HC Deb 18 August 1919 vol 119 cc1991-3

There are other causes which are contributing. One is the block on the railways and in the docks. That is a very important problem. One reason for the block is that the railways are not in perfect repair, and cannot be repaired. Locomotives and wagons have not been kept in repair; cranes are out of repair; the nation was too busy to attend to them; it was fighting for its life, and they have all suffered from neglect. We have not been able to keep up the number of wagons; we ought to have increased them. Thousands, nay, tens of thousands of wagons and locomotives were sent to France. Many of them are destroyed; many of them are still therein the essential work of clearing up the country and for the Army of Occupation. The result is the block on the railways and in the docks. Traders also are partly responsible. It strikes me that in the end I shall not have a friend left. I have had to say something to labour, to employers, to managers, and now I have to say something to the trader. The trader is not discharging his goods and cargoes from wagons as rapidly as he ought to do. He is using them more than ever as a warehouse on wheels. He is sending goods in what are called small packages, instead of filling the wagons to their full capacity; so that, when you have got the wagons and locomotives of this country reduced in number, you have only two-thirds of the capacity for the rest.


Encourage coast-wise traffic.


No doubt coast-wise traffic is not being used to the extent that it used to be, but that is a pretty long story. You will never do that until you put up the railway rates, until the increases in railway wages are paid, not out of the taxpayers' pockets, but by a direct charge upon those who use the railways. We have only just passed the Ministry of Transport Bill, which gives power to deal with it.


It is the other people—those who have interests.


If I begin to discuss these things I shall never come to the end. I think I have dealt with the causes of the reduction in output. Now I come to the remedy. I have dealt with the change from war to peace work, with the repair and renewal of plant. The block on the railways will be dealt with under the Ministry of Transport Act. My right hon. Friend the new Minister of Transport is equipped with full powers to deal with that situation, and I have no doubt at all that, with his usual energy, he will lose no time in coming to grips with it. But in order to enable him to deal effectively with it, he must have the assistance of everybody. He must have the assistance of the trader, of officials on the railways, of officials in the docks, and of the general public. When that is done, I have no doubt at all that he will be able to deal quite effectively with the position.

With regard to war-weariness and the exhaustion which comes from strain, that can only be cured by the effort of the people themselves of all classes. There is no recovery without conscious effort on the part of the patient himself. It is a matter of will and of good will. They must be taught to realise how vital to the nation and to themselves is production. Here I am going to make an appeal to hon. Members of this House and to all those who have the ear of the public outside, whether in the Press or on the platform, to bring home the vital importance of all these questions to the minds of the people in every trade and industry of the country. Unless they realise how essential are all these things to the interests of the nation, to their own interests, I do not believe that it will be possible to get all classes to pull themselves together. I know what can be done in that way; I have seen it done during the War. The people had only to be convinced and persuaded of what was necessary, and they did it. That was true of every rank in life, and I am sure the same thing applies at the present moment. All these facts have got to be brought home to men throughout the country, in order to enable them to shake off this fatal lethargy and slackness which are at present depressing production, and, by depressing production, imperilling the vital interests of the nation. But we must do more than that.