Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a sum, not exceeding £181,061, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Salaries and
Expenses of the Ministry of Transport, including sundry Charges in connection with Transportation Schemes under The Ministry of Transport Act, 1919.
§ 10.0 P.M.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of TRANSPORT (Mr. Neal)
I very much regret that the Minister of Transport is unable himself to introduce these Estimates as he desired to do. In form they are Supplementary Estimates, but in essence they are the original Estimates of the Ministry of Transport, and I think the Committee, therefore, will expect me to give some explanations in producing them. The Ministry of Transport came into existence by virtue of an Act which received the Royal Assent on 15th August last, only just a little over six months ago, and that Act was the first Act passed in redemption of the promise made on behalf of the Government at the General Election to endeavour to do something to improve the transport facilities of the country. It was a recognition of the elementary fact that without efficient transport we cannot have successful commerce. The two are inseparably bound together. Before the War the main transport undertaking of the country, the railways, were the subject of enquiry by a Royal Commission. There were then signs of necessity for substantial alterations. Immediately on the outbreak of the War the Government, exercising the extraordinary powers given in the Regulations of the Forces Act of 1871, assumed control of the railways and the attached undertakings, such as railway canals and railway docks and harbours, and they were carried on under the provisions of that Act and by virtue of a Royal Warrant issued by the Secretary of State for War until the passing of the Ministry of Transport Act. During that period the railway facilities of the land were tested to the highest possible extent because of the depletion of their staffs, and the falling into disrepair and out of use of their rolling stock. Those difficulties are not less to-day than they were during the War.
The Transport Act divided itself into two perfectly separate Departments. First, there was power given to transfer to the Minister of Transport all the administrative duties which were spread over other Departments, and commencing with the Order made on 22nd September, 1919, and finishing with the Order made quite recently, there have been many 1227 such transfers. The whole of these administrative duties, important in character, were vested in the Minister of Transport. But there are also given some exceptional powers under Section 3 of the Act. That Section is the motive power of the Ministry of Transport to-day:With a view to affording time for the consideration and formulation of policy to be pursued as to the future position of undertakings to which this Section applies the following provisions shall, unless Parliament otherwise determines, have effect for a period of two years after the passing of this Act or where, as respects my particular provision, a longer period is expressly provided, for such longer period.There is set out power to retain possession of the undertakings which have already been taken possession of under the Regulations of the Forces Act, and a further power to take possession of certain other undertakings, and large powers were given to the Minister to enable him to carry out that duty. That duty, as we conceive, is the most important duty which is vested in the Minister of Transport his powers be enabled to advise Parliament that you should have the reason for a particular clause stated in the clause itself. The reason here is that the Minister may consider and by the exercise of his powers be enabled to advice Parliament and the country what should be the permanent position of the great transport undertakings of this country. There is a period of two years given in which that power is to be exercised, and in which he is to consider what is the advice which he shall ultimately give. Upon the decision which the Minister of Transport ultimately adopts, if it receives the sanction of Parliament, will depend in very large measure the success or the failure of the industry and commerce of this country, and, incidentally, also the prosperity and happiness of the people in the more remote quarters.
Something loss than seven months have gone, and there is a considerable amount of misconception already as to what the Minister of Transport is doing with reference to the different undertakings. There are people who think that the Minister of Transport is attempting to regulate and control the internal management and working of the railways in this country. There is a common idea that if traffic is delayed, if there is a congested port, if there is a shortage of wagons, or if there 1228 are difficulties in other ways in connection with the working of the railways, that that is the result of some act or some omission on the part of the Minister of Transport.—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"]—I am quite sure that my hon. Friend who leads the cheers does not think so for a single moment. See what that would involve. Suppose the Minister of Transport were to attempt the detailed management of the railways of England, Scotland, and Ireland, not forgetting Wales, he would have to have a staff approximately equal to the administrative staffs of the railways. He would have to attempt what would meet with the condemnation of every hon. Member of this House, namely, the impossible task of running the railways by direction from Whitehall. That is not the work in which the Minister of Transport is engaged. The railway companies of this country, with their very efficient staffs, are managing their own business, and I think the country would wish it to be so. They are carrying out with very great care and, it is due to say so here, with very substantial success, under great difficulties, an endeavour to re-establish the railway transport of this country as it was before the War, and leading up to improvement beyond that. The Minister of Transport is acting in co-ordination with them, and in the happiest and most friendly cooperation with them. He is conferring with them from time to time, and in no sense is he endeavouring to exercise dictorial powers, or in any way telling them how they ought to carry on their business.
§ Mr. NEAL
I will deal with that before I sit down, I hope to the satisfaction of the hon. Member. What I want to make clear, not only to the Committee, but to people outside this House is, that for anyone to attempt bureaucratic control from London of the great railway systems of this country, would be to lead to hopeless confusion, and to cause the greatest dissatisfaction. When the Transport Act was passing through Committee it had its critics, and they wished to have certain forms of transport undertakings reserved from the control of the Ministry. It is a rather strange change that those very undertakings which sought to be excluded from the operation of the Ministry of Transport are now themselves asking to go under its aegis. Knowing the assistance which the 1229 Ministry is able to afford—[Laughter]—I do not know why there is a laugh The canals are asking to be controlled.
§ Mr. REMER
The people who objected at the time the Ministry of Transport Bill was before the Committee were the users of the canals.
§ Mr. NEAL
My hon. Friend's memory is not quite accurate. Everybody objected at that time. What is happening now in the case of docks and harbours in some cases, and in the case of canals, I think I may say in all cases, is that they are asking to go under the Ministry of Transport. I think that this is attributable to this—that it is realised that there is no despot presiding over the Ministry of Transport, and that nothing which the Ministry of Transport of the Government has done has tended to the financial disadvantage of this undertaking. But that is a topic that requires a great deal more time than I can give at the moment. I pass on to say that the Minister himself is earnestly and diligently pursuing the major task given to him—I think it is a responsibility in which he is entitled to ask that he should have sympathetic consideration—in reference to the advice which he should ultimately give as to what shall be the future policy with reference to these great undertakings. Meantime, there are many difficulties to be dealt with. From nearly all my hon. and right hon. Friends in this House we receive requests to deal with traffic difficulties. They complain of the shortage of traffic facilities for this and that form of industry and public utility service. We endeavour to the best of our ability to inquire into them and to render such assistance as we can give, but I would point out that these are primarily, still questions for the railway companies themselves which are concerned, and hon. Members and their constituents who write to us would save time and trouble if they would pursue the ordinary normal course of asking the railway companies concerned what the difficulties are, and why they cannot have the service which is desired.
1230 Those being the duties, may I call attention to the way in which the Minister has organised this Department for the purpose of enabling him to carry out those duties. On page 73 and the following pages of the Estimates there is set out in detail the staff of the Ministry. The staff is authorised under the Statute itself, the Ministry is authorised to secure such a staff as, with the consent of the Treasury, should be thought necessary. The total number which has been approved as the establishment is 774. The appointments to date are G01. The division is shown in the Estimates. There is a Secretarial and Legal Department, which is responsible for the ordinary work of the Secretary and of the legal adviser combined. Then there is a Development Department. The Director-General of that Department is Admiral Sir Charles M. do Bartolomé, who is devoting himself to many large problems. He deals with light railway development. There are nearly 100 cases relating to light railways alone before the Department. In addition to that they are concerned with large numbers of cases relating to new and improved facilities for canals and inland navigation, docks, harbours, and other means of transport.
§ Mr. NEAL
He has to consult with other departments of the Ministry, with the Ministry of Agriculture to see what is required for agricultural development, with the Board of Trade in connection with trade development, and with the Ministry of Health, and a Committee has been set up representative of all those departments to secure complete co-ordination. Among the matters entrusted to that branch is the investigation of the transportation aspect of the proposed Channel Tunnel, the future possibility of train services for cross-channel work, and proposals in connection with transport which should guide the selection of sites for housing. Under that department, also, the London Traffic Advisory Committee and its technical and sub-committees are operating. The next department is Finance and Statistics. I think the Committee will realise that if we are to get a satisfactory system in future it must be based upon a complete and accurate ascertainment of statistical facts and true 1231 finance. In connection with that, the Director-General is Sir George Beharrell. His Department has to examine critically expenditure in connection with railways in which the State is interested. Over 128 schemes involving an expenditure of £2,613,000 have been approved up to the middle of February, and 154 schemes, involving capital expenditure by the rail ways of £3,620,000, are under consideration. Of the total of 282 schemes, 130 involved detailed examination and criticism by the civil engineering department, and 120 by the mechanical engineering department, and 110 by the traffic department. That brings me to the traffic department, which has been organised under the very experienced directorship of Sir Philip Nash, who, with his staff, is trying hour by hour and day by day to overcome the difficulties which exist in dealing with transport and traffic considerations in this country. That department is divided into four branches; administration branch, railway and light railway operations, rolling stock and storage branch, and road transport and tramways branch, with a fifth department, the docks and canals branch, which will shortly be organised and at work. Those departments are responsible for dealing with the varied proposals for securing an improvement in traffic working and for dealing with any traffic emergencies of a general character. This department in its short life of a few months has already investigated some two thousand complaints, and in many of which it has been able by securing co-ordination between the different departments of transit and the different railway companies to assist in the solution of the difficulties. This Department has also been concerned in the question of rolling stock, and I am told that since the Ministry came into existence there has been an allocation to the railway companies from the Government pool of 490 locomotives and 1,356 wagons, and by the stimulation of the returns of wagons from France up to the middle of last month some 15,000 have been brought back. Steps have been taken to secure the acceleration of construction and the placing of new orders. The railway companies place orders after consultation with the Ministry. Some 17,000 wagons are being or have been built in the last few months with the railway workshops, and orders for 16,000 have 1232 been placed by the railway companies with outside firms.
§ Mr. NEAL
I cannot give the date. They are constantly being placed; the difficulty is to get delivery. I am glad to say we have taken what I believe to be effective steps to stimulate the placing of orders by private individuals with private firms for the manufacture of railway wagons. This Department has dealt with the allocation of rolling stock, and is following the problem as to the best use of that stock. Very recently a very heavy burden was put on this particular Department. The House was told some three weeks ago by the Lord Privy Seal of the difficulty which had arisen with reference to the coal shortage, and there was put upon this particular Department the finding of extra traffic facilities in consultation with the railway companies. A Committee was set up, and I am glad to think the position is somewhat easier than it was. It was this Department that was responsible for 1,276 Government motor lorries being supplied to the railway companies to increase their cartage strength, and there was also a temporary allocation of Government lorries to five principal ports for use supplementary to the railway cartage service.
The next Department I want to mention is the one on roads. By the Act of Parliament, the Minister is called upon to set up a separate Roads Department, and incidentally he took over the whole of the duties of the Road Board. This is under the director-generalship of Sir Henry Maybury, who was at one time a county surveyor, afterwards gave distinguished service to the nation in France, and is now doing, I think, very valuable service indeed at home in this Roads Department. They have the administration, under the Road Board, of the fund of £8,000,000, which was supplemented by £2,000,000, to deal with road development. In addition, there is the question of the making of grants: there is the classification of the roads of this country, which has never been attempted before and which is well in hand; there is the consideration of the regulation of road vehicles and the revision of the method of taxing and securing revenue for road purposes, also the question of the lighting of vehicles and the taking 1233 over from the Ministry of Health of the duties in respect to the considering of applications by local authorities for grants or powers to borrow money for highway purposes, the examination of all private Bills dealing with highways, and, to mention one comparatively small matter and yet an important, it is under this particular Department that the Ministry secured a boat to run between the Channel Islands and Southampton for the bringing across of road-repairing materials, there being, as we have often heard by question in this House, a shortage of road-repairing materials and great difficulty of trans port, and that boat has already dealt with 12,000 tons.
Then there is another Department, known as the Public Safety and General Purposes Department. This was taken over almost in its entirety from the Board of Trade. It is presided over, as Director-General, by one of our old and distinguished Civil Servants, Sir William Marwood. It is concerned with the safety and working of railways. Since the Department came under the Ministry, 217 inquiries into railway accidents and five into tramway accidents have been held, 41 inspections of new railway works have taken place, and they have given sanction to byelaws and regulations, but the work of the Department stands out first, I think, in this, that it was through the services of Sir William Marwood and others that we were able to arrive at a settlement of what threatened to be a very dangerous question, the question of railwaymen's wages and conditions of labour. Due credit should be given to the Minister himself, if I may be permitted to say so, for the extreme care and friendly spirit which he manifested in bringing about the standardisation of wages upon a basis which, I believe, will become increasingly popular as it is understood—a standardisation of wages which, if prices ever fell to pre-War levels, would secure for the railwaymen an increase of over 100 per cent. on the wages they were then getting. More than that, there have been set up two Boards, with local boards underneath, to secure, if it is humanly possible to secure it, that never again shall we arrive at an acute controversy which threatens the safety of this realm by a great railway strike. There have been set up bodies, apart from the Minister, apart the Ministry, apart from Government control—because it is 1234 not desirable, I think, that the Government should interfere too much in these questions between employers and employed—but by conciliation and consultative boards which have been established, it is hoped that we have been relieved from anxiety and danger in that matter.
I pass to another Department of the Ministry, the Civil Engineering Department. This has been established, and the Minister has been fortunate to obtain the services of one of the most distinguished civil engineers for the Director-Generalship of the Department, Sir Alexander Gibb, whose name, I think, will be known to most Members of the House. Sir Alexander Gibb's Department, by examination of plans which have been submitted for constructional work, has been able to recommend reductions in cost amounting to £170,000, or 5.4 per cent. on the plans submitted. Then there is another Department, the Mechanical Engineering Department, presided over by General Simpson, who has had large railway experience. He has the advice, temporarily, of one of the most distinguished of railway managers, Sir John Aspinall, general manager of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway, and in connection with their work they have very largely stimulated production of railway material. Under them there comes, as a small matter, the pool of Government motor cars, and I will say a word or two at this stage, so that I hope my hon. Friend will not find it necessary to move his Amendment. The Ministry of Munitions were in possession of some 76 motor cars for passenger service, and there was a great discussion in this House and elsewhere as to how many Government Departments held motor cars, what sort of restriction was put upon their use, and whether there was any joy riding and so forth which was alleged to take place. The Government requested the Ministry of Transport to take over the investigation of the matter, and as a result there was allotted to him the motor cars owned by the Ministry of Munitions. I think I am right in saying that, apart from the motor cars attached to the fighting service, of which I have no particulars, there are no Government Departments to-day owning or using motor cars except through this pool of cars, which is established under the Ministry of Transport. There were 76. We took over 41, directed the 1235 disposal of 35, and the number is now reduced to something under 30—I have not the precise figure—and instructions have been given to reduce them still further by 8 or 9 more. The system is that any Government Department requiring a motor car has to requisition the car and show the purpose for which it is required, and the Department is debited with a fair cost in respect of it. Already very great economies have been effected. The average mileage run by each of these cars is close on 50. The Ministry have established a repairing staff which is able to do all necessary repairs, and it is thought that very great economies will be brought about in that way. Then there is another branch in Ireland under the Director-generalship of Mr. Burgess. The branch carries on in Ireland duties analogous to those which are carried on here. Hon. Members will remember that the Electricity Commissioners have been placed under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Transport. They are only just in process of formation, but a very substantial work attaches to the Ministry in respect of that most important matter. I have indicated some of the answers to the questions addressed to me earlier in the Debate by my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) as to what the Ministry of Transport are doing.
§ Mr. NEAL
I certainly ought to say a word about that. When the Minister took office, he took over the obligations of the Government with reference to the railway companies. When control was taken in August, 1914, immediately on the outbreak of War, the Government of the day was faced with the position that it would have to pay compensation to the railway companies for any loss incurred by them by the dislocation of their business. It was impossible, or it was deemed impossible at the time, to keep accounts of all Government traffic and of the loss to which the companies had been, or might hereafter be, subjected by reason of the interference with their business which was absolutely essential for the safety of the Realm. The Government of the day entered into a series of arrangements which developed from time to time as 1236 the questions arose. They are nowhere in any one document, and we have had to try and collate them as best we can from many documents in order to see what exactly was the relationship between the Government and the railway companies. Broadly, the railway companies were guaranteed their net working revenue on the basis of 1913, which was taken as the standard year. But there were other matters. It was realised that they would be unable to do the necessary ordinary repairs and replacements which in the normal course would be done year by year. It was realised that if these were done in a time of rising prices there must be a Government charge to be ascertained in respect to them. These were some of the financial obligations, and there ware others. I will not discuss them in detail, and they are not germane to this Vote. The Minister of Transport was faced with this capital liability, which took the form of a subsidy to cover the annual loss to the State. We were advised that it was in the region of £45,000,000 a year. There was this recurrent loss of approximately £50,000,000 a year, and the Minister therefore exercised his power under the Statute, and appointed a Railway Bates Advisory Committee.
§ Mr. NEAL
I am coming to that. By the terms of the Act the Lord Chancellor had to appoint the chairman, and he appointed Mr. Gore Browne, one of the greatest living authorities on railway matters, who, at the great personal sacrifice, accepted the office. It meant a break in his personal position and status that is always dangerous to a man in his position. Ho will be available for a time at a salary of £5,000 per annum, and is the only paid member of the Committee. The Committee was asked to report what increase of the railway rates would produce a financial balance of £50,000,000. There had been an additional £5,000,000 owing to concessions to the railway servants.
§ Mr. NEAL
I will come to that. The railway rates presented a problem which, if taken in detail, would have occupied years. The initial problem was to stop 1237 the leakage and then see what could be done. They have advised, and we believe the advice is perfectly sound, that railway rates, raised according to the standards which they have laid down, will produce the £50,000,000 per annum, and we hope, and I think the Ministry of Transport is entitled to claim, that we have saved the country that sum by stopping the leakage. The Committee have gone on with their work. I do not know if it is realised how-complex this matter is. There are large schedules of railway rates, but those rates are only applicable to about one-fourth of the traffic. Approximately three-fourths of the traffic of this country is carried on special rates. The result is that one of the railway companies, the North-Western, has on its books no less than 27 million different items. That is accounted for by the fact that they have to have a station-to-station rate from each of their own stations to all others on their own lines and on foreign railways. The Committee is at present investigating, at the request of the Minister, whether the science of rating may not be amended so as to reduce this confusion which exists to-day in railway rates, and to get on to something like a definite system.
Would the hon. Gentleman kindly say whether the Development Branch of the Ministry has taken any interest in those who are dependent wholly upon coastal traffic?
§ Mr. NEAL
I am not quite sure how far that comes within the scope of this Vote, but I am very glad to tell my hon. Friend of the difficulties that arose with reference to coastal traffic. Railway rates were about the one thing that did not go up during the War, The result was that there was cheap transit by rail, and higher rates by canal and by coastwise traffic. The effect of that was congestion on the railways. We attracted to them, by cheap rates, traffic that was never intended to go upon them. To avoid that difficulty, the Minister of Transport has set up, with the assent of the House, a scheme of coastwise subsidies, and also committees sitting at the ports to try and divert the traffic from the railways on to tie coastwise service. This has been done. Wherever there was a coastwise service in existence—that was the only place where it could operate—the Minister, by means of committees at the ports, tried 1238 to divert traffic back into the ships and away from the railways, and to some extent also on to the canals. That has not been wholly successful, because, in trying to remedy one evil, another has been created. That is the trouble in dealing with a complex matter of this kind; but I respectfully submit to the Committee that it is too soon to enter into a detailed consideration of that matter.
§ Mr. NEAL
There is a separate Vote for the canals. I was saying that I think it is a little too soon to attempt to judge of the Ministry of Transport. The Minister has, no doubt, a great task. The organisation will have to be staffed by experienced heads. It would be hopeless to attempt to solve the problems of to-day unless it had at its disposal the very best brains that could be obtained. It has not got a large lower grade staff, because it works partly through the existing staffs of the railway companies and other transport organisations. But as one who has just gone there, and has had time only to look round, I think without impropriety I may say that Parliament never did a wiser thing than in appointing a Minister of Transport to endeavour to co-ordinate and bring to a state of efficiency all the forms of transport in our land.
§ Mr. HOGGE
My hon. Friend is one of the youngest Members of this House. He is one of the youngest recruits in the Government In the absence of his Chief, whom we regret is unfortunately not able to be present owing to illness, he has done extraordinarily well in guiding the House through the very difficult new Estimate, which he has submitted to us for the first time to-night. He deserves the compliments of the House, not only for the way in which he has guided us through the various Departments of the Ministry of Transport, but also for the almost uncanny manner in which he has been able to reply to the various questions sprung upon him in connection with the Department, the Chief of which is regarded as one of the supermen of the Ministry. It is rather difficult at this late hour to enter into what is after all one of the most capital Supplementary Votes, because besides being a Supplementary Vote it is really the initial Vote of the Ministry of Transport. For the first time in the House it gives us some idea of what this colossal 1239 Department is to represent. I noticed in the Press the other day that in Russia those who are responsible for the Revolution at the present moment are looking forward to the resuscitation of that country by a large scheme of electrification, to build up the new Russia mainly on the foundation of transport. Whatever our sympathies may be for those engaged in the struggle there, at any rate we may agree in the view that a great deal of national prosperity in the future does depend upon the soundness with which the foundations of transport are laid. This is our attempt to lay those foundations of transport.
I do not propose to address myself to this Estimate in any hostile spirit, but rather I desire to find out exactly to what the State is being committed. It is important, after all, to remember that. We have been committed to a very great deal in the Supplementary Estimate, and we are entitled at this time, more than at any other, to consider whether or not this is based on sound foundations. My hon. Friend said that, although it was a Supplementary Estimate, it amounted to the real Estimate for the year. That is so, if you look at the various Departments, which are divided into eleven separate branches, now set up for the first time to deal with this headquarters establishment of the new Ministry. The first thing that strikes one in looking at the Supplementary Estimate is that inside of six months—I am not sure it is not seven months—even the figure which is given in the Estimate is not accurate. My hon. Friend said that the total number of staff was 774 and not 714, as set out in this White Paper. We have in this Supplementary Estimate the creation of a new State Department with something approaching a staff of 800, and we do not know—and I think every Member should examine every one of these eleven Departments—we do not know how elastic the Department may prove when it becomes a Department, and when you have at the head of it an official whose main ambition in life is to make his Department the most important of all Departments in the State, not only with regard to accommodation, but with regard to staff. It 1240 would be too optimistic, therefore, to think that 774 is only the beginning of an enormous staff in the Ministry of Transport. That is a very serious consideration, unless, indeed, this expenditure is going to be remunerative. I think that the whole and the only test of new expenditure on behalf of the State, and the excuse for it, is that it is going to become remunerative. If you are simply going to enlarge a Department, or if you are rather going to establish a new Department, and going to create new bodies of officials whose work is going to consist, as described in a phrase used by my hon. Friend, in the co-ordination of railways—whatever that may mean—it seems to be a work of supererogation. For the present I shall adhere to financial criticism, and I want to point out the extraordinary disparity between the salaries which are to be paid to the heads of each of these eleven Departments. I will take one Department only: the Chairman of the Roads Advisory Committee, a legal gentleman, who is to receive £5,000, the same salary as the Minister of Transport. Incidentally may I draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that the Minister of Transport and his Parliamentary Secretary have an asterisk over their names, which indicates that these of all Ministers are the only ones entitled to a War bonus?
§ It being Eleven of the Clock the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.
§ ADJOURNMENT:—Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Sir R. Sanders.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at One Minute after Eleven o'clock.