HC Deb 22 January 1947 vol 432 cc301-38

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

7.54 P.m.

Mr. Derek Walker-Smith (Hertford)

I am grateful for the opportunity of raising a subject which, while I do not claim it is of national importance, is of very great and deep importance to the people living in a considerable area. It is a question which touches very nearly the daily lives of a large number of people living in Hertfordshire and East Anglia. I am referring to the running of the railway trains to those parts.

I first raised this question with the Minister, not by way of Debate on the Adjournment, but by way of Question in this House on 4th November, which was some weeks after the start of what I believe was known as the "Improved services." Already, at that early time in the autumn, the running of these trains was showing signs of unpunctuality, and I put the point to the Minister as to whether this unpunctuality would be remedied, and when any improvement could be expected in the rolling stock and amenities of these lines. The reply given by the Minister was not wholly satisfactory, and I have had a large volume of correspondence in regard to this matter since I raised it then in the House.

Although my Question on that occasion referred both, to travelling times and to amenities, I shall not refer much this evening to the question of amenities or travelling conditions. That does not mean to say that I consider that the conditions are good enough for the people of Hertfordshire. Far from it. Indeed, it would take the pen of a Dickens or a Zola to describe properly some of the journeys which my constituents and I have, from time to time, made on trains travelling between London and Hertfordshire. The actual conditions of travelling, apart from unpunctuality, are far from satisfactory. The carriages provided remind one all too often of the 1914 war legend of 8 chevaux,40 hommes." I have not observed any horses in these carriages, so I can only assume that the conditions are such that they proclaim the doctrine of the closed stable in regard to them. I do not propose to enter on to the broad question of amenities and travelling conditions.

I will confine myself to the question of timings and mis-timings. The Minister, in answer to the Question to which I have referred, relating to the unpunctuality of trains serving a variety of towns in Hertfordshire, said that, up to that time, there had been an average of 11 to 12 minutes unpunctuality in regard to the evening trains. I did not altogether understand that answer, because obviously delays are liable to be cumulative, and 11 to 12 minutes' delay at Broxbourne may well become something more substantial at Bishop's Stortford. The figures given to me show that that was an unoerestimate. At the beginning of November, the average unpunctuality of the evening trains to Bishop's Stortford was from 15 to 16 minutes. I do not think one can assess the inconvenience and dislocation simply by a statement of average unpunctuality, because where there is a variable, but always substantial, daily unpunctuality, one is bound as a good planner—and I know that the hon. Gentleman takes great credit for being a good planner—to plan on the worst case and, therefore, the actual amount of time lost in dislocation is considerably greater than any overall, average statement on unpunctuality would show.

I would like to make a brief comparison with prewar timings, because I found that before the war the time taken on that 30 miles journey to Bishop's Stortford varied from 41 to 47 minutes. I have noted down the actual schedule of some of the prewar timings. The 5.19 took 46 minutes, the 6.30 took 47 minutes, and the 7.10 took 41 minutes. The trains to Bishop's Stortford at present take longer than that on their schedule. The 5.12 takes 56 minutes, the 5.49 also 56 minutes, and the 6.30 takes 55 minutes, so even taking the Minister's average figures of 11 to 12 minutes delay in November—and in practice, as I have tried to show, it was a good deal more—the journey to Bishop's Stortford at present is taking at least 20 minutes longer for a 30 miles journey than before the war. If the Minister feels tempted as I am afraid he may, to say that all this strengthens the case for nationalisation — [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—I thought we should have that—I would like to point out 'that the better timings to which I am referring were of course achieved under conditions of absolute private enterprise before the Minister's Department had any jurisdiction.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

Is it not also trueg and I was a regular traveller on that line before the war—that the average loss of time was 15 to 20 minutes on these trains which the hon. Gentleman has now quoted in the prewar years when the railways had the utmost freedom?

Mr. Walker-Smith

That is not my information, nor was it my experience. My own experience is limited to the years 1937 and 1938, before the war, but that was not my experience or the experience of a considerable number of correspondents who have written to me on the matter. In regard to the evidence of unpunctuality, I am furnished with such a volume of evidence that it is almost an embarras de richesse. All I can do is to select certain trains which seem to me to illustrate the points that I wish to make. Let me take the 6 o'clock and 6.30 evening trains, because these are peak-hour evening trains carrying a very large number of passengers to Hertfordshire and East Anglia. The theory, as the Minister knows, is that the 6.30 train takes passengers to Broxbourne and Bishop's Stort-ford, and beyond, and that the 6 o'clock train takes passengers to Waltham Cross non-stop and thence to Cheshunt, Brox-bourne, Rye House, St. Margaret's Ware, and Hertford I may mention that by getting off the 6 o'clock train at St. Margaret's, one should be able to go on at 6.46 on the branch Buntingford line to the villages of Mardock, Widford, Hadham, Standon, Braughing, West Mill, and Buntingford. That is the theory with regard to those two trains.

I would mention that, as the Minister knows, there is another service to Hertford from King's Cross. This line is also in considerable need of improvement in regard to its train timings, particularly in the provision of some fast trains; but that is all I intend to say on that subject this evening, because although the schedule of timings on the King's Cross-Hertford North Line is unsatisfactory, they have adhered with reasonable consistency to the timings of the schedule. Therefore, I leave that line for this evening and return to the peak hour evening trains which I mentioned.

On them, I must say that throughout this autumn and winter the 6.30 train to Broxbourne and Bishop's Stortford, and the 6 o'clock train to Hertford and the intervening stations, have been consistently and grossly irregular and un-punctual. There was, as a matter of fact, an improvement for a few days after I put my Question to the Minister in November, which no doubt was purely coincidental, but I regret to say it has not been sustained. I have many time schedules of the actual running to show the unpunctuality of these trains, but clearly I can select only a few specimen timings. Taking the 6.30 train to Bishop's Stortford, I will quote the following few instances. On 14th November, 10 days after my original Question, that train was 61 minutes late in arriving at Bishop's Storfford; on 25th November, it was 55 minutes late; on 26th November, 66 minutes late; on 9th November, 45 minutes late; on 17th December, it was cancelled altogether, and not only was it cancelled, but the 5.42, which is the train before it, was also cancelled; on 8th January, the 6.30 was cancelled again, and owing to the following train, the 7.15, being no less than 36 minutes late, this meant that people who left their offices in the City, which is near to Liverpool Street, in the region of 6 o'clock, took three hours to get to their homes in Bishop's Stortford, 30 miles away.

Mr. Sparks (Acton)

What was the state of the weather on those occasions, because it would make a great deal of difference if there was fog at those times?

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) for his intervention. I would not like to say definitely that on no occasion there was any fog, but I will tell the hon. Member that this autumn and winter have been the least foggy autumn and winter in the Lea Valley within the recollection of most people. The number of foggy evenings has been remarkably small. Therefore, the cases I have taken cannot be explained —nor do I think the Minister will seek to explain them—by climatic conditions.

I would like now to quote some figures with regard to the 6 o'clock train. These are all more recent figures. On 6th January, the 6 o'clock train was 85 minutes late at Broxbourne, which is a distance of under 20 miles. On 7th January, it was cancelled altogether, which may perhaps have been a good tiling if 85 minutes late was the best it could achieve. On 8th January, it was 30 minutes late; on 9th January, 15 minutes; on 10th January, 25 minutes; on 13th January, 25 minutes; on 14th January, 10 minutes; on 15th January, 5 minutes, and on the 16th January—I think the Minister must have sent for his brief for this Debate by then —it was only one minute late. I would like to draw the attention of the hon. Member for Acton to the fact that on all those dates visibility and weather conditions are stated to have been good.

I could quote instances with regard to other trains in some detail, but I will not do so. For instance, the 5.42 train from Liverpool Street to Bishop's Stortford on 6th January was 116 minutes late at Bishop's Stortford, although I believe there was some technical reason on that evening. The 10 p.m. train 'on 12th January, on which night I believe' there was a certain amount of fog, got into Bishop's Stortford, 30 miles away, at 6 o'clock on the following morning, by which time the travellers were very tired and harassed.

I think I have said enough to show the inconveniences that are being suffered by the users of these trains. I would like to remind the House, and particularly the Minister, that the 6.30 train affects Broxbourne as well as Bishop's Stortford; and that the 6 o'clock train serving all the stations I previously mentioned, frequently adds to its lateness at Broxbourne, by further delays at St. Margaret's, which are due to certain manoeuvrings that are alleged to be executed in the interests of people living on the Buntingford line; in fact, as the train is so late at St. Margaret's, the Bunting-ford connection is by no means always available to the passengers when they get there, so that a good deal of the manoeuvring is in vain, and simply means further delay for the passengers travelling on to Ware and Hertford.

With regard to the trains to Waltham Cross, which, as the Minister will appreciate, is this side of London from Broxbourne, a letter which I received as earlv as 30th November, before any fog had set in this year, stated that the average for the past week had been 30 minutes lateness for a 12¾ miles journey, and that the worst case had been 75 minutes un-punctuality. I travelled down by train to Waltham Cross a few days later, and I struck slightly worse than average in that my train was some 40-odd minutes late.

The same applies to the up trains in the morning as applies to the down trains in the peak hours of evening travel. I do not want to weary the House by too many statistics, but it is, of course, necessary to produce evidence of the allegations I am making, and so I quote these few figures in respect of the up trains in the morning. The 8.16 from Broxbourne to Liverpool Street was 13 minutes late on 2nd January; the 9.8 on 6th January was 21 minutes late; the 8.16 on 8th January was 16 minutes late; on 14th January the 8.16 was no less than 40 minutes late; the following day the 9.8 was 29 minutes late; and the day after that this particular correspondent adds, I imagine with a sigh of relief, "by car."

These are some of the timings in the mornings of the up trains to London, and I might also quote an instance from the other line, the Bishop Stortford line, to which my attention has been drawn by a constituent. The train due to leave Bishop Stortford at 7.23 was late because, although it had only come 25 miles from Cambridge, the driver decided that he must take in water and that process apparently took 42 minutes. So there was a 42 minute delay for some 600 passengers because—

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. G. R. Strauss)

indicated dissent.

Mr. Walker-Smith

The Minister shakes his head, but this is evidence given to me by my constituents and they were there while neither the Minister nor I were; so I am inclined to accept the facts brought before me by perfectly reputable citizens. I think that the Minister, instead of shaking his head, should make an inquiry before he puts forth so strong a negative. The instances can be multiplied—and probably will be by the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones)—from the Buntingford line, because I think it is on that line that the case occurred of a soldier who travelled up to Liverpool Street from Buntingford. Having come to the barrier and given up his ticket he expressed thanks that he had finished half of his journey. On being asked where he was going he replied, "South Africa." That is the fame which the Bungtingford line has achieved, and I am glad to think that there will be time for the hon. Member to add something to this Debate.

I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Secretary will make reference to the go-slow movement at Stratford as being partly the cause of these difficulties. I am sure they have aggravated the difficulties of this line; and, though I do not myself wish to go into the merits of that dispute, from the point of view of people living in Hertfordshire it does seem a sad thing that this dispute could not have been settled more rapidly so that the grievances of 290 fitters and mechanics would not impose so much hardship on the travelling public of Hertfordshire. Perhaps the Parliamentary Secretary will address himself to the question as to whether the Government have done all in their power to secure a speedy settlement of this dispute. Conditions lately have, of course, been considerably aggravated by the cancellation of trains without notice. I myself had an experience of this the other day when telephoning to ask whether the train by which I proposed to travel was or was not cancelled. I was informed that no notice to that effect had been received. To that I replied, "Then I assume it will run." But I am bound to say that the person answering the telephone did not seem to think that that followed at all; and she was quite right because it did not run.

I want to make one last statistical reference and that is to the loss of man hours. It has been computed that the 8.30 up train from Bishop's Stortford to Liverpool Street has lost a total of 308 man hours in the first 16 days of the month while the 5.24 train from Liverpool Street has lost a total of 586 man hours. That is an aggregate loss of 14 hours 48 minutes per day. Assuming some 650 people travel on these trains, this means approximately a total loss of man hours of something from 20,000 to 30,000 a week. When I said that this was not a matter of national importance I am not sure that I did not understate my case. This is a great loss of working hours to the nation, and no less important, or in my view almost as important, is the great deprivation to the citizens of Hertfordshire of their leisure hours in the evening. This is adding a considerable burden to both ends of the day, which is not making the present none too easy conditions of life any lighter for these people.

I do protest most vigorously against the continuance of such conditions or any MinisteriaLcomplacency in regard to that. Indeed, it has been suggested by some that the Minister of Transport has entered into some form of an unholy pact with his colleague, the Minister of Town and Country Planning, to see that the new towns in Hertfordshire do not become dormitory towns. It is suggested that this is a deep laid scheme to stop any sensible person travelling up and down to London from the new towns on account of the difficulties of transport.

I am, of course, aware that there are difficulties in regard to this, and I know that the burden of traffic carried from Liverpool Street is extremely heavy indeed. I do not want to cast stones at the company, because theirs is a difficult position. I know, for example, that there was a plan to electrify this line before the war, and as far as I know that plan is ready to be put into operation if and when circumstances permit. That would no doubt improve the situation a great deal. I believe it to be a fact that the particular quality of coal which is being serviced to these trains is extremely poor, and that some of these failures are due to the simple fact of being unable to get sufficient steam up owing to the quality of the coal. Lastly, and perhaps most important of all, I am aware that there is a great shortage of locomotives on this line, and perhaps on others, but I would suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary that it is false economy to starve our home transport of locomotives at the same time as we are exporting locomotives on the scale that we are doing, because if he considers the effect on industry of this loss of man hours to which I have referred he will realise that the provision of only a tew up-to-date, good locomotives would save on this line a considerable amount of man hours for the nation.

I do hope that the Minister will realise the gravity of this situation in the daily lives of a large number of people in Hertfordshire and in East Anglia, and that he will give a helpful and constructive reply. Many of my constituents and constituents of other hon. Members in that county are gravely concerned at the travelling conditions to which they are exposed, and my constituents have enlisted my help, and I hope not in vain, because I am not prepared to see them go on day by day in conditions of such discomfort without using such Parliamentary opportunities as I am able to achieve to bring some small measure of discomfort to the Minister and his Department. If these conditions do not improve, and if the Minister is unable to address himself in a constructive way to this problem, then I hope he will not under estimate the fertility of my resource or the pertinacity of my purpose in coming back to the question again and again.

8.20 p.m.

Mr. Gunter (Essex, South-Eastern)

I think the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) concluded his speech with a very fair assessment of the problems that have had to be faced by the London and North Eastern Railway Company during the past few months, but I am not as happy as he is that the emergency that has rapidly worsened during the past three months has been adequately dealt with, or that all that might have been done has been done by the London and North Eastern Railway Company. The hon. Gentleman said that he would refrain from dealing at too great a length with the conditions in which passengers were travelling in the Eastern area on the lines he mentioned, but I think it is fair comment to say that while the railway companies have, happily, regulations for safeguarding the humane loading of cattle, the passengers who are compelled to travel from Liverpool Street have certainly not been safeguarded by any such conditions. We have the daily spectacle, in the peak hours, of compartments scheduled to hold 12 persons carrying 25 and 26 passengers for distances of 20, 25 and 30 miles. We fully appreciate the difficulties, but there it is, and I venture to suggest that if any military officer had been responsible during the war—even in the great strain of that period—for loading troops in the manner in which civilians are now loaded at Liverpool Street every night, there would have been a long string of bowler hats handed out.

I feel that something far different ought to have been done during the past three months. First, I would draw attention to the fact that at Liverpool Street there has been no real effort to advise or direct the poor, shambling passengers upon that station in the way they ought to go. Trains have been cancelled without any prior notification; passengers have assembled in one train and have then been told calmly by loudspeaker to get out and take another train, and that all adds up to the sum total of irritation. I venture to say that operation at Liverpool Street has been so chaotic that one has been led to believe that it was on the verge of collapse on certain evenings during the past few months. I am quite confident that in spite of all the apparent difficulties of that section of the line, far more courtesy could have been shown to the travelling public than has been the case during this period. I would, therefore, like the Minister to direct the attention of the London and North Eastern Railway Company to the fact that passengers are, after all, entitled to consideration when they assemble upon a station expecting to travel. They are entitled to receive that consideration by way of loudspeaker and by way of blackboard announcement, and, as far as is humanly possible, as much prior notice as possible of train cancellations.

I am fully aware that the Minister will reply on the lines of the grave difficulties in the mechanical and operating sections of the London and North Eastern Railway Company, but I would like to say a word upon the labour troubles that have taken place. They have, after all, gone on since September. I speak as a trade unionist Member of Parliament, and I do not believe that in an industrial dispute of that character capital ought to be made out of the sufferings of thousands of the travelling public. Steps should have been taken by those concerned, whether maintenance departments or otherwise, to bring some alleviation of that very desperate situation in the company's shops at Stratford.

It will probably be argued by the Minister that this Eastern section of the railway is almost peculiar in the London and North Eastern Railway because it is run almost entirely with Westinghouse-fitted stock, whereas the vast majority of the other areas are served by vacuum-fitted stock. It will be said that owing to this it has not been possible to supplement locomotive and rolling stock on this particular section from other sections. That may be so, but I would like an assurance from the Minister tonight that this is actually the case, and that even within the slender resources of the London and North Eastern Railway Company there could not have been introduced some Westinghouse-fitted locomotives or rolling stock. On the other hand, if this position, which has so rapidly deteriorated, was properly analysed by the London and North Eastern Railway Company, would it not have been possible in the early months of December to have introduced vacuum-fitted locomotives and stock and drawn them from some other part of that railway? I am very reluctant to believe that even in these days some easement of the situation could not have been made from the resources of so great an organisation as the L.N.E.R.

There is one other point I should like to make. There have been public allegations of incompetence in management with regard to these operation difficulties and to the Stratford labour troubles. I do not propose to go into that because I do not think it would be a very useful thing to do, but nevertheless I feel that a considered reply ought to have been received from the London and North Eastern Railway Company some weeks ago in view of these public allegations. It is alleged with regard to Stratford that while it is true that the men have been acting in what is perhaps an unconstitutional manner, the real root of the trouble has been that the mangement has been incompetent. I will not carry that much further, but it has been mentioned in the Press and has been stated publicly, so that I feel that the allegations should be refuted and that the Minister should give us a statement on the actual position at Stratford. Although we welcome the news today that there is to be an easement there, I personally do not believe that it will materially affect the locomotive position for a few weeks or, indeed, months. The locomotive position has reached such a pitch that to put into operation 200 locomotives, wholly maintained, will be a long job.

I should like to refer to the question of time table compilation, although it would be very indiscreet to enter into the secrets of how time tables are compiled. In this connection I might say that the hon. Member for Hertford is in a more fortunate position than I have been in my area. On some days we have completely lost track of any actual relations between train running and time tables. I really think that there is room for improvement in the compdation of these time tables.

To use an example, we have the spectacle of trains running from Liverpool Street to Southend. They may go half way along the journey and then become non-stop afterwards. The last part of the journey is uneconomic running during this emergency since a train may then be only three-quarters full.

I suggest to the Minister that he should go very fully into the question of time tables with the L.N.E.R. in order to see if it is possible to eliminate that kind of thing. If a train reaches, say, Billericay, between Liverpool Street and Southend, it should not thereafter run straight through but should stop at the intermediate stations. I know that the automatic answer will concern operating time and turning round arrangements, but I feel that there is a review open to us there and I hope the Minister will go fully into the matter. This is an important matter, affecting the daily lives of scores of thousands of people, and it ought to be treated as one of the immediate emergency. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices to see that everything possible is done to relieve this very ghastly position, which has arisen during the past three months.

8.29 p.m.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

I am reluctant to intervene in the Debate, because it does not affect my constituency, though I have no doubt that many Members here are affected by it. The hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith), however, has raised in an able way an issue which concerns us all, the service provided for the travelling public. I have had some experience in this matter, because I lived for some years in a constituency in this area, and I have travelled on this Buntingford line. When I ventured to complain about the service, I was always told: "You cannot have it both ways. You cannot live in such beautiful unspoiled country and, at the same time, have express trains going through it." That was all very well, but there is a very considerable population living in that area. I have seen people trying to get trains at Liverpool Street station and I have never seen anything like what I witnessed there on one particular evening. I honestly believe that the lives of many people in this country have been considerably shortened by the effort of travelling which they have had to make during the last few years.

It is a positive disgrace to our civilisation, although it may be irremediable at the moment. The conditions which people— hundreds of thousands of people—have to put up with in travelling to and from Liverpool Street, going to and from their work, must impose serious physical hardship upon them, and deterioration of their health must ensue upon the hardships which they are undergoing.

On the occasion to which I refer there were at Liverpool Street many hundreds of people making desperate attempts to get into the trains. Compartments were already full, and people were standing inside the compartments, yet more people were pushing in, and there was the greatest confusion. When the train was actually in motion, a number of people were hanging on to the doors and trying to get into the compartments, with great risk of injury to themselves. That was not an isolated occasion. I have spoken to people who have travelled on these trains. I said to one man: "You are not looking Very well." He replied, "How can I look well when I take two hours to get to my work every morning and it takes me two hours every night to get home? I leave home about 8 o'clock and struggle for buses, and then I have to fight for my life to try to get a seat in the train."

A point mentioned by the hon. Member for South-East Essex (Mr. Gunter) was very important. People contend that they get no guidance of any kind at Liverpool Street from any official, inspector or anybody else about when a train may be expected, or whether a train is to be or has been cancelled. I am sure there must be something wrong with the organisation. The railway servants of this country are among the most courteous of people who serve the public. I cannot understand why they are not in a position to give guidance to people who have been working in offices and have to travel to and from their work whether trains have been cancelled and when the next train is going. That information would give the people a chance to get home at a reasonable time. It is very surprising that this is the line which the Minister of Transport himself would use, travelling to Bishop's Stortford. I do not know whether the Minister goes by car, or whether all facilities are afforded to him so that he can enter the train quickly. If the Minister has to put up with a tithe of the inconvenience endured by the travelling public, I can see no hope of his getting the Transport Bill through successfully because he will not be able to carry on with the process. I cannot imagine that the right hon. Gentleman can be putting up with the inconvenience that travellers are enduring on that particular line.

Is it really necessary now for a railway compartment to remain as dirty as the compartments are today on the London and North Eastern Railway? Is there-no process by which the carriages can be cleaned? I do not care whether I am passing any reflection on this company or any other company. I am simply stating the fact that if railway compartments are not cleaned from day to day in England at the present time, the travelling public at all events pay big fares and are entitled to cleanliness even if they cannot travel in reasonable comfort. I know the difficulties of the lack of railway stock, the need for repairs and so on, but I appeal to the Minister to go into the matter because it is a reflection on our present system not of government but of civilisation. The people of this country do not deserve it. They are entitled to something better and they ought to get it.

8.37 p.m.

Mr. Asterley Jones (Hitchin)

Hon. Members on both sides of the House are very grateful to the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) for raising this extremely important matter. I should like to congratulate him on his good fortune in securing a Debate which gives all of us an opportunity to say one or two of the things we have been wanting to say for some months on this subject. Briefly, the situation is that nobody in Hertfordshire—we are dealing specifically with that county this evening—who relies on the London and North Eastern Railway can possibly make an appointment and be sure of keeping it. That is the plain straightforward truth of the matter. The difficulties are not confined merely to the business times. In fact there is ground for thinking that some of the trains in which the prosperous business men travel run a little faster than some of the others.

The line from Liverpool Street to Buntingford, to which the hon. Member for Hertford has referred, threads its way through the hon. Member's constituency, and just before it reaches its destination, it passes out of his constituency into mine. I can bear out everything he has said about the shortcomings of that line. But all this is not confined to the Liverpool Street services. It applies equally —perhaps with not quite such great force but almost equally—to the line out of King's Cross which runs North to Hatfield, to Welwyn Garden City, on to the place which is now becoming known as Silkingrad, and to Hitchin and further North. Many men and women constituents of mine—I know this because I have to travel on the line very frequently myself—work in Welwyn Garden City and rely on the trains coming out of King's Cross not only to take them home, but to take them to a place where they can get bus connections.

That is where a difficulty arises. Where a train runs 10 to 15 minutes late, it means that a passenger living in a place with buses only every hour has to waste a further three-quarters of an hour when the train arrives. Like the hon. Member for Hertford, I could quote strings of examples which have been laboriously collected by constituents of mine who have to travel on this line every day, but I will give only three examples. Last week I came up to town and returned on the 5.34 from King's Cross. That journey of about 20 miles took one a quarter hours. On Monday evening of this week, I came up to town and had to go back to a meeting at Hatfield. I caught the 6.40 from King's Cross. It was not foggy, but it took an hour to do the 18 miles to Hatfield. Yesterday, when, admittedly, there was fog in some parts of the country, I had a meeting at Hitchin in the afternoon and then I came up to town. I went smartly on to the platform at Hitchin to catch the 6.40 back to London. The train was standing at the station, so I quickened my pace, went over to the platform—and found it was the 5.13. That is not exceptional; it is happening every day, and part of it is due to a too ambitious timing of long-distance trains.

I appreciate that if you slow up a longdistance train to make way for a local train, that has repercussions right up the line. However, knowing as we do the limitations existing at present—the poor quality of locomotives, the poor quality coal in many cases, the lack of maintenance on the track—surely it would be realistic to add something to the long distance train timings, giving them a margin so that my unfortunate constituents who have to travel a short distance from one station on the line to another station, are not always being held up by long distance trains? The King's Cross line has two bottle necks between London and Hitchin: the Welwyn Viaduct and the Potters Bar tunnels. Surely it would be realistic to add, say, half an hour to the timing of an express from King's Cross to Edinburgh so that it has time to spare if its coal is bad or if its locomotive has not been properly maintained, rather than this continual hold-up of 20 minutes, half an hour and, in some cases, three quarters of an hour of people who have to travel every day on this line? If it is not possible to keep to the time tables, then I ask the Minister to take the other alternative, which is not a very attractive one but at the same time is more realistic, of giving the trains a bit more time in order to do their job within the present limitations.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. Channon (Southend-on-Sea)

I ask the Minister when dealing with this matter, to pay some attention to the appalling service to Southend, which has already been mentioned tonight. I could give him many details of the deplorable conditions of unpunctuality and discomfort constantly endured by my constituents, but as they are very similar to those mentioned by previous speakers, I will not reiterate them. The fact remains that many thousands of people coming up from my constituency every day are putting up with almost intolerable conditions.

I had a letter today from a constituent, personally known to me, saying that he works in the City, within easy walking distance of Liverpool Street, about five or six minutes from the station, and not once since Christmas has his journey from his office to his home at Southend taken less than three hours—a distance of 41 miles by train—with the result, already mentioned that when he gets back and the train is 45 minutes late, he has missed his bus which involves another half hour. So he gets home at nine o'clock, after leaving his office at half past five. That is a really intolerable strain for a man over 60, who has put up with great inconveniences during the war. But that is only one in- stance. Another gentleman wrote to me and said that he counted the number of people in his compartment one night last week, and there were 26, including himself. The compartment was badly lit, and the passengers were treated like cattle People could put up with this sort of thing during the war, but it seems a little too much now that conditions are easier. At Liverpool Street it is like a free fight. In fact it is dangerous, for people who have had a long tiring day doing secretarial work in the City. I hope the Minister can do something to alleviate somewhat the grave disomfort and inconvenience that are causing a breakdown in health to many thousands of people in my constituency.

8.46 p.m.

Mr. Symonds (Cambridge)

Many hon. Members have referred to the difficulties between Liverpool Street and Bishop's Stortford, and have given a clear indication of the discomfort, waste of time, and loss of man-hours which result. But those difficulties have their repercussions far beyond Bishop's Stortford, and particularly concern my constituency of Cambridge Living in Cambridge, are many people who went there during the war under evacuation and other schemes, who have been unable to return to London because of the housing shortage. A large number of them have to come up to London every day. What they need is a train leaving Cambridge at a reasonable time to get to London by about 9 o'clock in the morning, and a train leaving London by 6 o'clock to get them back to Cambridge at a reasonable time in the evening. What actually happens is that there is a train at 7.47 a.m., due at Liverpool Street at 9.44, but which rarely arrives before 10 a.m. The 5.49 p.m. back is due at Cambridge at 7.25 p.m., but I understand it has never yet run to time since the winter schedules were introduced last October. It is frequently 8 o'clock, and later, before that train reaches Cambridge.

The effect of all that is that if a man must be in his office by about 9 o'clock, and do an ordinary day's work, he has to leave Cambridge—which is only about 50 miles away—at 6 o'clock in the morning, with no hope of getting home again until between 8 and 9 o'clock in the evening. We all know the difficulties of rolling stock, and fuel, and so on, but, as Cambridge people see it, those are not really. the answers. If it were purely a matter of rolling stock, time would be lost all the way on the journey, but I understand that the part of the journey from Bishop's Stortford via Audley End to Cambridge is quite regularly done almost on time, the hold-up comes between Bishop's Stortford and Liverpool Street. Those of my constituents who have kept a time table on these matters, say that it is only too obvious that if the schedules were revised between Liverpool Street and Bishop's Stortford, the same pace could be kept up as between Bishop's Stortford and Cambridge. I am told that the drivers themselves say, "Give us the road, and we can do the journey on time."

The trouble about the schedules between Liverpool Street and Bishop's Stortford is that the L.N.E.R. seem invariably to try to run a fast train fairly closely behind a slow train, rather than doing the opposite. For instance, the early evening trains from Liverpool Street are held up in this way. The 4.32 p.m. train follows behind the slow 3.42 p.m., the 5.49 p.m., the train which is always late, folldws behind the slow 5.24 p.m. train; the 7.15 p.m. train follows behind the slow 6.30 p.m. It is this practice of timing schedules so that they involve a fast train following a slow one, which inevitably results in the slow trains holding up the fast ones. From time to time, my constituents have put forward suggested revised schedules, and it seems to me that the railway company are ready to seek out any and every reason for rejecting them, but never consider trying them out in practice. The suggestion that some of them might involve the use of more rolling stock has been dealt with. I have, in recent weeks, put before the Minister schedules which would in fact, involve the use of definitely not more, and in some cases less, rolling stock than is used at present, but it seems that for some reason or other the company are not prepared to revise their schedules, even for an experimental period. I suggest to the Minister that he should take up that point with the company. Man hours are wasted all the way down the line, and by revising the timings from Liverpool Street, I am sure it would be possible to get as good a service between Liverpool Street and Bishop's Stortford, as is apparently possible between Bishop's Stortford and Cambridge.

8.53 p.m.

Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)

My reasons for intervening in this Debate are two. First, I am one of the unfortunates who live on this line. I live a few stations beyond Bishop's Stortford, and I have to travel on it constantly. Secondly, I come from a country where railways are rather unpunctual, and I think I may speak as an authority on this. In Ireland, which is my country, though the railways are erratic and timings are bad, they are at least amusing. No one can say that of the London and North Eastern Railway Company—it is merely sordid. Whereas on the Clogher Valley Railway, in the part of the world from which I come, passengers, when they start an hour late, at least have the exhilaration of hearing the station master saying to the driver, "You can't go tonight, the 'Ballygawley Special' is on the line," and the driver answering, "Is she? Then she'll meet her match to night." That never happens at Liverpool Street. All that happens is that the train is an hour late starting, and very much later in arriving at her desti-nation.

Having observed this railway for a considerable period of time, I think there are two main faults any passenger can find with it. In the first place, the coaches in which they travel—"coaches"are, of course, a courtesy term, they are so called by the railway—are dirty, uncomfortable, and, I suppose, were manufactured when railways first started to run. They are normally unheated, save, I believe, when the weather becomes mild or warm. Certainly on cold days they are never heated. As the trains are delayed and stop for lengthy periods between stations, that is a matter of great discomfort to passengers in them.

Secondly, the trains practically never run to time. That might sound an exaggeration, but out of interest I kept a schedule of my last ten journeys on this railway On those ten journeys never once did my train get to its destination at the time which was advertised in the timetable. I agree with the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mr. Asterley Jones) that the real fault is in the timing. Some hon. Members and friends of mine who travel on this railway tell me, and produce facts, to substantiate their story, that in the old days of stage coaches one could do the journey from London to Bishop's Stortford in roughly the same time or perhaps a little longer. If the railway is to be run like that it should be so timed in the timetable. There is nothing more annoying to a passenger who travels regularly by the same train than to get to know that it arrives regularly 10 or 15 minutes late. The 8.29 from Newport is a case in point. It is scheduled to arrive at Liverpool Street at 9.50 a.m. and day after day it fails to arrive before ten o'clock. It is a maddening thing for those who have to travel. If the train was retimed so that we knew where we were, and that we would not arrive at 9.50, at least that would be some consolation.

I suggest that the timing of these trains should be examined. I support what was said by the hon. Member for Hitchin when he suggested that they should be retimed. The excuses that are given for the present conditions on the L.N.E.R. are nearly all connected with the war. The traffic manager and other important officials tell one of the devastating effect which war has had upon the railway. So far as the old traveller is concerned, that simply does not wash. People who travelled on this railway before the war know that conditions were precisely the same then. They have never been good. My recollection goes back to 1925 when as a young man I had to travel up from Cambridge for dinner in London. I found that the train which was advertised to arrive at 6.45 at Liverpool Street arrived at 7.20 and I went with a certain amount of indignation to the officials in the station. They looked at me with surprise and said, "Oh, but don't you know? It has never got in before 7.15 yet." They were astonished that I should find anything unusual about it. Of course, having made the mistake once, I got to know that that was the case. That was another case for retiming. I hope it will not be said that the dreadful state of this railway is due to anything connected with the war", because I do, not believe it. It has always been like this and, unless something drastic is done, I am sure it will remain in this condition.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Walkden (Doncaster)

If we wished to widen the scope of this Debate and to discuss the question of private enterprise and State ownership, we certainly could have a most interesting discussion and wc could make use of the speech by the hon. Member for South Belfast (Mr. Gage) in our argument. I assure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) that that is not our intention. Certainly it was not my intention when I ventured to interrupt him during the early part of his speech. I wish to cross swords with the Parliamentary Secretary and also with the Minister, who is not here. I beg the Parliamentary Secretary, in reply to the arguments which have been presented, to be frank, factual and realistic in regard to the problems which have caused this difficult situation. It is the question of railway engines, rolling stock and all those kindred matters that, somehow, as the hon. Member who has just spoken said, cause us to recognise that the railway companies never seriously believe their own timetables at all.

I remember suggesting to the Minister last year that, on the L.N.E.R. from King's Cross, they should speed up the existing trains and provide more trains according to their timetable, but they forgot to put any more trains on or to speed up the trains that were running. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to come down to the realities of the situation. I am sure that hon. Members of this House promote Debates of this kind with the idea of getting something done. We do not just quote figures and give examples or experiences merely for the sake of wasting Parliamentary time. I have never yet myself heard from the Ministry of Transport anything but excuses, explanations, or something else which has come from some railway official, teling us of the situation relating to 1040, 1941 or 1942 in the war years. I have never heard anything dealing with the weeks or months that lie ahead.

I would put two specific points, apart from the argument which, we hope, has just been settled at Stratford. Does the Minister hold out any positive hope whatever for the travelling public—not those from Liverpool Street alone, but also those from King's Cross—that there will be sufficient engines, in the first instance, and I mean good and efficient engines, to take the trains in the next few months according to the schedules laid down, so that people can do their jobs in the manner in which ordinary citizens wish to do them, that is, on time? Are we bringing engines, less likely to be used there, from other parts of the country to augment the inefficient ones or those laid up in the sidings or engine sheds? Are we likely to have engines to take the place of these inefficient or useless ones which are causing us so much trouble at the present time? Will the Minister give us some definite indication that there will be some kind of economy? Will the Minister see that the public are not given false information in railway guides which show that there are seven trains when there really are only five, or perhaps four and where there is no intention of carrying out the railway timetable? Will he see that we are protected against this kind of thing?

Furthermore, on the question of economy, may I beg him to consider a direction in which economy can be effected, and that is in regard to some long-distance trains? For pure swank, we run the "Yorkshire Pullman," which carries 292 people, but the ordinary citizens are not so fortunate as to get a seat on that train without booking, say, six weeks ahead They travel in trains with probably 650 or 700 other people with them, but the "Yorkshire Pullman" leaves on time, and people with braid on their hats—I am not sure whether some of them have not got top hats—who are railway officials are there to see it off every day. We like the "Yorkshire Pullman," and the "West Riding Limited." We like these Rolls-Royce trains, but we also fully recognise that we cannot afford them at present. When this train arrives at Doncaster, or somewhere else—Harrogate, Hull or Leeds— it has to have three engines to pull six coaches. In fact, I believe it has one engine for two coaches and has to have another extra engine for each additional two coaches.

It is a very serious state of affairs, and I beg the Parliamentary Secretary to be as dissatisfied with his Department as he was with many aspects of the Coalition Government when we were brothers in arms challenging them in this House. I can assure him that many of us are very discontented and dissatisfied with the explanations, or lack of good intentions, on the part of his Ministry to deal with the problems raised in this House by hon.

Members who are trying to do some good for the wellbeing of their constituents and the wellbeing of the country. Therefore, I would insist that he tells us what are his intentions for the next few months, so that there may be some improvement along the lines indicated in this Chamber this evening.

9.6 p.m.

Mr. Sparks (Acton)

I have been very interested in what has been said this evening in regard to the proper working of passenger traffic between Liverpool Street and suburban London stations. If the Minister was in a position to reply effectively tonight, I think he would indicate that the solution to many of these problems lies in another direction, one which has already come before this House and will come before it again at a later stage.

With the exception of Waterloo, all the main line railway terminal stations were designed in the Victorian age for traffic requirements of that age. The problem of our London terminal stations today is that of trying to press a quart into a pint pot, if I may use that illustration. I believe that Liverpool Street is the worst of the London terminal stations in this respect. Its service is bad. Delays occur at Liverpool Street and other London terminal stations because of the bottleneck conditions which exist at present. The London main line terminal stations were designed mainly for long-distance traffic. Suburban traffic has been quite a secondary consideration and, consequently, the railway companies now find themselves bottled up in an inadequate space and unable to cope with a suburban problem that was never anticipated in Victorian times, when these terminal stations were first designed and constructed.

I would remind the House that, during the period between the first and second world wars—between 1918 and today— more than two million people have come to live in the suburban area of London. That is a very significant fact because it has had the effect of adding to the pressure of travel into and out of London over a system never designed to cope with such suburban traffic. Therefore nothing but the complete reorganisation of our London terminal stations can overcome this difficulty of suburban travel. In my view, what is urgently required is a separation of long-distance traffic from the purely suburban services, but it is very difficult to do that at the London terminal stations.

It is also very significant that we hear many complaints in this House about passenger train delays on the L.N.E.R., the L.M.S. and, to some extent, on the Great Western Railway, but very few about delays on the Southern Railway. What delays we do get on the Southern line occur mostly on the steam services. The Southern suburban service from Water l00 is really the best suburban service which the City possesses, largely because it is considerably electrified and, of course, the signalling system is much more effective. Therefore, if we are looking for a cause, we must look to the backwardness of the railway managements and the railway companies themselves. They have never faced the necessity for the complete reorganisation of their London terminal stations to cope with the suburban traffic which those stations were never designed or built to accommodate.

In my view, the solution is of a long-term nature. I do not think mere is any short solution to the problem. London is continuing to grow, and the more it grows and the more people who come to the Greater London and suburban area, the greater will this problem become. The real solution is the introduction of a system of electrification to our suburban services on the L.N.E.R. and the L.M.S and the Great Western Railways to the same extent and to the same degree as that which exists on the Southern suburban services. To a great extent, that will meet the complaints which have been experienced not merely over the last year or two but, as has already been said, even before 1939. Liverpool Street has always been known to be the worst station in London from which to travel. Too many people are going to Liverpool Street. The siting of the station is not adequate, and there is not sufficient space for expansion. Especially where there are steam train services a large number of shunting movements are involved, all of which tend to reduce speed and increase delays.

Let me give a simple illustration. When an electric train comes into Waterloo, the driver transfers from one end of the train to the other end, and the train is ready to go out again. With a steam train, before it can go out again another locomotive has to come from another part of the station and be hooked on to the end of the train. In that case two locomotives are utilised for one train, which in turn multiplies the problem of the shortage of locomotives. It also involves a number of signalling and shunting movements which are absolutely necessary in the actual operation of the train itself. Therefore, electrification of the suburban services is the real solution to the problem.

There is another very important element, namely, the safety element in railway operations. I know it is very irritable to be delayed when one has to travel from Liverpool Street to an outlying area, but I think the railway companies, and indeed the railway men themselves, are right in regarding as their first consideration at all times the safety of the travelling public. That very often leads to certain delays. Therefore, when we ask the railway companies to get a move on, let us be sure that we are not pressing them to take unnecessary risks which may result in loss of life. Here I would like to show again how backward the railway companies have been in the adoption of a device which is not only very important from the safety aspect but which helps to maintain punctuality in bad weather. It does not matter what, arrangements there may be, if fog or snow descends, delay is bound to arise where steam train services are in operation. That cannot be avoided, because speed must necessarily be slowed down and as a rule a fog service is introduced Here again, with electrification fog does not have the deterring effect upon speed and movement that it does in the case of steam trains.

The Great Western Railway nave been the pioneers of a very important invention, which has been installed almost universally throughout their main line system. That invention is known as the automatic train control. On the Great Western Railway main line, even in thick fog when one cannot see a yard ahead, fast trains maintain their scheduled speed, even though the drivers cannot see the signals at all. The signals are connected with an electrical device in the line, which indicates to the driver as he passes in his train whether the signal is at danger or is at "all right" position; a bell rings in the cabin of the locomotive indicating that the signal is at "all right" and that he can continue; if the signal is at danger, a whistle blows. The driver knows automatically, without being able to see the signal, whether the signal is at danger or at "all right." That not only gives confidence to the train men, but enables the trains to maintain their speed, because the drivers know whether the signals they pass are at danger or at "all right." On the other railway systems, the automatic train control is not in operation, and speed is bound to be reduced in bad visibility, because the driver has either himself to observe the signal as he travels along the rail, or else has to look out for what is called a fog man, who usually stands on the ground with a lamp or flag signalling the position of the signals. For many years the L.M.S., the L.N.E.R., and even the Southern Railway, have been urged to adopt this automatic train control system, because of its increased efficiency in bad visibility and its increased safety for travelling. However, for some reason or another they have not seen fit to adopt such a good proposal.

The solution of the problem must, in my view, necessarily be a long-term one. I am afraid this may be very disappointing for those who have to travel from our main line railway terminal stations. However, I think we shall get a great deal of alleviation when we are able to carry through the proposal of building new towns within the Greater London area. I understand the Minister of Town and Country Planning proposes to build six or eight new towns in the Greater London area—

Mr. Deputy - Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)

The hon. Member cannot discuss that subject, which is a matter involving legislation.

Mr. Sparks

I must bow to your Ruling, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I only wanted to refer to it in so far as the object of the Minister's responsibility is to withdraw population from the congested area of London to the new towns, thus relieving the problem of suburban travel. That, coupled with a sound system of electrification, and the operational separation of long-distance traffic from suburban traffic, concentrating upon both aspects of traffic in London rather than having to deal with them as one unit, will, in my view, contribute considerably to a solution of this problem.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Dye (Norfolk, South-Western)

I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) will not mind if I do not follow him in trying to solve the problem that is before the House tonight of trying to get the trains to run on time from Liverpool Street to Bishop's Stort-ford and to the stations beyond. I rise merely to add a few words to what has been said of the need for improvement. I speak as one and on behalf of those who have to use the service Northward from Liverpool Street. It is true that the trains down from Liverpool Street in the afternoons and evenings rarely, if ever, run on time to any of the West Norfolk towns. It is equally true that, coming up in the mornings, as they approach the London area, they slow down and get behind schedule.

But I was a little bit concerned about the suggestion that has been made by some of the hon. Members in this Debate that the scheduled times for some of the longer-distance trains should be slowed up so as to allow other trains more time. The complaint that has always come from West Norfolk is that they are allowed too much time, that the schedules are not speeded up enough. If anything can be done that will enable the trains to get through to Liverpool Street Station on time from, at any rate, beyond Cambridge it would be a great convenience to the people who, from time to time, need to come up to London. Therefore, as a member representing an area beyond Cambridge, whose constituents have to use this line, I do add my word in asking the Minister to give immediate consideration to the problem, and to get the London and North Eastern Railway Company to serve the interests of the public over a wide area far better than they have done.

9.23 p.m.

Mr. Medlicott (Norfolk, Eastern)

I should like for a brief moment to add my plea to the Minister to do all he possibly can to meet this quite serious problem of the delays on the London and North Eastern Railway. If I may, I should like to disagree with my colleague from South Western Norfolk in regard to the schedules, because what we find is that it is so difficult to make any kind of appointment, either for meetings or otherwise, because it is never certain how much time will be occupied on the journey. If, by reason of the needs of re-organisation, or other temporary difficulties, it is a fact that these trains cannot make the journey in the present scheduled time, it would be far better if that fact were faced, and we were able to rely on getting to our destination in the time advertised, because, apart from other things, our railways are not at all well equipped with means of communication, and it is extremely unfortunate, when one is due to be at an engagement, to find oneself marooned in a train perhaps, for an hour, and with no means of letting the cause of the delay to be known.

I hope the Minister will be able to tell us what active steps are being taken to maintain more punctual times. One has the feeling that, to a large extent, those who are responsible for running the trains have almost give up in despair, and one wonders whether the drill for maintaining punctuality is being followed quite as energetically as possible. I do not want to make any direct comparison between railway administration and military traffic, but I think I can say that traffic in the Army, especially during the war, was kept moving at a wonderfully high level, of efficiency; and it was done, not only because the system was basically sound, but because those who were responsible were continually alive to the necessity of watching every second and of getting everything kept on the move.

So often one finds on a long journey that the train stops at stations where small but rather irritating delays occur. Luggage which has to be put on board is found assembled at the very opposite end of the platform from where the luggage van comes in, and all that kind of thing. Thus are built up delays which become quite considerable in the aggregate. While one may not be able in this short time to make any very concrete suggestions—it would perhaps be out of place for the layman to try to do so—I do want to urge upon the Parliamentary Secretary the fact that the East Anglian services, especially the Norwich and beyond, are extremely unpunctual and in need of the most earnest attention he can give to them.

9.26 p.m.

Mr. Assheton (City of London)

I have listened with great interest to this Debate, for two reasons. One is that as a Member for the City of London I know very well the difficulties which a large number of my constituents have on account of the delays and the difficult conditions of travelling on this particular line. The second is that I am a director of the London and North Eastern Railway Company. I, therefore, thought it only right that I should rise at this moment and say one or two things which I thought might be of interest to the House. I was not aware that there was to be an extended Debate on this subject; I had expected that there would be a short Adjournment Debate of half an hour, and did not think I should have the opportunity of intervening, but since the opportunity has arisen, I think it is only courteous to the House, and a duty which I ought to perform, that I should intervene. I should also like to take the opportunity of meeting the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. Walkden) as to proposals for improving the situation, which is, admittedly, very unsatisfactory at present.

I think that hon. Members who are interested in this particular section of the line are aware of the immense difficulties, which have been increased during the last few months, by the "go-slow" movement in the Stratford locomotive works. I do not know what the figures are today, but the last figures I heard were that just half of the locomotives serviced at Stratford are at present under repair. There are something like 500 engines in that area, of which over 250 are awaiting repair. It is obvious to the meanest intelligence that to try to run a section of a railway with only 250 engines, when there ought to be 500, makes the working very difficult indeed. I think if is very regrettable that this matter has not been settled before though I do not want to take this opportunity of going into the whole problem as I do not think it would be appropriate for me to do so, but there is no doubt that the recent situation is due to the extraordinarily unfortunate difficulties which have arisen at Stratford. I sometimes think it is a miracle that this section of the line has managed to maintain any service at all in view of the fact that half the locomotives in the area are, for whatever reason, out of action.

The second point I would like to make is this. Throughout the whole British railway system there is at the moment a general shortage of locomotives, and I want to impress upon the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply to this Debate, the urgent necessity of increasing the number of locomotives available to the railways. If hon. Members will look at the digest of statistics with which the Government are good enough to provide us, they will see in one of the columns a figure showing the number of locomotives exported in every month of this year. When they see the very large quantity of locomotives which have been exported, they will realise how bitter it is to all those concerned in the management of the railways to know that locomotives so badly needed in this country are, for good reasons or bad, having to be sent overseas. I only hope that payment is being received for these locomotives, and that they go to countries of whose currencies we are short, otherwise nothing can justify the export at all. I do seriously suggest that the Government must reconsider this matter, and even at the loss of some dollars or other foreign currency through the loss of export trade, they must see that we get a greater supply of locomotives for the British railways.

The next point I wish to make is in connection with coal. I am sure that all those who are in any way connected with the railways know the immense difficulties we have been having owing to the inferior quality of the coal at present being supplied. This is a general complaint not only in every industry, but by the domestic consumer as well. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will be very sympathetic, but we want more than sympathy. Greater care and attention must be given to the way in which coal is allocated to one industry and another. Not only is the wrong quality being supplied to the railways in many cases, but when the coal is supplied it is extremely dirty and full of ash and stones, and that is the same experience of electricity supply companies. I know that it is due to a number of causes which do not come within the control of the Parliamentary Secretary who is to reply to this Debate, but I would urge him to press on the Minister of Fuel and Power the importance of this particular matter.

I do not think I need stress to the House the shortage of rolling stock. In this section of the line the position is obviously bad. It is partly due to the fact that this section was to be electrified just before the war. The whole of that work has been held up, and the rolling stock which would have been scrapped altogether and replaced by beautiful electric cars, is therefore still unfortunately in use. The permanent way is less good than it was, and that is due to the war, and no one is to blame for that, but it has resulted in a great deal of slow running being necessary, both on account of safety and on account of the increased necessity to make repairs to the permanent way. I need not assure hon. Members that the company is doing all it can to overcome these difficulties. The hon. Member for Doneaster asked what is being done to improve the situation. The situation will be improved by the settlement of the difficulties at Stratford, and by a sincere effort on behalf of all those engaged in Stratford to put their backs into the job and make up for lost time. The second important factor is that we should have more locomotives, and that the export trade should, if necessary, be reduced in order that the home market can be supplied; we cannot get on with the rest of our export business if the whole of our transport system is held up. The third point is that there should be a better quality of coal supplied, and that coal should be more carefully screened. The long-term policy of electrification is not one which can alleviate the immediate position, but that is the solution which we are working towards. All the constructive remarks that have been made by hon. Members who have intervened will be given the greatest possible attention, and will be of interest to those responsible for carrying on the difficult task of managing the London and North-Eastern Railway Company.

9.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. G. R. Strauss)

We have been lucky in having had such a long time on the Adjournment to discuss the troubles of the railway users in the East of London. There is no doubt that there are widespread and justifiable complaints about the conditions under which these people have to travel. I think it is all to the good that these grievances should be expressed in the House by Members representing the areas concerned, that their suggestions for improvements should be made on the floor of the House, and that the victims of the present bad conditions should get an authoritative statement on the present position, and the prospects of improvement. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London (Mr. Assheton), who has just spoken as a director of the London and' North Eastern Railway, for putting forward his views as a director of that company and I do not dissent from anything he has said.

I agree absolutely with the views expressed in all parts of the House that the conditions on the railways we have been discussing, particularly the suburban lines from Liverpool Street, are wretched and are a source of acute discomfort and hardship for those who have to travel on them. Everything combines to make their journey to and from work particularly unpleasant at the moment. There is apalling overcrowding. I watched people going into trains the other night at the rush hour, and I found it usual, not the exception, for eight people to have to stand in each carriage. The carriages 'themselves are old and uncomfortable. Much of the rolling stock is 40 years old and, for reasons which I will explain in a moment, it is at present particularly difficult to keep it in a state of cleanliness and good repair. On top of that, very many trains are cancelled, some at the last moment, thus causing confusion and uncertainty. Moreover, nearly all the trains that do run arrive at their destinations late, although I think that it is an exception for trains to arrive quite as late as some of those which have been quoted by hon. Members tonight.

Before I explain the difficulties which confront the railway company, I would like to express my unbounded admiration, having seen conditions at Liverpool Street, for the patience of the travelling public in putting up with the present state of affairs, and the orderly way they behave when trains arrive and great crowds want to get into the compartments. They act with admirable restraint, worthy of the highest praise. I would also like to express my admiration for the way in which the railway staffs are operating the Liverpool Street suburban lines in the present extraordinarily difficult conditions. I do not suppose it is realised that at Liverpool Street there are six lines, three in-going and three out-going. During the rush hours, between 8.30 and 9.30 a.m., 60 trains come into Liverpool Street, discharging 35,000 people. In the conditions of chaos and uncertainty during the last few weeks in particular, it has been a remarkable achievement of the railway staffs to operate the trains so successfully.

I propose to indicate what, in our opinion, are the main causes of the present difficulties, and then to suggest what the prospects seem to be. First, I think this should be appreciated: Liverpool Street has the most densely operated service of steam trains of any railway station in the world. It carries nearly twice as many passengers as any other London terminus. Before the war, the operation of the trains, in and out of Liverpool Street, was pretty well at capacity. The additional difficulties imposed by wartime factors, and the Stratford dispute, have made the subsequent dislocation particularly severe. The fundamental trouble at Liverpool Street is that the electrification of certain lines, which was to have taken place in 1940 and subsequent years, did not take place. That is the root cause of the present delay difficulties and inconveniences, apart of course from the temporary factor of the Stratford stoppage.

I do not want to be politically controversial, but I think that it is lair to make this point. It would be true to say that the electrification of the London and North-Eastern suburban lines, or some of those lines, would have taken place some years before the war, if that railway company had been in a strong enough financial position to raise the capital. They were unable to do so, and those lines were not electrified. If they had been, the present situation would not exist. Plans were, however, made to electrify some of the lines in 1940 and subsequent years, but they could not be carried out because of the war so the company was forced to carry on with old engines and old rolling stock. They should have had many hundreds of first-class new carriages and new engines by now, and with an electrified system, it would have been possible to run many more trains, and the present congestion and delays would be avoided. As it is, the engines running on these lines are exceptionally old, the average age being 27½ years, and there are constant breakdowns in operation. Moreover, as an hon. Member has pointed out, it is a fact that the engines working on these lines have to rely on the Westinghouse braking system, and cannot be replaced by the other engines, which are normally worked on other parts of the railway system, and which have vacuum brakes. Therefore, there is strict limitation on the number of outside engines which can be brought in to work these suburban services.

The situation has been made much worse by the dispute at the Stratford railway depots. The number of engines which are normally awaiting repair in those depots is in the neighbourhood of 15 per cent. Recently, the number rose to 50 per cent. The total stock of engines available is 428. The minimum required to run these services properly is 348, but the number actually available yesterday was only 185. This meant, of course, a large cancellation of trains. For example, yesterday, between 5 and 6 o'clock, one-third of the trains had to be cancelled, and during the peak hours there has recently been a loss of 30,000 seats. This shortage of locomotive stock has effects on every aspect of railway working. It is largely due to this that the carriages are so dirty. In order to keep the carriages in good repair and clean —they are so old that it is difficult to do it in the best circumstances—it is necessary to bring them into the depot every two or three days. When there are not the engines, the carriages cannot be brought in for cleaning and repairing.

There is one other factor which must be borne in mind when the difficulties of the L.N.E.R. at Liverpool Street are being considered. It is a difficulty which affects all forms of transport. The result of the shorter working week is a far greater concentration of travelling into a shorter period Far more people are now travelling between 5 o'clock and 0.30 than before the war. People are not keeping such late hours in their offices. I asked to see some figures about this, and found that there are 4,300 more people travelling from Liverpool Street between 4.30 and 6 o'clock now than in 1938. These are the main factors which have caused the difficulties at Liverpool Street, and about which complaints have been pouring in to Members of Parliament for the area, and through them to us.

There are two criticisms that have been made in tonight's Debate, about which I should like to say a special word. One is that the railway company is cancelling many trains at the last moment without giving any warning to the passengers who may be wanting to travel in them. The reason is this. There are always under present conditions, a number of trains whose capacity to start is doubtful. In view of the shortage of trains the railway company does not want to cancel any train unless they are absolutely certain that it cannot run. So if there is a doubtful starter, they keep it in the schedule knowing that sometimes, at the last moment, they may have to cancel it.

Another complaint that has been made is that there is no adequate arrangement in the station for telling intending passengers what alterations there have been or are to be, or giving passengers directions as to which platform they should go to and which trains are running. The railway management have been well aware of that difficulty. The existing loudspeaker system was found to be inadequate, and there has now been installed—and I think there may be further improvements—a far better loudspeaker system which, as far as I could judge on hearing it the other day seemed to give effective notice to the public of the current situation.

The really important point is what are the prospects for improvement. I think it is right that the people who use these suburban services should know what are the causes of their discomforts and hardships, but I think they are even more anxious, to know what are the chances of their being able to travel in comfort in the future. The cessation of the dispute at the Stratford depot will, of course, effect considerable improvements but not immediately. I cannot say how long but some weeks and maybe a couple of months or more must pass before the full effect of the Stratford go slow movement can be overcome and the arrears of maintenance made up. I gather the men are working there tonight full out in order to do their utmost in that direction and the improvement will now be steady, but it would be unwise to think that the arrears can be fully overcome within a week or two.

The only complete solution of this problem lies in the electrification of some if not all of the lines. When that happens we will get new locomotives, new rolling stock, and many more trains running. The present plans are these. There will be the-electrification of the Loughton line, which is the Central Line, as far as Woodford this year. Then will come the electrification of the Shenfield line. The plan is to put this into operation as soon as possible, but it cannot be completed I am informed, before two years at the earliest. When that takes place the number of trains able to operate on that line will be nearly double the present number. Apart from that, the only other alleviation can come from an increase in the number of engines which can be made available for these lines. I have briefly explained the technical difficulty which arises from the use on these lines of the Westinghouse braking system but the company are in fact supplying a limited number of extra locomotives, and they plan to supply such extra ones as may become available.

In view of the locomotive situation throughout the country, there is, I understand, not much chance of any large number of additional engines being drawn in from elsewhere to relieve the services here. The company have on order 100 new engines, many of which, I understand, will be used on these lines, but it will "be some time before they become available. In fact, they are not yet being built. At the same time, I think the House is aware that the Government are doing their utmost to get the repairs effected to engines, and they are making arrangements to have some which were used abroad during the war repaired on the Continent so as to relieve the difficulties in our repair shops over here. We are fully aware of this situation and we are doing all that is possible to get not only new engines built but old engines repaired. We are fully aware that this is probably the worst passenger service in any part of the country and anything that can be done will be done to relieve the situation here.

In regard to the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Walker-Smith) that we should stop exporting engines, that is not quite so easy. I think that the hon. Gentleman knows the various commitments which we have for the export of engines, but I can assure him that we in the Ministry of Transport are in the closest touch with the Board of Trade over these problems, as we are most anxious to see that not one engine is unnecessarily exported that we could usefully use in this country.

That is the situation. The prospects of some immediate improvement are bright as a result of the cessation of the Stratford dispute; but prospects of any immediate substantial improvement apart from that are not very good, because only the long-term solution of the electrification of some of the lines can be effective. There may be some alleviation by the provision of a small number of new engines, but we cannot promise travellers on these lines that in a period of three months, six months, or even a year conditions of travel will be as comfortable as they are, say, on the Southern Railway. The physical conditions existing here unfortunately make it absolutely impossible, but I can assure the House and all hon. Members who have taken part in this Debate that we, as a Department, will do whatever can be done to relieve the situation and minimise the hardship which these people are today suffering. At the same time, it is no use being too optimistic, in this matter. We have to be realistic and look the facts in the face.

Mr. Assheton

Would the Minister say a word about coal?

Mr. Strauss

The right hon. Gentleman suggests that I should say a word about coal, but of course that is a factor affect- ing all railway companies and not the Liverpool Street situation particularly. I have concentrated on those factors which make the Liverpool Street service particularly difficult. I have given a broad picture of the present situation. I am grateful to the House and to hon. Members for giving me an opportunity to make it, and I can assure them that any suggestion that they make to me about changing the schedules of the trains —and such suggestions have been made during the Debate—will be considered by us and the railway company. This is however, a technical problem upon which I would not venture to give advice. I will welcome the cooperation of all hon. Members whose constituents are affected in trying to find, if not a solution, at least some alleviation of this problem. I hope that the travelling public who study the statement I have made may be better able to appreciate what the difficulties are. They are entitled to know them and they can rest assured that while there is little chance of any substantial or dramatic improvement during the next six months or year, apart from the substantial alleviation which will result from the ending of the Stratford dispute, the railway company I am sure, and certainly my Department, will do everything possible to see that their present unfortunate and uncomfortable conditions of travel are remedied.

Adjourned accordingly at One Minute before Ten o'Clock.