RAILWAY BILLS BEFORE PARLIAMENT.
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The Second-reading Debate in Which the Arguments For and Against the Bills were Heard.
ON Tuesday night last the House of Commons commenced the debate on the motion for the second reading of the L.M.S.R. Road Transport Bill, the understanding being that the other four Bills should be allowed to come within the general discussion.
Mr. Lamb, Unionist member for Stone, moved the
rejection of the Bill. Whilst recognizing what railways had done for the country in the past, he did not consider that that was a reason why the companies should he given all that they asked. A great deal of the railway difficulty was due to new economic conditions arising from the invention of the internal-com
bustion engine. Like other industries, the railways would have to adapt themselves to new conditions. What they were now asking was power to embark on an entirely new business and to use the whole of their great financial resources for that purpose. • Already they had 35,000 vehicles on the road, of which 4,000 were motor vehicles, and they had lost 13,000,000 on the road-transport section of their business which the public had to pay, because in fixing rates the Railway Rates Tribunal took those circumstances into account.
If, under the new powers, the companies were goang to run long-distance services it would deplete their existing traffic ; and if they were not going to do so, how would transport be cheapened?
They had heard a great deal about "co-ordination," but the railways meant by that term "elimination of competition." It was no advantage to industry to have goods carried at lower rates temporarily and after competition had been eliminated to be saddled with higher rates permanently.
He asked if anyone seriously believed that the railway companies aimed at intensifying competition with their own railway systems. At present milk could often be sent by road at far cheaper rates than by rail, to the advantage of the farmer and the consumer.
The Rating Argument.
Dealing with the contention that the companies had a right to run road services because of the rates they paid, Mr. Lamb observed that this seemed a case of "Heads I win, tans you lose." Whilst they wished to take advantage of concessions in rating which had been made they used the argument about rating to support their desire to enter into an entirely new business. If the railway companies had grievances about rating they should be fairly considered. He did not think the shareholders were so much afraid of the railways as was represented, because it had been stated that of a recent issue of £6,000,000, 15,750,000 had been taken up by the shareholders and £42,000,000 was offered by the public.
He maintained that the House ought to await the result of the inquiry into internal transport promised by the Government before any decision was come to in regard to these Bills.
Mr. Dixey, Unionist member for Pen/ill-1, seconded the amendment for rejection of the Bill. There was, he said, too much competition on the roads at present, and the ultimate result of giving the new powers to the railway companies would be that Mr. J. H. Thomas would control practically every transport worker in the country. The railway companies desired to drive people back to the railroad, and in order to do that they bad first to eliminate private competition. If railway services on the roads were allowed, the rokds would become even more crowded and dangerous and more expensive to maintain.
It seemed stupid to ask the taxpayer for more money to keep up the roads for further traffic that was not required. The proper thing was to allow a committee of inquiry to investigate the whole question.
Burdens of Railway Companies.
Mr. E. C. Grenfell, Unionist member for the City of London, spoke in favour of the Bill. The public, he said, would be protected against undue rates and the shareholders against waste. The railway companies had sustained large losses owing to the fallin passenger traffic caused by the competition of road services. This loss unless it could be recouped by the proposed road service must result in higher railway rates. The railway companies did not propose to go the way of the canals and stage coaches. They had £1,200,000,000 invested in their undertakings.
This outcry against the railways was clue to the fact that the independents knew they had a stranglehold on the railways. He refuted the suggestion that the depressed condition of agriculture was due to railway rates.
Mr. Grerifell proceeded to contrast the railways with the road-transport companies in respect of the former having had to spend £900,000.000 for land and construction of the permanent way, whereas the road-transport companies had a permanent way provided for them free of charge. In addition, it cost the railways £14,000,000 a year for maintenance. and £9,000,000 a year for signal equipment. On the roads the signalling and control was done by the police.
He could not see what monopoly the railway companies. Would get. If it were suggested that the railways after destroying road traffic would raise their rates in order to drive people back to the railways, he would point out that this would only revivethe transport companies. Surely nobody would believe that the railway companies would be so foolish as to indulge in warfare of that sort.
It was time harassing restrictions were removed from the railways. The companies were prepared to consider in committee any suggestions that might be made to them.
Mr. Mitchell Banks, Unionist member for Swindon, in supporting the Bill, argued that the companies could not enter upon cut-throat competition with the object of ultimately raising rates, because of the powers of the Railway Rates Tribunal to reduce charges. He thought that open competition would be to the public benefit.
Mr. W. Graham, Labour member for Central Edinburgh, submitted that the public interest came first, and insisted that it would not be in the public interest it anything was done to prejudice local authorities in this field of transport. The Opposition were not prepared to support such schemes unless municipal and public interests were fully secured. He trusted that after the committee stage there would be no dubiety on this point, and he hoped the Government would make a vigorous statement regarding its policy in the matter.
Mr. Palin, Labour member for Newcastle W., thought the promised inquiry should have preceded the introduction of the Railway Sir R. Sanders, Unionist member for Wells, believed that the effect of the Bills would not be to raise rates for carriage of agricultural produce, but to reduce them.
Mr. Bromley, Labour member for Barrow-in-Furness, supported the Bill. Col. Moore-Brabazon'S Views.
When the .,debate was -resumed on Wednesday, Lieut.-Col. • Moore-Brahazma, ex-Parliamentary Secretary to the -Ministry of Transport, said that if the directors Of the railway companies had had foresight they Would have Lot the powers they now asked for 20 years ago without any debate. Be. held rather contrary views on the transport question. When they gave --Munielpalitiea power to trade in trams they should also give them the power to trade in buses. Nothing was so bad for the traffic of London as that the L.C.C. could only trade in .tramways: They had congested parts of London which would -never, have been Congested if they had been allowed
to trade in other transport •
He was not, however, .a believer in free competition of transport, °because it led to very grave difficulties. He pointed out that Lord Ashfield saw that competition between tubes and buses was not going to be aor the benefit of London and, during the war, he got power to pool his resources At tile beginning the tubes kept the bases alive, but more, buses came on the road until to-day out of the ..pool the buses paid toWards-the upkeep of the tubes no less than f3-00,000 a year.
_tie did not think people realized that if it was not for the -.pool there would not be a tube running in London to-day, That would be the result of free
competition on the roads. .
It they passed these Bills they were going to launch a very big transport war, and 'he asked if that was going to be 'finally for the :benefit of the coma:malty, DecauSO that was what they had got to . judge. Every single carriage of goods taken Off the rallWays meant that the railways had automatically to increase their charges to the general community. The hauliers in the country were naturally afraid of the big railway companies and their resources, and there might be a' rate-cutting warwith the object of the railway -companies absorbing and buying up the big haulier companies.
he went on to refer to the working of the London Traffic Act and pointed out that there was nothing to atop people running buses from outside London into London, -providing they did not take up or set down in the London area. That traffic was increasing every day .and buses were running from places as far away as Bournemouth, Maidstone and Chatham. There was no restriction and the Minister had no power to stop them coining in. They could flood the whole of London and disorganize the traffic. It seemed that in the very near future Parliament would have to give its serious attention to the introduction of a Bill making a Traffic Act for the whole of England. At present there was no method of co-ordinating traffic facilities between one district and another. •
. The Proposed Inquiry.
Referring to the Traffic Inquiry promised by _ the Prime Minister, he said he hoped the Minister realized what a tremendous business it weitild be to inquire into the Whole traffic of this country. That inquiry might take years and he did not think they could put back privateBills until the investigations were completed. Re. asked the Minister if it was wise to introduce the Transport Bill until after the inquiry, because it might be found afterwards that the Bill was wanting in several respects,
it would be 'very unfair to deny the present Bill to the railway companies until after the inquiry, but he would like to say to the railway companies : "If' in later years the Government of the day has to make
Traffic Act they should not meanwhile build up goodwill against the Government which the taxpayer should ever have to pay."
Sir Basil Pete, Unionist member for Barnstaple, who opposed :the Bill, said that the Farmers' Union and the Municipal Traniways and Transport Association opposed the giving of tha powers asked for by the
a38 • railway companies. He thought the Bill ought to be withdrawn and reintroduced when the House was advised of the findings of the committee.of inquiry.
Foreshadowing Reduction of Rates and Fares.
Major Glyn, Unionist Member for Abingdon, said that it was only by the .Bill that they could bring down rates and fares. The Rural District Councils Association, -which was responsible . for three-quarters of the highways in the country, had approved of the Bill sabject to the inclusion.of such safeguards as were necessary to protect the interests of local. authorities. To-day road hauliershad the monopoly and they disliked very Mach their monopoly being interfered With. The railways were asking in the Bill for no more and no less than the right which. railways possessed in all our -Dominions and in every other country in the world. • Government Advice.
Col. Ashley, Minister of Transport, pointed out that no new principle was involved in the Bill., All that was demanded was an -extension of the poWers already given to railway companies for a great number of years. Railway companies were already operating on the roads to a great extent. About 3,000 motor vehicles were now being operated and owned by railway companies. It seemed to him unjust that they should say to railway companies' Platt they should he the only people who were' debarred from using the reads.
He went on to examine the safeguards put in the Bill. The first. was that if a loss was Made on the aticillary services the shareholders' wOuld .suffer; and the other safeguard was that there should be appeal to the Railway Rates Tribunal by traders. on the ground that the rates charged on tne. roads were too oign. . ,
rie next dealt with the recommendation which he thought it his duty to make to the cammittee, if the JA,lit was given a second reading, in order to strengthen Inc safeguards which haa been put in by, the railway companies. He would draw the attention
of the committee Clause 7, which was 'the vital clause, and ask them to make sure that it was watertight and carried out what it was deemed to carry our.
' he would also suggest to the committee that they should insert a clause making it obligatory on the companies to report to the Minister of Transport when they instituted a serviee, and also to Insert clause that when a service had been firmly established by the railway cOmpa.ny and-they desired b.) withdraw it they should not be able to do 'so without obtaining the permission of the Minister of Transport.
Municipal authorities had nothing to fear from the powers in the Bill, because they already had the power of regulating licences of cars on Competitive roads. If the coniraidee did its work property the railway companies would have lesser powers than other road Users.
The Railwaymen's Leader.
Mr. J. H. Thomas, Labour member for Derby, said that if the Bill was rejected 1,000 private 'companies could set out on the road to-morrow and do precisely the same as the railway companies. were asking Parliament to allow them to do.The railway companies did net desire any more power than was now granted to existing .bodies comPeting• on the, roads and had inserted a clause to that effect in the Bill. If it was not perfectly clear the committee could make it clear.
The Second Reading of the L.M.S. Bill was carried by -no votes to 42.
The Second Readings of the Great Western Railway, L. and N.E. Railway, Metropolitan Railway, and Southern Railway Bills were then agreed to.
The motion to commit the Bills to a joint cornmittee had to be postponed until they have been considered by the examiners,