§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. R. Adams.]
§ 1.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Sparks (Acton)
I am glad to have the opportunity today to bring to the attention of the House a subject of great importance to the industrial prosperity of our country—the subject of railway transport operations. I have often thought that the House could quite well devote a complete day to the discussion of problems arising in the railway transport industry. Therefore, I welcome the fact that we have been able to start our discussion of this subject fairly early this afternoon. I want to take as the text for my remarks a statement, which appeared in the "Financial Times," on 20th October, by the transport correspondent. This statement was headed:Slower tempo of railway movements.The statement went on:Long before the Act—that is, the Transport Act—was passed a creeping paralysis had set in and the machine began to slow down. That process has continued;, the wheels are being turned by habit rather than by conscious will and direction.What I shall say in the course of my remarks will apply to the four main line railway companies in particular. The causes of our present transport difficulties as far as the railways are concerned have been given as a shortage of locomotives, shortage of wagons and arrears of maintenance and repairs. I take the view that these are not main causes but only contributory causes. If there is a shortage of locomotives and wagons, it is not so much a numerical shortage as an artificial shortage created by lower standards of 2168 traffic operations. In other words, wagons are held far too long under load, and the greater expenditure of engine hours, so far as locomotives are concerned is a contributory cause of the artificial shortage. I hope to show in the course of my remarks that deterioration in standards of management, and lower standards of discipline amongst the staff, creating as they do an absence of effective co-operation between the two, are also serious causes of the slow-down of railway movements.
First, let me examine the position of locomotives. It has been said that there is a shortage. In June, 1938, there were 16,077 locomotives available, excluding those under repair. In June, 1947, there were 16,611 locomotives available for traffic, excluding those under repair. In other words, there are 534 more locomotives available in 1947 than there were in 1938, despite the fact that the volume of traffic carried was less in 1947 than it was in 1938, which to some extent proves my contention that it is not so much a numerical shortage of locomotives which is a contributory cause of bad operations. It has been said that these figures are not really comparable, but I do not accept that because no reason has been given why those figures should not be regarded as comparable. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will know that there is some slight discrepancy in the figures which come from his Department from time to time, and which his Department get, I understand, from the railway companies. I wish to give particulars of figures which appear in the yearly returns of the Ministry, which to some extent confirm those figures which I have already given, and which are not supposed to be comparable. The Statistical Committee of the Railway Executive Committee have recently given the figures of locomotives available to traffic, excluding those under repair, as being 18,469 in 1938 and 18,752 in 1946, an increase of 283 locomotives in 1946, as compared with 1938. They show, as I have already said, more locomotives available with traffic less in volume than in 1938.
What really is wrong in regard to this alleged shortage of locomotives? My contention is that there is far too great a wastage of engine power, arising very largely from a deterioration in standards of operation, creating delays of a character which were unknown prior to 2169 1939. I can only illustrate this by giving some figures, of which I hope the House will approve. In 1938, engine hours engaged in freight train running, excluding shunting operations, numbered 14,598,000. In 1946, the number had risen to 17,887,000, or, in other words, an increase of engine-hours for freight trains in operation of 22.5 per cent. Taking into consideration the fact that less traffic is passing in 1947 than in 1938, it really means that engine hours engaged in traffic movements have increased by 24 per cent. over what they were in 1938. That increased expenditure of engine hours creates an artificial numerical shortage of locomotives.
There is another important factor in regard to passenger trains. Only 29.6 per cent. of our express trains run to time, a very low percentage; 37 per cent. of them run over 30 minutes late. Only 66 per cent. of the local trains run to time. These considerable delays and bad time-keeping of both passenger and freight trains seriously reduce the availability of locomotives and wagons for service. I take the view that we must look not so much to a numerical increase in locomotives and wagons as to an improvement in the standard of operation. Let me take the question of wagons. The number of wagons available in 1938, excluding those under repair, was 1,194,800. In 1947 the number was 1,020,760. In other words, there were 174,040 fewer wagons in operation in 1947 than there were in 1938. But the numerical quantity of wagons must have some relationship to the volume of traffic which originates on the railway. More traffic will demand more wagons: less traffic will demand fewer wagons. When we look at the volume of traffic conveyed by the railways in the comparable years of 1939 and 1947 we find that there has been quite a fair reduction in the total volume carried. In 1939, for instance, 288,339,000 tons of freight traffic were conveyed. That figure is a fairly low average over the years 1939 to 1945. On the basis of traffic which has already passed this year, the figure for 1947 will be somewhere in the region of 247,130,000 tons. That estimate is based upon the traffic passing between January and August of this year.
On those figures, there has been a drop of 41,209,000 tons in freight-train traffic 2170 originating on the railways, or a fall of approximately 15 per cent. The weekly averages of freight-train traffic carried has fallen from 5.47 million tons in 1939 to 4.75 million tons, a reduction of 13 per cent. I want to confirm that further by giving the figures for estimated ton-miles which is a formula devised to measure the form and density of railway traffic. In 1944 the weekly average of estimated ton-miles was 470 million. In 1947 they had dropped to 378 million. That was a reduction of 19 per cent.
What is the position? It is admitted that 16 per cent. of our wagons are out of service for repair. There is no question but that that is a very high percentage. Side by side with that we must face the fact that there is a 15 per cent. reduction in the demand for wagons through reduced traffic originating on the railways so that, to some extent one balances the other. Again, there have been other factors which have contributed to the improved use of wagon capacity. For instance, the increased tonnage capacity of wagons, comparing 1946 with 1938, means that 615,000 tons more are carried in the existing total stock. That means that the average tons per wagon conveyed have increased from 12.01 to 12.84. That represents a very considerable economy in operation. Also, private owners' wagons have been requisitioned. The mere fact of requisitioning has meant their more economical use and, as a consequence, there has been less empty haulage. In turn, that has saved engine power.
Therefore, I would sum up on this point as follows: Freight train tonnages are down by 15 per cent. and the increased tonnage capacity of wagons and more economical use of private owners' wagons by requisitioning, offsets the large number of wagons under repair. The problem is largely due to deterioration in the control of traffic movements which causes delay of an abnormal character in train working. If we could effect a 50 per cent. improvement in the time-keeping of goods and passenger trains, we should be able to provide my right hon. Friend with all the additional locomotive and wagon strength which he requires to bring transport operations up to their maximum point of requirement for this winter. It is very important to realise the effect that train delays and reduced standards of operation are having upon the position as it exists at present.
2171 How can we improve traffic movements and operations? First, there must be speedier repairs to locomotives and wagons. In this matter, railway workshops play a very important part. In far too many of them ancient tools and out of date systems are used, but in a few the conveyor belt system has been adopted for the repair of locomotives as well as wagons. Where that system is in operation, the time that locomotives are out of service awaiting repair has been reduced to one third. It is important that the Minister should ensure that the conveyor belt system is introduced as rapidly as possible into the principle railway workshops of the country. By the extension of this system we can reduce considerably the amount of time during which locomotives are out of service awaiting repair. There is a shortage of component parts for small running repair sheds.
Another important factor is the need to convert locomotives to oil burning. This is very important. The use of oil effects considerable economies, and conversion would bring about considerable improvement in running times. Last year the Minister asked railway companies to convert 1,217 locomotives from steam to oil burning. He estimated that that alone would save one million tons of coal a year. How many have been converted during the past 12 months? Only 34. The explanation which has been given, and which may be correct, is that there is a bottleneck in the supply of equipment for storage installation. I would like the Minister to look into that matter. If it is true, I hope that he will take steps to remove the bottleneck. Not only is it important that we should export coal to pay for our food, but also it is in the interest of improved traffic operation that we should convert the maximum number of locomotives from coal to oil burning. The "Railway Gazette," on 3rd October, in reference to this question, said:It seems unlikely that the Minister's expectations of coal economy from this source will be realised during the coming winter, if indeed they ever are.I hope the Minister will not take such a pessimistic view as that.
Another important factor to which attention should be given is the extension of the automatic train control apparatus. This would reduce delays considerably in 2172 times of bad visibility. We have read in our newspapers this morning of a number of accidents arising from fog. I hope the Minister will inquire into this matter and see to what extent those accidents might have been avoided had the automatic train control system been in operation. As a matter of fact, several accidents that have occurred in times gone by could have been avoided had this automatic train control system been introduced. Apart from its tendency to reduce accidents, it assists considerably in maintaining time during bad visibility in fog and falling snow, and it gives greater assurance to the driver and fireman, for they know, as they pass over from section to section, the exact position of the signals.
Then there is admittedly a shortage of skilled staff. One of the shortages arises from housing. I have in my constituency one of the principal locomotive depots and marshalling yards of the Great Western Railway, situated at Old Oak Common, which services Paddington Station. From time to time highly skilled men are transferred from other parts of the country to Old Oak Common and, when they get there, there are no houses for them. There at present you will find 250 skilled railway men living like tramps and gypsies in railway coaches, drivers and firemen, trainmen and others, and many of them have been there for periods up to two years and more, living apart from their wives, who are down in the country somewhere while they are up here in lodgings. There they are, without any provision being made for housing accommodation.
What makes the problem worse than ever is the fact that the Great Western Railway Housing Association owns, not far away from Old Oak Common, sufficient land on which to build 150 houses. The Housing Association has tried to get the consent of the Ealing Borough Council to the development of a housing scheme there to house some of these railwaymen at Old Oak Common, but the Council refuses to give consent. Now that matter has been referred to my right hon. Friend to deal with, and I believe he is taking some interest in this question. Unless, however, he and the Minister of Health do something in the matter, there is no possibility whatever of the Ealing Borough Council agreeing to the G.W.R. Housing Association develop- 2173 ing this land for housing purposes. It is vital that we should provide these skilled men with housing accommodation.
I could give other cases throughout the railway system, but I have quoted Old Oak Common merely as an instance of the effect which the acute shortage of housing is having upon the transfer of skilled staff from one point to another. A skilled man is required at one point. He has to be taken from another point, but he will not go there unless he can get a house or, if he does go there, he becomes so disgruntled and discontented because he cannot get a house that he does not give the best he should. Therefore, the provision of housing accommodation for railwaymen at key centres is just as important as the provision of houses for agricultural workers, miners and others, and I hope the Minister will be able to give some attention to that too.
I mentioned just now the breakdown of standards of discipline, and I did so because the "Railway Review," which is the official organ of the National Union of Railwaymen, of which I have the honour to be a member, has been giving a great deal of publicity to this question for some time. To convey to the House more clearly their view of this matter, I will give a brief quotation from the "Railway Review" of 10th October. It was written by a man who has given a lifetime of service to the railway company and he says:To those of us who have spent many years in the railway service it is a matter of grave concern and some alarm that the present unsatisfactory standard of efficiency obtains.While there were many defects in the service at the disposal of the country prior to 1939, today the standard of efficiency is, unfortunately, much lower. Some of the factors contributing to this are beyond the control of the staff.This period of full employment has, however, brought with it its own problems, and one of them is how to maintain some reasonable degree of discipline in the service under the changed circumstances.The absenteeism, lateness on duty, and refusals to carry out instructions, cannot be ignored without detrimental effects to everyone concerned. It is true these irregularities are practised for the most part by the younger members of the staff.I would like the House to take note of that, because there is a solid core of railwaymen who are putting their backs into this job of transport, and the indiscipline lies at the door mainly of the younger 2174 members of the staff. The article goes on to say:The perpetrators of similar irregularities in prewar days would have been sacked, but today the railway management take no notice. This may be easy, but it entirely undermines the authority of those charged with the responsibility of administration It must be obvious that if the present procedure continues, any hope of an efficient national railway service in the future can be abandoned. It is essential that the trouble be fairly and squarely faced at the earliest possible moment in order that a remedy may be applied.How does this lack of discipline arise? It started during the war period when a lot of people were directed into the railway industry who did not want to go there. I have always taken the view that if you force a person to do something he does not want, he just does not pull his weight. There were some good people drafted into the railways during the war, but there was a fair percentage of people pushed in who did not want to stay and consequently, in common parlance, they started playing up. That sort of thing has tended to grow and the railway managements have made things worse by the too frequent use of the disciplinary machinery for trivial cases. This disciplinary machinery, agreed by the railway trade anions and the railway managements, used to function excellently. Today, however, it has been brought into disrepute simply because the management has made too frequent use of it for trivial cases. They should have given their lower officials greater power to deal with matters of this kind, rather than to invoke this machinery for small cases. There is, too, a lack of confidence in the management on the part of many members of the railway staff. To illustrate my point let me give a quotation from a letter in the "Railway Review" of 24th October written by a railwayman. He says:I work in a large colliery and observe an amount of traffic left over each night; the colliery ceases work at 10 p.m. and no trains are attaching traffic after that time until 8.30 a.m. next morning—ten and a half hours' delay after the traffic is handed over. The amount left over varies from 50 loads—on occasions being as high as 200 loads. … If better working cannot be arranged than this slow method, it seems to me, an overhaul of the management officials is absolutely essential, for that is where the real responsibility lies. This state of affairs existing at the moment will grow worse as the wintry weather comes on, so it would be better to 'clear the lines' now than try to remove a 'block' of transport later on. Not much use 2175 asking miners to work overtime if the coal remains standing on colliery sidings for hours.
§ Mr. McAdam (Salford, North)
That particular point arises out of a question I recently put to the Minister of Fuel and Power as to the reason why the coal is not lifted from the colliery sidings during the hours of darkness, and the answer was because the colliery companies provide no lighting arrangements.
§ Mr. Sparks
That may be the explanation, but I was reading a letter in which the writer claims that the management is to blame for this delay. If there is no lighting, then, in my view, lighting should be provided, because after all is said and done, to keep 200 trucks of coal standing for 10½ hours after they are ready is rather a serious delay. In those 10½ hours the traffic could have been moved to its destination, and look at the number of wagons we would be saving by a more speedy conveyance of the coal as soon as it is laid on.
§ Mr. McAdam
Will the hon. Member concede the point that if the lighting arrangements are not provided by the National Coal Board, then the responsibility is on the Board and not on the railway companies?
§ Mr. Sparks
I do not know. This writer does not say anything like that, but he says he works in a large colliery and I should assume that he knows what he is talking about. My hon. Friend the Member for North Salford (Mr. McAdam) says it is due to the lack of lighting. It may be, but if it is lack of lighting, provision should be made for lighting. I assume the man who wrote this letter knows what he is talking about and I do not see why he should have drawn attention to it if it is impossible to move the coal from the colliery siding. I leave it at that, but I am merely quoting from this letter which shows that there is a lack of confidence in the management. They do not think that the management is standing up to the job as it should do.
That again is emphasised by another railwayman, who, in the "Railway Review" of 10th October, made a contribution under the heading of "A Call to Railway Managers" and he said:In managerial circles at the present time there is considerable uncertainty as to the future. Everybody seems to be waiting 2176 anxiously for the 'appointed day' wondering what changes in organisation will be made, and how they will be affected personally. In the main they have no stomach for the policy of nationalisation, but have resigned themselves to the inevitability of its development by assuming an attitude of 'Well, here it is, I suppose we must make the best of it.' We do not expect the hidebound anti-nationaliser to suddenly embrace with enthusiasm the new ideas, but we think it is a pity that there cannot be more cordiality on this important piece of economic planning. The path to co-operation, however, is not likely to be easy. The chief factor in railway operations today is the management-labour relations and all those who take pride in their craft or profession must use every device to infuse an enthusiastic spirit of service in the community.There has been a tendency in recent years towards the centralisation of authority. I take the view that that has very bad results on traffic operations. There is too much authority centralised in the hands of too few people, which robs the lower officials of their initiative and control over staff. When a local problem arises, this creates delays and indecision. Very often lower grade railway officials are unable to do anything because they are awaiting the decision from somebody higher up, but the staff sometimes become contemptuous of them because they do not think they are competent, although the fault is to be found in higher placed officials.
It is important to remember that traffic operations continue by day and by night. They continue 24 hours of the day at week-ends, on Christmas Day and on Bank Holidays. Some of the most important traffic movements take place at night, and very often local problems arise, but the official who is primarily responsible for giving decisions is off duty. He may be in bed asleep or he may be away for the week-end. It is the experience of many that where a local problem arises and it requires the decision of a high official, he cannot be found or he has to be dug out of bed or he is away for the week-end. Consequently, that sort of thing, where decisions on local matters remain in the hands of people far far away, is bad and it does make for indecision and delays, which, again, would be reflected in train delays and bad traffic operations. As I said, there is far too much authority residing in the hands of too few and in my view it leads to a paralysis in solving local problems. It is important that we should decentralise as far as we can and give greater initia- 2177 tive and responsibility to local officials to arrive at a decision on the spot.
Again there is the question of the control of traffic movements. There was a time when the railway signalman had greater powers of discretion than is the case today for determining the priority passage of traffic. I am pleased to say that there are at least two signalmen today listening to what I am saying so I will have to be very careful in my remarks. A great deal of the initiative which signalman have had in determining the priority of the passage of trains has been taken away from them and has been vested in an office miles away, which may be the divisional control office. Before they can pass one train in front of another they have got to get permission from somebody in an office miles away and while they are getting that decision from him they could pass a train from one section to another and avoid delay. I myself believe that if we could restore to the signalmen a greater degree of responsibility for determining the passage of trains through their sections we should improve very much upon the present position of delays both to passenger and goods trains. Local circumstances are not always known to the official afar off who has to give a decision.
There is at the moment a great battle taking place between the theoretician and the practical man, and the theoretician on the railways, in my view, has far too much authority and the practical man far too little. A theory to cover the whole railway system cannot be imposed, nor can rigid decisions based on such a theory, because circumstances change and vary from place to place and we must, if we are to get flexibility of traffic movement, give far more initiative and responsibility to the practical men who are engaged in doing a day-to-day job.
I should like to conclude on this note—the railways of our country are to be nationalised on 1st January, 1948. I feel that both railway staffs and management can, if they will—and I believe they will—make a great success of the nationalisation of the railways. There are many members of the management who fear the coming of nationalisation. Why, I do not know, because their interests are adequately safeguarded in the Transport Act, as are those of the staff. I believe they are labouring under a de- 2178 lusion. In view of the difficulties which are facing the country, and our need to produce and export more which, in turn, will mean greater demands on the railways for quicker transport, I trust that those in the management circles will now come down from their high horses and consult more often than they have done the lower grades and the lower body of officials responsible for the practical working of the railways. I do not believe that the fullest use is being made of machinery which already exists to bring managements and staff together.
We have in the railway system a wonderful machinery which, if properly used, could get the best out of the staff and officials. But there is on the part of the managements a feeling that once an ordinary member of the staff begins to offer suggestions as to how a department or a station can be run better, he is interfering in something with which he should have nothing to do. I have been a member of a local departmental committee at one of our London terminal stations for 15 years. I was chairman and secretary of the employees' side of that local departmental committee. Time after time we found that the railway officials refused to discuss with us matters of vital importance affecting the day-to-day working of our job. They said it was interference, and they would not tolerate interference from anybody. That attitude is entirely wrong, and I believe the managements and the railway company officials have a lot to gain by consulting with their staff on day-to-day problems. The local departmental committee machinery is there, and there are also joint production committees and works committees. These should all be utilised to get the best out of the staff and to obtain more efficient working of the railways.
I believe that co-operation between the management and staff will solve the problems which we are facing. We must reduce delays to both passenger and goods trains; if we can only reduce delays by 50 per cent. we shall solve for some time to come the problem of shortages of locomotives and wagons. The whole object of my seeking to raise this question on the Adjournment has been to try to introduce a different approach to the problem from that which is officially taken. Until we can get greater co-operation between management and staff, and deal with these operating delays and the slow- 2179 ing down of traffic movements, we shall always have this dislocation and shortage of locomotives and wagons. The speedier movement of traffic is the solution to the problem, and the co-operation between management and staff will go a long way to solve our present difficulties.
§ 1.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)
After that very long survey of the railway problem from the point of view of a person intimately connected with the railways, I only wish to make a brief speech calling attention to the very serious state of affairs which has just arisen, and which affects not only my constituency and the whole of Tees-side, but the whole programme of national reconstruction. I am referring to the very serious threat to the present steel production on the Tees-side which is brought about by the lack of rail transport. This is the industry's main current problem, and I want to refer to the remarks of a director of Dorman Long the day before yesterday in Middlesbrough. He said that the stocks of finished production at their Cleveland works, which normally at this time of the year are at a minimum and should not exceed 20,000 tons, are rising rapidly. He added that the present figure in stock is 33,000 tons, which is about a week's output and which compares with 53,000 tons during last winter's cold spell. That is a serious problem when we want to get this steel as quickly as possible to places where it is urgently needed in order to meet the needs of national reconstruction. It is estimated that an additional 1,000 wagons a week would be required to keep this steel moving and to keep the works in full production. That is only how it affects one works on Tees-side, but I believe the problem is common to many of the steel producing works and steel fabricating works.
There is another aspect which should also be borne in mind. The wagon shortage which, as I say, is stopping the exit of steel from the works, is also stopping the raw materials coming into the works in a smooth flow, and this is having the effect of interrupting the processes in the steel works. Unless this problem is urgently tackled it will have a serious effect on the steady flow of production in these works. There is a vicious circle, and transport difficulties will do much to slow 2180 down the present rate of production. There are also additional handling costs involved which will do much to increase the price of steel. That may have a serious psychological effect on the men in the steel works if they see these stocks piling up and not being taken away, and it may result in dislocation and unemployment in the steel industry. This case calls for an immediate inquiry by the Minister to ascertain what can be done to get the steel away immediately. One cannot afford to wait for the winter to come along, because it is obvious that transport cannot improve then. The job must be tackled now, and I hope my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will give his most urgent attention to the problem.
There is one other small point that I would like to raise, and it concerns the dislocation of traffic caused by the organisation at the L.N.E.R. dock at Middlesbrough. The only way in which traffic can get into this dock in any large quantity is by rail. A temporary road has been made into the dock, but it can only be used on very rare occasions and it is very difficult to work. A few weeks ago a number of motor cars arrived at the dock under their own power from the Midlands for export to the Far East—to China, I believe. They were then loaded on to individual wagons for transport to the railway sidings and then for movement into the docks by rail. They stood on the sidings for two or three weeks, during which time there was considerable deterioration in the cars themselves, and there was also a blockage on the transport in that area. I do not know what can be done about that state of affairs, but an investigation should be made into the whole system whereby goods arriving for transport from the Middlesbrough Docks must come by road and then be transported by rail into the docks. Those are two serious points which, although they affect considerably my own area, may have great repercussions on the national interest if they do not receive attention. I hope that in his reply the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with those points.
§ 1.50 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) has referred to several matters requiring urgent attention, but I suggest to the House that the real value of this very valuable Debate initiated by 2181 the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) is that, bearing in mind that nationalisation of the railways is only a few weeks away from us—we are now at 7th November, and it is due to take place on 1st January—this Debate may well be regarded as a sort of prelude to nationalisation. Although I was, perhaps, one of the more strenuous opponents of nationalisation, the remarks I want to make will be based on the assumption that nationalisation will take place on 1st January.
The hon. Member for Acton, in his very well-informed speech, which was based on long experience, and which had the great merit of not introducing political prejudice, referred to a "creeping paralysis" on the railways; and among the causes of the creeping paralysis I think he mentioned the attitude of management and the attitude of staff. He referred to the inefficiency of management and the indiscipline of staff. With regard to management, I think one has to bear in mind that one of the present, but purely temporary, considerations is that there are a very large number of men who, in their deepest convictions, did not think that nationalisation was the best thing for the railways, but who are, nevertheless, in the railway service. Perhaps, when it has become an accomplished fact, those men will realise that a change in attitude should also become an accomplished fact; and, perhaps, we may hope for a change, if a change is necessary. I am not disputing with the hon. Member, neither am I accepting necessarily his premise, but if a change in attitude is necessary, perhaps it will come about when we have the accomplished fact of nationalisation.
The task of management is always extremely difficult when management is not invested with sufficient authority. One of the major problems, as I see it, for the Minister of Transport when he nationalises the railways, will be to invest management with sufficient authority. The hon. Member for Acton was complaining that under the present railway organisation there was not enough decentralisation. It has been repeatedly pointed out by us on the Opposition side that we fear that when nationalisation comes about there will be more centralisation.
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
The hon. Member will agree, will he not, 2182 that the hon. Member for Acton argued for the decentralisation of operation, not of control of policy, which is an entirely different thing?
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member says these are entirely different things, but I would suggest to him that there may very easily be a temptation—after all, it has happened in the Government service before, whether in the fighting Services or the Civil Service—for those who control policy to attempt to control operations from long distance as well. I am merely mentioning this point in the hope that the Parliamentary Secretary and his chief will bear it in mind when formulating their policy. In regard to the question of investing management with sufficient authority, I feel that the trade union leaders and all their members will have a very great responsibility in the matter. Somehow we have to infuse into the public service a thing which does not grow in a day. We cannot say that on 31st December there was no particular realisation on the part of railway staffs that they had a great public service to perform, and that on 1st January it will suddenly have dawned on them. Somehow, there has to be a change of heart, I suggest.
I know, and have known all my life—I have counted him a friend of mine for many years—a man continuously in the railway service for more than 50 years, who has been a ticket collector for the last two years, and I was chatting with him a little while ago about nationalisation of the railways, and also about the present spirit among the railway staff. His recollection goes back to long before the Railways Act; and what he said was that, not merely at present, but for some years there has been no ambition among railwaymen. The opportunities for ambition among the lower grades of the railway staff are very limited indeed. We may now face the fact that the new entrants are rather better educated than their fathers and grandfathers were; and I would suggest that, perhaps, a complete review of the conditions of employment, the conditions governing increases of pay, the availability of jobs and of promotion, would be highly desirable, as it seems to me that there has been too much specialisation in all grades of the railway service.
I know that we found in the Army frequently that, if we wanted men to be 2183 interested in their work, it was a good thing to give them a change of job and to let them do the jobs of some other fellows. There were some officers who considered that every member of a gun team should from time to time do the job of every other member of the team. I suggest that, if railway employees were given the opportunity for doing their fellows' jobs sometimes, without losing opportunities of increases of pay by doing so, they would both find more interest in their work and be more suitable, perhaps, for promotion; that is to say, the men should be given a test, each one at different jobs, available within a certain sphere, let us say in a railway station or within a shunting yard. If a man excelled at each of the jobs within that sphere, I suggest he should be a man who should be available for promotion. What my friend the ticket collector had to say about there being no ambition would then, to a large extent, cease to be true.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member says under nationalisation. That is his optimistic hope. It remains to be seen whether it will be so. I personally should have been prepared to agree with him if he had commented, "This could have been done years ago."
§ Mr. Renton
It was not done years ago, but that is not entirely the employers' fault. I think that to some extent the trade unions will have to brush up some of their ideas, which have led them in their negotiations in the past to "crystallise" men in their particular occupations—if I may use that word in that sense, for it is, perhaps, appropriate in the circumstances. Trade union rules—and I have had cause to look at them fairly frequently—have tended, in my opinion, to say, "Here is a man doing a job. We have got to be able to fix him in that job, to give him security for the rest of his life, to ensure that his work goes on, and that he gets increases in pay to which his time in the service entitles him." This seems to me to have been the main factor governing formation of the rules which the unions have negotiated, while many other factors have been omitted entirely. Amongst those, I suggest, is the factor giving a man 2184 the opportunity to increase his knowledge of the service in which he is working, and to get that advancement which that increase of knowledge might merit. Therefore, I suggest that a necessary step, at this particular moment, is a complete review of the trade union rules—I call them "trade union rules" for want of a better term—governing conditions of service on the railways.
The hon. Member for Acton pointed out a number of obvious defects in present railway operation. I wish to mention four other matters which appear to me to be defects—not at great length, but just so that the Parliamentary Secretary may have the need of them in mind, so that they will be well before him and his Minister when their plans are being made. I first refer to the very serious pilferage on the railways. The hon. Member for Acton did not mention that. It is causing grave public anxiety. It is not diminishing. It is one of the principal causes of the black market, and it must receive attention. It is a very great, difficult and grave problem, but it must receive attention. I think there is an uneasy feeling among the public that it has not been receiving the attention it deserves. Next, there is the overcrowding of passenger trains, which I mention largely for the purpose of record, and I will say no more about it. It is present to everybody's mind, although it was not mentioned by the hon. Member for Acton.
My third point is the embargo on deliveries at certain, mainly rural, railway stations. This is a point which greatly affects my own constituency, where there are no large towns. There are large rural areas served by small towns, each with its railway station, and it is a most lamentable fact that, of the five towns in my constituency, two have suffered continuously, for about the last four or five years, from an embargo on the delivery of goods at their stations from the Midlands and the North of England. If the fullest use is to be made of our railway facilities we must try to cut down this embargo on railway deliveries, which holds up the agricultural industry, which has held up the housing programme—as I have mentioned in this House before—and is fraught with danger in that if it continues too long it may become a permanent habit.
§ Mr. D. Jones
Will the hon. Member develop that point a little further? Does he mean there is an embargo on deliveries, or is it an embargo on bringing goods up by rail from the starting point, which is entirely different?
§ Mr. Renton
Surely, it means both, does it not? As I understand the problem it means both. It means that the railways, in order to economise in their services, have decided that particular places such as, in the case of my constituency, Ramsey and St. Ives are not sufficiently large and important to have a goods delivery service—which means the running of trains and the delivery of goods to those towns. That is how it is worked out. I do not wish to go into this in great detail, because I have already had a long correspondence with the Minister of Transport, and have raised the matter at Question time. But if the Parliamentary Secretary—upon whose appointment I should here like to congratulate him and wish him success—will look into that, he will find it is so.
There is a similar problem on the passenger side between Ramsey, which serves a very large Fenland area, and Holme. There is a small branch line which enables the people at Ramsey to reach the London and North Eastern Railway main line, and it is their only way of getting by train from Ramsey to the rest of the world. That branch line has just been cut down because the number of passengers was too small to warrant the expenditure of coal and railway stock which it involved; it was not a very great expenditure—several hundreds of tons a year—but the traffic was too small. On the face of it that seems a very good argument for closing it down; but, when we look into the matter a little further, we find that, although the number of passengers who would like to use the service is very considerable, very few people did use the service because it was badly timed. That is not the fault of the Parliamentary Secretary or of anybody at the Ministry of Transport. It is a fault somehow of organisation, and no doubt the hon. Member for Acton would be pleased to hear me say so. But it is a fault of which we should be aware.
I do not think that passenger services which have a potential value if properly used—and that means mainly if properly timed—should be closed down forcibly 2186 merely because they have been misused. I will not develop that point, which I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary has in mind. Some of these branch lines in the country are sometimes laughed at, but not by the local people, who need them as their only means of transport, so I do hope that these branch services will not be closed down.
§ Mr. Rogers (Kensington, North)
Surely, the obvious alternative to those uneconomic branch lines is the adaptation of an efficient road service?
§ Mr. Renton
Yes, by all means, in due course of time. But bearing in mind the economic policy which has to be followed in this country for an apparently indefinite number of years to come—we do not know how long; all we know is that by the end of 1948 if all goes well, and goes at its best, there will still be an adverse balance of trade of £250 million, and a large need to export buses as one of our most valuable exports—does the hon. Member really consider that we can afford to overlook these passenger rail services? It may be a valuable means of saving dollars, if dollars have to be put in their place—as they have to be—but the town of Ramsey cannot be isolated; it is one of the most valuable food-producing areas in this country. It cannot be isolated; something has to be done for it.
In conclusion, let me say that, although I was an extremely firm opponent of the Transport Act, and although I would still be very glad if something happened to prevent it from coming into force, I shall do all I possibly can—and I am sure every hon. Member on this side of the House holds the same view—to assist the Government by constructive criticism with a view to making the nationalised service work.
§ 2.7 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Burslem)
Even a late convert to the great scheme which is to be introduced on 1st January is welcome.
§ Mr. Renton
Let me interrupt the hon. Member at once to say I thought I had made it perfectly clear that I am not a convert.
§ Mr. Davies
I thought the hon. Member was willing to do his best, and from the arguments which he adduced I thought he rather supported the case 2187 which we had made when asking for the setting up of the British Transport Commission. Many of the things to which he has referred will have no real remedy until we are able to tackle some of the fundamental difficulties which the transport system has neglected for too long a period.
I wish to deal with the more immediate difficulties of the railway companies. When my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), talks about indiscipline and lack of support and interest on the part of some of his colleagues on the railway, it is only fair to point out that these are in a very small minority, in my view. Over the war years in particular, the railwaymen contributed magnificently to the movement of traffic and to the general good of this country. When we take into consideration the worn-out machine that they had to work, together with the difficulties the men on the footplate, in the sheds and in the offices had to put up with, I believe it was only because of their high sense of patriotism that they were able to carry us through our difficulties so well. If the railway-men are taken into proper consultation there will be no more willing body of workers to help us over the next few months and years, when our difficulties will be greatest.
Reference has been made on a former occasion by the President of the Board of Trade, and today by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) in connection with Middlesbrough, to the problem of wagon shortage. It is a problem which is causing some anxiety in the minds of the colliery people and other big industrial undertakings in this country It rather looks, if we are able to lift many thousand and maybe millions of tons more coal in the next few months, that we shall be in a jam in regard to wagons. It would be depressing, if after all the efforts that have been made, we had this bottleneck and some of the colleries had to close down. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what special measures the Government and the Ministry have in mind, in co-operation with the industrialists and the staffs on the railways, to match this situation. We have been told that there will be many hundreds and thousands more wagons, 2188 but they will not be immediately available. I do not agree with my hon Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks), who said that, with the contraction in the amount of tonnage conveyed, there should be no wagon shortage. I do not think the equation he set out gives the whole story. The way wagons are loaded and the journeys they have to do are all factors that have to be taken into consideration. With the coming of the five-day week, we find a slowing up in the weekly discharge of wagons.
I hope we can be assured that an approach has been made to responsible bodies, such as the chamber of commerce and other organised bodies who can speak for the industrialists and for the traders, to show that overtime is being worked, and that Saturdays and Sundays, and even night work, is being considered. This is a matter absolutely vital to the coal industry, as well as to the other commercial interests in the country. Undoubtedly, some of the traders have used wagons as storehouses. I think this is particularly true of the coal distributive side. The demurrage charges may not have been commensurate with the services they have been getting in this direction. It is possible, and, if so, has anything been done, to increase the demurrage charges, and to place sanctions upon these delinquents. There may be some difficulty about that because it involves legislation, but we ought to take steps to remedy it at the earliest possible moment. It would be better to do that now than to find ourselves in a jam later on.
It is true that there has been a great sense of frustration among the workers. It may be due to some extent to lack of mobility in the employment of the workers, but I think that when we get the new set up, we shall see that a lad entering the industry will be able to pass through many sections, graduating from the bottom to the top, instead of being at a dead end. I think there are grounds for this sense of frustration among a large section of the workers in the industry, but I do not think there is any reason for its continuance. It has been said that the sense of security might have had something to do with the lack of interest and enterprise which railwaymen have shown. I do not think that is so. What is important to remember is that after the last war, instead of the railwaymen having the security they had 2189 known, there was a large amount of temporary and casual labour employed, some of it on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. Instead of a young lad being employed in the industry throughout his life, we found that many young people had their notices when they reached the adult rates at 20 years of age. The result is that we have this backwash today.
When talking about the conditions of the railwaymen, we have to recognise the great services they have given, and to see that they are fairly paid as compared with other sections of workers. I think there has been a sense of frustration in the past because there has been little chance of promotion. There has been stagnation, certainly on the clerical and in the conciliation grades, and this casualisation of employment has also contributed to the problem. Let us project our minds ahead to 1st January, when we are to have this great change in the transport world. I should like to think this means that we shall utilise all the valuable transport resources in a co-ordinated way; but there is no reason why, in the remaining days, we should not be thinking how best we can utilise this machine. Can we be assured that full use is being made today of the inland waterways? There is a large amount of rough and undamageable traffic which might be put on to the canals. Can we also be assured that full use is being made of road transport to relieve some of the traffic which the railways cannot conveniently carry? In short, I should like an examination of all three sides, and it may be that coastal shipping can also contribute something to help in the problem.
We need to bring in the workers from other industries with expert knowledge, the men who have been shunting, running the trains and working in the signal boxes. They know the day-to-day problems. There is no need to bring in people from outside who have not grown up in the industry. I hope, when the Government talks about bringing in the workers for consultation, that this means the railwaymen, as well as the miners and other folk throughout our nationalised industries. It has been said that there is a lack of interest in this great process of nationalisation. If we can be assured that it means increasing the scope of advancement adventure for the ordinary workers whose vocation it is to work in 2190 these industries, then we shall get infinitely better results. I do not think there is any desire on the part of managements to sabotage the efforts of the country or of the Government in respect of this great nationalisation policy, and in getting the best out of the transport industry. I have much respect for the management of the railways. I agree that they have not been given the scope at lower levels which they ought to have had, but I am sure that we shall have the best possible results if the workers feel an interest in the new set-up, and are assured that Socialism does not mean a change in name, but a chance to the men on the ground levels to have a say in the show.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Major Legge-Bourke (Isle of Ely)
I only hope that British railways may one day again have as much space at their disposal as we have in this House this afternoon. I was interested in the closing remarks of the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies), and all the other Members who have spoken in this Debate today have also referred to the question of morale in the railway industry. I hope the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary will realise that railwaymen in this country have very great hopes of the outcome of the nationalisation of the railways, which comes into force next year. Members of the National Union of Railwaymen have been making speeches to railwaymen, urging them to make the nationalised railway industry a success. They have been saying, openly—and I am glad of it—that the industry will be on test next year. The only thing I regret that they have done—and I hope the Minister will take steps to prevent it—
§ Mr. D. Jones
Can the hon. and gallant Member quote one instance where any responsible leader of the N.U.R. has ever done anything other than say that the railway industry should be properly run?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I was commending the fact that members of the N.U.R. are telling railwaymen that their industry will be on test next year, and I was about to say that I hope the Minister will try to persuade them to be a little more realistic in their approach, in regard to what will happen in the immediate result. In my constituency, a speech was made by 2191 a fairly responsible member of the N.U.R. saying that nationalisation of the industry was the only way in which prices to the consumer could be brought down, the only way in which members of the industry could obtain their full rights. I believe that any industry, whether nationalised or private, must be judged by the results it gives to the public, to the so-called consumer. I dislike the word "consumer," because I think that we are over-inclined today to divide the population into various sections. Each section has a relationship with the other, and the watertight compartment attitude is far too prevalent today.
In his speech, the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) mentioned that there was a great battle going on between the theoretician and the expert in the industry. I thought that most of his remarks, and particularly that one, were a great condemnation of the Government. We are moving into an age when theories are overriding experience, and I believe that the nation is suffering as a result. I prefer to see the expert running industry. One. of the greatest sins for which this Government will be blamed in years to come will be that by overcrowding the Business of the House in the way they have done, they have tended to make a politician's job a wholetime job, instead of men from all walks of life being able to come here and bring their full experience with them. It will be very unfortunate for this country if, as a result of the ideals which have been put into the heads of workers in industry, nationalisation proves to be a great disappointment. In our present economic plight there is a great danger that that will happen, and I hope the Minister will keep in touch with leaders of the N.U.R. and other unions, with a view to seeing that they should be realistic in the promises they are making to the men as to what will happen when nationalisation takes place. If that is not done there will be more trouble in the railway industry than there has been for years past. It will exacerbate the complaints made today, and will affect those who rely on the railways—
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)
The hon. and gallant Member has already said that members of the N.U.R. are telling railwaymen that it is up to them to make a success of 2192 nationalisation. Is that one of the promises he is referring to?
§ Major Legge-Bourke
That is not what I am complaining of at all; I am commending it. What I deplore is the idea being put into the heads of railwaymen, by their leaders, that as soon as nationalisation comes into force everything will be rosy.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
The hon. and gallant Member has made a definite allegation. Will he say who said that?
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas
The hon. and gallant Member should withdraw what he has said, or substantiate it.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I will certainly not withdraw. The tone of the speech in my constituency, as reported in the Press, definitely gave me the impression—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
—that leaders of the N.U.R. were trying to instil into railwaymen the idea that as soon as nationalisation came into force all the things for which they were asking would be granted. We have seen, in the coal industry, that that cannot be done at once. I hope it is beginning to happen now, and that the industry is becoming happier, but it will not happen at once in the railway industry, any more than in any other of our industries, because of our economic plight. If that truth is avoided there will be far more unhappiness in every industry than there need be; in my view, there will be a great deal of unhappiness in this country for some years to come. This is not a fitting occasion to go into the causes of that, but I still believe that a great deal of difficulty, particularly in the railway industry, could be overcome if unions could have their meetings at a time which was suitable for every member who wanted to attend. I appreciate that in the railway industry a great many men are carried all over the country by the very nature of their work, and that it is hard to get them together for meetings. It is a difficulty which is almost insurmountable when it comes to holding joint consultative committee meetings, but—
§ Mr. D. Jones
Then the hon. and gallant Member will agree that every branch of the N.U.R. fixes the time, place, and date of its meeting.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I appreciate that. I believe that many of the meetings take place over the weekends, and that many people in all walks of life do not want to be concerned with their professions over the weekends.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hubert Beaumont)
The hon. and gallant Member is getting close to matters of interference in the internal affairs of the trade unions, for which the Minister is in no way responsible.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I appreciate that, but, with great respect, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would say that this industry is about to be nationalised, possibly next year, and this is perhaps the last opportunity we may have of speaking on this subject before it is nationalised.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member must recognise that the Minister is in no way responsible for the meetings arranged and held by the trade unions.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I also appreciate that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but I believe that remarks made in this House go to other places besides the Ministry, and this is an idea that I am putting forward. I mentioned it from the point of view of making the industry a happier industry. I do not want to make any more difficulties for it; heaven knows, it has enough already. I believe that it is the business of employers, as far as possible, to make it a feasible proposition for the unions to hold their meetings in business hours. I think that if that were done the attendance at the branch meetings would be much greater, and they would get a far better cross-section of opinion than is the case to-day. That is my opinion, and I put it forward for what it is worth.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman and his Parliamentary Secretary will bear that in mind, particularly when the industry becomes nationalised, because I am certain that the more industries are nationalised, the more important it will be for the branch meetings of the trade unions to be well attended. There is a far greater danger of remote control under nationalisation. That is a thing 2194 to be deplored, for the greater the humanising effect that can be brought about, particularly in the railway industry, the better. It is difficult to get over the problem of remote control. It is difficult to make it possible for branch meetings to be well-attended, and I hope for that reason that we shall, when this industry is nationalised, realise that there are many difficulties to be overcome, and none greater in my opinion than this affecting the morale side of the industry.
There is one aspect on the matter of housing with which I would like to deal. I have given it considerable thought, and I have firmly in my mind the belief that every industry, not merely the agricultural industry, should have tied cottages. I would like to see the industry have sufficient accommodation available for its own employees, so that whenever a man shifts his job he would know that a house would be available for him. I realise that that is a far distant target, but I believe that the remarks which the hon. Member for Acton made in the opening stages of the Debate were very true, and that it is not only the railway industry to which they apply. I am certain that there is no one factor affecting the morale of the nation at the moment more than housing. I believe that over-crowded families, and families that are split up because of lack of accommodation are the cause of more unhappiness and bad morale in industry than anything else. I hope that in future we shall see a big move in the industry when it comes under the National Railway Commission to ensure accommodation for all employees in the industry.
I believe that what the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) said in his closing remarks is generally shared by all hon. Members on this side of the House, that we have to accept, much against our better judgment, the idea of this industry being nationalised, and now that that is to be a fait accompli, we fully intend to put nothing in the way of making it a success. If it is a success, well and good. The difficulties which the railways and other industries have to overcome are so great that, in my opinion, I should have thought there were more important things to do than to nationalise them. Many of the complaints made against private enterprise in connection with the railways will, I believe, be far more likely to be made against the National Railway Commission in the 2195 future, unless the Minister realises that Whitehall administration tends to increase rather than to decrease remote control.
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The hon. Gentleman referred to a fait accompli. How can it be a fait accompli, which is something that is past.
§ 2.38 p.m.
§ Major Bruce (Portsmouth, North)
I think that the remarks of the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) gave the impression that there is a wide and general feeling among the workers on the railways that, once the formal act of nationalisation is achieved, all their difficulties would disappear. I have some slight knowledge of the town of March, which is in the hon. and gallant Member's constituency, and I can assure him that there are not many members of the National Union of Railwaymen there, or of other unions, who have any such illusions. In my own city of Portsmouth, for a considerable time now, members of the N.U.R. have been meeting together and discussing in a practical manner, as one would expect them to do, some of the difficulties which they know inevitably lie ahead. I think that the hon. Gentleman is barking up the wrong tree if he thinks that either members of the N.U.R. think that there will be no difficulties or that their own leaders are endeavouring to lead them into that belief.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman when he says that the vast majority of the workers may not actually think so. I maintain, however, that there are some of their leaders going around, rather putting that idea into their heads.
§ Major Bruce
It was significant that the whole trend of the hon. Gentleman's remarks was to that end, to which he added a broad and general charge, without specific evidence, and a general crack at the Government that, owing to the over-crowding of the legislative programme, this House now had a race of professional politicians who had no spare time to devote to outside matters. This attitude on the part of Opposition 2196 Members becomes occasionally a little sickening. I do not know if they wish to return to the position before the war, when some 300 Members of the Conservative Party held over 775 directorships. Today this House—and I make no exception of party—comprises men and women of nearly every profession. I think that makes nonsense of his suggestion that the activities of the House have in any way suffered by reason of the fact that we have not today a similar state of affairs to that which we had before the war.
I want to pass to the more constructive speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies) who touched upon—and, of course, owing to his profession, very skilfully—the whole question of the need for more railway wagons and more rolling stock. It is up to all of us, in whichever part of the House we may be, to search around and to see how within our own limited experience, or the experience of others that is available to us, we can assist the country to overcome this very great shortage of new railway wagons and the very pressing need for repairs. We had an example earlier this year of transport dislocations. They were, of course, very largely caused by the weather, but, nevertheless, they were partly caused by the lack of railway wagons, owing to the fact that so many of them had become obsolete during the war. As a result, there was a very serious fuel shortage. I do not think that anybody wants that to happen again. The transport system of the country, particularly the goods part of it, is the artery of the country along which our various products for the capital industries and the consumer industries flow. Therefore, I think that we must give this matter very serious attention indeed.
The only modest contribution I can make to this Debate is to draw the attention of my hon. Friends and the House in general to the fact that in the Royal Dockyard installations in Great Britain—and there are many of them; the principal ones are, of course, at Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham, Sheerness and Rosyth—there are, at the present time, facilities for undertaking quite a reasonable quantity of railway wagon repairs. I do not want to enlarge the amount which could, in fact, be accomplished. Some of them, moreover, are actually capable of under- 2197 taking wagon construction. During the Recess, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth (Mr. Snow) and I made a three-day tour of the Royal Dockyard at Portsmouth. We investigated at every point of production the various stages required to be gone through in order to construct a railway wagon with the facilities at present existing in the yard. It is quite clear that the Royal Dockyards have a significant role to play—not a large one, I agree—first, in the construction of wagons, though this could only be done at the present time on a small scale owing to material difficulties, and, secondly, in the repair of wagons.
Of course, when my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary considers this possibility, he may find that there are very long outstanding and important naval priorities. I can pass no observation on those priorities today. All I can do is- to point out that, owing to the general intention—about which we have not had specific details so far—to make certain cuts in capital expenditure, it is reasonable and logical to presume that some of the cuts will fall on naval priorities. Therefore, all I ask my hon. Friend to do is that, as and when this happens, he, along with other Ministers associated with the matter, should at least explore the possibility of these facilities being used, because every wagon that is repaired means that the transport problem is correspondingly eased. As we all know, the workmen in the Portsmouth dockyard are very skilled in these matters, but the ability of these yards—I am making no exceptions—goes far beyond that.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Central Portsmouth and I went into the dockyard, we visited one of the factories. We saw two or three large crank cases for railway locomotives in the course of production. The workers there say that much more could be done. We saw several oil tanks—about 96 of them—being manufactured for one of the principal railway companies which was converting its firing from coal to oil. We saw several petrol tanks that were being turned over for use as oil tanks. The only reason why I mention this is because, in the total mobilisation within the limits of capital priorities to be determined by the Government, I would urge my hon. Friend, when considering 2198 this, and when taking stock of all the resources, to make sure that his right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty is also encouraged to make his contribution in this as well as in other fields, because I can assure him that the workers in the dockyards would be highly delighted if he would do that.
§ 2.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Rogers (Kensington, North)
I do not wish to detain the House for long, but I have a short contribution to make to this discussion. Before making it, however, I wish to refer to one or two things which the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) said about trade union leaders and the interesting suggestion he made about tied cottages. It is an interesting idea, but I do not quite see how it squares with the theory of a property-owning democracy. The number of employees in the transport industry is so huge that the amount of property needed by the Transport Commission to house all its staff would be a very considerable proportion—
§ Major Legge-Bourke
If I may interrupt the hon. Gentleman, perhaps I may say that I had not intended to go into details on the matter, and to suggest, as Ministers sometimes suggest, that he might speak to me about it in private. I see no more reason why it should not be possible for a worker to buy his house from the transport industry than it has hitherto been possible for him to do from his local authority.
§ Mr. Rogers
The hon. and gallant Gentleman has a dangerous tendency to want to explain in private. This is the second point this afternoon that he has wanted to deal with later on. Of course, it is possible, as he says, that if it were part of the Transport Commission's job to buy cottages and then sell them to their employees, they could do so. But it is not wise that they should do that, and, in any case, if they did, they would not be tied cottages. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that if he had much experience of railway-owned properties, and had seen the kind of houses that railway companies in the past have put up for their employees, and would only speak to those who live in them, he would very rapidly change his view about the desire for Transport Commission owned cottages.
2199 The hon. Gentleman also said that he thought the increase of legislation was dangerous because it tended to breed a race of professional politicians. If I may say so as kindly as I possibly can, the sort of speech he made this afternoon only shows the necessity for more full-time study. He made remarks about certain trade union leaders promising their men too much. I suppose that I have talked to railwaymen and road workers all over the country as much as anybody in the land. I have addressed dozens of conferences of railway and transport leaders. I have also spoken to the leaders of many of the trade unions, and never once have I heard them say that an easy paradise will happen after 1st January, 1948. I have told them that they cannot expect any outstanding results for at least five or 10 years after 1st January, 1948. In point of fact, we have been pessimistic.
Most of us who are here representing the transport workers are practical men and have been all our lives in the industry. Because of our practical experience in the industry we believe that the Transport Board should give the country a better service that it has had hitherto. I do not know a single transport official in the highest ranks, for example on the London Passenger Transport Board, who is opposed to the nationalisation of transport. There may be some, but I do not know of one, and I know them all pretty well. The workers in the industry are convinced that this Measure will result in a long overdue improvement in the organisation of our transport service.
§ Mr. Renton
The hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) referred to various sections of the management not having the same enthusiasm. The hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. Rogers) heard the hon. Member for Acton. How does he reconcile what he has said with what his hon. Friend said?
§ Mr. Rogers
It is perfectly simple. The transport organisation is a vast undertaking, and includes men of all political points of view. I said that, so far as I am concerned, in London transport I did not know of a single high-ranking official opposed to the idea of public ownership. I know that on the main lines there may 2200 be some opposed to it, and I will deal with that aspect of the matter a little later.
It was said by Robert Louis Stevenson that to travel pleasantly was better than to arrive, but today we travel unpleasantly, and are not sure that we can arrive. There is no doubt that our transport system is in a parlous condition and those of us who have devoted our lives to the system are very sorry to see this deterioration of what was a great and proud public service. The faults and difficulties of the problem stick out a mile. In the main they are largely technical, such as the deterioration and increasing obsolescence of equipment as a result of the war, and lack of adequate reorganisation on some of the railways in the years between the wars. Partly they are due to the old men in charge through directorships. Some of those who were young even would not know much about transport because several of them were drawn from those represented by Members on the opposite benches. What they knew about transport would not cover a very large postage stamp. However, do not let us get personal. It is very easy to diagnose the troubles, which are largely technical, and the solution is known to every transport manager.
The psychological aspect has been stressed on this side of the House. Reference has been made to the failure of the railway companies to utilise their manpower to the fullest possible extent. That has always been one of our great complaints. Recently the Railway Executive has been complaining bitterly about inability to run the railways efficiently owing to the fact that a great number who went into the Services have not come back to the industry. This has been going on for years. Thousands of the most able men in the service have either found themselves a niche in the Labour movement, or have gone out into the commercial world and have made great careers—
§ Mr. Rogers
Their ability has been recognised by the greater perspicacity of magnates outside the railway companies. That has been going on for many years, and is still going on in connection with the London Passenger Transport Board which has a system by which every man can apply for a job on a high grade in another department. It is true he can 2201 apply, but, let us assume that he is an accountant and applies for a job in the public relations department. When he comes before the committee he is told, "You cannot be a public relations officer, because you have no experience." That has kept men bogged down in their jobs for a great number of years, and the result is that these young men, who have families to maintain, have decided to leave the industry and to get rid of their frustration in other directions.
The British Transport Commission commences its work on 1st January next year. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will still be in the Transport Ministry on 1st January—one never knows these days—[Laughter.] He will not misunderstand me. I have the greatest respect and admiration for him personally, and I am sure he will make a magnificent success of his job. On this question of staff participation in management rests one of the solutions to the psychological problem which is behind much of our inefficiency today. I am not satisfied that the trade unions have done enough thinking on this problem, and I am certain the railway companies and road haulage companies have done nothing at all to work out a scheme. The local departmental committees could have been used as excellent machinery for co-operation with the managements. But, every time a suggestion has been put forward by a worker, the reply has been "This is a matter of management, and is not for you to discuss." So a great deal of valuable initiative on the part of the men has been lost. I do not think the other side have given enough attention to this problem, and if the Minister is fully conscious of the necessity of getting as much efficiency as possible from the Transport Commission after the 1st January, he will do his best to see that both sides get an excellent scheme working at the earliest possible moment. It is most important to make this part of our Socialist programme a success.
In conclusion, I would make a technical suggestion. From certain observations I have made recently about the use of plastics in modern industry and the latest developments in that field, it has occurred to me that there is a distinct probability, I will not say certainty, that plastic could be used as a substitute for steel or timber in the manufacture of trucks, that with the development of plastics plastic panels 2202 would make an excellent substitute for the sides of railway trucks. I ask the Minister to make inquiries into that possibility, because obviously, if is a practical suggestion, it means that after the cost of the initial moulds has been met, the price of panels will be cheaper than if they were made of steel. They would also be a substitute for the timber which is now so difficult to procure, as well as saving valuable quantities of steel.
§ 2.59 p.m.
§ Sir William Darling (Edinburgh, South)
I intervene in this discussion only for the reason that it has revealed the anxiety of a number of little men who feel that the boat is now approaching the Niagara, and that they will now have to undertake the responsibility of the lives they have led and the promises they have made in the years gone by. There has been a revelation of the disquiet and anxiety of the men who have promised to present a new world but are unable to find the wagons to carry on necessary railway activities in this country. What a pathetic exhibition. There have been other revelations.
§ Sir W. Darling
It would be unwise for me to suggest anything in view of the inadequacy of the arrangements for carrying on the old one. I am not in the ranks of the Utopians; those ranks are sufficiently well filled without requiring any recruitment from me.
Among the many illuminating observations was the particularly illuminating one from the hon. Member for North Kensington (Mr. Rogers), who gave us an inside picture of the method of recruitment and promotion of the London Passenger Transport Board. He said that if one was in the traffic department and applied for a transfer to the public relations department, the committee responsible for making these appointments said, "You are not qualified to enter the public relations department because you have no experience of public relations." That, I understood, was the circumstance which the hon. Member thought regrettable in the selection, enlargement and expansion of the utility of the servants of the London Passenger Transport Board. If that picture is correct, 2203 and I have no doubt it is, the hon. Member must be gratified at the rapidly increasing change in the attitude towards these matters. Now, I understand, in the party of which he is a member, the qualification of knowing anything about the job is not necessary and you are prepared to make appointments in any direction—
§ Sir W. Darling
I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I unfortunately included you among a large number of persons who, I know, do not share your views. The deduction to be made is perfectly clear. Under former circumstances some experience was necessary, Apparently that is now swept away, and we dispense with experience and are prepared to promote persons, whether experienced or not, so long as they follow, shall we say, the party line and are associated with the party colour. If the hon. Member thinks that is an advance and is likely to improve public service, he does not find me among his supporters.
§ Mr. Rogers
I am afraid the hon. Member does not quite understand the point, nor do I think that he very much wishes to. Perhaps he will allow me to give an illustration in clearer detail.
§ Mr. Rogers
Supposing there is a clerk in, say, in the accounting department who is doing certain clerk's work, something to do with invoicing or account books or something of a fairly minor routine kind. In the public relations office accounts of one sort or another are also kept.
§ Mr. Rogers
They also have similar work. If a man is of sufficient intelligence, and has the educational qualifications to do the work of an accountant or an accounts clerk in an accountant's office, it is foolish to say that because he has not done work in public relations he is not capable of doing such work in the public relations department. Otherwise how would the Conservative Party fill Ministerial vacancies when they are elected to power?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Member is doing more than merely explaining, he is making another speech.
§ Sir W. Darling
I am grateful for your intervention, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I had began to think that the hon. Member's second speech was better than his first one. It was certainly a little more illustrative. His suggestion is that the appointments board of London Transport is incompetent to make appointments, and that in his opinion, it is unable to distinguish between accountants in the public relations department and accountants in the traffic office. I leave the hon. Member with these inadequacies. They are part of the enormous volume of inadequacies favoured by those who advocate a system of State nationalisation and control.
I pass from him to the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce), who is so alarmed about the conduct of our national transport system that he spends his much needed Recess not in intellectual stimulus but in searching goods yards, dockyard works and the like, looking for wagons. Is not this a pathetic position we have reached, that hon. ladies and gentlemen should spend their Recess looking for wagons? You, Sir, well remember a system of society, now derided, and, I understand, about to disappear where a shortage of wagons was never known. Under the cruel inadequacies of the capitalist system, I never heard—and I am now a man past middle age—of any shortage of wagons until we had the State control of railways.
The solution is a remarkable one. Under capitalism when wagons were short, bigger wages were paid, more brains were put into the business of providing wagons, and the wagons were always forthcoming. We had a large export business in wagons. Companies existed for no other purpose than the manufacture of wagons and for the hiring of wagons to the railway companies. That was the system under which wagons were freely made available. What is the system now? It is a system whereby the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth with his colleague, during the Recess goes about, with such talents as he has—and heaven knows he has many—searching for the possibility of finding wagons. Under the capitalist system, the incentive system, 2205 the muddled system which obtained in the old days, wagons were always there. Neither you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, nor I ever felt inconvenienced by the absence of wagons. Wagons were, like all other things readily available. Now we have got to the state where the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth devotes his Recess and his unquestioned gifts to the pursuit of this essential element of the transport system, though where it is going to take us—
§ Major Bruce
Would the hon. Gentleman make it quite clear who he is blaming for this? Is he blaming the Ministry of Transport for the shortage, or is he blaming the private enterprise firms who, up to now, have been responsible for the manufacture of wagons?
§ Sir W. Darling
I think it is conceded that until a few years ago there was no shortage of wagons. What is admitted is that there is now a shortage. The only solution proffered by His Majesty's Government and their supporters, is the interesting story of how the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth spent his Recess searching for wagons. He considered this a very important matter to which we should direct our attention—the strange quandary which State nationalised railways are going to present to the public. On this occasion, it is wagons of which we are short, but very shortly it may be something else. It may be tickets. I can see myself with the hon. Lady the Member for Rutherglen spending our holidays in Scotland looking for tickets—
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge)
If the hon. Gentleman is referring to me, I would point out that my constituency is Coatbridge, and that we do not usually travel together.
§ Sir W. Darling
If the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) will join the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. McAllister) and myself in looking for tickets, I should be most happy to be associated with her.
Seriously, this picture is an interesting one. Very shortly we are to have State management of our railways. Are we to understand that these are the methods of management to which we are to be reduced? Is it the business of Members of Parliament to run about getting the spares, sundries and supplies for the nationalised railway service? Is that the 2206 proposition, because that is what is advanced today? The hon. Member for North Kensington is going to make himself responsible for the terms of promotion, advancement and pay in the industry. The hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth is the wagon searcher—
§ Mr. Sparks
The point I wanted to make is that the existing state of organisation of the railways is due to private enterprise, not to nationalisation.
§ Sir W. Darling
I am disappointed in the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks). I thought he would make a contribution. I thought he might be interested in providing the missing cups or the pillowslips. We have a picture of what we can expect presented with great clarity. The old system of obese, bald-headed, incompetent, Tory directors of railway companies, whatever its faults and however obscene it may have appeared to hon. Gentlemen opposite, produced a first-class railway service. No one had to go about looking for wagons, pillowslips or tickets in those days. We had all we wanted at a third of the present prices. The railway system was a model to the world. It had established and maintained railway leadership. That system has now passed away and a number of spare-time Members of Parliament are to engage in looking for the odd things that the railway companies are unable to supply themselves. There are two hon. Gentlemen who wish to interrupt me.
§ Mr. D. Jones
I merely wanted to point out to the hon. Gentleman that in the happy days he is talking about there were nearly 50,000 railwaymen earning less than 40S. a week.
§ Mr. Chetwynd
Would the hon. Member not agree that it is his function to provide the wind and steam?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I would remind the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) that it is the function and prerogative of the Chair to call upon speakers. Further, I would remind hon. 2207 Members that these constant interruptions are incitement to further eloquence on the part of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh.
§ Sir W. Darling
I know the envy which the House has for the way I am able to enunciate these thought-provoking ideas. There are few speakers on this side of the House who can get so much interest from the lighter-minded supporters of His Majesty's Government. I was flattered—perhaps it was an error—when two interrupters desired to come forward with their proposals, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I thought the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) was thinking of some other aspect of the railway undertaking to which he might establish a claim, but in that I was mistaken and his interjection is one which leaves me quite cold.
His Majesty's Government and their supporters are now on the defensive. There was not a perfect railway system in this country but it was, by some standards, an adequate one. It is true that, judged by present day standards, 40s. a week seems very little as against £5 12s. 6d. which is the current pay, but hon. Gentlemen will surely appreciate that there is a great change in purchasing power. May I give an example of how that is recognised by ordinary men and women? There is in my constituency, still alive, a man who went through many years, not many months, of unemployment. He said to me, since I became a Member of Parliament, "I was better off when I was getting my 26s. a week every Saturday. I had a banana for the bairn and I had at least a chop once a week. There is £7 or £8 a week coming in to this house now, and I get neither a banana for the bairn nor a chop." I agree that it is an impossible story, but there is a great difference between 40s. a week which will buy almost anything, and £6 or £7 a week which will buy nothing except what the Minister of Food or the President of the Board of Trade arrange we shall buy.
It is apparent that I could speak at great length about this, but I will conclude. I am interested to observe the anxiety and misgiving, amounting almost to despair, which is already rising in the minds of those who have committed themselves as politicians to this theory of the State management of all industry, a theory 2208 which will exclude liberty of choice to vast masses of the people in this country. Dissatisfied with the Passenger Transport Board, no longer can I seek private enterprise as an alternative; no more can I leave one industry when I like, for another which I prefer. I shall be compelled under this system to be a railwayman all my life, a coalminer all my life, a draper all my life. The only thing I shall not be compelled to be, apparently, is a politician all my life—that perhaps will be the one profession to show a degree of variability. The hon. Member for North Kensington gave us a quotation from a great Scottish essayist; he said, as a good transport man should say,To travel hopefully is better than to arrive.It is a notion which is shared by all travellers today. I would like to complete the quotation because the completion of it is just as important as the introductory phrase:To travel hopefully is better than to arrive but the true success is to labour.I see little profit or truth in the labouring of the thoughts of hon. Members opposite this afternoon.
§ 3.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Ungoed-Thomas (Llandaff and Barry)
I am sure we all enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) quite as much as he did himself, but he will not expect me to take it seriously, or perhaps even as seriously as some of those people who, to his own satisfaction, interrupted his speech. The one thing which we in this House are all concerned about is the position of railway wagons, and it would indeed be a disaster if we get steel and coal and then find a bottleneck in railway wagons affecting the position during this coming winter. Coal production is going up under nationalisation and steel production is going up at the very thought of nationalisation. With these increases we hope that the railway wagons will be sufficient to cope with production.
There is one part of the railway wagon problem to which I wish to refer—railway wagons sent to the ports. We are fortunate in having now as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport a Member who knows the port position exceedingly well, and he knows as well as anyone in the House that railway wagons have been waiting for an undue length of 2209 time at the gateway of the Port of London hoping to be discharged. This is because the Port of London is being clogged up with large numbers of railway wagons which have to lie idle instead of being in use. It would be interesting to know what is the rate of turn-round in the Port of London, for instance, as compared with the ports of South Wales. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be able to give some consideration to that aspect of the problem.
The other point I want to stress is the distance railway wagons are sent to ports in different parts of the country. This is a point which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has himself stressed before in this House. We are interested to know about the railway wagons sent with goods from South Wales to English ports when they could discharge in Welsh ports with advantage to South Wales. Now that my hon. Friend is in the Ministry of Transport we are looking forward to the vigour which he can bring to bear on a Ministry which steadily requires that vigour. I hope he will pay some attention to this aspect of the problem and give us some indication of what his policy is in regard to these matters.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. James Callaghan)
I used to regard Fridays in much the same spirit as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Llandaff and Barry (Mr. Ungoed-Thomas), when one came down and got some bowling practice and tried to catch out whoever was responsible for replying to the Debate. Today I have got to do a bit of defending at the wicket, and I gather from the tone of the remarks addressed to me by my hon. and learned Friend that the next time he will not be bowling off the wicket but at it, and it will behove me during the coming weeks, before we have another full Debate on this subject, to have some answers ready for him.
This has developed pretty well into a full-scale Debate. We have had to range over ground some of which was relevant and some not quite so relevant. That is not any reflection on your Rulings, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, but you did have to pull someone up I remember. This Debate has been both grave and gay. I feel myself that the range of topics we have dis- 2210 cussed, such as the moral standards of the nation, the need for additional housing, the amount of pilferage going on on the railways, took up a considerable amount of time this afternoon, but I would prefer to devote myself to some of the more important problems with which in the railway service we have got to deal, and to touch lightly on some of the long-distance problems.
In passing I should like to say that I know my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport would have wished to be here to answer an important Debate of this nature, and I am very glad indeed that he is recovering and that it will not be long before he will be able to undertake his duties again. I should like at the outset to say I dispute the article in the "Financial Times" to which reference has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Sparks) and which refers to the creeping paralysis that is overtaking the railways. That is complete nonsense. Railways today are pulling more goods over longer distances than they did in the years before the war. Their effort is greater and the result of their effort is greater. If that means creeping paralysis is overtaking them I should like to see the same creeping paralysis in other features of our national life.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Sir W. Darling) undoubtedly knows a great deal about that complaint. He has already given us a great deal of fun this afternoon. I cannot help wondering how old is the child who still cannot get a banana. He must be getting on in years now.
§ Mr. Callaghan
In that case, he doubtless blesses the Government who have introduced children's allowances which must be bringing him in a substantial reward.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am bound to say from my own experience that it will.
2211 I would like to relate a story about a railwayman I know in my constituency, and then I will give over and leave the hon. Member. This man came to see me in my constituency last Saturday week. He said, "I am 58 years of age. I was born in rooms and was brought up in rooms. I am married and I live in rooms. I have now reached the stage when I can afford to buy a house. What can I do in order to get into a house?" That, if I may say so, is a commentary precisely upon what my hon. Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. D. Jones) was saying; namely, that whatever may be the purchasing power of the £ today, there is a servant of the community who, for the first time in his life, is able to think about trying to get a home of his own.
That is a commentary, too, upon other things which the hon. Member for South Edinburgh was talking about. He said that there was not a shortage of wagons before the war. No doubt, he would say that before the war there was not a shortage of houses. What we are trying to do now is to satisfy a demand that can be made by the people because they have got the purchasing power. While we had not got a shortage of wagons before the war, we had got a shortage of freight when we needed it, and I would rather have a shortage of wagons for carrying the freight than not be making the goods which we require to transport from one end of the country to the other. The first situation can be remedied, and we are going to do it.
I do not want to get into the realms of statistics which my hon. Friend the Member for Acton brought before us this afternoon in his speech, which was full of knowledge, as, indeed, one would expect. I do not want to exchange statistics with him, but I would like to quote two or three figures which, I think, reflect very great credit upon those who are operating the railways and those who are working in them. He said—and here I rather disagreed with him—that because less traffic was passing we do not need so many wagons. As one of my hon. Friends said in reply, what one must also take into account is the length of haul over which those wagons are pulled. I believe the technical term is "ton miles," Twenty tons pulled for 10 miles is 200 ton miles. It is a remarkable fact that the length of 2212 haul of all traffic since the war has increased considerably, and although there has been a variation in the amount of merchandise carried, yet the number of wagons required is greater, or just as great, because of the length of haul they have to be taken and the increased length of time for which they are necessarily required.
In this connection, I would like to quote the net ton miles for 1938 and 1947. I have taken the first 36 weeks of each year, which is a fair and representative period. The net ton miles for those first 36 weeks in 1938 were 11,190,000. In the corresponding period of this year which, remember, takes in that dreadful patch at the beginning of the year, the net ton miles were 13,642,000. There is no evidence at all of creeping paralysis about that. Before I leave that particular aspect, I would like to quote one more figure in relation to what I might call a co-efficient of efficiency. It is a rather ugly term, but I cannot think of a better one to describe it: the number of ton miles per engine hour. There is something which will give us an index of productivity on the railways—the number of tons carried for a number of hours over a number of miles, and the engine power used. We have got pretty accurate figures of that co-efficient of efficiency. If we take, as I have done for this purpose, the year 1938 as 100 per cent., then the ton miles per engine hour last year was 110.6 per cent., and the ton miles per engine hour in the first eight months of this year was 110.1 per cent.—a little less than last year, but that is not surprising when one takes into account the bad weather in the first three months of the year. That is as good an efficiency index as one can get. I quote these figures—and now I should like to leave figures—in order to show that, in point of fact, the railways are pulling a very great deal of freight and merchandise over very long distances with pretty reasonable efficiency so far as engine power is concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton compared the position with that of 1944, and said we were not doing so well. That is true. We are not doing so well as we were in 1944. I do not think he is very surprised to think we are not doing so well as in 1944. After all, there is not quite so much cross Channel traffic today as there was in those summer months. 2213 The hauls are a bit more difficult, particularly as the lines were in those days clear for particular bunches of traffic in which some of us had a pretty considerable interest. Moreover, the year 1944 was an exceptional year, in which railwaymen were working 60 and 70 hours a week in order to get the traffic through; and they did magnificently; and no one would expect them to maintain that level of activity, which was maintained in the vital months just after the invasion of France, as a normal thing in subsequent years.
However, I agree with my hon. Friend's call for increased efficiency in many directions. It is undoubtedly the case that in many aspects of our life any two people, each of them working under the same conditons with the same sort of stuff, and under the same difficulties, produce very different results; and one can find that that is the case on the railways, just as one can find it to be so in other fields of our public life today. I am with my hon. Friend completely in his call for the maximum efficiency and drive that we can get in the transport system today.
Let me, for one moment, deal with the immediate short-term position. As regards this winter, a question which has been raised by several of my hon. Friends, I should like to try to strike a balance sheet at the outset of the good points and the bad points. A good point, from the point of view of getting freight traffic through, but not from any other point of view, is that there are not so many passenger trains, and, therefore, the lines will be free to convey freight. I do not put that too high, because we want to carry passengers as well. However, this winter goods must come first. We are running fewer passenger miles this year and, therefore, we do start this winter on a rather better footing from the point of view of the conveyance of freightage, than we started the winter a year ago. Another point in favour of getting the railways going is that so far, unlike the case last year, there have been no major embargoes on freight. There was one in East Anglia for a period of three weeks, which arose out of the Grimethorpe strike. It was raised in a period of three weeks. At this moment we are able to say there are no major embargoes on the carriage of 2214 freight. So there again we are in a better position.
Moreover, we have more railway wagons. The building rate has gone up pretty considerably. We hope to get at least 30,000 this year, and 48,000 is the realistic target that has been set for next year. Now, if we built 48,000 wagons a year in the 10 years before 1939, the hon. Member for South Edinburgh would not have been able to make such a witty speech about the shortage of railway wagons today. Let him remember that in the speeches that he makes in future. Of the wagons of this country today, 30 per cent. were built before the first world war, and there were not sufficient replacements during the war. I did not gather from the speech of the hon. Member—and I do not suppose he wanted me to gather it—whether he thought we should have built more wagons during the war at the sacrifice of other things, or whether he thought the balance was wrongly struck by the Government under the leadership of his right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill), and that we did not do as much on the railways as we ought to have done. If that is the case of the hon. Member he would be entitled to argue it. But at least he is not entitled to say now that because there was a shortage of wagon building during those war years, therefore on 1st January next nationalisation is a proven failure.
§ Sir W. Darling
My case is this. As a member of the public I never heard of any serious shortage of wagons, and I never heard of any Member of Parliament spending the Recess looking for wagons. That is now necessary under the present Administration.
§ Mr. Callaghan
In those circumstances, I think it would probably be a good thing if I were to trouble the House with the figures of railway wagons. I am sorry to have to do this, because I do not think people absorb figures very well, if I may say so with respect. Let us at least get them on the record, even if they cannot be absorbed here. In 1938 the number of railway wagons available and in use was 1,194,800, as near as one can estimate. Today, the figure is 1,020,760. That is a direct consequence of the war
§ Mr. Callaghan
I am sorry, but it is, and we have to face that fact and recognise it. If there was no shortage of wagons before the war it is equally true to say that probably there would not be a shortage at this moment if we had built them during the war, and that is what I ask the hon. Member to address himself to.
Another favourable factor is that we are building larger wagons. The eight-ton, 10-ton and 12-ton railway trucks are being replaced, to a great extent, by 16-tonners. That, of course, is a matter of great importance when we are reconverting on this side. I am glad to say, too, that the railway workshops have been going into the job of repairing wagons with real vigour and energy. They have tackled it extraordinarily well, and a fortnight ago we passed the peak of wagons needing repair; the curve has now started to turn downwards. The British Transport Commission, I know, will set themselves a target for the reduction of the figure of wagons needing repair by the end of this winter, and they will do their best to achieve it. If the energy that is being shown by everybody associated with this problem at the present time bears fruit, I have no doubt that over the period of the next six months our position as regards the total number of wagons that we have available will improve substantially.
That does not mean we shall be out of the wood, because we shall have to carry more freight. Indeed, if I had to sum up my own feelings about the situation, it would be rather like this. If we maintain freights at their present level, and if we were not asked to carry any more, it is probable that the railways—subject to major acts of God, like fog, snow and ice—would be able to get through the winter, especially when one takes into account the increasing number of wagons that we ought to have in service, thanks to the vigour of everybody associated with those enterprises. The British Transport Commission will be asked to carry much more freight. The coal output, as all hon. Members of the House will rejoice to see, is going up; and steel output is going up.
Because of these factors, and because we have budgeted for something like a 20 per cent. additional carriage of steel, pig iron, limestone and other minerals of 2216 that sort, I fear that that is where the squeeze is going to come. If this paralysis should overtake us, it will not be because there are not goods, but because the production of this country is going ahead. There is no railwayman in Britain who will not do his utmost to see that the production of goods is not held up because of shortage of wagons, and because he has not been able to carry the job. It is a hopeful factor for him to know that he is coping with a situation which is brought about because of an increase in production. If that fact goes home, we can be sure that everyone will put his back in the job and see it through.
I want to say a word on the steel position on the North-East Coast. It is true that stocks of steel on the North-East Coast have been mounting. The real difficulty is in connection principally with the firm of Dorman Long and Company, who are the most important steel producers. Their stocks have gone up, but generally speaking, taking the steel firms as a whole on the North-East Coast, it is true to say that there is less steel on the ground there now than a month ago because of shortage of wagons. I instructed the Railway Executive Committee this morning to take immediate steps to get wagons to the North-East Coast in order that the shortage of wagons position may be cleared up. It is not that they needed instructions, because they are fully alive to the situation and are doing their best to remedy it. I want as far as possible to avoid this winter getting into the position where we have to take emergency steps of this nature as things put their heads above the surface of the water. It is no use trying to deal with a shortage of wagons for timber here, steel there and coal in another place as these emergencies arise. What we are trying to do is to get into the position where we can look ahead and see where the shortages are likely to arise. In other words, to see exactly where increased production will necessitate further wagons, and to get them there. That is the basis upon which this job is being tackled during the coming winter months.
On the other side of the balance-sheet, there are factors which are not helping us. One is the speed restrictions on the lines. We are not moving so fast over 2217 the lines as in 1938. That is a consequence of the reduced maintenance during the war, and that again is something to which urgent attention is being paid. If we can export coal to Sweden, we can get the timber for the sleepers. We are doing our best on this question of maintenance of the tracks, but I am bound to say that during the present winter speed restrictions will have to continue in force for safety reasons. Another factor which I have to place on the debit side is the five-day week, in so far as it is preventing a rapid turn-round of wagons. We simply cannot afford that, and we have asked all firms to make arrangements for the reception of empty and loaded wagons on the sixth or even the seventh day if necessary. If we can do that, and if we can get a speed up in that direction, then I think that a great deal of our troubles will be overcome.
It is vitally important, however, that at the present time we should not be limited in our turn-round because of the operation of the five-day week. I am glad to say that we are getting a great deal of co-operation from manufacturers, employers and foremen, and all those working on this job. I made some observations about this earlier this week in a speech which was reported in the Press. It has been most encouraging subsequently to receive letters from men who have taken the initiative to sit down and write saying what they are doing to try to overcome the situation in their works. It shows a good spirit, and that there is a great deal of co-operation and goodwill being displayed throughout British industry today. If I have to select the most vulnerable point for transport this winter, I would be inclined to say that it is the North-East Coast. That is where we are likely to have our defences breached. We have had odd spots of trouble there already, such as the timber situation in the docks, where there was an absence of wagons. There is the Dorman Long steel position which has arisen, and I think we shall have to watch that position and that part of the country very closely to make sure that the breaches in our defences do not become a gulf.
My hon. Friend the Member for Acton also referred to accidents on the railway, a topical subject at the moment. Here, I ought to be careful of what I say, 2218 because the inquiries which are being held are not yet complete, and it would not be proper to express a view until reports have been received by my right hon. Friend. But what I can say is that the main line railways expect shortly to be in a position to give us their views as to what better systems can be introduced to reduce the likelihood of accidents in fog. We asked them to undertake this work after the Bourne End disaster, about two years ago; their consideration of the matter is now complete, and, I hope, will be in the hands of the Minister before long. I prefer to say no more at this stage, except this, that, however perfect the system, and whatever is introduced, at some stage or other a man has to push a button. It is on that vital human element in the railway system that the safety of people travelling on the lines depends. It is a great tribute to the very high sense of responsibility and duty of our railwaymen that the degree of safety of British railways is still extremely high.
I was very interested indeed to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Burslem (Mr. Edward Davies) speaking about the use of other means of transport this winter. We hope to use road transport to carry a considerable quantity of coal—several thousand tons a week. I have made inquiries about carrying by canals, but I fear there will not be much chance of this this winter. On the long-term basis, I am attracted by the proposition of carrying more on our canals but, on the short-term basis, there is a shortage of barges and crews to man them, and I should be wrong to put it to the House today that there is any considerable measure of relief to be expected from carriage by this means this winter.
My hon. Friend also asked whether demurrage charges ought to be increased. I must speak warily on this matter, because it is a cause of great resentment in the industry. I believe there are considerable arrears which have not been paid, and the companies have always claimed that they cannot be expected to pay for other people's sins of commission if they hold up wagons. It is something to which we must pay close attention. Personally, I do not want to see demurrage charges at all, because they show that people are holding up wagons. I want to see the time when there will be no demurrage 2219 payable. But at the moment we are considering whether it would be necessary to increase demurrage in order to coerce the small number—and I emphasise that it is only a small number—who are not behaving in a responsible way in this matter.
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely (Major Legge-Bourke) was, I thought, broadly answered by my hon. Friend the Member for North Kensington (Mr. Rogers). In my opinion and I think that of the House there are more hon. Members on my side who are able to judge than there are on the hon. Gentleman's side. I do not understand what the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Ely really wants us to do. Does he want responsible members of the National Union of Railwaymen to go round telling people that all their promises will be met under nationalisation, or does he want them to go round saying, in the way they are doing, that they have to make up the arrears of maintenance that have not been undertaken in the war years? I am not sure which way he wants it, but we will leave that because the hon. Member for North Kensington dealt with him very fully.
§ Major Legge-Bourke
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will urge them to paint an accurate picture of the snags, and not to encourage the men to believe that all their grouses and complaints will come to an end under nationalisation.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is a figment of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's imagination. There is no one, to my knowledge, who has gone round painting that second picture. I urge him to do what he said he would do—send me details of the people walking round making these irresponsible comments; otherwise these charges are bound to go out as having substance in them when, within my knowledge and experience, they have none at all. The hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Major Bruce) was doing his duty during the Recess by seeing how he could help his constituents. Perhaps that would not appeal to the hon. Member for South Edinburgh.
§ Sir W. Darling
On the contrary, I regretted that it was necessary that he should have to look after the Ministry of Transport.
§ Mr. Callaghan
The hon. and gallant Member was trying to combine his duty to his constituency with the needs of the nation, and that seems to me to be a good thing, and a good way for the hon. and gallant Member to employ his Recess. On the subject of wagon repairs in the dockyards, we are very conscious of the potential that exists there. We had to refuse an offer which they made us a year ago because of shortage of materials for repair purposes, but recently we sent to Rosyth dockyard materials for repairs of wagons, and we are investigating now the possibility of using other dockyards for this purpose, and perhaps for the purpose of repairing locomotives. That is another possibility which I hope to look into.
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) raised the question of training and recruitment in the railway services, and touched on the past attitude of the trade unions. That attitude was dictated to a great extent by the economic conditions under which we were living. I remember that in my own trade union we passed resolutions to forego overtime in order that the jobs might be spread round a little more thinly. That was the attitude that we had in the 1930's because we got another 500 men jobs if we all said we would not work overtime. There is a vast difference between the 1930's and today. The hon. Gentleman is, in fact, congratulating the Government on having successfully carried out a policy of full employment, which enables the trade unions to lower their barriers of defence.
§ Mr. Renton
I was suggesting to the Government how, especially in regard to a nationalised industry, they could overcome the attitude produced very largely by the present shortage of labour.
§ Mr. Callaghan
That is, of course, the consequence of the full-employment policy to which I was referring.
§ Mr. Callaghan
I ought not to get on to those grounds. I have gone pretty wide already. I am willing to debate that with the hon. Gentleman at any time he likes. I think that, on the whole, this policy is preferable to what we knew in the 1930's. I do not want to get at cross purposes with the hon. Gentleman, because I agree with much he says about the necessity for improved training and 2221 recruitment methods in the railway companies. It seems to me that, in the past, we have not made the fullest use of the ability and talent that are to be found at all stages and at all levels throughout any part of our national life. I am hoping that training schemes within industry, combined with a good educational start beforehand, will enable us to make the best use of those talents.
The hon. Gentleman raised a number of other points which will have attention, as, indeed, will the points raised by other hon. Members, which I have not dealt with this afternoon. He spoke about the town of Ramsey which was not getting at the present time the deliveries it used to get. I cannot speak in detail about that particular illustration. It is true that the new methods of collection by the railway companies mean that we do not necessarily get a railway service to a particular town. What we get is a much better road service. There is a case which, I think, is being justified by events, where we make a centre for the collection of traffic at certain railheads, and which is then distributed and collected by road. Indeed, the zonal organisation is being carried out very effectively over some parts of the railway system at the present time.
Finally, I wish to say a word on the subject of nationalisation. I believe that it will present us with tremendous opportunities when we come to 1st January next. I would never subscribe to the doctrine that the only purpose of nationalisation is increased efficiency. I believe that, in the long run, increased efficiency is bound to result from the nationalisation of the transport system of this country. But that is not the only reason for socialising industry. We socialise industry in order that we may do what the hon. Member for Huntingdon suggested—make the fullest use of the talents of the people employed in it. My right hon. Friend the Minister asked the railway companies and the unions to set up a special consultative machinery for dealing with their difficulties during the next few months. If I may, I will quote from the circular that was issued on the subject. It said:Subjects for discussions at meetings. It is suggested from the Companies' side, and irrespective of the questions that may be raised by the representatives of the staff, that the 2222 general subject of discussion should be the difficulties under which the companies are operating, with explanations of companies' officers as to the contributory factors, and suggestions as to the remedies to be applied, with indications as to the directions in which the staff can be of particular assistance in bringing about improvement.That is the beginning of my conception of what can happen under a socialised system where we bring into force the whole of the talents and experience of the man on the job in order to assist him. He is a stupid and shortsighted manager these days who does not make the fullest use of the ability which is reposing in the ranks of the people actually doing the work.
I want to say of this nationalised industry that it is going to become very much more a public service than it has been in the past. It will have a spirit pervading it which will enable everybody, at whatever level, to contribute the best he can to it. But that can only be done if the machinery is fully worked and if it is properly worked by both the trade union representatives and those on the managerial side. I think it is one of our important tasks to see that that is carried out.
That is a brief survey of the situation in which we are at the moment. On the longer term problems, I have not had much time to dilate this afternoon and I prefer not to do so. I believe that we are going to get through the winter. What I am equally certain about is that we shall need to strain every effort if we are to get through, but, from what I have seen of the leaders of the industry and of the trade unions I believe that the support will be forthcoming. From my experience at the Ministry during the month that I have been there, they are clearly transport men first, and politicians second. Whatever they think about the Nationalisation Act, the fact remains that they still believe the railways have to run, and run with the most efficiency they can get. If that spirit pervades this industry, as it pervades many other parts of industry, I have not much doubt about the future of Britain.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Five Minutes to Four o'Clock.