In the interests of the public, Mr. Speaker, and in view of the fact that these Amendments have only by your courtesy been printed and have only reached my hands to-day—I am not sure whether they have yet reached the hands of those hon. Members who are supporting me—I wish to ask whether you will allow this Debate to be adjourned until reasonable time has been given to enable me and those who are supporting me to read through the very intricate Amendments which are put before us at the last moment?
Quarter-past eight has been appointed by the Chairman of Ways and Means for the taking of this business. The House, by its own Resolution, dispensed with the printing of Amendments about 10 days ago, as is usually done at this time of the Session. But out of courtesy to the hon. and gallant Member, I understand that the promoters printed the Amendments, and that they were available early yesterday.
I understand that, in the circumstances, you will not permit the consideration of these Amendments to be adjourned. The fact that the Amendments have not been printed at the usual time, and have been circulated only when I asked that they might be supplied to us, seems to convey the suggestion that the company did not want these Amendments to be generally known.
I have just explained to the hon. and gallant Member that it was by order of the House that the printing of Amendments was suspended, as is usual at this period of the Session. They have been printed by the promoters, at the request of the hon. and gallant Member.
I did not hear what you said before. Now I quite understand. These Amendments have been put before the House at the last minute, and the great number of speakers who will follow me to-night do not realise what this Bill means. The Bill was rushed through the House some time ago, and passed its Third Reading. I objected to the Third Reading but, apparently, I did not object loudly enough. Now I am objecting to the Lords Amendments to the Bill. Before I come to the Amendment, I wish to say that, in view of the fact that the management of this railway has become a subject of amusement to the whole countryside and to the whole world, and in view of the fact that not only are the trains never punctual, that they are not clean, and that the time tables are not adhered to—
I bow to your ruling. I was merely introducing the question of the Amendments. The first Amendment is to insert Clause 19A, which is inserted for the protection of the Southampton Corporation. There is a further Clause for the protection of the Metropolitan Water Board, another for the protection of John Edward Arthur Willis Fleming. These Amendments would seem to show that these bodies, or individuals, require a great deal of protecting from this company, when the Lords consider it necessary to insert these Clauses into the Bill. The Clause for the protection of the Southampton Corporation provides that
The corporation may and at the request of the company shall grant and convey to the company without the company making joy payment therefor the lands containing twenty-seven decimal three acres or thereabouts coloured pink and the lands containing fourteen decimal two acres or thereabouts hatched pink on the signed plan fm all the estate and interest of the corporation in those lands.
In the short time allowed for consideration of these very intricate Amendments, I should like to know, not only in the interests of my constituency—
At the present stage, the hon. Member can deal only with the question as to why the Lords Amendments should not now be considered. Later on, when we come to the question of the particular Amendments to which he is now referring, he can deal with them.
I thought I was dealing with the Amendments before
the House. I should like to consider on the Amendment to which I have referred, and I should like the House to consider very seriously, where is the consideration if there be no payment? If the House has not time to consider this question, as is the case at present, I submit that a very grave wrong may be done to the public by giving this company the power which it will get if these Amendments be passed. It is obvious that the Lords are not satisfied with the Bill, from the very copious Amendments which they have added. Had they been satisfied, it would not have been necessary to insert these seven pages of Amendments. In these circumstances alone, I think I am right in looking very particularly at the Amendments, and in asking the House to consider the Amendments with great particularity and care. The Clause in question goes on:
The corporation shall grant and convey the said lands subject to such rights (if any) over the same as may be held or enjoyed by the Pirelli General Cable Works Limited or other the lessee or assignee for the time being under an indenture.
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day three months."
I ask the House, in view of what I have said, and the fact that the House of Lords have considered it necessary to add so many Amendments to a Bill with which obviously they were not satisfied, and that this House has had so little time to consider these Amendments; and, further, that I myself have had this document thrust into my hands only at one o'clock to-day, and have not had time even to read it through, to defer the considerations of these Amendments to this day three months.
I beg to second the Amendment.
I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that the Amendments which have come from the House of Lords are of a very serious nature. They affect many places, and deal with many points. There are 14 pages of Amendments, all of which are important. Some of them are not Amendments in the strict sense of the word, but are entirely new matter. They come up here as new Clauses, dealing with important questions of detail. In view of the gravity of those Clauses, I submit that the matter should he considered by the Committee which considered the Bill before it came up here. The usual Amendments made by the Lords are small in their nature, but this is a big matter. We cannot properly consider these questions now. Like my hon. Friend, I was only able to get a copy of the Bill late this afternoon. I understand that it was at the Vote Office yesterday, but I had no knowledge of that. I made inquiries in order to get the Amendments, but I was unable to do so, and it has been impossible to digest the important matters contained in these Amendments. One cannot possibly go into the Bill in such a short time with one's ordinary duties to discharge. For instance, a Clause to which there is particular objection is Clause 94, on page 76, which gives the police power to search and arrest. Why these special powers should be given to the police in connection with the railway, and the ordinary powers should be superseded, I do not know.
Of course, I bow to your ruling, but I was referring to the Clause on page 76 which, as far as I understand, comes up as a new Clause. If I am wrong in that, I am sorry, but that is only another reason why one should be given time to consider these things. The Bill is an omnibus Bill, dealing with many subjects affecting the whole district served by the Southern Railway, and these Amendments are brought forward in a Bill which was thought to be non-controversial, and to which we now find many objections.
May I ask is it customary to issue Amendments of this sort only 24 hours before they are brought up in this House, when hon. Members have not had an opportunity of looking through them at all?
I explained then that the House, by its awn order, had dispensed with the customary printing of Lords Amendments for the remainder of this part of the Session, and these have been printed at the request of the hon. and gallant Member through me. They are quite in the usual form in the way in which they are printed.
We who represent constituencies in the areas served by the Southern Railway are placed in a very difficult position to-night, because, while we do not want to obstruct this Bill, which is going, possibly, to improve the railway system, or find work for the unemployed, yet we feel that to let this Bill go through at the present stage would be a mistake, unless we could get some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill that certain grievances from which we are suffering at present would be looked into and favourably considered. There is no question but that since the Bill passed its Third Reading in this House, great changes have been made on the whole system, and rights and privileges enjoyed for the last 30 or 40 years have been taken away. The promoters of this Bill must know that if we had had any idea that these drastic changes would be made, many of us would have opposed to the utmost of our power the Third Reading of this Bill. To take the opportunity now of obstructing the Bill on the Lords Amendments is a very unsatisfactory course to the House as also to those who are interested in the welfare of the railways, and I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston (Sir E. Cecil) might perhaps save the time of the House, and place us all in a much more happy position if he could give us now, with the leave of the House, a definite assurance that those of us who considered that we have a real grievance, and the public whom we represent, may have those grievances considered, and that the Board would meet certain members representing the districts affected, and go into the matter thoroughly and promise us favourable consideration. I think that would meet my case, and probably the case of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite.
Otherwise we shall be compelled to obstruct the Amendments to the best of our ability. I hope that my right hon. Friend will see his way to give us this assurance, and I invite him to do so.
On the invitation of my hon. Friend, I am glad to be able to address the House on this matter. I represent the railway, inasmuch as I am not only now on the Board, but, as a member of the old London and South Western Board, I was familiar with that section of the system. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has suggested postponement of his Amendment has put me in a difficult position, because I could not but think from his speech, and the way in which he began it, that what he really wants to do is to complain of the train service. But that is out of Order, and I cannot go into the matter at this stage.
I not only suggest that there are very reasonable grounds indeed for complaint with regard to the train service. But in view of the unsatisfactory way in which this company, and the companies which comprise it, have been managed in the past, and in view of the fact that since 14th July they have entirely changed their time-table to the detriment of everybody concerned, I object to these Amendments of the Bill, on the ground that, as the company has managed its business so badly in the past, it would probably manage its business worse if it got the power.
It would be quite irregular now to go into details of this sort. On the Second Reading of a Bill it is permissible to ask how a company has used its existing powers, but it is not permissible to do so on the consideration of Lords' Amendments. The right hon. Gentleman can make a general statement on the matter.
The only general statement that I can make is that in all such problems as those brought before the House, it is often a question of speeding up a train service to serve the big towns, and this necessarily causes some curtailment in the services to smaller towns. The Board are most anxious to meet the interests of all classes of their clients and of the populations along the line. But, of course, there are sometimes very conflicting interests, and in these conditions they are giving consideration to all parties, and trying to effect a satisfactory service all round. That certainly has been the general policy of the old South Western Board, and so far as I can do anything on the new Southern Board, I shall certainly do my best. I am sure that the general manager will most willingly see my hon. Friend or any other hon. Member with regard to any difficulty in his constituency, and will endeavour to meet the interests of the constituencies in consonance with all the interests that we have to consider. We are anxious in every possible way to meet all the districts which we have to serve, and it is not from any spirit of disinclination that we cannot satisfy all.
I must say a word or two on the statement of the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Colonel Rudkin) about the Lords' Amendments. It is well known that Amendments of this character are often circulated, after discussion between counsel on one side and the other, and after careful consideration by the Committee concerned. I do not think that the hon. and gallant Member is quite right in suggesting that the Lords are not satisfied with the whole Bill, because these happen to be unusually long Amendments. The reason why they are long Amendments is that the big interests—especially those of the Southampton Cor- poration and the Metropolitan Water Board—called for a very careful Clause, as a protection not only of their interests, but of the interests of the company in dealing with them. These Clauses have now been agreed by both sides. They passed through the Committee as agreed Clauses. That is why they were added. They were added with the approval of these large corporations, which goes a long way to smooth the passage of the Bill, and to show that there has been consideration of the public interests in these localities. It is following the ordinary procedure of this House to accept the Clauses, to allow them to be put into the Bill, and to allow the Bill to pass. There is no special case in the matter of this Bill compared with any other Bill. If I can give any further explanation to any hon. Member, I shall be happy to do so.
This Bill is going to be of service not only to the railway company, but to a great mass of unemployed. As an old trade union official, who has had many meetings and conferences with the Southern Railway Company and the old companies that constitute it, I can say that we have always been received very well by the company, and if my hon. and gallant Friend will take that assurance from me, he would be well advised not to press his Amendment, but to allow the Bill to go through on the promise given.
In view of the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, as far as I and many of my friends are concerned, we are willing to withdraw our objection, on the distinct understanding that our grievances will be very favourably considered. I hope that the Mover of the Amendment will take the same course. We do not want to obstruct the Bill, but to safeguard the interests of our constituents.
I wish to support the Amendment. I agree that the Southern Railway Company in all probability will try to meet any possible objection. I also agree that the gentlemen who have been concerned in the negotiations have done their best in all probability. I still further agree that these different Amendments, so copious, have been agreed by both sides. But it is one thing for my Lords to agree to Amendments and a very different thing for the Members of this House to agree to Amendments. After all, the House of Commons safeguards the rights of the whole of the people, not merely of one particular railway company. As far as I have been able to study the Amendments, my objections are manifold. I certainly hope that something very special will be given in the nature of an assurance or guarantee, before these Amendments are definitely passed, that these objections will be met. This company in the estimation of some people is a very good company, but in the estimation of other people, including certain hon. Members of this House, it hag been rather a back number. There have been many objections, letters have been written to the Press and to hon. Members of this House—objections to the company have been conveyed to me—and I observe that in connection with those Amendments the Borough of Lambeth is mentioned. I happen to have the honour of being a Member for one of the Lambeth divisions, and I should like to mention two or three special objections which I have noticed on reading through these Amendments. On the first page I notice the following words—
I am sorry I was not in attendance when that ruling was given, but there are a number of matters on which I think the House should have further particulars, and the public as a whole should understand exactly what are their rights. There are such matters, for example, as the formation of new roads, the building of new bridges and new viaducts, and so forth. Nowadays the most up-to-date scientific method of road making—
In view of the assurance given by the right hon. Gentle-man opposite, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment which I put before the House, and I should like to say that, had we previously received this assurance in the manner in which the right hon. Gentleman has put it to us now, this matter need never have gone so far. All we desire is to ensure that the public will not be the sufferers by the granting of powers to a great corporation of this description.
The Debate has very largely centred round the question of the railway service mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston. He indicated that the general manager would be glad to see any Members who were interested in the railway service in their constituencies, and I want to point out that I have twice written to the general manager, and have only received an acknowledgment of my letters. Therefore I feel rather hopeless about it. It is not that I want to have a better railway service in my constituency; I want to have some railway service. That is all I ask for, but I have never been able to achieve it yet. If the right hon. Gentleman can offer me an assurance that he will give some attention to my constituency, I will withdraw all opposition.
The question of railway service has been referred to by three or four hon. Members, and I should like to point out that there is another side to that question. There are constituencies such as mine which, in spite of the fact that there has been no competition, enjoy very excellent services, and those services have been very much improved during the present month.