Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a further sum, not exceeding L5o, be granted to His Majesty, towards defraying the charges for the following services connected with the Ministry of War Transport, for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1945. namely:
|Class X, Vote 15, Ministry of War Transport||£10|
|Class VI, Vote 10, Miscellaneous Transport Services||£10|
|Class VI, Vote 9, Roads, &c||£10|
|Class VI, Vote 2, Mercantile Marine Services||£10|
|Class VIII, Vote 1, Merchant Seamen's War Pensions||£10|
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport (Mr. Noel-Baker)
The Estimates which I have to present to the Committee to-day are of two kinds. There are certain Estimates about which we can give details of the expenditure proposed. There is, for example, an Estimate for the Mercantile Marine Services which appears in Class VI as Vote 2. Those Services were transferred to my Ministry from the Board of Trade and include expenditure on our Mercantile Marine offices in the ports, on the coastguards services, on the General Register and the Record Office of Shipping and Seamen. They include expenditure on the relief and repatriation of British seamen left abroad, and I am quite sure that no one will grudge the additional '150,000 for which we have to ask under this heading. In Class VI, Vote 9, there is our Estimate for Roads. That includes our grant-in-aid to the Road 1582 Fund, from which are made grants to the local highway authorities for the maintenance and improvement of classified roads, and expenditure on trunk roads for which my noble Friend is himself responsible. It includes, also, the cost of collecting motor licence duties, the issue of driving licences and of the registration of motor vehicles, and so on.
No provision is made in this Estimate for abnormal road work due directly to the war. But, in fact, we are doing such work of two different kinds—the widening of highways for military traffic which, in general,. is done for us by the local highway authorities on repayment terms; and the laying of runways at airfields and other road works at Service establishments, which, as a rule, are done by direct labour under the direction and supervision of our own Departmental engineers. No provision is made for this expenditure in this Estimate. It is chargeable to the Vote of Credit. In Class VI, Vote 10 there is provision for miscellaneous transport services of various kinds. The sums involved are very small. In Class VIII, Vote r provision is made for allowances to disabled officers and men of the Merchant Navy, and for allowances and pensions to the dependants of officers and seamen of the Merchant Navy who have lost their lives in the service of the nation, but these obligations arise, under Acts of 1914 and 1915, from the last world war. The other Estimate which I must present to the Committee is for a net token sum of£100. It is shown in Class X, Vote 17, where also appear sub-heads, lettered from A to Z, under which the expenditure will be accounted for. For reasons of security we cannot publish details of the sums we estimate we need. They are required for our wartime services, which constitute the vast majority of all our work, and it is to them, therefore, rather than the detailed Estimates which appear in Classes VI and VIII, that I will devote the rest of what I have to say.
I am painfully conscious of the magnitude and the difficulty of my task. For one thing the Estimates of my Ministry, in its present form, have never before been debated by this Committee of the House. The Estimates of its predecessor, the Ministry of Transport, have not been debated since 1939. Since then the Ministry of Transport has been amalgamated with the war-time Ministry of 1583 Shipping, and, also, since that time, these two Ministries, or their present successor, have taken over control of the seven major industries by which the transport of the country is carried on. The form of control varies from case to case. Oceangoing shipping is controlled by requisitioning on a time charter basis; coast vessels by the issue of licences or permits for every journey which they make; docks, not only in the nine chief ports, but in many other places, by. special statutory powers; railway companies by the Railway Agreement; inland waterways and canals by the directorate set up in 1942; road passenger transport, without formal agreement with the public authorities or companies concerned, by the statutory powers and influence of the Regional Transport Commissioners and by our power to control the fuel issues which the undertakings all receive; road haulage, for short-distance work, by fuel rationing and for long-distance work by the organisation which my noble Friend has set up and by Regulation 73B, to which the House agreed the other day.
As I say, the form of control varies. But its purpose, and the effective power which it confers upon my noble Friend, is, in every case, the same. In every case he can decide what services there shall be, what changes or restrictions must be imposed; he must decide, in consultation with his colleagues, what priorities must be given to certain categories of passengers or goods, what traffic is nonessential and must, therefore, be discouraged or altogether cut out. These powers are very wide. They affect every passenger by ship, road or rail. They touch the interests of every manufacturer and trader. They intimately concern 1,500,000 transport workers. They are vital to the conduct of the war. The Committee will understand, therefore, that the responsibilities which my noble Friend carries are very heavy and that his daily tasks are varied and complex in the extreme and they understand, I hope, that my task to-day is by no means easy. So, I hope that Members will grant me their indulgence, if it seems to some of them that I have failed to mention many subjects which they think, rightly, are of great importance.
There are three main reasons why my noble Friend and his predecessors were 1584 driven to take control of the whole transport system of the country. The first is that adequate transport is the very foundation of successful war. That has been a military platitude since the Romans conquered Gaul and Britain because they knew how to make roads. To-day, more than ever, transport by land and sea has become a fighting arm. But transport remains the very blood-stream of civilian production and of the nation's social life. There is a common pool of transport material and skilled transport personnel from which all requirements must be met; a common pool of locomotives, rolling stock and lorries; a common pool of passenger ships and tramps, of merchant officers and seamen, of engineers, of drivers and mechanics; a common pool on which both the Armed Forces and the civil authorities must draw. The imperious necessities of the Forces must be met, but they must be met with due regard to the fact that the work of the whole nation must go on. The whole of transport, therefore, must be planned together, and it cannot be planned without control.
The second reason is that every individual movement of men or material must be planned right through, from the point of departure to destination, in whatever country or continent the destination may chance to be. To obtain the best from our transport system we must cut out every possible delay. We must know, therefore, in advance the cargo of every ship that comes to port; we must know how that cargo has been loaded so that we can make the right arrangements for its unloading and for the clearance to the proper places of the goods it brings. When we load a vessel here, we must do it with a knowledge of the capacity or the limitations of the ports or transports systems at the other end, the availability of wagons, the strength of bridges and all the rest. For example, if we are sending goods to Russia by way of Persia, we must so pack them that they can get through the tunnels on the Persian railways. In every movement, the use of road, rail, docks and ships must be planned as a single, integrated whole.
The third reason for control is the tremendous pressure on every part of the whole transport system caused by war conditions. That pressure has been due, in part, to our general strategical position. 1585 In many ways, Hitler's greatest single advantage against us has been in transport. He has been working on interior lines. These lines, until the fairly recent past, were relatively safe. The supplies of materials that he could receive were all in Europe, near at hand. He had an immense pool of European transport material on which to draw. We were working on external lines—14,000 miles round the Cape to Egypt, and sending arms for the Russian front, by the Arctic Seas to Archangel, or through the Persian Gulf. Our lines were subject to the most dangerous attacks by surface craft, by U-boats, by Focke-Wulfs. Even here in Britain our railways were liable, for many months, to interruption by bombing from the air. Many of our import cargoes had to be diverted from their normal ports on the South and East coasts to ports on the North and West.
Owing to the fact that transport material and labour formed a common pool for military and civil work, we could not get the flow of new ships, lorries and locomotives that were required. Shipyards had to give the highest priority to escort vessels, and other naval craft. Boiler-makers were taken from railway workshops to other work even more vital than their own. Motor manufacturers were given orders for tanks, armoured cars, tanks and aircraft carriers, and a score of other types of vehicles for the Armed Forces. The flow of new omnibuses and haulage lorries became a trickle, and until the Government took it vigorously in hand, even the supply of spare parts of civil vehicles was uncertain and precariously small. Normal maintenance. and repairs were impeded by the great shortage of skilled personnel, and nowhere more seriously than on the inland waterways and canals.
While this was happening, the volume of the traffic grew and grew. The capacity of the ships was much reduced by the fact that they had to go in convoy. Convoy means an immense reduction of effective sailing time. To outwit the U-boats they had to follow circuitous and lengthy routes. Their actual deliveries were reduced by the serious losses they sustained. Yet every month they had to carry an immense and increasing burden. More and more troops and equipment were sent to distant fronts. To 1586 Egypt was added Eastern India and then the South Pacific. When great armies had been built up, they had to be supplied. An immense American Army for invasion and an immense American Air Force had to be 'brought across the Atlantic. Increasing quantities of raw material for war production had to be supplied. I cannot, for obvious reasons, give detailed figures. We must remember the splendid part which the new American Merchant Navy have played in sharing the burden. But with the Allied merchant navies, Norwegians, Greeks, Dutch, French, Belgians, and others, to whom we owe so much, we carried a colossal total in 1943. The Prime Minister said, 14 months ago, that up to then, we had transported 3,000,000 troops overseas. Last year we made a formidable addition to the total, and, with the troops, went a vast quantity of tanks, aircraft and other equipment very difficult to load and handle. In spite of our losses, particularly in the earlier months of the year, and the fact that our import programme was, of course, heavily reduced, all ordinary requirements for industry and for the nation were not only brought to these shores last year, but we reached our target with a margin to spare.
The pressure on the railways, and indeed on other forms of inland transport, has been no less. There have been more passengers on the railways—not only troops for overseas but troops on leave. On journeys over 200 miles troops and their dependants constituted 8o per cent. of the passengers who travelled. There have been more workers travelling regularly in two directions every day. There have been workers travelling, transferred to places other than their homes, with privilege concession travel at stated intervals. There have been evacuated persons, schools and institutions which have been displaced, and many more. Taking 1943 as a whole, the number of passenger journeys, excluding season tickets, was up by 20 per cent. as compared with the period before the war. The average distance of every journey had increased by more than one half, so that the total passenger miles were up by 60 per cent. and the pressure has gone on steadily increasing. Passengers in 1943 were more by the stupendous figure of 106,000,000 than they had been the year before. Freight traffic increased by even more. Light merchandise, which needs most handling and takes 1587 most space in the wagons, has increased by 86 per cent. as compared with 1938. Heavy merchandise and minerals have increased by 68 per cent. Even coal traffic has increased by 13 per cent., compared with the figures before the war. Not only so, but the average haul was longer. By the end of 1943 the railways were carrying 1,000,000 ton-miles more freight traffic every hour of every day than they had been before the war. Nor is that the end of the story. There are 7,000 extra trains for workers every week—1,000 a day—and, in addition, in a single recent week, there were 2,400 other special trains for passengers and freight carried on Government account. Anyone who knows the difficulties of arranging a special train and making a path available and all the other detailed complications, will realise the burden that these special trains impose.
The increased burden is no less on the omnibuses. In Derby, in vehicles which, on the average, are more than 12 years old, the corporation transport undertaking is carrying close on 50 per cent. more passengers than before the war. That figure is quite common. Sometimes it is 60, 70 and 80 per cent. more, indeed, in some places two persons are travelling by bus where only one travelled before the war. Even on the canals and inland water-ways, where, before the war, the traffic was dwindling for many years, there are now more cargoes than can be moved. Many boats and barges are laid up because we cannot repair them. Many of the skilled crews drifted in the early stages of the war into the Forces and other trades. We have not had the labour to do all the dredging or the other maintenance that we wanted to do. In recent months there has been a very serious water shortage. I am told that a difference of one inch in the level of the water, means a difference of a ton in the load that you can put on it. In spite of all those difficulties, the inland water-ways are carrying almost as big a tonnage as before the war—that is, about 1,000,000 a month—and if the statistics enabled us to calculate it in ton-miles, the fact of longer cargo journeys would show that the real work has had a big increase.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
No. This is what we call inland water-ways and canals—river navigations and artificial canals. This extra burden must be carried, in some cases, as on the canals, with less transport material, and nearly always with less renewals of material and with less reserves; I have mentioned the restriction of the flow of new vehicles to the roads. It must be carried either with a smaller labour force, as on the roads and canals, or, in other cases, with labour forces whose trained skill has been diluted in a high degree. The railways have not only sent locomotives overseas, but 110,000 men into the Armed Forces. These have been replaced by women, who have done magnificently well. I cannot pay too high a tribute to the spirit, adaptability and endurance that they have shown. Even with dilution, my Ministry has found like other Departments of State, at almost every point and in almost every section of our work, that labour shortage has been a very serious factor in impeding what we want to do. This extra burden must be carried in spite of the difficulties which war conditions inevitably create.
Hon. Members have often read how hard it is to sail a ship in convoy, without lights, through a North Atlantic storm. Perhaps they have not thought what work is like in a railway marshalling yard, in the black-out, on a stormy winter night. Perhaps they do not realise what it means regularly, week after week, to drive a bus or lorry, with dimmed headlights, through the darkness for many hours a day. It is not only the extra strain which war conditions cast on the personnel; it is the reduced capacity which inevitably results. In the blackout, buses must run to a slower schedule. The average rate of freight trains is only 7¼ miles an hour, as compared with the magnificent speed of 9 before the war.
That is a rough outline of the problem with which my Noble Friend is faced—the increased traffic that must be moved, the lessened means with which to move it and the special war time difficulties which must be overcome. It is surely plain that he could not have faced it without control of the whole transport system. It is plain that he must have power to discourage non-essential traffic, or to eliminate it altogether, if that is desirable and possible. It is plain that he must have the power to decide priorities, to see that his 1589 decisions are effective, and that urgent traffic really does get through. He must have the power to plan from first to last, and make certain that his plan is carried out, and that the transport system is linked together and is really co-ordinated in that special sense. He must have the power to ensure that the rates and charges, the cost of transport, shall not divert the traffic from that means of transport which in the public interest it is best to use; that the transport system shall be considered as a whole, that it shall be co-ordinated in that sense and that traffic shall be allocated to that means of transport which, for the service of the nation, can move it best. In the operation of that control, my noble Friend is bound to interfere with the normal traffic and even to cause hardship or inconvenience to importers and exporters, to traders and manufacturers and to the travelling public as a whole. He cannot help it. He is responsible to the Government and to Parliament for the proper use of transport, and it is for Parliament to ensure that the restrictions he imposes are justified by the result which he obtains.
It is plain that his first purpose, with an increased burden and restricted means, must be to cut out unnecessary movement, whether of passengers or goods. Everybody knows the drastic restrictions on ocean travel and nobody doubts that they are required. Nobody has yet suggested how we can ration passenger traffic by train or bus. But we have discouraged non-essential traffic in many ways. In spite of great increases in the traffic, we have cut passenger train mileage by 30 per cent. That means that train loadings are up by 120 per cent. since before the war, with the discomfort and the discouragement to needless travel which that entails. We have abolished cheap fares, and other special concessions, which were intended to induce people to travel who could really have stayed at home. We have had propaganda and advertisement campaigns, in which the companies greatly helped, to try to make the public understand the basic transport facts. We have cut road passenger services just as much as rail and, with the extra spur of the fuel and rubber shortages, we have not only reduced the normal services but we have cut out half the bus stops, all the long-distance coaches, and such shorter services as the Green Line coaches in the London area. We have made the 1590 buses park in the centre of the city at "off-peak" times. We have stopped late evening services and services on Sunday mornings. We have withdrawn unlimited travel tickets on the buses and some specially attractive fares. All in all, we have cut road vehicle mileage to something like two-thirds of what it was before the war. We have been encouraged to take these measures because we found that they have not only given real savings in fuel and rubber, but they have definitely stopped a lot of non-essential travel. A special inquiry was made into the elimination of the Green Line coaches. We not only saved 11,500,000 vehicle miles a year, but we found that half the passengers who used to use those services. have given up altogether making the journeys they used to make.
With goods traffic we could take bolder measures. We could not only request, we could instruct and we could compel. In co-operation with the Ministry of Food and the Board of Trade, for whose generous help we are extremely grateful, we have had many schemes to cut out long hauls of goods, to prevent cross-hauls of similar commodities, and to rationalise the distribution of essential food supplies and other things. It has been calculated that the scheme for "zoning" the railway hauls of certain commodities have given a tremendous result. There used to be very lively criticism of the zoning scheme for fish. I do not think the critics knew that the saving in fish train mileage was no less than 35 per cent.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Someone got the fish and we saved the trains. Altogether, in the zoning of beer, chocolates, biscuits and many other things, the stupendous total of 276,000,000 ton-miles per annum have been saved.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
We have also dealt with retail distribution. We have had thousands of schemes throughout the country to control and rationalise the retail delivery of groceries, bread, milk and other things. We have only had two 1591 substantial complaints about these schemes, and I hope that they are both settled by now. The schemes saved us 25,000,000 gallons of motor fuel a year, a saving of 36 per cent., far beyond the target we had set ourselves; they saved us 34,000 vehicles and they saved us manpower on a very considerable scale. These measures to eliminate the needless transport of persons and things, and to reduce the services we run, have made a great contribution towards the solving of the problem with which my Noble Friend was faced.
They have been supplemented by other measures, such as the heavier loading of railway wagons, the staggering of working hours, a very important matter, and a big drive for quicker turn-round. A saving of nine hours on the average journey of a railway wagon means an additional capacity of 55,000 wagon loads, without the extra congestion which 55,000 more wagons on the line would mean. We got a saving of nine hours last winter.
We have had a big drive to accelerate repairs both of railway rolling stock and vehicles on the roads. Eighty-five per cent. of all the work in the railway workshops to-day is on repairs. I venture the assertion that the Vehicle Maintenance Department of the Ministry, which works in close co-operation with the Ministry of Supply, has done a splendid piece of work for the nation by bringing back many thousands of essential vehicles to the roads. I have already said that, like other Ministries, we have been hampered by the shortage of our labour force. My Noble Friend has taken a great variety of measures to make the best use of the forces he can command. Everyone knows about the decasualisation of the officers and men of the Merchant Navy through the Reserve Pool, which is run by the industry, the Shipping Federation and the trade unions, with our grateful assistance and support. Everyone knows about the decasualisation of the dockers by my Minister's schemes on the Mersey and the Clyde, and by the National Dock Labour Corporation in the other ports. Without these schemes, in which the Ministry of Labour have greatly helped us, we should have had the greatest difficulty in keping our ships at sea, and the 1592 docks would have been much less efficient than, in fact, they are.
On the railways great economies of man-power, particularly in the bookkeeping and clerical grades, have resulted from the fact of Government control. In the railway rate book there are tens of millions of different headings, but for Government traffic we have a series of flat rates per ton for different Ministries, whatever the distance and whatever the categories of the goods. The Committee will appreciate the saving when I say that Government traffic is a vast proportion of the freight the railways carry. We have a simplified system for dealing with claims for damage to goods in transport, and a simplified system for demurrage. We rely on other methods to speed the turn round. I believe that before we had had this system one Army depot used to send up its demurrage accounts by the sack full. We have washed out booking tickets for members of the Forces. Their railway warrant serves as their ticket instead. There is no clearing of working expenses between the railway companies. Expenses and receipts go into a common pool. Hon. Members will understand that these are not trifling items, and that together they do much to lighten the burden which the railways have to carry.
§ Mr. Alexander Walkden (Bristol, South)
How does my hon. Friend's Department utilise the Railway Clearing House? There used to be a big staff there, much of which should now be unnecessary.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Much of it is unnecessary, and the staff is greatly reduced, and is engaged on other types of work as well. Many of the same economies are obtained by the Road Haulage Organisation in Government and other long distance haulage traffic with which it deals. The Minister also gets economies in the use of transport, the better use of transport, from the close co-operation of the different railway companies which now exists. The companies themselves had done something in that direction before the war, but they would be the first to say that it has gone very much further now. They now really work together as a single team. Passenger stock is a common pool. Their freight wagons, together with the 600,000 private wagons 1593 winch we requisitioned, are also a combined pool managed by a Central Wagon Control, with its own headquarters, which acts for the railways as a whole. Sheets and ropes for goods wagons have been pooled, a very important point in speeding the turn-round. The traffic managers of the companies have a joint conference by special telephone every day. The companies manufacture and repair locomotives for each other. They lend each other locomotives, they work their locomotives on each others' lines, they lend each other skilled staff. Above all, they have cut out competitive routes, so that all traffic now goes by the most speedy route, irrespective of the company to which it belongs.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
These, at any rate for the war, are great advantages. Again, I hope that we may get something of the same description from the haulage firms within the R.H.O. Besides these measures, my noble Friend must himself plan the traffic programmes and allocate the different flows of traffic to that means of transport which will give the best return. There must be machinery to decide when and how essential cargoes shall be loaded overseas, how incoming cargoes shall be disposed of, and how traffic shall be distributed here between railway, road and canal. That machinery has been created. The loading of every ship that comes here or that leaves these shores is planned and settled by the officials of the Ministry, who deal with tonnage allocation, with sea transport for the Forces, with liners and with tramps, and by our many distinguished represent tatives and missions overseas. The planners must aim at insuring that "deadweight" and "measurement" cargoes shall be, as far as possible, balanced. When loading for operations, they must plan not only what each ship must carry, but the order in which items shall be unloaded on the beaches at the other end. Incoming vessels are allocated to the different ports by our Ministry Diversion Room, where every day, in the light of the latest information about the cargoes, about empty berths, available railway wagons and road haulage capacity, each ship is sent to the port which can best discharge it and best handle the cargoes which it brings.
1594 Internal traffic is no less carefully planned. There meets at intervals the Central Transport Committee, on which each Department that uses transport is represented. That committee plans six months ahead; it makes allocations between roads and railways and canals; it deals with disputes and congestions by ad hoc sub-committees. The allocation of coal traffic between coaster, canal and rail is a case in point; others are the seasonal traffics in home-grown timber, sugar beet and seed potatoes. We have similar committees in the regions. Twelve committees meet, under the regional transport commissioners, with representatives of rail, road and water transport, to decide how traffic shall be carried and what means of transport can best be used. In many of our 78 districts the district transport officers have much the same machinery at their command. So, at every level, there is real and effective co-ordination of the transport system as a whole.
If my account of my Department's work has been intelligible, the Committee will understand that our task is to plan, to decide and to direct. In that task the Ministry have had invaluable assistance from members of the industries, shipping people, road hauliers, and others, who-have come in to help, and who have worked under the leadership of my noble Friend. They have done a splendid job. But the operation of the transport system is done by the different undertakings and companies themselves. They act as our agents, at our direction, but they—the managements and the workers—do the actual daily work. I cannot praise enough the spirit which they have shown. The managements have displayed an energy and a devotion which prove the patriotism by which they are inspired. They think nothing of working 16 hours a day for weeks on end, when there is heavy pressure. The workers have done their very best. Parliament has often expressed its admiration for the Merchant Navy: I will add only this. The Merchant Navy are civilians. In the last war they lost 12,000 men; in this war they have already lost more than twice that number; yet we have always had more recruits than we can train for the job. Now, almost without exception, officers and seamen have volunteered to face the very dangerous hazards of the second front.
1595 Seeing the discharging records of the dockers, one would never guess that in Liverpool, for example, the average age of the dockers is 52. When I was last there, I saw men loading frozen meat into a van. They were lifting frozen carcases, weighing 40 lbs., to a height of seven or eight feet. I asked one what his age was. He said that he was 78, and that his mate was 69. It often happens that a bus conductress must deal in a single shift with 1,000, or even 1,400 fares. That means that, apart from starting and stopping the bus, she must give a ticket and the correct change every 20 seconds of her eight hours on duty. I must not fail to mention the leadership which the workers have had from the trade unions. The spokesmen of the trade unions sit on our advisory committees. We are in daily contact with them, on every problem that arises, and they have always helped us in every way within their power. I must say something about the forbearance and the help of the traders and the general public. No one knows more than I do what they have had to bear: no one appreciates as much as I do the cheerful spirit which they have shown. We must make further calls upon their endurance in the coming year. With the growing volume of traffic, the limited resources at our command, and the diversions and dislocations which the second front must mean, it is not too much to say that inland transport may be the bottleneck of our efforts. The managements, the workers and the public can help us by giving a quicker turn round of everything that moves, by refraining from journeys which they would like to undertake, and by helping the transport personnel in every way within their power. Every sacrifice and every effort they make will be of immediate assistance to the troops who man the ships, the aeroplanes, and the guns.
I believe that the work of my Ministry for five long years has built up an instrument which will stand the strain of the coming operations. I believe that the instrument will make its contribution to the victory that lies ahead. I believe that we have learned many lessons that will be of value when the war is over. I must not abuse the patience of the Committee any further, but I could speak for long about the work we have done to prepare for transport reconstruction in the 1596 future. [Interruption.] I will say something about that if my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) desires, and if I have time. Now I will only mention our road programme, our work on the London plan, our Committee on Road Safety, our work on electrification of the railways, our studies of the future of the canals, our studies of general transport co-ordination—which is of supreme importance—our preparatory work to make the Merchant Navy a great and honourable career, and our work in the Middle East Supply Centre, which may lead to valuable long-term international co-operation. I want to quote one sentence from a recent statement by my noble Friend. He said:For the first time, we have evidence of the benefits of a fully co-ordinated transport system, and I do not think that the industry would ever want to go back to the conditions prevailing before the war.In the war, for the first time, we have had real transport co-ordination. We have seen what it can do. Without it, our progress to victory would have been gravely hampered. Transport, in time of peace, is no less important than in time of war. Its efficiency on land, in the ports and estuaries, along the coasts, and on the sea, is a vital factor in the kind of life our people will be able to afford. I hope we shall face the future with the firm determination to learn and to apply all the lessons which our war experience can teach.
Mr. Dabble (Rotherham)
We have listened to-day to a statement from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of War Transport outlining the work done, the difficulties met and overcome and the services rendered to the nation, in very extraordinary circumstances, during the war period. The hon. Gentleman has dealt in a long and comprehensive speech with rail and road transport, with docks and harbours, canals and coastwise shipping, and I compliment him on the manner in which he has marshalled his facts, and placed his case before the Committee. He has demonstrated that those who are in the service of the transport industry are as anxious to give service to transport, when under the control of the Government, as they were to serve industry previous to the war. The Committee will agree with everything the Minister has said about the service rendered by the transport in- 1597 dustry during this very difficult period. In the short speech which I intend to make, my fault-finding—if fault I have to find with the hon. Gentleman—will refer not to the things that he has said, but to the things he has left unsaid.
The Minister has shown us that there has been a degree of co-operation, under Government control, between the management, trade union officials and the membership of the railway unions and other trade unions affected. I believe that that co-operation might not have been so good, had the Government not taken over control as soon as they did, and had the workers not been convinced that the services they were rendering and the sacrifices that were being made were in the interests of the nation and not in the interests of private individuals. The Parliamentary Secretary has drawn the attention of the Committee very dramatically to the work of the various sections of the transport industry, and his statement will probably help those who, up to the moment, have had little faith in nationalisation, to think again.
I have heard it said on more than one occasion that one of the reasons for the breakdown of Germany during the last war was not the lack of oil or coal, but the breakdown in railway transport, which made it impossible for those essential materials to be brought from the places where they were stored, to the places where they were needed. The lack of rail transport impeded the work of the Army, through non-delivery of materials, and, to a large extent, assisted the breakdown of the German Army itself. No such charge can be laid against the transport industry of this country during this war. The story told to-day, probably for the first time, in this Committee, by the Minister, of those engaged in transport, whether coastwise, on the roads or railways, on the docks and in the harbours, or in the service of the canals, and of the way in which they have carried on, in spite of blackout, dim lights, dangers from air raids and all the other difficulties confronting them, is indeed a credit to the industry. But, after all, it is not enough to eulogise the workers, and my complaint against the Minister to-day is not in the story he has told us of past history since 1939, nor yet in his account of the services which are being rendered to-day. What I would ask him is—what of the future?
1598 I think the workers in those industries, and the people in the country, generally, have a right to know what is the future policy of the Government of the day in regard to the country's transport. I expected, although perhaps I had no right to expect it, that the Minister would say that in view of the services that have been and are being given, he was going to lay before the Committee the future plans of the Government for the transport industry of the country. I must say, in regard to that point, that the Minister has caused no elation amongst those of us who are very closely associated with the industry. After all, this is a striking omission. We believe that transport is as important to the life and wellbeing of the nation as any other factor. The Government's future policy on education has been discussed and accepted. Proposals for a national health scheme have been discussed; housing has been discussed; the question of water supply has been discussed, and one wonders—
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member will appreciate that, in Committee of Supply, it is only competent to discuss any plans which the Minister is in process of drawing up, within the limits of the year under review and for which expenditure is being incurred.
§ Mr. Dobbie
Thank you, Major Milner, for that instruction, but I am glad the Minister heard what I said. One wonders why plans for other things affecting the life of the people and the nation may be discussed, while plans affecting the future of the transport of the country have not, on an important occasion like this, been laid before the Committee. The Minister has said that transport is as much a necessity in time of peace as in time of war. I believe, along with him, that it would have been impossible to have had efficiency in the transport of this country to-day, unless the Government had taken full control, at the time they did so. The Minister has said that the needs of the Forces must be met; that transport must be planned and that it cannot be planned without control. When he said that, I anticipated that he was then going to give us some details of the planning of the Government in regard to the future of the transport of this country. As he has said, it is an efficient system at the moment. It is a necessary system in times of peace as well as in times of war, for the con- 1599 veying of goods, food and raw material to the places where they are required. Transport will also play a great part in the development of the new industries of this country. No plan for the development and rebuilding of the country can be complete unless, at the same time, there is a plan for transport. What is to become of our plans for the rebuilding of cities and towns, and the building of new ones; what is to become of the plans for the location of industry without transport? None of the plans that we talk so much about, for the replanning of this country of ours when the war is over, can be complete unless there is a planned transport industry ready to meet the occasion. I have been disappointed that the Minister has not found it possible to tell us something in regard to that matter.
He has talked a good deal on co-ordination. We are all delighted with the amount of co-ordination that he has been able to demonstrate to us to-day. In prewar days there was no co-ordination of the various means of transport. On the contrary, there was fierce competition between rail and road, which was not in the best interests either of the consumer, or of the country generally. I spent the best time of my life working on the railways and it might be assumed that I have some special bias towards the railway industry. On the other hand, the man working on road transport might be biased in favour of his own particular system, and anxious to secure as much traffic as possible for the road as against the railway. Thus, we had the spectacle before the war of heavy commercial vehicles, carrying heavy loads along the trunk roads and making for the same destinations as the fast goods trains on the railways. I am not holding any brief for the railways, but one would have thought it only common sense that the heavy traffic should be carried by the railways in the interests of the public. Our road system was never devised for heavy traffic—not the heavy traffic that is being carried at the moment—and month by month the road casualties tell their own tale.
Only this morning, looking at the Press, I see that the war traffic rush has caused a rise in the number of casualties and that there were 10,300 main-road casualties in March of this year, or 542 more than in March of last year.[HON. MEMBERS: 1600 "Shame."] Hon. Members say "Shame." I regret the tremendous number of casualties and hope that it will be possible for the Minister, or the appropriate authority, to issue more warnings not only to drivers, but to pedestrians, in an endeavour to bring down the dreadful total of casualties which we see recurring year after year. Although there is the difficulty of the black-out—and, as the Minister has said, it must be dreadfully tiring for a driver on the road in the black-out, and with dimmed lights—it must not be forgotten that there are many thousands of new drivers on the roads who are not, probably, in the aggregate, as well skilled as the drivers were previously. Not only drivers, but pedestrians should be warned, and I hope that the Ministry will take what steps it can to draw more attention to this matter. The casualties are becoming nearly as dreadful as they are on the battlefield.
It depends on what part of the battlefield you look. When one talks about road transport, and the manner in which the transition took place from peace to war, a good deal of heartburning is caused particularly among many people who believe in unrestricted road transport. Sometimes one has felt that every opportunity has been taken in this House to seize upon small points to weaken the control of the Government. Without this control, undoubtedly, we should have been in a state of chaos whereas, speaking generally, the Ministry has done a good job in the interests of the country. History is repeating itself. In the days of peace we have unrestricted competition, but when war approaches, we say, all of us, on both sides of this Committee, with one accord, that, if the nation is to survive, we must all pull together. What would be the result if half pulled one way, and half pulled in the other direction?
§ Mr. Dobbie
And yet that is what our method has been in peace time. I want to know what the policy of the Government is going to be in peace time. I believe that, just as in times of peace we prepare for war, so in times of war, we should be preparing and planning for the day when we can start the rebuilding of the nation. As in the last war, the 1601 Government had no option but to take over the railways and road transport, and we now have co-ordination. It has proved successful. There can be no argument on that. I have not heard anyone here deny it, but again, I want to hear what is the policy of the Ministry in regard to peace time. There has been as we have heard the co-ordination not only of rail and road transport, but of water transport, in order that the best might be made out of all the forms of transport in the country. All that has been said on behalf of the continuity of Government ownership of road and rail transport applies equally to the canal system of -this country. I would have liked the Minister to have told us a little more about the canals. What is to be done with the canals after the war is over? Are the railway companies to be allowed to retain them and are they to be allowed to remain in disuse, as many of them have been, both before and during the war? I should have liked to hear whether the Government have any policy for co-ordirating canals with road and rail transport, for taking complete control of them and for their widening and deepening, and for the alteration of the locks to take ships of a greater capacity. These are some of the things we would have liked t D hear from the Minister.
Having lived and worked the best part of my life a3 a railwayman, and knowing, therefore, a little more about that subject than about other forms of transport, I was glad to hear the Minister say That the railways had done a magnificent job during the war. Control has been an exceptionally good thing for the Government. The men have worked under great hardships, and I was glad to hear the Minister's eulogy of them. It is as well deserved as the eulogy to the men who go down to the sea in ships. The canteen situation has been improved, but there are still not enough canteens for the men. I sometimes think that Members of the House and the general public seldom give a thought to the men who make and maintain the permanent ways of the railway system. When we are going through the country fairly comfortably in a train we hardly ever think about these chaps working in the black-out, in the fog and in the blitz, repairing the lines when they have been damaged and working in all sorts of weather to keep them in running order. Sometimes I think we do not give enough credit—we certainly do not 1602 give enough wages—to the men engaged on this hazardous and essential work. Women are now working in all sorts of jobs on the railways—in signal boxes, as porters on the platforms, in goods sheds. We have had something on the railways that is probably peculiar; we have had an absolute absence of disputes and strikes and a loyalty that cannot be beaten in any other section of industry. There are, however, still many badly paid workers on the railways. There are men who are glad to have the opportunity of working on Sunday to enable them to maintain a reasonable standard of life. If the Government are behind the eulogy that the Minister paid to the services of the railway workers, I would like them to go a little further and help to get their standard of life raised to a more reasonable level.
I hope that the Minister will say something when he replies about handing the railways back to private ownership and control after the war.
§ Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)
Surely they are now in private and public ownership, but controlled by the Government. The Government do not own the railways. Members of the public, through public companies, own the railways.
§ Mr. Dobbie
I understand that the Government have leased the railways for the period of the war, and I am asking the Minister what method of rehabilitation of the system will be adopted by the Government if they are handed back to private ownership and control. Will the Government make a complete payment for the wear and tear of the permanent way? Will they re-establish the blitzed stations? Will they reinstate the locomotives and rolling stock and meet the depreciation in the railway workshops?
§ The Chairman
These subjects cannot be discussed in this Debate. It is open to the hon. Gentleman to ask the Parliamentary Secertary whether he is drawing up plans on these matters, but he cannot go further than that.
§ Mr. Dobbie
I intended to ask whether these things were outlined in the future planning, if any, which has been considered by the Ministry of War Transport. I understood the Minister to make some reference to the future planning of the railways and to say that his Noble Friend had said that the industry will not 1603 want to go back. I was just thinking aloud and asking the Minister a few questions about his statement. I was wondering what would be the position if the railways were handed back, or, if they were not, whether the Government would come to the House with a scheme for the complete ownership and control of the transport system. Reviewing the Parliamentary Secretary's statement, agreeing with the principles that he has enunciated, and paying tribute to the wonderful service that the Ministry have rendered, a service that could only have been rendered to the nation by Government control, I would ask him to tell us what the intentions of the Government are as to the future of transport in this country.
§ Mr. Shinwell (Seaham)
On a point of Order. As my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary indicated, this is the first general Debate we have had on transport for many years. In view of the fact that he referred to schemes that were under consideration by his Department, while not elaborating the details, would it not be desirable in the interests of the Committee that hon. Members should have a little latitude in asking questions about the nature of the schemes, the expenditure involved and the Government's plans for the future of transport?
§ The Chairman
I am averse to committing myself beforehand. It is only competent in this Committee to discuss the administration of the Department during the year under review. It will be competent to ask whether the Department are engaged in preparing plans, but it would not be competent to inquire into the details of future proposals or plans, particularly as they would probably require legislation. So far as latitude is possible, the Chair will within the proper limits be only too happy to fall in with the wishes of the Committee.
§ Captain Strickland
Would it be competent for the Committee to discuss the administration during the past year with a view to asking how far it will be continued in the future?
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was good enough to say that he proposed in the course of a further speech in reply to the Debate to refer to questions of 1604 London planning, electrification of railways, and a number of other matters. I am not sure how far he intends to develop those matters, but may I ask in advance how far we will be in Order in asking questions about them?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
It may assist the Committee if I say that we are now engaged on the study of many of the problems which will inevitably arise when the war comes to an end. We are even making certain expenditure on, for example, road safety. We have special people employed helping us to work out our programme of measures which we believe will be required, but it cannot be said that we are preparing legislation for the big questions with which my hon. Friend has just dealt. I wish that that could be said, but it cannot be said. Under your Ruling, Major Milner, questions on the work we are doing would not be out of Order, and it will help the Ministry in their studies if hon. Members will make any proposals they think fit.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
As there is only study of problems at the present time, cannot this Debate proceed along the line that the Ministry have as yet no plans and that hon. Members can put forward suggestions as to plans that should be further studied by the Ministry?
§ The Chairman
It is certainly competent to point out useful work which the Ministry could undertake in present conditions during the year in prospect.
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
Is it any use giving special latitude in this Debate if Members continue to read their speeches verbatim?
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport)
I have listened with interest to the discussion on the point of Order, and I take it that, in accordance with the precedent which is fairly well established, if there are any plans dealing with the future of transport, the House will have an opportunity of seeing them detailed in a White Paper before we are committed to approval or disapproval. I hope that it will not be considered inappropriate that I should intervene in this Debate, but I want to protect an important Committee of the House, the Members of which were, I think, wrongly impugned when we had a Debate a week or so ago on a part of the subject we are discussing to-day. Before 1605 dealing with that I would like to make this point clear: in anything I may say I do not want the Minister of Transport or the Parliamentary Secretary to think that I have other than great admiration for the way in which this now huge Department of State has functioned. It has been my good fortune together with some of my colleagues on the Select Committee on National Expenditure to visit various parts of the country inquiring into transport. We have been to every dock undertaking of any importance in England, Scotland and Wales, and we have seen any amount of evidence of the amazingly good work done not only by the officers of the Ministry but by the railway and dock workers whom we have actually seen carrying out their operations under conditions of extreme difficulty. I think those of us who have had the privilege of coming into contact with the noble Lord himself are quite satisfied that he is the right man in the right place, a man of great business experience and one who does not seek the limelight. I hope when the war is over the Public Relations Department of the Ministry may be allowed to tell the wonderful story which, if it were published to-day, might involve the risk of giving information to the enemy.
I want to refer if I may to one or two sentences which were spoken in the Debate to which I have already referred by the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague). He said:I have had a great deal to do with the Road Haulage Consultative Committee and I was its first chairman.Perhaps as he was the nurse at the accouchement of this infant, he dislikes any criticism made about it now that it has, to some extent, grown up. The hon. Member went on to say, and this is what I must take particular exception to:It is exceedingly difficult"—this was in reply to Mr. Speaker, I think, who had pulled him up—if one cannot deal with the fact that the Select Committee on National Expenditure have issued a biased statement upon which the whole of this agitation depends.He also said:I think I am entitled to say that never in my experience in this House, during which I have read a large number of the reports of this Committee, have I seen such a patently biased document as this."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th April, 1944, Cols. 329–331.]May I remind the House of how this Committee is constituted? It has some 1606 32 members, 17 of whom are Conservatives, nine Labour, two Liberals, two National Liberals, one Independent and one National. It is a thoroughly representative all-party committee, a good cross-section of the House.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member is referring to previous Debates, but he does not seem to be relating this matter to the administration of the Ministry. If he desired to correct certain matters of fact raised in debate relating to the administration of the Ministry he would be in Order, but I gather that he is desiring to deal with questions raised in some previous Debate relating to the Committee on National Expenditure., which, except incidentally or by way of supporting evidence, do not appear to be matters for which the Ministry is responsible.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
If a charge of bias is made against the Select Committee on National Expenditure, my hon. Friend is surely entitled, when referring to the Road Haulage Board, to bring the matter before the House.
§ The Chairman
I think that is so, if it is suggested that the bias is in relation to road haulage and has some direct application to the matters before the Committee.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I think I shall not be out of Order in what I propose to say. I am going to deal with the evidence contained in the Report which deals with the road haulage section of the Ministry of War Transport. I think an important committee, constituted as this committee is, cannot sit down under such criticism. Although the Report may be drawn up by a section of the committee consisting of five members, that Report is studied line by line and paragraph by paragraph by the whole Committee before it is passed Therefore it must be taken as representing the considered views of this all-party committee. What was the evidence which justified that Report? The first piece of evidence I think every one is familiar with. It consisted of a vast number of questions which were asked by hon. Members, I think from all quarters of the House, of the Minister of Transport regarding complaints of inefficiency in the operation of this road operating scheme. The second consisted of innumerable letters which appeared in the Press 1607 making similar complaints. The third and most important was evidence obtained from witnesses who appeared before the Select Committee. We had I think something like 12 or 14 witnesses who were actually road operators and we tried to weigh up their evidence judicially and sift it carefully before we came to our conclusions.
It also happens that some of the industrial undertakings with which I am associated were very much concerned with this question of road haulage. We had some of our own vehicles, but the bulk of our goods traffic was carried by road operators, and after this scheme came into operation we found ourselves landed in very considerable difficulty because things became much worse than before. That is evidence one cannot possibly ignore. If the Committee will allow me to add one further piece of evidence which is perhaps a little personal, it so happens that I have a married daughter with a husband and two children and a home to look after, but who nevertheless decided, being skilled at operating mechanically-driven vehicles, that she would like to do a job of work in the national interest. She applied to a very big firm in the Midlands to be taken on as a lorry driver. They gave her a ten minute test and took her on immediately. For three years she has been driving vehicles carrying heavy loads all over the country and getting most of her meals in the roadside places where you are told to "pull-in here and get a bite." She told me she gets the best food there that she gets anywhere in the country. I am glad to hear that, because lorry drivers have a decidedly hard life and it is right that they should have the opportunity of being well fed. She confirms what we reported. I have mentioned half a dozen sources from which evidence has been drawn, but of course we also took evidence from Government witnesses.
I do not say for a moment that the Ministry of Transport is to be condemned, because one department, which had to take on an entirely new task and which met with teething troubles, is capable of improvement in its organisation and administration. That is one of the inevitable consequences of a Government Department taking over a section, of industry which in war circumstances may be abso- 1608 lutely necessary but which does present difficulties. I was in the position in the last war of being called in from industry to serve in a Government Department, the Ministry of Munitions, and I found it pretty difficult to adjust myself to the Civil Service system. I give what I may call an illustration of absurdity. I was once transferred with my staff from one hotel to another. We were put into a bedroom on the fourth floor, I think, at the Hotel Metropole. The floor consisted of bare boards. I asked if I might have a carpet. Some days later a member of the establishment department turned up and said "I am sorry you cannot have a carpet because you are only being paid £500 a year."I asked "What is the salary that I must have?" and the establishment officer replied" You must have £1,000 a year or more before you are entitled to a carpet under the Treasury system." I said" Do you know I am getting no salary at all? I am the unpaid controller of this Department. I get £500 a year because I have had to leave my home in Yorkshire and live in London, and this £500 is to cover my living and accommodation expenses." To cut a long story short, I had my carpet when I convinced the establishment department that, outside, I had been in receipt of a four-figure salary before I joined the Ministry of Munitions. That illustrates the kind of system you have to get used to when you come in from outside to a Government Department.
§ Colonel Arthur Evans (Cardiff, South)
May I interrupt the hon. Member to point out that there is another aspect of the case? I was a military officer in the last war and I was in fact an establishment officer. At that time as soon as an official in the Civil Service received promotion, he began to demand an awful lot of things that he thought necessary to keep up his dignity in his enhanced position. It was in the interest of economy that that point of view was not always accepted by those in authority at the Treasury.
§ Sir A. Gridley
If I may I would now refer to the Report which contains the matter of this severe criticism by the hon. Member for West Islington, as a reminder to the Committee, because I know Members are so inundated with reports and pamphlets of all kinds, that some may not have even read this Report. I should perhaps, explain that when an important 1609 section of the Select Committee on National Expenditure first looked into this particular order of the Ministry of War Transport relating to control of road traffic over distances of more than 6o miles, the order had been in operation only a relatively short time, and although there were many criticisms, we felt it was not fair to report upon a scheme which had hardly had time to settle down. Therefore, we postponed further consideration for six months and then we examined it. This is what we said:These more recent inquiries showed that there were widespread complaints, alleging that under the control of the Ministry of War Transport much valuable time was being lost, there was a heavy mileage of empty running, and far too many journeys were made in which vehicles ran outwards only lightly loaded and returned empty; a state of affairs which did not previously prevail. As a consequence of the failure of the control system there is much avoidable light loading and empty running, so that the ends desired by the Ministry of War Transport are defeated. Numerous cases were quoted where a convoy of empty lorries had been sent long distances while goods were awaiting transport to the very areas to which it was going.'Was that true or was it not? It is rather significant that this Report, which is based on evidence received in December, 1943, and January, 1944, was issued on 16th March. Might I call the attention of the Committee to this Memorandum which was issued by the Ministry of War Transport on 14th February? It is headed, "Unbalanced Traffic—Long Distance." I will read only the first two sections of it:I. Hitherto it has been the general practice to assign to road transport only short distance traffic or traffic which the railways have indicated that they cannot carry or of which they desire to be relieved. This has meant that when traffic between two towns or areas is unbalanced, so that empty running in one direction is unavoidable, return loads have not generally been available for all the road transport capacity on offer. With the growing need to secure the greatest use of railway wagon stock it may sometimes be that, although rail capacity is available, it would be advantageous that traffic should be carried by road as a back load in order to facilitate the turn-round of wagons and their dispatch direct to points where they are urgently needed for loading.2. It is considered desirable—and may I call my hon. Friend's particular attention to this:—that restrictions should now be removed upon return loading of suitable traffic for road movement between towns or their vicinities where there is consistent bad balancing of road traffic and consequently there is available a 1610 regular, or fairly regular volume of road vehicle carrying capacity at present unused.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Perhaps my hon. Friend will allow me to say that the evident intention of that instruction was to improve the working of the railways, and not that it was thought that the working of the road vehicles was wrong.
§ Sir A. Gridley
That may have been the intention, but I do hope my hon. Friend will not think that the administration of the road haulage system is flawless.
§ Sir A. Gridley
I would ask the Committee to believe that my colleagues of the Select Committee on National Expenditure do not issue biased Reports. We consider the evidence given before us, both on behalf of the Government and on behalf of those whose interests may be affected, with all the care and judicial-mindedness and lack of bias that we can possible give. As I have said, our Report does not criticise the administration of the Ministry of War Transport as a whole. I have paid my tribute to the great work that the Ministry has done. The only complaint we have at present is against this particular department of the Ministry. The industry does not want the scheme which they have drawn up to be torn up and discontinued. They are anxious to give it every possible support. What they do ask—and I think this is the view of my colleagues on the Select Committee—is that the scheme in which flaws have been discovered should be looked at again, and every possible improvement made in it.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
Before the hon. Member sits down, as I made the charge of bias against the Report of the Select Committee, may I ask him why it is that, while all the disadvantages and difficulties of the railways are fully allowed for, in that part which deals with road haulage anything that has gone wrong and every anomaly are charged to the account of the Ministry? Also, why is all the evidence only from road haulage owners, even where they refer to the reactions of the drivers of vehicles upon the roads?
§ Sir A. Gridley
Had he been, I think he would have found that I dealt with the points he has just raised. In aswer to his further assumption that there was bias, may I say that this particular paragraph of the Report was most carefully considered before my colleagues and I agreed to it:The suggestion has been made that complaints from the road haulage industry are exaggerated and that nothing is heard from the many who are satisfied with the working of the scheme. That causes for complaint occur is admitted by the Ministry, but they hold that these are isolated cases. Your Committee have given due consideration to this defence, but the volume of evidence actually put before them, apart from the criticisms which have been made in Parliament and the Press, is too great to be dismissed as originating from a factious few.
§ Sir Joseph Nall (Manchester, Hulme)
My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) quite rightly maintained that the Committee's Report was not a biased document. I need not go into the composition of the Committee because I only want to remind hon. Members that, throughout the road transport industry, there is overwhelming evidence in support of the things said by my hon. Friend's Committee. I would remind hon. Members, quite shortly, of the three headings which sum up what that Report says:
§ (4) That the Ministry should immediately and closely re-examine the present freight charges and adjust them where necessary.
§ (5) That the Ministry should re-examine the routine office work entailed by the Road Haulage Organisation with a view to simplifying it as much as possible.
§ (6) That a close scrutiny should be made of the work of Divisional and Area Haulage Officers, and more particularly that of Unit Controllers, with a view to the more economical use being made of lorries and their carrying capacity."
§ That sums up all that my hon. Friend's Committee have to say, but they are fundamental points, which have never been refuted by any substantial evidence. I know we must not rehash previous Debates, and I have no desire to do so, except to say that I did not agree with some friends of mine who put down a Prayer to stop the Regulation which the Parliamentary Secretary wanted, because 1612 I thought the hon. Gentleman was right on the occasion of the previous Debate. In that Debate, however, I think he was hard on my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport, whose Committee criticised the operation of the haulage scheme, because anybody who knows anything at all about the business goes on hearing day after day of glaring defects. The hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) had a good deal to say in that Debate, and I interrupted him. However, I will make no more reference to the Debate itself, because my hon. Friend's Committee, in criticising the scheme, called attention to the position of the unit controllers, the area haulage officers, and the divisional haulage officers.
§ It is a fact that the unit controllers are not in a proper position of authority to manage the business which they are supposed to be managing. I will give quite a short illustration. When they were running their own business as managers responsible for its good conduct, they would be subject from time to time to spates of traffic which were more than they could deal with. Their common practice was to confer with a neighbour, who might have a correspondingly slack day, and would do some of the work for him. One would suppose that in this scheme unit controllers should be allowed, at least, their common sense business freedom to adjust matters between each other and sub-let or hire each other's vehicles. They can do nothing of the kind. They have to report to the area haulage officers. It takes time to do that, and some of these officers do not even give a decision. When A cannot do the job they do not consult B or C, they report to the divisional haulage officer and he sometimes reports back to his own regional commissioner.
§ I have a case in mind of three important industrial centres. Let us call them A, B and C. Two of them are in one region, one is in another region. There is a heavy one-way loading from B to A in one region, and there is an equally heavy loading in the other direction from A to C, C being in a second region. It is quite common for the man at B to be short of vehicles for sending traffic to A and when he gets into touch through the area officer with unit controls in A, he finds a lot of vehicles have gone from A to C which could perfectly wel 1613 have called at B on the way back, but they are not allowed to do so because C is in another divisional control area, and instead of sending the wagons from A, who have arrived at C, back to call at B, and take one-way traffic to A, they are dispersed all over the country by the control in the region to which C belongs. That would not happen under ordinary conditions.
Mr. Gallagher (Fife, West)
The hon. Member is talking nonsense.
§ Sir J. Nall
My hon. Friend's Department has been wrongly advised. I am not blaming the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary; they listen to people, but they do not always get a proper census of voices. They listen to the few, and not to the many. These muddles were not arising in 1940, although a great deal has been said about the chaos of road transport Road transport was not in any state of chaos. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] No, it was not. There was a shortage of vehicles.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
With respect, vehicles were often working on non-essential work, when really urgent work essential to the national interest could not be done.
§ Sir J. Nall
A series of pools was organised by the trade at the ports, and these pools succeeded in clearing the heavy arrivals of traffic from the ports with, as far as I know, only one single notable exception. A lot has been said about calling in Army lorries, but I think the Minister referred to it as one exception. The organisation of transport was not in a state of chaos, there was just not enough transport available. Hon. Members must not confuse shortage with chaotic management, because down the years there has been restriction on the expansion of road transport. Therefore, it is not the fault of those people who work 1614 it if there was not enough transport at certain hours of peak loading. At a later stage, after these pools were working, the Ministry set up their chartered fleet, which was intended to create a centrally controlled organisation to deal with essential and non-essential traffic. However, events operated against my hon. Friend's Department, because no sooner had they got the chartered fleet going for the purpose of dealing with an increasing traffic, than the trouble about rubber arose, and the organisation had to be put into reverse gear to stop moving traffic by road, and so we got the present scheme.
Let the Committee remember, as I am sure my hon. Friend knows, that the present scheme was organised, not to deal with an increasing volume of traffic on the roads, but with the deliberate intention of keeping in care and maintenance a mass of transport which it was intended should not be used until some special emergency arose, and in the meantime traffic was to be diverted to rail. This present organisation was primarily created for the care and maintenance of vehicles in partial use and now finds itself overloaded with a great spate of traffic which had not been budgeted for by the Ministry when they created their scheme. Therefore, it is not adequate for the present situation. There are not enough controlled units, and the units which do exist are not properly geographically located. There are half a dozen controlled units in a city like Manchester, but in some important towns outside there are none at all. Lorries are ordered about by a controller in another town who knows nothing whatever about the business in the town where the uncontrolled vehicles are operating. So the scheme is incomplete. In regard to the geographical position of the units the present position has arisen from the fact that there was great opposition in the industry, and because the Ministry accepted as controlled units only those who rushed at them and were glad to sign up for fear of being put out of usiness altogether. Others did not want to be controlled.
§ Sir J. Nall
No, nobody has sabotaged this scheme. I, for one, will do anything I can to help to create more controlled units.
§ Sir J. Nall
In organising the scheme a further, and fundamental, mistake the Ministry made was to ignore the so-called clearing-houses. I know a great many road haulage operators who do not like the clearing-houses, but one has to face the fact that the clearing-houses were the mainstay of the small man. They knew the small man and his needs and his capacity and they were more closely in touch with the general pooling system of traffic than almost anybody else in the industry. Yet the clearing-houses have been deliberately excluded from this scheme, and I think the Ministry was wrongly advised in leaving them out. If the Government want to make the best use of the pooling system, eliminate waste mileage, and ensure priority for essential traffic, these things must be organised by men who understand the business, instead of which the Ministry have quite needlessly and foolishly left out those who could have been of most use to them.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
The hon. Member will realise that there was no unanimous opinion in the industry itself and that my Noble Friend and I met representatives of the clearing-houses on more than one occasion.
§ Sir J. Nall
I know there was opposition in the industry, but it came from those firms which do not work in concert with the clearing-houses. If the Ministry are to take an unbiased, over-all, view of the whole industry, they must have regard to every section, whether they agree with each other or not. It is the business of the Ministry to overrule the prejudices of the different sections.
§ Sir J. Nall
For the period of the war it was realised that, in every industry, State control was inevitable. Nobody has disputed that, or has asked for this control to be abolished. What I am saying is that if you do have control, it must be efficient and adequate. It is no good having lop-sided control, as we have now, and that is why I did not put my name to the Prayer on Regulation 73B, which was discussed by the House recently. As 1616 I have said, it is quite wrong to assume that there was a state of chaos. There never has been, but there has been inadequacy. In some quarters there is inadequacy now, which is aggravated by the waste mileage occurring under the present system. To get the scheme working more adequately and economically, the unit controllers must be allowed greater operational freedom. They must be given the ordinary liberty of interchange =of traffic between each other, which they would have in ordinary business, and in the matter of office routine and forms they ought not to be held up and tiresomely humbugged by the establishment branch. The other day I met one of these men in a train travelling from a Northern town. I knew that he was doing a big job and was "snowed-up" with work. I asked him why he was going to London and he said he wanted two more clerks. I asked him why he need go to London on such an errand and he replied that he had to do so because he had to get permission to engage them. That is Government control.
§ Sir J. Nall
Can it be said to be in the interest of economy and efficiency that a man in a very responsible position, managing large volumes of traffic, should have to waste a whole day in coming to London to argue about having two more clerks in his office? The Parliamentary Secretary and his Ministry have the wrong idea about road haulage. In his otherwise admirable speech the hon. Gentleman assumed that everything was lovely in the garden, just because we have Government control. Of course, that is very far from the fact and it is rather a pity that this Debate has gone on such a narrow line. In fact, the hon. Gentleman opened on a narrow line, because he said nothing about shipping and ports with which his Ministry have to deal.
When this joint Ministry of Transport and Shipping was created the House was doubtful whether it was wise to put these matters under one Department. I remember being asked about this concentration in one Department and I said that it was the right thing to do, and would work, provided it was properly divided into divisions dealing with the different forms of 1617 transport it would have to handle. I said it would need seven or eight divisions, each with a director who should be fully conversant with the branch of transport with which the division was dealing—ships, ports, harbours, railways, roads and, particularly, equipment. In relation to railways the Ministry really would not claim to be closely directing the operation of the railways to-day. It is being done by the Railway Executive and railway managements and in the case of shipping it is being done by people from the industry who know shipping. In the case of road transport there is no bother about bus transport; all the bother arises over goods transport, and it is simply because there is too close control, or dictatorship, at the top. The unit controllers and area haulage men have not adequate liberty of action. Geographical distribution is bad, some units are too large for the men supposed to be managing them and some of the areas are not of the appropriate size for the area haulage officer to deal with.
The Parliamentary Secretary said that when he wound up the Debate he would deal with certain possibilities of the future. I wonder whether he can give us some indication of the lines on which the Ministry are thinking in relation to trunk roads. Some years ago the Ministry of Transport took over complete control of some lengths of Class I roads. This was all to the good, because it secured a more uniform system of maintenance and an evenly thought out programme of improvement and it is to be hoped that at not too distant a date a further considerable mileage will come under direct ministerial responsibility. But I hope that in doing that the Ministry will not cease to use the existing highway authorities as agents, because if trunk roads on a large scale are to be maintained by centralised organisation, with the local organisation maintaining all other A and B roads in county area's, we should get duplication in operations, which would be extravagant. Moreover, if the count, highway authorities are divorced from any kind of consultation relating to these trunk roads it may well be that improvements may be carried out in many instances on lines which would not be appropriate or well advised by local. opinion.
That brings me to the attitude of the Ministry with regard to motor-ways. To what extent does the Ministry propose to 1618 augment our road system by motor-way construction and to what extent will widening or improvement be effected? I a m not sure that a case can be made out for the immediate adoption of the big programme of the County Surveyors' Society, but there should be a long view and what is done stage by stage should be as a sectional part of that long view. I know one county where there is 40 miles of the Great North Road going through it. There it is proposed to have nine different by-passes in addition to the three or four which have already been made. One of those is seven or eight miles long. You get into a position where it would be more sense to make a new stretch of road altogether and not deal with nine different by-passes in a series of loops on a 4o mile stretch. It would not use more land, it would cost less money and make a better job if, in instances like that, the Ministry resorted to the general proposal of motor-ways, without making them into motor-ways for the time being, or calling them motor-ways for that matter, but construct in the years ahead longer sections of main trunk road which would avoid a series of by-passes. It would be more economical and more in the interest of the traffic.
But this question of the future requirements of the roads will depend on national policy. On what lines are the Government thinking about the future of railways and road transport? We hear a lot about coordination but we shall never reach finality unless a definite decision is imposed from the House, not necessarily by new legislation. I believe it can be done under the existing law. The war has shown that the country cannot do without a railway system. Equally, it cannot do without a road transport system. What the country has to make up its mind about is whether the railways, whoever owns them, are to be self-supporting. If they are to be run on a basis which is not self-supporting, and the Treasury has to make up the deficit, are the trading community and the public prepared to carry a heavy burden of taxation to make up the deficit, or are they alternatively prepared to accept some balancing between road and rail?
A great deal has been talked about rail/ road conferences and a road rates structure. I think that is so much waste paper. A rail/road conference will 1619 achieve nothing as long as private traders can do what they like under a C licence. It is the right of anyone to own his own vehicle. Anyone can own a motor car, and that has been extended down the years to the ownership of private lorries and so on. That will obviously have to go on, and the Government will have to put it to the trading community—do they wish to retain the right. to use private vehicles without any limitation on the zone or the scope of that user? If they do, obviously a road rates structure, for the haulage trade will never be of the slightest use because the great firms will say, "These road rates are no use to us. We can do the job cheaper ourselves and we will buy more wagons. We will increase our C fleets." That will bring the railways into deficit and the Exchequer will have to make good the deficit. The time is coming when the Government will have to say to industry, through the F.B.I. or Chambers of Commerce, "Are you prepared to pay taxation to make good the railway deficit or will you agree to some reasonable balancing between road and rail?"
I do not think many traders realise what is happening under the licensing system now. If a manufacturer hires transport from an A or B licence holder he can only use it within the limits accorded to the holder of the licence. If his neighbour in the same industry buys his own fleet of vehicles with a C licence he suffers no such limitation. Therefore, there is what the law calls an undue preference in other respects The present licensing system sets up an undue preference between traders in the same industry, according to whether they own their own transport or hire it. I think—and many of my friends in the transport industry will not agree with me—that this difference between classes of licences has to be very considerably narrowed down. If it is right for an A or B licence to be restricted in its scope of user, it' is only logical that the owner of a C licence should submit to a similar restriction in his scope of user and, unless that is done, there can be no co-ordination between road and rail. So long as a C licence holder can do what he likes with his private vehicles, a road rates structure, road/ rail conference and co-ordination cannot be achieved.
1620 I would like to know what steps the Ministry are taking to confer with representatives of traders on this matter. It is not for the carriers, the road haulage interests, alone to say what precisely has to be done, because transport is for the service of industry, which must be fully acquainted with what the Government are doing in this matter. Is industry prepared to make proper use of the railway system balanced with the use of the road system or does it want freedom to use the road, to the ultimate decay and elimination of the rail?
The future of the railway system, to which the Minister said he would make some reference, raises the matter of the planning of London. I hope that the Ministry are not giving undue credit to the higher flights of absurdity in some of the plans we have seen, especially in those which propose to eliminate from London practically all the main line systems, by putting the termini back to other places. For example, Waterloo Station, which was built within the lifetime of many Members of this House, would be pushed back to somewhere near Clapham Junction.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
The question of the replanning of London would be out of Order, on this Vote.
§ Sir J. Nall
I am much obliged to you, Mr. Williams. What I said was only in accordance with a statement previously made about something that the Minister was to deal with later. I ask whether the hon. Gentleman could give some indication of the alternative plans on which his Ministry is working in this current year. I understood him to say that the Ministry were engaged on those matters. I was not asking him for an outline. of new legislation but for some indication, especially as regards electrification, which was only one of the subjects he mentioned. Future planning depends on these practical matters. We have to realise that the objection to railway systems in urban areas is mainly due to the smoke. Therefore, if the main line companies, either with or without Government assistance, eliminate the smoke nuisance, especially in built-up London, a different aspect will be put upon the future of the railways. On the other hand, there can be no point in knocking down viaducts built for the railways only, 1621 in order to build new viaducts for overhead roads, as is visualised in one of these plans. There can be no point in trying to put the main line termini under ground, as some people suggest. It is impossible to visualise Waterloo or Paddington underground. In the meantime I hope the Minister will not be misled by suggestions that any part of the transport industry is trying to sabotage his control, or is not prepared to co-operate in his control. Those who are involved in these matters are just as anxious to further the war effort as is anybody else.
It is incumbent upon me, and my duty to the Committee, to be as short as possible, particularly after such a dreadful, meandering speech as that which we have just heard. I want to come swiftly to the point. First, I congratulate the Minister on his speech, He had a very broad canvas to cover, and other hands might have covered it with a dull picture. The Minister took full advantage of certain passages to give interesting and colourful touches which stimulated one's interest in the subject, and that cannot be said of such a speech as the one we have just experienced.
I come to the matter which has brought me to my feet. I am not speaking on behalf of any section of the industry, but since I have been working in the Midlands in close touch with one of the Ministries, I have been forced to take particular interest in the conditions prevailing among wagon drivers. The Minister said that when one contemplated the work a driver had to do on dark, foggy nights, by dim light, perhaps on steep roads covered with ice and with a heavy load behind—the driver being on that road for the first time in his experience—one realised what a dreadful state of mind such a man was liable to get into, after being nut for four or five hours. What are the facts? These men stop at roadside places, which are called road inns, to which they go for recreation and refreshment. I was getting report after report as to the horribly insanitary and filthy conditions of those places. What did I do? It is not fair that I should mention the name of one of the most prominent and efficient Ministers of the Government, but he and I had occasion to do some midnight inspection of factories. When I told him of the state of affairs to which I have 1622 referred, he immediately came with me, and out we went on the roads. We went to two or three of these hostels. We went to one in particular. What did the woman there tell us? She said that the place was infested with prostitutes and she told us how difficult it was to keep them out of the place.
After hours of difficult driving, these men want to have a place where they can find comfort and cleanliness, but what does one get when one visits these places? These inns have special licences from the Ministry of Food to obtain food supplies. One result is that much of the food is consumed, very often round about seven, eight or nine o'clock at night. A lorry driver who has been on the road for hours, arrives after nine o'clock, or round about midnight, and there is none of the food left. The drivers tell me it is usually a case of what they call "beans and toast." I do not want to make the picture seem too morbid, but were I to give it in all its details, it would be so staggering as to be almost unbelievable. We must remember that the men on these wagons are often handling food from the Ministry of Food. When they get to certain inns, the beds are so filthy that the men refuse to take the coverings off and they lie on the beds with their overalls on. We went into some of these inns. We went to one that was supposed to be an outstanding success. We found a room about 30 feet by 40 feet in size, and we discovered about 40 beds in that place. When we got inside we had to walk sideways in order to manoeuvre our bodies round the beds. I can well imagine 40 or 50 men getting in there at night, with the blackout keeping out ventilation, and we can picture what goes on there.
I will read a passage that will give a crystallised picture of the impression left on our minds after our examination of these roadside inns, or cafes, as they are called. It was our impression, after examination of the road running between London and Liverpool. I took a road which was typical, and is probably the busiest in the country. It was that between London and Liverpool. This road has been taken stage by stage and each considerable cafe on it is briefly described.It will be seen from this that, out of 30 of these cafes on this road, not more than 10 are classed by the men as fair and only five are considered to provide reasonably clean re- 1623 freshment and accommodation. Only three have sleeping provision. The majority are far from being either adequate or hygienic. There are no rest or recreational facilities other than overcrowded bedrooms or eating rooms, on the whole road, allowing even for the overcrowding of 420 men who are generally using this road. Accommodation in publichouses has been deliberately excluded, although the men refer to this as being on the average the best provision for them. Publichouses cater for these men and the men go there rather than resort to the cafes. They are driven to the local public-houses, which is not altogether a good thing for men who are driving on the roads.I am deliberately cutting myself down, in order to concentrate on this one point and I am not going any further than that.
After accumulating the details with which he and I came into contact, usually by night and in all kinds of weather, during which we saw men sleeping out in their own lorry cabins rather than go into the huts, I came back to my office in the Potteries. I then got into contact with a number of disinterested men. I held two or three conferences with the transport workers in the area. We got out a general statement of their experiences. Then my disinterested colleagues set to work to plan a hostel. We planned it in detail. The other men on the job were professional surveyors and architects. Nothing was left out. There were a drive-in and drive-out, petrol supply, recreation rooms, cubicles and all the other things necessary to constitute a rest centre for men on the road. These plans were made without charge. No charge was even made for professional advice. We even went into actuarial detail so as to make it clear that these hostels would pay for themselves after they had been in use for three or four years, taking into account also the number of meals that would be served.
I forwarded these plans to the Ministry in London more than two years ago. The Minister knows that I delivered the plans, giving the whole details without any charge or thought of charge, but purely because we were trying to do something, in a distinterested way, to put right what I had seen in the Midlands. These plans were buried in oblivion. Nothing has ever happened. Afterwards I even tried to redeem the plans, but they had gone adrift in the Ministry. Time after time those transport workers have met in my area and have carried resolutions which have been forwarded to the head office in London, but they have only been 1624 rebuffed. All this happened while this dreadful state of affairs continued on the road. Now I am asking the Minister, despite all that has happened in the past, that we should forget the past. For heaven's sake cannot something be done to see that these men are catered for properly on the road?
I will forget all that I have done and all that' my friends have done, if only something will emerge. Otherwise it was no use going round to inspect these cafes. I remember we went to one place which was a wooden hut, practically next door to a filthy lavatory, near which the men had to eat their food. It is no use saying that this state of affairs will be rectified. These places have to be wiped out. A swift review will have to be made of the places where these men eat. I remember one place just outside Newcastle-under-Lyme. I think more lorries stop at that junction than at any other place in that part of the country. Something ought to be done in the way of a swift erection of a canteen at suitable points. Do not let us regard this reform as too expensive. It may be that, if there is to be a national road plan, the points at which the traffic will stop may be different. I quite appreciate that, but I ask the Minister to go back to the Ministry with a determination that this state of affairs shall be rectified before the oncoming of this winter. I have now to keep an appointment and shall have to leave, but I will consult HANSARD tomorrow morning to see what the Minister has had to say on the subject of these cafes.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Before my hon. Friend goes, perhaps I might inform him that I have seen the plans to which he referred, and have given them the very closest attention. I will refer to them during my reply.
§ Mr. Leslie Boyce (Gloucester)
There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that those who are engaged in operating the national transport services during the war have acquitted themselves extremely well. This remark applies not only to managements and staffs, but right down through the various sections and grades of the transport workers. A large proportion of those services has, in the ordinary course, fallen to the railways and, in the words of the Director of Movement at the War Office: 1625the railways have done, and are doing, a magnificent job of work, and they also came through the blitz with flying colours.It would be superfluous for me to attempt to elaborate such a public tribute as that, corning from one who has full inside knowledge of all the facts such as is not available to hon. Members.
The Parliamentary Secretary referred to certain advantages which, he said, had accrued to the community as the result of the more unified working on the part of the railways and the pooling of rolling-stock during the war. He was followed by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie), who regretted that the rules of procedure prevented him from arguing that it would consequently be in the public interest if the railways were removed from the sphere of private enterprise and were nationalised after the war. It must not be forgotten that it was private enterprise which so developed and organised the railways that they were ready and able, at a moment's notice, to take the immense strain that was put upon them when hostilities broke out. They have never failed to bear that strain since, in spite of Dunkirk, in spite of our having two of the mightiest Armies in the world's history, with their full equipment, in these islands to-day, in spite of the blitz, the blackout and the loss of 110,000 railway personnel to the Services and of ten thousand and one other difficulties. During the war period, when they have achieved such a magnificent record, the railways have not been nationalised. They have been managed and operated by the same men and women who managed and operated them in peace time. The Controller of Railways at the Ministry of War Transport, Sir Alan Anderson, who is a former Member of this House, is an experienced director of the L.M. and S. and is working with and through his former managerial colleagues.
The present pooling of rolling-stock, which applies mainly to different types of railway wagons, chiefly coal wagons, of which there are approximately 580,000 privately owned, apart from those owned by the railway companies themselves, has met the general convenience in war-time. It has by no means been an unmixed blessing to the railway companies, the collieries, the coal factors or the nation. When the Minister is considering future plans, I would like him to bear in mind that the system of privately owned coal 1626 wagons, which has grown up in this country, has been a sound economic proposition from the national standpoint from the very beginning. It owed its inception to the fact that the railway companies were either unable or were not prepared to provide the colliery owners or coal factors with wagons on the same enterprising terms as others were prepared to do.
The simple and complete justification for the private ownership of wagons lies in the fact that it has always paid the coal mines and the coal factors either to own them or to hire them from the private owners. If they could have handled or transported their coal a penny a ton more cheaply by getting their wagons direct from the railway companies, the private owners of wagons would have been put out of business long ago. This system has, therefore, been of unquestionable benefit to the consume in the price he has paid for his coal. Moreover, as every hon. Member who has had mining experience must know, wagons constitute the cheapest form of storage of coal at the mine. They save the extra handling in putting coal on the ground and having to pick it up again, apart from the loss of coal involved. Furthermore, the privately-owned wagon does not normally incur demurrage charges, which can be a very heavy item of expenditure, so long as it is at the mine or in a privately-owned siding. These savings, which are substantial, all cheapen the handling and the transport charges which must ultimately be borne by the consumer.
A decision has not yet been reached as to whether these wagons, together with those owned by the railway companies, are to remain in a common national pool or in regional pools or both, or to revert to their pre-war position. The whole matter is in the process of being thoroughly examined in all its aspects in order to arrive at whatever decision may be the best possible from the national point of view. This is an exceedingly complicated subject and it embraces many types of wagons which are required by the different colliery companies. Some of these colliery companies must have wagons with side and end doors, others Must have them with bottom doors or wagons of a certain height in order that they may go under the screens, and so forth. Some wagons are only suitable for use in pit to port traffic, while others are equally 1627 suitable for long distance hauls. I think I have said enough for hon. Members to see that the desirability to keep the wagons in a national pool or in regional pools, or otherwise to deal with them, should not primarily be a political issue. It is certainly not a matter which can properly be settled to the best interest of the community by mere reference to party labels.
I should like to say a passing word about the often made suggestion that we should use a much larger type of railway wagon of, say, 40 or 50 tons carrying capacity or even larger still. As one of the principal builders of wagons in the country nothing would suit me better. The argument for this proposal is that it should be more economic to haul trains made up of a less number of larger units than ones consisting of a greater number of smaller units. Unfortunately, neither the logic nor the economics of this question is quite so simple as all that. To begin with, there are very few mines in this country, if indeed there are any at all. which would be able to cope with these bigger types. They would not go under the screens and the mines do not possess the equipment capable of handling them. If they were loaded with coal for export, it would be found that the port installations could not cope with them either. Again, let us take the case of the small coal factor, of whom there are hundreds throughout the country, who unloads his coals at one of the railway companies' sidings. He needs a small wagon not exceeding 13 tons capacity which he can unload quickly, not a large one on which he would have to pay heavy demurrage charges before he could absorb the contents. These are but two or three of the many weighty considerations which have to be borne in mind when discussing this apparently simple, but in reality very difficult and complicated, question.
No one of any consequence in the transport industry would deny that there are certain defects in the present arrangements. These are not due to inability or inefficiency on the part of management or employees. They arise naturally from the fact that each of the different forms of transport in this country has developed separately and independently during the last Too years, and from the fact that they have hitherto not been properly coordinated or been given equal treatment 1628 by the Government and Parliament. This leads me to say that the record of Parliament in dealing with internal transport matters since the last war is not one of which any of us has any right to be particularly proud. Be that as it may, it will be our duty to the nation to ensure that its transport system after the war is the most efficient, most economical and, generally speaking, the best that it is possible to provide. This cannot be brought about by treating the different transport agencies—road, rail, coastwise, canal and air—as though they were each in a watertight compartment and quite separate from and independent of one another. In other words, as they are all engaged in performing similar functions, the system of national transport must be envisaged and planned as a single integrated whole. This is not inconsistent with private enterprise, and in no other way can we hope to avoid wasteful overlapping and uneconomic competition or give to the travelling community, or to industry and trade, the full benefit of the properly balanced and co-ordinated service which they require.
Before the war, we had many discussions in this House regarding the inequality of treatment given by Parliament to the various forms of transport. It is not my intention to-day to dwell upon the very real grievances of the railway companies in this respect. I have ventilated them at length in the past and may have to do so at some time in the future. All I wish to do now is to emphasise the fact that there can never be a proper or statesmanlike solution of the national transport problem unless it be founded upon the principle of absolute equality of treatment by Government and Parliament of all forms of transport in the future.
§ Mr. Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
I wish to bring this Debate back to the realities of the subject we are dealing with, and to remind the Committee that transport, and particularly railway transport, is in the front line of this war, whether one considers our side or the other side. I have probably addressed more broadcast appeals to the workers of Europe than any Member of this House during this war, and in practically every one of these, the theme has been an appeal to the workers on the railways and in transport generally, whether in France, 1629 Italy, Belgium or Germany, to collaborate with us in the war, which to us at least is a war largely of transport facilities. That has been underlined, so far as our country is concerned, in the speech by the Parliamentary Secretary to-day, and in all the reports and other statements in the Press and elsewhere dealing with the war and the transport situation.
Whereas, on the Continent, the task of the railway and other transport workers has been the destruction of the enemy's transport, in which they are playing a very important role in conjunction with and in collaboration with our bombing forces in preparation for the coming attack on Europe, the task of the railways and the other transport services in this country during this war has been, on the contrary, to build up the maximum efficiency in speed and delivery of the goods. In that task I think they have admirably succeeded and no tribute that can be paid in this Committee could be adequate to the efforts which have been put forward by the men and women in these services, particularly in the railway service, during the terrible years some of them have had to go through, especially during the heavy bombing raids on this country, and the very difficult conditions generally that have faced transport in the last two or three years.
Many of the engine drivers and firemen—I emphasise the engine drivers because of the particular strain that rests upon these men—have had to work hours which before the war would have been regarded, even under normal peace-time conditions, with full lighting in the marshalling yards and on the main roads, as something more than exaggerated. Under war-time conditions it is not an uncommon thing for men to be working 16 and 20 hours before getting home for a break, sometimes a short break, and the difficulty that is being reached now is that whilst they have put up with these conditions, and have carried out the task so far as their physical endurance has made it possible, there is, after all, a limit to that physical endurance, even of railwaymen. One of the problems facing the railway trade unions at the present time, and which no doubt has been brought prominently to the notice of the Minister, is the fact that the manpower situation on the railways is reaching a very serious state. I think the 1630 Minister should consider very seriously, in. conjunction with the other Ministries which may be responsible, this question of man-power on the railways if the railways are to be maintained in their present state of efficiency and to carry out the tasks which await them.
In face of the colossal responsibilities and the tremendous pressure that has been put on our transport services under present conditions, I think we must recognise that the Government could have done no other than have shown the elementary wisdom of taking control of that industry at the very outset. The speech we had from the hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) I think underlines that very clearly, and shows us pretty clearly, if we use our imagination in relation to the illustrations he gave, what might have been the position if in face of the responsibility of running a war like this and coping with the traffic of machinery, men, equipment, supplies of all kinds under these wartime conditions this task had been left to the friends of the hon. Member for Hulme and to private enterprise. He gave the case of A., B. and C. operators and suggested that in dealing with a war situation like this, when there must be a central organisation of some kind, the simple thing to do, and what private enterprise would probably have done under the same conditions, was that if a man in one region was short of a lorry he would phone to a friend in the next region and ask him to send along the lorry or lorries he required. While that might be all right under peace time conditions for two traders entirely independent of any consideration other than their own interests, it cannot be done in war-time.
Consideration has to be given to what may be the requirements on the other side; and a number of vehicles available in a particular region are scheduled, and are supposed to be on call at any time for priority traffic. To those of us who have had any experience of A.R.P. work, in the National Fire Service or anything of that kind, that is obvious. But that is what is wanted by those who would have preferred that private enterprise should be left to deal with the situation. When the hon. Member talks about the clearing houses, and says that there was no chaos on the roads under private enterprise, and that everything in the garden was lovely, 1631 I would quote the final report of the Royal Commission on Transport in 1931:In the City of Liverpool alone there are 27 different clearing houses owning no vehicles at all and similar conditions obtain in most large towns.The Report adds that theyobtain their trade by under-quoting the organised hauliers and railways, and then beating down the owner-driver to the cut-rate less the Clearing House commission.That is private enterprise. That is one of the things probably which have made the operation of a nationally-controlled service in war-time more difficult than it might have been. The Royal Commission, in facing this problem of the co-ordination of our transport services, were met inevitably with the question of a central organisation under national ownership and control. It was discarded because it would have raised considerations of a political character, which prevented them from going into questions of this kind. But, when we come to a war, when the whole life of the community is at stake, political considerations should not stand in the way of necessary reorganisation. Unfortunately, that was the position, with the result that the transport system generally was not co-ordinated on a proper scale at the outbreak of hostilities.
I could cite other instances. I could refer to the condition of the canals. It would have been a tremendous advantage to the Government in dealing with wartime traffic, particularly the heavy, slow-moving, non-urgent traffic, which is peculiarly suitable for inland waterway haulage. The canals are in their present state for no other reason than the operation of private enterprise and the operation of groups of railway capitalists in trying to smash the competition of canals. That can all be substantiated by reference to the Report of the Royal Commission. In regard to docks the activities of the railway companies have not improved the siting of harbours and clocks around our coasts. I remember very vividly how, when I was working on the railway not so long ago, the company in which I was employed were very pleased about the good stroke of business they had done in buying up a dock on the North East coast. Their object was by means of preferential rates and charges to direct all the traffic coming into and going out of the country into this particular dock, 1632 which brought them traffic and revenue, but this was to the detriment of all the other docks on the coast. I hope that, when giving consideration to the future of air transport, the Ministry will have that lesson in mind, and will not allow the railway companies, or any other groups of private interest, to buy up the airports for that purpose. It is obvious that the disposition and management of these facilities is a matter of national interest, and should not be left to private enterprise.
The Third Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure has been widely referred to. The lesson of that Report is that private interest and private profit are the only incentive that certain of the people at present running our transport facilities recognise. It is shown that even now, in war-time, there is no other spur to their initiative than the amount of profit they can make. Hon. Members who have already spoken about this Report have invited criticism of this kind. Reference has been made in this Debate, and in the Report, to the Railways Agreement. It has been suggested that the railway companies have not had a fair deal under that Agreement. That is one of the most colossal claims put forward by any industry during this war. Under the Agreement, the railway companies are guaranteed a profit of £43,000,000, although they were earning in 1935, 1936, and 1937 certainly not £4.0,000,000; their total revenue in 1938 was only £32,000,000. Why has the traffic gone up as it has? Simply because the Government have no time to discuss modifying charges, but they have to get the traffic which is vital to the war effort moving. The Government, therefore, are entitled to any surplus over a reasonable profit to the railway company. It is a principle well known to members of the co-operative movement that any surplus goes back to the consumer, but the railway companies are not satisfied. I read with some surprise in this Report that, in spite of that, the railway companies have no direct incentive to keep their operating costs down, because they are not working for profit. The Report says:It is only reasonable to assume that those responsible for the day-to-day management of the railway undertakings will endeavour to run them as efficiently as is practicable under war conditions, in order that when full control is resumed one year after the end of the war, 1633 the undertakings will be in the best shape to meet post-war competitive conditionsA similar charge is made in the Report in regard to unit controllers. The Report says:Unit controllers have no financial incentive to see that lorries carry economic loads, since they are not acting for their firms but for the Ministry, and are not, therefore, interested to see that economy is observed on any particular journey.That is because they are not working for their firms, but for the Government and the nation. Profit, again, is apparently the only incentive they recognise. The Report goes on:It has also been suggested that since the Ministry of War Transport do not pay for depreciation of vehicles, unit controllers, in the interests of their firms give them"—that is, their vehicles—as little to do as possible.That cannot be interpreted other than as a direct charge of sabotage, or 'blackmail. They are deliberately conserving their vehicles for after the war, irrespective of the needs of the nation. What is that other than sabotage? I am surprised that, when charges of that kind are made in this Report, the Committee do not recommend, at the end, that proceedings should be taken against these people, because we are told that these charges are based on specific evidence. One of the recommendations should have been that prosecutions be taken against the gentlemen responsible. It is not many days since we agreed that anybody who incited a man to strike during the war should be liable to five years' imprisonment and a £500 fine. This is the situation in the road haulage industry.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
The hon. Member has been putting this matter as though it was a charge which had been accepted by the Select Committee on National Expenditure. If he will look at page II, he will see that what the Committee are saying is that that is one of the charges which have been laid before them, against the unit controllers.
§ Mr. Hynd
I agree with the hon. and learned Member, but we were told that this was based on evidence. It has been suggested that the unit controllers are conserving the vehicles, in the interests of the firms after the war. The Report says: 1634This leads to far less freight being carried for the tonnage of vehicles on the road than would be the case if this were used to its full capacity.That is a direct allegation, and not a suggestion. There are, I agree, suggestions which would take a considerable amount of substantiation, and which are in no way borne out by the language of the Report. I refer particularly to the charges against the drivers of the road haulage vehicles, in respect of which apparently there is no evidence, because the Report says:—Drivers are said to be … no longer interested."Said to be" by whom? I have never heard it said before. If it is said by the operators or the unit controllers, surely what has been said of the unit controllers in this Report is sufficient to discount any evidence of that kind from them.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. Member ought to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that this particular criticism of the unit controllers appears in the Report of the Select Committee under a sub-paragraph entitled "Criticism from the Road Haulage Industry." It was one of the criticisms made to the Select Committee, with which they had to deal.
§ Mr. Hynd
I have no objection to that, but the whole purport of the Report is, surely, that the administration is inefficient. If I understand, from the interjection of the hon. and learned Member, that that is not the intention of the Committee and that they did not intend to convey what was in the Report as their conclusion, I think that the Minister, along with many other people, will be relieved to hear it.
§ Mr. Hutchinson
I am sure that the hon. Member wishes that this shall be put fairly to the Committee. These matters were put forward by the Select Committee as showing that there was great dissatisfaction with the scheme of control in the industry itself. The Committee then went on to deal with these charges, and, in their final recommendations, expressed the view that this was not an efficient organisation of control, not necessarily on the grounds which were put before them, but on grounds which the Committee themselves considered justified that recommendation.
§ Mr. Hynd
I am quite prepared to accept that, but the Minister will no doubt be gratified to hear that these criticisms are not necessarily endorsed by the Committee. That is certainly the impression I gathered, and which many other hon. Members gathered, from the discussion. I hope that, on this occasion, the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson) is a little better briefed than he was on the last occasion, because I noticed that the road haulage organisations were rather upset by the fact that he was not so well briefed then. Now we have the assurance that these criticisms come from those interested in the industry itself, who are not content with the present state of affairs, because they are not working for their own firms, but for the nation. That is a re-assurance we certainly accept, but let me remind the Committee that, so far as the railway companies are concerned, the section of the report which deals with the g43,000,000 agreement is again very interesting in this respect, because it goes on to elaborate what has been done by the workers in very difficult conditions, and-shows the tremendous effort put forward by them in the difficulties of raids, the blackout, long hours and all the rest of it.
What are the conclusions? They are that, in spite of the immense growth of traffic, and the enormous increase in the work of the personnel, no corresponding financial advantage is accruing to railway managements, or to those who invested their savings in railway capital; that, in return for the work done under these difficult conditions by the workers, on night shifts in the blackout and in the shunting yards under bombs, the investor, unfortunately, has not had any proper reward. This is not a conclusion of the Committee, but a complaint from within the railway industry, and that we are quite able to understand.
I only want to underline one or two points raised in the Debate. In my opinion, they are very relevant to the fact that we have had this petty discussion on whether the unit controllers are getting enough from the Government and whether they are preserving their vehicles for after the war, and also on the interests of the railway shareholders. We have to remember that there is a war on, and this industry is playing one of the most vital parts 1636 in the war effort. It is not good enough that these interests should have their eyes all the time on post-war profits. In order to maintain their own position they have been pin-pricking the Government, which is working, in very difficult circumstances, to operate this tremendous weapon in the national interests. If, as is suggested, other interests in the industry are undermining the position outlined in the report, I suggest that it is time for the Government to take action.
§ Mr. Montague
In reference to the interruption made by the hon. and learned Member for Ilford (Mr. Hutchinson), may I be allowed to point out that the criticism of the road haulage system was directed against Government control? The whole essence of that criticism was that control should be taken out of the hands of the Government and placed in hands more closely associated with the industry. That is the point which the hon. and learned Member misses.
§ Mr. Bartle Bull (Enfield)
My excuse for taking part in this Debate is that I was for some two years Parliamentary Private Secretary to Captain Euan Wallace when he was Minister of Transport. The position of a Parliamentary Private Secretary is, perhaps, analogous to that of a batman in the Army, except that the batman gets more pay, and it is perhaps more analogous to temporary local, acting, unpaid rank in the Army, about which we have heard so much recently, in that there is a little added responsibility but no increase whatever in pay. During the two years when my chief was at the Ministry of Transport, all problems relating to transport were extremely well handled, although I appreciate that there had been difficulties in the period before that and that there were difficulties in the period following it. I will not follow the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) into a discussion about the relative merits of the private or public ownership of railways after the war, but I would remind him that, since we have had the London Passenger Board there have still been a certain number of complaints. Therefore it is not the case that, when a concern is owned by the State, whether a railway, the underground service or the bus service, that necessarily does away with all complaints.
I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary one or two questions. What 1637 progress has been made in regard to changing the traffic in this country from the left to the right side of the road? In that connection, may I remind him that there is very little civilian traffic on the roads just now; that our troops have got into the habit of driving on the right side of the road in Egypt and in Libya, and that, when they go abroad, they have to drive on the right side with vehicles built for driving on the left. I suggested some time ago that this was an appropriate time to change, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether he has made any progress in that direction. With regard to mileage, I realise that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a little backward and probably wishes to keep up his old establishment and does not want to change. But could we not have the decimal system for speedometers on cars and trucks?
The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned difficulties experienced by conductresses of buses, and spoke of how hard-worked they were. I agree with him in what he said about their willingness to work in the pressure of traffic, and that they have to produce immediately the exact change, but has the Minister considered the suggestion I made some time ago about having return tickets? There are many stations on the Underground for which there are no return tickets available. I think it would save an enormous amount of time and trouble if we could have return tickets on the buses as well as on the Underground.
There is one other point, about first-class tickets for long distance journeys on the railways. I do not seek to be controversial on this point, but I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary and to hon. Members that either you have first-class tickets or you have not. If you sell first-class tickets, and the first-class compartments are filled with other people, I think that, in a way, it is taking money by false pretences. I am not advocating either the retention or the abolition of first-class tickets. I am only putting forward the suggestion that, if you have them—and Russia had them in 1935 when I was there and every Republic in the world where I have been has them—the rigorous rule for people without such tickets should be "You must not go in there." I am not discussing the merits of first-class 1638 tickets; I only say "Let us have them or abolish them." There is another system, which operates in the United States, where they have Pullman cars with numbered seats, and the passenger "pays through the nose" to be put in there. That is another way of doing it, but the point is that you ought either to have the thing, or not have it. I suggest that it is a complete farce as it is operated at the present time.
The Parliamentary Secretary asked for any suggestions about plans for the future, and, without going completely into that question, I would like to ask him what plans, for example, are being made with regard to the electrification of the branch line from Liverpool Street to Enfield, and further, whether the Minister has considered reopening to passenger traffic that section of the Liverpool Street-Cheshunt Junction line between Lower Edmonton and Cheshunt Junction. These districts have developed enormously and the population has enormously increased so that the travel facilities are not what they should be. Finally, if any hon. Member has any post-war plans for the railways at all, I suggest he should have a look at the railway stations in various capital cities in the world. If we can find any station which is as dismal as Liverpool Street in any big city or capital in the world, let us discuss it again, but, in my short experience of the world, and I have been to most parts of it, I have never seen anything resembling it.
§ Mr. Shinwell) (Seaham)
The hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) will forgive me if I fail to follow up his interesting suggestion about driving on the right instead of on the left, but I beg of him to believe me when I say that my reluctance to enter into that controversy is not attributable to any adherence to any particular ideology. I hope that the tone of the suggestion is in no way associated with the apparent desire of many hon. Members, in relation to transport, to proceed further to the Right than we were actually in 1939.
§ Mr. Bull
Will the hon. Member allow me? My suggestion was not that, but to help the export trade, which I thought would be helped by the idea. It is not a case of going to the Right, but of helping the people on the. Left who make the cars and whose livelihood depends in many cases on our export trade.
§ Mr. Shinwell
As my hon. Friend is aware, any reference to the export trade, or to stimulating the export trade, makes a particular appeal to myself, but I can imagine many other devices that might be more rightly employed in order to assist in expanding this country's exports, but that is not the subject under review. We are all grateful to the Parliamentary Secretary for his admirable review of his Ministry's administration. The Department with which he is associated has come under the lash on several occasions since the beginning of hostilities. I have myself, as hon. Members are aware, frequently referred to the alleged blunders of his Department in the sphere of shipping, and I would not withdraw, at this time, one word of what I have uttered in that connection. But when my hon. Friend assures us—and we are deeply grateful for the assurance—that the past has been wiped out and that the organisation of our transport system is ready to bear the most excessive strain that can be imposed upon it by impending events, hon. Members would be ready, not only to accept that assurance with satisfaction, but to forgive the Minister for any mistakes that may have occurred during his administration. That is our primary purpose.
It appeared to me as I listened to the Debate—and off and on I have listened to almost every speaker—that the underlying feeling was whether we should stand by private enterprise or accept a large measure of public ownership in the sphere of transport. That theme does not appeal to me at all. Indeed, I regard it as irrelevant and I shall say why. It is clear that, whatever be the desire of hon. Members opposite and those with whom they are associated in transport outside, we can never return to the conditions of 1939. Whatever happens in the future, a large measure of transport co-ordination has come to stay. Even in the sphere of wagon organisation, to which the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Boyce) referred, a matter in which he has a very important interest—for a long time the claim has been advanced—I was myself associated with a department advancing the claim many years ago—that there should be more co-ordination in the use of railway wagons in this country. As in the case of railway wagons and of coordination among the several railway units, and of the constant amalgamations 1640 that were taking place before the war, and which are in contemplation even now, among private road hauliers, it is clear that we cannot return to the primitive conditions of 1939. There has been a change. On the other hand, it is equally clear—and it must be clear to hon. Friends behind me as to others—that this Government have not the remotest intention of promoting anything in the nature of public ownership.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I have not the least doubt that my hon. Friend will be only too glad to associate himself with the project of the public ownership of transport.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I would regard the observation of the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) as elementary. It requires, at the same time, amplification and this is not the occasion, but the hon. Member in a moment or two will see the direction in which I am driving. It is clear that, whether it is public ownership or not that emerges from the Department of my hon. Friend for the purpose of post-war transport, at any rate, proposals that are bound to emerge will be associated with a large measure of co-ordination. That cannot be debated now.
My hon. Friends opposite make a song and dance on the retention of controls, but who wants controls for the sake of controls? We do not want controls merely for the purpose of enabling people to sign forms or for other restrictive purposes. On the other hand, hon. Members will observe that controls become imperative in order to secure certain desirable objectives. Let us concern ourselves with the objectives. [An HON. MEMBER: "Come over here."] I have been doing my best for several months now to use arguments which I thought would have the effect of persuading hon. Members opposite to come over here. Whether they come over here or not is beside the point. In an ideological sense—I say this to them, and I know this country and the people of this country with whom I have associated myself as well as any 1641 other hon. Member—80 per cent. of the people of this country, if they had to determine tomorrow the fate of the transport services of this country, would decide for public ownership. There is no doubt that this House has been influenced in the past by public clamour, and it will be again, for the post-war consideration of transport services. The question of co-ordination is something with which I am familiar. I have engaged actively in the examination of the problem, but I am concerned about immediate objectives and getting something done. Some of us are getting a little old, and I hope will be forgiven for that. It is all right for younger Members who have plenty of time with which to play. Some of us have been working for 20 or 30 years to get something done to effect desirable social changes in the country and we want to get something done. Therefore, we look for the most practical means of carrying out our suggestions.
I am going to make a suggestion to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary within the limits of the statement he made. He asked for suggestions. If I were asked what were the three primary objectives in relation to the railway system of the country I would say—and I hope that my hon. Friend will take note —that the first is to secure as rapidly as possible—I am not speaking of the war, because obviously this cannot be done during the war as there are difficulties—the complete electrification of our rail system.
§ Mr. Shinwell
I realise that we have not the hydro-electric power that many other countries possess and that it would be an enormous cost. But we want it, and in the long run it would prove to be less costly. By electrification traffic can be speeded up. It becomes more comfortable. It is less of a nuisance.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is healthier, as my hon. Friend observes. Even if we cannot engage in the wholesale electrification of the system, at any rate we can electify the branch lines. Already must has been done in that direction by the Southern Railway, the L.M.S., and the London and North Eastern Railway in the North, and wherever it has been done it has met with 1642 instantaneous success and approval on the part of the public. We want it for the purpose of speeding up our goods traffic and of removing those railway contraptions—I can think of no other word—that exist in some parts of Lancashire. It is almost impossible to get up any speed because of the accumulation of lines and the network of junctions and all the rest of it. They all seem to get in each other's way. The whole thing has to be disentangled. The railway system of this country has to be disentangled, and I believe that if we get down to the question of electrification we shall see the road out more clearly. I would like, naturally, to go the whole way and have the complete electrification of the railway system, but what is the main thing? It will cost a lot of money. Who is to pay it? Let us begin in this way. Are we agreed that there ought to be some measures taken to electrify the railway system, if we do not agree with wholesale electrification? If we do, who is to pay for it? Can the railway companies pay for it? The answer is "No, they have not the cash resources." Very well, the State must pay for it, and, if the State has to pay, the State must exercise the control, which even the financiers demand.
§ Colonel Greenwell (The Hartlepools)
Is my hon. Friend quite sure that the State will have the financial resources after the war to do this having regard to all its other commitments?
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
That would really be going much too far. We are already having a Debate which covers a very wide area.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In any event, Mr. Williams, I have no intention of being tempted by my hon. and gallant Friend. I am aware that we cannot discuss the financial implications.
I pass on and take the question of the condition of our railway stations. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield referred to 'Liverpool Street. That is only one example.
§ Mr. Shinwell
It is an awful example, but consider other main line stations in London. Take Waterloo and Victoria. The former is a little better, but most are horrible abortions. Take New Street, Birmingham-, Lime Street, Liverpool, and 1643 other stations all over the place—dirty stations—and I am going to use the appropriate expression—some of them filthy stations, with inadequate resting accommodation. I have been in several of them and have had to wait several hours for a train occasionally, with many others. I cannot find an adequate expression to fit the case, and what I am about to say may not be on a very high or intellectual level. But it is time something was done by the railway companies, and, if not by the railway companies, by the State, to provide decent lavatory accommodation at the stations of this country. It is a disgusting business. But where is the money coming from? My hon. Friend opposite will find the answer.
The other suggestion I advance is the removal, as rapidly as possible, of perhaps the worst anachronism of the lot, that legacy from the Stephenson age—the level crossings throughout the country. Imagine, in 1944—and we are looking forward to 1947 and 1950—level crossings that are impeding traffic and wasting resources. We shall not be able to afford such waste of resources when this business is over. We shall have to use every ounce of our energy and every ounce of our material. These are three considerations and I say to hon. Friends in all parts of the Committee, I do not care how you do it as long as it is done. When my hon. Friend in his admirable speech referred to the nationalisation of railways, was it because he wants to make a fetish of it? Nothing of the sort. My hon. Friend might agree, on reflection, that if you can create a sound, efficient, healthy transport service, satisfactory to the users and to the employers, and satisfactory to the nation as a whole under the aegis of private enterprise, by all means let us do it. But you have not been able to do it.
We have to turn our minds in another direction, to something of equal importance. It is a remarkable fact that, although in this Committee we have been having a domestic controversy arising from the Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, a little by-play and cross talk, nothing has been said about the need for conserving the Mercantile Marine. What is to happen to the Mercantile Marine? Many mistakes have 1644 been made in the handling of it during the war, but I have detected a vast improvement, and when there is improvement there is no need for further criticism. Let the past go. We have to look ahead. What are the facts? Before the war we had about 20,000,000 tons of shipping and the United States about 8,000,000 tons. The position is now completely reversed. Indeed, it is worse than that. We shall have at the end of the war, according to the best experts in the business, about 9,000,000 tons of shipping and some of it may be obsolete. As it happens, the Germans have not destroyed all our old ships and unfortunately they have destroyed some of our new ships. The United States will have about 16,000,000 to 18,000,000 tons of shipping. They call it 30,000,000 tons dead weight, but that is the comparable figure. What are we going to do?
The future of this country rests as much on the existence of an efficient Mercantile Marine as it does upon the existence of efficient coal mines, efficient steel works, efficient agriculture. We have to face up to that. What is being done by the Government about it? We cannot afford to wait too long. The war may end in the course of the next 12 or 18 months, or it may be sooner, but whenever the war comes to an end we shall have to face difficulties. We hear it said that for two years there will be such a boom and such a demand for goods that we shall be very busy. But who is going to carry those goods? Are we going to play into the hands of other maritime nations when we depend on our Mercantile Marine for our standard of living? I do not question the right of other nations to earn a living, but we must look after ourselves and see that we are in a strong position for the purpose of being able to bargain with other countries. People do not take notice of you unless you are strong. It is the primary purpose of those who sit on this side of the House to get the highest standard of living for our people. We shall never be happy until we get that.
I can do no more than offer a few suggestions. If anybody expects me to make a plea for the nationalisation for shipping at the end of the war they will be disappointed. Not even to satisfy ideologists on my own side am I going to do that. You can nationalise the railways and do much to co-ordinate rail and road 1645 transport, but when it comes to shipping I want to see a scheme properly worked out and practicable before I attach my signature to it. There is, however, something that can be done. I exclude tramp shipping for the time being, but you could take over liner services and make them into a publicly-owned system through a public utility corporation, but not administered through my hon. Friend's Department who are the last people in the world who should be allowed to operate the shipping industry. I do not want anything in the nature of bureaucracy in the shipping industry or even the beneficial assistance of civil servants, admirable as they are in their own sphere. Nor should the large capitalists have it all their own way.
The people who have the right to administer industry, whether it be the shipping industry or any other industry, are the people who understand most about it. You can organise some part of the shipping service of the country on a national basis, and as far as possible you ought to do it, but it is no good talking yet about complete nationalisation. We have so to organise the Mercantile Marine as to secure conditions in regard to wages, manning and accommodation for officers and men that are the finest in the world. That is the least we can give them if we mean what we say when we pay glowing tributes to them in war time. It is no good paying tributes and saying what gallant fellows they are if when the end of the war comes they are thrown out of work. The men who during the war sported their ribbons and were really gallant fellows must not be left looking for jobs as vacuum cleaner salesmen and the like. We are not going to stand for that.
We have to be fair to these men and provide the best kind of shipping for the Mercantile Marine, and not accept a lot of old junk that the United States hand over to us. That is speaking pretty plainly. There may be 2,000 Liberty ships, and there is talk of those ships being handed over to other countries after the war. But if they are good ships, why should not the United States keep them instead of giving them to others? Why should they retain all ships of 14½ knots and onwards and dispose of the eight-knots or nine-knots ships, some of them built for nine-knots which can never do more than seven knots? Let us build 1646 our own ships and build ships of individual class, not standardised ships. I do not believe in standardised ships. We must have different ships for different routes and allow a fair amount of free play for those concerned in ship design. We must have fast ships and we must have a large measure of co-ordination in shipping services.
When I read the reports of the Chamber of Shipping and a the Liverpool Steamship Owners' Society and other publications relating to shipping, I wonder if these people have ever learned anything. They seem to be living in the past, talking in terms of free unrestricted competition. We cannot go back to that sort of thing. In the future we shall have to compromise. There will not be complete Socialism. I doubt if we shall get that from this Government, and if a Labour Government came in we would not get complete Socialism. I hope that statement will satisfy people on the other side. But we have to get something in the nature of a compromise between a large measure of State direction and State ownership of essential indispensable industries and services and a certain measure of private ownership. That must be the line of progress for some years. It may not go as far as some people want, but I am trying to get something done and, therefore I make these proposals.
As far as shipping is concerned, we have to get fast ships and the best ships, and while we are ready to enter into arrangements with the United States or other maritime nations, the essential consideration when we are thinking of agreements of an international character is to see that the British Mercantile Marine is in a strong position. I am not prepared to advise revolutionary measures, because I want something practical achieved. If we can get for the workers in these services the very best conditions of labour the country can afford, and at the same time satisfy the consumers of the country, I think we shall have gone a long way in the direction of progress.
§ Lady Apsley (Bristol, Central)
I desire to be associated with those hon. kelnhers who have paid their tribute to the Ministry of War Transport, and particularly to the transport workers who, from those in the highest positions down to the humblest seaman or docker, lorry driver or lorry driver's mate, have given of their 1647 best and have done as much as any to make the winning of this war possible. For transport indeed is one of the most essential if not the most essential war service, as the whole essence of a successful war is to get the right things to the right place at the right time. The Minister has told us that he regards his job as one "to plan, to decide, to direct." Planning takes time, a great deal of time. Listening to his very excellent, interesting and instructive survey of the past year, I wondered whether he had given himself enough time to think of the future, that future which may be rather nearer and may come rather more unexpectedly than some of us think.
I should like, therefore, if the hon. Gentleman will permit me, to ask two or three questions on points in regard to which, it seems to me, there were some omissions. First, I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he feels satisfied that he has been able to make suitable arrangements to carry on essential civilian transport, particularly by road and rail, when the second front is on us? Has he thought of possible alternatives? For instance, if the roads are blocked, has he considered dropping essential goods by parachute? We have aerodromes throughout the country, and this could be done in an emergency.
Secondly, has the Ministry of War Transport, in the plans which are undoubtedly being made for the future considered taking advantage of war-time research and war-time inventions? For instance, using new metal alloys in building the new road coaches and the new railway coaches that will be required immediately the war is over. How far up the priority list has he put new civilian buses? These buses, both in cities and and in country districts, are essential to our modern life, and it will be very hard on the civilian population if new and comfortable buses cannot be provided for workers in essential post-war industry as in essential war-time industry, both in town and country. Thirdly, I would refer to something which I think every man, woman and child in the country is considering in these days; that is their postwar holiday. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary is laying plans to make holiday travel possible. There is nothing like a holiday whether by sea, land or air, for 1648 restoring health and morale and giving those people who have put their backs so well into the war effort some change and some return. I know that almost every worker in the country to-day is considering his or her post-war holiday.
The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) mentioned shipping. I would suggest that one of the best things which could be done would be to organise a type of post-war cheap holidays by British ships for the workers of this country after the war. There is much to see in the world and, after all, those people who have given so much to save world civilization should be enabled to see something of that world. I would suggest that cheap holiday trips to the Dominions, to Newfoundland, to the West Indies, to Canada, should be made well within the bounds of possibility almost as soon as the war is over. I hope the Ministry of War Transport will find itself ready, directly the war is over, to play its part in providing that better future which we have heard a good deal about to-day. I hope it will be ready for that happy day when we shall see written about our very shabby railway stations, "Your journey is necessary."
§ Mr. Wakefield (Swindon)
I want to draw attention to a part of the administration of the Ministry of War Transport which deals with export trade. Under the present administration there are certain restrictions in the construction and use of motor vehicles which adversely affect export trade, and I hope that the observations I have to make on that subject will be taken to heart by the Parliamentary Secretary. The hon. Member for Sea-ham (Mr. Shinwell) made certain points about the export trade which have some bearing on the observations I am going to make. As I understand it, the hon. Member asked the Parliamentary Secretary if, in the plans he is making, it is intended to electrify the railways, and that if the railway companies could not pay for the necessary electrification, then the State should do it. The money has to come from somewhere, however, and if the railways cannot do it, it means that other industries must pay, whether by higher charges for goods or in some other way, and that in the end falls back on the export trade.
If we are to export to advantage we have to be in competition with the rest 1649 of the world, and it seemed to me that the hon. Member did not want to nationalise shipping. Why? Because he knows perfectly well that our shipping is in competition with other shipping lines in other parts of the world and, where you are in competition, a State monopoly can never win through. As I understand it, therefore, the hon. Gentleman suggests that the railways should be nationalised because they are a sheltered industry at home, without competition with the outside world, but that shipping should be carried on by private enterprise, because private enterprise is more efficient and able to compete with the outside world.
§ Mr. Shinwell
The hon. Member is quite wrong and has misunderstood me. In the case of the railways it must, not be argued that if you nationalise them it means increased costs for our export trade. The hon. Member has no reason to believe that at all, and I would like to know why he says it.
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Mr. Charles Williams)
I am very sorry, but there is rather a tendency of those taking part in this Debate on Estimates to think that it is a Debate on nationalisation.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I think this question was raised because of the planning now being carried out in the Department. I understood it would be in Order to discuss administration and planning which, after all, are part of the administration of the Department. It seemed to me that if the Ministry was planning to nationalise all railways, that, in turn, would mean an increase in charges, and as you cannot export goods without transporting them from the place of manufacture to the port of export, that means a higher charge. on the goods you are exporting, as a result of which we shall not be able to compete with other countries.
§ Mr. Wakefield
There is any amount of evidence of the higher cost of running railways in different parts of the world, where they are run by the State, as compared with private enterprise. It would be out of Order for me to give facts to support this, in regard to Canada, Australia and elsewhere.
§ Mr. Shinwell
But does not that confirm the hon. Member's argument that 1650 you must cheapen your exports in order to compete with other countries? Are riot other countries going to compete with us, which have State railways?
§ Mr. Wakefield
I think the hon. Member will find that those countries which have State railway systems are not quite so competitive.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I really would suggest that it might be as well to get away from nationalisation. It may be that the Minister has made plans, but some will need legislation and it would be very much out of Order to discuss those. I really think hon. Members should keep to present-day facts rather than future theories.
§ Mr. Wakefield
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Williams, and go back to the point which I wished originally to make. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary could give me his attention for a moment, because this is a very important matter. Under the administration of his Department, motor passenger vehicles are not allowed more than seven feet six inches in width. That may be all right for the home market, but it is a severe handicap for the export market, where vehicles are eight feet and over in width. Clearly, it would be a great advantage if that restriction could be removed and if motor passenger vehicles could be allowed to be built of the same size for the export trade, as well as for the home trade. It is obvious that such vehicles would be more able to compete with foreign corn-petition in the export markets if this assistance could be given to the manufacturers. I know that there are objections, chiefly that the roads of this country are too narrow, but I would like to point out that at the beginning of this war certain vehicles which had been built for export, and which were eight feet wide, were retained in this country and are now running on our roads without any disadvantage. Also, many of our secondary roads have been widened for military requirements during recent years and if there are still some roads that are not wide enough I suggest that every effort should be made to widen them as soon as possible so that as and when these passenger vehicles come on them they will be wide enough to receive them. By having a wider interior in these passenger vehicles it would make for the convenience of 1651 passengers and would make the arduous task of conductors and conductresses very much easier. So, when the Ministry are making their plans I hope they will consider this point so that the export trade, about which everyone has been speaking in recent Debates as being of the greatest importance, may be benefited.
There is one other point I want briefly to mention. What plans are being made by the Ministry for trunk roads? Equipment which is now becoming available, and which is now no longer needed for aerodromes and the like, could I suggest be put quickly on to the making of new trunk roads in the centre of England and on our coasts. The County Boroughs Association have produced plans, with which I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary is familiar, which show that instead of tinkering with the old trunk routes the Ministry ought to build new roads bypassing villages and towns, in the same way that thousands of miles of aerodrome runways have been built during the war. Such new roads would take a large volume of traffic, and would make it easier for the existing roads to be repaired and improved.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
Did I understand the hon. Gentleman to say that we should construct new motor-ways?
§ Mr. Wakefield
Yes, I meant the construction of entirely new motor-ways, on which a scheme has been prepared. By building these new motor-ways it will enable traffic to be taken off existing roads and would make it easier to improve the present system of roads, wherever it was practicable.
§ Mr. Lewis (Colchester)
I want to draw the attention of the Committee to a matter which has been discussed before but which has certain peculiar features to which the attention of Members should be drawn. The Minister is constantly reminding us that stocks of petrol in this country must be carefully conserved. We all know that the allocation of petrol for necessary and important purposes is constantly being curtailed, and in some instances cut off altogether. We also know that such petrol comes to this country always at the risk, and sometimes at the cost, of the lives of the sailors whose job it is to bring it. It is against that background that I want the Committee to con- 1652 sider the case which I wish to present. The Ministry of War Transport have certain responsibilities for petrol rationing and in the exercise of those responsibilities they allocate petrol to dog-racing establishments for the purpose of carrying the dogs from their kennels to the courses, often a very considerable distance. Normally, I believe there are two double journeys a week, one for trials and the other for racing.
I have been endeavouring to ascertain what this means in terms of the weekly consumption of petrol. The Parliamentary Secretary said, in answer to a Question in the House the other day, that in London alone there is a weekly consumption, for this purpose, of 164 gallons. That has been going on for years, I understand. When, a little later, I tried to ascertain from him what this meant for the country as a whole, I was surprised to receive the answer that the Ministry did not know and did not propose to find out. But there was a greater surprise than that in store for me. I particularly wished to be able to lay before the Committee the gallonage which was originally granted to these dog-racing establishments when petrol rationing first started, and the gallonage which is being granted to them to-day, so that the Committee could see what efforts the Ministry have made to reduce this consumption of petrol. When I asked for those figures I was told they could not be supplied because the necessary records had all been deliberately destroyed.
The Ministry has been granted very dictatorial powers in this matter of petrol, and apparently they think that, because they are given those powers to-day, never at any future time can the House inquire into the use they have made of them. It is an alarming suggestion that, when wartime powers of this kind have been given to Ministers not merely to be used, as they must be now, in an arbitrary way, and the records as to how they have been used have been destroyed, it means that the House can never ask for an account of the stewardship entrusted to Ministers. This is not the time to discuss the merits of dog racing as an institution, but I doubt if there is a Member in the Committee who would give it as his opinion that, if all facilities for betting were removed, dog-racing would continue anywhere in the country on the same scale as at present.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Whitechapel)
Does the hon. Member want the same done to horse racing as he is proposing for dog racing?
§ Mr. Lewis
These are simply establishments for the purposes of betting. The Parliamentary Secretary takes the view that, the Government having decided that these racecourses are to continue during the war, it is his duty to provide them with petrol. But surely they should have a very low priority compared with other services and occupations, and we are entitled to ask the Ministry to use every effort to ensure that as little petrol as possible is consumed in this way. We have no evidence that they do anything of the kind.
§ Mr. Guy (Poplar, South)
I have heard the hon. Member complain of this before, but I have not heard him complain of taxi-cabs careering about in the West End of London for nothing at all.
§ Mr. Lewis
That is another point. This power was acquired in order that dogs might be conveyed from the kennel to the track. In the case of a number of courses this has been rendered entirely unnecessary because the dogs are kept on the spot and, if the Ministry had exercised any kind of pressure, that practice could have been followed at other tracks and the need for petrol done away with. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to give an assurance that the Ministry will look into this seriously and see whether the consumption of petrol for this purpose cannot be curtailed during the war. I also ask him to look into the important question which has arisen out of it, of the destruction of records. We do not want to be told, when inquiry is made about the exercise by Ministers of their war-time powers, that no information can be given because the necssary records have been deliberately destroyed.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
This has been a Debate of more than ordinary interest and I should have liked to be able to deal in detail with some of the speeches, particularly that of the hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall). In listening to his speech, my sympathies with the Parliamentary Secretary grew and grew 1654 because, if it really represents the point of the view of the road transport industry, there is very little hope for that industry. He attacked the war-time organisation of the Ministry and used it as a plea for a return to pre-war competitive practices. He argued for a limitation of C licences and then coolly went on to ask for increased expenditure, national and local, in regard to roads used by road transport. Then he referred to subsidisation of the railways, and, ultimately, to the decay of the railway system, grass growing on the permanent way and so on.
As to subsidies, the railways under Government control are paying a very handsome profit to the State and, if the study that the Ministry is giving to postwar conditions is along the lines how best to return the different forms of transport to private ownership, I hope there will be freedom all round and that all restrictions will be removed, particularly from the railway companies, and, for example, that they will be able to quote whatever rates they think fit. I say, as one who has had experience for 40 years as an employee of a railway company, that, going all out, the railways could within 30 years reduce competitive road transport and make it as dead as the dodo. What would happen if, as far as the four main lines running out from London are concerned, two were devoted, to rail transport and the other two converted into fast motor-ways, one for up, and the other for down, motor traffic? I wonder what the hon. Member would think if the railway interests asked the State to undertake not only the cost of maintaining the permanent way of the railways, in the same way that roads are maintained, but also the cost of construction of the permanent way in the same way that the State and local authorities have paid for the roads.
I will get back to my main argument. I do not want to come under your displeasure, Mr. Williams, and I hope that I have been able to keep well within the bounds of Order. The Parliamentary Secretary has told us eloquently of the magnificent achievements of road, rail and sea, in connection with the war effort and he has paid a tribute to those engaged in those services. On behalf of the railway workers, I can say that they will appreciate the tribute that has been paid to them; but is it cynical to recall that similar eloquent tributes were paid 1655 to the railway workers in the period 1914–18 and that, because there was not adequate study and preparation for postwar conditions, in a little over 12 months the men who had been praised for their patriotism so often were being denounced as anarchists? The attempt of the railway worker to secure something better than a definitive offer of a minimum of 40s. per week was then regarded as an anarchist conspiracy. One does not want that sort of thing to happen at the close of this war.
May I also ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is happening in connection with the Railway Rebates Fund during the period of Government control? The Committee will be aware that the Railway Rebates Fund was set up by the Local Government Act, 1929, under which the railway companies were relieved of 75 per cent, of their payments of rates to local authorities. Different from industry generally, instead of the railways being allowed to retain that money, a fund was set up into which those moneys were paid. That fund is used to reduce the charges on the carriage of certain commodities. From 1930 to 1936, the annual subsidy to the coalmining industry in the shape of reduced charges, varied from £2,400,000 to £3,300,000. The figure for the agricultural industry over the same period varied from £700,000 to £865,000 a year. It is true that a legal decision in 1936 considerably reduced the amount of local rates payable, but in 1938, the latest year for which I could obtain figures, the amount paid in respect of coal was £1,300,000 and of agriculture somewhere about £300,000. I am very interested to know what is happening at the present time, so far as those payments are concerned.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
The Minister might be able to answer so far as the railways are concerned, but he must not answer with regard to agricultural or coalmine rates.
§ Mr. Burden
With due respect I would point out that those payments were rebates given by the railway industry to those other branches of industry. The payments flowed outwards from the Railway Rebates Fund to coalmining and agriculture, in the shape of reduced charges. That was the method.
§ The Deputy-Chairman
I understood the hon. Member to be referring to the whole of the rebates of rates to agriculture and coalmining, but so far as the rebates to which he referred came out of the Railway Rebates Fund, it would be strictly in Order to mention them.
§ Mr. Burden
Thank you very much, Mr. Williams. I have been trying very hard to keep within the bounds of Order. I appreciate the difficulties of the Ministry in handling many of the complex matters and conflicting interests. It is realised that it is extremely difficult to distribute traffic on anything like an ideal basis. Those difficulties were emphasised in the final report of the Royal Commission on Transport, which said:Who is to decide what rail services are desirable in the public interest and what amount of coast-wise shipping. Or what goods in the national interest should be sent by railway, road, canal, or ship? To propound the question is sufficient to bring home the immense difficulty it involves.That is the job of the Ministry of War Transport under war-time conditions and on the whole it is tackling it very well indeed. The Royal Commission pointed out that 80 per cent. of goods vehicles are owned by private traders and manufacturers, for their own collection and deliveries of traffic. One appreciates that the Ministry have not had a very easy job to co-ordinate those varied interests, in order that the national needs might be served.
The Minister has indicated that he and his Noble Friend are studying post-war problems. I would urge them to take advantage of the present position to seek out and work for definite plans for the future, in regard to all forms of transport, and to let the House know of and debate those plans. I hope that those studies will not take too long. We were informed in October last that they were being actively pursued, and I hope that we shall be able to hear something concrete very soon, from the Minister. I appreciate the difficulties that are involved. I would like to call the attention of the Minister to a very short extract from some evidence given by the Transport and General Workers Union to the Royal Commission on Transport as to how the public suffer from the effects of competition in road transport services. Of course, they are not suffering now, in the absence of road competition and in the present conditions 1657 of co-ordination. The evidence said that under competitive conditions the public got a less efficient service, and it went on to say:2. There is considerable waste and inadequate service, due to competitive undertakings seeking to ply for hire on thickly populated routes while the routes in sparsely populated areas are ill-served.(3) Ill-equipped vehicles are put into service and … (4) there is an incentive to speeding and cutting-in by drivers that increases the danger to road users.5. In many instances employees work long hours with abnormal spreadovers. They have insufficient rest periods and are in receipt of low wages.I agree that the Road Traffic Acts have improved the position since that evidence was submitted, but my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) referred to the tragic story of road accident figures published to-day. While we are not prepared to' blame the drivers—we know the difficulty of the black-out and so on—I say deliberately, that if the same number of accidents occurred on the railways this House and the country would be seething with indignation. But they happen day by day on the roads and nothing is done about them.
There can be no question that the activities of operators in the road transport goods industry requires rationalisation—I have not used the word "nationalisation," but rationalisation. In view of the very large number of such operators who are now associated with the Ministry and others not associated with the Ministry, and the foundations from which the industry has grown up, the step will not be a simple matter when compared with the rationalisation which very largely exists at the present time on the passenger side. I put it to the Minister that there is very little hope indeed of any rationalisation, unless this is assisted at the present time by the good offices of the Minister of War Transport. It is very necessary, and that is why I regretted the speech of the hon. Member for Hulme, that the industry should have full confidence in the Ministry, and equally essential that the Ministry should have full confidence in the road transport industry itself.
§ Mr. Burden
Not at all, but the trouble of the industry at the moment is that the 1658 small men are struggling against the bigger men, and so on and so on. If I had the time I could retail from my experience on the railway, the methods which are adopted by traders to apply Gresham's law so far as road transport is concerned. I will give one instance of that. A certain firm adopted the practice of telephoning to me to find out the rate between two particular points for a certain quantity of traffic, either the standard or exceptional rate. Having obtained that rate, the firm immediately got into contact with one road transport firm and said "The railway rate is 20s. What will you do it for?" They may have got the answer, "Nineteen shillings" and they went on from firm to firm until that figure would be brought down to something like 14s. or 12s. 6d. In the interests of the road operators themselves, I suggest there should be some rationalisation, some rate structure to prevent the bad people from driving out the good. I will go further and say that the rates at which this traffic was ultimately carried were such that the traffic could not be carried at those rates unless some of the conditions of the Road Traffic Acts were evaded by the firms concerned. Unfortunately, that happened in some instances, with the connivance of the driver. I would urge the Ministry of War Transport not to neglect the present opportunities. At the road and rail conference, to which the hon. Member for Hulme did not seem to attach any importance, the chairman of both the road and rail sections are urging that things cannot be left as they were in 1939. The whole trouble of the road industry is that the people inside cannot make up their minds as to what they want.
§ Sir J. Nall
I am sure the hon. Member does not want to misrepresent me. He has himself said that 80 per cent. of the road vehicles belong to private owners. Is it not the case that so long as 80 per cent. are privately owned, any rate structure applying to only 20 per cent. will be quite ineffective?
§ Mr. Burden
I have already dealt with that point. I am perfectly well aware that 80 per cent. of the road vehicles are owned by C licence holders, but if the hon. Member will do me the honour of looking at my remarks in HANSARD, he will see that I have covered most of the points he makes. I would urge the Min- 1659 ister to take advantage of the present situation. If he allows the present opportunities to pass, then I can see that we shall be in for the same sort of thing as happened after the last war. Is there any "dead hand" influence at work, or are there any powerful influences, in the Ministry of War Transport, which have made up their minds that these various forms of transport are to go back to private ownership after the war? If that is the position, then tell us. Let the country know so that they can prepare for it. On the railway side, I would say, if that is the plan, then wipe out the agreement and let the shareholders have up to the standard revenue of £51,000,000 and leave the balance of what is being earned by the railways to be ploughed back into the railways after the war. Let us know what is to be done with regard to the future of the transport industry, which is vital to the future of the country and its prosperity. While I am grateful for everything that the Minister has said, I beg him not to keep the Committee ignorant of what is going on, and to let us have a full-dress Debate at the earliest possible moment on the future of the industry.
§ Captain Gammans (Hornsey)
I propose to try to restrain myself from using this occasion to air my political views in regard to the virtues of private enterprise versus State control. We listened to-day to a very remarkable account of the achievements of British transport during the war, an account which takes us back into the dark days of the blitz, of men driving trains and lorries through falling bombs with great gallantry and, also, if I may say so, of great resilience and initiative within the transport industry of this country. I believe that when we can read the full story of what has been done by British transport under war conditions it will be one of the proudest pages of the war, whatever political deductions we all draw from that. There will be a wide range that can be drawn of the virtues of private enterprise, or in the opposite direction, if one wishes.
The Parliamentary Secretary paid tribute to-day to many people in the transport industry, the drivers of our trains and our lorries, the men who work in the marshalling yards, seamen and so on. He also paid tribute to our Allied 1660 seamen. There was one omission, and I wonder that he did not refer to the Indian seamen in the Merchant Navy. If my information is right 20 per cent. of the men in the British Merchant Navy to-day come from India, and, without them, I do not know how we could have carried on. We often hear of the India which talks and does not fight: here is a chance to pay tribute to the India which fights and does not talk.
The hon. Gentleman might have paid some tribute also to those 70,000 hauliers about whom we heard so much to-day. These men, who set themselves up in business by their thrift, initiative and hard work, have seen their businesses disappear. They have given up their lorries and have gone into the pool, and they are wondering what is to happen to them after the war. Some tribute might have been paid to the grace with which they did it. I do not want to speak about the hauliers' pool to any extent. I have no technical knowledge about it, and I was not a member of the Select Committee which investigated it, but I do not think that the rosy picture which the Parliamentary Secretary painted today about the success of that scheme is altogether true. To put it mildly,' one hears of many cases of inefficiency, of a woeful waste of transport, and of not too comfortable conditions for the men who drive the lorries. I hope that my hon. Friend will be prepared at least to consider grievances which Members of Parliament have to raise from time to time.
I hope that he can give some assurance about the future. I need not remind hon. Members that this Government have no mandate to nationalise the transport industry. My hon. Friend the Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) has talked about returning the lorries to their owners. This Government have no authority to do anything else. They took the lorries away because of the emergency, and they must give them back, unless they secure authority from this House to do otherwise. My hon. Friend would do much to reassure the 70,000 little people in the haulage business if he would make it plain to-day that, as soon as the emergency is over, these lorries will be returned. My hon. Friend spoke about the post-war plans and the committees which he had set up to investigate various aspects of post-war 1661 transport. There are two small points to which I hope consideration is being given. Both may seem rather small to bring up in the middle of a war, but if they are not considered whew plans are being made, they may be lost sight of. The first is what I might call the aesthetic side of the new road programme. I hope the Minister will seek the necessary powers to prevent advertisements being stuck along the main roads.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
Will my hon. and gallant Friend give an undertaking that he will not put his own picture up in Hornsey at the next Election?
§ Captain Gammans
I was talking about the main roads. I think my hon. Friend would secure the assent of the vast majority of the people of this country if he sought such powers. I made a suggestion of this kind some time ago, and I received most abusive letters from advertising people, who said that I was trying to prevent advertising. The answer is nonsense. If they want to know whether I was trying to stop this particular sort of advertising the answer is, "Yes." We can very well do without that.
§ Mr. Burden
Is the hon. and gallant Member not aware of the very great virtues of Beecham's pills and of Dr. Williams' pink pills for pale people?
§ Captain Gammans
Yes, but I do not want to be reminded of them as I go along the countryside. The other question relates to signposts. All our signposts had been taken down, and I see that many have now been stuck up again. I believe that we can improve the signposting of our main roads. Most of the signposts date from the days of horses and traps, when one drove along at six miles an hour, stuck up high, and had plenty of time to read signposts. We want signposts suitable for people driving motor cars. I believe that far more accidents than most people realise are caused by the main roads not being properly sign-posted. I apologise for bringing up these two small points, but I hope that they are being considered.
I would like to endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) about the road system. I listened to my hon. Friend 1662 the Parliamentary Secretary when he spoke in January and again to-day, and I confess that I was disappointed that he did not say more about his ideas for a modern road system. He showed a certain timidity, and, instead of going the whole hog, his mind seemed to be rather working on the lines of improving the present road system. To do that would be just wasting our money, and not giving the country what it needs. We are told that a man is as old as his arteries. The industry of a country is as efficient as its arteries, and if we are to compete in the markets of the world, we must have an efficient road system. I do not believe that we had it before the war. When I was in Korea, I bought myself one of those beautiful brass-bound Korean desks. I had it packed and shipped and sent home. It cost me more to get it home from the West India Dock to my home in Hampshire, than to get it transported from the middle of Korea, packed in a crate, and shipped to this country. We cannot afford that sort of thing. Our roads to-day contain seven times the density of vehicles that the roads of the United States carry. We have the most congested road system in the world. Unless we think big with regard to post-war roads, we shall not provide this country with the road system that we require to hold our own in the great markets of the world. I apologise for bringing forward these post-war points at a time when, I imagine, my hon. Friend's thoughts must be very much on the great task which lies immediately before him, but he has given us some indication that, in spite of the anxieties which he and those connected with him in dealing with the roads and the railways must be feeling, about what is to happen in the next few weeks, there is still time to give some thought to the great problems which will face his administration when the war is over.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Whitechapel)
Unlike some Members who have spoken to-day, I do not propose to take up a long time and thus prevent other Members saying a few words on this most important topic. The Parliamentary Secretary presented what I consider to be a very fine report of a good year's work. Since I was elected to this House, I have watched with great interest the work of the Ministry of War Transport. I used to work in the docks industry, I have 1663 been closely associated with the shipping industry, and I have been greatly concerned with the Merchant Navy. It has grieved me recently to find that certain Members of this Committee never seem to think that the Ministry of War Transport are doing anything right. They are always finding fault. I want to point out to those hon. Members that there is still a war on, and that immense difficulties still exist, particularly with regard to transport in this country, and that, whoever was in control at the Ministry of War Transport, would meet difficulties in connection with running it.
I happen to be associated with the Transport and General Workers' Union, which has a greater membership in the road transport and docks industries than any other union in this country. The Transport Workers' Union has asked that I should comment on the Third Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure, in which the Committee state that they accepted the reports in connection with the efforts of the workpeople, without having consulted them. I think the matter was referred to once before to-day, when comment was made on the statement that drivers of vehicles are said to be losing heart and are no longer interested in saving time on their trips. The Transport Workers' Union very strongly repudiate that suggestion. They, like all the other trade unions in this country, realise that difficulties must arise occasionally, and the reason why such a position may have come about in the road transport industry, is because of the Government's policy. Goods had to be put on the railways and the road transport industry had to be reserved for some probably more important job in the near future. That has turned out to be true. The road transport industry is to be given a great amount of tonnage which has to be Moved about the country, and which is very badly needed, and it was a wise policy on the part of the Ministry of War Transport, on that occasion, to keep all these vehicles ready for the time when they will he required. The hon. Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley) was concerned about the conveyances we were going to have, when the second front opened. One thing is certain—that we cannot have more than we have already got in the country. What we have to 1664 be assured of is that every means of transport in the country is going to be efficiently used.
I do not want to labour the point raised by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) and other hon. Members with regard to the post-war period and the control of transport. But I was very pleased indeed to hear the Minister, more than once to-day, in connection with the dockers, refer to the new system which exists in the docks and shipping industry. I want to refer to the many difficulties which older men employed in the docks have to endure at present. They must not be generally known to hon. Members. Dock workers are being shunted about, I do not say unnecessarily, but in such a way as, in some cases, to produce grievances. They are being moved from place to place in the country in a much worse way than most employees of other industries. In the main, they have stuck it very well, but they would like those responsible for the transfer to make certain, at all times, that the transfer is absolutely necessary before making these men waste time in travelling backwards and forwards to various places.
With regard to the Merchant Navy shipping pool, this is another godsend which was years overdue. But may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether these present godsends will still be godsends if, after the war in which our people are to-day sacrificing their lives, it is said, so far as the Merchant Navy is concerned, "You paid them £3 6s. per week when they were in danger of being sunk every five minutes, but, when it is over and they have no ships, they can starve, just as they did before"? These men are justly entitled to know from the Ministry, some time in advance of the end of hostilities, what is to be their fate. If their fate is to be similar to what it was before, if they are to go back to the old state of the shipping industry, then all that they are doing now is not worth while.
There is another matter regarding the shipping industry to which I would refer. I do not speak for the Seamen's Union, but I think I can say that the National Union of Seamen have the greatest respect for my hon. Friend and for the Minister himself and for the way they have tried to help the workers in that industry since it has come under their control. What is more, I am certain that the Parliamentary 1665 Secretary retains the respect of the vast majority of the men in the Merchant Navy, but he retains it to-day because of the improvements he has brought in. But if these rights—not concessions—to which these men have been entitled for years, are taken away, that respect will go. On the subject of de-casualisation, until this war started, there were men with half a day's work a week, who were on unemployed pay nearly all the time. How strange it is that, when we find ourselves in times of difficulty, and when it is necessary to have public control in order to make certain that there is no wastage, or less wastage, we do not put up with the old method, under which men had days without any pay at all. My hon. Friend referred to the average age of dockers, which, I think he said, is 58, and he mentioned a man in Liverpool who is over 70 and working very hard indeed. What these men are getting under this de-casualisation scheme—and the same applies in the Merchant Navy—is something they should have had years ago, and they say that, in consideration of the great sacrifices they have made in this war, they are entitled to be given some idea, in the very near future, of what the policy of the Government will be with regard to de-casualisation in the post-war period.
I conclude by saying that, personally, I think my hon. Friend has carried out his administration very well. I am certain that he retains the confidence of the vast majority of the trade unions which cover the transport industry, but I ask him to bear in mind these very important post-war points which I have raised, and let us know in the very near future what action is contemplated.
§ Captain Strickland (Coventry)
This is the second opportunity within a very few weeks on which we have had a chance to debate the principles on whic1) our transport industry is run, particularly with regard to road transport, and I feel that, in view of the Parliamentary Secretary's statement, showing how long it was since we had a Debate on road transport previously, we are well justified in discussing the matter again to-day. In fact, I say that so importaint a subject should receive more attention. I believe the position is very serious. Some of my hon. Friends and I have tried to bring forward points with regard to inefficient working of the 1666 road transport scheme. They have tried to point out that this clamping hand of officialdom has come down on the road transport industry and prevented a great public service from doing the work for the public which it could so well take in hand. I had occasion a short time ago to draw attention by means of a Prayer to a certain Statutory Rule and Order which gave even greater power to the Minister. Since that time there has been issued another Statutory Rule and Order with regard to our canals. It is No. 407 (1944). I will read Article 28 as an instance of the danger to which I think the attention of the Committee should be drawn. It says, with regard to the period of control:The control of the undertaking shall be continued for a minimum period of one year after the cessation of hostilities.I do not know what is meant by the cessation of hostilities, but this can run on for a very considerable period. The Article 'goes on to say:Any extension of the minimum period will be decided by the Minister.There is the crux of the position which has arisen in this country in which we are being governed by Statutory Rules and Orders, which give into the hands of certain Ministers vast powers and cut out entirely the Parliamentary control which ought to be exercised in any of these undertakings. The Minister, under this Order, has the power to extend the control of canals beyond the period of 12 months at his own discretion, and not at the discretion of Parliament. These controls will be liable to no sort of time limit imposed on them by the cessation of hostilities. It is very important that attention should be drawn to this matter.
The less the State interferes with industry the better, and we have had an example in road administration of the inefficient working of the State in a great industry. I have, from time to time, brought forward instances of inefficiency and, no doubt, the bringing forward of a particular example may easily have led hon. Members to think that they were just isolated cases; that in a glorious, well-worked scheme, just one or two things had gone wrong and the hon. Member for Coventry was wasting the time of the House by drawing attention to these things. I have had so many instances brought to my notice from all over the country that I could not possibly ignore 1667 them. The only way in which I could draw the attention of the House to these cases was to take the single instances. I was surprised at the general handling of the answers. A short time ago I put down two Questions in order to give two instances. The Minister replied that, with my permission, he would answer the two Questions together, and that as the answer was a long one he would circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. If one cares to look up HANSARD the length of the answer given to these two Questions by lumping them together will be seen. I suggest that these Questions might well have been answered in the House subjected to supplementary questions, according to the privileges of Private Members.
When we presented a Prayer recently a very bitter attack was made by the Parliamentary Secretary on the Standing Joint Committee. About three-fifths of his speech in reply was devoted to that and not to a justification of the administration of his Department. We have also had the advantage of the researches made into the working of his Department in the Report of the Select Committee. That gave some very definite cases, which were thinly skated over, and which have certainly not been answered by the Minister. The Committee is entitled to know how far the Select Committee was right in the conclusions at which it arrived. I have taken very great care from time to time to see that the Questions I put in this House were based on facts.
I have in my hands one of the lists of the Ministry of War Transport road haulage organisations. It is the actual sheet on which payments are made by the Ministry, and which is accepted and checked by the Ministry. This affects a six-ton vehicle. It gives, day to day, the actual load the vehicle took, where it went, the time it occupied and the driver's name. In this particular case it is for the week ending 24th March, and shows miles run, 808, of which 419 were empty running. It gives the calculation of the loads that were carried, and they consisted of three loads of potatoes. They were six-ton loads and the total carried by that vehicle during that week amounted to 18 tons of potatoes. I have had the advantage of checking the actual payment made by the Government Department for 1668 this work. I will give it as I want to emphasise the point that the cases I have brought have not been trumped up, but are genuine cases which have come to my notice. For that work, that week, the amount paid by the Department, was, for wages, £9 16s. 8d., petrol (83 gallons) £10 5s. 0d., 808 miles at 2.69 pence, £9 1s. 2d., hire of vehicle £7 0s. 3d. and on top of that is the weekly proportion of the tax and insurance which comes to £4 10s. 0d. After certain deductions there is a total of £38 18s. 6d., and if one divides that by the 18 tons carried, the cost per ton of carrying those potatoes comes out at about £2 3s. 6d. per ton. When I bring the question forward to the Minister he says, "We carry them at exactly the same rates as they are carried by private enterprise." I would ask the Minister this question. How does he work out that these potatoes were carried at 18s. 6d. per ton in view of the figures I have given to the Committee, checked by his Ministry, paid for, and accepted as being the facts of the case?
I was very disappointed that in the course of his speech, and indeed in the Debate, too little tribute has been paid to the divisional area and unit controllers who act under the Ministry. I am rather afraid that in the course of the Debate on the Prayer we rather omitted to accept the fact that the overriding hand of the Ministry dictates to these people what they have to do, and consequently it is not their fault if things go wrong. These divisional, area and unit controllers, together with a body of men who we cannot praise too highly, the drivers, have done a grand job of work for the country during this period of time.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
Was not the hon. and gallant Member attacking these same fellows as hard as he could the other day?
§ Captain Strickland
These men are acting on instructions from the permanent civil servants, who in turn have to act under the instructions of the Minister. The responsibility comes back to the Minister for the mal-administration of road transport. That is the sort of thing of which we ought to get rid.
I feel the time has come when we ought to ask the Minister to produce his plans for post-war roads. The Parliamentary Secretary speaking at Bournemouth 1669 pointed out, I think two years ago, the need for this plan, and the Minister himself said he had got definite plans which he had placed before his colleagues in the Cabinet. We are still without any indication whatever of what is to be done. The Parliamentary Secretary says that in the post-war period we shall have the number of motor cars quadrupled, and we cannot put a quart into a pint pot. I am sorry I cannot develop the subject to-day, but I hope the Minister will be prepared to say to-day, "We have this plan, we have submitted it to the Cabinet." The county surveyors' scheme has been in the hands of the Ministry since 1938 and still it is not accepted by the Government. That scheme has received the approval of every county through which these motor roads are to run, and I think we ought to have a plain answer from the Parliamentary Secretary to-day indicating a time limit when the country will know what the Government are going to do to meet the demands of this great and growing and efficient service.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, South)
I will be brief because I know the Minister will want to spread himself in the time remaining to us. The Debate has ranged over a wide field. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) that we want a plan, hut let us be a little reasonable. One day I am going to ask what is to be the taxpayers' plan. We are all demanding the impossible. Lots of these things we shall not see. We have had several "hates" expressed to-day. The hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) hates bill-posting except for the display of his own election posters. I think we are apt to be insincere in these matters. We have an advertisement Regulation Act to deal with advertising abuses, and I dislike to see this trade or that being attacked because an amenities group is annoyed and begins to get busy.
§ Sir Irving Albery (Gravesend)
May I ask whether the lion. Gentleman is aware that, before the war, the first thing foreigners saw in England was a beautiful English country road entirely ruined by advertisements all the way to London?
§ Sir H. Williams
But if he went to Paris he would see all the lavatories exhibiting posters with the words "Défense 1670 d' afficher." You must not post bills, so you must use a poster to prohibit them. The road traffic people want to make themselves efficient, and to secure traffic, and the railways want to make themselves more efficient so that the roads cannot rob them of traffic. The hon. and gallant Member for Whitechapel (Mr. W. Edwards) wanted a guarantee from the Minister that sailors and dockers would be given a good time. The Minister cannot give that guarantee, and the shipowners cannot give that guarantee. Dockers and sailors can only be given a good time if there is plenty of trade. That is the one thing nobody seems to trouble about.
We have heard a good deal about waste of petrol. There is a bus which is known as No. 41. You will find it every morning outside Sudbury Hill Station, Middlesex. The people who travel by it, I am told, could walk the distance in 10 minutes. It takes up to 20 people. When lunch-time comes those people are taken back to the railway station, where some old railway trucks have been fitted up as a restaurant. The bus goes back again after lunch and takes the people to the station in the evening to go home. One man does four journeys a day and that is all he does. I think this petrol might be saved and given to the dogs in which the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) is so interested. I may say that I have only been to the dogs twice since the war, never to a racecourse, and, I think, only to three football matches. There is a certain amount of petrol consumed both by the management and also visitors to those places, but every form of amusement uses petrol. Actors and actresses are, properly, provided with petrol to take them home. Every form of amusement uses petrol. E.N.S.A. uses a great amount of petrol. I say "Live and let live." There is more petrol used in dropping people outside big stores in Oxford Street, than there is in taking people to the dogs. Are we to have an inquisition when anybody takes a taxi? If you are going to the dogs, you must not take a taxi, but if you are going to Peter Jones in Sloane Square you may. I hate all this heresy-hunting. We have had 10 minutes of Parliamentary time occupied talking about petrol, which amounts to about my two-hundred-thousandth part of our nor-mal consumption of petrol.
1671 Then we had an eloquent speech from the hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell). I am not sure whether he spoke as a Liberal, a Socialist or a Conservative. I think it must have been a bit of all three. It was a very interesting speech, but I was not clear where he was trying to get. I do not think he was quite clear himself, except that he was not going to have everything nationalised and run by bureaucracy. He seemed to think that if a man sold vacuum cleaners that was the lowest form of human activity. He said "We must have fast ships." Well, I wonder. If you make ships fast enough, the only thing you will be able to carry will be fuel for their own consumption. People do not realise that the horse-power required rises in proportion to the cube of the speed. The "Queen Mary" was a perfectly lovely ship, if you wanted to traverse the Atlantic comfortably in four days, but it meant the consumption of a vast amount of fuel. Indeed, if you could only make ships fast enough, you would arrive at a time when they could not travel because they could not carry enough fuel. It is not necessarily wise to have fast ships.
The hon. Member and others wondered where the money was to come from to electrify railways. There is no difficulty in raising money for an enterprise that would be self-supporting. The Southern Railway Company have gone in for electrification more than any other company. Why is that? It is because the Southern Railway carries a high proportion of passenger traffic, and the supreme advantage of an electric motor is that it can use an enormous amount of power. A steam locomotive has a maximum Dower, but an electric train when starting, can draw from what is a practically limitless source of power at the generating station and temporarily generate a power in the train which is twice what is needed in running full speed. Consequently you get rapid acceleration and you can only get a fast train, with many stops, if you have rapid acceleration. That is the secret of the success of the electric train. Considerations in the case of goods traffic are entirely different. There would he incredible difficulty in shunting-yards and I would not like to be in a shunting-yard worked by electricity. You could not do it except by having steam shunting locomotives. People wave their arms vaguely 1672 in the air and say "Let us electrify." That, is all that matters. They never really think of the problems. I was brought up as an electrical engineer, and am all in favour of it, but it is foolish to deceive people in regard to the technicalities.
Most of the day we have been wandering round all sorts of things, walking very near the edge of legislation. Fortunately the electrification of railways does not involve any legislation; a company can do it any time they like provided they have running rights. The hon. Member for Seaham wanted to provide for the electrification of railways and more and better lavatories, with which I am in sympathy, for while I think that on the Southern Railway the lavatories are quite good, there might be some improvement. Then he drifted on to the future of shipping in this country as compared with the United States. I should like to say a lot about that. Fortunately the United States do not build very big ships. I believe there is some reluctance on the part of the people of the United States to travel in their own ships, and the bulk of the troops come over to this country from the United States in our ships, which is rather a tribute. Hon. Members will remember after the last war the amazing failure of the attempt to nationalise shipping, both in the United States and Australia, so I am not really afraid that the United States are going to sweep the Union Jack off the seas. I think we shall still survive, but it is quite obvious that people should be treated reasonably, and shipowners must be left with resources for building. You cannot tax people to death and then expect them to provide employment for everyone.
This has been a very rambling Debate and I have only rambled for ten minutes. My time is up, but I wish the Parliamentary Secretary all good luck and I do hope he will try to explain away some of the references in this Report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure. Though I am a member of the Select Committee, I was not a member of this sub-committee and I have no detailed responsibility, but there are some very grave charges. The hon. Gentleman explains away every letter I write to him on the subject, and I have written many, but I do not believe his explanations.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think this Debate has shown that it was desirable and right to discuss the Estimates of my Ministry, and I should like to express my gratitude to hon. Members for the things they have said and for the proposals which they have made. They have Covered a great variety of topics, and it is quite evident that I cannot cover them all. On a good many of them, fortunately, hon. Members have answered each other, so completely and so much to the satisfaction of their respective hon. Friends, that there is not much need for me to say more.
I want to deal, first, with a matter of great general and immediate interest raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Central Bristol (Lady Apsley). She asked if the civilian transport system would really be able to carry the essential traffic during the operations on the second front. I cannot promise no interruption, I cannot promise no stoppages of certain forms of transport at certain places, I cannot promise that there may not be drastic cuts for a certain period in many of the services we run now, but I do say that if, in certain places, the train services were cut off we would try to replace them by an omnibus service which would get all the essential workers to their jobs. I think I can say, broadly speaking, that the answer to her Question is that the essential services will go on.
I come from the general to the particular, and to particulars of many different kinds. I was asked why I have not paid a tribute to the Indian seamen. I gladly do it now. The Lascars have served us in tens of thousands with great heroism, and with great endurance and industry in our merchant ships. So have the seamen of our Chinese Allies, who have done extremely well. I have remembered that I did not pay any proper tribute to the men in our coasting vessels who, in great danger, up and down the coast have, with heavy losses and many casualties of a grievous kind, rendered magnificent service to the nation.
I pass from those particulars to the dog racing of which two of my hon. Friends have spoken. The hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Lewis) complained that we had destroyed the records. There are over 350,000 goods vehicles and, at the beginning, their fuel was issued weekly. If we had kept the records, we should have 1674 had a mountain of paper in which we should never have found anything we wanted and which would have served no useful purpose to anyone. We kept it for over three months and then rightly used it in the service of the nation by sending it to salvage. On the substance of his question, ought we to give fuel for taking greyhounds from their kennels to the tracks, and that we ought to tell him how much fuel is used, I did say in an answer which I wrote out for Wednesday that I did not want to ask the staffs of the Regional Commissioners to do it at this moment when they are under a very heavy pressure of work.
I will try later on to give it if he likes, but let us try to make a calculation for ourselves. There are 16 tracks in London getting on an average about 10 gallons a week per track. There are 150 altogether in the country, only 60 belonging to the Association; the others I am told are very small. But let us assume that they all get ten gallons, and that in the Provinces the distance from the kennels to the tracks is as great as it must be around London. I do not believe it for a moment, but let us assume it. That makes just four tons of fuel a week, 200 per year, and a single tanker brings 12,500 tons. Now I think that gives the perspective of the thing. My hon. Friend will say, why should even less than one-sixtieth of one tanker journey be given to the racing of dogs? I do not think his complaint is really aimed at me. As a matter of fact I am not addicted to going to the dogs; I prefer less passive forms of sport; but very many people, I am assured, do find rest and relaxation in greyhound racing. In any case, the Government have decided, as a matter of general policy, that horse-racing and football and greyhound-racing should be allowed to go on and, if it is permitted, I venture to suggest that this fuel allocation is not really very much. Could we not move the kennels to the tracks? I am told that in a built-up area kennels may become a public nuisance—the greyhounds bark, and some people say they smell. In any case, if greyhound racing is to continue, I am afraid the position will have to remain as it is.
The hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) asked about the Railway Rebates Fund. Under a Statute passed by Parliament last year agriculture is getting the same in lowered rates as it 1675 used to get before, the rest is used by the Ministry of Fuel to subsidise the cost of transporting coal by coaster or on long railway hauls, so that the cost of coal to the consumer shall not be raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) asked me about wider buses. If we could have wider buses it would be very useful here, the operators would like it, and so would the public, and it would, no doubt, help the export industry. There are difficulties, however, and he is as well aware of them as I am. The hon. Member for Hulme (Sir J. Nall) also asked about this. The matter is under consideration, and more than that I cannot say now.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) who, if I may say so, made many very interesting observations —in which I would like to follow him but I cannot—spoke about canteens for the railway workers, who have done so very well. There were some before the war. Since the war began we have actually finished the construction of 102; 100 more are under construction, 240 are planned, and we hope to complete them within the relatively early future. It has really been a question of labour and material at every turn; but for that we should have gone forward much faster, I was asked a similar question by the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) about road hostels for lorry drivers. We have made great improvements in the food provided for lorry drivers in the inns by the wayside which they use. The Ministry of Food have helped us and the Ministry of Labour have enabled us to get the necessary help in the inns. On that, the evidence—corrobated by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Sir A. Gridley) who spoke about his daughter's experience—goes to show that the feeding is much better than it used to be. Accommodation is a different matter. I have been very much worried, as he was, by the question of accommodation. I saw his plans, not two years ago, but some time ago. We have given them very careful consideration. Actually, negotiations are still going on between my Noble Friend and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service about how we can deal with the proposal he put forward, and I am very hopeful that something may result.
1676 The hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull) asked me about the rule of the road, and suggested that we should change from the left to the right. It is not many weeks since he put his original Question on this subject, and since then I have had consultations with the Board of Trade about the effect of such a change on our motor exports. Our consultations are not concluded, but they are bringing out the real merits that are involved in the question. We have had consultations with the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, and with the A.A. and R.A.C. All these pundits were against a- change from left to right. We have had long discussions in the Road Safety Committee, over which I have the honour to preside. We have reached no final conclusion, but we are getting at the facts and merits of the case to enable my Noble Friend and the Government to make a decision in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham spoke about safety on the roads. I am very gravely disturbed by the casualties on the roads. They ought to be far less than they are in view of the great diminution of traffic which there has been. They will be far greater in the post-war period unless we can take effective action to bring them down. May I give some striking figures? Recently, I was asked a supplementary question by the hon. Member for Eye (Mr. Granville), who wanted to know whether it was true that casualties on the roads were actually greater than the casualties which had occurred on the fighting fronts. I looked up the figures. In deaths they are not. In the Forces, 140,000 men have been killed since the war began; on the roads 39,000 have been killed. But injuries may be worse than death, if a man is crippled for the rest of his life. Taking the total killed and wounded on the fighting fronts, as a result of all the efforts of Hitler's war machine, 370,000 have been killed and injured in the Forces, and on the roads 588,000 have been killed and injured since the war began. This is a very grave social problem. The Government have to deal with it, and they are determined that they will. The Road Safety Committee is giving a great deal of time to this question, and we are preparing an interim programme for action to be taken immediately after the war. We are reaching the stage at which our Report can be drafted, and as soon as 1677 that is done we shall provide for longterm measures which my very competent colleagues judge to be required.
Now I come to the question of the Road Haulage Organisation, and I shall have to deal with it at much less length than I should have wished. I say by way of excuse that my Noble Friend intends to put in a written reply to the Report of the Select Committee, which will be available very soon, and which will deal with any points I cannot mention now. May I say that I greatly appreciated the tone of the speech made by the hon. Member for Stockport? We take no exception to criticism; we are grateful, because it helps us in our job. I would say to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Coventry (Captain Strickland) that I met the Divisional Road Haulage Officers who are running this scheme, and who are all men from the industry—I can give him a list of their names and firms —and they were unanimous in thanking me for my defence of the industry in a recent Debate. I know that my hon. Friend's Committee took a lot of evidence. He stated what it was—Questions in the House, criticisms in the Press, consultation with 12 or 14 hauliers, and so on.
I would like to say a word or two about some of the evidence. I will take as one example a Question put to me by an hon. Member not very long ago. He said that he knew a firm whose vehicles, before control, were running a perfect timetable of about 2,000 fully loaded miles per week with each vehicle that they used. When I quoted 2,000 miles a week to road hauliers they raised their eyebrows. These were heavy vehicles and if they averaged 17 miles per hour it means 20 hours running every day. I looked up the fuel issue which this firm was having before control, and I found that it would have permitted just about 1,000 miles a week. I think that some of the evidence which has been put forward has about as solid a basis of fact as that. I want to remind the Committee that our purpose in this organisation is not to make money for the Government—
§ Sir H. Williams
Does the hon. Gentleman put the evidence by a Select Committee of the time taken in the same category as the unsupported statement of an hon. Member asking a Question?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I will, although I will write to the hon. and gallant Member if he wishes. In the case of these potatoes it was urgent traffic, which we were told by the Ministry of Food they must have so that they could keep up supplies in London. If a commercial firm was asked to carry that, knowing that there was no possibility of a load on the return journey, they would have made a round-trip rate not less than ours, or more likely the potatoes would have waited or rotted and London would have gone without, or perhaps they would have taken a chance on rail. That is an illustration of what I am saying. We are not working this road haulage organisation in order co make a profit for the Government.
§ Captain Strickland
When the hon. Gentleman stated that the costs were the same as they were under private enterprise and quoted 17s. 6d. and 18s., how did he arrive at that in view of the proved costs that came out at £2 3s. 6d. a time?
§ Mr. Noel-Baker
I think my hon. and gallant Friend is confusing two separate cases. In one case there were other loads which my hon. and gallant Friend left out of account, but in the other case in which potatoes had to be brought from Leicestershire, they were carried at a rate which was approximately the same as, or a little below, what would have been the commercial rate on a round-trip basis. In saying what I said I was strictly accurate, and if the hon. and gallant Member wishes I will write to him again, giving the fullest possible facts. As I was saying, it is not our purpose to make a profit from this organisation. We had to get urgent traffic through; we had to clear congestion; we had to use road haulage to the best advantage, not as an isolated system but as part of the transport system of the country as a whole. The Order of 14th February, which the hon. Member for Stockport read out, was not an admission of a defect in the working of the road haulage system; it was an instruction that we should use the road haulage to bring relief to the railways where, before, it had been judged that that relief was not required. It was because of increas- 1679 ing pressure on the railways that that was done.
I would like to deal with the most important single point, namely, empty running. I said in our last discussion that I thought the Select Committee had been a little misled by the special cases, which were not put in their proper framework. I was discussing this matter with the head of a large firm the other day and he said that if his firm had desired to quote to the Select Committee their London traffic within a certain area they could have shown, quite legitimately, 97 per cent. loaded running in both directions. But if they took their operations over the country as a whole it was more like 60. Of course, you could find 90 per cent. cases. I had one sent to me by a man working under the organisation who showed me by his figures that he was having more than 90 per cent. loaded running. A big firm sent me the details of their work on many routes which were nearly 90.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Coventry asked me about the running between two towns, how many vehicles ran during a certain week, and what was the empty mileage? It turned out that they were 99 per cent. loaded. I do not claim that as a merit for the organisation. It was a chance that the traffic happened to be balanced. Broadly speaking, it is not balanced and, when the hauliers came to us to negotiate a hiring rate for their vehicles, they said, "Let us start from present day conditions and let us allow 75 per cent. loaded running as a basis." Perhaps that is a little low. I think that with good working it would be 8o to 85. We lave made tests, and we made them during the very months on which the hon. and gallant Gentleman's evidence was based—December and January last. In December we took a check of the work of 54 units, one in each area in the country. It gave us an overall result of 81 per cent. of loaded running. We thought it was too good to be true. We made three other checks in January. The first gave 81 again and the second gave 82. The third was, to my mind, much the most striking. It was for an area where, by the nature of the case, back-loads were rare, yet even there the figure was 72. That area, like all those in the same category, had been. included in our overall December test, 1680 which gave us 81. I think these figures show that, as. far as empty running is a test—and up to a point it is—this organisation, which has not had long to run itself in—I wish it had been set up much sooner —is doing very well.
I end by quoting an outside authority, Mr. J. A. Dunnage, who used to be the national secretary of the Industrial Transport Association and who is described by an American scientific review for which he wrote this article as the author of standard books on transport. Discussing the evidence about empty running and the inefficiency of the organisation, before my hon. Friend's Committee's Report had been published, he wrote:My own view is that these scattered opinions are valueless. Balanced loading into and out of each town is clearly impossible. Failing it, there will always be a proportion of vehicles that must work light from discharging to loading points.I think that is really a decisive quotation; that is the essence of the case.
I pass on to general planning for the future. What are we doing? A number of hon. Members have asked about trunk roads and motor-ways. On trunk roads, we are doing what the hon. Member for Hulme hoped we would do—arranging to take over a much greater mileage as trunk roads for which my Noble Friend will be responsible himself. We are getting on very satisfactorily in our negotiations with local highway authorities about the roads which shall be so taken over. As at present advised, we intend to go on using the highway authorities as agents for the work of construction, maintenance and repair. I do not say that that is an inflexible, unbreakable rule, but that is, broadly speaking, the present intention. As to motor-ways, I fully agree that the county surveyors' scheme was a very able piece of work. No one thinks we can do it all at once. I agree that, when we have a certain area where there are already some by-passes and we have plans for many more, it may be better to abandon what we call in the Ministry the "gumboil" system and make a new road instead.
We intend to make motor-ways. The Government, by a statement which I made some time ago, are committed to the princple of motor-ways in times to come. I said we were going to make suitable lengths. That phrase excited contempt and derision in some quarters.
1681 I did not know why. Surely, it was not expected that we should make unsuitable lengths. A suitable length means one which will enable us to judge whether these motor-ways fulfil the purposes for which they are constructed, will really absorb the traffic and make it faster and save waste and prevent accidents. When we have proved by suitable lengths that the motor-ways will do that we shall construct more, and each that we construct will be intended to be part of a general plan which will cover the country as a whole.
I come to shipping. The hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell) was very pessimistic. I should not agree with him that we shall have only 9,000,000 tons at the end of the war. I should not be surprised if we had a lot more. We do not want fast ships only. We are building fast ships; a third of all that we are building are fast. The big problems of the future are being considered, and in the meantime we are determined to give the officers and men in the Merchant Navy conditions as good as those of any other Merchant Navy in the world and as good as we can make them.
An hon. Member spoke of electrification of the railways. Detailed plans for the electrification of many miles of suburban and main line railways have been or are being prepared. How far we can go, and how soon, depends on many things, in part on the major considerations which have been mentioned. On canals we are engaged on an intensive study of what is the minimum economic unit for a water-borne carrier, the 26 tons which the narrow boat carries, or 5o, 70 or 100; to give a decent life to the worker; a decent return on the investment; and a real service to the nation as a whole. I hope we shall soon have a solid technical basis on which to erect a policy about inland waterways.
Scientific research has been referred to. Aviation has shown what can be done by applied research. I believe there is no section of the whole of the transport system where a large dose of scientific research is not urgently required. Hon. Members wished I could tell them that a master plan for the organisation of national transport is being set forth in legislative or memorandum form. I wish I could tell them so too. But they will realise that long and careful technical 1682 study of each individual form of transport is required before we can begin to consider a general plan. We are a fighting Ministry. My Noble Friend's preoccupations are very heavy, and when the war is over we shall have a considerable period before control will end. But we can, I hope, look forward to a time when we can present a White Paper to Parliament saying what we are going to do.
That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—[Captain McEwen.]
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Tuesday next.