HC Deb 07 November 1939 vol 353 cc145-75

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Munro.]

7.18 p.m.

Mr. Ellis Smith

I wish to raise a few questions on the transport policy which is being followed by the Government. There appears to be a dead hand over the question of transport. I raise the matter because of some questions which I have had on the Order Paper. I agreed to postpone one series of three questions, and it was stated that the Government were preparing a statement in answer to them. Although I know that the statement is to be made probably this week, we would be lacking in our duty if we did not raise this question, seeing that we have postponed it for so long and that, in our opinion, the time has arrived when the grievances of the people in regard to transport ought to go on the records of the House in order that the transport policy can be changed. In addition, I put down questions dealing with the position in North Staffordshire itself. I want also to deal with the situation on the basis of my own experiences and the conversations I have had with others.

We are supported in our plea with regard to transport by the specialists who write in the technical journals, who have been very critical of the Government's policy. I need only remind the Minister of the publication called "Transport," in which a certain statement appeared. I am sorry that I cannot follow my usual practice of quoting the passage itself. What happened was that I read it in the Library but afterwards, when I went to take out the extract, it had gone, and I have not been able to find it since. The leading article said something like this: "When the history of the past two years is written there will be some very severe criticisms of certain people." On behalf of millions of people I desire to protest against the transport muddle which has existed since the beginning of the war and should like to know who has been responsible for it. There was one question which I raised first in this House in 1936, and again in 1937 and in 1938, and several times this year, and last July I was given a promise that certain steps were being taken to deal with it. On Budget day I also raised the question. Despite all the assurances given nothing has been done.

In all large industrial centres there are appalling queues of people waiting for transport. They are people coming home from work, and they are not the sort who have limousines or any cars at all. The trams have been taken off the roads and the people have no other means of transport than the buses, but the bus services have been severely restricted. Many of those waiting are men who work in steel foundries, iron foundries and pottery factories. After working all the day in great heat, they come out perspiring, and then have to stand for 10, 20 or 30 minutes waiting for buses. Owing to the development of large housing schemes outside cities people now have to travel four, five or six miles to their work. Modern industrial life is organised, on the transport side, on bus services, and therefore the question is one of urgency.

That is the background of the case I want to present. I am the first to admit that we have to make allowances, that we are involved in war and cannot expect to go on as in pre-war times. I am the first to admit the need for petrol rationing. With the increased mechanisation of our armed forces and the large quantities of petrol consumed by the Air Force, it is essential that we should economise petrol in every possible way. But having admitted that, what are the facts? At the Newcastle-under-Lyme Town Council a few days ago the Mayor produced a pile of letters which he said were legitimate complaints from people living in the area, and the local paper in North Staffordshire had a leading article on the subject from which I shall quote extracts in order to show that I am not speaking from my own immediate acquaintance with the problem only but on behalf of large industrial areas. The article, which was headed "Bad Bus Services," said: Something is to be done about the grossly inadequate bus services of North Staffordshire, but how much and when remains to be seen. When questions were put in Parliament Mr. Bernays announced that substantial improvements in a number of services were to come into operation on the morrow, which was yesterday, but substantial improvements were not in evidence yesterday. A Ministry of Transport official in Birmingham made the rather gratuitous observation yesterday that if the Potteries expect to have the roads flooded with buses they will find they have made a great mistake. The inference of this statement does not seem to parallel with the Minister's announcement of substantial improvements. Nobody wants the roads to be flooded with buses, but there is no justification for the contracted services which are inflicting not only inconvenience but actual hardship upon the people going to and returning from their work. Then I want to quote from an article written by Mr. Ernest Bevin, the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, which appeared in the "Commercial Motor" of 7th October, 1939. Here are seven quotations which, in my view, adequately sum up the situation with which we are confronted. I began by saying that there was a "dead hand" over the transport policy of this country, and it may be that in this article we get the key to understanding who is responsible for that "dead hand." The article states: Everyone of us engaged in the general road transport of the country has been gravely concerned at the attitude adopted towards road transport by those in authority. One is driven to the conclusion that there is a tremendous railway influence being brought to bear upon the position, which instead of allowing the problem to be examined as a transport problem is influencing the course of events to achieve long desired ends, namely, the securing of the monopoly of certain traffics. I regard this as a tragedy for the nation. It was my lot to serve on the committee dealing with the ' Square Deal,' and at no point during those discusssions were we permitted even to discuss a desirable transport system for the country. The article goes on: It now appears that one branch of the transport service of the country has been taken over by the State and guaranteed by public funds, while the remainder is subject to a form of petrol rationing. It appears to me that such rationing is being used to accomplish not merely the conserving of petrol but to bring about other transport changes. It is a position which I am sure Parliament would never tolerate had it the whole of the circumstances and facts placed before it. By getting these observations on record I am attempting to-night to see that Parliament is made aware of the grievances of the people regarding the transport policy. Then the article goes on: I have also contended very strongly that the present method of petrol rationing, which is resulting in the discharge of a very large number of efficient drivers and forcing them into other industries, may at a critical moment result in an absence of the type of trained men and a ready supply of vehicles which can, when required, immediately be turned on to the job. It concludes with these words: If present arrangements be allowed to continue in which road transport has been immobilised"— not "mobilised"— on the one hand, and, on the other, tremendous claims are being made on the railway equipment to meet the needs of the Fighting Services, it will be probably found that there is insufficient transport to meet these concentrations. There we have a very serious indictment written by the responsible general secretary of a trade union who is not accustomed to writing an article of that character unless he has good grounds for so doing. We are very suspicious that what is stated in that article is largely responsible for determining the transport policy of the country.

Here is another example. I was speaking a few days ago to the transport representative of one of the largest firms in this country. As a result of their manufacturing certain apparatus it is essential that delicate parts of it should receive only one handling. It is therefore necessary to have a huge transport on the roads so that the apparatus may be sent direct from where it is manufactured to where it is being installed or to the nearest seaport. The firm found they had to send those loads to many parts of the country, and that there was no clearing centre to organise that transport in order that the petrol should be consumed to the best advantage of the State. The result is that large vehicles are going to industrial centres of this country and are returning without loads. One would think that, as we have been involved in war for eight weeks, clearing centres would have been organised long before now in order that the road transport system of the country might be used to the best advantage.

I have already admitted that petrol rationing is essential in present circumstances. On this side of the House we have many times raised the question of organising alternative methods of motive power. Why have not the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Mines got together before now, as has been done in other countries, in order to deal with this problem? I know that it can be said that this question, within certain limits, is the responsibility of the Ministry of Mines, but transport as a whole is the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport; and therefore one would think that it would be their responsibility to go to the Ministry of Mines and say: "Seeing that we are involved in war it is necessary for us to develop alternative methods of motive power, and we should have a scheme to put into operation right away." Here again, we are very suspicious—and we have good grounds for our suspicion—-that certain vested interests in this country have prevented the development of alternative methods of motive power.

I want to ask the Minister, Who has been responsible for retarding in this country those alternative methods of motive power for transport? We believe that the responsibility lies with well-organised vested interests. If that is so, those people are a menace to the State and to the interests of the people and it is time that we called upon the House of Commons to deal with them. It is well known that there are several alternative supplies of transport motive power. The one about which I know most is producer gas. I have a letter here from the manager of the Highland Transport Company of Inverness. Because I have put questions in this House time after time, the interest of a number of people has been aroused. This manager states that he had a bus which travelled from Inverness to the North and that its performance was equal to that of petrol buses. He then goes on to say that his statement could be easily vouched for. He wrote me a further letter showing that he had placed an account of his experience before the Ministry of Mines. We are now in November. Here is an experiment which was a huge success in the North of Scotland in very difficult conditions—

Mr. Kirkwood

In Glasgow also.

Mr. Smith

My hon. Friend reminds me that this experiment has also been carried on and worked out in Glasgow. I could give further illustrations, but I am not asking the Minister to accept my word in this matter. I would refer him to specialists in the industry, such as the manager of East Midlands Motor Services and the Chesterfield Corporation. The experience of those bodies and of other transport organisations shows that there are methods of transport which could have been brought in long before now.

Let me give one or two illustrations of what has been done in other countries. In 1935 there were 1,300 vehicles in France running on producer gas; in 1936, 2,485; in 1937, 4,436; and in 1938, 10,000. In Germany, in 1937, there were 1,207; in Italy, 1,500 and, in Russia in 1938, 16,000 lorries and 9,000 tractors so working. In Russia they are working to a programme in respect of next year which includes 40,000 lorries and 15,000 tractors. On the other hand, in July, 1939, in Britain, there were only 30 vehicles run on this alternative method. There is some ground for our suspicion that there is a dead hand' somewhere, and we are convinced that vested interests have prevented the development of this kind of thing. Here we are, the greatest industrial country in the world, always in the forefront in the past in developing matters of this character, having reached a situation in which we are being held back by narrow vested interests. As the general secretary of the Transport Workers' Union said, it is time that Parliament dealt with the matter and with vested interests who are a menace to the State.

Had this alternative method been developed it would have found employment for almost all the unemployed miners in the country. One of our greatest problems in this House has been to deal with distressed or necessitous areas; nearly every distressed area has been based upon a coalfield. The biggest proportion of the miners signing on in those areas could have been employed if only that alternative method of transport had been developed. It has been proved to be a business proposition. I could have understood if it had not been shown to be a business proposition but this has been shown on the Continent. At least 2,500,000 tons of imported oil per year could have been replaced permanently by solid fuel had this method been adopted and our shipping tonnage would now be employed to better advantage than in transporting this oil. Food could be carried instead of oil and it would also help us to finance our imports.

Therefore, I would not only appeal to the Minister to deal with this question of transport which I have raised, but I would say to the Secretary for Mines that when he makes his statement we shall not be content with that statement. The Ministry of Transport should see that the Ministry of Mines is stimulated to great activity in order that the people in this country can have the transport system which they ought to have. There are many military vehicles, such as those drawing heavy artillery, the vehicles of the Royal Army Service Corps and many others, which could easily be converted to these different methods of motive power. Here again it would result in the conserving of the supply of petrol, and the result of that may be that this country would have a big advantage as the war proceeds. I therefore ask the Minister not only to give his attention to the immediate problem of seeing that the industrial workers have a better transport service, but also that as soon as possible these alternative methods should be adopted in order that the transport system of this country can be organised on a better basis than it is at present.

7.42 p.m.

Mr. MacLaren

I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) for having opened this Debate. I remember many years ago I discovered at Stoke-on-Trent a single track tramway. The conductor was clean-shaven at Stoke-on-Trent but usually had a beard before the final destination of the tram. Not infrequently at intersections of the line the conductor used to sit down and read a paper until the other tram appeared on the horizon. I do not think it would be untrue to say that the transport system at Stoke-on-Trent was the worst in Europe. It so impressed me as a native of Glasgow, where we had such an excellent system, that I thought the best thing to do was to improve the system at Stoke-on-Trent. It is a long story, but we got rid of these hen-coops on wheels as soon as possible. I remember that we put on the roads anything we could find with a combustion engine so that we could run in competition with these trams, and finally we worked them off the road entirely.

After we had destroyed the tram system it would be true to say that for the first 1½ years Stoke-on-Trent could boast the most efficient, comfortable and accommodating transport of any city in the country. All went well until there came into this House a Traffic Act when, to sum it all up, the country was divided into districts, and we all remember in this House how we were shocked to find that the country was put under the control of semi-Hitlers. In Germany they have only one Hitler, but in our traffic systems we have had a dozen or more. We gave to these traffic controllers such powers that we could not interfere with them and we had no control over them; they were imperious and their word was law. I remember that we had an agitation in Stoke-on-Trent, because we could see what was going to happen. Whereas we had been independent, we were to be placed under the dictatorship of a gentleman sitting in Birmingham. We called the local authorities together at Birmingham and pointed out what was likely to happen by handing such authority over to men in districts like these, but it was of no avail. It did not require keen sight to notice that there was in this country a competitive form of transport working tooth and nail to get the motor traffic under some form of restriction because it was competing with them. It was not many months after that when a sort of sterility set in on Stoke-on-Trent itself. Then we had to go cap in hand on all matters appertaining to our traffic in Stoke to Birmingham and the gentleman in Birmingham treated us rather disdainfully as it did not quite suit him to deal with us.

There were many complaints coming in daily. If there is one thing more than another which I object doing in this House, it is dragging problems here if I can settle them quietly behind the doors. These complaints came in and I thought the best thing to do was to write to the chief constable and find out if he could ascertain what was the state of affairs there. He wrote back an assuring letter and said things were not so bad as people suggested. Subsequent to the letter from the chief constable I received more letters. I went to a place called Tunstall at the far end of the Stoke-on-Trent area. If anyone could see the Stoke-on-Trent area on the map they would see that it looks for all the world like the bones in a fish; it is on a ridge. At one end are Longton and Fenton, and at the other end is a place which enjoys the name of Golden-hill; you go through Longton and Fenton right up to it.

For some reason or another, these new authorities decided that the buses should stop at Tunstall instead of going on to Goldenhill. It is at this point that the road becomes very dreary, with large gaps in it that are anything but inspiring, and it is a steady climb right up to Goldenhill. I went to Tunstall and I saw-queues standing for anything from 20 minutes to three quarters of an hour in a shower of rain. Then when a bus appeared there was the usual scramble and the people who had been standing were crushed out and left behind. Altogether it was a diabolical condition. I then ran from Tunstall to Goldenhill and found people walking all that distance in this drenching rain. They told me that the miners and the pottery workers who had to come from Goldenhill down to the other areas in all kinds of inclement weather could not get bus room, so they thought they had better set out and walk. We can visualise what happened when they got to the potteries or in other working activities with their wet clothes. They could not get buses in a place where we used to have one of the finest transport systems in the country. That all started when the Mussolini in Birmingham began to put his finger into the pie and interfered.

I used to read reports of the activities of the Commission who sat there discussing the pros and cons of the local people as regards licences and transport, and regularly there would be raised the question as to the effect of these motor buses on the railway traffic. As I have said, one did not require to have very keen insight to see what was going on. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) in his speeches at the time, always made it clear that we must not allow this motor traffic to get away with it in case we did damage to the railways. I do not want to bring in any extraneous matters, but that could be explained in other ways. I understand that since the war began the powers of these local controllers have been subject to the Ministry of Transport. I am glad that that is so, because I have been trying for a long time to get something done from Birmingham, and have received little or no encouragement.

Things have got to such a state in Stoke-on-Trent—I have no doubt that that is why my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke raised this matter—that I am assured by the town clerk and the police authorities that anything is possible in the way of disturbances, because of the frightful competition to get on these buses. I ask that this matter should be immediately taken in hand. I am not merely repeating hearsay; I went there and saw for myself what was happening. I understand the same thing is happening in other large towns, but I only speak of what I have seen myself. I ask that Stoke-on-Trent shall be rid of this trouble. I am glad that new arrangements have been made as a result of the war—it is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. I hope that under the new arrangements the Ministry will put an end to a state of affairs which should never have existed. It is too bad that at a time like this, when people have to turn out to work at all hours—because in Stoke-on-Trent they are working at full pressure in consequence of the war—there should be all these hindrances, which I hope will be removed.

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Muff

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) for raising this matter. I disagree, however, with one of his remarks. He talked about a "dead hand." I would suggest that it is a case rather of a stranglehold by the very powerful hand of a Department which is either in blinkers or closing its eyes altogether to the situation. In my own constituency we have a man, who is certainly the biggest contractor on our side of the north of England, performing work of national importance. This contractor is so important that even the Minister of Transport has taken away his transport manager in order to make him fuel controller for the East Riding. This contractor has been entrusted with the position, at no remuneration, of chief air-raid warden in the East Riding, and he is required to free himself from the details of his business. The business in which he is engaged at present is the very difficult one of providing air-raid shelters for the large population of my constituency, where, owing to the fact that if you go down six feet you find water, all the shelters have to be above ground. Accordingly, this firm has mobilised all its forces, particularly transport, in order to convey the necessary sand, which is very plentiful within a few miles of my constituency.

The Ministry of Transport were asked for supplies of petrol, and the firm's own former transport manager was also appealed to. The firm have been allowed 650 gallons a week, and when the head of the firm sent in a detailed report showing that he needs nearer 4,000 gallons a week, he was told by the Ministry that they could not entertain his request. He went to another watertight Department, the Ministry of Mines, to see whether anything could be done there, and I have a letter in which the head of this firm is characterised as frivolous, notwithstanding the great position he holds. For that reason, I say that the hon. Gentleman since his advent to his new job has not displayed that vision which he might have done, and that he is trying to put a stranglehold on my part of the country, at any rate. Besides these other duties, this firm have been entrusted by the Government with the responsibility of seeing that tens of thousands of our troops are accommodated in huts before the inclement weather arrives. To do that, the firm have mobilised, not only their, own transport, but, with one exception, all the lorry transport in the East Riding. Again, they have come up against, not a dead hand, but the hand of someone acting blindly. In addition, they have been gratuitously insulted by the Ministry of Mines, who have said that the head of the firm is frivolous. I tell the hon. Member, in the new position he is occupying, that if there is something that we do not desire in the East Riding —this is not a matter for laughing.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Bernays)

I was not laughing at all.

Mr. Muff

The Ministry of Health are perfectly aware of the position of Kingston-upon-Hull if anything untoward caused by the war happens. If the hon. Gentleman was not aware of that position when he was at the Ministry of Health, I can tell him that his late chief was fully aware of the fact. I am asking that his Department shall review the position, taking into the picture the: realities of today and the fact that this contracting firm needs additional petrol, so that it can perform its duties expeditiously and efficiently. Therefore, its applications should not be characterised by the Ministry of Mines as frivolous, but the two Departments should attempt together to settle the matter satisfactorily. The hon. Gentleman should, at any rate, show some vision, and when applications are received they should be treated upon their merits.

8.1 p.m.

Mr. James Griffiths

I am sure that those of us who have been present in the House, and many hon. Members who are not present, will be very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) for raising a very important matter. He asked a question which has led to his raising the matter on the Adjournment, and I too put a question which was directed to the Secretary for Mines, but, since it concerned transport, it was transferred to the Minister of Transport and was replied to by the hon. Member who is to reply, and, I hope clear up the position. As the hon. Member for Stoke said, we all appreciate that, at a time like this in a period of emergency, transport, like almost every other aspect of our life, must be affected, but in transport, as in other things, there has been a tendency to overdo it, and in some ways to over-organise. I think there has been a lack of appreciation of some of the services, which are very essential, and which I and hon. Members who have spoken believe to have been curtailed far too seriously.

I want to say a few words about two aspects of this problem, the one which has been dealt with very fully by the hon. Member for Stoke and the other which was the subject of the question I put to the Minister. The hon. Member for Stoke has constantly, as have other hon. Members, raised this question of alternative forms of transport in this country. I appreciate that the question of the use of gas, for example, is a subject for the Mines Department, and I am not going to discuss that matter further this evening. I believe that the Ministry for Mines is giving very serious consideration to this question, and there is very keen interest in the country upon it. The omnibus has become a very important form of transport in this country. I too come from a part of the country where the omnibus is a means of transporting workmen to and from their daily occupation and has become of enormous importance. I have seen a very great change in industrial areas, and particularly mining areas. The old practice was for the miner to live as close to the pit as to be able to walk to the pit in the mornings, and the result of living close to the pit is in some degree responsible for the unspeakable ugliness of many of our mining villages. The coming of modern transport and the provision of facilities for the men to bathe and change at the pithead have removed the necessity for living close to the pit. There has been a very welcome spreading out of the men who work in the pit to areas outside.

That is a very desirable tendency. It means that there is an ever increasing number of miners who travel to the pit by omnibus. Omnibuses, generally speaking, are much more convenient than the trains, and I would urge upon the Minister who is to reply that, in the curtailment of the public vehicle services that are now taking place, due regard should be paid to the problem of the necessity of maintaining to the full the omnibus services conveying men to and from their work whether at the pit or any other kind of factory. If these services are curtailed it will have a very serious effect upon industrial production, particularly in the days of the war. What we save in petrol through the cutting off of the omnibus services will be more than lost in the reduced production because of the curtailment of these services. I therefore urge that fact upon the Minister.

The second point I want to put about the public omnibus services is this: I did not entirely share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) when he spoke about the Birmingham dictator. I gather that he referred to the Traffic Commissioner, but in my own area—and I think I speak for my colleagues—the Traffic Commissioner has done a piece of very good work. Road transport was in a very chaotic condition and regional control was very essential. I do not see how we could possibly get on without it. The Traffic Commissioner in my area has really coordinated all traffic services. What is taking place now is something for which he is not responsible. He is an administrator and has to carry out his duties, and the limitations that are imposed are imposed by the Minister of Transport. We ought not to attack traffic commissioners as they are not responsible for this problem. In that part of the country from which I come, where men spend most of their days in the pit, one of the little amenities making life in the mining villages a little more tolerable is the chance to go to the neighbouring towns on a Saturday afternoon or evening. They come to my town of Llanelly from the neighbouring villages.

It is very desirable, if we are to maintain the morale of the people of this country, to enable those who are working hard in the pits and in the munition factories and elsewhere to enjoy the little amenities that make life more bearable, and this will be more necessary in the days to come than in peace-time. There is little if any reduction in the number of people who travel from the villages to the towns on Saturday evenings. Last Saturday week and the Saturday before I travelled by omnibus from my town to a village four miles away. There were literally scores of people almost fighting for each omnibus. This is very serious in the black-out. I am really frightened at this. People come to the town and do their shopping on Saturday afternoon, and from six or seven o'clock in the evening they go to the omnibus station. There are many towns in this country without anything that can be called an omnibus station, which is as essential as a train station, where traffic and people can be regulated. The result is that the people congregate for these omnibuses in a public square or a side street, and in my own town in the black-out I have witnessed scenes which have frightened me. I would like the hon. Member to look into that problem. Train facilities have been curtailed and omnibus services are being substituted, and it is essential that some attention should be paid to this problem. It is very desirable, even if the private consumption of petrol has to be kept down, to maintain public omnibus services. In any case, I put it very strongly to the Minister that in the interests of maintaining the morale of the men by allowing them and their wives to enjoy themselves in the towns, in the market or in the cinema, better facilities should be provided, while in the interests of public safety I do urge that steps should be taken to stop this mad rush for 'buses on Saturday and Sunday evenings.

The further matter with which I should like to deal is that of coal rationing, which we have discussed in recent weeks from many standpoints. The miners whom I represent and miners all over the country are amazed at what is happening. They come to me and they say, "This is a funny world, this is a curious situation. Somebody is blundering very badly. Coal is to be rationed and we are asked to produce so many millions of tons more coal and yet the present position is that the pit where we work is idle two or three days a week because of what colliers call stopped wagons." We understand from the Secretary for Mines that an additional 30,000,000 tons of coal per year is required; but what is the use of asking for that if you cannot transport the coal that is now being produced, to say nothing about millions of tons more?

This is a very serious problem. We understand that there have been discussions between the Secretary for Mines, the employers and the workmen's representatives, and that it has been decided, as Government policy, that it is very desirable and essential to increase very substantially our coal output. The increased figure that we have heard is 30,000,000 tons a year. That is a big job, but we can produce it, and we will do it if we are given the proper opportunity. Perhaps now that the country wants coal so badly there may be a chance for the poor miner over 45 years who has not been able to get much sympathy from anyone in the last few years. The production side can be managed. We can re-open pits and put colliers, who are now idle and who are wasting their lives, to produce the coal; but all that is contingent upon its being possible to transport the coal. It is said that steps are being taken to deal with this problem and that those to whom goods have been conveyed by truck and wagon have been asked to release them as soon as possible. That needs to be done at once. Nominally, since a few days after the war broke out there has been a pooling of wagons, but the impression I have formed is not very encouraging.

Is all this co-ordination merely on paper? Does it exist in practice? Is there any real co-ordination? If so, who is or what is responsible for the fact that at a time when people have been denied coal, when they are being rationed, there are all over the country, in South Wales and in Yorkshire, pits where men are suffering from short time, and the reason given for that is that there are no wagons. It will be useless for the Secretary for Mines to sit down with the representatives of the owners and miners to work out schemes on paper increasing the production of coal, in order to maintain our coal markets, and, what is of supreme importance, to increase our export trade, unless this problem is solved. We have now a splendid opportunity, which I hope we shall seize with both hands, of recovering some of the export markets for coal which we have lost. But all these things are dependent almost entirely upon transport. I hope, therefore, that in regard both to public transport and industrial transport very serious consideration will be given to the present situation, and that there will be a real attempt to co-ordinate the transport of the country and to use it for national purposes and national ends.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. George Griffiths

The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) has raised this question, and some people might perhaps think that it is only a matter which affects Stoke and Burslem. The hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has put the point of view of South Wales and I should like to speak for Yorkshire. Before the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport replies it would be well if he knew some of the conditions now obtaining in South and West Yorkshire. I will put the point of view in regard to coal rationing. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport will not be able to reply in regard to coal rationing, but I should like to state the view that is taken in my district on this question. My people have said to me: "George, what is the matter down yonder? Are the men mad, or what?" The position they put is that at the pit where I worked previous to coming to the House of Commons they had 2½ shifts and they flushed the other shifts, and the men could not get one penny unemployment pay, because they had worked part of a shift. Two and a-half days pay at 8s. 6d. a day is a very small sum for a married man to take home to his wife and children.

The Secretary for Mines says that an additional 30,000,000 tons of coal is required. On that, my people said to me at two miners' meetings last Sunday—the better the day the better the deed—"What on earth is the matter? We are here, we want to produce coal. We want food for our wives and children, and yet we are flushing." Last Friday afternoon the men refused to work half a shift. They went to the manager and said: "Are we going to work a full shift?" He said, "I cannot tell you." Their reply was: "If we are not going to work a full shift, we will not work." I am sorry to say that they struck for that one day, but the trade union officials on Saturday persuaded them to go back to work on Monday morning. That is a pit which employs 4,000 men. On that Friday afternoon the men did not produce any coal. I wish the Secretary for Mines was present to hear what I have to say. Miners all over the country are amazed that there is any coal rationing.

Now I come to the other question raised by the hon. Member for Stoke, that of the omnibuses. When the pit flushes the men have 40 minutes to wait in their wet clothes for a bus. There are not pithead baths everywhere, although they have started to build them there. These men on a cold October or November day have to wait 40 minutes in their wet clothes for a bus. Many men are down with influenza and other diseases, because they catch cold waiting for a bus for over 40 minutes on a cold winter's night. The township from which these people come used to have a bus every quarter of an hour; now they get three buses in two hours. The town council and the representatives of the miners have written to the Barnsley Bus Service for more buses, but they have no petrol. They have only sufficient petrol to give three buses in two hours. The transport facilities have been cut down by 50 per cent.

We are asking that the Minister of Transport and the Secretary for Mines should get together. There is still too much sectionalisation in the Government. The Secretary of State for War, the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for Air are looking after their own show. It is the same in every Department of the Government. They do not pool their brains. I suggest that the Secretary for Mines and the Minister of Transport should get together and have these disadvantages eliminated. The Secretary for Mines wants a bigger output of coal, but he will not get it unless transport is provided to get the men to the pits. When I was working in a pit it was a miracle if a man lived four miles away, but to-day men live 10 and 15 miles away from the pit and they get there by bus, not by train. Those men who are living far away from the pit have to get out of bed at half-past four in the morning in order to get there in time, and if they oversleep for a quarter of an hour it means that they lose their bus. In days gone by if they overslept a quarter of an hour they might catch the next bus, but that cannot happen to-day. These are things which are happening in our village, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will pay attention to what we are saying and give consideration to these matters.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. A. Jenkins

I am glad that the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) has raised this matter, as it is of vital importance to many parts of the country at the present time. There is far too much rigidity in operating restrictions on services. In my own division the rule that has been applied is a reduction of 50 per cent, of the buses, although some concession has been made as far as workmen's services are concerned. They have tried to maintain the working services at neighbouring collieries fairly well, but the fact is that the intention to cut down the services by 50 per cent. and still maintain the workmen's services has had the result in my district of reducing the public services to 37 per cent. of their original basis. The effect of that, as the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) has said, is that there is a struggle to get on to the buses and that owing to the great spacing between them people are left a considerable distance from their home. That is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. I want to reinforce what the hon. Member for Llanelly has said regarding the Traffic Commissioner for South Wales. He has done his best. I have spoken to him on a number of occasions on this matter and the impression I gather is that he has done all that lies in his power to meet the situation.

I should like to point out how those who are responsible have disregarded local circumstances. My own division is a reception area into which 3,000 or 4,000 additional people have been brought in. We have also a substantial ordnance factory being built within four miles and at the moment 6,000 people are employed. All this tends to create more and more congestion. There has not been sufficient regard for local circumstances, and I hope the Minister of Transport will deal with this matter in a much better way than it has been dealt with so far. I have lately been in communication with the Minister of Transport on this question and have tried to find some solution of the problems which confront us in our area. I have suggested that bus and railway tickets should be made inter-available; that they should be usable for either one of the services. If, for instance, a ticket is purchased on a bus and the person wants to get back home and there is no bus service available, he should be able to use the train. If the services were properly coordinated that would be possible, but in discussing this matter with the Minister I was told that there was a difference in the fares and that the companies cannot agree about the apportionment which should be made. Surely there should be some-attempt to co-ordinate the services and provide reasonable facilities for the public. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) has told us that there is no coordination between the different Departments of the Government. Obviously there is no co-ordination.

The hon. Member for Llanelly has called attention to something that is of vital importance to this country. There was a time when we were exporting to France 12,000,000 tons of coal a year; indeed, we have exported up to 79,000,000 tons of coal from this country. That has fallen tremendously and now there is an opportunity to recover a great deal of it. What is the Minister of Transport going to do? There is a desire to get an extra 30,000,000 tons of coal not only produced but exported from this country. In addition to that, we were told by the Secretary for Mines that the estimated saving as a result of domestic rationing would be 7,000,000 tons a year. That also may be desired for export, but if there is not the transport in order to deal with it, this coal cannot be exported. The export of coal is vital to the economy of the nation at the present time. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will have something of a concrete character to say to us to-night on these problems. I should like him to be able to assure us, first, that in our Divisions the state of things, as described by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke, in regard to the insufficiency of the transport facilities available to our people will be improved; and secondly, I want him to see that our railways are used to a much greater extent than they are now. The position is that you have the rolling stock and men necessary for maintaining a much higher level of service, but for some reason, which it is extremely difficult for me to understand, the service has been cut down until in some cases it has become almost useless to the people in the districts concerned. It is high time that the Ministry of Transport went into the matter very carefully and decided that there must be better facilities provided for our people.

8.32 p.m.

Lieut.-Commander Fletcher

I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether, as regards the transport of workers to and from their homes, his attention has been called to the question of the tram services in the East End of London at the present time. It happens that on several occasions recently I have had to come up to London along the whole length of the Commercial Road, .at a time when the workers were returning to their homes in the evening. I was really distressed and horrified to see at tram stop after tram stop queues greater in length than the length of this Chamber, waiting to board trams to get home after their day's work. The queues were so long that I remarked to a companion who was with me that if those at the head of the Ministry of Information knew their business, instead of being more concerned in getting a job for a relative or a lady friend, they would have taken photographs of these queues and put them into the neutral Press as pictures of the rush of men, women, and children to join up for National Service.

I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, with his connection with the Ministry of Health, will be the first to recognise the misery, wretchedness and depression which these long waits to get on board a tram must cause to those who have just finished a long day's work. It is not only a question of depression and personal misery, but every doctor would tell a story of the effect upon health that is caused by long waits in the rain in such miserable weather as we have had during the past week or two. The thought at once occurred to me, Why are the tram services so inadequate? In the case of buses, it is a question of petrol, a matter into which I will not go to-night, as it has been dealt with fully by other hon. Members; but in my ignorance, I inquired whether the power stations are run upon fuel oil. I was told that they are run on coal, and in view of what has been said by my hon. Friends to-night on the question of coal and the possibility of improving production, I am completely at a loss to understand why a more adequate tram service cannot be provided in the East End of London for workers returning home at the end of their day's work. I should be very grateful if the Minister would give some indication that he has had that matter drawn to his attention and that he will go into the question, for I assure him I have not exaggerated in what I have said. The misery and wretchedness of these people really deserve some consideration.

8.35 p.m.

Sir Ernest Shepperson

I have listened with considerable sympathy to the speeches that have been made, calling attention to the inconvenience suffered by workers, chiefly in industry, as a result of the deficiency of transport services. The industrial worker is not the only worker who requires the sympathy of this House. There are other classes concerned. There is, for instance, the Member of Parliament, who is suffering considerable inconveniences. I will refer to my own position. I live near the town of Huntingdon, the capital town of one of England's important counties. At the present time, I have only three trains during the day up to London and three trains out of London, and I want to assure the Parliamentary Secretary and the House that that deficiency in the train service causes me, a worker, a Member of the House, very considerable inconvenience.

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Bernays

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) for raising this issue, because it gives me an opportunity to clear up one or two points, and to state what is the policy of the Ministry of Transport in regard to this very important question. The hon. Member's speech was mainly concerned with the provision of transport services, but there have been one or two other questions raised with which, for convenience, I will deal first. The question of the wagon shortage was raised by the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Jenkins). I agree that there have been instances of a wagon shortage. My right hon. and gallant Friend is aware of the importance of the question. As the hon. Member for Llanelly knows, at the beginning of the war private wagons were pooled, and I assure him that that was no mere paper scheme. One of the difficulties at the present time is that wagons at their destination are not unloaded quickly enough; the collieries want them back and cannot get them. We are very anxious that in war time merchants should unload their wagons very much more speedily than in peace time, and my right hon. and gallant Friend has made a special appeal on this question to traders as a whole. Only last week, I had an opportunity of meeting the right hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Alexander), representing the Co-operative Movement, and I was able to put before him the necessity for unloading wagons as quickly as possible, and he was good enough to say, on behalf of the Co-operative Societies, that they would do all they could to speed up things.

Mr. Tinker

How is it possible to unload the wagons unless the commodity can be sold? The coal industry is not allowed to sell the full quota to people; they cannot unload the wagons because they are not allowed to sell the coal.

Mr. Bernays

The hon. Member will not expect me to answer for the Mines Department, but I think that, apart from that question, the coal merchants have been keeping wagons much too long.

Mr. G. Griffiths

Is it not a fact that all the wagons for collieries in Yorkshire have to go through Lancashire empty before they get to our county?

Mr. Bernays

I will not follow the hon. Member in that matter. What I was pointing out was that in order to meet the need for wagons, every wagon has to do more work now, and we are making a special appeal to traders to speed up the unloading of wagons. I would also say to hon. Members that if there is any special case of a colliery which is short of wagons we are always ready to take it up, and if the hon. Member will furnish me with particulars, I shall be glad to look into the matter.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am glad that attention is being kept on the question of facilitating and expediting the clearance of wagons, but may I ask the Minister whether the Department is giving serious attention to the problem of the increased transport that will be necessary to meet the increased output?

Mr. Bernays

We are giving attention to that question. There are, however, difficulties. The normal replacement of worn-out wagons is 25,000 a year and it is also necessary to provide wagons for transport in France, so that there cannot be an immediate solution of the difficulty. We are relying at the moment upon traders to speed up the emptying of wagons.

Mr. G. Griffiths

But if the wagons are full now, is there not less shunting? Empty wagons have to be shunted about a great deal, but it is not necessary to shunt the wagons if they are full, and, therefore, have not the wagons less work to do?

Mr. Bernays

No, because there is much more traffic on the railways now. There has been an enormous increase in the amount of traffic. I think I am right in saying that there has been an increase of 9,000,000 tons in traffic since the war, or 33⅓ per cent., and there is much more work for these wagons.

Mr. Jenkins

Before the hon. Member leaves the point about the new wagons, may I ask him whether any estimate has been made with regard to the number of wagons required and whether any steps are being taken to commence the additional production of wagons, because I happen to know some wagon works which are not working full time now.

Mr. Bernays

I have not heard myself of any instances of wagon works which are not working full time. The railway companies have this matter very closely under review, but they feel that if they could get existing wagons speedily released, it would, at any rate, relieve the position for the moment.

Before I turn to the main question which has been raised, I wish to say a word or two on the case mentioned by the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff). He complained that there was a firm which had not received a sufficient supplementary ration of petrol and he said that the Ministry of Mines had described the application as frivolous. I do not quite understand why the point was put to the Ministry of Mines in regard to the rationing of goods vehicles, but if the hon. Member will make his application to the Ministry of Transport in regard to this firm, I shall be glad to look into the case.

Mr. Muff

I should say that the application went to the Ministry of Transport in the first instance and they turned it down, and, of course, the Ministry of Mines is concerned with the question of petrol. But the hon. Gentleman's Department received the first application which was turned down because it was said to be out of all proportion.

Mr. Bernays

No doubt that is so, but the hon. Member will not expect me to deal with the case on its merits to-night. I would like to deal next with the question raised by the hon. and gallant Member for Nuneaton (Lieut.-Commander Fletcher). I was very much concerned at the account which he gave of long queues of people waiting for trams in London. I have made some inquiries from my advisers and I am informed that, as far as the Ministry is aware, there has been no reduction in the number of trams but I will naturally take a note of what the hon. and gallant Member said and look into the question further.

I now come to the main question raised by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) in relation to the bus services in Stoke-on-Trent. I told the hon. Member in my answer that as a result of representations, the regional commissioner had re-examined the position and that the services would be improved on 3rd November. The hon. Member tells me he is informed that they are still unsatisfactory. I can only say to the hon. Member that if he will furnish me with any further facts they will be most carefully examined. I would point out that it is the peak period at which it is most important to maintain an adequate service and I am informed that in the case of Stoke-on-Trent the peak-hour services have not been reduced below the number in operation in normal times.

I know that the question of transport in Stoke-on-Trent is a rather thorny one and has had a long history. The hon. Member appeared to complain that in considering the proposed additional bus services, the Traffic Commissioners took into account the facilities afforded by railway transport and he appeared to think that they should not consider those facilities. I would remind him that they are required to do so by the Act which was passed when the Labour Government was in office and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) was Minister of Transport. By the Traffic Act of 1930, the commissioners are required to have regard to the existence of alternative forms of transport, including rail transport.

But even apart from the necessity of petrol rationing it would, I fear, be virtually impossible to add to the buses now in operation at peak periods. This highly industrialised district has two intensive peak loads of traffic, one from 7.30 to 8 in the morning and the other from 5.30 to 6 in the evening. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., 70 per cent. of the Potteries Motor Traction Company's buses are idle in the garage, and to place more vehicles on the roads is not a question of cost but a question of labour. It would increase the difficulty of the already complex question of providing for "split shifts," and would make very difficult the operation of the guaranteed 48-hour week. Such reductions as have been made as a result of fuel rationing, relate to the operation of the bus services outside the peak periods. These amounted, in the first instance, to a reduction of approximately 25 per cent. of the normal services but as a result of representations, arrangements have been made, which came into operation last Wednesday, by which the aggregate services have been increased to anything from 82 per cent. to 85 per cent. of the pre-war mileage. I think the hon. Member will agree that in view of the necessities of the time that is not an unsatisfactory position. The hon. Member has very properly now raised the wider issue of the general supply of public transport in industrial areas. I do assure all the hon. Members who have raised this question to-night that my right hon. and gallant Friend is most anxious that there should be no avoidable curtailment of bus services in the peak hours. The hon. Member raised the question of the reduction of tram services. I am not aware of any such reduction, and I shall be very glad if, later on, he will furnish me with particulars.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Do I gather that the Ministry of Transport desire that during the peak hours there should be no reduction in public bus services—no reduction, that is, of the normal services before the war began?

Mr. Bernays

Yes; my right hon. and gallant Friend is most anxious that where the requirement is reasonable—of course, there may be places in which there has been some reduction in the population—

Mr. Jenkins

But may I point out the utter impossibility of that? In the garage that provides the buses in my own district about 40 per cent, of the employés have been dismissed, and it is utterly impossible to carry out that principle there. If the Ministry of Transport agree to it, steps ought to be taken to see that sufficient men are employed.

Mr. Bernays

I will certainly consider any individual case brought before me.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the bus services at the moment in the peak hour are not anything comparable to those at the same period before the war. I gather that the Minister is very desirous, so far as that is reasonable—by which, I take it, he means that where there has been a reduction of the population obviously there will be fewer buses—that the services should be kept at the same ratio as before, and he says that the procedure should be to bring cases to his attention. Does that mean that where there has been an increase of population he will take steps to see that bus services at these hours are kept up to the normal?

Mr. Jenkins

Will that principle apply also to railways, in the peak hour?

Mr. Bernays

I will keep to buses at the moment. If the hon. Member will furnish me with cases, I will, in consultation with my right hon. and gallant Friend, take up the question with the Regional Transport Commissioner. With regard to railways, if the hon. Member can furnish me with cases where he thinks the railway facilities are inadequate, I, in consultation with my right hon. and gallant Frend, will take up the question immediately. It is important on every ground, as I am sure we all agree, that workers in their journeys to and from their homes should be put to as little delay and inconvenience as possible. I want to emphasise, because I do not think it is fully appreciated, that it is always open to any operating company who consider a service to be inadequate to make repre-. sentations to the Regional Transport Commissioner, either for additional fuel or for a variation of the service, and it is always open—and it is frequently done—for any works to make representations. It is often done through the welfare superintendent to the Regional Transport Commissioner, and it is open to any member of the public too to make similar representations.

The hon. Member said that there has been a tendency to create monopolies for the railways, to insist that certain classes of goods should go by railway. The Regional Transport Commissioner, who, after all, is responsible for the saving of petrol, has to consider, when any claim is made for a supplementary ration of petrol, whether those goods could go by railway, and if they could be conveniently taken by rail, it is his duty to say that they must go by rail. But I can assure the House that it is not because the Ministry of Transport has some bias in favour of the railways; it is merely a means of saving petrol. I think we must examine all these questions with the background of the urgent necessity for saving petrol. I am sure that every hon. Member realises the need for saving petrol, but I have heard outside of some road operators saying from time to time, "What is the necessity for the rationing of petrol?" I think that is most unreasonable, because there is the vastly increased consumption of petrol by the Air Force—you have only to consider the flights over Germany to realise that. Then there is the problem of fuelling the expanded mechanised Army; and the Navy in action requires, of course, far more motive power than the Navy in peace-time. We sometimes forget, too, that a greatly increased supply of petrol is now required by the Mercantile Marine, which, owing to the menace of the submarine, sometimes have to take circuitous routes in reaching their destinations. All this puts a heavy strain on storage and tanker capacity. In addition we must not lose sight of the fact that this petrol has to be paid for and that we are naturally faced with the necessity for purchasing the minimum necessary for the effective prosecution of the war. I am confident that, when these facts are fully known outside this House, and when they are fully appreciated, the country will realise that any inconvenience from which they are suffering—and which we are doing our best to minimise—is part of the price for victory, and they will not grudge paying it.

Mr. E. Smith

Do I understand the hon. Member to say that if anyone considers that the services are not being maintained at the period when men are going to and coming from work, the Minister is prepared to consider any reasonable request in order to maintain the maximum service possible?

Mr. Bernays

Certainly. I will, in consultation with my right hon. and gallant Friend, communicate immediately with the Regional Transport Commissioner and see what can be done. Our aim is to maintain the service. The hon. Member raised two other questions. He raised the question of the provision of alternative fuel. The Secretary for Mines is making a statement on that subject to-morrow, and I know the hon. Member will not expect me to deal with it now. I would, however, just mention two Orders in this connection, which I think will be of interest, which have been issued by my right hon. and gallant Friend under the Emergency Powers Act. The first is the Public Service Vehicles (Drawing of Gas-Producer Trailers) Order, 1939, which enables public service vehicles to use trailers for the carrying of gas cylinders or producer plant for supplying gas to the engine. The second Order, the Motor Vehicles (Authorisation of Special Types) Order, 1939, authorises the use on roads of two vehicles owned by the London Passenger Transport Board fitted with gas-producer plant on an extension of the chassis frame which do not comply with the requirements as to overhang.

Lastly, the hon. Member raised the question of clearing houses. Clearing houses undoubtedly serve a useful purpose in the haulage industry, enabling small operators to obtain traffic and, in particular, to obtain return loads. The advantage of an arrangement of this kind has led to the setting up of privately-owned clearing houses dependent for their revenue on commission on the business which they put in the hands of hauliers. In any type of business the commission agent serves a useful purpose, but there are critics in this case who say that the commission is too high, and who criticise the way in which the business is conducted. My right hon. Friend fully recognises the need for the more economical use of transport in order to minimise the effects of petrol rationing, and this has partly been secured by the group system, that is, the organisation of vehicles into groups to secure the maximum use of the petrol available and the pooling of goods for carriage. My right hon. Friend has also called attention through the Ministry's regional organisation to the desirability of eliminating "light" running. This was discussed by a meeting of regional traffic commissioners in my Department this afternoon.

It has not been the policy of my right hon. Friend, however, to enter into the road transport industry; the object of the road transport organisation has been to help the industry to help itself. I understand that efforts are being made by associations representative of the road transport industry to work out a satisfactory scheme of clearing-houses. The advantages to be derived from an extension of the clearing-house system are well understood by road hauliers, and my right hon. Friend is satisfied that he would not be justified himself in setting up official clearing-houses in competition with or in place of those clearing-houses already operating privately. I am very glad to have had the opportunity of making this statement. Petrol rationing is bound to create some hardship and inconvenience, but the regional transport commissioners are doing their best to discover where the shoe pinches, and where they find the shoe pinches they are already taking steps to bring relief.

Mr. Jenkins

Will the Minister say a word about the question I raised as to the interavailability of tickets? I understand that it is operative in some parts of the country, but not in all. Has he any point of view about that matter?

Mr. Bernays

The hon. Member will appreciate that this is not a question on which I could make a statement now, but I will carefully consider what he has said and will bring it to the attention of my right hon. Friend and see what can be done.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. A. Edwards

The Minister has made a point with regard to wagons and has said that he cannot get wagons on the road quickly enough and that that is causing difficulty to coal merchants. I would draw his attention to the fact that the railway companies are using a great many wagons to take bricks from the south of England, not far from London, to my constituency, and causing local brickworks to close down. The local brickworks are not very busy now, and this would be an opportunity for. the Minister to insist that when there is a greater demand for bricks again the railway companies will not be allowed to use their wagons to transport bricks from the south of England to the North-East Coast, where there are adequate facilities, particularly in my constituency, for making them? The Minister may say that they are not the type of wagons used for conveying coal, but in the last war all these wagons were used for that purpose.

9.7 p.m.

Mr. E. J. Williams

I received a complaint this morning from one of the district managers of Wagon Repairs Ltd., in South Wales that there was an enormous shortage of labour and that, unless something were done to release labour which has been called up from the works, an enormous number of wagons will be left stranded without the necessary repairs having been done to them. Application has been made for the release of certain persons. This occupation is not on the schedule of reserved occupations, but if something can be done by the Minister of Transport to see that an adequate supply of this skilled labour is kept in such works, it will be beneficial to the mining industry in particular, and to many other forms of transport.