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Railways (North-Western And Midland Group) Bill

Volume 155: debated on Thursday 15 June 1922

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asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport if, in the event of permission being granted to the Midland and North-Western Railway Group to carry goods other than rail-borne over the roads, ho will, in the interest of the ratepayers, fix a definite sum beyond which the ratepayers' liability for road maintenance shall not extend, such sum to be based on the average annual contribution of the respective counties during the years 1911, 1912, 1913, converted into present-day values?

As the Railways (North-Western and Midland Group) Bill was withdrawn on Monday last, the question put by my hon. and gallant Friend does not now arise.

asked the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport when the Ministry of Transport conceived the objections expressed by its representatives to the main financial proposals contained in the Railways (North Western and Midland Group) Bill; whether these objections had ever been specifically pointed out to the promoters of this Private Bill; and what has caused him to depart from the views he expressed previously?

In my speech on the Second Reading I drew the attention of the House to the importance of inserting adequate safeguards in the Bill, and in particular expressed doubts whether the proposal to make the standard charges for conveyance by rail the basis of rates for conveyance by road was appropriate. On the 5th of May the promoters sent to me a proposal that

"The standard charges for the conveyance of merchandise by road and for service terminals in connection therewith shall be the standard charges for the conveyance of the same class of merchandise by railway and for service terminals in connection therewith."
They also asked for an interview, which was held between representatives of my Department and the company on the 10th May. At this meeting various points were discussed and the promoters were informed, with reference to the question of rates, that their proposals to apply Part III of the Railways Act, 1921, were too vague. The filed Bill in the form in which it was to be laid before the Committee was received in my Department on Friday, the 12th of May, and the Report is dated Monday, the 15th of May. In this Report attention was again drawn to the vague and indefinite nature of the proposals of the Bill, and it was suggested that the promoters should explain to the Committee how they proposed to give effect to the powers which they sought, when the question of suitable safeguards could be considered. The general manager of the company stated in evidence that the Clause dealing with rates might contain "blemishes," that the wording was "experimental" and probably required to be amended, and that he

would have to give consideration to the comment of the Minister of Transport that Clause 6 seemed too indefinite and might lead to difficulty in deciding to what extent the provisions of the Railways Act did in fact apply. He also stated that there would have to come an appropriate time in the proceedings when the two sides would get together and adjust any defect in the Clauses to cover points on which there was difference of opinion. On the 22nd of May, when the Committee had sat five days and the case had been developed by the witnesses for the promoters, the Chairman requested me to nominate a witness, and wrote:

"We wish to be advised how far the duties which would be committed to the Minister of Transport and Rates Tribunal under the Bill and proposed new Clauses are reasonable, and, if reasonable, whether they would be effective in preventing uneconomic and destructive competition. We should also he glad if he would develop certain points in the Report of the Minister of Transport on the Bill."

It thus became incumbent upon the Ministry's witness to point out the possible effects of the promoter's proposals, as explained and developed before the Committee, which were to adopt as the ruling rates by road the railway rates stripped of all charges for collection and delivery and most, if not all, of the ordinary terminal charges, regardless of the fact that the facility afforded, from the point of view of the trader, would be identical by road and by rail. After full consideration of the evidence, I felt it my duty to advise that these proposals would be likely to affect seriously the rates by rail and to jeopardise the "Standard Revenue." The objections to these proposals would, no doubt, have been strongly urged upon the Committee by the remaining opponents of the Bill if the inquiry had been allowed to run its normal course. I regret the somewhat hasty action of the promoters in withdrawing their Bill without any attempt to meet my criticisms, hut, according to the statement made to the Committee on their behalf, they were under certain bargains or pledges, of the nature of which I am unaware, which precluded them from altering the method of charge proposed.