HC Deb 31 July 1941 vol 373 cc1644-57

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

Mr. Tinker (Leigh)

I want to take the opportunity to-day to raise on the Adjournment a matter concerning which I have previously put down Questions. It concerns the question of third-class rail way travel, and my idea is to try, during the war period, to have one class only, so as to utilise all the available space in rail way carriages. I feel that the time has come when that suggestion ought to be considered seriously by this House, and will give my reasons. There are two kinds of railway journeys, long-distance journeys and short-distance journeys. As regards the second kind, everybody who travels has the same experience. A train draws into a station with its crowded platform, first and third class carriages rush along, and eventually the train comes to a stop. Those who hold third-class tickets sometimes find that a first-class compartment has stopped opposite them, but they are not allowed to enter it. They must search all along the train to find out whether there is room in a third-class compartment. Eventually they find that the third-class compartments are overcrowded. They are not able to get in, and sometimes a person will take his courage in both hands and say he will chance breaking the law by going into a first-class compartment, since it can be proved that all the third-class accommodation is full. Along comes a zealous porter, who sees by the dress of the person concerned that he is not likely to be a holder of a first-class ticket, and inquires into the matter. Modestly, and somewhat abashed, the traveller says he cannot find room. "Come along with me, I will find you a seat somewhere else," says the porter. The passenger submits to being taken along by that man to see whether a seat can be found somewhere else. When that has taken place a few times you get a bit tired of it, and you will not run the risk of entering a first-class compartment.

If by any chance you do try to enter a first-class compartment in which there are one or two occupants holding first-class tickets, you feel you have hardly any right to enter, because as a rule the people who are in the first-class compartment want plenty of room and do not want overcrowding. They show resentment if anyone should dare to enter, when they have paid a first-class fare and there fore feel entitled to comfort. I see this kind of thing taking place every week end when I return home to Lancashire. On each side of a third-class compartment six persons can be seated, and on each side of a first-class compartment four persons. If you enter a first-class compartment it is not likely that the first-class passengers will give up their room for the sake of accommodating six on each side, and I claim that if every railway carriage was made to accommodate six on each side, and if anybody was allowed to enter both first-class and third-class compartments, we should at a time like this be serving the interests of all concerned. As matters are now, there is a feeling of resentment in people's minds that the present system should continue during the war period.

I pass on to what is called the long distance journey corridor train. There the position is even worse, because on the long-distance train one proceeds along, not daring to enter a first-class compartment. If the corridors are crowded and you do get into a first-class compartment, when the train gets to the last station but one from its destination—say, St. Helens or Warrington—the ticket inspector is in duty bound to leave sufficient room in the first-class compartments for the first-class passengers who might get on at the next station.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

Is there not accommodation for six persons in a first-class compartment in a corridor train?

Mr. Tinker

My reference was to six persons on each side of a compartment when I was dealing with a short-distance journey. As I was saying people, getting on at the last station but one before the end of the journey and trying to get into a first-class compartment, even though the others are crowded, are told that they are not allowed to do so because there will be first-class passengers at, say, Crewe who are entitled to a seat in a first-class carriage. After leaving Crewe, if there happens to be room, you will probably get a seat in a first-class compartment. There, again, the same difficulty arises as I instanced before. In a third-class compartment in a corridor train there is seating accommodation for four on each side; in a first-class compartment, only three on each side. We get this position in a time when every avail able foot of space should be made use of. If there is any attempt by people to enter a first-class compartment in which there are first-class passengers, there is always the feeling, in the minds of the third-class passengers, that they have no right to be there, while the first-class passengers think that, as they have paid extra, they are entitled to sufficient space for the journey. That continues on the long-distance journey. Anybody knows that what I am saying is correct. People who crowd into third-class compartments find it difficult to get along the corridor, even though there should be room further along the train. The ticket-collector does not come round to overcrowded third-class compartments and inform the passengers there is room in a first-class compartment. It is left to the third-class passenger to go along himself and take a chance of sitting in a first-class compartment, with the risk of being subjected to questioning before it is decided whether he will be allowed to remain or not.

That is what is happening regularly, and here we are, faced with the necessity of accommodating our railway system to carrying every available passenger and using all the space we have. Yet this anomaly exists. We are not making use of all the space. I witnessed an incident on Monday when travelling in the train. I was passing along to the dining-car and in front of me was a third-class passenger. When we reached the third-class dining car, an attendant, on ascertaining that this man had a third-class ticket, said, "You cannot go into the third-class diner it is full up. If you are a first-class passenger there is plenty of room." I had a first-class ticket and went along to the first-class dining car. It was not full during any part of the journey, and yet that third-class passenger was not allowed to have food because the third-class dining car was full. One can imagine the feelings of men and women at that distinction being drawn on railway journeys. What are we fighting for? We are fighting for equality—to put everybody on the same footing. We are rationing out our food, supply, so that rich and poor are treated alike. Yet, on a railway journey the rich and poor must not have the same travelling facilities, unless it can be absolutely proved that there is room in the first-class compartment and no room in the third.

To what does all that lead? Congestion and waste of time, and, more than that, the bitterness of feeling which exists among third-class passengers that this should go on during the war period. In the case of soldiers, they are not expected to travel first-class. A soldier gets into a train, has nowhere to put his kit, there is no room in the corridor, and if there is room in the first-class accommodation it is not the thing for him to go there. There is that sharp line of distinction. We call on the private soldier to give as much in the war as the officer gives, and yet a line is drawn between them as regards travelling facilities. I do feel uneasy on this subject. If the matter is examined thoroughly there should be no question as to whether the present system ought to be allowed to continue or not. There may be some argument about the revenue which first-class passengers pay. It might be said that if that revenue were not there, the railway company would suffer. As regards the expense, the question of money, now, has to me no bearing on the matter at all. It is a question of getting the best out of the people to win the war. If the first-class passenger does not expend his money on a first-class ticket he will have so much surplus to invest in war savings and war loans. I do not see how we can stand out on any grounds against the case I am trying to make.

My main object is to give the vast mass of our people the idea that, in a war of this kind, everyone is equal. When we have Debates here, we call upon the working-class people to put in their all. It is quite easy for us to say that a working-man is equal to the richest man in the land. We expect his energy and output to be given. We have no regard to anything else. We are all equal in this way. I want the miner, and the navvy, to be just as much entitled to the best use of the railway as a Minister of the Crown, a Member of Parliament or any highly placed official. It would be a grand thing if, from time to time, many of our highly-placed officials rubbed shoulders with the common people. Travelling with the people on a railway journey, you get more information about the state of the country than by any other means I know. Does the first-class passenger, mixing with people of his own kind, ever hear any opinions different from his own?

Mr. Hewlett (Manchester, Exchange)

Does the hon. Member travel first-class or third-class?

Mr. Tinker

Now that I am a Member of Parliament and get a railway ticket free, I travel first-class. I have always said, "The best, when it is within my reach, is good enough for me." When I am at home, and have to pay my own fare, I travel third-class. The best is good enough for the ordinary citizen in time of war. I do not want any advantage. I am a miner by profession. I know the value of the miner. He has as much right to travel first-class as any one else. I would refer to a speech made by the Lord Privy Seal on 12th July, when he visited factories in Wales. He said, We are going to win, and when we win it will not be due to one or two men, but to the whole nation. We are rationing things so that every body may get a fair share. It would be right to ration railway space, so that we may make the most of every inch of space available. I hope that the Minister will recognise that my appeal is made in the interests of the nation, in order to help us to win the war, by carrying the good will of the people with us.

Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)

I am sure that the reasoned statement that my hon. Friend has just made will be generally welcomed. Some may be inclined to call his argument a sentimental story, but it is not. Unless we are prepared to face the grim realities of the situation, we do not deserve the remarkable sacrifices which are being made by the men and women who, in order to do the nation's work, travel under such uncomfortable conditions as exist on the railways to-day. I feel very sorry for the private soldier, the lance-corporal, the corporal and the sergeant, who when they are huddled together in a corridor probably feel they would like "a spot of liquid refreshment," as the soldier calls it, and who, when they try to get to the dining car, are told that they cannot go into the first-class part. They can see the distinction which is drawn between the officer and the ranker. The officer class undoubtedly can enjoy those facilities which are provided in the dining cars, but the unfortunate soldier must go thirsty. When he gets to a station, he finds that he may have a cup of tea, but that he must not take the cup out of the refreshment room. During the last fortnight I have seen that happen on the railway journey to Doncaster. The waitresses say they cannot allow the cups to go from the refreshment room because they would not be able to get them back from other stations up the line. The poor private soldier resents this kind of treatment, but he has to endure these discomforts while he sees officers being able to sit in comfort.

There was an announcement in the papers on Monday or Tuesday that the dinings cars are to be withdrawn—though I believe there was a denial on the following day. The services could be reorganised in connection with main-line stations. The civilian and the first-class passenger could be told, "If you want a meal on the way, ten minutes will be afforded for it, such as is allowed to the private soldier and you will be able to queue up as he does." If there are shortages of labour, if we have difficulties in keeping the rolling stock linked together, including dining cars, if we are really short of passenger accommodation, surely we can reorganise our facilities for seating passengers, and pro vide facilities at the stations on the cafeteria system, so that people may be quickly served with light refreshments.

Then, there is the London aspect of the question. Although I am of Northern extraction, when one has spent 14 years in London, one naturally- looks at transport matters from the London point of view. I remember the right hon. Gentleman who is now Minister of Home Security pre paring an excellent statement on London's transport system. Good, bad or indifferent, the London Passenger Trans port Board has been the salvation of London in the last few years. I travel by any old way, so long as I can get to the end of my journey. I have maintained always that it does not matter to me who provides the service so long as there is a service to get me to my job. When a per son who wants to play his part in the war effort sees a train draw into his local station at 9 o'clock in the morning, when he sees people before him crowding into third-class carriages, he begins to dodge about to get in where he can, even in the hope of obtaining standing room. He cannot find it and he goes into a first-class carriage in the hope of changing at the next station to a third-class compartment. At the next station he gets out in the hope of saving himself from being prosecuted by a railway official, but he finds the same situation still and by the time he has travelled past three or four stations an official turns up and asks him for some extra money, I have sent particulars of cases, from the area in which I reside, to the Minister, and I have received some lovely excuses in reply. But there has been no attempt at alteration. My hon. Friend has explained what happens. It happens day after day in the London area. I do not risk travelling on railways in these days; I travel by 'bus or tube and I usually get home by either of those methods. There is no first class on our line but we know there is a service for us and we take things as they are. We endure the difficulties of the present circumstances because we feel we are all being treated alike.

I believe we can do something for Londoners and I hope the Minister will do something to eliminate the foolish practices that are applied to citizens who live in the suburbs and must get to work and get home, yet have to stand in trains, day after day, and are probably punished two or three times a week because they travel first-class instead of third-class. I hope the right hon. and gallant Gentle man will, particularly, ask the Southern Railway not to be so hard on our folk these days. [HON. MEMBER: "And the L.N.E.R."] Yes, and the L.N.E.R. Surely there are some useful jobs which these inspectors can do. I could find them something more useful to do. I hate to see people standing just outside London Bridge or Victoria and see some unfortunate individual "jumped on" because he has been in a first-class carriage. If the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will see that these inspectors are given other jobs and do what I have asked him to do, Londoners will be happy.

Mr. McKie (Galloway)

I would like to make one or two observations with regard to the two speeches which have just been delivered. I, like the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), have had occasion, during these 23 months of war, to make frequent journeys, though mine have been far longer than his. He goes to Lancashire and I go to Southern Scotland. During 1940 I had to make 66 journeys to Scotland and back, many of which were made by day but during the present year I have travelled almost entirely by night. During my journeys by day I have not had the same experiences as the hon. Member. It is true that for a time there was consider able overcrowding and congestion in long-distance corridor trains but never once did I see any cases of brutality, such as he suggested, on the part of railway officials. I, like the hon. Member, avail myself of the free railway travel which a grateful country bestows on Members of this House. Not once did I experience anything of the nature mentioned by the hon. Member for Leigh and the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden), who speaks with an intimate knowledge of railway affairs. The hon. Member for Doncaster referred to the possible withdrawal of dining-car facilities. I do not know whether that withdrawal has been officially announced or whether it has been denied, but I do say that for all the use dining-car facilities are to ordinary passengers, whether first-class or third, they might just as well be abolished. If they were abolished it would, at all events, provide some additional seating accommodation for ordinary passengers in the long distance trains.

Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)

Does not the hon. Member consider that the meals we have had together in first-class dining cars within the last few years have been quite a suitable and useful adjunct to the long journey we made?

Mr. McKie

I do not recall those occasions, but, at any rate, the hon. Member is no doubt dealing with pre-war days, and I am speaking of the very uncomfortable meals, if one can call them meals, which are at present available. I know that the hon. Member wants to stick to the old conservative ways as long as possible, and no doubt his long association with railway matters causes him to feel deeply any departure from the old precedents. The only logical conclusion to be arrived at after the speeches we have heard about overcrowding on the railways is that class distinctions on the railways should be abolished altogether. If that should be the wish of the House, I should not offer any objection.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I would not like to allow this occasion to pass without supporting what my hon. Friends have said. I have been involved in controversy with a certain railway company arising out of things I have seen at railway stations and things of which sometimes I have been the victim. I do not pretend that the railway companies have not got a case. I think they have. They have been running under very great difficulties, and, taking all things into account, they have not made such a bad job of it. When they say that, having taken a first-class passenger's money for a first-class fare, they are under some obligation to see that he gets what he pays for, it is a point of view with which everybody can sympathise. But I do not think that is the difficulty. Surely, the point is that, under conditions of travel ling as they exist at the present time, the railway companies are not physically in a position to give to the first-class railway passenger the accommodation for which he has paid, and which is the subject of the contract, without being unfair to a large mass of citizens who also have paid for certain facilities which they do not get. That is the difficulty that has to be met. I think it is fair to say that, in so far as the railway companies are able to discharge their obligation to first-class passengers, it has been very largely at the expense of the third-class passengers.

In some way or other that situation will have to be met, and it seems to me to be obvious that the only way in which it can be met is by abolishing the distinction between the two classes, and allowing everybody to take his chance, certainly on short journeys, without distinction of class and without pretending to give to one section of the community an advantage arising purely out of its greater financial resources. There may be a case for the abolition of these class distinctions on the transport system for ever, and when we come to plan our new world, perhaps that is one of the minor points that may be taken into consideration. The point is that here you are dealing with exceptional circumstances and exceptional national difficulties, imposing hardships upon everybody. The point my hon. Friends and myself are trying to make is that you cannot apportion this hardship evenly and fairly between all members of the community if you try to retain this artificial distinction which only gives to a small proportion of the community certain ad vantages, very insecurely held, at the expense of the large masses of people who have their daily journeys to do, and who, perhaps, are rendering far more important service to the national cause than some of the other people standing so closely upon their privileges. I do not believe the vast majority of first-class passengers would regret it in the least if the Government took the line that under these special circumstances and special difficulties we were prepared to raise, in the interests of equity and the equal sharing of the burden, privileges which we might be anxious to retain in other times. I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to look at this matter from this point of view. If he could put into operation the policy advocated, I believe he would arouse far more support in the community as a whole, including the first-class passengers, than opposition.

Mr. Mander (Wolverhampton, East)

I only rise for a moment to express sympathy with and support for the views which have been expressed in favour of the abolition, under present circumstances, of the distinction between the travelling classes on railway trains. Of course, it is very agreeable to have reservations, as at present, for those who can afford to pay more, but it does not seem to me to be justified under present circum stances. I, therefore, hope the Government will take into consideration the views which have been unanimously ex pressed to-day and see what they can do. From the point of view of the company one meets in a train, my experience has very often been that it is more agreeable in the third-class carriage than in the first-class.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Colonel Llewellin)

This has been an interesting discussion, and I think that in my reply I had better divide the matter into long distance and suburban trains. On the question of the long-distance trains it is not now the people who can afford to pay who for the most part travel first-class, but people, like Members of this House, officials, officers and other people of that sort who occupy most of the first-class accommodation. It is not only that they have a compartment in which to do some work, but it is also—and this is most important to a large number of people who travel first-class—that they can be pretty certain of a seat if they turn up only a few minutes before the train starts. If there was no first-class accommodation, these people would have to turn up at the station a great deal earlier. That is the position in regard to long distance travel of first class carriages on long distance trains. The House is not very thickly occupied at the present moment, and I can see myself in the most frightful difficulties at this Box if any other decision than that which I have announced were to be taken in regard to long-distance trains. Captain Euan Wallace, whose death we all deplore, when he abolished sleepers at the beginning of the war was pestered by deputations from Members of- Parliament, and I have a list—a convenient list—of those Members who either wrote to him or went to see him on that occasion. In regard to these long-distance trains, there is no immediate intention of taking over first-class compartments. There have been, as everyone knows, instructions issued to allow first-class compartments to be filled up in corridor trains when the third-class compartments are full.

With regard to the suburban lines, as everybody knows, the London Passenger Transport Board, except in some trains that run on the Metropolitan line, have for some time past abolished the first-class compartments. The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) said that he believed we could do something for Londoners and that we ought to look into the matter. I think we can do some thing in that respect on the short-distance suburban trains, especially for Londoners, and I assure the hon. Member that this will be looked into very carefully. There would be some complications with regard to the main line long-distance trains which also stop at one or two intermediate places not far from London, and it may be that there would have to be some first-class tickets issued so that people could travel first-class on those long-distance trains if they wanted to do so.

Mr. Tinker

Does the right hon. and gallant Gentleman mean that although there cannot be an alteration on the long distance journeys, the question of the short-distance journeys is being considered in regard to the abolition of first-class tickets?

Colonel Llewellin

That is so. With regard to the announcement that sleepers and restaurant cars might have to be taken off, there is no immediate need to do that. Personally, I think that as long as we can continue these amenities of travelling, we should do so. I did not quite understand my hon. Friend the Member for Galloway (Mr. McKie) when he said that he had had an uncomfortable meal; I do not know whether the meal was uncomfortable because of his surroundings—

Mr. McKie

Because of the poorness and inefficiency of the service.

Colonel Llewellin

I thought my hon. Friend might have felt uncomfortable after he had eaten it. At any rate, I think that the railway companies are doing then-best in the restaurant cars, considering the difficulties of food rationing, and I think that, generally, a number of people at any rate can get to the restaurant cars and get a meal. If they were taken off, I am afraid there would be no question of stopping the trains for any length of time at intermediate stations. If we took the restaurant cars off the trains, we should have to tell people that they must take with them what they want to eat and drink on the journey, because we cannot delay traffic by holding up trains at intermediate stations in order to allow people time to get meals. Rather than do that, we would keep the restaurant cars on the trains, and perhaps take fewer passengers. When winter comes, and shorter hours of daylight and longer hours of black out are with us, and in air-raid conditions we cannot run the trains at the speed that we should like, then there is bound to be a slowing-down of traffic.

It has been a disappointment to us at the Ministry that we have not been able to stock up coal during the summer months. We have trucks waiting at all the collieries, and we have ships waiting, and unfortunately there is not the coal. We realise that if the programme which the Minister of Labour, the President of the Board of Trade and the Minister of Mines all hope to see accomplished comes off, we shall have the greatest difficulty at the Minis try of War Transport in the winter in carrying that amount of coal. We shall do our best, but in doing it we may have to take off some facilities, perhaps sleepers, perhaps restaurant cars and per haps whole passenger trains as well, which used to be enjoyed, so that people in the cities and the munitions factories can get the coal and the munitions that they need. So long as we can run the traffic we shall not take off any facilities just for the sake of making ourselves uncomfortable, but if it is necessary for them to come off, let us take them off ruthlessly, without regard to public opinion or to popular outcry.