(1) 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, the following provisions shall, unless Parliament otherwise determines, have effect for a period of two years after the passing of this Act:
(2) Subject as aforesaid, any agreement made between the owners of any undertaking, of the whole or part of which possession has been retained or taken under this Section, and any other person shall continue in force in like manner as if such possession had not been so retained or taken, unless the Minister considers that such agreement is contrary to the public interest, and in that case he may suspend or modify the operation of such agreement during the period of such possession and for a, period not exceeding eighteen months thereafter, and any party to the agreement who suffers loss or injury by reason of such suspension or modification shall be entitled to receive such compensation as, in default of agreement, may be determined by the Railway and Canal Commission, regard being had to any change in circumstances.
(4) Section twenty of the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916 (which relates to the establishment of new routes for omnibuses), shall continue in force until the expiration of two years after the passing of this Act, and shall have effect as if—
(5) The exercise by the Minister of any of his powers under this Section as respects any tramway or light railway used as a, tramway which a local authority, or two or more local authorities, have power to purchase under any Act of Parliament or Order having the effect of an Act of Parliament shall not affect such right of the local authority, or authorities, and upon the purchase thereof such tramway or light railway shall cease to be in the possession of the Minister.
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), paragraph (a), to leave out the word "payment" ["terms as to payment"], and to insert instead thereof the word "compensation."
I put on the Paper four questions to the President of the Board of Trade, the answers to which I had hoped to receive this afternoon. They would have given information, not only to myself, but to the House, which I think would have been of very great service in debating this Amendment. I do not know whether it would be in order for me to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister-designate to speak to his brother on this subject. It did occur to me that, perhaps, the answers to these questions might have found their way into the box in which the President of the Board of Trade places information it is not opportune to disclose. At all events, I hope that, before the Debate on this point closes, the answers to those questions will be forthcoming, and the House put in possession of that information. In Clause 3 of this Bill we have the railways of this country divided into two classes. There are those railways that were taken over at the commencement of the War—what perhaps we might call the first-class railways, the more favoured class—and then you have the railways which are to be taken over by the right hon. Gentleman under this Bill—what, perhaps, we might call the second-class railways. When you come to, the question of compensation, there are two Clauses in this Bill which deal with it—Clause 3 and Clause 7. The second-class railways got the whole of their compensation under Clause 7. The first-class railways get their compensation under Clause 3 and also under Clause 7. I think the attention of the House should be particularly directed to that fact, because it is a very difficult thing to explain why these two classes of railways should be treated differently. I take it that the object of the Government is to secure that, whatever compensation is given to either class of railway, that compensation should be full. In Clause 3 it is laid down that the railways now in the possession of the Government are to receive such payments as have been heretofore enforced. Those payments are payments made under the agreement which was made at the beginning of the War. But these railways may also come into Clause 7 for compensation, if under that Clause, unless such compensation is included in the payments they receive under Clause 3. In other words, the Government are, apparently, in some doubt as to whether the payments made under Clause 3 are all the payments to which these railways are entitled.
I suggest that is an extraordinarily amazing position for the Government to be in, when one remembers what those payments made under Clause 3 are, and how they have arisen. Those payments are made under the Act of 1871, which provides that the payments are to be full compensation, so that according to the position these favoured railways are to receive full compensation under Clause 3, and then come under Clause 7 for something else. I cannot for the life of me understand how any doubt can exist in the minds of the Government on this matter. What does the word "unless" in Clause 7 mean? That these favoured railways are to get compensation under Clause 7, unless they have already got it under Clause 3; but, under Clause 3, they have got full compensation, so what can the word "unless" mean in Clause 7? I can understand one ground why these railways should get compensation under Clause 3 as well as under Clause 7, but I am quite sure it is a ground which the right hon. Gentleman would never accept, and it is this: The only ground on which they can get something more under this Bill than they get under that agreement is that the damage done to the railways under the control of the right hon. Gentleman is going to be greater than the damage done to the railways during the War.
If that is not the position, unless, under his administration the railways are going to be subjected to greater damage than they suffered under the administration during the War there cannot be any ground for giving anything more than the full compensation under the Act of 187l and which is secured to them under the terms of Clause 3. At the outbreak of the War the then Government took over these-railways under the Act of 1871. They were bound to pay them full compensation. On the 6th August, 1914—two days after the outbreak of war—the Railway Executive met to consider the position, which was, how they were to safeguard the interests-of the shareholders in these railways. They were the trustees of the interests of the shareholders, and it was their business to-consider how they could safeguard them. There were two courses open to them. One was to say to the Government: "Carry on. Do what you want to do on the railways, and when the period of control is. over we will send the bill and you shall pay." The other course was to make an agreement before hand—to make some kind of estimate as to what was going to happen, and as to the best way to meet it. The position was an extraordinary one. No one knew how things were going, and the Railway Executive thought, very properly, that the thing to do was to play for safety, to ensure that, whatever happened, the interests of the shareholders should not be the worse. Countries might come and countries might go, but at least the railway receipts should be increased. So they recommended that the whole of the loss and injury caused by the taking over of the railways should be met by certain terms, and these were that the net receipts for 1913 should be guaranteed to them during the whole period of control, subject to one or two slight modifications. Faced with that proposal, the Government came to the conclusion that it was a sound bargain, and I do not complain of their decision. They had otherwise to enter into a very complicated set of accounts, and they thought by making a simple arrangement, that they were doing their best. The agreement was made, and the position was a very satisfactory one on the whole, I think, to the railway companies. What really came out of it was that the interests of the shareholders were saved. Dynasties might fall, but railway dividends were not going down. It was a very good bargain for the shareholders of these first-class railways. That is perfectly clear, because the railway companies asked the Government to continue the bargain, and the Government agreed to do so for two years; it is that agreement that is embodied in Clause 3. It is there, in the Statute for the first time. These railways have gone into the possession of the country, and are to be there on the terms of payment heretofore in force. These terms of payment are full compensation. There can be no doubt about that. That is the word which the Railway Executive use in their minutes; so that under Clause 3 of this Bill these railway companies are getting full compensation for all the loss and injury—[Several Hon. Members: "No, no!"]—and yet, in spite of that the Government have inserted a word in this Bill which indicates that in their mind there is some doubt on the point, and it may be that these first-class railways, after getting the benefit of Clause 3, may also come under Clause 7 and get compensation from that Clause.
The position is that, according to the White Paper in the posession of Members, the whole of the Government railway traffic, based on pre-war figures for the period of control—at all events, up to the end of 1819—was £112,430,808. That is the whole figure which the Government would have paid if they had not made that arrangement. The railway company got the net aggregate receipts. I want to suggest that the term "net aggregate receipts" had a definite meaning. In 1914, when this agreement was made—that was three years after the passing of the Railway Accounts Act, the Act under which the railway company make certain returns —it was quite clear that what was meant was the net aggregate receipts arrived at after making the deductions which are laid down by Statute in those accounts. The most important of these deductions are the deductions for maintenance. Allow- ance is to be made for maintenance, and. accordingly in this White Paper you will find, on the statement of account, a deduction for maintenance. These accounts are in that form. We have a deduction for maintenance—what was actually spent on the railways during the period of control. It is a perfectly proper deduction to make. One sees that in the period of control, during which traffic of the value of" £112,000,000 had passed over the railways.. £125,000,000 was actually spent on maintenance. There appears to be some idea that during those four or five years nothing was spent, on maintenance. But there was. That deduction was very properly taken off the gross receipts. In addition to that, there is another deduction which does not appear in statutory form, but which is a proper deduction. It is for maintenance and renewal arrears carried out. In other words, it is quite probable that during that period there were arrears that ought to have been carried out, but which could not be carried out for lack of men and' materials. The railway companies take credit for all the work carried out after the period of control, and it amounts to nearly £34,500,000. They actually spent £125,000,000 on maintenance, and they have in their possession now, as a credit from the Government, that sum, out of which to pay for maintenance which they were not able to carry out. Those two-sums make £160,000,000. The accounts were prepared on that basis, and there is another claim put forward for what is called extra wear and tear. It is suggested in a footnote that it may amount to £30,000,000. The claim reminds one of the claim which is said to have been made by a seaside landlady. She had a boarder who every morning had a fresh egg, and at the end of each day she put him in a bill for the egg, and at the end of the week he got a bill for the use of the egg-cup. At the end of the month he got a bill for the extra wear and tear on the hen. That appears to me to be something of the nature of the claim made here. The auditors have a note on the claim, and they say that there are "some factors which may tend to reduce it." I am glad to hear it. I hope the principal factor is the determination of the Government to resist the claim. I have heard of no such claims since the date when Oom Paul put in a claim for "moral and intellectual damage." Here is a claim for £40,000,000. more than twice the sum which is going to be spent to place the men who have come back from the War on the land—a sum which would be sufficient to finance the erection of 200 houses. I suggest to the Government that it is a claim which should not be paid without the very-closest examination. It is a claim which ought to be resisted, a claim that any business man would resist to the last. But it may be that the claim can be substantiated. At all events, it falls within the agreement, and will fall within the terms of the payment set out in Clause 3, so that under Clause 3 the payments heretofore in force may be taken not only as the net receipts, but also those for maintenance and for extra wear and tear. In addition to all that, the railway companies are to be allowed to come forward on Clause 7 and obtain whatever can be got under that Clause. The right hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) said the agreement entered into by the Railway Executive under which this payment was made was not an agreement for compensation at all. It was merely an arrangement as to rent. One is astonished to hear such a statement put forward. If that is what the agreement meant, agreements mean nothing. If we are to be told that that does not mean compensation, but only means rent, and that compensation is to follow, then agreements have lost all meaning. The object of the Amendment I have brought forward is to make perfectly clear under Clause 3 that what the railway companies who come in under that Clause get is not the payment, which may be merely a payment on account, but is compensation. The object of the Amendment is to exclude railways who are in Clause 3 from Clause 7 as long as they are under the agreement. That agreement is said to have covered two years. The Bill may run to three and a half years. In certain conditions the Bill gives continued control. There is a provision in the Bill under which the period may be extended for three years and six months. Clause 13 of the Bill says that the period of three years and six months shall be substituted for the period specified in the Special Acts (Extension of Time) Act, 1915. That Act provides that any Government Department which has any duties to perform may apply for an order extending the period during which it is to perform that duty. The period cannot he extended for more than twelve months, and the application must be made during the period of twelve months which is closing. Is the effect of Clause 13 to extend that period to three years and six months?
Clause 13, to which my hon. and gallant Friend refers, only has the effect, as I am advised, that whereas certain undertakings other than railway undertakings would have to come to Parliament for powers to extend their rights to purchase land for works which have been authorised, and whereas those powers have been extended from time to time by the Board of Trade, and the power of extension is now being transferred to the new Ministry, it is being made competent for the new Ministry to extend those particular powers up to the limit of the time to which any portion of this Bill applies. There is no possibility under this Bill of the railway control being exercised by the Government after two years without coming back to the House.
I accept the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, although, if that be so, I am not quite clear what is the purpose of the Amendment to Clause 3 moved yesterday by him and accepted, which stated that
The following provisions shall, unless Parliament otherwise determines, have effect for a period of two years after the passing of this Act, or where as respects any particular provisions a longer period is expressly provided, for such longer period.
That only relates to the one provision in the Act under which the rate charged under the special powers sought by this Bill, and under the authority of the Minister, in excess of the statutory maximum, are to continue for a further eighteen months in order to enable the railways—for this is a railway provision—to pay their way until such time as they can submit proposals to Parliament to enable them to make reasonable increases, within the discretion of Parliament, in their own rates.
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for that explanation. The effect of my Amendment is to make it quite clear, by substituting the word "compensation" for the word "payment," that what these railways are getting is the full compensation that they get under the Act of 1871, and also to make it quite clear that the railways which come in and get compensation under Clause 3 shall not also be able to come in and get compensation in addition under Clause 7.
So far as the substitution of the word "compensation" for the word "payment" is concerned, the Government are perfectly willing to accept that. But that does not in the least mean that the Government accepts the proposal in the hon. and gallant Member's next Amendment, which would require that, in the case of railways, for example, there should be two sets of officers, one dealing with the period during which the railway was under the control of the Board of Trade, and the other dealing with the period during which the railway was under the control of the Ministry of Ways and Communications. We cannot accept that.
I beg to move, in Subsection (1, a), after the word "force'' ["upon the same terms of payment as those heretofore in force"], to insert the words
under the agreement made in pursuance of that Section for such part of the period of possession as is covered by such agreement and for the remainder of the period of possession upon the same terms as to compensation as are provided for in Section seven of this Act.
The Government are not prepared to accept these words, because, to begin with, the dual position which would be created with regard to arbitration would be an almost impossible one It would be extremely difficult, in dealing with the effect upon a railway, to say what was the value of either enhancement or depreciation before the 1st August, 1919, and what was the value after that date. It would be almost impossible to distinguish between the two periods. I do not propose to follow my hon. and gallant Friend into all the details into which he went as regards the claims of the railways. Those claims would have to come up, no matter whether you have one or two periods. I agree that railways which are taken under the Act of 1871 are to have full compensation. We know that there was an agreement entered into at the beginning of the War, but it has been perfectly clear that, owing to circumstances which have since arisen, the railway companies would not be getting, under that agreement, the full compensation to which they were entitled under the Act. Under this Act, if the Bill becomes law, they will be entitled to be paid for depreciation or they will have to pay for enhancement, as the case may be-But the Government feel that this ought to be settled by one arbitration and one only. If you have an arbitrator, dealing with railways two years hence, deciding at the end of the period of control what is the depreciation or what is the ground for compensation in respect of things done after the 1st of August, 1019, and. another inquiring into what is the depreciation caused to railways by things which happened previous to the 1st August, 1919, the position would be almost impossible. You cannot have two periods divided in that way when the control is really one. The mere fact that you have transferred the control from one Government Department to another Government Department does not prevent the whole period of control being one period of Government control. Financially, also, the position would be almost impossible. It would lead to all kinds of trouble, confusion, and complication. Of course the basis of the compensation cannot anyhow be changed, because the two years' period of control after the War is regulated by Mr. Runciman's letter, which said that the basis was to continue for two years after the War had ceased, and for those two years, so far as railways are concerned, the compensation basis continues in accordance with Mr. Runciman's letter. For these reasons the Government are unable to accept this Amendment.
This Amendment is objected to by the Government on the ground that they cannot acknowledge two-sets of arbitrations. As I understand the Amendment, there is no need for any arbitration with regard to the railways taken over under the 1871 Act, because the question of compensation under that Act has already been settled by the agreement made on the 6th August, 1916. I understand that the suggestion is put forward that that agreement is not to be acknowledged, but is to be set aside, and I think it ought to be made quite clear to the House what is happening. There is no doubt that what happened on the 6th August, 1916, was that the question of compensation under the Act of 1871 was taken into consideration, and it was agreed between the two parties that the
Act of 1871 provided full compensation for any loss or injury, and that it further provided that this question might be agreed upon between the Secretary of State and the said person or body of persons, namely, the railway company. It is very strange that, on only about the last day of the Committee, for the first time we did get to know, not from the Government, but from the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), what the agreement between the railway companies and the Government was, and with the leave of the House I will read just the operative Clause. It commences:
The question of the basis on which compensation under the Act of 1871 shall be ascertained was discussed, and it was resolved to recommend that, to ascertain the compensation payable, the aggregate net receipts of all the railways taken over during the period for which they are taken over shall be compared with the similar aggregate for the corresponding period of the previous year. The ascertained deficiency shall be the amount of compensation due.
In face of those words, can anyone doubt for a moment that that agreement did assess the compensation payable under the Act of 1871, and the full compensation? And now the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon has made it quite clear that he has only taken power to take over these railways for a further period of two years. That makes it also clear that, so far as the railway companies taken over under the Act of 1871 are concerned, the whole period of his possession is covered by the agreement. Further, so far as assessment is concerned, it is not necessary for these railways to be under this Bill at all. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to tell us definitely whether he is going to stand by the agreement or not, so far as those railways are concerned, or whether he is now coming to ask the House to give those railways something over and above the compensation which they agreed to accept on the 6th August, 1916.
I think there is some confusion in the minds of the last speaker and of the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle (Major Barnes) as to the exact effect of the Amendment they are moving. No one wants the railways to be compensated twice over, but Clause 3 of the Bill lays down that, when the compensation under the Act of 1871 is retained for two years more, the same terms as to compensation shall prevail as were agreed upon in August, 1914, and prevailed during the War; and so, as far as the Minister under the Bill retains possession of those railways for two years after Peace, he retains possession on the same terms as those which prevailed during the War. That applies to something quite different. Under this Bill the Minister has power to do various things with railways, and the things that he does may increase or reduce the value. Clause 7 provides for a mutual assessment. If the value is increased, the company has to pay the increase, and if the value is diminished, then the Minister pays the diminished value. The result of inserting these words would not, so far as I see, affect those two compensations, but it would draw a wholly artificial line. I want to say a word about the agreement. The agreement between the Government and the shareholders is by no means in favour of the shareholders; in fact, it would probably have paid the shareholders best to charge the Government the full value. It is, however, a perfectly fair and reasonable agreement, and it gives both sides what they want, and it enables the Government to know exactly where they stood. All compensation paid under the Act of 1871 and the agreement of 1914 does not affect anything done under this Bill. Under this measure new and wide powers are given to the Minister, and if the exercise of those powers increases the value of the railways, the company has to pay, and if they diminish the value, then the Minister has to pay it.
I do not know whether this Amendment is going to be pressed to a Division or not, but if so I should like to say a word or two as to the precise issue which lies before us. I am sure, not intentionally, the speech of my hon. Friend opposite had the effect of entirely confusing and mystifying the issue. It really is a very simple point indeed. As I understand it, the intention of the Amendment which has been moved by my hon. Friend opposite is to limit the days under the Government guarantee to the period of control under the Act of 1871, and to leave any compensation with respect to the period of control under the Bill, but not under the agreement, to be dealt with in an entirely separate Clause—that is, Clause 7 of this Bill. That is how I interpret and understand the Amendment.
May I make the point quite clear? The object of my Amendment is that, in so far as the railway companies are under this agreement, and are enjoying the terms provided for by that agreement which are terms of full compensation, they should abide by those terms and should not have the benefit of any other terms which may be proposed in any other part of the Bill. If the Home Secretary would be prepared to take out the words "subject to the same terms of payment," and allow these railway companies to come in under the same compensation Clause as all other railway companies, I should have no objection.
The simple issue which under this Amendment the House has to decide is whether the Government will or will not carry out by the Clause they have put down the agreement made with the railway companies. That is the simple issue, and I mean the agreement made in August, 1914, and confirmed by the letter of the then President of the Board of Trade, not in August, 1914, but in September, 1916. I think the House will remember that in September, 1916, speaking on behalf of the then Government and the Board of Trade, Mr. Runciman undertook to extend the period of guarantee of net receipts to two years after the termination of the War. The simple question the House has to decide in relation to this Amendment is whether it does or does not wish to honour the bond given by Mr. Runciman. That is the simple and sole issue the House has to decide.
The Government come forward perfectly rightly, and have asked the House by inserting Clause 3, which is under discussion, to honour the bond into which they entered, and if the House accepts the Amendment which has been proposed by my hon. Friend opposite it will, in effect, break the bond which was made. My hon. Friend has referred to the effect of this Clause as compared with Clause 7 of the Bill. May I point out that Clause 7 is directed to an entirely different object. It has nothing whatever to do with the point dealt with under the Clause we are immediately discussing. The point to which Clause 7 is directed is whether compensation shall be paid for any reduction in value caused by the exercise by the Minister of this power under this Bill, which is an entirely separate and distinct point. May I call attention to the actual wording of the Clause.
Where at the end of the period of possession by the Government of any undertaking the value thereof on a revenue-earning basis has been reduced or enhanced as compared with the value at the commencement of such period, or where during that period the income thereof has been reduced or enhanced, after taking into account the natural growth of traffic on any railway belonging to a company,
then there shall be compensation paid if there has been a reduction in value. Consequently it works both ways. The point is entirely separate from that dealt with under Clause 3. I hope that not only will the Government honour the bond into which they have entered, but that the House will back them up.
I do not think this matter is so simple as the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has represented. I think we are going to get into a state of some confusion in this matter. There is no question in the Amendment before the House of repudiating at all the agreement made with the railway companies, but, on the contrary, there is a definite intention expressed in the Amendment to affirm that agreement, but to take care that is it not enlarged for the benefit of the railway shareholders at the expense of the State. No one, I think, will suggest for a moment that that agreement ought to be abrogated or lessened in its effect. I do not think the hon. Gentleman who last spoke wishes to suggest that it should be increased in favour of a particular class.
If the hon. Member will look at the Clause under Section 3, paragraph (a), he will see that the railways which have been taken possession of are to be remunerated during the extended period upon the same terms of compensation as were settled by the agreement. If he looks at Clause 3, Subsection (1), paragraph (b), he will find that the Minister is given power to take over certain other railways, but the Clause is silent as to the terms on which the railways are to be taken over. I submit that this is a casus omissus. Nowhere in this Bill, if I am right, do I find anything which says the working terms upon which these newly acquired railways are to be remunerated during the period of possession. If you look at Clause 7, which is the only part of the Bill which deals with this point, you will find it deals equally with both classes of railways, those which are in possession. and those which are to come into possession, and it provides a totally new principle. The effect of Clause 7 is that it embodies two principles, one of compensation for depreciation and the other the principle of betterment, as we used to call it, but enhancement, as it is called in Clause 7, for improved conditions.
The provision of Clause 7 is that where at the end of the period of possession of any of these railways of both classes, by reason of something which has been done by the Minister they are increased in value on a revenue-earning basis, or where on the contrary they are decreased in value on a revenue-earning basis, then the company shall be liable to pay for the enhancement or receive payment for the depreciation. I understand that my hon. and gallant Friend wishes, by his Amendment, to establish that you must not, under Clause 7, increase the compensation to be paid to the railways during the period they are in possession. I hope I have succeeded in making my point clear. I suggest to the Minister that the simple way would be to insert words in Sub-section (1), paragraph (b) of Clause 3 making the terms of the agreement now in existence with reference to controlled railways applicable to the railways which are coming under control. It might be said that the railways to be brought under control have not been consulted, but seeing that the principal railways have already accepted those terms, I cannot conceive that there will be any injustice in putting the same terms upon the railways.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1) paragraph (b), after the word "may" ["the Minister may"] to insert the words
after giving not less than one month's notice in writing.
This is merely giving effect to an undertaking in Grand Committee that a period would be inserted and that there should be provision in the Bill for definite notice to be given before any undertaking was taken over, so that as one member of the Committee put it, "some morning the undertakers should not come down to their office and find some one in possession." This Amendment therefore provides that a month's formal notice shall be given before the powers to take possession are exercised.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, b), to leave out the words "take possession," and to insert instead thereof the words "undertake direction." This is an Amendment brought forward at the suggestion of the Leader of the House, that some better phrase should be found than "take possession" in regard to the undertaking which is provided for under this Clause. The words "take possession" are in the Bill, as has frequently been described, because they are the words used in the Act of 1871, under which the railways were taken over at the commencement of the War. There is a great deal of misunderstanding in connection with the undertaking which it is sought to take over under this Bill, and it has been due to the use of these words "take possession." The difficulty, if I may state it shortly, is that the Minister gains central control and not local administration. That is the arrangement which was explained yesterday. Many of these undertakings, and I speak particularly of railways not yet taken over, think that they ought to obey the directions of the new Ministry, and that they ought in that way to come under his control, precisely in the same manner in which the railways which are presently managed and administered by the Railway Executive are under the control of the Board of Trade. There is no objection to that at all from the point of view of the owners of these railways, and T hope there will be no objection to the Amendment.
This Amendment really makes no difference at all in the Bill, but the words, "take possession" are the words of the Act of 1871. They are employed in regard to railways taken over, the meaning of them is perfectly well known, and "take possession" simply means undertaking direction of the railways. If you are going to undertake direction it means efficient direction, and if your direction is going to be efficient it means taking over just as much as under the Act of 1871. These words "take possession" have always been used, they are well understood, and the Government hope that the Amendment will not be pressed.
Surely there is a differentiation between the Act of 1871, which was purely a military Act, giving the Crown right to meet a military situation, and this Act which seeks to influence a number of private undertakings. I am going to make use now of an argument which I intend to put forward later in regard to the law of rating. Whether or not you are in possession of, or whether you undertake control or direction of, in the one case, if the Crown has the undertaking it escapes liability for all kinds of rates, and that would be a great injustice to the various rating authorities. In the other case, it cannot possibly be suggested that taking direction or control will relieve the Government of any liability or give the Crown any opportunity to escape paying rates. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there is a great difference between the Act of 1871 and the purposes of this Bill. In the one case you have a measure intended to cope with civil commotion, and to enable the forces of the Crown to be brought into operation, but in the other you are going to take power to give directions with regard to a large number of commercial concerns, which have hitherto been liable to rates among other things. Surely this is the opportunity to make good what was said yesterday as to the intentions of the Government with regard to this concern? I fail to see why, after what happened yesterday, these words should not be inserted.
I think I may add that the Leader of the House told us yesterday that the phrase "take possession" was undesirable, and suggested that some other form of words should be proposed. As the Home Secretary admits that the words we suggest bear exactly the same meaning as the words which they are intended to substitute, I cannot understand why the Government resist the Amendment.
I should like to join in the words uttered by my hon. Friends. In my opinion it is most important that the term "undertake direction" should appear in this Bill. I do not wish to join in any legal argument, because I am a layman, but if there is no difference in the meaning of the words why do not the Government accept them? In paragraph (c) we get the words "shall obey the directions of the Minister," and in my opinion the word "direction" ought to appear in both places. We do not want to have words conveying different meanings. We do not want in one Clause the words "take possession" and in the other Clause the word "direction." Obviously, it is bad drafting, and I hope, therefore, the Government will withdraw their objection to the Amendment.
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give a little more consideration to this matter. The Home Secretary knows quite well that there is very great anxiety in the country as to the intentions of the Government in regard to taking possession. If the Government are going to take possession of railways in fact, they become responsible for the whole detailed management of the railways which are in their power. We have had it stated over and over again that my right hon. Friend does not mean to run the railways and to be responsible for every individual order, but if it goes forth to the world in the terms of an Act of Parliament that they are taking possession of the railways, in view of the enormous powers which are set forth in Clause (b), it will be implied to the world that they are going to exercise them, and the meaning of the Act of Parliament will be that in fact the railways are temporarily nationalised. Of course, the essence of nationalisation is, first, ownership, and, secondly, individual management. I agree that my right hon. Friend would not own the railways, but he is to take possession with full powers of management over every single man employed on the railways. The right hon. Gentleman tells us it is necessary to take these wide powers in case of emergency, but, he adds, "I do not intend to exercise them." I therefore hope he will agree to remove from this Clause the words "take possession," because they imply the half-way house towards nationalisation.
Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY:
Inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman tells us that there is no actual difference between the words in the Bill and those we suggest, I hope the Amendment will be accepted. "Taking possession of" is a perfectly well understood term in legal circles, but the ordinary man in the street would define it as the Government taking possession of the railways lock, stock, and barrel. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept the Amendment.
With respect to the point raised by the hon. and learned Member (Sir H. Nield) with regard to rating, if the House will look at the Amendments further down the Paper they will find one with regard to rating, an equivalent to which the Government pro pose to accept, in order to safeguard the local authorities in this particular. With regard to the change of words which is proposed, it is true I said that there was no difference in the meaning, and I think so still, but it is so evident from the speeches delivered that something different is intended that I am more than ever persuaded not to accept this Amendment.
I rise again because I think there is some misunderstanding. The suggestion for this Amendment came from the Leader of the House. He said he knew there was a misunderstanding in the country, and he would be very glad if any hon. Member could suggest words which would be more acceptable. The Some Secretary was not present at the time, but I would remind him that the Leader of the House said he would be pleased to have any suggestion from any hon. Member which would change the name without changing the intentions of the Government. At the time the word "direction" was named. It was suggested that something should be done in this way to bring it before the House. I, therefore, say that I am doing this with the knowledge of the Leader of the House.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's correction. It is quite clear what was meant by the expression of opinion of hon. Members of this House, that is, they are clear that if the words "take possession" remain in the Bill it means a step towards nationalisation, if not complete nationalisation. I should like the Home Secretary to say, that being the clearly expressed opinion of Members of the House, does he stand by the interpretation of nationalisation if we retain in the Bill the words "take possession"? May I add one word in order to save time? If the Government can see their way to accept the words "undertake direction" in place of the words "take possession," it would allow me to withdraw the next Amendment standing in my name.
|Division No. 55.]||AYES.||[5.3 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Brown, J. (Ayr and Bute)||Fell, Sir Arthur|
|Adamson, Rt. Hon. William||Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Fisher, Rt. Hon. Herbert A. L.|
|Armitage, Robert||Cape, Tom||Flannery, Sir J. Fortescue|
|Arnold, Sydney||Carlile, Sir Edward Hildred||Forster, Rt. Hon. H. W.|
|Astbury, Lt-Com. F. W.||Carr, W. T.||Foxcroft, Captain C.|
|Astor, Major Hon. Waldorf||Carter, R. A. D. (Manchester)||Fraser, Major Sir Keith|
|Bagley, Captain E. A.||Carter, W. (Mansfield)||Galbraith, Samuel|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Casey, T. W.||Gange, E. S.|
|Baldwin, Stanley||Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. A. (Birm., W.)||Geddes, Rt. Hon. Sir E. (Cambridge)|
|Banbury, Rt. Hon. Sir F. G.||Clay, Capt H. H. Spender||Gibbs, Colonel George Abraham|
|Barlow, Sir Montague (Salford, S.)||Clyde. James Avon||Gilbert, James Daniel|
|Barnes, Major H (Newcastle, E.)||Collins, Col. Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Gilmour, Lieut.-Colonel John|
|Barnett, Captain Richard W.||Conway, Sir W. Martin||Glanville, Harold James|
|Barnston, Major Harry||Coote, Colin R. (Isle of Ely)||Graham, W. (Edinburgh)|
|Barrand, A. R.||Cory, Sir J. H. (Cardiff)||Green, J. F. (Leicester)|
|Barton, Sir William (Oldham)||Courthope, Major George Loyd||Greenwood, Col, Sir Hamar|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Crooks, Rt. Hon. William||Greig, Colonel James William|
|Beckett, Hon. Gervase||Davidson, Major-Gen. Sir John H.||Griffiths, T. (Pontypool)|
|Bennett, T. J.||Davies, Alfred (Clitheroe)||Griggs, Sir Peter|
|Bethell, Sir John Henry||Davies, Sir D. S. (Denbigh)||Grundy, T. W.|
|Bigland, Alfred||Davies, T. (Cirencester)||Guest, J. (Hemsworth. York)|
|Bird, Alfred||Davies, M. Vaughan- (Cardigan)||Guinness, Capt. Hon. R. (Southend)|
|Blake, Sir Francis Douglas||Dawes, J. A.||Hacking, Captain D. H.|
|Boscawen, Sir Arthur Griffith-||Dockrell, Sir M.||Hallwood, A.|
|Bowerman, Right Hon. C. W.||Edgar, Clifford||Hall, F. (Yorks, Normanton)|
|Brace, Rt. Hon. William||Edge, Captain William||Harris, Sir H. P. (Paddington, S.)|
|Bramsdon, Sir T.||Edwards, A. Clement (East Ham, S.)||Hartshorn V.|
|Breese, Major C. E.||Edwards, C. (Bedwellty)||Hayday, A.|
|Briant, F.||Elliot, Capt W. E. (Lanark)||Hayward, Major Evan|
|Broad, Thomas Tucker||Entwistle, Major C. F.||Herbert, Col. Hon. A. (Yeovil)|
|Brawn, Captain D. C. (Hexham)||Farquharson, Major A. C.||Herbert, Denniss (Hertford)|
|Hilder, Lieut.-Colonel F.||Murray, William (Dumfries)||Sturrock, J. Leng-|
|Hills, Major J. W. (Durham)||Nall, Major Joseph||Surtees, Brig.-Gen. H. C.|
|Hinds John||Neal, Arthur||Sutherland, Sir William|
|Hoare, Lt.-Col. Sir Samuel J. G.||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. (Exeter)||Swan, J. E. C.|
|Hodge, Rt. Hon. John||Nicholson, R. (Doncaster)||Sykes, Col. Sir A. J. (Knutsford)|
|Hogge, J. M.||Nicholson, W. (Petersfield)||Sykes, Sir C. (Huddersfield)|
|Hope, Harry (Stirling)||Oman, C. W. C.||Talbot, G. A. (Hemel Hempstead)|
|Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||O'Neill, Captain Hon. Robert W. H.||Thomas-Stanford, Charles|
|Hope, John Deans (Berwick)||Ormsby-Gore, Hon. William||Thomson, F. C. (Aberdeen, S.)|
|Hopkins, J. W. W.||Palmer, Major G. M. (Jarrow)||Thomson, T. (Middlesbrough, W.)|
|Hughes, Spencer Leigh||Parkinson, Albert L. (Blackpool)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)|
|Hunter, Gen. sir A. (Lancaster)||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Thorne, Col. W. (Plaistow)|
|Hurd, P. A.||Parry, Major Thomas Henry||Tickler, Thomas George|
|Hurst, Major G. B.||Pease, Rt. Hon. Herbert Pike||Tootill, Robert|
|Jephcott, A. R.||Percy, Charles||Townley, Maximilan G.|
|Jodrell, N. P.||Perkins, Walter Frank||Tryon, Major George Clement|
|Jones, J. Towyn (Carmarthen)||Pilditch, Sir Philip||Turton, Edmund Russborough|
|Kenworthy, Lieut.-Commander||Pratt, John William||Vickers, D.|
|Kenyon, Barnet||Prescott, Major W. H.||Waddington, R.|
|Kidd, James||Purchase, H. G.||Walker, Col. William Hall|
|Knight, Capt. E. A.||Raffan, Peter Wilson||Wallace, J.|
|Lambert, Rt. Hon. George||Randles, Sir John Scurrah||Walters, Sir John Tudor|
|Lane-Fox. Major G. R.||Raw, Lieutenant-Colonel Dr. N.||Walton, J. (York, Don Valley)|
|Larmor, Sir J.||Randall, Atheistan||Ward-Jackson, Major C. L.|
|Law, Right Hon. A. Bonar (Glasgow)||Richardson, R. (Houghton)||Ward, Col. L. (Kingston-upon-Hull)|
|Lewis, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Univ. Wales)||Roberts, Sir S. (Sheffield, Ecclesall)||Waring, Major Walter|
|Lister, Sir R. Ashton||Robinson, S. (Brecon and Radnor)||Warren, Sir Alfred H.|
|Lloyd, George Butler||Robinson, T. (Stratford, Lancs.)||Waterson, A. E.|
|Lonsdale, James R.||Rowlands, James||Watson, Captain John Bertrand|
|Lunn, William||Samuel, A. M. (Farnham, Surrey)||Weigall, Lt.-Col. W. E. G. A.|
|Lyle, C. E. Leonard (Stratford)||Samuel, S. (Wandsworth, Putney)||White, Charles F. (Derby, W.)|
|M'Donald, Dr. B. F. P. (Wallasey)||Samuels, Rt. Hon. A. W. (Dublin Univ.)||Whitla, Sir William|
|Macdonald, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Stirling)||Sanders, Colonel Robert Arthur||Williams, A. (Consett, Durham)|
|M'Laren, Hon. H. D. (Bosworth)||Seager, Sir William||Williams; J. (Gower, Glam.)|
|McMicking, Major Gilbert||Sexton, James||Williams, Col. P. (Middlesbrough)|
|Macpherson, Rt. Hon. James I.||Shaw, Tom (Preston)||Williams, Lt.-Col. Sir Rhys (Banbury)|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Williams, Col. Sir R. (Dorset, W.)|
|Malone, Col. C. L. (Leyton, E.)||Shortt, Rt. Hon. E. (N'castle-on-T., W.)||Wills, Lt.-Col. Sir Gilbert Alan H.|
|Malone, Major P. (Tottenham, S.)||Simm, Colonel M. T.||Wilson, Col. M. (Richmond, Yorks.)|
|Marks, Sir George Croydon||Sitch, C. H.||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Mason, Robert||Smith, Capt. A. (Nelson and Colne)||Winfrey, Sir Richard|
|Meysey-Thompson, Lt.-Col. E. C.||Spencer, George A.||Winterton, Major Earl|
|Mildmay, Col. Rt. Hon. Francis B.||Spoor, B. G.||Wood, Major Hon. E. (Ripon)|
|Mond, Rt. Hon. Sir Alfred Moritz||Sprot, Colonel Sir Alexander||Wood, Major S. Hill- (High Peak)|
|Morgan, Major D. Watts||Stanler, Capt. Sir Beville||Woolcock, W. J. U.|
|Morrison, H. (Salisbury)||Stanley, Colonel Hon. G. F. (Preston)||Young, William (Perth and Kinross)|
|Mosley, Oswald||Stanton, Charles Butt|
|Mount, William Arthur||Starkey, Capt. John Ralph||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Lord E.|
|Murchison, C. K.||Stephenson, Col. H. K.||Talbot and Captain F. Guest.|
|Murray, Major C. D. (Edinburgh, S.)|
|Adair, Rear-Admiral||Doyle, N. Grattan||O'Connor, T. P.|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Duncannon, Viscount||Pennefather, De Fonblanque|
|Ainsworth, Captain C.||Du Pre Colonel W. B.||Perring, William George|
|Archer-Shee, Lieut.-Col. Martin||Falle, Major Sir Bertram Godfray||Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Assheton|
|Ashley, Col. Wilfred W.||Forestier-Walker, L.||Raeburn, Sir William|
|Banner, Sir J. S Harmood-||Gardner, E. (Berks., Windsor)||Rawlinson, John Frederick Peel|
|Bellairs, Com. Carlyon W.||Gould, J. C.||Reid, D. D.|
|Benn, Com. Ian Hamilton (G'nwich)||Gretton, Colonel John||Remer, J. B-|
|Blair, Major Reginald||Gwynne, R. S.||Remnant, Col. Sir J. Farquharson|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Hambro, Angus Valdemar||Renwick, G.|
|Burdon, Colonel Rowland||Hennessy, Major G.||Sassoon, Sir Philip A. G. D.|
|Burn, colonel C. R. (Torquay)||Hickman Brig.-Gen. Thomas E.||Scott, Leslie (Liverpool, Exchange)|
|Campbell, J. G. D.||Hood, Joseph||Scott, Sir S. (Marylebone)|
|Campion, Col. W. R.||Houston, Robert Paterson||Steel, Major S. Strang|
|Cautley, Henry Strother||Johnstone, J.||Stewart, Gershom|
|Cayzer, Major H. R.||Jones, William Kennedy (Hornsey)||Sugden, W. H.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Lord H. (Oxford Univ.)||King, Com. Douglas||Terrell, G. (Chippenham, Wilts.)|
|Cheyne, Sir William Watson||Law, A. J. (Rochdale)||White, Col G. D. (Southport)|
|Child, Brig-General Sir Hill||Locker-Lampson G. (Wood Green)||Wigan, Brig.-General John Tyson|
|Dough, R.||Lowther, Col. C. (Lonsdale, Lancs.)||Williams, Lt.-Com. C. (Tavistock)|
|Coats, sir Stuart||Lynn, R. J.||Wilson, Capt. A. Stanley (Hold'ness)|
|Colvin, Brigadier-General R. B.||M'Laren, R. (Lanark, N.)||Wilson-Fox, Henry|
|Cory, Sir Clifford John (St. Ives)||Marriott, John Arthur R.||Wood, Sir J. (Stalybridge and Hyde)|
|Craig, Capt. C. (Antrim)||Mitchell, William Lane-||Yate, Colonel Charles Edward|
|Croft, Brig.-Gen. Henry Page||Molson, Major John Elsdale||Young, Sir F. W. (Swindon)|
|Curzon, Commander Viscount||Murray, John (Leeds, W.)|
|Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington)||Nicholl, Com. Sir Edward||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—Mr.|
|Denison-Pender, John C.||Nield, Sir Herbert||Marshall Stevens and Mr. G. Balfour.|
|Dewhurst, Lieut.-Com. H.|
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), paragraph (b),to leave out the words
part of any other railway undertaking or of any light railway or tram way (other than a tramway or a light railway used as a tramway belonging to a local authority).
This paragraph deals with various matters and allows the Minister, on very short notice, to take possession of various undertakings, including tramways and light railways. The various undertakings mentioned in the paragraph have been protected to a large extent by the Clause adjusted between Ministers and my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) yesterday, but no protection whatever has been given or indicated in respect of tramways and light railways. The House has not informed itself of the true position of these undertakings in regard to this Bill When speaking yesterday on Clause 2,I mentioned that there are 279 tramway undertakings in this country with a total of 2,700 route miles, of which 1,800 odd are owned by the local authorities. All the 171 tramways covering 1,800 miles owned by the local authorities arc excluded from the operation of this paragraph.
This Sub-section, therefore applies only to 108 tramway systems, totalling slightly over 800 miles, and detached altogether from the 171 municipal tramways covering 1,800 miles. Is there the slightest particle of sense in bringing these isolated tramway lines under the operation of this Subsection? I am not unfamiliar with the construction and management of tramway undertakings. Any personal interest that I or any other Member may have in any one of these undertakings must go by the board. The public interest must predominate. I am prepared to stand by that, inside and outside the House, but I have searched the records, and I have listened to the Minister-designate, and I have not found or heard of a single word he has uttered which justifies the inclusion of these small tramway systems in this Subsection. I ask him to give some real and solid reason as to how the public of this country are going to benefit by bringing tramways and light railways into it, or else to allow the Amendment to pass. If he can show me that there is some real great public object to be served, I will gladly withdraw the Amendment; but I think I am not asking too much when I ask for a plain, simple statement, showing that this is in the public interest.
I think from the very first we have pointed out that for the purpose of housing and other purposes the control of tramways and light railways was essential. They are often in those very places where you want to develop agriculture and have healthy and good surroundings in housing. For that reason it is most essential that these tramways and light railways should coma within the scope of the Act.
The statement of the Home Secretary is not quite clear. There are a number of light railway undertakings in some agricultural districts which are privately owned by the owners of the land. They are labour-saving appliances. This applies especially to districts where potato growing is the-dominant industry, and the potatoes could not be either planted or moved under present conditions without the services of these light railways. Is it intended that the Minister of Ways and Communications should take them over? The Clause as it stands is very sweeping, and it does not appear to be necessary that any such-control should be taken.
It is certainly not the intention to take over a railway which some private gentleman may have. Of course, if it is an undertaking which has-been sanctioned by the Light Railway Commissioners or anything of that sort, and is used by the public, it would come within the terms of the Clause, but if it is a purely private matter it would not be an undertaking within the meaning of the words.
I beg to move, to leave out paragraph (c).
I move this for the purpose of obtaining from the Government an absolutely definite statement that it is not their intention during the period of two years contemplated by the Bill to take any steps which will have indirectly the result of forcing us into nationalisation. The Government draftsman has inserted at the beginning of the Clause a preamble, upon which I expressed the hope on the Second Reading that it represented a reality in the intentions of the Government, and was not mere camouflage. It is a plain statement, so far as the language is concerned, that the object of the provisions of the Bill is to enable the Government to ascertain, and, through the results of the experiment, to inform the House and the country, what is the position as regards the various transport services, and keeping entirely open what the policy should be as to the future. The question of nationalisation or not of the various transport services in the Bill is an urgent and real question here and now. There are large sections of opinion in this House in favour of nationalisation. There are hon. Members who want to nationalise railways, transport services, the mercantile marine, the mines, and every other industry in the country. That is what they are out for, and that is the reason why the solid block from the benches opposite supported the Government in Committee upstairs and in the last Division also. On the other hand, there is already a very large body of opinion which believes that nationalisation on those lines would spell the commercial bankruptcy and downfall of this country, and, with it, the livelihood of the workers, about which we on these benches are just as anxious as Members of the Labour party. It is because we may to-day be at the parting of the ways, taking or not taking a course which, willy nilly, may land us in nationalisation in the future, that I ask for an absolutely definite, clear undertaking as to the way in which they are going to administer this Bill. To my mind, that is not enough. I should like to have it so amended as to make it impossible for the Government to bring about nationalisation. I see little prospect of that happening in this House, but we all have hopes of another place.
The point I want to make clear is this: On the Second Reading Debate the Government said, so far as their language goes, '' We do not mean by this Bill to effect nationalisation. We do not ask to do by a side wind what we are not asking to do directly. "Do they mean it? The Minister designate may regard this question of nationalisation as quite a small thing compared with the importance of giving him the autocratic powers over the transport services that he asks, but although ho personally may not have nationalisation in mind, it does not follow necessarily that during the whole of the period of two years he will be the Minister of Ways and Communications. Rumour says that there are many who contemplate asking him to reorganise the Church. There are difficulties looming up in another place which may demand the services of the one man who can do these things. My informant may, of course, be mistaken, but it is said that in that event he is to have the temporary rank of Archbishop. Be that as it may, we are not certain of the inestimable privilege of his services as Minister of Ways and Communications, and, in any event, this Bill has. to be judged on its merits, and not from the point of view of the personality of one man. Let us look at this Sub-section and see what germs of nationalisation there are in it. There are many services referred to in respect of which, I believe, the House, almost without exception, recognises that co-ordination, as distinct from State management, is desirable. We all want to see our transport services better linked up. We want more unification in that sense. But that is a radically different thing from nationalisation, and the public of this country only in the last few weeks, and with the assistance of Mr. Smillie, appears to understand what nationalisation means. Sub-paragraphs 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 do not seem to me to raise nearly as much danger as far as nationalisation is concerned as the earlier Sub-paragraphs. They are all perfectly reasonable, and, indeed, essential objects, when you are dealing with the successful working of transport services. But not necessarily by means of one central authority, one individual man who can give orders from a State Department as to what is to be done throughout the country in all these details. That is a degree of centralisation which will lead to trouble. The Minister-designate has said that that is not his intention as to the way he intends to carry out his functions. Look at para-
graphs (l), (2), and (3). See what he can do. In the Sub-section (c) it is set out that
The directors and other persons concerned with the management, and officers and servants of, any undertaking of which, or of the plant whereof, possession is retained or taken shall obey the directions of the Minister as to the user thereof.
By paragraph (1) the Minister can alter the whole scale of rates, fares, tolls, dues, and charges of any undertaking. Paragraph (2) relates to salaries, wages, remuneration, and conditions of employment of persons employed on or in connection with the undertaking. The Minister has power to put up all the wages, to put down all the salaries and to do anything he likes in regard to the whole staff, managerial and manual, connected with the whole of these services. Is not that exposing the country to the extreme danger of political pressure? We all know that during the War trouble resulted from Government Departments running industrial undertakings. We all know about the 12½ per cent. of the Ministry of Munitions; we all know about the war bonus under the Coal Controller's Department during the War. I express no opinion as to whether these rises were right or wrong, but they were granted in circumstances when pressure was being exerted by the workmen to get these rises out of the Government, and having regard to the recent resolution at Southport as to direct action, are we not simply putting our heads into the noose by inviting Parliament to give the Minister each powers as are conferred by this Sub-section—absolute and autocratic powers with no safeguard whatever as a buffer, so to speak, between the Minister, the Government Department concerned, and the wages of the operatives who are in effect employed by the Ministry? It is idle to say that they are not employed by the Ministry, because under this Sub-section the position is exactly as though they were. Under paragraph (3) the Minister can order the whole staff, directors and everybody else, to obey his orders as to the working or discontinuance of the working of any undertaking or any part thereof. He can order the undertaking to stop working or he can order one part to stop and another to go on.
These powers mean nationalisation, and my submission is that it is wrong, and that what we ought to have instead is a temporary period during which he can guide and offer advice and ask for agreement from the various bodies responsible for the working of these services, and if he cannot get from them immediate-agreement to his reasonable demands he-should have power to go to an independent authority and say, "You must do it," exactly on the lines of the Clause the Government have had to concede in regard to docks and harbours. That, I submit, is a sound policy which this House ought to adopt with regard to the whole of Clause 3. Adopt the Minister-designate's object, approve his motives, give him powers to co-ordinate, give him-powers of control, give him power to go to an independent authority to compel, but do not give him the power, by his mere Order, in effect to manage the whole-transport services of the country. I challenge him to say definitely, Does he or does he not contemplate that he is going in effect to have the powers of management? Let him tell us that. I have moved to omit this particular Clause in order that we may clear the ground and' know where we are, and so that we may not be lulled into false security by being told that this Bill does not mean nationalisation, and so that we may not find ourselves two years hence in the position of seeing the transport services of the country in such a position that nationalisation is the only way out of an impossible position. That, practically speaking, is the argument that many have used as to the railways, as the result of Government control during the War. It is an argument that many have used regarding mines as a result of Government control during the War. It is a dangerous argument, because it has a great deal in it. Before it is too late, let this House see that this Bill does not lead to a result which not only the great majority of this House want to avoid, but which I am certain the great majority of the nation want to avoid.
I beg to second the Amendment.
In doing so I want to supplement the remarks of the hon. Member for Liverpool. Let the House remember how this-Bill originated. As far as I can understand it came out of the resolution of the Trade Union Congress last year, namely:
That in view of the national advantages arising from the working of the railway services under State control, this Congress again urges upon the Government the desirability of the complete nationalisation of the railways This Congress further expresses the opinion
that with a view, to the full development of our national resources steps should be taken to bring all the other available means of transport and communication, for example, canals, roads, motor vehicles, postal telegraph and aerial services, into harmonious co-ordinative working, the whole to be controlled by a Minister of Transport and Communications, who shall be responsible to Parliament and be assisted by advisory committees upon which the organised workers engaged in the industries shall be adequately represented.
When addressing the electors at Dundee, the Secretary of State for War (Mr. Churchill) stated that the Government had decided upon the nationalisation of railways. So far as I am aware, there has been no definite statement to the contrary. When this Bill was before the House for Second Reading—a feather indicates how the wind blows—the Private Secretary to the Prime Minister—the Prime Minister, of course, being unavoidably absent—stated his views. I refer to the hon. Member for Crewe, who conducted, so far as I was concerned, the correspondence that passed between the Prime Minister and myself for the interests that represented cm this question. He stated in this House that this Bill was a necessity towards nationalisation. That is the nearest attempt we have had of any Government Indications of what is meant. As regards my hon. Friends of the Labour party, the hon. Member for Wednesbury said:
We support it chiefly because we believe that it is a step leading ultimately to nationalisation.''
The right hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Brace), who conducted the Committee upstairs with such ability, supported the Bill, and said:
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 used for the national interests and the national welfare rather than for private profit, that we shall give the Bill our support.
In Committee this Bill was so supported en bloc by the Labour party that it has come down here now a different measure from what it would have been had it not been for their intervention.
I want to give them credit for it from their point of view, and the more they applaud me the stronger is my case. We have been met from the outset by the Government in what appears to me, as a new Member and a business man, to be a deplorable way.
It appears to me that the discussion is ranging much too wide. The exact point is, whether or not this paragraph (c) of Clause 3 in effect goes beyond the intention set out in the first five lines of Clause 3—that is to say, whether it commits Parliament to something more than is indicated in the beginning of the Clause. It does not go so far as to justify a discussion on the whole of the merits and demerits of nationalisation.
I should not have taken part in this Debate were it not for the speech made by the hon. Member for Liverpool. I appreciate the point made by you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that this is not quite the time to raise the whole question for or against nationalisation of railways or other industries, but I have been watching with some admiration and a good deal of fear the preparation of the atmosphere against nationalisation by the opponents of nationalisation. I am afraid that the Government is likely to be stampeded against nationalisation under the impression that there is but one view in this House, unless someone comes forward to put another view. My hon. Friends and myself realise that the best way we can help the Government in connection with this Bill is to sit quiet and vote. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] I felt sure that that would appeal to all parties who would be only too delighted if they could get Labour Members up to make a series of long speeches, so as to delay the business.
We cannot be drawn, but my hon. Friends and myself would feel condemned if we allowed the statement of my hon. and learned Friend to go without some challenge. My answer to my hon. and learned Friend is this, not that the case is against nationalisation but that the War and the experience of the War have made the nationalisation of railways and mines of this land inevitable
We would rather save ourselves if we can. I simply rise to tell the Government that I hope they will neither directly nor indirectly commit themselves in this discussion to nationalisation. I am quite aware that the great and far-reaching proposal to nationalise the great key industries of this land must be settled in a Bill which will deal in a direct manner with the proposals. But it is because I am afraid that, unless we make it clear why we are silent, while views against nationalisation are expressed in this House, an atmosphere may be created in which when we come to deal with nationalisation we shall find ourselves overwhelmed with an opinion which is not a proper opinion, that I ask the right hon. Gentleman in reply not to commit the Government against nationalisation either directly or indirectly; because whether we like it or not, or whether the House of Commons realises it or not, a vast body of progressive opinion in this country, not alone among the working classes, is convinced that if in the strenuous days which lie before US this nation is to emerge successfully from the great commercial and industrial competition with which it is going to be faced, it can only be done by placing the great key industries of this country upon a national footing.
I understand that the object of this Amendment is to obtain from the Government an assurance that they will do nothing which will make the nationalisation of these undertakings or any of them inevitable. The question of nationalisation does not arise under this Bill at all. I do not intend to offer an opinion either one way or the other in regard to nationalisation. This Bill in Clause 3 provides for a period of time during which there shall be consideration and formulation as to the policy to be pursued as to the future position of these undertakings. I am asked to-day to give an assurance that nothing will be done to make nationalisation inevitable. Nationalisation could not come except by the Government coming to this House and obtaining the necessary powers. There is nothing in this Bill which makes nation- alisation possible without first coming to this House and getting these powers, and when I am asked to give an assurance to the House that His Majesty's Government, in carrying out the powers which this Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, will bestow, will undertake that they will not behave in an absolutely dishonourable and dishonest manner, and come here with the pitch deliberately queered in order to get the question of nationalisation settled in a particular way, I do not think we are called on on behalf of the Government to give any assurance that we are not going to exercise these powers in a dishonourable way.
Sir H. DALZIEL:
I intervene for a moment in order to get a little more information in regard to this matter. I am glad that it is accepted in all parts of the House that the issue of nationalisation of the railways is not to be raised in this Bill. I understand that it is accepted by my hon. Friends opposite, because my right hon. Friend tells us they are silently watching the progress of this Bill, and apparently are perfectly satisfied with the position, and it seems that they are satisfied, also, with the declaration of the Government that in no circumstances is this Bill to be used as a lever for nationalisation.
Our silence must not be taken as meaning consent. We must not be taken, simply because we do not intervene, as consenting to the policy which the Government have laid down.
Sir H. DALZIEL:
The right hon. Gentleman is like the young lady at the dance who was not employed but who sat there in the hope that a little later she would be employed. I have felt, from what I know of him, that if he were not satisfied with the manner in which things have gone up to the present time, he would not have been silent in these Debates, and refused to take any part in the controversy on this Bill as to the nationalisation of railways. But I do ask my right hon. Friend in charge of the Bill to say to a few of us who are anxious that the Government should keep a straight line in the course of this Bill, exactly what the position is in regard-to it. As I read the Clause the Government, through the Minister, are authorised to take possession practically of all the railways of the country. I understand that in two years the position may be that the Minister will be in control of every railway in the country. He has power under the Sub-section which we are discussing to dismiss directors. [An Hon. Member: "No!"] It is provided that the officers or servants of any undertaking shall obey the directions of the Minister. Directors are bound to obey his directions. Does not that mean that he has power to dismiss them, not perhaps by order of dismissal, but by, his policy? The directors may decide a certain policy, and next day they may get a letter from the Minister to take exactly the opposite course. No man with a sense of dignity would remain in that position. Therefore, my right hon. Friend is going to be the great railway boss in the course of two years. We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that that is going a very long way toward nationalisation. It has been said that nothing can be done until the House of Commons expresses its view's but he may come down here and say, "I have taken over all the railways and they are working very well. There is a profit here and a reduction of the loss there, and who is the man who will say that we ought to go back to the old awful position?" I am not prejudging, but I do say that that is certainly prejudicing the position.
My right hon. Friend will have taken the railways over. During that period are the employés State servants or not? In my opinion he is representing the State. He is head of all the railways with power to dismiss, and he is the governing person to decide on all great issues, and, in effect, every man employed on the railway is a Government servant. I would ask him, therefore, if he takes any further part in this Debate that he should tell us what he considers to be the position of those employés during the time he is in control. I do not think that the House of Commons has been quite frankly dealt with in regard to this matter. We know that this is one of the great issues that are coming in a very short time. We have got to face it, but it has got to be faced on its merits in the House of Commons, and it ought to be faced purely on its merits. No one will pretend that this was one of the great issues at the last General Election. Therefore the Government ought not, and I am sure that they do not intend to, prejudice the position in any way. For my part after the declaration they have made that nothing is to be done under this Bill in any way to assist the controversy with regard to nationalisation, I think they might very well have put a Clause into the Bill to that effect. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give us some more information as to the intentions of the Government in regard to this matter—that they do not intend by a mere side wind to entrench themselves so that it will be impossible to shift them two years hence.
I think that the logical conclusions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Sir H. Dalziel) are perfectly clear, and they follow very definitely from the Clause of the Bill to which the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool has called attention. There can be no doubt that the Minister who has the power of affecting the remuneration and conditions of employment of those who are concerned with railways, of changing rates and determining the working conditions or the non-working conditions, by stopping the working of a railway, has a power which may lead undoubtedly to what the Mover of the Amendment so greatly fears. It seems to me that the suggestion of the Mover of the Amendment that there should be a Court of appeal against the Minister, so that the Minister should resign these powers and let them continue in the hands which at present control them, and then if he wants any change, that there should be a buffer between himself and the persons who are affected by these changes, is a definite proposition coming from himself. But would it work? Here we have an analogy—which occurred to me during the speech of my hon. and learned Friend —in the Post Office. In the Post Office you have a great Minister who has precisely the same powers in regard to the administration of a Department employing thousands of people, and we all know how the power of the Government through that Minister has been affected, and the attempt which there is to affect it, by appeals from those who are concerned and who are also electors.
I do not think anyone can deny that the addition of another Department to the present existing Department of the Post Office is a step in the direction which my two hon. Friends appear to fear. But is it in any way avoidable? One of the speakers has stated that there was no mandate. There was a mandate. The mandate that was given by the country was to coordinate the transport system of the country. One of the most effective appeals of the Prime Minister to the country at the last election was that the transport for passengers, for goods, and for agri- culture should all be reorganised and all brought under one co-ordinated authority. I would ask my hon. Friend, Is there any alternative method to the one set forth in this Clause that would effect the coordination which was part of the policy upon which the last election was fought, and which is now, as regards transport, being fulfilled by the provisions of this Bill? I venture to think that if these provisions were withdrawn from the Minister and were continued in the hands of those who now administer them, and if the clogging and delaying effect of appeal to some other authority to be set up were started, as is suggested, the working of the Department would be impossible. What would be the effect on the Post Office of withdrawing from the control of the Postmaster-General the administrative power which he possesses in regard to such matters as charges, working, remuneration, and conditions of employment, and the setting up of a third or independent tribunal to whom the Postmaster-General might have to refer? The result would be chaos and the impossibility of working from a business point of view. So, whilst recognising, as I do recognise, the danger of nationalisation in regard to the railways, I regard it as inevitable to incur that danger and that risk in the case of railways and the co-ordination of transport as it was inevitable to do so, and must continue to be necessary in the case of the Post Office. I welcome the suggestion of the Mover of the Amendment that some declaration of a very definite character should, if possible, be obtained from the Minister, and that he should give an undertaking that nothing that would occur in his administration will promote or prejudice one way or the other those questions of future possible nationalisation or the refusal of it by Parliament. I do feel, however, that the' proposal of my hon. and learned Friend is impracticable; that it cannot be accepted because it will defeat the whole object and purpose of the Bill; and that it would introduce evils greater even than those he fears so much.
While not in any way disputing the conclusion of my hon. Friend who has just spoken, that the effect of this Sub-section is precisely the same as that we find in the Post Office and the telephone service, I want to call attention to the statement of the Home Secretary that there was nothing in this Bill which could affect the question of nationalisation. Surely he is wrong I Surely, if the Minister-designate took powers—let us say, for example, greatly to increase the running expenses of the transport of this country, through wages or through some other method—you would have precisely the same argument that some people are using now when they say that Government control during the War has rendered the nationalisation of railways imperative.
I cannot agree that it makes very much difference. It is possible under this Bill that such steps could be taken by the Minister-designate as to produce the result that he would have to come to this House and say, "There is no alternative now but to nationalise the railways." There is a very great deal of uneasiness on this question. I think the speech of an hon. Member who spoke just now was conclusive evidence that this question has, been in the minds of Ministers and of the Prime Minister. We want to know where we are, and we do invite the Government to tell us. The whole case would be altered if we had a definite pledge that under no circumstances are they going to nationalise any industries until they have appealed to the electors again. With all due respect, there was no mandate at the last election of any description whatever for nationalising any industry.
I do not wish to misinterpret my hon. Friend. I agree that, generally speaking, there was a mandate for co-ordination of transportation in this country. But we have gone further than that, and there are a large-number of people with the opinion, whether it be right or wrong, that the Government is in some way or other committed to these principles. It stands to reason, I think, that the Coal Commission, could not have been set up but for the fact that the Government did contemplate a. possible verdict in the direction of nationalisation. That being the fact, we want to know exactly where we stand. If the right hon. Gentleman has no ulterior motives, will he state to the House definitely that under no circumstances will there be any attempt made to nationalise the railways under this Bill? If so, we need not feel alarm to the extent that many of us feel it now. Let the right hon. Gentleman and the Government be frank with the House.
I have come to the conclusion that this subject of nationalisation is brought into the Debate for a specific purpose, and that specific purpose is to call up the forces of the vested interests that are so well represented in this House, in order to defeat the main object of this Bill, in which the principle of nationalisation is not in any way incorporated. This endeavour to drag nationalisation into the Debate has that particular object in view. Mention has been made of certain resolutions passed at the Trade Union Congress. Those are not resolutions passed only at the last Trade Union Congress. We in the trade union and Labour world believe we have a sound policy for nationalisation, but it is a thing we advocated many years before this War broke out. I am reminded also of the fact that it was only a week last Monday that an hon. Member with one or two other of his Friends who had been sitting on this Grand Committee, evidently with a plotting procedure intended to wreck the Bill, met in conference at the Central Hall. I sprang a surprise on that meeting by getting up and saying something in contrast to a resolution that was carried with only one dissentient. If this particular paragraph is deleted from the Bill, what would it amount to? The Minister-designate may at once clear out of the position he now holds, for there will be no work for him to do. Does anyone suppose that our transport system to-day is what it really ought to be? If the Gentlemen who represent these vested interests tell us, as they do so frequently, that they are running all these concerns at a loss, why are they so particularly anxious to keep them in their bosoms? One would have thought it was a grand opportunity to dispose of them and to hand them over to the Minister-designate. He would run them, not to the satisfaction of any particular interest, but for the good of the community. On this Clause and in Sub-section (5) I want to draw attention to the fact that there is something which, if this paragraph is deleted, will be to the detriment of the British travelling public and also to the concerns themselves. It refers to the carrying out of alterations and improvements which the Minister considers necessary for the public safety or for the more efficient and economical working of the undertaking. There have been strong arguments in the country as to the need ' of establishing automatic couplings. Does anyone suppose that the scene we have recently witnessed in the railway world is one that can go on much longer—where trains are running in such a fashion that there is no co-operation between the railway companies? In Bristol to-day, although there is a joint station, it often happens that a Midland Railway express train will run in a few minutes after a Great Western train, with which it should have made connection, has left the station. While such a system prevails travellers-and the business community are saddled. It is a result of the false system of competition that has prevailed, and it is the-reason why we want to get a co-ordinating policy. The House has got to decide upon these issues. It has either to stand on the side of vested interests or it must take its stand for the communal good. Members of this House are elected not for any private interest, but are sent hereto speak the opinions and express the desires of the people who have given them their votes, and not in the vested interests of the British Federation of Industries or the Clyde Trust, or any other of the bodies which could be easily named. I am quite convinced if those vested interests took out of their minds this policy of nationalisation or cast it into the background, we-should have solid support for the Government, in order that this Clause should be retained as part of the Bill. As this contains the fundamental principle of the-Bill, I do hope that the Government will not capitulate on it as it had done before, but stand by it.
I do wish hon. Members of the Labour party would realise that all the wisdom and all the right in the world is not on their side of the Gangway. We who sit below the Gangway represent our constituents just as much as they do theirs. I have no objection to them speaking for their constituents, but please let them not presume to say that many other Members do not represent their constituents, and represent, too, just as many labour votes—[HON. MEMBERS: "More!"]—as hon. Members above the Gangway. We should not be here if we represented vested in- terests. We are here representing large constituencies, and our hon. Members below the Gangway represent far more labour votes than hon. Members above the Gangway. At all events, many of us, in our individual constituencies, had the pleasure of fighting labour candidates, and by labour votes beating them. I do hope that they will realise that we are as honest in our determination to act in the public good and welfare as much as they are. I rise not to turn this Clause out of the Bill, but to explain why we did not attack it in Committee. Quite frankly the reason was this: Hon. Members will remember that on the Second Reading of the Bill, the Minister-designate told us that the railway system was in a parlous state, and that it must be taken charge of, and that there was a deficit of £100,000,000 sterling per annum on the working of the railways. It was because that was in our minds, and because the Leader of the House reiterated that statement, and because we had not then the Report of Sir William Plender and another eminent accountant before us on the railways, that we felt—and I think rightly felt—on this Clause that we were overwhelmed by the statement of my right hon. Friend with regard to the financial position of the railways. He told us it was essential to have these powers because of that deficit, and in order to make it up.
The position is very different to-day. We are by no means satisfied now that there is a deficit of £100,000,000, and we cannot get any figures from the Government which would prove that deficit. It may be, and quite rightly, that the gross cost of running the railways is £100,000,000 more than it was in 1913, but the receipts are vastly higher than in that year. I think that if hon. Members look at the Report of the two distinguished accountants in the White Paper circulated, they will see that there is no clear proof that three months ago there was a deficit of £100,000,000. I do not want to immediately turn out this Clause, but to ask the Government for a declaration on the lines suggested by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Liverpool, and I think we are entitled to that. Do not forget that one important member of the Government, the Secretary of State for War, distinctly stated during the General Election that the Government was in favour of nation-
alisation. I do not know if that statement has ever been refuted, and I do not think it has been openly refuted. I wish the Leader of the House would make the statement to us here which he made to us in a private meeting two nights ago upstairs, and of which some garbled reports have appeared in the newspapers. I think it would be well if he would do so. The Home Secretary has really made no statement at all of any substance on this question of nationalisation. If he will get up and say on behalf of the Government, "We do not intend nationalisation," then well and good, and this discussion would not go any further. His colleague, the Minister-designate of Ways and Communications, was almost as explicit on the subject of nationalisation on the Second Reading of this Bill as was the Home Secretary this afternoon. If we want to know whether the Minister-designate is in favour of nationalisation or not, and means to use this Bill as an agent towards nationalisation or not, let us see what he said on Second Reading, as follows:
Is nationalisation a cure for that? I do not know. There are those who look upon nationalisation as an end in itself, as something desirable. I am not one of those. I look upon nationalisation as a possible means to an end, a means to an end which you may have to adopt with its disadvantages, if the advantages which it secures outweigh them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th March, col. 1770.]
There is a cryptic sentence supposed to express the view of the Minister-designate when he brought this Bill before the House on the great question of nationalisation. I do not think I am much wiser, or that the House is, from my having read that statement. I see one or two hon. Members on the Front Bench, who share my political views, and I want quite seriously and quite candidly to tell them that there is a vast body of their supporters in this House who are gravely concerned as to the nationalising tendency of this particular Bill. May I say to them, and to the whole House, we have loyally supported the Coalition Government during the War and since the War. We felt that it was essential that the Coalition Government should complete the War and carry out Peace. A Coalition Government is a coalition of the Liberal, Conservative, and Labour parties who compose it, and a Coalition Government cannot have the united support of the Coalition Members if it transgresses the negative character of policy which must be the only policy of that
Government. The moment they adopt a policy, whether it be socialistic on the one side or extreme Tory on the other, those on the Socialist side or those o[...] the other are entitled to say that they are not playing the game as a Coalition Government, and its Members are absolved from the allegiance to the Coalition Government. I hope most sincerely that it will not be necessary to do so, and that the Government will not drive any of their supporters to disown their allegiance to the Government; but I tell them frankly that here in this Bill, and still more in the Report of the Coal Commission, is the genesis of a split in the Coalition party. If the Government is going in for nationalisation, I say at once vast numbers of Unionist Members, of this House will have no part or lot in carrying that, and as an hon. and gallant Friend reminds me, very many Liberals too. It is better that we should know where we stand. It is better for them and for us, and the hon. and learned Member for Liverpool has given the Government an opportunity this afternoon to make a statement to which I think we are entitled. We had no answer from the Home Secretary at all. The answer of the Minister-designate is really no answer either. I ask some member of the Government to get up and tell us whether they intend to work this Bill in order that it may be in the result the beginning of nationalisation, or whether they are going to work this Bill in order at all hazards to prevent nationalisation?
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) will forgive me for saying that I entirely dissociate myself from, the bellicose tone' he adopted towards the Government. I think the House owes a debt of gratitude to the hon. Member who has raised this question, which is one of great importance and one which should not be passed by without discussion. I do not know whether the hon. and learned Member intends to proceed to a Division on his Amendment, but I hope that that will not be the case, because, as has been pointed out by an hon. Member on the Labour Benches, it would be quite impossible to strike this Sub-section out of the Bill without reducing the whole Bill to an absolute unmeaning set of phrases. You could not take out the Sub-section without destroying the Bill. While I do not imagine that my hon. and learned Friend desires to press this matter to a Division, at the same time I must say I felt very much impressed by the case which he submitted, and I should be glad if the Government felt themselves in the position to explain exactly how, from a practical point of view, a railway taken over under the powers of this Clause, and administered under the powers of this Clause, differs from a nationalised railway. If you, take possession of a railway and compel the managing body to carry out any order that may be given to them, and even in. reference to such matters as the rates of toll, and wages and salaries of the servants, what is there left in which a nationalised railway would differ from a, railway under such conditions as those? I confess I do not see myself. I may be entirely wrong, but it appears to me that a railway taken over is in effect a nationalised railway, just as the railways, have been nationalised during the War, and that there is not any real distinction.
I am not going, of course, to discuss, whether nationalisation is right or wrong. We are all quite well aware that it is-a matter of great importance which will have to be dealt with and discussed as an issue of great importance some time in this House. There is a good deal to be said for it, and a good deal to be said against it. One of the things which is constantly said, rightly or wrongly, against it, is that it will be a great evil to have vast masses of employed people directly dependent on the State. That is one of the great stock arguments against it. Would not that be so in every railway taken over under this Clause? I would like to know the view of the Government on that; but reading it, roughly, and without the advantage of the skilled assistance which the Government has, I do not myself see how an employé of a railway taken under this Clause will in fact differ from being a State servant. His wages will depend on the decision of The Minister, and the conditions under which he works will depend on the decision of the Minister, and I imagine that even his dismissal will depend on the decision of the Minister. What is there left? It may be said that there will be few railways taken over. [HON. MEMBERS: "All of them!"] I do not know whether they all will be.
That is as far as railways are concerned, but there are other transport undertakings; but in. any case it may be that there will be a strong movement in favour of nationalisation, and more and more pressure on the Government to exercise a power of nationalisation. I have not the least idea what the policy of the Government is as to nationalisation.
Probably they are considering a matter of that great importance very carefully before formulating any policy, and no rational person will object to that being done. In the comparatively short time I have been back in the country, I have found a considerable amount of disquiet, unrest, and anxiety on this point, and I do feel that if it were at all possible for the Government to make some reassuring statement, it would be well to explain that the House may rest quite satisfied that whatever else is done under this Bill, nothing will be done, not only to carry out nationalisation, which the Home Secretary has undertaken not to do—and if he will allow me very respectfully to say so, it was scarcely necessary to say that, because technically no nationalisation could take place under this Bill—but the point is that you could do a great deal under this Bill to affect the question. That is quite clear, and my right hon. Friend, with his usual candour and good faith, immediately pointed out to an hon. Member who was speaking just now that what he said was that they could not effect nationalisation, not that they could not affect nationalisation. That is a perfectly just distinction, and I need not say I am making these observations in a most friendly possible spirit to the Government. If it were possible for the Government to give some assurance to the House, not only that they will not use these powers to effect nationalisation, but that they will not use them to affect nationalisation, I confess a good many of us would be pleased.
What I mean really is that I do not think it would be a very desirable course that on a great and vital issue of this kind, which must be one which will have to be discussed with the greatest care, I do not think it would be right or that it would be good policy, or that it would be approved of by those who support the Government if they used the powers in this Bill to prejudge an issue of that kind. That really is the point, and if we can get a definite assurance that nothing of that kind will be done, I think we should all feel happier. Hon. Members opposite suffer, I think, perhaps under an undue amount of suspicion in this matter. I do not know whether they will accept my assurance that I have no vested interest in this matter, that I do not in the least care what happens to any vested interest, because it is a vested interest, that I am only anxious to see this greatest issue of nationalisation, which will evidently come before us at some time and will have to be decided, decided fairly. I do not even wish to express an opinion on it myself at this moment. I wish to observe, as far as I can, an open mind in this matter until it has been thoroughly threshed out, and I do hope very strongly that nothing will be done and that no appearance will be given of an attempt to prejudge the issue by a Bill which, I. have no doubt, in some such form is necessary in order to put right and to keep right a condition of affairs which has grown up during the War and which urgently calls for some legislation of this kind.
So far as the powers of this Bill are concerned, they will be used by the Government with one object and with one object only, and that is to bring about for this country the best possible system of transport. That is the object with which these powers will be used, and that alone is the object with which these powers will be used. I cannot pretend to say whether in the exercise of these powers for that purpose without any ulterior motive the question of nationalisation may or may not be affected. It is impossible for me to give a pledge that nothing which would improve transport might not affect the question of nationalisation, but if it is suggested that the Government are going deliberately to use their powers under this Bill, either to make nationalisation inevitable or to make it impossible, then I can assure hon. Members that the last thing the Government would really do—
I do not call that prejudging. The Government will use the powers of this Bill with the one single motive of improving transport, and nothing else will affect them. They will do all they possibly can to improve transport. How what they do will affect the question of nationalisation neither I nor any other person can Bay. It is quite impossible The only possible assurance that I can give or, indeed, can be asked to give, would be that we should not knowingly or willingly do anything for the purpose of affecting the question of nationalisation. That assurance I can, of course, give. The Government would not dream of doing anything of the sort, and I do not know what other assurance I could possibly give. I could not give an assurance as to what the effect of some policy would be. It is impossible for me or anybody else to do it, and I am not going to tie the Government down by attempting any promise of that sort. But I can assure the House that in the exercise of the powers of this Bill the Government will be actuated by one motive and by one motive only, and that is the improvement of transport, and that they will do nothing, willingly at any rate, either to make nationalisation inevitable or to make nationalisation impossible. They will try and steer an absolutely even keel between the two sides, having no regard to nationalisation. Nationalisation is no part of this Bill. Transport is the only object of it. To that we shall devote ourselves, and we certainly will do nothing willingly which will prejudice either one way or the other the question of nationalisation.
The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) made a rather curious admission. He said they were told there was a deficit of £100,000,000 on the railway system, and that owing to that statement they were prepared to accept certain things, but they discovered that there was a possibility that that estimate was a mistaken one, and it appears to me that the State could manage the railways or own them if they were a losing concern, but that the State must neither manage nor own the rail- ways if they were a paying concern. I look upon the railways and all other methods of transport from the point of view as to how they can be most effective for the good of the whole community, and I suggest that this Clause is the, essence of the Bill. We have had no alternative to this Clause suggested in the discussion. If we carry our minds back to the beginning of the War there will be no doubt whatever as to the conclusion that one must come to, that co-ordination was absolutely essential in order to get the best out of our transport system during the War. Now we are at the end of the War, and co-ordination of effort is still as valuable a principle as it was during the War and is still as necessary. Can we trust to private enterprise without central control to develop transport in such a way as to meet the problems of the present day? I am one of those who think that we cannot, and that if we are to develop our transport system, particularly as regards the development of suburban areas for workmen to live in, in order to give a chance for the housing scheme of the Government and in order to give the Ministry of Health a chance of developing its ideals, there must inevitably be co-operation, and co-ordination of all the various means of transport. This Clause provides for that co-ordination. If the Clause is dropped, the Bill goes, and I suggest that whether nationalisation is in the air or not, the question that we ought to face first of all and all the time is, Will this Clause make the position of the country better or will it not? How can one argue that the result of the working will not affect one way or the other the country's position with regard to nationalisation? It is bound to affect it one way or the other. If the thing be successful, obviously the mind of the people of the country towards nationalisation will be quite different from what it will be if the experiment is a failure. It is bound to affect it, and how can a Minister or anybody else say that neither directly nor indirectly will this policy affect this question? I suggest that there is one thing above all other things that ought to be paramount to every Member of this House, and that is, will the Clause benefit the country or will it not? If it benefits the country, then I think it is our duty to vote for it; if it does not benefit the country, it is our duty to vote against it. I believe it will benefit the country, and I hope the Government will stick to its Clause.
I think we can follow the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in all of his sentiments in regard to this Clause, because it is quite possible that different people may take different views. The Clause may be used for a great many purposes, and according to those purposes for which it is used it may or may not benefit the country. We all want the most efficient system of transport in this country, the best co-ordinated system that can possibly be established. That, I think, is common ground, and that is the ground on which the Select Committee on Transport in the last Parliament approached the consideration of this question. The first witnesses which they called before them were those who during the War had been engaged on the railway executive in doing so much under the Board of Trade to coordinate the working of the railway system. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hitchin (Lord R. Cecil) went technically into what this Clause meant, and said that in its results it was indistinguishable from nationalisation. I do not quite endorse that statement, because, as I take it, the powers that are being conferred by this Clause are not very different from, and I doubt if they are any greater than, those which were being exercised during the War by the Railway Executive. The whole point is in what spirit the powers which are being given by this Clause are going to be exercised, and I for one am satisfied with the declaration we have had from the Home Secretary. I. am certain that his statement has been honestly given, and that his assurance may be relied upon, and one reason why I think it can be relied upon, apart from my faith in his personal statement, which requires no additional corroboration, is this—I do not think it is possible for the Government at this time to have made up their minds on the question of nationalisation.
The Select Committee contemplated that before they could investigate this subject even partially they would have to take an immense amount of evidence. That evidence has not yet been taken, and the Government have asked for an experimental period of two years, during which they are to study this and all other questions connected with the co-ordination of transport. I do not think that is a very great request to make, and we must support them in taking such evidence and making such investigations as are necessary in order to determine this most difficult ques- tion. Therefore, I do not think it is fair for the hon. Member for Twickenham to make such a sweeping request for an assurance as he did make. I do not think it would be possible or right to ask the Government to tell us to-day what is their policy on nationalisation. I do not think they have had the material evidence before them on which to decide this question, and therefore it cannot be right to press them for an answer which they are not in a position to give. But if we accept the assurance of the Homo Secretary—and I take it he meant that he is not going to destroy the organisation of the great transport system of the country during the two years' experimental period, if his assurance means that, and I am convinced it does—then I do not think any harm will be done during the two-year period by the exercise of the powers given in this Clause. The railways may have been technically nationalised during the War, but in effect I do not think they were. The evidence given before the-Select Committee showed that the organisation of our great railway companies-really remained intact, and though they were guided, and certainly in many cases-instructed, by the Board of Trade to do-certain things, on the whole their organisations during the War were the same as they were before. The boards of directors continued to discharge their functions, as did the general managers and other officials under the general direction of the Railway Executive and the President of the Board of Trade. If that is what is going to be done during the two-year period, I am perfectly certain that neither myself nor anyone else who has studied these questions closely will, quarrel with that attitude, and I should be very glad if the Minister-designate or the Home Secretary could see his way to-give an assurance in the sense I have indicated. If we are assured he intends to order the transport system of the country during the next two years on practically the same lines that they were ordered during the War, then I feel we can rest quietly in our beds.
I do not think the Minister-designate or the Government generally can be surprised that there is a certain amount of unrest in this House at the magnitude of the powers which are being asked for. Speaking on that subject yesterday, I said that I for one was prepared to give most generous powers. On the other hand, that that being the general desire of the House and country, I think the Government should to some extent adopt a reciprocal attitude, and be prepared in any and every direction, where questions are asked as to the extent to which these powers will be used, to give, as far as they can, assurances. It seems to me that the Minister-designate has come before this House saying, "I have a very great job to perform; I cannot quite tell what it is going to be. You must give me a complete; outfit of all the instruments and tools I require for that purpose." When the outfit comes to be looked into closely, as it has to be in Committee and on the Report stage in this House, we find, for instance, that among his outfit is a steam hammer—an engine that can crack anything put under it—and I do not think it is an unfair description of the attitude of the Home Secretary, when I say that every time the possible uses to which an instrument of that sort can be put are exposed to view, he replies to the House, "Oh, that is all right. We are not going to use this great weapon to the utmost extent it might be used; we are only going to crack nuts." Therefore, I do feel in every case where criticism is directed to the extent of these powers, assurance should be given so that the House may know what are the intentions of the Government, so far as they can be known. I am certain my hon. and learned Friend who proposed this Amendment will not press this to a Division, but I do hope that the Ministers in charge of the Bill will be able, before we conclude this discussion, to give a somewhat extended assurance on the lines which I have already indicated.
I think the object of this Bill is the co-ordination and efficient working of the transportation of this country. How that co-ordination is going to be effected, or how we are going to secure efficient working by the deletion of the Clause passes my comprehension. We have this afternoon listened to a series of very singular, very able, but in some senses very contradictory speeches. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Amendment said that he believed the public interest should be paramount—I am not expressing his words, but I think I am expressing his sentiments—and that that interest could be best carried out, not by the nationalisation of the mines or of transport or industry, but by private ownership and private management of these great undertakings, and that he was alarmed at the prospect of the nationalisation of the mines or the railways or the other undertakings of the country. Following him there came a series of speeches from those who are willing to support the deletion of this Clause, simply because they think that this Clause is going in the direction of nationalisation. If the opening remarks of the Mover have any foundation in fact, that nationalisation is going to be disastrous in the interests of the country, why should you oppose the Minister-designate having these powers? There are those who have stated their one objection to this Clause to be that it may prove a success, that the railways may be such a successful undertaking by co-ordination under one management that it will influence—and that is the whole point—the mind of the public in the direction of nationalisation of other forms of industry, and because of that I think many hon. Members are not prepared to run that risk. They would rather continue to have privately-owned railways and mines run, not in the interests of the public, not making the interests of the individual subordinate to the interests of the whole nation, but simply retaining and running these in the interests of those who are owning and managing them at the present time. If that is not so, if their one desire is to subordinate their own private interests and all private interests to what is acknowledged to be the public good, why at this moment move the deletion of this Clause, which is absolutely essential and necessary to give the Minister-designate any possibility of trying whether nationalisation can be effected or not?
It is a very unhappy moment for the Mover of this Amendment. He says, in effect, that private management has been successful and that public management has not been successful. I say it is very unfortunate for him that the only Commission that has ever been held to inquire into a great industry, before it had gone many weeks or many days, in its very first Export expressed itself emphatically against private ownership and control of mines. We on these benches believe that if you set up Commissions to inquire into other great industries—and we hope inquiries will be carried on that those Commissions, sooner or later, will discover that those industries too are not run upon the best lines in the interests of the general public. We desire—and I believe there are Members on the other side, too, who desire—to put the public interest first and foremost. There is room, I know, for a difference of opinion. I believe there are men on that side of the House who honestly, sincerely, and truthfully believe that the interests of the country can best be promoted by private interest. I will give every Member credit for being inspired in that direction. But certain speeches this afternoon have cast a degree of suspicion over our minds that they really do not desire to give the Minister a fair trial to prove whether nationalisation can be successful or not. One of the Scottish Members stated that the Minister had the power to dismiss a director. The right hon. Gentleman did not claim that power, but I will accept the conclusion that the Minister could, by giving his orders, overrule the decision of the directors, and that any director who had a spark of manhood would resign. Underlying that statement is the assumption that the business man is always correct; but you may have directors whose resignation might be a good thing, so that I am not alarmed at the idea of some director having to resign because of the orders given by the Minister. I believe that this side of the House, at least, will support the Government in retaining this Clause, and I believe those who are really anxious for the welfare of the country should support it, and not only support it, but those who come into contact with the transport system should give it a fair trial to see whether it is possible to make nationalisation a success or not.
I did not mean to intervene, but so many hon. Members have referred to me in connection with this Bill that I would like, if possible, to clear away a misunderstanding as to the way in which these powers may be used, and, in some cases, the need for them. Reference has been made to the apparently—and I agree with the words—large powers of the Minister, for instance, in regard to salaries. Why does he wish these powers in reference to salaries and wages, and, again, in reference to rates? For five years the State has been directly concerned in the financial results of the working of the railways. For two years the State is going to be directly concerned—vitally concerned—in the financial results of the working of the railways. Suppose that the Government had come to this House without the power in the Bill to have really a decisive voice in the income and outgoings of these large undertakings which, it is generally admitted, must be controlled in some such way as this if we are to meet a difficult situation. Suppose that the Government had come to the House and had not asked the House for powers to have a say. And does the House conceive that every time the Government has a say in anything it is going to say it stupidly and destructively? The Government must have a say in the incomes and the outgoings of the concern.
I venture to think, from a very short experience of this House, that there is nothing of a minor character about which the House is more particular than the individual cases of people who arc put into appointments or removed from appointments and who, possibly at the expense of the State, get increases of salary, whether they be the workers or the superior officers of these large undertakings. Is it conceivable that the House can pass a Bill like this, making the Government, as it does for two further years, financially responsible for the railways totalling a capital of £1,200,000,000, and not give the Ministers responsible some decisive say as to the income and outgoings? That is surely one instance—and I could go on; there are others, if I were not wearying the House and if it were really worth while—of why these sort of powers have to be given. As the Leader of the House said yesterday, the powers have to be sought, and if you interpret them in an extreme way in every direction and in a cumulative way they seem and are enormous. But there is a good reason for all the powers that are sought, and I think that the two reasons I have given have shown the House that it is essential that these sort of powers must be given to the Minister. The hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) has quoted what I said on the subject of nationalisation in. the speech I made on the Second Reading of the Bill. I am delighted that I put my point of view so clearly. It is, in fact, the point of view that is set out in the Bill. It is the point of view that my hon. Friend, who presided so ably over the Committee on Transport, has put forward, and the point of view which the Committee itself put forward—that you must have time to consider this very great question. The words were put in in order that it should be perfectly clear that this lack of policy—because it is an absence of policy—we have said so over and over again—necessitates two years at least—and in my opinion it is going to be a very difficult job to get it done in two years—to consider the question. You cannot let things go on as they are for two years. You have to take powers, but there is nothing in the Bill, as the Home Secretary has said, which, prejudices the question of nationalisation. So far as I know, and I ought to know in my present position, the Government has not made up its mind, nor have any individual members of the Government made up their minds on nationalisation.
I cannot speak for the Secretary of State for War. Perhaps the hon. and gallant Member will put the question to him himself. So far as I know, the question of nationalisation is as open to-day as it ever was. If this Bill becomes an Act, and I am to be the Minister, it is in that spirit I will interpret the measure; and in the endeavour to arrive at the best possible solution of this difficult problem I will devote my energy and my mind. This is not a nationalisation Bill; there are no proposals for nationalisation in it. There is no scheme for nationalisation underlying its provisions, and there is no intention to use it in any way to prejudge—for that is the word that has been used—the question of nationalisation. I venture most respectfully and earnestly to make an appeal to the House. We have had a long Debate, and one which possibly Members with a longer experience here than myself would call a Second Reading Debate, on nationalisation. I wish to make an appeal to the House, can we not get on?
In view of what the Minister-designate has said I do not propose, unless the House wishes, to go to a Division, but I want to add a word or two. My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) said that in his view the policy of the Coalition must be a negative policy. With great respect to him, and I agree with much he has said, I utterly and profoundly disagree with that.
I am glad my hon. Friend said that. Progress is of the essence of the Coalition policy. No question arises in this Debate as to the merits or demerits of nationalisation at all, but the right thing was to make it perfectly clear that there was a wide and fundamental divergence of opinion on that subject between different parties in the House, and to make certain that by this Bill that question should not be prejudged I think the statement of the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down as to what he intends is of great importance. The powers may be wide; the result of the exercise of those powers depends upon the way in which they are exercised, and if the right hon. Gentleman intends to exercise them in the way he has indicated then there should be no reason to fear the results that were undoubtedly possible under this Clause as framed. In asking leave, therefore, to withdraw my Amendment, I only wish to put this one further point to the Minister-designate. The confidence of this House in the way in which he exercises those powers will, during the two preliminary years of his office, if he retains it, depend very largely on whether he takes the House into his confidence from time to time as to the way he is working these powers. I hope we shall have from him the greatest candour as to the way he is administering this Act when he gets it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
I beg to move, in Subsection (1, c), after the word "undertaking" ["servants of any undertaking"], to insert the words
"of the whole or part
This Amendment is only one of drafting. The powers given under Sub-section (1, b) of Clause 3 are that the whole or any part of an undertaking may be taken possession of. This Amendment merely puts into (c), which shows what the Minister may do when he has taken possession of an undertaking, the same provisions as there are in (b).
I am not quite clear on this point. I should like the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to assure me on it if he can. It rather seems to me that under this new Amendment, if my right hon. Friend takes possession of the whole or any part of an undertaking, he can then give directions under the whole of the provisions of this Clause with regard to the whole of the undertaking. The Home Secretary will see what I mean. It', for instance, the right hon. Gentleman takes possession of one particular station or side line of railway or a little piece of a tramway for certain purposes, is it possible for him to give directions and to put into effect the whole of this Clause in regard to the whole of that undertaking? That is what I want to know.
I beg to move, in Subsection (1, c), at the end of paragraph (i), to insert the words
subject, however, to the provisions hereinafter contained respecting references to the advisory committees established for advising as to directions on the matters aforesaid.
This, again, is merely drafting. It is to provide for consultation with the Advisory Committee.
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, c), at the end of paragraph (iii), to insert the words
but there shall be no power on the part of the Minister to close any road or prevent the use of any road by any user.
The object of the Amendment really has reference to the use of heavy motor vehicles on the roads. There is a great feeling amongst motor-wagon users that they may, under this Act, be told that they cannot continue to use the roads which they have been using up to the present time. They may be told that there is railway competition as regards these particular roads, and that therefore road transport is not necessary. I have referred to this question previously in the House, and I also put it before the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Geddes) when a deputation waited on him. On that occasion he told me that I must use a little common sense. The object of this Amendment is to put
that common sense into the Bill. It may be thought that it is not common sense that any Minister should come along and interfere with the use of roads by heavy motor-wagons, but I would like to tell the House, and also the Minister, that this has been done during the War by the Government. I certainly think it is a vital necessity that road transport should be encouraged instead of being discouraged, and that it is one of the most hopeful methods which we have of cheapening transport in this country. I feel sure the Government would be wise to accept this Amendment.
This Amendment is put down with one object. I do not wish to press it, but I do want to call attention to the policy of centralised buying which appears in the Bill. In theory centralised buying may be very good. The paragraph in question reads as follows:
for securing that manufacturing and repairing facilities, and auxiliary and ancillary ser-
vices shall be used, and the purchase and distribution of stores shall be conducted, in such manner as may be most conducive to economy and efficiency.
It seems to me that the words of the text imply centralised buying. I should like to impress upon the House that centralised buying is not so advantageous as it may sound in theory. We have had a great deal of it during the War in connection with the acquisition of private hotels, and so on. This was of great advantage to people who happened to have offices in London. The result, however, in relation to those manufacturers who happened to belong to the provinces was that they had either to open offices in London or—
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, d), after the word "authority" ["to which this Section applies or of a local authority "], to insert the words
or of a body constituted by Act of Parliament.
This Amendment is necessary owing to the alteration made in the Bill yesterday. The right hon. Gentleman does not think so? The Sub-section says
provided that nothing herein contained shall be deemed to empower the Minister to authorise the acquisition otherwise than by agreement of any land belonging to the owners of another undertaking to which this Section applies.
When docks were in this 'Section, it was quite clear that the docks would be included within my right hon. Friend's proviso; but he could not give direction to a railway to take land belonging to the docks. It is perfectly clear that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to use his powers to enable one railway to prey upon the docks, merely because Parliament has taken the docks out of the provisions of this Clause. Owing to the agreed Clause carried yesterday for taking the docks out of Sub-section (3), some such Amendment as is here suggested must be inserted, in order to give adequate protection to the property of the docks. Otherwise it might be taken compulsorily.
I beg to move, in Subsection (1, d), paragraph (d), after the word "land" ["an easement or right of using such land"], to insert the words
during a period of not more than two years.
It ought to be put very clearly into the Clause that if a Minister takes land that does not belong to the undertaking or the dock in question at the time, that it shall only be for a period of two years.
If this were accepted, it would simply mean there would be no development at all under this Clause for two years. If you acquire land in order to carry out some improvement, extension, and so on, it would be idle to attempt to do it if the land or the right to use it could be taken away at the end of the years specified. It would simply defeat the purpose of the Clause. It is true that the power to order the improvements and additions only lasts for two years, but any exercise of those powers during the two years must not of necessity end at the expiration of the two years. Improvements or additions are not likely to 'be ordered under such a limitation. Improvements and additions must of necessity have some form of a permanent nature. It is not sufficient ground to say that because the power of direction is only exercisable during the two years that no improvement is to last for more than the two years, and that would be the effect of this Amendment.
The following Amendments stood on the Paper in the name of Mr. LESLIE SCOTT: In Sub-section (J, d),after the word "may" ["the Minister may by Order"], to insert the words
subject to the proviso hereinafter contained
and at the end of paragraph (d), to insert the words
provided also that any person interested in such land, or claiming that he will be prejudiced by the construction of such works, may
apply to the Railway and Canal Commission, or such other independent sanctioning authority as Parliament may hereinafter set up for the granting of compulsory powers of acquisition and user of land, and such Order shall not take effect except by leave of the Railway and Canal Commission or such other authority as aforesaid; and upon such terms as they think right; and the Railway and Canal Commission or such other authority shall have power to deal with the costs of such application as they shall think fit.
No, Sir. With very great respect, they are quite independent. If you read the Clause with my second Amendment, which is now before you, added, you will see it will not make any difference at all. I thought it would be more convenient in some way to raise a discussion on my main Amendment at the beginning of the Clause. On reconsideration, however, I decided to raise it as it stands at the end of the Clause. My second Amendment leaves the Clause intact. It gives a certain remedy which in my submission is essential. As a matter of order, the first is quite independent of the second Amendment.
If the hon. and learned Gentleman is going to add a proviso which is to give an altered sense to the Sub-section to that which the House has agreed to, it will be necessary at an early stage to put it in in the form in which the hon. Gentleman has put it down—"subject to the proviso hereinafter contained." Still, I do not want to press technicalities too far.
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (1, d), to insert the words
Provided also that any person interested in such land, or claiming that he will be prejudiced by the construction of such works, may apply to the Railway and Canal Commission, or such other independent sanctioning authority as Parliament may hereafter set up for the granting of compulsory powers of acquisition and user of land, and such Order shall not take effect except by leave of the Railway and Canal Commission or such other authority as aforesaid; and upon such terms as they shall think right; and the Railway and Canal Commission, or such other authority, shall have power to deal with the costs of such application as they shall think fit.
The point is that under the next Clause as it stands the Minister may by a stroke of his pen, if he chooses—I do not say he will choose—without hearing or consulting, or in any way ascertaining the position of the parties interested in the land taken, take from them compulsorily land
which is theirs. It is contrary, in my submission, to two fundamental principles of the Constitution that this should be done. I am all in favour of expeditious machinery. I entirely recognise that it is of most vital importance that permanent eminent domain should be exercised to the full in this country. Where land in private ownership requires to be devoted to public purposes, the owner should part with it without a murmur. But on the question as to whether it is in the public interest that that particular piece of land should be taken, it is only just and right that the party in question should have a fair hearing before an independent tribunal. The other fundamental principle of our Constitution that the Clause contravenes, as many similar Clauses in recent legislation have contravened, is the principle that a man should not be judge in his own cause. And that applies to a Minister of the Crown almost more than anybody else. The principle that a head of a Department should take land compulsorily where he wants it for his own purpose is wrong. It is ten, times wrong where the Department in question is not an ordinary administrative Department like the Local Government Board, the Board of Trade, or the Board of Agriculture, which are there to see fair play between everybody. His-Department is carrying on a business in the interests of the State, but yet carrying on a business. The Minister wants to make his business a success. He wants to take a particular piece of land, some Naboth's vineyard, which he wants for financial purposes connected with the undertaking. It is ten times wrong for that Minister, by a stroke-of the pen and by the exercise of bureaucratic power, to take the land away without there being any independent sanctioning authority to whom the owner of the land can go and before whom he can put his grievance.
The object of my Amendment is, without imperilling the speedy working of the Bill, without complicating the machinery, as it is provided by the Clause, to give to the parties affected the right to go to an independent authority. It may be in the recollection of many Members of the House that the Committee over which I, had the honour to preside proposed such a special form of sanctioning authority being used in the cases where the land was wanted for public purposes: an authority which would preserve the power of this House over action which is essentially legislative in character. It has not yet been dealt with by the Government. I hope it may be. In the meantime there is a body which is familiar with the type of question to be dealt with by the Minister under this Bill, namely, the Railway and Canal Commission. This body is used for the purposes of traffic facility appeals and so on. All I suggest in this Amendment is that this body should give its sanction to the wishes of the Minister, except giving him autocratic power. No doubt in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred when he says he wants land it will be recognised that the land has to go. In the remaining, 10 per cent. say, of the remaining 1 per cent., when the case is before the Railway and Canal Commission, the Minister's view will not be taken by that Commission. In the one odd case injustice would be done if it were not for the presence of the independent authority. I propose, therefore, in the interests of Justice which the House is just as anxious to preserve here, and in all legislation of the same kind, that some provision of the sort I put forward should be adopted. I wish the House to observe that in the proviso I move the Railway and Canal Commission have complete discretion over the costs, and the Minister will also have the advantage of the procedure under the Land Acquisition (Compensation) Bill in regard to price. Under my proposal unreasonable people will be punished by having to pay the whole of the costs, and I think that will make the number of unreasonable appeals very much smaller. Those are the objects of my Amendment. The procedure enables a decision to be obtained immediately, and the Railway and Canal Commission can sit locally. That is the principle I want adopted, and I desire to have some independent sanctioning authority.
This Amendment not only deals with the mere question of taking the land, but it is really an appeal against the Order of the Minister giving directions for improvements or alterations. The object of this Clause is definite, and two years is allowed for the carrying out of the extensions and alterations necessary for the efficient working of any undertaking. It may be necessary in the matter of some extensions that land should be taken, and if there is delay in getting the Order it may mean that the improvements or the extension may be stopped for weeks or months while the whole question is being threshed out before the Railway and Canal Commission, and the whole object of the Minister may be defeated. If this Amendment is carried the Order itself can be stopped. With regard to the taking of land it is not an unknown thing in our legislation that land should be taken this way when it has been so sanctioned by the Houses of Parliament. It is so in the case of the Allotments Act, the Town Planning Act, and other Acts where land is taken in this way I could well understand that proper provision should be made that the owner should be fairly and justly recompensed, but it is rot unreasonable where Parliament has sanctioned a big policy which may involve the taking of portions of land here and there, that it should be taken by an Order, always of course on fair terms. This Amendment. How ever, goes much further. The appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission is not confined to the occupier of the land, or indeed to anyone. It applies to any persons interested in the land, and they have the right to appeal. In fact a person may not be interested in the land at all, and all he has to claim is that he is prejudiced by the constructing of the works, and then he can hold up the whole thing while he goes before the Railway and Canal Commission. Anybody who claims that he is prejudiced can go to that Commission and the Order cannot take effect except by their leave.
Even assuming that is the object, the result will be that any person who objects can appeal to the Commission and delay the whole operations of the Minister while some sort of decision is being arrived at. Such a proposal is not necessary. All that is necessary is that the owner of the land should be treated fairly and justly. It is not suggested that that will not be done, and an appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission probably would defeat the whole object of the Bill. It certainly would cause great delay, and when you are limiting to a period of two years that would be a serious matter. For these reasons I ask my hon. and learned Friend not to press this Amendment.
I beg to move, in Subsection (1, e), after the word "aforesaid," to insert the words
where the independent chartered accountant appointed by the Treasury has reported a deficiency in the profit and loss account.
The object of this Amendment is to call attention to the impossibility of getting figures from the Ministry. We have been told on the Second Reading that there was a loss of £100,000,000, and although questions have been asked, we cannot get any reliable information as to how those figures were arrived at. There is a distinct danger of the same state of affairs existing after this Bill has become law, and this Amendment provides that there shall be an independent Treasury official who shall be responsible to this House to give an opinion as to what the deficiency is, and how it has been arrived at.
If under the Bill there is an independent chartered accountant appointed by the Treasury, the hon. Member would be entitled to move this Amendment, but if there is no such person appointed then he is introducing such a person, and, of course, he would require salary, and it would not be in order.
Amendment made: In Sub-section (1, e) leave out the words
subject to the provisions hereinafter in this Section contained."—[Sir E. Geddes]
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1, e), after the word "claimed," to insert the words
I am afraid I shall have to go back to the Railway Act of 1854, which gives jurisdiction to hear complaints and restrain action of undue preference by injunction. Under the old Common Law there is a right to hear claims which involve damages, and if we only leave in the word "claims"—
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), at the end of paragraph (e), to insert the words
but no change shall be made in the method of charging rates, fares, tolls, dues and other charges.
This Amendment deals with certain goods, including timber at present carried by measured weight. The reason for this is that timber, being of very long lengths, it would very often be very weighty, and in the case of English timber going into country stations very often there are no weighing machines on the station. The object of the Amendment is that there shall be no interference with the law of the land which deals with this question which is a very intricate one, and the timber trade are very anxious that there should be no interference with these methods of charging timber. The right hon. Gentleman knows that this is a very intricate question, and there arc a great many Acts of Parliament dealing with it.
There being no change in the law, as the hon. Member said, there will be no difficulty in giving him an assurance on the point. But it is not a question of the law of the land. It is a question of custom. Timber and other commodities are, according to custom, carried by measurement weight and not by Statute. Statute enables and authorises what is known as machine weight to be the basis of charge, and the House would not wish in a Bill of this kind—in, in fact, an emergency measure—to embark on legislation amending in one detail alone the charging powers which have been bestowed upon the transport undertakings of the country under their special and general Acts. It is the custom to charge by measurement. That custom may be departed from and machine weight restored wherever there are appliances for weighing timber. If this Amendment were passed, it would merely be selecting one particular item of charge in the general charging powers of the railways and amending it.
Captain H. BENN:
In days gone by disputes between traders and the railway companies have invariably been settled before the Railway and Canal Traffic Com- mission in favour of traders, and the traders, therefore, desire to assure themselves that the new Ministry is not going to depart from the custom of long years. The question of this custom has been on many occasions gone into very thoroughly by the Board of Trade.
I beg to move, In Sub-section (1), at the end of paragraph (e), to insert
(f) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act the rights of a consignor or consignee of goods or minerals, any trader or class of traders, or any port or harbour authority or dock company to complain to the Railway and Canal Commission under the Railway and Canal Traffic Acts in respect of the provision of reasonable facilities, undue preference, or undue disadvantage, or allowances, or rebates in relation to the provision of station accommodation or terminal services shall not be deemed to be affected and it shall be no answer to any such complaint that the railway company in respect of which the complaint is made was acting under the directions of the Minister.
I moved this identical Amendment as a new Clause and it found very strong support in all quarters of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Miles Platting, and the hon. Member for St. Helens, both supported it. It is really a very important matter, but I do not want to trouble the House with the speech I made yesterday, for it was rather a long one. It concerns the rights of the trading community to appeal to the Railway and Canal Traffic Commission against the railway companies. Traders in the country have always been suspicious of the powers of the railway companies, and Parliament in its wisdom reserved to the traders, in cases where they thought they were wrongly treated by the railway companies, to go before the Railway Commission and put their complaints before that body. There was, of course, the important question of undue preference. If a railway company gave one trader an undue preference in rates as against another it would obviously be proper that; the right of appeal should be preserved. That right has been preserved in the provisions of this Bill. But there are other rights which ought also to be preserved. There is, for instance, the right to demand that there shall be reasonable facilities. If, for instance, a railway company says, "we are not going to carry a particular class of goods because it is a troublesome class" —it may be fish from Grimsby or fruit from Kent—"and we cannot give reasonable facilities," under the
present law the trader may go to the Railway Commission, and it is for that body to decide whether reasonable facilities are or shall be granted to the trader. Then there are the questions of station accommodation and terminal services. The trader may have a private siding into his works, but the railway company may not give the necessary accommodation for that private siding. Or it may be that new works are established and a private siding constructed which the company refuse to give accommodation for. Now the trader can go to the Railway Commission.
Under the provisions of this Bill we fear that these rights are no longer preserved. When an appeal was made from the Front Opposition Bench, both by Labour Leaders and by a Liberal Leader, my right hon. Friend very kindly said that this new Clause of mine would come on again as an Amendment to Clause 3, and that is the Amendment I now move. The London Chamber of Commerce, as we were told by the hon. Member for Lime house, has passed a resolution in support of this proposal. The Home Secretary said last night that Clause 3 was the proper place for this matter to be dealt with. It is true he has preserved our rights in regard to undue preference, but we consider that he should also preserve our rights in the other matters I have mentioned. The right hon. Gentleman assured us, too, that any proposal put forward for the protection of the trader or any other section of the community would receive most careful consideration. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has had time to consider this question. I have had telegrams to-day from traders in most parts of the country urging me to insist on this provision being inserted in the Bill. I "would ask my right hon. Friend if he cannot accept the exact words, whether he will agree to accept similar words. I may also draw attention to the last words of my Amendment, which make it quite clear that, if the trader goes to a railway company on any of the points involved in this Amendment, the railway company cannot say," We do this by order of the Ministry, and that is a sufficient answer. "My right hon. Friend will agree it is quite right that the railway companies should not be entitled to shelter themselves under the Orders of the Ministry of Ways and Communications. Under these circumstances I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to meet the reasonable demands of the traders in this respect.
After consideration, we have come to the conclusion that we cannot possibly accept this Amendment. The question of undue preference is provided for in Sub-clause (c), and with regard to these other matters, if we gave power to any other class of traders—farmers, port authorities, harbour authorities, dock companies, and individual traders—to prefer complaints in respect of the provision of reasonable facilities, it would enable them to complain of any alteration we propose to make of any sort or description.
The result would be, if you put in a Clause of this sort, it might prevent us carrying out improvements which might attract trade to the undertaking concerned. The words "reasonable facilities" and "undue disadvantage" seem to me to lend themselves to delay, and if power were given to appeal on such grounds the result might be not only to hold up but even to prevent some improvement which might affect in some way the facilities enjoyed by traders and which it is for the benefit of the community they should lose because thereby great improvements might be brought about. I also object to the last few words of the Amendment because they would injure or hinder the carrying out of the objects of the Bill. We oppose the Amendment in its entirety.
The seriousness of the matter is not, I feel sure, fully understood. An arrangement was come to yesterday. The Minister-designate said that one-half of the docks have gone from beneath his grasp. But the other half are in his possession, and he could use them all without intending in any shape or form to do anything more than he thinks is his duty, to the great disadvantage of the docks which are not within his possession. Hundreds of illustrations could be given of that. Take a port like Hull. Why, the Minister-designate, when he becomes Minister under the Act, will have in his absolute possession the docks and railways, and, indeed, the whole industry of that port. He will be able to utilise that port, and with his great experience, I feel sure he will do so. If I had had the experience which he has got from the North Eastern I should probably do the same thing myself. Our great fear in this matter is that this Bill gives us railways over all means of transport-railways rather than that transport should in all its branches be separately and properly administered, controlled—yes, I say controlled purposely—by a Minister who is to administer, not by the State, but by the separate interests. The Minister has it in his power under this Bill, unless we have some Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal is available to us to-day in the Railway and Canal Commission. I would appeal again—it is no use my appealing to the Home Secretary; who know that from what transpired upstairs—to the Government to give us fair play from the traders' point of view, and not to take away from us the advantages we now possess of an appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission on these questions of undue preference, disadvantage, and the other matters on which we can now freely go to the Railway Commissioners.
I was just examining these two Amendments to see really what the distinction is. I think the only distinction we can draw is that in one case the personal element represents the rights of consignors and of any port or harbour authority, and the other relates to harbour authorities established by Act of Parliament, which are taken out of this Bill and do not come within the purview of the Minister. Is that the distinction?
In that case, I crave leave to speak on this Amendment. May I remind the House that both the docks and harbours have to a certain extent been taken out of the Bill, and that, as the Bill stands at present, there is nothing to prevent an undue preference being shown to one harbour authority over another? While, as the Home Secretary has just told us, this matter was discussed to some extent last night, at his suggestion the full discussion was postponed till this point of the Bill was reached, in order that he might have time to consider the issues involved. It will be within the memory of those present last night that every Member who rose from any side of the House expressed himself in favour, in substance, of the principle embodied in this Amendment, which is that it ought not to be within the power of the Minister-designate and his new Department to place one dock or harbour authority at a disadvantage compared with another. The Home Secretary has drawn, I believe, some distinction between undue preference and undue disadvantage, but really they are the same thing. You cannot give an undue preference to one body without putting another body to an undue disadvantage, therefore, it is merely a form of words. The principle which was supported from either side of the House last night is that it ought not to be possible under the wording of this Bill for a Government Department to say, "We are going to do something in regard to this port in the South of England which will place a port on the North of England at a disadvantage." To be quite fair, they ought not to be able to say they are going to do something for a port in the North of England which would place a port in the South of England at a disadvantage. Each of these great ports has a right to its individuality and to make the best of the opportunities of trade and traffic that occur. None of them, I submit, ought to be smothered or hampered or put into an unfair position owing to a preference being given to the other. There is more in this than in any mere matter of local feeling. Take the docks of the great port with which I am associated, Liverpool. Thousands, and possibly millions of people are financially interested in that port, and it would be a monstrous thing if, by the action of the Government, all those people who have contributed their money to build up this great harbour undertakings should suffer through an undue preference being given to some other port. That argument applies not only to the port with which I am connected, but to all ports. All I need do is to ask the Home Secretary to redeem the promise he gave last night that he would consider this matter when it was brought up again, and whether he cannot see his way to insert in the Bill words which must really convey the intention of the Ministry, because it is impossible to assume that it is the intention of the Ministry to take such action and to so differentiate between these different ports that they will give an undue preference to one and thereby place another at an undue advantage.
I did not intend to take part in this discussion, but, after listening to the last speaker, I should like to make some observations upon what he said. In the course of his speech he said that all the speakers in the course of the Debate yesterday on this matter were in favour of the principle contained in this Amendment.
I was quite capable of taking that point, because I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said. I understood that his object in speaking on this Amendment was because it was similar to an Amendment about to be proposed. What I said still remains true. He said that the principle expressed in the two Amendments was favoured by all speakers on both sides of the House. Personally, I am not quite clear what was said by the hon. Gentleman and by the Mover. What exactly is the principle? I think they are seeking to obtain from the Government precautions to prevent something occurring which will not occur under the Bill. If that is the issue, I do not believe the House in any sense unanimously supports the view of hon. Gentlemen who on this and other Amendments take up a certain line of action. I am surprised to hear 'that the Labour party supported it. I certainly do not. I support the Government in this matter and on any other Amendments dealing with this principle As to the answer given by the Home Secretary, one hon. Gentleman opposite was rather inclined to sneer at the Home Secretary's speech.
I do not think it does, but the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. M. Stevens) said he could not expect anything from the Home Secretary. I have no doubt that those who represent special interests in this House are not satisfied with the Home Secretary's attitude, but a great many people have entirely different views. We believe that the Home Secretary takes up an extremely reasonable attitude on this and other Amendments of the same kind. We object to Amendments proposed in the interests of particular ports. What hon. Gentlemen have in mind, perfectly openly and above board, is that the interests of particular ports may be affected, but there is something above those interests, namely, the interests of the country and traders as a whole. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that many of us who are not interested in any particular port are interested in the business of the country, and we are not satisfied with the way we are treated by the ports at the present time, and should be glad to have, under this or any other Bill, some controlling authority, not as those who propose this Amendment suggest, in order that an unfair preference, may be given as against the port, but that the port should not give an unfair preference as against the people of this country.
Captain H. BENN:
The Noble Lord could not have listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Pennefather) after reading the Amendment, because he would have seen that the point of the Amendment is the protection of a class of traders. The law at the present time gives the trader an appeal to the Railway and Canal Commission. I understand that from the Clause the trader is excluded, and it only applies to a harbour, dock, or pier. The object of the Amendment, while further safeguarding the interests of the harbour, dock, or pier, is to include the traders in the right of appeal to the Railway and Canal Commissioners. Having been present during the Debate yesterday, I agree with the hon. Member for Kirkdale that everyone who spoke, including one of the Labour Members, the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Sexton), strongly urged the acceptance of this Amendment by the Government. It does seem a very extraordinary thing that in this Bill, which is brought in for the benefit of the country as a whole, the right of appeal which a trader now has is to be taken away from him.
I really think that this Amendment of my hon. Friend's oversteps the mark. It would really place an intolerable burden upon a. great Department. What is it that is asked for? He asks that between the Minister who is responsible to this House and the exercise of his duties there should be placed a tri- bunal—the Railway and Canal Commission. I do not think he will deny, if the Railway and Canal Commission sit as judges on possibly every executive act of the Ministry within the scope of the Clause, that the Minister, the head of a great Department, would not have a single eye to the public interest, but would be carrying on all the while with the trammels of the possible jurisdiction of the Railway and Canal Commission. We in this House have to decide whether or not we are going to entrust a Minister with large powers. Once those powers have been entrusted to him by this House, he should be allowed to use those powers with a single eye to the public interest and should not be placed in the position of a schoolboy, subject always to the jurisdiction of some other authority in respect of every executive act he may perform. I agree with every word said by the Noble Lord (Earl Winterton). Where interests are concerned, no doubt efficient consideration must be given, and in very individual case justice should be done, but we cannot have the country facing a position where, on every executive action, interested parties may say to the country, "We are not acting with a single eye to the national interests; we require all the procedure of the Courts; we require to brief eminent King's Counsel and to pile up expenses," for a thing which, although solely against the interests of interested parties in Liverpool, obviously may be in the general interest of the nation. I am very glad, coming from the source it did, that my Noble Friend spoke on this question. I can assure him and hon. Members opposite that there are many Members of this House who first regarded this Bill with some suspicion, but who are now perfectly convinced that in its present stage it ought not any longer to be subjected to the attacks of the kind which have been made upon it.
I profoundly disagree with the speech we have just listened to. It seems to me that if you are going to put the owners of railways and other means of communication, docks, harbours and so on, in the power of a Minister you must give the parties interested at least as much protection as they now have before the Railway Commissioners against the Minister. There is no doubt that when a Minister has control there will be the greatest possible pressure put upon him by one locality as against another, by one interest as against another, and by one political party as against another, and if there is no judicial body to which the subject can appeal to maintain his rights we are going to be subjected to a tyranny through the Minister caused by political, local and other interests which will be infinitely worse than anything we have suffered at the hands of the railway companies. Therefore I very strongly feel that this protection of the interests of the subject is most necessary.
I have, on the Paper, an Amendment, in Sub-section (2), to leave out the words "Subject as aforesaid."
In a similar way to the last Amendment, this is a matter of very great importance to traders. In reply to what the Noble Lord (Major Earl Winterton) said, anything I am saying on this Bill is from the point of view of the traders and not of any particular interest. I will not go on with the Amendment, because I am not prepared to go to a Division upon it.
Amendments made: After the word "modification" [" by reason of such suspension or modification "], insert the words
and any person who, by virtue of any special statutory provision or agreement, is entitled to the benefit of any special rate, fare, toll, due, or other charge, and whose position relatively to other persons is prejudiced by any direction of the Minister altering such special charge."—[Colonel Hall Walker]
At the end of paragraph (c), insert the words,
Provided that, for the purpose of this provision, any city, borough, county, or district council shall be deemed to be persons affected in any case where such council or any persons represented by them may be affected by any proposed revision as aforesaid."—[Colonel Hall Walker.]
I beg to move, in Sub-section (4), after the word "omnibuses" ["in regard to omnibuses"], to insert the words
save that the Act shall cease to apply to any system of travelling facility involving overhead equipment when such equipment was commenced prior to the passing of the Act.
It may seem a, somewhat small point when compared with the vastness of the Bill as a whole, but I think I shall have no difficulty in proving that it is absolutely necessary that this Amendment should be accepted unless a manifest injustice is to be continued for at least two further years. I believe there are several towns concerned, but the corporation which I have in mind obtained powers so long ago as 1912 to run trackless trolley vehicles on certain defined routes within and outside the borough. They proceeded to equip the various routes with these vehicles, and the portion of route affected by the Amendment was the last to be so equipped. After negotiations which lasted some considerable time, the contract for the work on the portion in question was sealed by the Town Council so long ago as 4th January, 1916, and the work was practically completed when the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916, was passed. The route was inspected in July, 1916, by the Board of Trade, and on the 1st August, 1916, they certified the same as fit for public traffic. The corporation incurred heavy exyenditure on the work, involving a yearly liability in interest on the loan. This liability has continued for three years and to the loss of the ratepayers and the great inconvenience of the inhabitants living along the route to be served may
continue for two more years if this Bill is passed without the Amendment which I ask the House to accept. The county council were consulted with regard to the equipment of the portion of the route in question and gave their consent to the position of the poles, etc., and it has been a matter of great surprise to the corporation concerned that in the circumstances they have exercised adversely the discretion which was given to them by the provision of Section 20 of the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916, and have so far withheld their consent to the running of the vehicles. In view of the abnormal war conditions prevailing at the time, the corporation did not carry the matter to the Local Government Board, although they considered, and still consider, the county council's attitude on the question to be most unfair and unreasonable. If the Bill is passed without my Amendment the county council will, without adequate cause, be able to continue their opposition. Their main reason has been that the roads were not adapted to the traffic, but surely in these days of unemployment the task of remaking them cannot be very difficult and certainly cannot be impossible. The trolley vehicle Clauses of the Corporation's Act of 1912 were strenuously and unsuccessfully opposed by the county council, but Parliament then accepted the view of the corporation. Section 20 of the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, 1916, has resulted in delaying the corporation exercising the powers granted in 1912. There maybe some reason why the Government may wish to continue in some cases the Local Government (Emergency Provisions) Act, but such cannot possibly be desirable where the route has been equipped for three years and duly inspected and passed by the Board of Trade. A good reason why these additional travelling facilities should be expedited is that this new route would convey workers to and from their work and relieve to a small extent at any rate the dreadfully overcrowded condition of the local train service at the present time. The trolley-vehicle service, for which I wish to provide exemption, would be a matter of public convenience, particularly for the working classes. It is very much desired by the inhabitants, and I trust that the Government will accept my Amendment so that a three years' old grievance may be forthwith removed.
As I understand it, this Amendment is intended to give preferential treatment to trackless trolleys. I cannot imagine any form of vehicle or any form of traffic that less deserves preferential treatment than these trackless trolleys. They do probably more harm to the roads than any form of traffic. They are very expensive to the local authorities, and they certainly do not contribute, as some people think they ought to do, to the upkeep of the roads. I cannot conceive any reason why they should not be treated exactly in the same way as trams and other undertakings of that sort under this Bill. Therefore I must oppose this Amendment, and ask the House not to accept it.
I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (5), to insert the words
(6.) Nothing in this Section shall be deemed to exempt any undertaking- to which this Section applies from any rate assessable by any county or local authority.
I understand that this Amendment, which stands in the name of my Noble Friend (Lord Robert Cecil) is accepted in principle. It is quite clear that this is a matter that requires to be dealt with, because if you are taking away for two years what will be the big assessable value of the railways and other undertakings, it will mean great loss to the local authority.
I understand that the Noble Lord intended to withdraw his Amendment in favour of the one that follows, standing in my name. I should like to give the reason why my Amendment has been put down in a different form and why I think the proposal now made by the Home Secretary will not meet the case. I am advised that the probability is that local railways at the present time are not liable to be assessed for rates, having been taken over under the Defence of the Realm Act. Therefore, I suggest that the Home Secretary should consider whether it is not necessary to have an Amendment more on the lines of my Amendment, and to positively make these undertakings assessable to rates in the same way as railways have been in the past.
My Noble Friend was obliged to leave the House, and he asked me if I would look after his Amendment. He did not say anything to me which led me to think that he preferred the Amendment in the form in which it has been put down by my hon. Friend (Mr. D. Herbert). I have no particular affection for this Amendment, of which I am only the stepfather, and if the Home Secretary would prefer to have it in another form I have no objection.