My hon. and gallant Friend has drawn an indictment in the form of a supplementary question. I believe his indictment to be without foundation and capable of easy disproof, but I cannot undertake to find special facilities, or to put down the Vote for the Ministry of Transport, unless it be very widely asked for in the ordinary course, in order to enable my hon. and gallant Friend to pursue his indictment to the point of proof.
Surely when the Chairman of a Committee of the House of Commons issues such a statement as that, it is right that this House should have an early opportunity of discussing it, and of seeing whether the Chairman is justified or not in the grave statements he makes?
Is there any method known to my right hon. Friend by which the Report of a Private Bill Committee, indicating that they have formed their opinion before they have heard all the evidence, can be discussed in this House?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport whether he is aware that the Railways (North Western and Midland Group) Bill has been dropped after 10 days' hearing before a Private Bill Committee as a result of an objection by the Ministry of Transport first disclosed after 10 days' hearing before the Committee; and why was this objection not taken earlier so that the parties concerned might have been saved the heavy and needless expense to which they have been put by the delay referred to, and the hon. Members of the Committee spared many days of fruitless labour?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport when he first had an opportunity of considering the principle upon which rates were proposed to be fixed by the promoters of the London and North Western Road Transport Bill when the filled copy of the Bill was first in his possession; when the decision was made to take objection before the Committee to the principle upon which rates were fixed in the Bill; and when the decision was first communicated to the promoters or to the Committee?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport whether his attention has been called to the terms of the Special Report presented by the Committee on Group F of Private Bills with regard to the Railways (North Western and Midland Group) Bill; and what reply his Department has to make with reference to that Report?
asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport whether he has had an opportunity of considering the terms of the Special Report unanimously presented to the House by the Committee on Group F of Private Bills, wherein it is complained that unnecessary expense was caused to the parties on the Railways (North Western and Midland Group) Bill owing to the delay on the part of the Ministry of Transport in notifying their abjection to the principle on which it was proposed in the Bill to make charges for the conveyance of merchandise by road; whether he can explain why the Ministry did not criticise the bases of charges in their original Report of 15th May; why they failed to do so at the interview with the railway companies' representatives on 10th May; and why the criticism was withheld until the tenth day of the Committee's proceedings; whether he is aware that to alter the Bill in the direction indicated by the Ministry of Transport would have involved a violation of the Standing Orders of this House; whether the authorities of the House were consulted with regard to the Standing Orders before the belated criticism was offered; and whether he can state if any representations were made to the Ministry of Transport, and, if so, by whom, with regard to the alleged necessity for giving the railway group the opportunity of acquiring Government-owned or partly-owned lorries?
I would refer hon. Members generally to the full written reply given to the hon. and gallant Member for the Stirling Division (Major Glyn) on the 15th instant. My attention has been called to the Special Report, but for the reasons given in that reply I am unable to agree that my views were not disclosed at the appropriate time. The Chairman of the Committee consulted me as to the time when the witness from the Ministry of Transport should be called, and also took the views of counsel representing the various parties concerned in the case. As the result he wrote Sir George Beharrell definitely fixing the 12th June (at the close of the promoters' case) as the date upon which he was to attend. I cannot agree that the promoters' decision to withdraw this Bill was necessitated by Sir George's evidence. With reference to the additional points raised by the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. MacVeagh) I am not aware that the introduction of necessary safeguards in regard to the basis of charge into this Bill would have involved a violation of Standing Orders. The Chairman was clearly of the same opinion, since he urged that some alternative basis to that proposed in the Bill should be suggested. The answer to the last part of the question put by my hon. and learned Friend for South Down is in the negative.
Will the hon. Gentleman say why, at the meeting on 10th May, between the representatives of the railway companies and the representatives of the Ministry of Transport, the point was taken by anyone that the principle on which the Bill was founded, namely, to take rail rates subject to certain modifications, was one which the Ministry could not accept?
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for putting that point. On 4th May the promoters of the Bill printed an alternative Clause Six dealing with the matter in question. On 5th May they wrote asking for an interview with me. The matter was handed over by me to be dealt with officially. On 10th May a very long interview took place between the principal officials of my Department and the promoters. It was pointed out to the promoters at that time—as I had pointed out on the Second Reading—that there was extreme difficulty in applying Part III of the Railways Act to road charges. On 12th May (Friday) the promoters presented to the Ministry, late in the day, for the first time, the Clause as it appeared in the Bill considered by the Committee. It was that altered Clause, that was not in existence on 10th May, that was the foundation of most of the criticism of Sir George Beharrel in the evidence he gave to the Committee at the request of the Chairman. Therefore, it was quite impossible for this matter to have been discussed on the 10th, seeing it was only subsequently raised by the Clause as presented on the 12th.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain how it happened that he suggested to the House on the Second Reading that the standard charges for railway traffic would be a totally improper standard to apply to the carriage of goods by road, whereas the witness that he sent to the Committee upstairs. Sir George Beharrel, speaking on behalf of my hon. Friend, said that it was not an improper, but a proper standard?
No, I think not! I think my hon. and learned Friend will find that I did not use those words. What I did point out to the House, on the Second Reading, was that it would be exceedingly difficult to base road charges, which arise from road costs, upon railway charges which arise from a. different set of costs. As to Sir George Beharrel's evidence, he was not dealing with rail charges, he was dealing with railway charges which, by their very latest proposal, the companies were proposing to strip of some of the material elements. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no!"]