the Election, and for that reason I am sorry to say I cannot agree with the request.