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Caledonian Railway Order Confirmation Bill (By Order)

Volume 180: debated on Wednesday 7 August 1907

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Order for consideration read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now considered."

*MR. WARDLE (Stockport) moved that this Bill be considered three months hence. The Bill was an omnibus Bill, containing a large number of provisions relating to different subjects. Amongst them was one which had reference to the superannuation fund belonging to the clerks and officers of the Caledonian Railway Company. The Bill provided that the company should withdraw its annual contribution to the pension fund which applied to the 3,200 members of the staff of the railway company. This was not the first time that that fund had been mentioned in a Bill promoted by the company; but it was said that it was to meet a question which had been raised in the House last year that an inquiry should be instituted by the Board of Trade in regard to the pension funds of railway companies that the present provisions were inserted. Up to the present time they had not succeeded in obtaining that inquiry, although negotiations had been entered into between the Board of Trade and the railway companies for the purpose of finding out how those funds stood. One of the propositions was that all these funds should be guaranteed. Representations were made to the Caledonian Railway Company that a guarantee should be made in connection with their pension fund, but it was not anticipated that that would be followed up by a provision being inserted in the Bill now before the House that the railway company should be relieved of the contributions which they had hitherto made to the funds. The London and North Western Railway Company had passed a Bill in which they had given a guarantee which was quite different from that of the Caledonian Railway Company, inasmuch as they were not, like the Caledonian Railway, seeking to withdraw their contribution. One of the reasons why he objected to these provisions was that the men had not had the opportunity of considering them before they were inserted in the Bill. This being a Provisional Order

Bill under the Scottish procedure it was different from the English procedure. Notice was given in the Scotsman in Edinburgh and also in a paper in Glasgow in November last, but the men were not given any opportunity of knowing what changes in the scheme were intended, as they should have been. They did not know what the provisions were until the Order was passed. For these reasons he wished to have these provisions exorcised from this Bill, but he was really more concerned about the superannuation funds generally than this particular point. There were sixteen in existence applying to 85,000 people. Different benefits were conferred, and in his opinion, Parliament should see that a man obtained' the same benefits for the same contribution and should ascertain, that these funds were in a solvent condition, and were not varied from time to time. He did not desire by his opposition merely to obstruct the Bill; what he desired was a Board of Trade inquiry into the whole question of railway superannuation finance. He did not desire to press this question to a division, and he would not do so if he received a satisfactory reply.

Amendment proposed—

"To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question add the words 'this day three mouths.'"—(Mr. Wardle.)

Question proposed "That the word 'now,' stand part of the Question."

said that last year the President of the Board of Trade had a question addressed to him on this subject and his right hon. friend gave a definite promise to put himself in communication with the railway companies in regard to these various funds, and he issued a circular to the railway companies asking them for the information required. The companies willingly supplied him with the information in their possession and the Board now possessed a large amount of information as to the facts. They found that, as the hon. Member had said, there were sixteen railway companies having these funds, and they were all compulsory in regard to the contributions of the men, which varied from 2½ to 3 per cent. of their wages, while the railway companies made a corresponding contribution. Having considered all the facts, the Board had thought it right to represent to the railway companies that, inasmuch as the contributions of the men to these funds were compulsory, the funds should be guaranteed by the railway companies. On representations being made to the railway companies, the companies agreed that the men should have the same number of representatives upon the committee as the companies themselves had. Amongst the grievances which the men had was that there was lack of uniformity in the benefits derived—the employees of one railway were not so well treated as those employed on another. He thought the employees on one railway should be as well treated as the employees on others. On the London and North Western Railway Company, although the contribution was the same the benefits derived by the men were greater than on any other railway. In this regard the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company were greatly in arrear, and he thought there was great necessity for uniformity. Some of the funds were insolvent upon actuarial examination, and the result had been that the benefits had been reduced and certain men had a grievance. The benefits also differed widely, in some cases being taken on the last seven years of service and in other cases upon the whole service. Taking into account all these differences, the Board thought that it was a matter for further investigation, and, if the hon. Gentleman would be satisfied, the Board and, he thought he might say, the railway companies, would not object to such investigation. If the hon. Member would withdraw his opposition to the Bill, the Government would appoint a Committee at the commencement of next session to go into the whole question of these funds.

*

said he opposed this Bill because after a series of protests by public meeting, by letters and by personal interviews extending over several years the Caledonian Railway Company had done nothing to improve the condition of the station at Denny, which remained in the same filthy and insanitary condition in which it was fifty years ago. He had visited railway stations in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but he had never seen any station either East or West of Suez which would compare ith this station for filth, insanitation, and absence of safety. The platform was only half the length of many of the trains which came into the station. Frequent excursion trains came in in the summer and more than half the passengers had to alight on the metals, very often at night, and cross over a series of rails to the opposite platform; and as shunting was always going on the danger to life and limb of the women and children crossing the metals was obvious. In spite of continued protests the Caledonian Company had resisted every attempt to make the station safer. He would not offend the ears of the House by reading a description of the insanitary state of the station that appeared in the Report of the sanitary officer. It was sufficient to say that the ladies waiting rooms and lavatories were in a most filthy and disgusting condition, and that the only drinking-water tap was situated in the urinal. The station was antiquated in character, the platforms much too short, the waiting rooms and other places infested with rats and in the opinion of the sanitary officer the station should be replaced at once by a building more decent, healthy, and sanitary. The people of the town had no means of redress. They had done all they could and now pressed him to come to this House and endeavour to obtain for them that redress which they had been unable to obtain from the railway company. Although he felt it would probably be of little use to go to a division, he hoped the House would support him in his claim on behalf of the people of Denny to have a decent, safe, and sanitary station. Denny was a manufacturing town with a population of between 7,000 and 8,000, six paper mills, several iron foundries and a large coal and brick industry; an immense amount of traffic passed over the lines and, the only reason why the company had resisted the attempt of the people to get redress was that there was no competition. Had there been a competing line they would long ago have put up a healthy and comfortable station at this place. He asked for a guarantee that within a reasonable time something should be done to make this station decent and habitable even if it was not completely rebuilt. He was credibly informed that £90,000 of the money to be raised under this Bill was to be spent on various stations on the line, and surely if it was worth while to spend £90,000 on other stations it was essential that at least a few hundreds should be spent on the Denny Station to make it sanitary, decent, and safe. If he did not receive some assurance he should feel it his duty to go to a division.

*

said he supported his hon. friend in the demand which he had made for better station accommodation at Denny, and that the platforms should be put in a safe condition for the use of the public. Though he did not know as much about the sanitary condition of this station as his hon. friend, yet he could bear testimony that it was not in a fit condition. It was not the only station of the sort in Scotland, and he thought it was only fair and right that the company should provide sufficient accommodation, especially on the platforms. They had no desire to deal harshly at all with this company, but he trusted that they would very speedily put this station in order, as his hon. friend desired. But there was another question which he wished to refer to. In regard to the provision of third-class sleeping carriages he would like at once to say that he had not a single offensive word to say against this company. It was a very respectable company, probably better than a good many English companies. It was doing a good work. Personally he had no desire to throw out this Bill or in any way injure the company in getting money to carry out such improvements as might be required. But this was one of the companies that he was more concerned in than almost any other with regard to the provision of third-class sleeping carriages, because when he visited his constituents he went by this railway, and therefore he was speaking from his own knowledge when he said that they ought to have third-class "sleepers" just as were provided for first-class passengers. He was sorry that the Board of Trade had not taken the matter up properly, because a company which had got its charter and monopolies from Parliament had no right to show a preference for a particular class of passengers. He was told that third "sleepers" could not be made to pay. However that might be, he did know this, that it was the third-class passenger traffic which paid the companies, speaking generally, and that if there was a loss it had to be made up out of the third-class traffic. It was very unfair to third-class passengers to make them pay for the loss on the first class and yet deprive them of the sleeping accommodation which they gave to the first-class passengers that were the cause of the loss. He had been told that he should bring a Bill before Parliament to carry out his proposal, but it was impossible for anybody but the Government to get such a Bill through; therefore to suggest that he should bring in a Bill was hardly fair to him or to the travelling public. It was an important matter to those who travelled 500, 600, or 700 miles from London that they should have this third-class sleeping accommodation. He believed that this company was almost converted on the question, and it only required a little more consideration from them to see the justice of his (Mr Morton's) demands, and to carry out this improvement. They knew as well as he did that the third-class sleeping carriages would pay better rather than worse than the first-class sleeping traffic. The difficulty which they experienced at present was that the railway companies spent their money on the first-class passengers, wholly forgetting that it was from the third-class passenger traffic that they made their profit. He trusted that these remarks would have some effect on the railway companies. Unless this and other companies took warning from the fact that the attention of the House had been called to the subject, next session, or at some future time, they would punish them in the only way open to the House, by throwing out any Bill which they might bring forward, a course which otherwise they would not wish to adopt. He also trusted that the Board of Trade, instead of looking after the companies' interests first would bear in mind that their first duty was to the people, and if they only had the full support of the Board of Trade they would get what they wanted, namely, fair play and no preference.

said he understood that the Caledonian Railway Company were willing to give a guarantee as to the accumulated funds. [An HON. MEMBER: No; that is not so.] He understood that had been said by the Secretary to the Board of Trade; he might be wrong. The point was that the company in 1866 had entered into an obligation to contribute an equal proportion to the provident fund instead of making an annual contribution. It was a very serious point that the railway company should be asking to be relieved from an obligation which they had entered into. It was absolutely necessary to those concerned that the full obligations of the Caledonian Railway Company to their employes should be carried out. But they did not fulfil the conditions. The Examiner of Orders reported that General Order No. 65 had not been complied with. That was a very serious omission, and he hoped the House would not allow the company to come there seeking relief when those interested had not had a full opportunity of making their views known. There was a large number of members of the superannuation fund, who contributed last year nearly £7,000, and the Caledonian Railway contributed another £7,000. Clause 42 did not meet the case at all. Last year the interest on the accumulated funds more than met the claims, and if this Bill were passed the railway company would not be called upon to contribute this money. It was grossly unfair to deceive the House in a matter of this kind. The people who were affected by the Bill had not had a full opportunity of stating their case. They ought to pay full regard in the House of Commons to those who had been contributing to the fund and see that their consent had been properly obtained to the proposed change. He contended that those who were affected had not had a full opportunity of making their views known. He wished to say a word or two about the provision of third-class sleeping accommodation. Between England and Scotland there was a great deal of night travelling, and when granting these monopolies to railway companies be thought they had some right to insist that some change in the direction of providing third-class sleeping accommodation should be made. On the Continental railways it was easy to accommodate four persons sleeping in one railway carriage by lifting the back of the seat up, which permitted a passenger to be accommodated on the upper storey. He thought third-class passengers should receive better accommodation than they now got.

said that this particular question had been brought under the notice of the Board of Trade. He had looked into the matter raised by the hon. Member for Stirlingshire and he agreed that the railway company ought to pay heed to the representations of the local authorities to keep their stations and platforms in a proper state of repair. One of the directors of the company had authorised him to state that the station referred to was recognised as being unsatisfactory, and it would shortly undergo re-equipment to meet modern needs. He was assured by the company that there was no desire on their part to delay the carrying out of their obligations. He was authorised to state that the work would be taken in hand and completed at the earliest opportunity, but what the company could not accede to was that that work should take priority over other matters of this character. The company had undertaken that within the next two years the work would be put in hand. He hoped his hon. friend would consider that was a fair and straightforward statement on behalf of the railway company. It had been said that the Board of Trade had not taken up this matter properly. They had pressed the questions which had been raised upon the attention of the railway companies by correspondence, and he had made more than one speech expressing sympathy with the movement with which his hon. friend was connected. It should not be forgotten that the Board of Trade had no mandatory powers over the railway companies. They found that they got on better with railway companies when they tried moderate persuasion, and he thought now that inasmuch as 83 per cent. of the passenger revenue of the railway companies of this country was derived from third-class traffic there was undoubtedly a good case for consideration at the hands of the companies. He did not see in his place the right hon. and gallant Member who represented the London and North Western Railway on these matters, but he did see the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, who might wish to explain. He believed the right hon. and gallant Member for the Epping Division expressed his sympathy with the idea on a previous occasion. He was not going further than to repeat what he said the other night, namely, that he had a feeling himself that in due course the hon. Member who pressed this question would get his reward, and that he would succeed as he succeeded with the tramway companies in taking away from them the power to increase fares on Bank and other public holidays. 'The hon. Member was very persistent in that direction and he was very persistent now, and he could only wish him well.

asked if he might be allowed to make a personal explanation, and to say that he had not threatened anybody. He had only given them a warning.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill considered; to be read the third time to-morrow (Thursday).