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On a point of Order. May I ask, Mr. Speaker, whether you have considered the point of Order submitted to you, and, if so, whether you have decided that this Bill and the London Electric Railway Companies (Co-ordination of Passenger Traffic) Bill should be proceeded with as Private Bills or as Public Bills?
The hon. Member for East Ham, South (Mr. Barnes) was kind enough to tell me beforehand that he was going to raise this point of Order. I am much obliged to him, because it has given me an opportunity of fully considering what I feel to be my duty on this occasion. I have considered the matter from all points of view, and I have definitely come to the conclusion that it is not my business to rule whether this Bill should be a Public Bill or a Private Bill. It must be left to the decision of the House.
This Bill for the coordination of passenger traffic, which is a London County Council Bill, and the companion Bill, which is brought forward by the London Electric Railway Companies, are the direct outcome of the recommendations of the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee. That Committee was set up under the London Traffic Act, 1924, by hon. Members opposite, and the composition of the Committee was settled by hon. Members opposite. The Act contained a number of provisions for the purpose of regulating and controlling traffic in London. Its main purpose was the setting up of the Advisory Committee with the object of advising the Minister of Transport on all matters for facilitating and improving the regulation of traffic in and near London. Accordingly, that Advisory Committee held a prolonged and extensive inquiry into the whole question of London traffic. It proceeded to hold its inquiries and discussions on the basis of two admitted facts (1) that there was an insistent and constant demand in London for additional railway facilities for passenger traffic in and out of London, and (2) that it was almost impossible for the capital to be found for the necessary development of those railways in and out of London whilst the extreme competition still existed between the tubes and the omnibuses on the one hand and the tramways of the London County Council on the other.
The Advisory Committee, therefore, came to this conclusion that:
Some scheme for bringing all forms of public passenger traffic transport under unified management, subject to public control, appeared to offer the only satisfactory and lasting solution of the problem.
This conclusion was reported to the Minister of Transport, who agreed that common management and a common fund was the only method of dealing with this question. He instructed the Advisory Committee to continue their activities in
order that they might have discussions with the companies and the municipalities concerned, to see what would be the best way of arriving at some combined action for the promotion of a scheme for common management and the establishment of a common fund. It was in this way that the detailed suggestions of the Advisory Committee were put forward. Those suggestions were put forward practically unanimously. The principle of the consolidation of passenger traffic under one body was maintained in these detailed suggestions. It was also insisted upon very strongly that if there was to be consolidation of all the passenger traffic under one body there must be public control in order to ensure the protection of the community (1) in regard to fares; (2) in regard to adequacy of service, and (3) in regard to development of the system as a whole and of the various parts of the system. The Advisory Committee went further and said that:
with the establishment of a common fund and a common management an effective public control body must be set up to ensure a programme of extension and development, proper scales of fares, adequate services capable of meeting the needs of the public, and sound financial arrangements for raising additional capital.
The body that was suggested as being the best public control body was the Minister of Transport assisted by the advisory committee. It was pointed out that the powers of the Minister of Transport would probably have to be extended in order that he might deal with the larger matters which came under the detailed recommendations of the Advisory Committee.
I understand that the Amendment upon the Paper aims at this question of the nature of the advisory and supervisory committee which is to look after the public interests in connection with the scheme proposed under the Bill. I think that attitude arises very largely from the fact that this is a, Private Bill and not a, Public Bill. The Advisory Committee as originally constituted was set up by a Public Bill, and I conceive that there may be some difficulty in assuming that that Advisory Committee could be altered by anything except a Public Bill. On the other hand, it is quite clear that the Advisory Committee under the original Act was not the Committee which had the actual powers in its hands; the powers were in the hands of the Minister of Transport, subject to the advice of the Advisory Committee. It is difficult to see how hon. Members opposite can object to the composition of the Advisory Committee which is to fulfil its new functions under the Bill which we are bringing forward to-night, seeing that they themselves set up the Advisory Committee. If the Advisory Committee in advising the Minister, who has the power in his own hands, does not prove in the long run to be a satisfactory committee for the extensive purposes suggested in the two Bills, there will be no serious difficulty in amending the Act of 1924 and setting up some other kind of committee, perhaps a more representative advisory committee to assist the Minister of Transport.
Apart from the question of a public or a private Bill, the most important point in connection with this scheme, which the Advisory Committee have advised, is the question whether there is a sufficient and real safeguard for public control in the proposals that we are putting forward. The nature of the scheme which the Committee suggested was (1) that the ownership of the various undertakings should remain where it is at present, (2) that there should be a Common fund set up and that there should be an equitable basis established upon which all parties may start fairly as regards each other within the Common fund, (3) there must be common management, in order that the position should be established that all the undertakings should be operated as a single system, and that there should be a general scheme of fares on uniform lines, (4) that there must be an effective Public Control Body in order that the three preceding points might be always kept in mind, and (5) that there must be facilities for the development of the system in all directions and (6) that the duration of the scheme must he for not less than 42 years.
When the scheme came before the Minister of Transport he sent it to the London County Council. The county council considered the scheme in all its bearings in November, 1927, and passed this resolution:
The Council is of opinion that it would be in the interests of the travelling public of London if an equitable scheme embodying the principles of Common Management and
a Common Fund could be agreed upon by all authorities and bodies concerned in conveying London passenger traffic, and carried into effect, provided that the Council shall not be committed, without further consideration, to the principles or details of the scheme prepared by the London and Home Counties Traffic Advisory Committee.
In the following December a report on the advisory committee's scheme was considered, and the council put forward the following condition, which they said ought to be fulfilled in the event of any scheme being put forward:
That the interests of the travelling public should be safeguarded as to services and fares; that the Council's tramways should remain its own property and be properly maintained; that the value of the same should be equitably recognised both as to capital and revenue, and that the interest of displaced employés should be safeguarded.
The council came to the conclusion that unless agreement could be arrived at by which these four points could be safeguarded it would be impossible to go on with the suggestion of linking up with what we call the Combine. It was on considerations of that kind that the Minister of Transport, the advisory committee, the London County Council and the members of what is known as the Combine entered into negotiations in order to see whether they could hammer out a scheme which they could agree upon between themselves. The lines of this agreement are laid down in the Bill which is now before the House. Although it is not possible to include in the Bill all the details of the suggested agreement between the parties, it is possible to show, in the actual Clauses of the Bill, how closely we have followed the recommendations of the advisory committee and how careful we have been to insist upon all those preliminary safeguards for the public and the council's own property which are absolutely essential and without which no agreement can be entered into.
Hon. Members will find in Clauses 3 and 6 provisions for the general lines of common management and common fund. The most important of these Clauses is Clause 3 Sub-section (2), which deals with the question of the return on ranking capital. Clause 4 makes Parliament ultimately, through the Minister of Transport, the arbiter as to the validity of any agreement entered into between the parties, and Clause 5 insists on the unification of the system and the maintenance of the associated undertakings in good repair and working order. Clause 9 allows any local authority within the London area to invoke the Minister of Transport in the case of any alteration of fares or withdrawal of services, and Clause 10 gives similar power to the Minister in connection with any part of the system. Clause 11 deals with the question of compensation to any of the council's employés who are dismissed or displaced.
Those are the main Clauses of the Bill. It is necessary, I think, to assure the House that a, Bill drawn on these lines will give security not only to the London County Council over its municipal undertakings from the financial standpoint, but also security to the public that they will have developing services, with every possible facility for travelling and that fares will be on a uniform basis in the long run. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I thought I should get some remark like that. When I say that "fares will be on a uniform basis in the long run," I mean that, they will at least be reduced in the long run to the fares which are now prevalent in competitive areas. Both these securities, that is the security for the council's own property and the security for the public, must necessarily rest upon the nature and character of the agreements which are entered into.
First of all, with regard to the security of the council's undertakings. No agreement is to be valid unless it contains a provision relating to a reasonable return to be paid on the actual capital of the undertaking, and that provision in the agreement is to have the particular sanction of the Minister of Transport. We get this position. The agreement which must contain this particular provision as to a reasonable return on capital and, secondly, this agreement with this provision must go to the Minister of Transport. The Minister may approve or disapprove. If he disapproves there is no agreement. If he approves, the provision is then adopted in the agreement itself and the agreement is then laid on the Table of the House for Parliament itself to say yea or nay to any of the provisions in it. Objection may be taken either to the provision relating to the question of a reasonable return on capital, which has passed the Minister, or to any other Clause in the agreement, in which ease it will have to come to the House for decision. Parliament is, therefore, supreme in the matter of the agreement which is made in connection with the question of London traffic. Not only is the council's property secured, but in drawing up this agreement the London County Council would take the view that whatever ultimate figure might be fixed as a reasonable return, with the approval of the Minister, there should be no increased distribution of surplus revenue until substantial benefits, through reduced fares, have accrued to the public of London. These two provisions give security to the council's undertakings and also security to the public in regard to the services to be rendered.
There is another point in connection with the security to the public with which. I think the House ought to be seized. It should be borne in mind that at the present moment the council is only able to exercise influence in respect of traffic facilities over its own area, that is, over the tramway system of London. If this Bill becomes law, and we have consolidated in one body all the passenger traffic of London, then the county council itself will be able to exercise its own influence throughout the whole system of London passenger traffic. That is of enormous advantage to the travelling public of London. The council will be able to exercise their influence through this common management, of which they are a part, keeping the ownership of their own property in their own hands; an influence for the good of the public over the whole passenger traffic system in and around London.
That is the object of this Bill. Its main object is that the London County Council should make its own contribution towards solving the traffic problem in London; should take its own share in bringing to an end this very long protracted competition, which is injuring the production of further facilities for passenger traffic in London. It will also make for more economical management if we run the whole system on cooperative lines. What other action could be taken than the one that is proposed? The only other action it seems to me is that of absorp- tion. The county council is far too proud of its own tramway system, which represents two-sevenths of the population of London carried and one-fifth of the capital invested in passenger traffic; far too proud of its own well-managed system—and the trams have been well run, they are a good concern—and would resent any notion of being absorbed in any other body. I am perfectly certain that nobody will deem it a practical proposition that the London tramway system should absorb the whole of the other passenger traffic system in and near London. The only proposal left is the method of co-ordination and co-operation, and out of that we hope to get greater facilities for London traffic. The property of the county council will be preserved intact, the development of the council's tramways will be provided for, and fares will be gradually reduced to the minimum which now obtains in competitive areas. For these reasons, I ask the House to give this Bill a Second Reading.
Before moving the Amendment of which I have given notice, may I ask, Mr. Speaker, for your guidance? There are two Bills before the House, and, although they are not identical, they are coincident. The Amendment raises in some of its terms one particular question, and I should like to ask whether we shall be permitted to discuss the two Bills and the general question which is raised in connection with the organisation of London traffic.
As regards the first point raised by the hon. Member, I understand that the matters with which the two Bills deal are much the same, and it will, therefore, be for the convenience of the House if both Bills are discussed together. As regards the second point which the hon. Member raises—the discussion on the Amendment he proposes to move—by the Standing Orders, we are almost compelled to have a general discussion on an Amendment of this kind. Hon. Members will remember that Standing Order 31 (A) lays it down that if on an Amendment to the Second or Third Reading of a Bill the Question "That the words proposed to be left out stand part" is put and carried, it precludes any discussion except on the particular Amendment which the hon. Member proposes to move. The Amendment, however, deals with most of the subject matter contained in the Bills, and it will be the most convenient course that the whole discussion on the merits of the Bill should be taken on the Amendment which the hon. Member proposes to move.
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words:
this House is of opinion that proposals which vitally affect the problem of London traffic and the tramway and traffic powers and obligations of the London County Council, the City Corporation, the Middlesex County Council, and the local authorities of West Ham, East Ham, Croydon, Leyton, Walthamstow, Ilford, and the 28 Metropolitan boroughs, raise matters of public policy which should not be dealt with by Private Bill.
I do not think any hon. Member of this House has had such an extraordinary task as that which has just been attempted by the hon. Member for Fulham West (Sir C. Cobb). He has submitted on behalf of this Bill an argument that these proposals are for the betterment of the organisation of London traffic and in the public interest. As a matter of fact, these two Bills, the London County Council (Co-ordination of Passenger Traffic) Bill and the London Electric Railway Companies (Co-ordination of Passenger Traffic) Bill, are the most extraordinary proposals to come before the House of Commons. In effect they are one Bill to give a monopoly to a particular private concern which has the largest control in passenger traffic at the present moment, and to hand over to this Combine public property which is controlled and managed by the London County Council. No such extraordinary proposal has ever been put before this House, and we shall be untrue to our tradition as the guardians of public liberty and rights if we give assent to Bills of this character. First of all, the House ought to have some idea as to the immensity of the problem which we are facing and which we are presuming to attempt to solve in these two Bills. Traffic in London is very different from the traffic in the great provincial cities. London, by its unique position, is largely a distributive, commercial, and financial centre. A very large number of its workers are compelled to work in the centre of the town, and, according to the figures of the census of 1921, out of the totally-occupied population of 3,489,000, no less than 1,674,000 are engaged in transport communication, commerce, finance, public administration, and as clerks and drafts-men. That shows that anything that deals with the transport of such a large number of people cannot be the concern of private enterprise, but must be the concern of a public body. In the City of London, the night population is nearly 13,209, while the day population is 436,721. Westminster goes up from 141,000 to 386,000, and Holborn from 43,000 to 102,000. There has also been growing up certain suburbs of London in which certain industries are carried on. There is another curious thing. There move out of one metropolitan borough to others a certain number of people which is balanced during the day—I am referring only to workers—by people who come in from other parts. In Hammersmith there is an outward flow of 32,204 people every day, and an inward flow of 30,102. In St. Pancras, there is an outward flow of 51,000 and an inward movement of 58,000. Again, these figures show the necessity of having one control which should have all the time in its mind the public interest and not the earnings of profit for private enterprise.
Another extraordinary fact is the growth of traffic, during the last 25 years in regard to the number of millions of passengers carried. In 1902, on the local railways, these numbered 277,000,000, and in 1925, 556,000,000. On the trunk railways, the number has grown from 188,000,000 to 319,000,000. On the tramways, it has grown from 361,000,000 to 979,000,000, and on the omnibuses, which have the good fortune of being able to travel outside the ring, and not to be handicapped as railways or tramways are by legislation of this House, the numbers have risen from 280,000,000 to 1,671,000,000. The journeys per head of the population have grown in the same time from 166,000,000 to 456,000,000. These figures are very remarkable. It may be a revelation to many hon. Members to find that, if the fares were raised by the shortening of the journey's length, to the extent of a farthing, the increased cost to the public would be £3,873,958. The hon. Member for West Fulham gave expression to the hope that, in the long run, there would be a reduction in the fares; but it is not a reduction in the fares in the long run that we want; it is a reduction in the fares on the short journeys. Figures of that kind, I think, without any other argument which might be put before this House, make it important that this question should be dealt with by the Government of the day in a public Measure which this House might be able to discuss in every detail, and any agreement which might be entered into as a result would be in the Schedule of the Bill and would be open to the criticism of Parliament.
So far as the Bills are concerned, Parliament is being asked to give the London County Council and the Combine a blank cheque which both may sign, but on the London County Council's cheque would be marked "Returned to drawer," because they have handed over the tramways to the Combine without any return. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport smiles. We all know, and we have known for some years, that, if there is one thing in the world which he does not like to take any trouble about it is the question of transport. I often wonder what he is thinking about. I feel certain he is not thinking about the Ministry of Transport. As I look at him gazing into space, I feel all the time that what he is thinking about are the beautiful fantasies and dreams which are presented to him by the anti-Socialist Union of which he is the President. The present position and the difficulties in regard to London traffic are due to the pusillanimity of the right hon. Gentleman who has not faced this question. If there are any villains in the piece, they are those which constitute His Majesty's Government. If the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport had faced his duty, we would not have found the London County Council in such a hurry to do what they are doing now.
The question of precedents has been alluded to. If one turns to Erskine May, they will and many references to Bills which have dealt with questions concerning the public interests in the Metro polis, and which, except certain specific Measures, have been private Bills. But there are two specific instances with regard to public Bills. About 30 years ago, we had a very terrible water famine in the East End of London, and, when it was found that the private enterprise water companies were not able to provide an efficient water supply, the Government of the day—and it was a Conservative Government, one which had a little more courage than the present one—passed a Bill which constituted the Metropolitan Water Board. Reflections may be made as to the constitution of that authority; but it has given an efficient supply of water. There is another service which looks after the docks of London. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George), who was President of the Board of Trade at that time in the Liberal Government, approached the London County Council to have a great municipal authority to look after the docks of London. The majority of the people at the County Hall are chary of taking responsibility, and the offer of the right hon. Gentleman was declined. But he went forward with it, and carried as a public Bill the Port of London Authority Bill. If water is so important, if docks are so important as great public interests, surely the traffic of London is equally important as a great private interest.
Bills were brought in by the London Electricity Companies some time ago. I do not know whether the hon. Member for North Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson) is happy about the results which followed those Bills. A Conservative meeting was held some time ago in Wandsworth, at which I think one of the hon. Members for Wandsworth was present, and there a protest was made that the cost of electricity was so high in Wandsworth. A well-known Conservative asked, "Why cannot we have the same price for electricity in Wandsworth as in the neighbouring borough of Battersea?" The reason is that there is a municipal supply in Battersea. I do not think hon. Members opposite will suggest that the "Daily Express" is a Socialist newspaper, but that newspaper states that its campaign to reduce the price of electricity has been successful in more than 200 different areas, and there was set out a great list of dividends which are very high. The hon, Member for West Fulham in his statement rather led the House to believe that this Bill is following closely the recommendations of the Traffic Advisory Committee. I do not wish to enter into needless controversy with the hon. Member, but I think that before he made a statement of that kind he ought to have consulted his friends on the London Traffic Advisory Committee, because they have issued a statement in which they point to the very important differences between the proposals of the London County Council and those of the Traffic Advisory Committee.
I would like the House to understand the exact reasons why we are discussing this question to-night. So far as we on this side are concerned we are in no sense of the word against any proper system of co-ordination of passenger traffic in London. We are very pleased to welcome that great man Lord Ashfield's recognition of the broad foundation of Socialist economics, that competition is an evil. We agree that if you have a number of trams or omnibuses running with a large number of empty seats, there is no advantage to the travelling public, because those empty seats have to be paid for somehow or other, as well as the wastage of road space. But when you say that competition is a bad thing and that it must go, in the interest of the public, I suggest that, when you have co-ordination by reason of the great public interests involved, it is absolutely necessary that the controlling and co-ordinating and owning authority should be a publicly constituted and democratic body. That is not the proposal of the Bill.
We find that the Traffic Advisory Committee proceeded first of all to consider the question of a common fund. It is necessary to quote exactly, because it has been said against us that as all the members except one, ordinary and additional, of the London Traffic Advisory Committee signed that Report, we are committed to the Report. I want to say clearly now that in the political sense there was no representative of the Labour party sitting on that Advisory Committee. Its constitution at the present time is such that, from a political point of view, all the public representatives are members of the party opposite. The extra members, who are not called upon to decide upon policy unless the others ask for advice, include three trade union representatives, but they sit there not as political members of the Labour party but exactly in the same way as repre- sentatives of the Underground Combines, representing a particular interest. This Report was presented by them on this common fund and common management. But the fundamental thing that underlay the Report when it was presented with the signatures of the three trade union representatives, was the fact that all the way through there should be a controlling public authority.
The procedure which the Committee visualised was this: First of all, coordination is necessary. To bring about co-ordination, we want a common fund. In order that the common fund shall be properly managed and under common management we must have, first of all, negotiations between the various interests.
It is thought, however, that no useful purpose would he served by attempting to negotiate unless the Committee were in a position to indicate the outlines of a scheme, coupled with an assurance that in its main principles it would meet with the approval of the Government, and that if it were generally acceptable to the local authorities and companies concerned, the Government would be prepared either to promote or to support the necessary legislation to enable effect to be given to it.
I draw especial attention to the words "if it were generally acceptable to the local authorities and companies." What have we in these particular Bills? There is only one local authority, the London County Council. The London County Council is the largest tramway authority within the area of Greater London, but its being the largest authority is no reason why it should ride rough-shod over the ideas of other local authorities who are also tramway managers and undertakers. West Ham, East Ham, Croydon, Ilford and Leyton are to be left out in the cold. The Underground Company, with all its ramifications and clever interlocking of companies and subsidiary companies is not the only pebble on the beach. There are also the main line railway companies, with a very considerable amount of suburban traffic.
Under this Bill co-ordination may be only imperfectly secured because right through we find that the safeguards are illusory and that the proposals do not follow in any sense of the word the lines suggested by the Traffic Advisory Committee Report, and therefore they ought to be condemned. The Traffic Advisory Committee has put forward certain
points of view in regard to the differences in the Reports. They say:
In the first place we wish to draw attention to the main points in which the scheme under the Bills differs from the scheme outlined in the Blue Report, and apart from minor points these may be summarised under two heads: (1) The Blue Report envisaged all the passenger transport undertakings with the exception of the main line suburban railways coming at the same time into a co-ordinated scheme with a common fund and a common management (2) It provided for public control as set out in paragraph 6 of the Blue Report.
Here is another quotation:
We understand that the promoters are in agreement with our recommendations on the two points referred to above but they are advised that it is not practicable to give effect to them by Private Bill legislation because upon the first point it is obvious that no private promoter could obtain powers to compel other undertakers to enter into agreements with them, though the Bills do in fact confer enabling powers upon the undertakers to enter into agreement with the two promoters if they are willing to do so.
Further, with regard to the second point we understand that it would not be practicable under Private Bills legislation to set up public control in the form and with the scope referred to in the Blue Report.
What is the hurry in this matter? Everyone knows that when the first proposals were put forward by the Traffic Advisory Committee it was understood by all the parties concerned that it would take at least two years of negotiation before a Bill could be brought in—yet here we have, in a dying Parliament, Pills of this kind being rushed through. It is rather amusing to find that these two bodies are supposed to be promoting Bills for the same purpose. They are supposed to be in agreement. The London County Council, in its Preamble, lays it down that the Bill is promoted on account of the report of the Traffic Advisory Committee and in accordance with its recommendations. When I look at the Preamble of the Combine's Bill, I find I have to give them credit for a little more honesty and a little less hypocrisy. They do not refer to the Traffic Advisory Committee. They know that this is a good business deal for them. They are promoting a Bill very similar to the Bill which they promoted in 1915. That Bill was for the establishment of a common fund between their own undertakings. That was all right and I have not the slightest doubt that it has been very beneficial, though no one, except those in the
inner secrets of the Combine knows the exact ramifications and workings of the common fund.
What the Combine knows, however, is that if these two Bills were passed into law the London County Council's tramway system would simply become a subsidiary company of the Combine, no matter what might be said by the elected members of the London County Council, no matter how they might grumble, and no matter how other local authorities might make representations. The Clause which is supposed to give the local authorities power to make representations leaves out the important Metropolitan borough councils. It only allows the City Corporation and tramway authorities outside to do so. When one finds this proposal put forward in this way, one feels it to be part and parcel of a-great public policy which is being pursued by the Conservative party against, every form of public ownership. It is a counter offensive. They have come to the conclusion that the hest form of defence is attack. They first of all come along and say, "Let us get rid of the beam wireless." Now in this matter they say, "We will not bring the Government into this. They can stand aside as supposedly impartial persons." If ever there was a subservient political body it is the Municipal Reform Party in the London County Council. In the provinces one finds representatives of Conservative interests on our great municipal authorities who would not for one moment stand what is stood by the Municipal Reform Party in the London County Council. Their subservience is shown day after day. They run across from the County Hall to ask the Tory Government, "What shall we do next to please you?"
Attacks have been made upon the tramway system of the London County Council. There was a great struggle to establish that tramway system for the people of London and, in that connection, I would pay my tribute to a man who was once a Member of this House—the late Sir John Benn—for the great work which he did. Now we have attacks on the tramway system and misrepresentations concerning it. The name of the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth is on both these Bills. I suggest to him that, if he is going to back Bills of this
character, dealing with the tramway system of London, he ought first to give accurate accounts regarding that tramway system when he is asked questions about it in the public body of which he is a member. I find that a question was put by Mr. Herbert Morrison to the Chairman of the Highways Committee of the London County Council, on 12th February, in the following terms:
Whether his attention has been drawn to a statement by Sir Henry Jackson, M.P., at a meeting of the Wandsworth Metropolitan Borough Council on 29th January as reported in a local newspaper to the following effect:
Sir Henry in reply to Alderman Hurley said that for the last few years the London County Council had lost £250,000 a year on their tramway workings. In addition, the repayment of the debt charges on the London County Council tramways was £300,000 a year, but in the last three years, in consequence of the grave financial position of the tramways, the Treasury had permitted the suspension of repayment. Thus, the London County Council, in addition to its positive losses, had lost half-a-million pounds, which represented a rate of 2½d. Unless something was done in regard to tramway finances the ratepayers would have to face the prospect of having 2½d. added to their rates when the debt charges were paid.
Whether the Chairman of the Highways Committee can make any statement as to the accuracy or otherwise of the statements made.
The reply of the Vice-Chairman was as follows:
The answer to the first question is in the negative.
He, apparently, is not such a careful student of the local Press of Wandsworth as my friend Mr. Morrison. The answer continued:
The facts are as follows: With the approval of His Majesty's Treasury the accounts for the three years ended 31st March, 1927, made no provision for repayment of that part of the capital expenditure up to 31st March, 1924. which is subject to a 25 years' term for redemption. This temporary suspension relieved the accounts for the three years of a large annual charge roughly computed at £300,000 but the obligation had to be resumed in 1927–28. In such year there was a deficiency after paying all debt charges of £226,211. In the current year the deficiency is estimated at £43,804.
That is very different from the position put forward by the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth. I have had the pleasure of working with him in municipal administration for a good many years and I regret that he has allowed
himself, by reason of his party adhesions, to be brought into this particular business arid that he should be concerned in this ramp which is being played on the people of London. I think I might say of him:
Indeed the Idols I have loved so long,
Have done my Credit in men's eyes much wrong;
Have drown'd my Honour in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.
When I come to the question of whether the trams actually pay or not, I find that according to the estimates of the London County Council's Highways Committee for 1928–29 the surplus is £650,000. The interest on the debt—and it is to be remembered that the debt of a municipal body is not really a debt at all but is outstanding capital—is £273,005, making a net profit on the estimates of £377,015. When I remember the speech of Lord Ashfield on the London United Traction Company and their management and how they had not paid anything on their preference dividends, I can quite understand why he is so anxious to secure control of the London County Council trams. The vice-chairman of the Council stated in January last that the original estimates for 1928–29 as approved by the Council anticipated a surplus on working of £618,990 and a net deficiency of £103,529. This so-called deficiency really means that when the transaction is completed the London County Council will have an additional £450,000 worth of assets for a payment of £103,529. If a good many concerns in the iron and steel trade, in the coal trade, and in the textile trade in the great boom years only carried on their finances in the way in which the finances of the London County Council tramways have to be carried on, we should not hear so much of the depression in trade as we are hearing now.
To say that the tramways have been subsidised out of the rates is an absolute travesty of the facts. What are the facts? From 1897, when the tramways were electrified, to 1928 the total net contribution from the rates to the trams has been £1,226,894, but the council has during that time paid off, or provided for, out of the tramway surplus, no less a sum than £8,752,035. In other words, we have a net gain to the citizens of London of £7,325,141. There is another thing which Lord Ashfield, who is an astute man, who wants to do the best he can for the great international financial organisation with which he is connected knows, and that is that in the next few years the debt which is being paid off by the London County Council trams is going to continue to be paid off, but at the same time it will make a greater and more valuable asset. In 1937 there will only be—and these tramways have cost £17,000,000—£4,481,270 of the balance outstanding; in 1947, £2,425,550; and in 1952, £1,675,990. It will be seen that in little more than 20 years the tramways will be substantially free of debt of any kind and will stand as a valuable asset in the books of the citizens of London. We, on this side, want to keep them for the citizens of London and not to hand them over to any private enterprise.
I think I have quoted enough to show that the tramways have paid all the way through. The hon. Member for West Fulham made the remark that he hoped in the long run we should come to a time when we might have fares on a competitive basis on the competitive routes of the Combine and the tramways. The one thing which the Combine fears is the fact that this great municipal undertaking is the only safeguard that the public have for cheap and reasonable fares, and if proof of that statement be wanted, we can see it in the negotiations which took place in regard to the 2d. mid-day fare of the London County Council. On those tramways between certain hours, roughly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., any person may travel for 2d. over the whole journey along which those trams may go. That is a wise thing on the part of the traffic manager, who knows that in those hours-of the day the trams are not likely to be filled, and he encourages people to fill them, with the result that a very considerable increase in the tramway revenue has been obtained.
When Sir. Eric Geddes was Minister of Transport, a message came to the London County Council, in which they were asked to enter into negotiations with the Combine because the question as to whether there should be a minimum fare of was being considered, and the Combine said they objected to the 2d. midday fare on principle. To them, it was a matter of principle, and from their point of view it was bad. That majority at County Hall that is so sub- servient to all private interests thought they would be able to meet the Combine, and a special meeting of the Highways Committee was called, which made a recommendation to the Council that those fares should be suspended. A special meeting was called by the Chairman of the Council, but, unfortunately for the Combine, it was called in the holiday season, and not even members of the subservient majority could afford to come up, from their holidays for the benefit of the Combine. The result was that 36 Liberal and Labour members were for keeping the fares, against the 35 municipal members.
See the effect of that. The Combine has since put the 2d. fare into force on the routes where their own omnibuses run along the tramways. If any Member of this House ever gets on an omnibus where there are no tramway routes, he will get no 2d. fare, and so far from there being any idea in the mind of the Combine of reducing fares, only recently the Combine has acquired the controlling interest in one of the private companies, the London Public Omnibus Company, and what has happened? Wherever that Public Omnibus Company runs along the same routes as the London General Omnibus Company, the fares have been put up. Here is a very simple illustration. I come to this House every day in a 76 omnibus, part of whose route is along a tramway route, so that you get a reduction of the fare. You used, when the Public Omnibus Company was running and the cheap fare was in force at midday, to be able to come from Stoke Newington to Victoria for 5d., and outside the midday hours for 6d. To-day, since they took over the Public Omnibus Company, you can only get as far as the Army and Navy Stores for 5d. The consequence is that people who want to go from this House to Victoria have to pay 2d. because of the co-ordination of traffic between the Public Omnibus Company and the Combine.
The great point which is at issue to-day is that of the interests of public ownership and private ownership, of public control and private control. I want to give two quotations from a very eminent London citizen, a member of the Conservative party, a man whose Conservatism will in no sense of the word be
doubted, a man to whom I think the name of Socialism is even anathema, a man who occupied the position of Chairman of the Finance Committee of the London County Council and of Chairman of that body—Sir John Gatti. In 1925, when he was presenting the annual estimates to the Council, he drew a distinction between private and public interests in regard to the control of public services. So well did Sir John Gatti put this forward that I will trouble the House with two quotations. Speaking of a private company, he said:
Simply stated, the primary object of a company is to earn a profit by supplying certain commodities or providing certain facilities for the public. The company is essentially an association of individuals, of (to use the old picturesque term) adventurers, who believe that its capital can be made productive in certain ways and which is prepared to risk that capital in that belief. … It wants its capital employed to produce profits which will be returned in the shape of dividends.
He went on in regard to public interests to say:
A municipality going into business is actuated by totally different motives. Although the possibility of profit need not be excluded, that should not be its primary objective. Its motive, indeed I should say its only justification, should be that the welfare and the needs of the community are so bound up in, so dependent upon the manner, extent and method in which a particular industry or enterprise is managed and developed as to differentiate it from ordinary trading and to make it desirable that it should be run more out of regard to the advantages it can yield to the community as a whole than to the profit it can show. A municipality does not go into business because it hopes to make money by it. A municipality goes into business because it thinks that by trading in a particular way it can become a more efficient instrument of good government.
That is a statement not of a wild Socialist, but of a sound Conservative municipal statesman, and I accept it in every sense as putting forward the Socialist conception of municipal trading. I think that I have put sufficient arguments before the House to show that these Bills are wrong in principle, and that any Bill affecting the traffic of London should be promoted by public and not by private Measures. We are asked to give powers to the County Council and the Combines to enter into agreements in the dark, agreements which we do not know, and which will vitally affect the interests of the people of London.
I am a Londoner. If I may close on a personal note, I may say that I was brought to London when I was six months old from far away Australia. For 47 years I lived in one street in an East End borough. By the generosity of one of the citizens of London who endowed my school I received my education. I have worked in her offices, her factories, and her workshops; I have tramped her streets for seven months vainly in search of work, when perhaps she seemed hard and cold. I love her people. I love her associations. I love to think of her great river and of all the pageants that have passed on it from the time when the "Golden Hind" anchored off Greenwich to the time when great liners came to King George's Dock, to think of the commerce that goes on there and of the keenly witted people who take life so philosophically. I think of all these things, and I love her with a great ardour and a great passion, and I resent with all my being the attempts, which are being made to depose her from the proud position of an Imperial Mother and to degrade her to the position of a mistress to pander to the desires of every soulless, selfish, money-making combine.
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is not an easy task for a newcomer to follow such an excellent speech as that which has just been delivered. The hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr) has covered the ground admirably. The reason that I have been allowed to second the Amendment is that I represent a London constituency, Battersea, many thousands of whose citzens come up to the City every day. I made this question of the trams and the Combine a leading question in the by-election which has just taken place in Battersea. Serious fault was found with me by no less an authority than the "Times" newspaper for fighting a Parliamentary election on what they called local issues. This is not a local question at all. A great many people of London and of Battersea are in deadly fear that the result of this transaction, if this private Bill be passed, will be an increase in the fares. The principle involved is important. The Bill proposes to hand over to a private business—the Combine—the right to make a tax on the citizens. The Bill says that the combination of these people "shall" charge such fares as will cover the dividends on the whole of the shares of all the component companies in the Combine. I understand that some of these shares have not paid much in the past. No figure is put down as to what the dividend shall be. The Bill speaks of a "reasonable return." What is the reasonable return to be? There is no definition of it. The gentlemen who are promoting this Bill say that the public are protected, but what kind of protection is it? We have been fighting on the question of bureaucracy as introduced by a Conservative Government. Time after time power has been given to a Minister which should have been retained by Parliament. This Bill says that the Combine "shall" charge such fares, while the county council alone "may," if the Minister permits, object to a rise in the fares. Here are the words "shall" and "may" on the two sides once more.
There is not the slightest doubt in the minds of any of the people who travel by tramway from the suburbs every day that the removal of the competition between the tramways and the omnibuses, will inevitably result in a rise in fares. The promoters talk about an equalisation of fares. One hon. Gentleman said that all the fares would be reduced to the level of the fares on a competitive route, but another way of equalising fares is to raise them to those on the non-competitive routes and to shorten the fare stages. To do what is proposed in this Measure by a private Bill will set up a precedent. If it be possible to get rid of the London trams by a private Bill, why should it not be possible to get rid of the Post Office or to hand over the mines to a commercial combine by a private Bill?
I strongly object to the Bill on the question of finance. I understand that the London County Council have twice borrowed money from the public and given in the prospectus the London County Council Tramways as an added security to the people who lent money. Does anyone doubt that if this Combine wants to raise fresh money for the extension of their various undertakings, they will in their prospectus once more quote the already twice mortgaged London tramway asset to their shareholders? That seems to me exceedingly doubtful finance, savouring of the bucket shop. Lastly, I want to know about the sinking fund. So far as I can see, nothing is said in the Bill as to whether the sinking fund for the amortisation of capital raised for the London tramways is to be continued or not. I presume that it is to be, but if so it must be in the agreements which are not scheduled and which we have not seen. I do not know whether there is any specific legislation requiring it, but it has been understood for a long time that all municipal and public undertakings must on their formation institute a sinking fund for the cancellation of the debt, the money borrowed for starting those undertakings. That is so in the case of the London County Council Tramways. Is that sinking fund to be continued under the Combine? If so, why should the Combine have the benefit of the tremendous and growing asset due to the paying off of the debt on those trams? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and if there must be a compulsory sinking fund in connection with that part of the Combine's undertaking known as the London tramways why should not the principle be extended to the rest of the capital of the Combine? Now that it is to become a semi-public undertaking, why should not a sinking fund be applied to the whole of the capital of this great Combine? That would be only fair and right.
This is an important principle. It is the principle which makes clear the issue between the two other parties and the party to which I have the honour to belong this question of a sinking fund for the repayment of capital. It is a point against private enterprise that this principle has not been adopted. If the same principle which we apply in the case of the London County Council tramways had been insisted upon in connection with our coal mines, our railways and the cotton industry, we should not have been in the mess in which we find ourselves to-day. The vested interests would have been removed long ere this, and we should be free to deal with these undertakings. If only from the point of view of the people who lend money to these concerns, the finance of socialism, the finance of paying off debts, is much sounder than the financial procedure under private enterprise.
Finally, I would like to appeal to hon. Members opposite. I am told that it is quite useless to appeal to them on such a question. I have heard that said of them for a good many years, but I do not think I quite believed it until now. It is said that it makes no defference whether hon. Members have a financial interest in a Bill, whether they are shareholders and are going to benefit by the handing over of public assets to the combine, that they can vote all the same; that even though they have not heard a single one of the arguments used against the Bill, they will come in at the end of the discussion and vote us down. Apparently that is true. Everything I have seen in this House up to now has confirmed what I have been told. One reason why the voting strength of the party opposite is going steadily downhill in the country is that the electors are realising that in the House of Commons affairs are discussed before empty benches and the vote is a mechanical vote having no relation to the arguments which have been put forward. At the General Election in June the people of London will know how this question of the tramways has been discussed, and how much interest has been taken in it by hon. Members. It is the custom of hon. Members opposite to stump the country proclaiming to their fellow-countrymen or to any foreigners who may care to listen the absolute incapacity of this country to run even a tripe shop. They keep on crabbing their own country. They say that the London County Council, the municipalities, this honourable House, any Committee of this House, are utterly incapable of running a business, but that we must hand all business over to private enterprise, to people whose boasted incentive is the making of private profits. That may be patriotism, but it does not appeal to us. The people of this country, looking at the hon. Members who make these statements, whether it be the Prime Minister or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and remembering the record of the Conservative party in governing the country, have unfortunately come to believe what they say is true. Hon. Members opposite ought to know of what they are capable, and if they have come to the conclusion that it is impossible for the Conservative party to run such a thing as a tramway undertaking, I would appeal to them to give other people a chance to prove of what they are capable. The principle characteristic of the English nation is its capacity for managing public business. I do not much care what their political opinions are, it is my belief that any ordinary committee of Englishmen—if the vested interests be taken away—are quite capable of running our post office, our waterworks, our electric light undertakings, our coalmines or our railways, in a manner unequalled in any other country in the world. I appeal to hon. Members opposite to vote this Measure down. A matter of real importance such as this, involving the principles I have mentioned, ought not to be sent to a Committee upstairs. The whole House ought to discuss it. The whole House, without any Whips on, ought to be left to settle a matter of such primary importance.
I agree with the statement that the issue to-night is one of primary importance to that great mass of Londoners who live in Greater London. In the area, perhaps the most important area in the world, within a radius of 25 miles from Charing Cross there are 7,000,000 people, and by its vote next Tuesday night this House is going to decide whether they are or are not to have better traffic facilities. London is growing. On its rim new satellite towns are arising, created in order to relieve the housing congestion, and new manufactories are coming into the area. It is of vital interest that we should consider the needs of these people, to whom transport is as important as food or clothing or housing. In spite of the rhetoric of the hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. W. Bennett), let me assure him that the issue which we are going to settle next week when the vote is taken is not that of Socialism. The problem is not whether private ownership or nationalisation is the better. These two Bills are in the nature of a compromise. Whatever may be done under these two Bills, it is still open to the hon. Members of the Labour party and to my hon. Friends to continue their course towards their respective goals. There is no absorption of one side or the other. Each side after next Tuesday night can respect each other's opinions, but I say to this House that if these proposals can be justified in improving the transport services of the whole of London, then they should meet with general acceptance.
The object of these Bills is to provide London with a better type of transport service. It is preposterous and unreasonable that the transport of London's millions should be conducted upon an unbusinesslike and unremunerative basis. The two Bills before the House represent a vast amount of negotiation and inquiry extending over many years. The principle of the co-ordination of London transport in some form or another has been repeatedly urged for the last 20 years. The Royal Commission of 1905 and the Kennedy Jones Committee of 1920 dealt with that problem on these lines, but the first real step on the lines of progress took place when my hon. Friends above the Gangway introduced the London Traffic Act, 1924. That was the chief child of that administration, and that was when the first great step took place. The London Traffic Act was definitely and primarily passed to deal with the problem of London traffic, and the chief part of that Act was the constitution of the London Traffic Advisory Committee.
I am going to enter a word of protest against something which was said by the hon. Member for Mile End (Mr. Scurr). The hon. Member stated that while some members of that committee were trade unionists and might be suspected of holding a certain political faith, most of the ordinary members of that committee belonged to the Conservative party. I am going to ask the hon. Member for Mile End to withdraw that statement, because the London Traffic Advisory Committee includes several distinguished Civil Servants who represent the central government, and we have always maintained that those Civil Servants should not be accused of political bias, and I hope the hon. Member will withdraw that statement.
The hon. Member seems to have misinterpreted what I said. My reference was to those who represented the local authorities. I said nothing about the Civil Servants. I still maintain that most of those who are elected to the local authorities are members of the party opposite.
As long as it is clear that there was no suggestion of political bias against the Civil Servants who are members of the Advisory Com- mittee, I have no hesitation in accepting the hon. Member's statement. Let us now consider the constitution of the Advisory Committee. It comprises distinguished Civil Servants representing the Ministry of Transport, the Home Office and the Metropolitan and City of London Police; it also comprises representatives of all local authorities in the London Traffic area, as well as representatives of organised labour, including the Transport Workers' Union and the National Union of Railwaymen. It also includes representatives of the Transport, Passenger and Commercial Operators in the area. I say that a body of that kind which sits in a strictly judicial capacity to advise the Ministry of Transport is one that ought to command the respect of this House, and of all unprejudiced people. Speaking as a member of that body and as one closely associated with its numerous inquiries and its committee work, I say that the Committee has discovered the limitations which are imposed upon us by that Act. It is quite clear that the great problem of dealing with London traffic is hampered by the limitations of the London Traffic Act, and one of our main objects has been, by inquiries and investigations, to be able ultimately to come to this House with some solution of the ever-growing problem of London traffic.
We have had three inquiries in the districts of North, North-East, East and South-East London. Those inquiries were very costly, but they were justified. May I summarise the conclusions at which we arrived?
The first was that the petitioners in those crowded districts, including men and women who had to go to work early in the morning and return at night, thoroughly made out their case and justified up to the hilt the need for improved facilities in those crowded districts. The second conclusion to which we came was that while in the rush hours of the morning and night the conditions were bad in the extreme, during the rest of the day there was a dreadful waste and loss of economic service, and only about one-third of the accommodation provided between 10 o'clock in the morning and 4 o'clock in the afternoon was occupied. That shows a very bad state of things, because accommodation that is not used is not only wasteful but very costly, and it was the elimination of the waste which was the most formidable problem with which we had to deal.
The third conclusion is that all the services of every type of transport are necessary. We need the suburban railways with their high speed and stopping trains to connect the outer suburbs with the centre. We also need the tramways and omnibuses in order to cope with heavy short distance travelling. Any person in this House or outside who states that the London trams ought to be scrapped is worthy only of Bedlam. The London trams provide a service which is vital to London transport, and they carry 1,000,000,000 passengers every year. Consequently, it is impossible to contemplate a London traffic system without the magnificent service of London's tramways. Therefore, we can dismiss as idle and contemptuous the cry that those who are supporting this Bill are in favour of scrapping the trams. We were impressed with their good management.
The next point which we found was the very grave financial condition of the London tramways. Prior to the War and up to 1922, practically the whole of the municipal tramways of London, with the exception of two tiny ones which were not of any consequence, were not only paying their way but they were making a profit. In the financial year ending 31st March, 1922, the publicly-owned tramways of London, after meeting all their charges, actually made a profit on their undertakings of £589,493. From March, 1922, onwards we have to tell the steady, grim story of financial loss, and our opinion is that that loss was entirely due to the intensive omnibus competition. Taking the London County Council tramway figures: their losses for the year 1924–25 were £278,000; for the year 1925–26, £114,629 for the year 1926–27, £275,159; and for the year 1927–28, £226,221. For the three years 1924–27, as has already been pointed out, the Treasury sanctioned the suspension of their redemption of debt charge of approximately £300,000 a year. Had the Treasury not sanctioned that remission of debt, the ratepayers of London would have had £300,000 a year added to the figures I have given and there would have been altogether a loss on the trams of about £500,000 a year. Therefore, when speaking to my constituents, I stated that for those three years the losses would have represented a rate of something in the neighbourhood of 2½d. in the £ on the ratepayers of London. We were anxious to do all that we could for the tramways. The London Traffic Advisory Committee, with the limited powers at their disposal, have stabilised the omnibus position on the London streets. We declined to allow omnibuses to be any longer in open competition with the tramways. We recognised that, if that competition went on, it would end by almost killing the tramways. As a consequence of the limited protection that we have been able to give the tramways, they have unquestionably improved their financial position—
I am not arguing that for the moment, but, in view of their grave losses during those three years, we have protected them as best we could by our Stabilisation Orders, of which the Minister, on our advice, has approved, and the position of the tramways is improving. In the year 1927–28 they restarted their repayment of the redemption charge of £300,000, and we are advised that, on the estimates for the present year, their deficiency will he down considerably. The point that I want to emphasize to all well-wishers of the trams—and I count myself amongst them—is that the only way in which the tramways can in the end become financially profitable to London is by the acceptance of these two Bills. The limited protection which we have been, able to give to them is for the moment having a good result, but what guarantee have we, or what guarantee has this House, that that protection can be indefinitely continued. At present there is a state of equilibrium, with a possibility of development and improvement in tramway services, but I am sure my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport will allow me to say that his Order in regard to the replacement of solid tyres by pneumatic tyres will make it possible for an omnibus to run at 20 miles an hour instead of 12. Again, as a consequence of last year's Budget proposals there will, if those proposals be carried out, be a reduction in the licence duties—
Therefore, it will be obviously to the interest of the London General Omnibus Company, and indeed to the general public, to replace solid tyres by pneumatic tyres, and that will increase their possibilities of speed over tramway routes. I am advised that the London General Omnibus Company are proposing to replace the solid tyres on all their fleet by pneumatic tyres. Is it to be suggested that all that outlay of capital is to be nullified by not allowing them an increased rate of speed over tramway routes? If it is made possible for an omnibus to make more journeys over a tramway route, that is precisely the same as increasing the number of omnibuses, and, therefore, it is possible that we may get hack to that competition between omnibuses and trams in London which had such a disastrous result in years 1923 to 1927. Therefore, with this knowledge I had no hesitation in saying to my constituents in Wandsworth—and this is what caused so much comment by Mr. Herbert Morrison, and which has been repeated here to-night—that, if that intensive competition takes place again, converting, as it did before, a large profit into a large loss, the cost of that to the ratepayers of London may be just as serious as it was in those years.
Will the hon. Gentleman tell us how, under the present Act, which requires the maintenance of even headway, speed can be a, factor in increasing competition?
My hon. Friend knows that it is a question of schedule, to be approved by Scotland Yard and not a question of headway. There is that possibility in the future, and, therefore, if the friends of the tramways desire to see the prosperity of the tramways continue, so that they may once again become a source of income to the London ratepayers, it is their duty to support these two Bills, in which further protection will be given and a share in the common fund.
To return to our inquiries, the next conclusion we arrived at was that there is quite sufficient money in the London traffic services to give the public all the service that they desire, and to give a reasonable return on capital. Finally, we were very much concerned with the growing toll of accidents in the streets. In the year 1927, no fewer than 1,056 people were killed in the Metropolitan Police area. [Interruption.] My hon. Friends say that that is "sob stuff," but, if they had a child killed as a consequence of this intensive street congestion, I do not think they would so describe it.
Those are the conclusions at which we arrived as a consequence of our inquiries. What was our solution? It is quite impossible to put more surface vehicles on the road. You cannot increase the road services, whether by omnibuses or by trams, and the only solution that we could see was by the projection of more tubes and highspeed railways. That was the solution in 1926, and it is the only solution to-day. That suggested remedy was, naturally, put to the two great organisations, the one responsible for the tubes and the other for the suburban railway traffic. We were told by the London Electric Railways that, with the present cost of constructing tubes which is now nearly £1,000,000 per mile, it was quite impossible under existing financial conditions to obtain money in the City of London for the projection of these tubes, and that, therefore, they could not contemplate that solution. Equally, the railway companies, in view of the intensive competition that was going on on the roads, could not contemplate the conversion of steam traction to electric. I hope, however, that I may be allowed at this stage to pay a tribute to the great enterprise of the Southern Railway Company, who are now just completing their great system of electrification of their London Suburban Lines. Therefore, we came, as the result of our three inquiries, to this definite conclusion, which I will read to the House:
The Committee, therefore, express the opinion that some scheme for bringing all forms of public passenger transport under unified control appears to offer the only satisfactory and lasting solution of the whole problem of passenger transport in London.
In spite of what one of my hon. Friends has said, I should like to pay my respectful tribute to the Minister for his kindness and sympathy. He has always given the Advisory Committee all the help in his power. He asked us to explore the possibilities of a co-ordinating scheme. Now I come to the example which was staring us in the face. That was the result that followed from the London Electric Railway Companies (Facilities) Act, 1915. Most hon. Members know that by that Act, the five great transport organisations were allowed to co-ordinate their services—the City and South London Railway Company, the Central London Railway Company, the London Electric Railway Company, the Metropolitan District Railway Company and the London General Omnibus Company. In the Preamble of that Bill they said that the purpose of the common fund, which was the basis of that co-ordination, was to maintain the requisite services for the convenience of the public and to provide for increased wages and expenses consequent on the War, and to enable further facilities to be afforded. Working expenses and certain prior charges were, of course, to be met before distribution of profits.
I say without hesitation that, as a consequence of that great co-ordination, it has been possible to operate, not only the tube railways, but the omnibuses, both as regards fares and services provided, as one undertaking, with undoubted advantage to the travelling public of London generally. Had it not been for the common fund which was possible owing to the union of those five companies, it would not have been possible to construct the Edgware extension of the tube, to modernise the City of London tube and to build the Morden tube. Those are standing monuments to the efficacy of that co-ordination. In addition, that co-ordination has given to London one of the best transport systems in the world. We may scoff as much as we like about this name or that, but I think the efficiency of the London tubes and electric railways and omnibuses establishes a monument of engineering and managerial genius. Furthermore—and I hope I shall have the support of the hon. Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. B. Smith) in this—I venture to say that, as a, consequence of that great fusion, it has brought to the transport workers of that great industry, better conditions both of wages and service and security of employment. I am sure that the representatives of the Transport, Workers' Union, the National Union of Railwaymen and the Railway Clerks' Association will agree with me and pay their tribute to the great value of this scheme to all the workers in the employ of the Combine.
With that model in front of us, we built up the Blue Report. We decided that that should be extended in many ways. The Blue Report postulates certain fundamental conditions which I will now explain. First, there is the scope. It was contemplated that all passenger services, with the exception of the main lines, should be included in the system. Negotiations are now going on which may modify that decision as regards the main lines. It was also decided that all undertakings should remain in present ownership, that the common fund should be extended to include municipal as well as privately-owned undertakings, that there should be a common management, and, finally—although this may perhaps cause a little mirth amongst hon. Members above the Gangway who are not quite as much realists as other people—there was a decision as to any surplus funds which accumulate as a consequence of the operation of this new common fund, after a reasonable amount of capital has been given to the ordinary stockholders. I should very much like to discuss with the hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. W. Bennett) the little intricacies of municipal and private finance so that he may not be quite as confused on the subject of redemption charges as he has been. He asked me "What is a reasonable return on capital?" It he will look in the last issue of the "Economist" for 1928 there is a long list of securities of this particular type upon which a reasonable return is obtained, and the amount of return varies from 5 per cent. to 7½ per cent. I must emphasise the words, "the highest class of securities."
The value at which the shares were issued. How are these surplus funds to be devoted after a reasonable return has been obtained? First, to provide credit for new capital, to carry out improvements of existing undertakings and to reduce fares. Everyone in this House is perfectly well aware that any astute, clever transport operator knows it is to his interest to carry a large number of people at small fares rather than a few at high fares. The whole object of the successful operator is to get fares as low as possible in order to attract traffic. A policy of the lowest possible fares within the economic limits is the right one. That was the report we submitted to the Minister, and it was practically a unanimous report. I may point out that the report was not only signed by the whole of the ordinary members, with two exceptions, but by three representatives of organised labour, one of whom is sitting here to-night and I believe they signed with the full approval of the leaders of their trade unions. It was quite defined that the Traffic Advisory Committee would like to have seen the full report carried out. It was obviously equally clear that, owing to the exigencies of Parliamentary time, it could not be carried out in the life of this Parliament. So the two promoters decided that in view of the urgency of the problem, it was vitally important that something should be done, and the London County Council and the London Electric Railway Companies decided to promote these private Bills.
What do these Bills propose to do? I say without hesitation that as regards principles there is no deviation from the principles of the Blue Report. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I say that in principle there is no difference between the two private Bills and the Blue Report. They propose that these two great operators shall be able to make agreements with one another or with any other transport agency in the London Traffic area. They also prescribe what shall be a formula which the Minister must approve, and which the House must approve, and decide what shall be the ranking capital upon which the dividend shall be paid. They decide how the surplus funds shall be applied. Further adequate compensation is to be given to the employees who may be affected by the operation of the Bills.
I come to the one point on which there was dissent a moment ago. In what way do they differ from the Blue Report? I will be perfectly frank, whilst saying there is no difference in principle from the Blue Report. The Blue Report envisaged, with the exception of the main lines, that all the transport authorities should come into the scheme. These Bills, first of all, bring the two great partners into the scheme, and make it possible for others in the London traffic area to come into the scheme also. Instead of being mandatory and compulsory, it is optional for all other organisations to come into the scheme on a not less favourable basis. That is no hardship for the other transport bodies in the London traffic area. What is the safeguard? In the Blue Report it was decided that the Minister should have powers given to him, and that the Traffic Advisory Committee should have further statutory powers given to them in order to deal with the question of public safeguards.
What do these Bills propose? They propose, first of all, that all agreements must be submitted to the Minister. All agreements will naturally be submitted by him to the Traffic Advisory Committee, and their advice will obviously he taken. I say that this is a mere question of machinery; it is not a question of principle. I feel confident that the Minister will submit these agreements to the Advisory Committee, who will advise upon them, and that he will then submit them to this House for approval. Therefore, I have no hesitation in saying that the public have a greater safeguard under the present procedure than they would have under the Blue Report. I must correct the hon. Member for Mile End who said that these Bills do not give the right of appeal to Metropolitan boroughs. It is very unusual to find him in error, but if he will look at. Clause 9 in both Bills he will find that every local authority, however great and however humble, from the City of London down to the smallest urban district council, has the right to appeal to the Minister if there is an alteration in the rate of fares—which presumably hon. Members below the Gangway may think would mean an increase in fares—if there are any difficulties as regards adequacy of services, or any difficulties in regard to developments. A local authority may appeal to the Minister, who will hold an inquiry, and if these two great combinations are unable to make out their case, the Minister can decline to allow them to proceed even with an alteration of their fares or services or to deal with the question of priority. Therefore, I say you have a public safeguard in that way which is complete and supreme.
I am indicating the safeguards to the public contained in these Bills. The safeguards are so complete that really the Minister is in supreme command, and, therefore, this House is very largely in supreme command. What is the issue that Members of this House have to decide? Here we have two great transport authorities who are coming to Parliament with public safeguards in this way. We have to ask ourselves what is the kind of co-ordination they offer to this House. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen are interested in the facts of the case. If you take all the omnibuses, all the tramways and all the railways, including the Metropolitan and the main lines, the Underground Group I and the London County Council Tramways carry no less than 77 per cent. of the whole of the passengers. I think we are entitled to say that if you can secure by private Bill legislation a co-ordination of London traffic which represents 77 per cent. of the whole traffic in the area, hon. Members are entitled to hesitate before they throw out these Bills on the question of some wild chimera about public ownership and nationalisation. Such are the main proposals of the Bill.
I would like at this stage to be permitted to make some observations in regard to the main line railway companies. I have already stated that negotiations are at this moment proceeding between the Traffic Advisory Committee and representatives of the main lines. In my opinion, and in the opinion of my colleagues—we have stated it more than once—no permanent and satisfactory scheme of passenger coordination in the London traffic area is feasible or possible without the main line companies. If I thought that these Bills created a barrier to continued negotiations between the main lines and the Co-ordination Sub-Committee of the Traffic Advisory Committee, which were suspended prior to the passing of the Railways (Road Powers) Acts last year, and which have now been renewed, I would not have backed them. Because I believe that they will help, and not hinder these negotiations, I am giving these two Bills my full support. I have seen, and very carefully examined, the Main Line Railways proposals which are the basis of these negotiations, and the more I and my colleagues have examined them, the more am satisfied, as a member of that Co-ordinating Sub-Committee, that they are not inconsistent with the intention of the two Bills which are before the House to-night.
I understand that a statement is to be made during the course of this Debate on behalf of the main line companies, which, I believe, will be in accord with the views which I have expressed. What the Traffic Advisory Committee have to consider is simply this: Here is an urgent problem. It was urgent in 1926, and it is rapidly getting worse. We have to ask ourselves, Will we give our support to these two Bills as helping on a great system of co-ordination? The Advisory Committee had no hesitation in assuring the Minister of their complete support of these Bills.
I will correct that. There were three dissentient voices. I am obliged to the hon. Member for reminding me. There is no secrecy about this; it is a public document. The three representatives of organised labour did not sign the Advisory Committee's final Report. There has been an increasing tendency in Parliament in recent years to approve of these co-ordinations. I refer to the Underground Act of 1915, and the Railways Act, 1921, amalgamating the Railways into four main line groups and the Railway Road Transport Ants of last session, which latter gave to the railways great powers of co-ordination which are now being put into operation all over the country. I cannot resist saying that one of the most significant acts in consequence of those arrangements has been the pooling of the Sheffield Corporation's transport with the London and North Eastern Railway, and I would add that the Sheffield Corporation are dominated by a Socialist majority. [Interruption.] The point is that the Sheffield Corporation are doing in regard to the London and North Eastern Railway what we are asking Parliament to do to-night. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] The Sheffield Corporation have moved away from nationalisation and municipal ownership, and gone in the direction of co-ordination. Perhaps hon. Members above the Gangway will agree with that sentence.
I think it is perfectly fair to say that the Sheffield Corporation have maintained the full ownership and control of the omnibuses and trams within the city, and that it is only with regard to omnibuses outside the city that they have made arrangements with the London and North Eastern Railway.
Here is this Socialist corporation which has moved away from the pure faith of national ownership and gone into negotiation with the London and North Eastern Railway Company. I will not end with a peroration as a Londoner. I am going to make a wider appeal to the House. These Bills offer a solution in, three directions. They offer an immediate solution of the traffic needs of the great crowded districts of Greater London. The men and women who are not concerned with the shibboleths of party politics but who want tubes and improved transport facilities are the last persons to talk about nationalisation. I would appeal to my hon. Friends that we should take these things out of the cockpit of party politics. London traffic is too big a thing to be made the plaything of party political doctrinaires. Therefore, in the interests of crowded London I appeal to my hon. Friends to pass these Bills. At a time when we are asking for great schemes for employment, these Bills will mean that almost immediately schemes for the production of the tubes will be set in hand and work will be found for Londoners. Work will be found for the people who provide the tubes, and there will be the beginning of a 10 years' policy which will mean so much not only for the people of London but for the steel and iron workers of the country. On these grounds, I do sincerely hope that the House will give a Second Reading to the Bills.
We have heard a very interesting speech which comes with great weight from a member of the Advisory Committee. As I was listening to the hon. Member for Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson), and especially to his reference to Sheffield, I could not help thinking of other great municipalities in other parts of the country. I wondered what would be the attitude of Conservative Birmingham, or Conservative Manchester, or Conservative Glasgow. I am glad to see a distinguished Member from Glasgow present, the right hon. Member for Hillhead (Sir R. Horne). I understand that he is going to give us the advantage of his experience from Glasgow. Perhaps he will tell us how they manage in Glasgow. We are told that they manage things better In Scotland. Perhaps he will give us some guidance in regard to the traffic problem in Scotland. I do not know what he would say if it was suggested that the Glasgow Corporation should part with the management of their transport system, and hand it over to one of the railway companies. They are shrewd people in Glasgow. We are told that the Scottish people are keen on the bawbees. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman will tell us whether Glasgow would agree to a scheme of this kind.
I have been connected for a quarter of a century with this traffic controversy. It is a very old controversy. I remember when it was originally suggested that we should take over the old horse trains from a private company. There was a terrible outcry. It was said that it was not right for a public authority to embark on a great enterprise of that sort; but better counsels prevailed, and ultimately, by a small majority, the county council took over the tramways and electrified them. I remember the great county council election of 1906, and I remember the professions of the Conservative party. They professed to have been converted to the principle of municipal ownership, that they were just as keen on municipal trading as any other party and that they could be safely trusted to do the right thing. They got their big majority. I notice several old members of the county council present, especially the hon. Member for Greenwich (Sir G. Hume). He did yeoman service as Chairman of the Highways Committee. As the result of co-operation in a non-party spirit, to which the hon. Member for Wandsworth referred, in the running of the traffic of London, not only were great financial results achieved but immense improvements were made in the transport system.
When it is said that there is great room for improvement to-day and that there is great need for a more efficient transport service for London, I cannot help remembering that it was the competition of the municipal tramways which helped to stimulate the railways to electrification, and also pressed forward the conversion of the omnibus system from a horse-drawn to a petrol-driven system. Things went all right until the War. I was very much interested in the remarks of the hon. Member for Wandsworth about the Act of 1915. He did not tell the House the whole of the story. He did not tell us that that Act was brought about not simply to meet the needs of economy but to meet the needs of the War. Many railwaymen had gone overseas and it was necessary to economise coal and power. This scheme was carried out for purely War circumstances. There was a guarantee from the Government that the dividends should be maintained and that if the pool failed to provide the necessary money the Government would come to the assistance of the companies. As a result, intense competition took place against the county council tramways. Where the companies had practically no competition they were able to charge high fares on their monopoly routes, and they were able to concentrate on other routes with low fares to compete with the trams, in order to injure the tramway system. It was a deliberate and a Machiavellian policy to bring the tramways into the Combine. In spite of that fact and in spite of the fact that the Moderate majority on the county council were not keen on tramways and were not great believers in municipal trading, but were shy about it, and in spite of unfair competition the tramways held their own.
The hon. Member for Wandsworth told the House that the tramways were running at a loss. For the greater part of his speech he led the House to believe that the main purpose of these two Bills is to save the wasting assets of the County Council tramways from destruction, that the tramways were on the down grade, and unless they came under the control of the Combine ruin stared them in the face. What are the facts? I have here a document signed by the Clerk of the London County Council, and issued from the County Hall, which shows that in the year ending March, 1928, there was a surplus of £522,000 on working, after paying all expenses, the whole cost of the running of the cars, providing power, paying wages, paying all the outgoings, maintaining the cars in proper condition and maintaining the rails. Against that surplus had to be set charges for debt and charges for sinking fund to wipe out the whole of the capital cost of the tramways in 25 years, amounting in all to £724,000. What are these debt charges? If this concern was a company, they would be paying dividends. The Chairman of the Finance Committee pointed out that if the tramways concern was a private company, they would be in a position to pay 4 per cent. dividend to the shareholders. For the next year there was an estimated receipt of £680,000, against debt charges and sinking fund, £745,000 or a loss of £43,000. You cannot, how ever, call that a loss. It means that instead of being able to pay 4½ per cent., they would be only able to pay 4 per cent. if they were a company to the shareholders. The estimate for the coming year is interesting. Competition still goes on, although I agree that it is not so severe, because a certain amount of common sense has prevailed and unnecessary competition is eliminated. The surplus on working this year is estimated to be £770,000, debt charges and capital £752,000, a net surplus of £18,000.
Whatever may be the merits of this controversy hon. Members should get out of their minds the idea that there is an actual loss on the system. I do not suggest that from the investors' point of view they are very attractive. They may be a gilt-edged security, but not a security in which the public should speculate. But against these figures should be put all the service that is given to the public. There are workmen's fares. I took part the other day in an all-night sitting in another place, not in the House of Lords but across the river, in the County Hall, and I came out on to the bridge at about 7 o'clock in the morning. There was not an omnibus in sight, but along came tram cars, packed from top to bottom, people strap-hanging—workmen's fares. That is a service which the omnibuses do not give. I am not blaming them, but if the county council gives this service obviously it comes out of profits. There is also the all-night service. There was a suggestion that we should continue sitting all night to-night, but wiser counsels have prevailed and we are to have another sitting next Tuesday. Whatever time we rise if we cannot afford a taxi we should have the all-night trams running every half-hour of the night. This is of great service to the night workers of London, particularly to the printers who set up newspapers. Then again they also maintain the roadways for 18 inches on each side of the tramway, a great service. It is estimated that in this way they have saved the rates £1,500,000. That is one of the advantages of the tramway service; it is also a tax on the tramway profits. The omnibuses do not have to do this.
Whatever judgment the House may come to on these Bills I do not think they should be influenced by the suggestion that the trams should come under the terms of the Combine because they are a losing concern. Actually, out of £17,000,000 borrowed from the public in the form of capital they have paid back no less than £8,500,000. That is a great achievement, and does credit to the people who run the service so efficiently, but who are now losing heart and want to hand it over to other hands. Let me for a few moments go back to the year 1923. I will not detain the House long because there are a number of experts who desire to speak on this subject. In 1923 we had a Conservative Government. Lord Ashfield has always believed in the principle of combines. He was trained as an American, and was brought over here by what is called the Yerkes-Perks Syndicate in order to conquer Europe. First of all he took over some of the tubes, then the District Railway, electrified it, and then proceeded to collar the omnibuses. Gradually, one by one, up to 1918, every competitor was bought out tubes, District Railway, omnibuses: but always in the background there was that nasty competitor, the trams. Lord Ashfield found that he could not get hold of them. He got hold of the ingenious idea, however, of using the machinery of Parliament. I do not know whether it was the present Minister of Transport who was then in office or whether it was another holder of the office, but from what I have heard he apparently got a sympathetic hearing at the Ministry of Transport in 1923, when a Conservative Government was in office, and a Bill was thereupon drafted. It is known as Lord Ashfield's Bill. He certainly never made any secret that the terms were his and that he entirely approved of every paragraph. Then a great disaster occurred; the Conservative Government disappeared, and in due course a Labour Government was formed.
It would not be in order for me to suggest that. Then an unfortunate labour dispute was suddenly sprung on the public. There was a strike: transport was paralysed, and I remember the consternation when we were suddenly told that on a Friday afternoon private business must he set aside as we had to deal with a special Government Measure which was going to stop the strike. And out of a pigeon hole appeared the Conservative London Traffic Bill, which was pushed through this House by the curious coalition of Labour and Conservative. I do not like to remind hon. Members above the Gangway of that coalition. It is embarrassing, no doubt, to both sides, but at any rate the result of this curious union was the bastard London Traffic Act. My friends and I got into great trouble because we obstructed that Measure all we could, but we failed to prevent it coming into force. We were told at the time that if only we passed it the traffic problem of London would be solved; there would be no congestion, everything would be regulated, there would he no unnecessary competition, and tubes would be built. Everything that is promised now was promised then. If we can only get coordination, that is a blessed word, as a result of this Bill coming into force, all our difficulties will disappear.
We have had some co-ordination for four or five years. We got in a proviso that the licences which were distributed were to be given fairly among existing omnibus owners. That was done; but all the competitors have been pretty well bought up, and the various independent companies have been gradually eliminated. On the 30th of November, just under 4,000 omnibuses were owned by the London General Omnibus Company; they had a financial interest in 800 others, and there were only 640 outside the Combine. I am informed that in the last few weeks the greater part of the 640 has gone into the Combine. In spite of that, we are told that we have still got traffic congestion and that the tramways must be handed over to the trust as well. The great bait held out to the London County Council is that there is to be a "pool"; the profits are to be divided amongst the various interests. I had the interesting experience of meeting the representative of the Combine interests, under the distinguished chairmanship of Sir Henry Maybury. They were very frank and explained the working of the "pool" and the Combine. There are the tubes, the district railways and the London General Omnibus Company. They have separate accounts and separate boards of directors and are independent in their management; but Lord Ashfield is the chairman of each. There is an owning or operating company, which I understand consists of a board of 16 directors, men of great ability and experience in finance and of great knowledge and capacity. The public of London are offered two seats on that board. Two little innocent lambs from the London County Council, two inexperienced representatives of local government are to enter into conference with these 16 gentlemen.
I put it to the business men of the House whether they would hand over the valuable assets worth £17,000,000, or take it at the figure we have been given, namely, £8,500,000, to their competitors with only one-ninth of a share in the board of directors. Would they not be a little suspicious that their assets would not be so carefully looked after as the assets of the Combine? Lord Ashfield owes his first duty to his shareholders. He is a great artist in advertising, there is no finer publicity agent in the whole advertising world. Can we believe that he will persuade the public to travel on the tramways when he owns the omnibuses and the tubes? I can picture the posters we will see in future, advising us to travel on the tube and on the omnibus but never "travel by tram." We are to hand over our assets for 42 years and we may wake up some day to find our assets worthless.
It is his present interest to develop his own assets. It is only common sense to suggest that, if the county council is to part with its tramways, they should do it properly and sell it at the very least for a valuable consideration. There are only three ways of which we have experience. There is the leasing system; there is the municipal system which has been so successful m Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, and there is competition. Every one of these has something to be said in favour of it. Competition means the most efficient and up-to-date system wins; but this new system has the vices of all three. I hope the House will refuse to give a Second Reading to this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Transport is mainly to blame. He ought to have produced his public Bill. It is all nonsense to say that there is no time for a public Bill. The time we are giving to this discussion could have been given to discussing a public Bill, and there would be nothing to prevent it going upstairs to a Standing Committee. The hon. Member for Central Wandsworth takes great exception to the suggestion that these tramways are to be handed over for 42 years. There are no details in this Bill. It is all left to negotiation. What chance is a committee of seven municipal councillors likely to have against the astute financiers who run the Combine? If we are to have co-ordination, let it be under public control, under municipal control, and let the public have ample safeguards. These Bills neither protect the public assets nor secure to the public an efficient service.
Several hon. Members, more especially my hon. Friend the Member for Central Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson), have referred to the main line railways, and I rise for a few moments to make a statement, as I have been asked to do, on their behalf. The four main railway companies are opposed to this Bill in its present form, as in their opinion it does not afford a complete solution of the London traffic problem. Yet they feel that, owing to the complexity of the subject and the details involved, their objections or criticisms or proposals cannot be debated satisfactorily on the Floor of the House, but can be more appropriately considered in Committee upstairs. They therefore do not wish to occupy the time of the House by discussing their objections at this Second Reading stage. Speaking now entirely for myself, I should like to add—I hope the House will believe me when I say it—that I am sure that all parties concerned are genuinely anxious—I say so with all sincerity—to promote the utmost advantage to the London travelling public, and it seems to me, particularly after listening to this Debate, that the only question in doubt is the best practical means of attaining that end.
The statement which we have just heard from the right hon. Member for Aston (Sir E. Cecil) indicates that those whom he represents are of opinion that the Bills do not meet the present traffic problem. We say that too. The Bills do not deal with the present traffic problem in any way whatever, and they are not brought forward with any intention on the part of the promoters of solving the traffic problem. They call it "co-ordination of passenger traffic." It is not merely co-ordination; it is also subordination of the interests of the travelling public, and subordination in the interests of those who own the capital of the transport in London. One always listens with pleasure to the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth (Sir H. Jackson). He has a certain winning way with him that almost converts one to his opinions. But I cannot say that was the effect of his speech to-night. He has taken a tremendous responsibility upon his shoulders in the statements that he has made—statements made, it seemed to me, with a view of influencing the House, but statements which will not be justified by what takes place if these Bills are passed by the House. He said, "What we want is better travelling facilities in London." In what way does any part of these two Bills offer better travelling facilities to people of London?
Those who support the Bills have told us definitely—I think the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth said so—that the intention is to prevent a large amount of waste, which is said to be going on, in connection with the transport services of London. The hon. Member quoted instances where omnibuses and trams have been noticed to be rather short of passengers at certain times of the day. The intention then is to economise so as to prevent that waste. But is it not cutting down the conveniences and privileges of the travelling public if you reduce the number of vehicles by which they can travel? No—the interest in these two Bills is the Combine's interest. Is it likely that the Combine would suggest taking over the London County Council tramway service if they thought that it was in the bankrupt condition in which it is represented to be by the opponents of municipal control? They would not be good business men if they were of that opinion, and if at the same time they agreed to take over the tramway service. It is because they know that the tramway service is, in fact, paying its way, and will, in the near future, pay a handsome profit upon the capital which the ratepayers of London have invested in their tramways, that they are taking this step. That is what has induced them to come forward with these Bills, saying in effect, "Let us get together and work the whole traffic system of London in such a way as to enable us—the London County Council and the Combine—to make such a profit as we have never made before." That is why we are asked to pass these Bills.
The hon. Member for Central Wandsworth said we wanted more tubes. I agree. We want another tube in South-East London and another in North London. I was on a deputation which waited on Lord Ashfield in regard to both these propositions. Lord Ashfield said he was prepared to build those tubes if he got the necessary capital, but that he could not get the necessary capital because he could not persuade the investing public that he would make a profit out of those transactions. He was right. It would not have been possible to have secured the enormous capital required for the boring of these two tubes without the expectation of a profit on it. Yet the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth endeavours to persuade us to vote for these Bills by telling us that if we pass them and make possible this combination between the London County Council service and the Combine, we shall have those increased travelling facilities. The hon. Member seems to assent to the responsibility of saying that such will be the outcome of passing these Bills. We shall see. I, for one, contradict his statement. I stand by what Lord Ashfield said. If these tubes could be made to pay, capital could he secured, but hon. Members are not going to convince the House that, because there is a combination of interests between the tramway service and the Combine to exploit the transport necessities of London, they are, therefore, going to find this capital without the expectation of any return upon it.
The hon. Member for Central Wandsworth has even gone to the extent of telling that to a newspaper man to-day, and an evening newspaper reports the hon. Member as saying it. He said something further, for he corroborated what the hon. Member for West Fulham (Sir C. Cobb) said in moving the Second Reading of the Bill. He said that the London County Council will retain control over the tramway service. The hon. Member said that to a newspaper reporter, and it is in black and white to be read by all who care to read it. But is that so? Has it not already been pointed out that there is no indication given in these Bills as to the actual agreement that is to be framed between the two bodies? We do not know to what extent the London County Council will actually be represented on the board of directors, but it is common talk, and I have no doubt it is more or less true that on this board of about 16 members there will be an addition of two representatives on behalf of the London County Council, who will be there in the capacity of holding watching briefs, and even if they had opinions contrary to those held by the representatives of the Combine, they could not possibly influence any decision that might be reached. Of what worth is representation of that kind, and is it fair to say that the London County Council, under these conditions, still retains control of its tramways? It does not retain control. True, it retains the technical ownership of the property, but the people of London want the control to rest and to be kept in the hands of the London County Council, which they can control.
Even on the question of fares, I do not think the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth was quite right. He said the Bill gave the Metropolitan borough councils the right to make representations to the Minister of Transport, and he quoted Clause 9 of the Bill to prove that statement. I would refer him to the Interpretation Clause of the Bill, which puts quite another complexion upon that point. If the Interpretation Clause is to be read literally, it means that the Metropolitan borough councils will not have the right of representation to the Minister on the question of fares. Clause 2, on page 2 of the London County Council Bill, says:
The expression 'local authority' means the council of any county or of any county or other municipal borough or urban or rural district,
and it does not include a Metropolitan borough council.
It does not matter what is contained in Clause 9. Here we have, and I am reading to the House, the definition of what is contained in Clause 9, and it is the definition that counts in a matter of this kind. You read the text in order to get the meaning, but you read the definition of the text in order to get the authority; and I am quoting the definition against the hon. Member for Central Wandsworth, believing that, according to the statement made in the definition, a Metropolitan borough council will not have the right to make representations to the Minister on questions of fares.
I want now to say a few words concerning the objections raised by the Amendment on the Paper. I approach this question not merely as a Member of this House, but as a Londoner, as a man who uses omnibuses and trams, and as one who votes for the representatives who are elected on the London County Council. My feelings in the matter are shared by a large number of men and women in a similar position to myself, and we ask why the London County Council should take this step when only in March last, when they were elected, not a single reference was made by the party in the majority on the council to the fact that they intended to sell the pass with regard to the London tramways. The County Council too, were in such a hurry to get this agreement and the Bill endorsing it passed, that they actually suspended their Standing Orders in order to make discussion of the matter possible. I can only conclude that they were in that hurry because they saw that their Friends in this House, the Conservative Government, were disappearing on the horizon, and they wanted to get these Bills through the House before the opportunity was lost. We agree that public control should accompany a public service of this kind. The people of London have become accustomed to the tramway service and to the facilities that only a municipal service can offer to the travelling public.
Large numbers of persons have to take advantage of the special privileges offered by the London County Council tramways. Facilities are not given by the omnibuses of the Combine. There is a distinct danger that these privileges will be cut down in the event of this combination taking place. We have been able to secure them by sending deputations to the London County Council from time to time, and persuading our representatives on the Council to concede them on account of the difficulty under which men and women in London would labour if the privileges were not granted. By pressure and by public representation on the municipal authority, we have been able to get these concessions. If we pass these Bills, however, no longer shall we have the opportunity of approaching anyone at all. We shall not be able to approach the London County Council with any hope of success; we shall only be able to make representations to the board of directors, where the County Council will be in a minority of two against 16.
This is a question affecting a public authority, and we believe that these pro- posals are not a fit subject for private Bill legislation. We know the difference of procedure between a private Bill and a public Bill. After the Second Reading, a private Bill goes, not to a real live House of Commons Committee, willing to read and expected to amend the Bill; it goes to a judicial Committee, and the time is taken up by listening to the arguments of counsel. On the Report stage in the House, there is little or no opportunity of raising issues that could be raised on a public Bill. It is because we feel that a great injustice is being done to Members of this House, and especially to the London Members, by the introduction of these Bills in the form of private legislation, that we move this Amendment, and I hope that the House will hesitate before they pass the Bills.
I would like to approach this Bill from an altogether new angle so far as the speeches already made are concerned. I propose to approach it simply from the point of view of the weary Londoner, the man who is going to profit or to lose according to whether we have a good transport arrangement or a bad one. I have heard a very able and eloquent speech from the hon. Member who moved the Amendment. I confess that I was a little startled to find that he described a Bill promoted by the London County Council, the present owners of tramways, as a Bill designed to destroy tramways. That is a little incomprehensible to my mind. I also heard the speech of the hon. Member for South Battersea (Mr. W. Bennett), who seconded the Amendment, and as it was his first speech in this House perhaps—[HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Well, I still offer him the congratulations which I had intended for him, although I am afraid they lose some of their point. I also heard the eloquent speech of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris), who described himself as one of the innocent lambs of the London County Council. I listened to his bleating with some interest, although I confess I was somewhat astonished by his suggestion that if this Bill he passed the future owners or managers of the tramways are going to issue advertisements saying, "Whatever you do, do not travel by tramway." It is rather as though the owners of Pears' soap were to issue their well-known advertisement in a new form, saying, "Use soap if you like, but for goodness' sake do not use Pears'." Those are the kind of arguments which I have heard, so far, in opposition to the Bill.
I approach the Bill, as I say, from my own standpoint, which is merely that of a man who wants to get about as quickly, as cheaply and as frequently as he can. I claim some experience of the subject to which I address myself, because I have been interested in transport questions in London for a great number of years. I remember the old omnibuses, with straw on the floor and a little ladder up which we used to climb. I remember the violent competition, competition which I am sure would have been abhorrent to the heart of any Labour Member, between the pirate omnibuses and the London General omnibuses; how they used to tear after each other along the Strand, and the language which the drivers used to bestow upon each other as they passed! I remember once seeing a pirate omnibus going away into the distance and a London General omnibus following. An old lady ran about in front of the omnibus and stopped it. I waited to hear a wealth of expletives from the driver, but instead he lifted his hat most politely and said, "Don't hurry, lady, don't hurry. Why not bring a camp stool and sit there?" I remember the opening of the underground tramways. The conditions in those days were very, very bad, and they became increasingly bad as the population grew. Then came the developments of 1915 which involved the promotion of the underground railways and the omnibus companies. Now the condition of things, owing to increases in the population, is rapidly getting worse, and the question arises: What is the proper solution of the difficulty? A Committee was appointed to consider this question, and I will read the last words of their Report. They say:
In conclusion, the Committee desire to emphasise their view that this matter is one of extreme urgency, as they feel convinced that no substantial improvements in the travelling facilities of Greater London can be effected until some such scheme as is outlined in this report can he made effective. The present conditions are rapidly becoming worse and delay can only add to the difficulties of finding a solution, and any formal negotiation with the parties must necessarily take a considerable time.
The Committee consider it imperative that they should be authorised to commence them at the earliest possible moment.
That Report was signed by the whole of the members of the Committee.
Those are the views of the Committee. The question is still urgent, and now we have a chance of dealing with it and carrying out the scheme outlined in the report in all its main principles. It has been said that these Bills will do away with competition, but I do not take that view. I think competition is a very good thing if it is effective, because then you may get a better service and cheaper fares. We must not overlook the fact that there are circumstances which render co-ordination properly controlled even more effective than competition, and in this case coordination seems to me to be of that kind. I think under the circumstances co-ordination will provide a solution of this problem. Under these Bills, all the agreements have to be laid on the Table of both Houses for 30 days, and before they can be carried into operation the local authorities have a right to appeal directly to the Minister of Transport despite the rules made by the combination. Are the conditions for us—I am speaking from the point of view of the Londoner—going to be improved, or are they not? I think that a distinct improvement will result. We are told that one of the objects of this Bill is to make the finance easier, and to make it easier for the combined bodies to raise such funds as they require. I can well believe it. As far as I know, they will be able to borrow as much as they want, and the more the better so long as they spend it on improvements. If they tell us—and, after all, we have gentlemen here of the highest experience—that that is the only way in which they can get the money, for goodness' sake let us facilitate their getting it to the utmost of our power, because we want the improvement.
That competition, unless it be properly controlled, may sometimes deter improvement, is within my own experience. When I had the honour of piloting a Bill, on behalf of one of the great railway companies, through this House about three years ago, I remember that an agreement was entered into between this great company and a smaller company serving one of the densely populated outskirts of London. That agreement provided that, because the great company had guaranteed a loan to the smaller company, the terminus of the smaller company should remain short of this densely populated neighbourhood, and that the big company should have it all to itself. They had, however, to come before this House for increased powers, and that agreement was soon put an end to. It could not be sustained, but for years it had been in operation, and, because these two companies had not an identical interest, because they were competing, the richer company forced the smaller company to remain where it was, and the outlying district of London, which was growing by leaps and bounds, suffered accordingly. If there had been anything in the nature of this Bill, if the interests had been the same, it would have been quite easy for them to use their existing facilities, rolling stock, and so on, to their own mutual advantage, which would have meant the advantage of the place that they served. And so it must be when such a question as transport has to be considered.
What is the great difficulty of transport? Everyone knows that it is to meet the early morning and late evening traffic. Everyone who has any experience must realise the difficulty of that. You have all your population from the outlying districts, which are becoming daily more densely populated as the exodus from London grows, and you have to bring them in within an hour or an hour and a half and to take them out again in the evening. The only way in which the public—we who are mainly concerned in this Bill—can hope to profit is by making it possible for these three bodies, the omnibuses, the tramways and the underground railways, who are all performing the same duty in different capacities, to put their heads together, with mutual profit as an incentive, and to utilise the means of transport that they have to their best mutual advantage. That is common sense and a good business proposition, and, therefore, it commends itself at any rate to me, as one of the public watching anxiously what is going to happen to the future transport of London. I venture to put it to this House that these Bills have been carefully considered by experts, that they are the result of experience, and that they are brought before us by business men, who tell us that they wish to pass them in order to improve the transport of London. I believe that to be so, for the simple reason that they will make their profit. That being so, I suggest that common sense would dictate to the House that we ought to be thankful that, at long last, such a scheme has matured, and we ought to take advantage of the opportunity that is offered to us and to pass these Bills into law as soon as possible.
In listening to this Debate, the House must have been struck by the great similarity between the Bill now before us and the one which the House considered a little time before we rose for the Summer Recess, when the cables and wireless communications were handed over to a private company. The similarity runs in several ways. We see to-night hon. Members and right hon. Members who seldom honour the House with their presence except on occasions like his when plunder is to be got. Then this Bill, like the former Bill, is very vague as to details. It is simply an enabling Bill arranged for details to be filled in very much later, so that the public are having a, property given away very much in the dark without having any real Parliamentary control. The lion, and learned Member for Bassetlaw (Sir E. Hume-Williams) who has just sat down, when giving us a history of the development of trams and omnibuses and other transport, might have gone a little further and told us the story of the attempt of the London County Council to co-ordinate its own service when it ran omnibuses over the bridges. There we had an attempt made to link up and co-ordinate the dead end of the service, and the same people who were instrumental in stopping that are with us just now. That is the whole story. It has been planned for a long period of years. There has been a dead set and a desire to eliminate competition in various ways until at last the London County Council tramway system is the only system which stands in the way of a complete control of the traffic of London. When the right hon. Member for Hillhead asked hon. Members here, "Do you imagine that they would do anything so silly as to put one wing of the concern out of business?" he knows that is not an uncommon thing in business.
The right hon. Gentleman had spoken too soon. Both he and the hon. Member for Bassetlaw must be aware of the relationship between the railway companies and the canal system and the coastwise traffic.
You have very much the same thing here. When the hon. and learned Member for Bassetlaw says that we would be shocked at competition, it is not we who are shocked at competition; it is the other side who have been steadily eliminating competition where it has been to the public advantage, in order to fill the pockets of their friends and dividend-hunters outside.
The hon. and learned Gentleman himself said that the particular competition to which he referred would have shocked the Socialist party, and it is that sentence to which I am referring. When the hon. Member talks about the reports being laid on the Table, what earthly good is that' How could any hon. Member with any experience talk like that when he knows there is no provision or Parliamentary procedure to make these things effective? Look at it from another point of view. The hon. Member was talking about failure. I would remind him of the Metropolitan Tramway System and the London United Tramways—both run as private concerns. Compare them with the London County Council system, publicly owned, and I defy any hon. Member to say that they compare in any way favourably or can stand in the same street as the County Council system. The Metropolitan Tramway system—I think I am right in this—threatened to throw in their licence to the Middlesex County Council because they were unable to make the business go. I believe also—and again I speak subject to correction—that the London United Tramways system was very much in danger of having a receiver put in during the War years, because they were unable to make it go. It is interesting to notice the logrolling that is going on. I suggest that when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aston (Sir E. Cecil) declared that he did not want to waste the time of the House because the matter would be settled upstairs, it was an indication that a deal has already been arrived at; that they have already arranged the terms on which they are going mutually to exploit the public.
I am also, as it happens, interested in the main line companies, and I mention with certainty to the House that it is quite untrue and incorrect to say that any arrangement has yet been come to.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman's statement, but I cannot get it out of my mind that he is in both camps, and that fact must be borne in mind by the House. I want to lodge a protest in the name of the travelling public of London against this matter being dealt with as Private Business. It is very much like an attempt to rush through this House business at the dying end of a Parliament when the Government seem to be handing out public assets to their friends. We cannot bring that point of view home too much to the public as showing how this Parliament has abused its trusteeship in this direction. Co-ordination in public services is one thing. No one objects to co-ordination of public services. What we object to, is the handing over of public assets to the London Traffic Combine when those assets could very well largely be managed by the public themselves.
Much has been said about safeguarding. There are better safeguards existing in the Traffic Act than are contained in this Bill, because the people who are likely to lodge protests are to be eliminated as fat as the control of traffic is concerned. With regard to profits, if the Metropolitan and the District and Tube Railways had had to run their businesses and find sinking fund in the same way as have the London County Council in regard to their trams, they would have been bankrupt long since. It is common knowledge that the tube system runs only because it is in the pool, and that to a large extent the necessary money has been found by the London General Omnibus Company. The whole thing is another instance of the financial ramp that is being put across this House in the interests of a certain section of the community to the detriment of the public. As to the stated diminution of accidents, after all is said and done, what does it amount to? We are told that instead of running at 12 miles an hour, the new omnibuses will travel at a rate of 20 miles an hour. Therefore, we are not likely to see any diminution in the number of accidents. It will mean that traffic will be speeded up all along the line, and it may have the result of actually diminishing instead of increasing the number of employés in the service.