§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Holdsworth.]
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
The Adjournment provides us with an opportunity to get back to our war effort, and I desire 404 to raise two aspects of the administration of the Ministry of War Transport which many people consider are of extreme urgency. In my view and in the view of a large number of people throughout the country attention should be given to these questions at once. They are, first, adequate transport for workpeople engaged on essential work, and, second, the serious effect on production of the increase in accidents. I want to quote first of all from the Annual Report of the Chief Inspector of Factories. He states:Another irony of the war situation is that while the modern housing estates have taken the factory workers away from the centre of the towns and into better surroundings, this has created a traffic problem in the blackout which has led to the prolongation of the working day and sapped the workers' energy to a very considerable extent. The transport position was examined by Inspectors in connection with applications for Orders permitting emergency hours for women or young children, and the matter is now being put on a sounder footing through the efforts of the Ministry of Transport and the welfare officers of the Ministry of Labour. I still feel, however, that transport difficulties need the serious attention of all concerned as a vital matter for the preservation of the health and well-being of the factory worker.I have quoted from that document in order to provide some evidence in addition to the evidence I shall provide. At the recent Trades Union Congress great concern was expressed by representative people who are directly in touch with industrial affairs with regard to the inadequate transport services. I have raised this matter several times during the past two years, but unfortunately attention has not been given to the question in the way it should have been, or we should never have been in the position in which we are. Therefore I wish to provide as much evidence as possible in order to stimulate the authorities with the need for dealing with the matter as urgently as possible. Mr. A. Henderson, the Regional Transport Commissioner for Scotland, speaking in Edinburgh a short time ago, said that the bus transport problem was reaching serious proportions and that it was essential that something of a positive character should be done to secure priority for workers going to, or coming from, their employment. There was a debate at the last meeting of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council of which I have a report before me. I shall not give the whole of the evidence which was before that meeting, but here are one or two extracts 405 from the report. A resolution was before the Council from a number of branches of the Transport and General Workers' Union and other organisations making up the transport group. This is a responsible body that would only consider resolutions of this character if they were worthy of being considered, and this was the resolution:That this Manchester and Salford Trades Council desire to place on record the dissatisfaction prevailing at the action of various transport authorities and the Commissioner in economising by curtailing essential services at the expense of the workers. Further, that so-called absenteeism would be abolished if transport authorities would give the travelling public due notice of the change of time-tables instead of the 24 hours which is usual.Several speakers spoke in favour of that, and here are one or two extracts from their speeches. The mover of the resolution, representing the Transport and General Workers' Union, referred to the scheme for the curtailment of the local service, which he said was already totally inadequate, and said that many of the difficulties were due to the regulations and by-laws and not to the road staff, who were often blamed. He asked for support so that the transport workers could give a real service. The state of the transport industry was chaotic. Another delegate gave details of many local difficulties which he thought could be remedied by local administrative action so that loss of working hours could be avoided. The buses should run nearer to the factories, and there should be more co-ordination. I will give extracts from the Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. They stated that these avoidable causes should be effectively dealt with at once. The Report continues:The provision of special trains and buses at right times is essential, but adequate arrangements do not seem to have been made. It is unfair to expect workers to be punctual or regular in their attendance in such circumstances.They recommended that it should be a primary duty of the Ministry of Supply to arrange adequate transport. In this morning's newspapers I saw a report of the demonstration in the Midlands about inadequate transport facilities. I learned very early in my industrial life that there is never smoke without some fire. There must be something wrong when workers with the spirit which is manifested in industrial areas at present resort to demonstrations of that character.
406 I will ask the Parliamentary Secretary several questions, to which, I think, we are entitled to an unequivocal answer. What steps have been taken to prevent a repetition of our last winter's experience? Is the Minister satisfied that there will be adequate transport during the forthcoming winter for all engaged in essential work? May I point out that thousands are now using bicycles, that they will cease doing so next month, and that this will put an additional strain on the already inadequate transport facilities? What is considered a reasonable time for workpeople engaged on essential work to wait for a bus? Are the transport authorities being brought together to arrange to co-ordinate their activities? If so, what are the results? Are running rights allowed to be preserved to the detriment of much-needed through services? Will the Minister instruct all regional commissioners to take action on this point at once, where necessary? Pre-war carrying restrictions should be removed. As many people as possible should be carried in rush hours. There should be more through running and interchange of services by joint arrangement. As far as possible, people should be carried from door to door. Instructions should be sent to all local authorities and to the police that people must queue up for buses.
I saw the other day that the Minister of War Transport had appealed to employers to stagger working hours. Within reason, and after consultation, they should be compelled to do so, as part of the war effort. We do not appeal to men to join the Armed Forces. Three years ago, before the war broke out, this House took steps to deal with that matter. Yet we merely appeal to vested interests, instead of compelling them. I would like the Minister to instruct transport authorities to increase the carrying capacity of their buses, wherever possible. I read a report recently of one area having, as a result of certain action by the Ministry of Transport, increased the carrying capacity of their buses from 40 to 60. Empty buses should not be allowed on the roads. This matter has been raised in several areas, and the authorities have replied, "But we have no conductors for these buses." It is said that these buses just take people to their employment or bring them away, and that they then run several miles, in some cases back to their garages without picking anyone up. 407 Motorists have been urged to pick up people where they can, and most motorists are prepared to do so. It must be equally right that people who are waiting for transport should be picked up by buses. A survey should be made of all seaside resorts and other centres not engaged on work of national importance, and they should give up whatever buses they can spare to areas which need additional services.
I have been speaking so far from a national point of view. I want, very briefly, to speak from the point of view of the large industrial area which it is my privilege to represent here. In North Staffordshire we suffer more than is the case in many other areas, and this House has a serious responsibility for our situation, because it threw out a Bill one night at 11 o'clock which would have provided us with an adequate system. However, I do not want to raise a controversial issue. Therefore, will the position be satisfactory in North Staffordshire this winter in regard to the transport needs of that area? On 21st August a man worked 12 hours at the Shelton steelworks, and anyone who has been through a steelworks and knows what a man has to do in front of their furnaces will have sympathy with the issue I am raising. He worked with very little clothing on. On the way home he had to stand in a queue at Hanley in the pouring rain for 40 minutes, waiting for a bus. Is that considered reasonable in view of the spirit in which our people are exerting themselves in order to get maximum production? I could give extract after extract from the local newspapers, but I will content myself with two. One was signed by Mr. C. W. Brown, M. I. Min. E., Secretary of the North Staffordshire Colliery Under-managers' Association, and appeared in the "Evening Sentinel" of 18th July. It says:It would be interesting to know what is wrong with the early morning bus services which serve the North Staffordshire collieries. There has been a lot of talk about miners' absenteeism of late, but sometimes the men are not able to get there. Workmen are having to walk from Hanley to Newcastle because the buses which run between the times 5.2 to 5.20 either do not turn up in time or, in some cases, fail to run. I myself have had to walk to Newcastle to meet the bus to one colliery. This morning the bus due to leave Newcastle at 5.35 did not appear until 6.10.408 Just imagine the effect upon miners getting up with their wives at four o'clock in the morning, having their food packed, going to a bus stop at 5.35 and finding no bus turning up until 6.10. The letter goes on:Half the men from both Newcastle and the Milehouse being too late for work went home again and these are booked as absentees and will lose their week's attendance bonus. All this is not very encouraging to men to produce that extra coal which the nation sorely needs. There should be a tightening up of the services. On behalf of the miners concerned, I am, yours faithfully, C. W. Brown, Secretary, North Staffordshire Colliery Under-managers' Association.Here is an extract from another letter to the "Evening Sentinel" which appeared on 7th August:What has happened to the bus service? It has been pretty bad all week but last night was the limit. … Lots of people waited 30 or 40 minutes and some even an hour before they could get on their way to their destinations. … In fact, thousands more than usual are wanting transport.That should be enough evidence. If many of my hon. Friends had been here, they could have produced further evidence of their experiences to prove the importance of this matter. We are now well into September, and I hope the Government have given this question their attention. I would like to know whether the Ministries of Labour, Supply and War Transport have had consultations with a view to planning adequate services during this winter. I have been informed on very high authority that many of the personnel difficulties that the Ministries of Labour and Supply are confronted with would be solved if the transport problem was adequately tackled.
My next point is in regard to the increasing number of accidents on the road, particularly in the industrial centres. Unfortunately, the majority of the people affected are the very young and the very old, and when young people are injured they are often handicapped for life, which means that the effect on production is serious. In addition to that, they have to go into hospitals, where, after air raids, beds are urgently required for those suffering from the consequences of enemy action. From every point of view it is vitally necessary that we should take action to deal with this growing problem of accidents in industrial areas. I have statistical evidence which will show that we are not dealing with this matter. During 409 the war accidents to pedestrians have increased by 77 per cent, and to motor cyclists by 21 per cent. The increase in accidents to adults is 48 per cent, and to children 22 per cent. The total increase in accidents since the war is 44 per cent.
A large percentage of these accidents to adults occurred during the black-out, and I want to ask what steps have been taken with regard to this particular matter. In my view vehicles should be further slowed down in industrial and built-up areas. Nothing gives me greater concern, when the alert has sounded in the area in which I live, to see motorists speeding along, often with bright head lights that are supposed to be partially blacked out. I have been told by friends of mine in the Royal Air Force that when there is a procession of such cars in an industrial area bearings can be taken by pilots. This is a serious matter. Moreover, motorists ought to give preference to pedestrians. It should be their duty to pull up at a right of way. Have local authorities painted white lines and kerbs to a sufficient extent, and have they taken advantage of the provision of white studs? Not only should a circular be sent out on these points, but Regional Commissioners should be given instructions to survey their areas so that as far as possible accidents can be eliminated.
In conclusion, I would like to suggest that the Ministries of Labour and Transport and, if necessary, the Home Office, should get together to plan a campaign based on the necessity for educating the people on the need for precautions and safety first. Prior to the war this used to be carried out periodically, but now, I am sorry to say, due to the fact that most of us have to deal with other questions, this matter has been neglected. It is a matter which has a serious effect on production, because a household, relations and neighbours are affected when a person is injured. I suggest that all local authorities, trade councils, chambers of commerce and welfare officers should be asked to get together and have local consultations to arrange for a joint educational campaign which will have for its object "Safety First," so as to minimise accidents wherever possible.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
I should like to thank the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Parliamentary 410 Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport for the Written Reply which he made to-day to a suggestion I put forward some weeks ago concerning the abolition of first-class compartments on the suburban railway lines of London. I am glad that decision has been taken. I wonder whether the right hon. and gallant Gentleman can tell us what increased number of seats this will mean for the third-class passengers, because probably there will now be 20 people riding in a compartment which formerly contained three or four people. Another matter to which I want to refer is the number of cars per train. I wonder whether it is the Minister's intention to make any suggestions concern-this matter to the railway companies, particularly with regard to the electrified lines. During the last week or two, I have seen trains of three or four cars packed to capacity. I hope that the officers of the railway companies will keep a close watch on this matter, because it rather seems to me that the railway companies are carrying economy to limits which are, unfortunately, not to the advantage of the passengers. I should like to have some general statement from the Minister as to how this decision will be applied and what effects it will have.
I want now to refer to the position in the provinces, particularly in the industrial North. For obvious reasons, I shall not mention any particular towns. There is a vast difference between living in London or in the suburbs of London and living in the industrial North. If in London we have to travel 10 or 12 miles after leaving work, we can invariably get home in half on hour or in less than an hour; within an hour we are at home enjoying a cup of tea or an evening meal. But that is not the case with the Unfortunate munitions or industrial workers in the North of England. In some areas they have to wait in a queue for well over an hour before they can even get on to a 'bus. The workers, or the unions representing them, may make appeals to the local transport manager, the local corporation or the bus company, but those appeals are of no avail. After several weeks an extra bus may be put into service, or some adjustment may be made, but by the time this is done the factory or a neighbouring factory may take on another 200 or 300 workers, so that the problem becomes intensified, and by the time the adjustment is made the position is worse than it was originally.
411 I know of at least two areas in the industrial North—and I believe the Minister knows of them also—where cotton operatives have been taken from their own employment and transferred to ordinance factories and other industries. They have to queue up for tramcars or 'buses in the morning to get to the railway station, they travel on the railway for it may be 12 miles, and then they have to get to their new factories two or three miles out in the country, and again have to take a 'bus. This means that in order to travel 12 or 14 miles they probably have to use three forms of transport and to make two changes. But that is not all. They may find that the bus which they had intended to catch has been commandeered by some 30 or 40 workers who came on some other transport system from another area, they may be at the end of the queue, and probably by the time they arrive at their factory they are a quarter of an hour late. The same thing happens again at night. In the end, when they take stock of what has happened to them from the time they left home in the morning, they find that their 8-hour or 10-hour day has become a 14-hour or 15-hour day. These people have no time to go to the pictures at night, or to enjoy leisure or relaxation, for they are fully occupied in travelling to and from their work.
I am sure that other hon. Members could testify to the correctness of what I have said. The people in these areas are asking their Members of Parliament why the Ministry of War Transport cannot allocate to those areas some of the buses for which there is very little use in other areas. They are asking why they cannot have sent to them some form of assistance of the sort that has been sent to London. I do not know whether hon. Members know what is happening in this respect in London, but I have knowledge of the position. In one factory of which I know, there were 50 new workers coming in on Monday of last week. They had to travel from a place three or four miles away. The arrangements are so good with the London Passenger Transport Board that the district superintendent was called into conference with the manager of the factory on the Thursday and told that a bus would be needed to bring from point A to the factory 50 extra people on the Monday, that on the following Thursday there would be 50 more extra people, 412 and in the following week, 100 more. The district superintendent made the necessary arrangements and the buses were there for the people. The organisation of the London Passenger Transport Board is efficient. They have the buses and they have the men.
Admittedly there are a few transport problems in London, admittedly we grumble, for in these matters we are rather intolerant; but Londoners do not in general have to wait more than 10 or 12 minutes for a bus, whereas in the industrial North people have to wait an hour or an hour and a half. I see no reason why in these days the London Passenger Transport Board should have to worry their heads about people who must go out for a half-pint at the weekend and must have extra buses to take them home. I see no reason why the Board should have to hold an investigation to find out why so many people who went out of town to the suburbs for a particular dance were left behind. If people must do these things in these days, they ought to do as I do—I am content to walk home if I seek such relaxation late at night. But in the industrial North, the workers have a title to service. I appeal to Londoners to consider the position of those people. We have too many buses in Central London to-day.
While I was travelling along Oxford Street this morning I saw five buses which carried no more than 25 passengers between them. That would not happen in the industrial North. I suggest that just as the buses from provincial towns came to the aid of Londoners in such a valiant manner last winter, so Londoner's should now sacrifice some of their buses to help areas whose need is greater than theirs. Some 500 buses were brought to London last winter. Some of them were rackety, but they did great work, and they are, I believe, to be adorned with a brass plate in commemoration. In the suburbs generally there is a reasonably good supply of buses, but, as I have said, in Central London there are far too many. I suggest that the Minister should issue an appeal forthwith to the London Passenger Transport Board asking for buses. I believe he could requisition 500 in the next month, and these would help considerably to solve the problems in my division and the other places to which reference has been made to-day. The bus 413 driver of London is like the London policeman. He is a fine fellow, and I believe drivers would willingly volunteer to go with the buses. I ask the Minister to help us out of our difficulty, and to appeal to the London Passenger Transport Board to show the same kind of spirit as was shown by the provincial towns in sending help to London last winter. If he does this, he will earn the thanks of those in the provinces.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Colonel Llewellin)
I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) for raising this topic. As he said, there are thousands more than usual who are now seeking transport. This is brought about by the fact that factories have been moved away from towns, and that people, have, therefore to travel away from their homes. We also have the problem of bringing people from hostels to factories, and soon we shall be faced with the difficulty of having the peak travelling period concentrated. This concentrated peak period arises out of the fact that the nights are lengthening. During the longer daylight factories work more overtime, and there is a better spread-over of the peak period. This problem of transport is an important one, because it goes to the very root of good production. You cannot get good production out of tired and discontented workers, and from workers who arrive at their factory in a slightly discontented mood. Increasing numbers of women are coming into our factories. They are not used to standing the whole day in a factory and therefore they do not wish to be kept waiting for transport to get them home.
This is not a problem which can be tackled in one way. It has to be tackled in different ways in different districts. The House may be glad to know that it is a problem to which I have given my personal attention. Only yesterday we held a meeting of all our Regional Transport Commissioners. I met them and discussed with them the different problems in their areas. There are, of course, limitations to what we can do. This is brought about by the extra number of people who wish to travel, by the shortage of road transport and by the shortage of spare parts. We are turning over a large part of our motor-manufacturing 414 capacity to the making of tanks and Army vehicles, and we cannot get the vehicles which ordinarily would be coming along at this time. We have the further problem that with the vast numbers of men which our Fighting Services require we are getting short of drivers and conductors. Do not let anyone think that we are completely inactive and that nothing is done until we see a report by the Select Committee on National Expenditure. Valuable as such a Report is, the Committee will find out that we have a lot of the things they recommend already in train. So far as we are concerned, carrying regulations can go by the board. They are going by the board, and we are certainly not going to be hedged in by any kind of red tape.
§ Colonel Llewellin
Where running rights interfere with proper transport they will certainly be abolished. It must be remembered that in a great number of areas the people who have already operated these routes are the best people to run them. This is so not only from the management's point of view, but also from the driver's point of view. Drivers can work in contact with their homes, which is better than bringing in men from outside firms. We are trying, where there is a rail service between a factory and a town in which workers live, to get the workers to travel by rail rather than to take up our limited number of road-transport vehicles. In order to do that, we have had to take other steps, because workers' fares by rail are in some cases higher than bus fares. Everyone realises that before the war road transport was trying to undercut the railways.
We are determined to try and equalise these fares. Where there are two services which take the same distance, we shall do it by lessening the workmen's fares on the railway, as, of course, we can do under the new Agreement. Where the distances are unequal, that is to say, where the railway has to go round a longer distance, we shall try to get the employers to pay the difference, as has been done in some cases already, and we are getting the supply Departments concerned to impress the need for this upon private contractors. In this way I hope we shall get more people to travel by rail and so release our buses for other 415 routes. I know it is difficult in some cases, and some people do not like the inconvenience of having to walk a bit further when they get to their home town. They will have to put up with it, but they ought not to put up with paying the increased fare, and that we are trying to remedy.
The main remedy, of course, is the staggering of hours in factories. Here the London Regional Board has set an extremely good example and we are starting from that. The employers sometimes, and in other cases the workmen, object to it being done. It is obviously good for production that transport should be improved by staggering hours, so we hope to get both parties into line and to agree in the works. Where that cannot be done we shall have to put up our scheme to the Regional Production Board, and, where the Board is agreed on the scheme, directions will have to be given that it shall be carried out. In that way we shall be able to get this staggering carried into effect to the greatest extent. Staggering has not always got to be between one factory and another. In some cases it has to be between different parts of the same factory, because we get some factories where there is a very heavy load of 8,000 or 10,000 people, and by staggering the hours of work, just as the meal hours are staggered, we shall be able to economise in the number of buses needed to take people to and from those factories. I hope that employers and trade unionists and Members of Parliament will help us in this, which is the very best thing we can do, to see that we have enough transport this winter to carry our essential workers to and from the factories. Apart from that, we are trying out a scheme, in the North Midland Region first, of permits for workers. It was tried out at Mansfield, and on the trip from Mansfield to Nottingham on the first day it was in force 100 shoppers who had not got permits were left behind, on the second day 80, on the third day 50, and on the fourth day they had learned all about it and there were none. In that case it has worked, and, if it works successfully, together with the appeals we are making to people not to come back from shopping at the peak hours, we shall certainly see that it is extended further in the country. Nearly all workers have a weekly book of 416 tickets, which can be stamped in the factory.
We are also taking steps to get more vehicles made. They will not be as many as we want, but I think they are as many as we can reasonably demand, with the tremendous programme that the Ministry of Supply has for tanks and things of that kind. By the end of the year the Army, at our request, are returning us over 700 buses which they previously took up. We are converting a very large number of single-seater buses which previously took 32 people. The seats will now be round the sides of the bus and at the back so that they will take 32 seated, and we are allowing them to take 30 standing. I have travelled in one myself. Of course, it is rather a tight fit, but even so it is better. We are putting them on the short trips from factories into the towns, and it is better to have the people standing up in the bus than standing outside the factory waiting for another bus. We shall not put them on the long routes. They will go on the shorter hauls and in that way we shall economise. Normally, owing to the limits of the seating accommodation, they are extravagant, both in personnel, because they have to have a driver and conductor, and also in petrol. By converting them into buses which will take 62 people we shall avoid this extravagance and be able to take an additional load of persons to and from the factories.
We also hope we are going to get a better provision of spares, if the recommendations of the Rootes Committee are implemented, which will enable us to put some buses back on the road which have been taken off. We have now got the Essential Work Order applied to a very large number of firms running these passenger transport services, and that will mean that men do not drift away from the industry. I should like here to say what an important war industry it is, and that no one working in it need think that he is not pulling his weight in helping to win the war. At the moment we are not getting as many women volunteers for conductoresses as we want, because the glamour of the light blue or the dark blue or the khaki appeals to them more than standing or sitting in the back of a bus, but they are really doing just as good work for their country if they join up in our bus services and help to take people to and from our essential war factories as 417 they would be by volunteering for any type of war work.
§ Colonel Llewellin
They are only standing for fairly short distances, but it is a war measure, and in the situation in which we are placed we have to adopt any expedient we can in order to fulfil one of our most important functions, which is to take people to and from essential work. We have taken several other small steps. We have stopped the unlimited travel tickets with which people could take more journeys than they required without having to pay for them. In some cases we have fixed a minimum fare so that people will walk the short distances and leave places on the buses for the longer stage journeys. A lot of people, for instance, get in a bus in London just to travel down Whitehall. Most people could easily walk that distance. We have, therefore, increased in some cases the minimum price tickets so as to encourage people to walk the short distances. There has been almost a revolution in Scotland. I do not know whether any of my hon. Friends from the Scottish Office have heard of it, but the minimum halfpenny fare in Aberdeen has been abolished, and they now have a penny minimum fare there as in other parts of the country.
We are discussing with the Home Office and shall probably do something about the question of getting shops and very likely cinemas in some of the towns which are congested from the traffic point of view not to open at the same time as there is a rush of traffic. I hope the House will be convinced that we are tackling this problem in many ways. My hon. Friend made one or two other points. It is not always as simple as it seems to deal with the empty buses which people see going about the streets. They are usually going on contract jobs. They have their timetables to keep to in order to take people to particular factories, and if they were always stopping en route to pick up anybody who hailed them, they would probably be late in taking a body of men from a particular place to an essential factory.
§ Colonel Llewellin
They are very likely bringing the men home. I know, however, that there are cases where they are returning to the garage empty, but where it is necessary and can be arranged the Regional Transport Commissioner has in such cases enabled them to pick up anybody who is going on the same route.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
If the local authority can satisfy the Department that the contract can be done on time, will they be prepared to give power to these buses to pick up?
§ Colonel Llewellin
Each case must be dealt with on its merits. The Regional Commissioners, who are the men in the local areas and a really capable lot of men, must deal with any case as it is brought to their notice. As a whole, of course, our object is to see that buses run full rather than empty. That should be the guiding principle.
§ Mr. McKinlay (Dumbartonshire)
Is there any appeal from the Regional Commissioners' decision to the head of the Department? A case I have in mind is where buses run from the garage for three miles without passengers to the factory, and they could rightly pick up passengers on the way.
§ Colonel Llewellin
The best thing for any hon. Member who has a point like that is to write to me. Either the Minister or I can override the decision of a Regional Traffic Commissioner. I hope that hon. Members will take up particular cases, because our aim is all the same, which is to have the most efficient transport. Although Regional Transport Commissioners as a body are extremely good, I hope that when hon. Members get this kind of point they will bring it to me. I assure hon. Members that I go into these questions fully myself and get a full explanation. That is by far the best way of dealing with individual cases.
My hon. Friend mentioned the question of buses from the seaside resorts. We have already taken a large number away, but we have now completely abolished the basic ration for passenger transport vehicles, so that a vehicle will get petrol only if it is required for essential purposes. We are bringing more and more vehicles from districts where they are not fully utilised to the districts where traffic is congested.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Do I understand that the Ministry have abolished the basic ration for every vehicle?
We have abolished as from a date in September the basic ration for public service vehicles, and we have taken vehicles away from parts of the country where they are not fully used and sent them to other parts. We shall go on doing that. With regard to the particular points about my hon. Friend's area, we have set up a consultative committee for the Potteries which is fully representative of all interests including the trade unions. It is having its first meeting on 16th September. The Regional Transport Commissioner will be there and will investigate any specific complaints. He says, however, that the lack of colliery services is not such as to cause absenteeism, but we have recently adjusted the timings so as to make it easier for colliers, to get to the mines.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I would like to ask whether instructions have gone out to all local authorities and other operating concerns to meet together with a view to coordinating the services wherever possible and to cutting out overlapping?.
§ Colonel Llewellin
There are advisory committees with whom the Regional Transport Commissioner can and does investigate these matters, and any local authority or person can bring cases before the Commissioner or the committee. Not all the local authorities are represented on the committee, but they can always make representations. I can undertake that the Commissioners will investigate any cases that are brought before them in this way and do the best they can.
Turning to the question of road accidents, it is deplorable to note how they have been increasing of late, and it is remarkable that the fewer the number of vehicles there are on the road the higher the accident rate seems to rise. It is very difficult to know what to do about it. We met the Society for the Prevention of Accidents the other day, and we have now constituted a committee of the Society— the Safety First people are included—and the officials of the Ministry, who are going into the subject point by point to see what can be done to improve matters, and I am taking the chair at the meetings. I believe the increase in accidents is due largely to the fact that in war-time un- 420 fortunately people are—necessarily perhaps—a little more reckless of life and limb. Further, we cannot have the same police supervision. Some of the police patrols who check bad road behaviour have had to be taken off owing to the pressure of other duties, but the police are giving all the supervision they can having regard to the depleted personnel available for this purpose.
The House can rest assured that by propaganda or by any other steps we can take we shall do our best to try to see that road accidents are diminished. They are due, really, to thoughtlessness and carelessness on the part of all road users, because just as there are those who drive madly round corners in their cars there are pedestrians who step off the pavement right in front of a motor car without having troubled to look to see what traffic was coming along. In my view all road users are in part to blame for this increase in road accidents. The lectures which were given to children in schools with a view to equipping them with road sense were for a time abolished, under war conditions, but the House will be glad 1o hear that they are being reinstated during the autumn school term now beginning.
My hon. Friend the Member for Don-caster (Mr. E. Walkden) put one or two points about a Question which unfortunately was not reached earlier to-day concerning the abolition of first-class accommodation on suburban railway trains. That change will apply to any train whose journey is made—beginning and terminating—in the London Passenger Transport area. In one or two instances it applies also to trains going beyond the area— to Bedford, to Bletchley, to Brackley and, on the Great Western, to Reading. In the East, the limit ends at Witham. That does not mean that the fast, long-distance trains which may stop at Willesden, or Surbiton, or Ealing, or Southall will not have first-class carriages—if they go right through to a far destination. The trains that will be affected will be suburban trains in the area of the London Passenger Transport Board, and on them there will be only the one class.
§ Colonel Llewellin
London is the main problem. There is not a heavy suburban 421 railway traffic comparable to that in and out of London in the case of any other city in the country. There are a few other districts in which there is a big daily exodus and entry, but there very large numbers of people use trams or buses.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
But where it is proved that action on similar lines is required, will the Minister be prepared to take action?
§ Colonel Llewellin
We shall be prepared to look into any case. I was asked whether I could say what increase there would be in the numbers of people who would find accommodation in the trains when this change comes about. Those suburban trains have been so crowded in the past that I really doubt whether there will be any great increase in the numbers that can be carried by them. I cannot give any estimate of the additional number, because I have not got it, and it will depend to some extent on the new arrangements which accompany the change. In some cases it will mean that completely new train-sets will have to be made up, composed entirely of third-class coaches, and in some cases the old first-class compartments will be converted— having the arm rests nailed back so that they can take more passengers on each side. The hon. Member also raised the question of there being too many buses in Central London. I will go into that. As the House knows, we borrowed some 700 buses from the provinces at one time, and we have now returned them all. If we had to take those buses again we should have to take the drivers with them, because to-day there is an even greater shortage of drivers than of buses.
We have a big problem before us, and we shall need the co-operation of everyone to try to cope with it during the coming winter. I lay particular emphasis on the staggering of hours in factories, and we should be glad if all would use their influence to get that plan extended. We would much rather do it by voluntary effort on the part of all in the factories than by having to make an Order. It is a way in which we can definitely economise transport, and we aim to go all out to achieve it. If any hon. Member can help us in that, or in any other way, we shall be very glad of his assistance. If individual difficulties arise in the constituencies of hon. Members they can rest 422 assured that if they are brought to our attention we will go fully into them.
§ Mr. Benjamin Smith (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
I think the House has been pleased to hear the excellent survey which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport has given us. I should like to add a comment with regard to the staggering of hours. For some time I have been going round factories working for the Ministry of Aircraft Production. What I find is that some firms have decided without consultation with other firms as to what hours they will work. The net result is that the others are not able to choose, but have to take what is left. You practically negative any assistance from them in staggering hours. Then there are among workpeople those who have the omnibus mind and those who have the railway mind. When you talk to them about diverting traffic to the railways they will only give you their experience of railway services as against omnibus services. I would like to put it to the Minister that he should look into the matter from the point of view of getting agreement about staggering hours as a whole in many districts and, having got agreement on that, to tell the Regional Commissioner's office to fit transport services to meet the hours. Whatever arrangements are made, it is far better to have a scheme which enables you to say, "Here is the district, here are the agreed hours, now adapt transport to those hours." It is much better than trying to do it on a voluntary basis and from the transport angle.
There is a second point arising from factory dispersal. A great deal of dispersal is going on, and I hope the Minister will look into the position which sometimes arises from that. Very often the onus is put on the factory concerned to provide transport for the workers. I am thinking of a particular firm which had to hire passenger vehicles to take workers to the factory and take them home again. Those vehicles were out of commission for the rest of the day. That at any rate was the position a month ago when I was last in the neighbourhood. If the onus is put on the factory to provide transport, you get vehicles kept out of service for the greater part of the day, and I would ask the Minister to look into the matter from that angle. It should be the duty of the Regional Commissioner to meet 423 such exigencies as they arise from the pool of transport, and it should not be left to the employer to find vehicles.
There is one other aspect to which I would like to call attention. Hon. Members behind me are very good trade unionists. I would not say a word against them in their own industries. But when this transport is provided somebody has to drive the vehicles and somebody has to conduct them. If you stagger hours over a longer period, you will have to consider the hours of the people who have to drive the vehicles. Men cannot be given a spread-over from six o'clock in the morning until the last person has finished work at night. Whatever is done with a view to staggering hours and getting efficient transport for the workers I hope regard will be paid to the working conditions of those operating the transport.
§ Colonel Llewellin
If I may be allowed to say a word in reply to my hon. Friend, of course we shall consider the points he has made. There are cases where vehicles are used only for four, five, or six hours, but we try to use them for a full day whenever possible. With regard to the hon. Member's first point, I will only say that our idea now is to get a scheme for the whole of a town and put it before the Regional Board. If it is agreed to, then and then only will it be possible to ask the Ministry to take action. With the idea that transport is to be put last, I disagree. You have to consider how you can fit in your trains and buses before you can start the scheme for staggering.