§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ The Chairman of Ways and Means (Major Milner)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
On a point of Order. As this is the first Private Bill discussed in this House and brought forward on behalf of a nationalised industry, I do not know whether it would be convenient, Mr. Speaker, for you to give a Ruling as to the permissible scope of the Debate.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am obliged to the hon. Member for having given me notice. I can say that this is a general purpose Bill, and, in view of the position of the British Transport Commission, the Ruling of Mr. Speaker Fitzroy on 24th February, 1938, is no longer in force. The Debate, therefore, can extend beyond the contents of the Bill, though it must remain related to its purpose and not traverse the constitution and powers of the Commission, which have already been settled by Parliament.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I understand that Ruling to mean that it will be permissible, if hon. Members so desire, to raise matters concerning the administration of the Commission, for example, on such subjects as fares, the operation of particular lines and so on.
§ Mr. Speaker
I should have thought that one could not challenge the decision of the House that the railways were to be nationalised, as that has been decided, but matters of fares, administration and everything else in this Bill would, I think, be in Order. Beyond that, such matters as road transport, which is not connected with this Bill at all, would not be in Order.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
On a point of Order. On that question of fares, may I submit for your consideration, Mr. Speaker, the Transport Act, under which the Commission are directed with regard to any matters which relate to fares, to prepare a charges scheme within two years, unless it is otherwise postponed by order of the Minister, and submit it to the Charges Tribunal?
§ Mr. Speaker
This is a general purposes Bill, and really covers administration. I think there can be no question about that under our Parliamentary Rules.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield)
You have just stated, Mr. Speaker, that road transport was excluded from this discussion, but I think that, if you look up the Bill, you will see certain provisions regarding depots, bus garages and the conversion of trams to trolley buses and so on, all of which relate to road transport.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
In the light of the Ruling which you have just given, Mr. Speaker, the remarks which I desire to address on this Bill will fall into two parts. The first part will relate to specific Clauses of the Bill which it seems to me should have the attention of this House directed to them at this moment in order that the Select Committee to which the Bill will ultimately go shall have its attention drawn in advance to possibly objectionable Clauses. The second part consists of certain observations which I desire to make on the more general 1767 aspects of the Commission's work. Perhaps I may be allowed—and I know that the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate this—to express satisfaction that it may be possible to discuss on the Floor of the House certain matters which the right hon. Gentleman has not so far shown undue precipitancy in bringing before the House.
As regards specific Clauses, they are not, with one or two exceptions, matters of major principle, but yet they are matters which I think should have attention directed to them. It is important that this procedure should be followed in this case, because, from the very nature of the body promoting the Bill, a national, universal monopoly under a nationalised corporation, any powers that it seeks are, in the nature of things, far more important than those sought in the past by railway companies which covered only part of the country, and which were, in many other respects, less dangerous bodies than the enormous monopoly promoting this Bill.
The first Clause to which I will call attention is Clause 5. This provides for certain works, and the particular works which I have in mind are those specified as "Work No. 1"—the widening of the District Railway. Hon. Members who have the misfortune to travel regularly on that line, and particularly on its central portion, know that travelling conditions in the rush hours are considerably above capacity, and that the amount of discomfort and injury to health suffered twice daily in London by millions of people proceeding to and fro is a very serious factor indeed.
As I understand it, this proposal is for a widening of this railway for only 1,600 yards in the Borough of Ealing; that is to say, well out from the centre of London; and it seems to me that the mere widening of the track in some of the outer sections of the railway cannot but have as its short-term effect an increase of congestion in central London. If the object is to have more trains on the outer part of the line, there must be fewer in proportion on the already overcrowded lines of central London. That is a very serious matter for all hon. Members concerned with London constituencies, and it would seem likely to tend to accentuate what is indeed the most dismal farce in the whole of London's 1768 transport—the interaction of the Inner Circle line upon the District Railway.
The Inner Circle may be described as the last remaining piece of medieval London, and this line, which intersects the District Line slightly to the west of Gloucester Road Station, does impose probably more strain on the temper and blood vessels of its passengers than any other line in the London area. The complete uncertainty of its timetables, the prolonged and apparently inexplicable delays in which they indulge, for example, under the dreaming spires of South Kensington, are matters which do arouse the exasperation of a very large number of our fellow citizens, and cost the country in man-hours of work an impressive total every year and add unlimited injury to health. If it is the intention of these provisions to effect some improvement in conditions on this line, we would welcome it, but I do not think it should be thought that the mere widening of 1,600 yards of track alone is anything more than a palliative which may lead to a worsening of the situation.
I should like to hear from the Minister whether the Transport Commission are aware of the appalling conditions of travel upon these lines and what steps are being taken to improve them. One step which could be taken without any construction being done, and which would greatly improve conditions of travel, would be effected if the local staff at the stations could be informed of the position of oncoming trains and be instructed to inform passengers. At High Street, Kensington, no one ever has the faintest idea when the next Inner Circle train will come or when it will leave, and therefore, intending passengers with engagements to keep are left in the exasperating position of not having the faintest idea whether they can keep their engagements or not. The technique of informing the public of the position of the trains would greatly ease the situation.
The other matter which I have vainly tried to raise with the Minister on many occasions is that, certainly at High Street, Kensington and other stations, completely inaccurate forecasts of the direction of the next train regularly appear on the indicator. One is informed that an Inner Circle train is coming in, but a train travelling in the opposite direction, probably to Putney, makes its unwelcome 1769 appearance. As the result of bad administration this merely increases personal inconvenience. I hope we are going to be able to persuade this colossal transport monopoly to take vigorous steps to improve the position. With regard to further specific Clauses—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman knows too much about transport to believe that London Transport was in the hands of unrestricted private enterprise for many years before the war. He knows perfectly well that was not so. Therefore, I do not understand the purpose of his intervention.
Among the small points on the Bill which I think will merit the attention of the Committee is, for example, Clause 9 which provides that the Commission shall not be compelled when they rebuild two road bridges over the track to rebuild them any wider than they are at present. So far, so good, but there is no comparable provision that they shall not rebuild them more narrowly. It seems, in the interests of the public, that if the Commission are free from obligation to build a bigger bridge, they should also be under an obligation to build one which is not any smaller.
A point of considerable importance is that throughout the Bill provision is made for the Commission to take the land underneath rights of way or paths which are stopped up under the Bill without payment of any compensation of any sort to anybody. It is well known, of course, that the rights of the landowner remain even underneath the highway, and the old doctrine of law was that the property in the land went down in a somewhat triangular shape to the centre of the earth. There does not seem to be any particular reason why the Transport Commission should help themselves to this land without paying any compensation to anybody. That seems a point which is highly material.
In passing, it is worthy of note that there are two provisions in the Bill for the increasing of charges to the public. The first is for an increase of dock charges at Hull. We may possibly be given the reason for that. Then there is a very unfortunate provision in a later Clause that the Transport Commission 1770 shall increase the charge it makes to the Metropolitan Water Board for water. In view of the Government's policy of asking private businesses to hold prices where they are, it seems very odd that the first private Bill promoted by the first nationalised industry to submit one includes a Clause providing for an increase in the price of a necessity of life. It, at any rate, calls for some explanation. What is perhaps curious is that the very Clause which provides for this increase provides by Subsection (2) for machinery for settling subsequent variations in price. It does not seem unreasonable to demand why that machinery could not be employed now. Why an arbitrary increase retrospective to 1st January, 1948, should be imposed by a private Bill seems to call for some explanation.
There is only one other point on the Bill itself, and that occurs in the Fourth Schedule. In the Fourth Schedule the Transport Commission are given power to use two particular sites in the Royal and ancient borough of Kingston-upon-Thames in orderTo provide an omnibus garage and depot, and to provide the same with one or more means of access …A rather similar provision is made a little more than half way down the Fourth Schedule. It so happens that both those sites adjoin a substantial residential area where there is also a very high congestion of population. The Abercrombie plan made it clear that the congestion of population in this area, hemmed in between the river and the Royal parks, was higher than perhaps in any other part of the London area It seems a little harsh that a London Transport garage together with all the noise inevitably associated with it should be dumped down close to residential property.
At any rate, it is a matter that calls for very stringent inquiry as to why this site, closer to the residences of more people than any alternative site, has been selected. I do not want to labour the point, and I understand that representations will be forthcoming at a later stage to the appropriate committee, but the matter should be referred to now. So much for the points of detail on the Bill which I readily concede to the right hon. Gentleman are matters mainly for the 1771 Select Committee, but to which its attention can perhaps profitably be drawn.
Now as to the broader matters which arise and which are matters that inevitably affect a very large part of our population. In the first place, I should like to know from the right hon. Gentleman whether the statement made by his Parliamentary Private Secretary at Slough on 17th January this year to the effect that workmen's fares might be abolished—
§ Mr. David Jones (The Hartlepools)
May I clear up that point immediately? I did not make that statement. I attempted to make it quite clear in my statement that I was speaking purely for myself, and that what I said had no relation to the Minister of Transport or to the B.T.C.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I quite understand that the hon. Gentleman made the statement purely on his own account, but I equally understand that it was made.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman must realise that his personal relationship to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Department, does invest what he says on this subject with more authority than if it were said by any other hon. Member.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman does not quite understand the difficulty which he has caused, no doubt quite unwittingly. He made it clear that he was speaking in his personal capacity, but he is, and is known to be, Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister of Transport. Obviously, therefore, he is better informed about the activities of that Department and what is under consideration in the Department than any other hon. Members, with the exception of the right hon. Gentleman himself and the Parliamentary Secretary. Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman says anything like that, it gives to the millions of people affected considerable disquiet. The fact that he has said it is a fact which causes 1772 disquiet, and, therefore, we are entitled to ask the Minister for a statement as to the position. No one is suggesting that the Minister is bound by what his Parliamentary Private Secretary says I notice the right hon. Gentleman's obvious relief at that. What we are suggesting is that, as a result of his Parliamentary Private Secretary's speech, there is now considerable disquiet in the matter which could perfectly easily be allayed by a statement from the right hon. Gentleman.
Then there is the rather interlocked subject of half fares for children. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House have been pressing the right hon. Gentleman to consider raising the age for half fares from 14 to 15. It is quite obvious that 14 was originally selected as coinciding with the school age. The school age has now been raised, and there would appear to be some logical case for raising the half fare age to 15 because, in the nature of things, persons compulsorily at school are not in a position to earn money as easily as if they were over school age. Perhaps on this subject of fares we could hear a little from the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, on the subject of fares I think we are entitled to an even broader statement. Hon Members who have studied this matter know that the general financial position of the railways, despite recent severe increases in fares, is far from satisfactory.
There is good reason to believe that the increased earnings expected from the increase of fares are not being realised because of the decline of traffic. I think I am entitled to remind the right hon. Gentleman that he was warned of this very matter as long ago as 26th June, 1946, when I moved a Motion to annul a Statutory Instrument under which fares were raised. As will be seen in column 1449 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of that day, I urged on the right hon. Gentleman that it was not a wise move to deal with falling revenue by raising charges, as the inevitable consequence would be a substantial decline in traffic and, therefore, he would not get the extra revenue he expected I urged that on the right hon. Gentleman over two-and-a-half years ago and I think that, now that exactly what I and other hon. Members forecast seems to be coming about, we are entitled to remind the right hon. Gentleman, not merely for the satisfaction of saying that we were 1773 right but from the far more important point of view of trying to make him realise that it is a very dangerous policy to pursue. At any rate, we have some right to press this question on the right hon. Gentleman.
When the Transport Commission, for the particular benefit of the railways, comes forward with a request for all sort of powers for all sort of works, it is surely right that this House should insist upon being informed of the financial position and prospects of the Commission, the more so as we have every reason to believe its position is far from satisfactory. The unsatisfactory nature of its position is, of course, accentuated by the fact that large and substantial wage claims are still in issue. So far as is known, that matter has not been resolved at all, but if the unions are successful in their claim of course the financial position will become even more acute. These points are of great concern to hon. Members, as representatives of our constituents who, after all, are ultimately the owners of these railways.
There is a form of extravagance by the railways which we are entitled to urge is quite inappropriate at this moment and I refer, in particular, to the fantastic waste of money involved in certain of the advertising in which the Railways Executive indulges. I hold in my hand one specimen which includes a very nice little picture, which might well have been drawn by a child of six, of a railway train and wagons underneath which appears these words:Raw materials, finished products, the food you eat, the clothes you wear—so many requirements of everyday life—depend largely on rail transport.Underneath are the words:British Railways linking supply with demand.The sentiments of that advertisement are, no doubt, admirable, but what is their particular relevance to the financial or other interests of British Railways? Is it really suggested that one person reading this statement, "British Railways linking supply with demand" goes and buys a railway ticket and travels somewhere?
It is quite clear that these advertisements, which all hon. Members have seen, are simply a waste of money. At any rate, since the nationalisation of the railways 1774 they serve no useful economic purpose at all. If the financial position of the railways were so much better, if the right hon. Gentleman were able to assure us of large surpluses, we might not take up the matter so much, but at a time when we know the position is the exact reverse, when we know how bad it is, I think we are entitled to urge that foolish extravagances of this sort should be brought to a standstill. If this House is to give further powers to the Transport Commission I think it is entitled, at the same time, to insist that the Commission uses its existing powers with more prudence, more wisdom and more economy and to insist that a little less of this kind of thing would be more appropriate to the Commission's financial position and to that of the nation.
There is the further question of staff. The right hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that, notwithstanding the fall in traffic, there has been quite a substantial increase in staff. The figures which I have of the staff at the beginning of the year were 782,295 and the latest figures, towards the end of last year, show that they had risen to 807,824. That is a substantial increase in staff at a time when actual traffic is declining, and one is left to speculate whether that increase is not due to the tendencies we have seen at work in other nationalised industries, the tendencies for overgrown headquarters staffs to be superimposed upon the operating personnel. The right hon. Gentleman may be able to explain where these increases are. If they are increases which directly serve the public, there will no doubt be an excellent case for them, but when they coincide, as I have said, with falling traffic, one is left wondering whether a little more of this administrative empire building with which hon. Members are so familiar in other nationalised industries is not taking place in this sphere. At any rate, we are left in some doubt on this matter.
I have no doubt that many hon. Members have points affecting railways administration which they desire to raise, because I suppose there is hardly any subject which more directly affects more of one's constituents than this subject. Perhaps I may close by saying that a very large number of my constituents travel daily on grossly overcrowded railways to and from their work. They 1775 have endured that during the war and subsequently because they have believed that everything possible was being done to improve the position; but they are becoming a little impatient when they see no improvement in the appalling conditions in which they have to travel to work. They are beginning to wonder whether the Transport Commission has really applied its mind and its resources to a practical solution of the admittedly grave problem of moving many millions of people in and out of London during every morning and every evening. We should welcome it if the right hon. Gentleman would take the opportunity to explain to them and to many others that everything possible is being done. If we could be told of concrete steps which are being taken to improve the old Southern Railway lines running, in particular, into Waterloo we should welcome that, as no doubt other hon. Members would welcome statements of other improvements affecting their constituents.
I have taken advantage of the opportunity which the presentation of this Bill has offered to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman that in the public mind all is not well with the Railway Executive, that the public are not satisfied with the services they are getting and that if the Commission is to obtain further powers from Parliament or to retain any degree of public confidence drastic improvements will have to be effected in the immediate future.
§ 7.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies (Enfield)
I welcome, and I am sure the House will welcome, your Ruling, Sir, on the Debate which is to take place on this Bill because, as hon. Members are only too well aware, we are finding it rather difficult to raise on the Floor of this House matters relating to the nationalised industries. On this occasion the precedent has been set whereby, when the various boards or commissions present their private Bills to Parliament, we may have a general discussion within the ambit of the Bill on the nationalised industry, and I am sure that will be very welcome.
I felt, however, that the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) did not take full advantage of the opportunity, for he raised mainly a number of rather minor points, 1776 such as, for instance, advertising. I felt that he might have been able to go a little further than he did. But he did bring in, on the one hand, the whole question of fares and, on the other hand, the question of the rush-hour traffic in and around London. I think I should be correct in pointing out to him the reason why there are no further powers in this Bill in connection with the improvement of the British Transport Commission's system in and around London. Many of the powers for the extension of the tubes and for further capital works are already in the hands of the Commission. If the hon. Member turns to the last schedule in the Bill, the Fifth Schedule, I think he will find that the extension of many of these orders is to enable these further works to be undertaken within the time limit which is set down, which in some cases is December, 1952, and in other cases 1955.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I have looked into the matter, and I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman's interpretation of the Schedule, but I think he has overlooked the fact that certain specific powers with respect to the London area are set out in Clause 5.
§ Mr. Davies
Yes, but the fact remains that powers do rest in the Commission at the present time.
The problem of traffic in and out of London daily, and in particular at rush hours, is one which is concerning the metropolis very much at present. We recently had a Debate on the Adjournment regarding the area of North London. We were then informed by the Parliamentary Secretary that a working party had been set up by the Transport Commission and that the working party had produced a report. I understand that this is now in the hands of the Ministry of Transport.
It would be very welcome to all Members representing London constituencies, and Greater London constituencies in particular, if the findings of the working party regarding the proposals for the extension or improvement of railway facilities in and around London were published. It seems to me that it is very desirable that if proposals regarding the solution of the problem of London traffic are made, those proposals should be available for discussion by the public 1777 who are so concerned and by hon. Members of this House. I ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary if, in reply, he will indicate to us whether there is a likelihood of the proposals of the working party being published in the near future.
The question of fares, in my view, is very closely related to the solution of this problem. What concerns me most at the moment regarding the British Transport Commission and the nationalised transport system generally is the loss of traffic to the railways as a result of the sharp increase in fares which took place at the end of 1947. If one looks at the very useful transport statistics which are published monthly by the British Transport Commission, one cannot help experiencing considerable concern at the trend of traffic at the moment. For instance, one finds that during the year ended 31st December last, there was a fall of over 7 per cent. in the number of journeys on the lines of the old four mainline companies, that is, on railways of the British Transport Commission. The total journeys were 928 million, which were 71 million journeys fewer than in the previous year.
It is true that by following the progressive policy of re-introducing excursions and cheap fares the Transport Commission has succeeded in attracting to the railways a very large number of passengers who might otherwise not have travelled. There was a very large increase in the numbers who were availing themselves of the excursion, weekend and cheap day tickets. In fact, the increase was something in the nature of 138 per cent. Unfortunately, however successful was the policy of introducing these excursions, the fact remains that during the year there has been a steady fall in the number of persons using the railways, and in particular those using season tickets. The fall in the case of season tickets was in the nature of 15½ per cent. It is here, I think, that the railways have to go out to get back the traffic to the railways which is being lost to them.
People who formerly held season tickets are those who travel to work daily, and they must continue to travel to work daily. If they are no longer travelling by rail by the use of season tickets they are using other forms of transport—they still go to work daily. Because the cost 1778 of rail travel has increased and is so high today, people are turning to cheaper forms of transport even where cheaper forms are less comfortable, take longer and entail queueing.
We see that around London in particular, because we are more acquainted with it during the week. I know perfectly well that, so far as my constituency of Enfield is concerned, a very large number of people who used to travel by the Enfield Town to Liverpool Street line are now travelling by tube and trolley-bus or by trolley-bus all the way. That takes far longer, but the road transport fares are almost half the rail fares. It makes a considerable difference to a worker's weekly budget if he is able to save half the cost of his travel.
What is happening in relation to daily travel, which is represented by the normal season ticket travel, is also happening in the country so far as bus and coach journeys are concerned. There is no question but that the normal family man today cannot afford to make long-distance travel by train. If he wants to take his wife and family away for a holiday, it is quite impossible for him to take them any distance by rail because the cost is far too great. The consequence is that they go by coach when coaches are available. One can easily quote cases where the cost by coach is half the cost by rail. In other words, two can travel by coach as against one by rail. It is known to me that the coaches from certain urban areas to London and to seaside resorts are already fully booked up for July and August. In other words, if one goes now to a coach station and endeavours to book tickets to take one's family away in July, the places on the coach are not available. The reason is that more and more people are travelling by road because of the high cost of railway fares.
Having made that criticism, I want to suggest a solution of the problem. The solution is not that which has been suggested in some quarters, and which is unfairly and unjustifiably thrown across to us from opposite Benches on occasion. It is not to increase coach or bus fares. The solution is to bring railway fares down to a level which will re-attract the people on to the railways. It can be done by the use of a little 1779 imagination on the part of the British Transport Commission. For instance, on this question of holiday travel, would it not be possible to introduce some scheme whereby a family ticket would be available for the family going away on holiday? There are many cases in which these cheap fare, excursion and special ticket facilities can be extended.
The excursions at present are circumscribed by far too many restrictions. If a person takes a return bus ticket he can use that return ticket whenever he wishes. With an excursion ticket on the railway one has to travel at a certain time and return at a certain time, and if it is a cheap day ticket one cannot travel between certain hours. All these restrictions which circumscribe the issue of cheap fares and excursions are preventing full advantage being taken of them. As I say, I think a careful study of this position and the use of imagination by the British Transport Commission could lead to some alleviation of the hardship from which the average family in this country is suffering because of the high railway fares. There are several ways in which traffic can be attracted back. The chief way is to increase progressively the cheap fare facilities and to remove the restrictions on them. The second way is to reduce the cost to the daily traveller to work.
People who go to work daily must be catered for by enabling them to travel more cheaply than they do at the present time. As long as railway fares remain at their present levels and cheaper facilities are available, people will use those cheaper facilities. I suggest that the Commission carefully consider workmen's fares. There is an anomaly in existence whereby a person who is working upon the early morning shift can travel before 8 a.m. at workmen's fare, but if he is on a later shift he has to pay the full fare. There is no logic or justification whatsoever for that situation. I suggest that an effort should be made to reduce the general level of fares to all people who travel to work daily. The rates of weekly season tickets should be reduced to a point certainly not more than only a little higher than workmen's fares. Only by reducing the cost of the weekly ticket shall we get the regular traveller back to the railways 1780 and thereby use the facilities which are there rather than uneconomically increase road facilities and the use of petrol for which we have to pay dollars.
My reason for putting these suggestions forward is not only in relation to the question whether the railways will or will not pay. That is not the important test. We have today facilities for economic transport in this country. There is capital investment in the railways, and the rolling stock and facilities are there. We all see trains which are only partially filled and we see at the same time queues waiting for buses, trams and trolley buses. We see congestion in the coaches, and so forth. If by adjusting railway fares we were able to attract people to the most economical form of transport, we would be taking advantage of nationalisation and bringing relief to the people who suffer from the discomfort and congestion of road traffic. The ultimate solution to congestion, particularly around London, is electrification and capital development, but that is a long-term solution.
I should like to refer to the loss not only of passengers to the railways but also of goods and freight traffic. Here, again, the problem is one of high charges. Those charges increased during 1947 and there has again been a drift from the railways to the roads. The main cause of that is not any longer a shortage of wagons or facilities, but that the roads offer goods transport more cheaply than railways at the present time, as was the case before the war. One of the indications is the very great increase which has taken place in the issue of "C" licences. That is a matter to which the Minister should give his most serious attention. Hon. Members will be aware of the figures published from time to time, but I should like to remind them of the fact that there has been nearly a doubling of the number of "C" licences issued since 1938. In 1938, the number was 365,000. By 1946, just after the war, it had increased only to 410,000. By 1947, the increase was to 487,000. By March, 1948, the figure was up to 504,000, and last November the number of "C" licences was 593,000. The total increase, therefore, over prewar was 228,000.
One can readily imagine the amount of traffic which those vehicles are carrying 1781 and which might be more economically carried on the railways. It is true that a very large number of those vehicles are engaged in the retail trade, with which no one would wish to interfere, and that there was a certain increase due to the ability to get red petrol for a time with these vehicles. Even if those figures be deducted, the fact remains that there is a very large increase in the number of "C" licences on the roads. At the time of the Transport Bill we had a considerable discussion on the matter whether "C" licences should be brought in. In the end it was decided that they should not be brought in. I thought it was a mistake then, and I still think it was a great mistake. It will be one of the biggest handicaps of the British Transport Commission in getting economic traffic to the railways which the railways are able to carry. One supports the Bill, of course, and hopes that the Transport Commission is taking account of the very serious factors with which it is concerned, the first of which is the loss of passenger traffic from the railways to the roads.
We should like to know from the Minister whether he is prepared to tell us tonight what the British Transport Commission is doing and what it is proposing to do to meet the gradual increase of road traffic and the decrease of rail traffic. The second factor is the high charges which the railways make on both passenger and goods traffic. What is the position of the charges scheme which, under the Act, has to be drawn up? Is it possible for interim schemes to be made and interim action to be taken? We have been told by the Chairman of the Transport Commission in a speech that it will take more than the two years which the Road Act requires for the formulation of charges schemes. If it is going to take more than two years I do not think the public can wait those two years before some action is taken. I do not think that the Transport Commission can wait for two years before action is taken, because the position will worsen if no action is taken. I suggest the possibility of making interim charges schemes for particular types of traffic, passengers in certain categories and possibly for goods. There can thus be consideration given to the difficulties which the railways face at the present time.
Finally, I ask the Minister whether he will be in a position tonight to give 1782 us an indication of the policy of the Transport Commission regarding the acquisition of road transport, and particularly of road passenger transport. We are very much concerned on this side of the House at the high cost of acquisition of certain of the large bus companies. We have been concerned at the very high price which it was found necessary to pay to Thomas Tilling, and at the very high price it was found necessary to pay to Scottish Motor Traction. So far as I can make out, the maximum price which would have had to be paid under the Bill had these concerns been compulsorily acquired was paid by the Transport Commission. It works out, so far as I can gather from the figures published, at about seven years' purchase of the assets value, and that is the maximum which is allowed under the Act.
Is it proposed that the Transport Commission should continue to acquire road passenger concerns by negotiation, and to pay these high prices in order to bring within its ambit all road passenger transport? When it has done so, if it has paid excessive prices it will have to charge more for road transport. If fares go up, it will be because of the greed of the companies that hon. Members opposite are inclined to support, and not because of nationalisation. Be that as it may, I ask the Minister whether it would not be cheaper in the long run for the Transport Commission to formulate the passenger area schemes provided for in the Act, and then under the Act to enter into working arrangements and acquire compulsorily under those schemes, rather than to proceed by way of negotiation as at present, which is resulting in the payment of unnecessary prices for the acquisition of road transport concerns.
One welcomes the opportunity provided by this Bill for raising important matters concerning the Transport Commission, and one trusts that the Transport Commission will take into account the views expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House tonight, and that we shall be given some indication of the policy of the Commission regarding the matters raised.
§ 7.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Erroll (Altrincham and Sale)
It is indeed a happy opportunity that we have tonight to discuss the working of the nationalised railway system of this 1783 country, but before proceeding to more general questions I wish to follow the example set by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and refer to a certain matter of detail in the Bill itself; and that is Clause 37, whereby the Transport Commission proposes to take over the Holyhead harbour which was previously owned by the old London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company. I hope that before the Select Committee gives the Transport Commission this Clause, it will extract an assurance from the Commission that it will undertake to improve the facilities at this harbour. They are little short of disgraceful. The passengers on the Irish night mail arrive inevitably at an awkward hour—about 2.0 a.m.—and during the winter have to stand for considerable periods exposed to the strong gales and winds that blow in the Irish Sea at that time of year. The cover and protection from the elements is quite inadequate, and the passengers are treated like so many Irish cattle going in the opposite direction—
§ Mr. Erroll
—herded through gangways and treated in a most peremptory manner. In answer to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. C. Poole), I would point out that conditions are very much worse now than before the war.
§ Mr. Erroll
Obviously, the hon. Member has not travelled to Ireland recently or he would realise that the "impossible" has become an actual fact. The conditions are certainly very much worse.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Heston and Isleworth)
Can the hon. Gentleman say whether there was more covered accommodation on the dockside before the war than there is now?
§ Mr. Erroll
No, but I was not here then to protest. I should have done so had I been here. I am sure the hon. Member would not be so complacent as to expect a pre- 1784 war standard for all time. I am urging that, now that we have a nationalised undertaking, we should have some improvements. Let us have something for all the waste that is taking place while nationalisation is going on. And let us have some efficiency during the summer months. Despite the introduction of sailing tickets to prevent undue congestion at Holyhead, on a number of occasions something seems to go wrong. Either too many trains arrive or there are not enough ships to take away the passengers waiting at Holyhead, or on the return journey too many ships arrive in the harbour and there are not enough trains. At the height of the holiday season it is not an uncommon occurrence for large numbers of passengers to be stranded in the comparatively small town of Holy-head, unable to get any form of rest, food, or accommodation.
That is a state of affairs which is quite intolerable when the system of sailing tickets has been introduced. I could understand that if anybody could get on a train he might have to take pot luck when he got to the harbour, but in actual fact the arrangements are strictly controlled—or they are supposed to be—during the peak periods in the summer. In actual fact, mistakes arise because of inefficient management, or insufficient arrangements of some sort. The Railway Hotel at Holyhead, too, is remarkable for lack of courtesy and tact in dealing with stranded passengers. I hope the Select Committee will be quite stern in this matter before passing Clause 37.
I now wish to turn to several general aspects of railway affairs at the present time. I think that on the passenger side the greatest single cause for complaint today is lack of punctuality. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members opposite will have an opportunity to state their points of view later on. This lack of punctuality still persists. I know there has been an improvement. There is plenty of room for improvement. Everything else has improved since the war, and the improvements have been most striking in the field of private enterprise. Improvements have lagged behind most in the nationalised undertakings, of which the railway system is one. Hence my complaint. Were everything still bad today, still at the necessarily austere war time standards, it would be understandable; 1785 but the railways seem to lag behind in this matter of improvement quite unnecessarily.
We know that on many lines there are restrictions due to works being undertaken—works, for example, which are enumerated in this Bill, works which are to go on for several years. However, no attempt is made by the railways to modify the publicly issued timetables to take into account the delays which must inevitably result. There is a completely complacent attitude of mind which simply says, "Well, the trains run late so often that the travelling public knows they do not run to time. So why bother?" That reveals a faulty mental approach to the whole matter. The railways receive a tremendous amount of credit if ever a train arrives a few minutes early. Why not modify the time tables so that there is a reasonable chance that all the trains arrive on time? If, occasionally, they arrive early, it will be a tremendous boon for the poor, unfortunate passenger.
For people who are busy today nothing is more frustrating than to find the trains running behind advertised times of arrival. I know there are difficulties, but difficulties are there to be overcome. I do not think the railways are showing nearly enough disposition to overcome difficulties of management, difficulties of equipment and difficulties of personnel which are common to all engaged in industry and other activities at the present time. Much more could be done than is being done to ensure punctual time keeping. It is my misfortune to travel regularly on the main line between London and Manchester. In the three and a half years that I have been doing that since the war, I have arrived at my destination punctually only twice—and I have made the journey more than a hundred times. Admittedly the delay is sometimes only a matter of a few minutes, but often it has been well over an hour, and that is quite unjustifiable today, three-and-a-half years after the war is over. The trains on a single day vary considerably. The 12.15 from Euston to Manchester will arrive 12 minutes late, and the 6 o'clock train on the same line will be one-and-a-quarter hours late. No explanation is given and no attempt is made to alleviate the inconvenience caused to the travelling public, with taxis and cars waiting and wives waiting at the station unable to get any information 1786 even as to the extent of the delay so that they could go away and come back again. The station staff is quite indifferent to the fate of the passengers.
Only a few weeks ago, a friend of mine had the experience of travelling from North to South on this line. His train, which was due to arrive at Stockport at 12.20 a.m., did not come into Stockport station until after 3 o'clock in the morning, and no facilities were given to the passengers stranded in the middle of the night. No explanation was offered and no one took the trouble to phone through to London Road Station to find out what had gone wrong. As my hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Lieut.-Colonel Bromley-Davenport), who shares these agonies with me, says, "Nobody cares." That should be the motto of the British Railways—"Nobody cares." That is one of the reasons why traffic is declining on the railways and going over to the buses, where there is an element of courtesy and a desire to please, and conditions are reasonably efficient.
One has to put up with lack of amenities which would not be tolerated by the shop stewards in any engineering workshop under private enterprise. To quote one detail, the passenger lavatories at Euston are far worse than the lavatories that would be tolerated in a large engineering works today. There is no justification for such squalor at a main line station, nor is there in the region of that particular station any great shortage of suitable staff to maintain these conveniences in a proper and fit state. The trouble is that the railway management have got into a complacent frame of mind and are prepared to let the passengers "lump it." Hon. Members may regard that as a detail; but why does the roof still leak at Euston station, and why has one to pick one's way between puddles when it is raining when one goes to catch a train there? When one goes to Harrod's, one does not expect to find the roof leaking, but when one goes by British Railways one can easily expect and get the very worst.
It would be possible to make a lot of easy points about the standard of railway refreshments. I know that the railways have their difficulties. They have had difficulties, as an hon. Member pointed out, for the last 50 years. I think that it is only fair before proceeding to 1787 my strictures to pay a tribute to the remarkable courtesy of the uniformed staffs of the refreshment cars on the railways. I think that they do their best under very difficult and extremely wobbly conditions.
A particular matter to which I should like to draw attention is the growing habit of the uniformed railway staff to make use of the passenger refreshment facilities at the principal stations. I think that it is a very bad sign to see the uniformed railway staff drinking, whether on duty or in the break, alcoholic beverages in the passengers' refreshment rooms. It is not that I am against alcoholic refreshment, but there is a place and a time for all these things. It looks very bad when one sees the uniformed staff drinking in railway stations. It may be quite innocent and perfectly in order, but among members of the public who have mentioned this to me there is undoubtedly an apprehension growing up that when these members of the staff resume their duties they may not be any the better for their indulgence. I am sure that it would not be appreciated if bus drivers, for example, were to be found drinking a few pints of beer before driving their buses out of Victoria Coach Station.
I have been in correspondence on this matter, and I am told that it is a regulation of the railway executive that uniformed staff do not take alcoholic drinks during working hours. Is that a regulation which is observed except in the breach? What is wrong with their own staff facilities? It is significant that the railway staff at Waterloo may use the passenger facilities but the passengers are not allowed to use the staff facilities, which, I understand, are rather better. That is part of the new order—the new paradise which is undoubtedly being formulated.
I wish to turn next to the general problem of fares which, of course, is not an easy one to resolve, as the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) has mentioned. It is a very striking thing that the Socialists never thought of this particular point, namely, that when they raised the fares there would come a time when the customers would simply desist from consuming, and that state of affairs is approaching. It is easy to write in the 1788 Nationalisation Acts that accounts must balance, taking one year with another.
If there is not enough money coming in, then put up the fares and that will achieve a balance. But to desist from consuming is something new which the Socialists have to learn, and it looks as if they are going to learn it not only on the railways but in connection with several of their other nationalised undertakings as well. The fact is that fares are higher than people are prepared to pay. Whether the people are going to return to the railways when the fares are lower is problematical. Many people prefer the more intimate and more pleasant method of travelling by coach, and they do not want to be driven back to the railways, even though they were induced to do so by cheaper fares on the railways and dearer fares on the coaches.
Reference has been made to the queues in London, but I assure hon. Members that the queues for buses in Manchester are far longer and worse than anything to be seen in the South. I am sure that arises from the London Passenger Transport Board having some sort of unwritten priority for new buses released for the home market. It is high time that the North of England had its share of the new buses. There is tremendous congestion in the rush hours in the North of England, particularly in Manchester.
There is in the Manchester area a small electric railway running between Manchester and Altrincham, and there is a particularly grievous form of anomaly which I hope that the Commission will seek at an early stage to remove. On the Manchester, Altrincham and South Junction Electric Railway there are cheap fares for workers up to 8 o'clock in the morning. There are then cheap day fares for housewives from 9 o'clock onwards; but during the hour from 8 to 9 o'clock, the regular travellers have to pay the full monthly return rate. That is a glaring anomaly.
I know that the whole rate structure which the new Executive has inherited is full of anomalies, and I know they are trying to rectify those anomalies, but it strikes me as a funny way of doing it by creating worse anomalies whereby the white-collared workers, mostly travelling between 8 and 9, have to pay far more for their necessary daily travelling than 1789 any other class of workers. Particularly is it unfair when one realises how much the wage structure has changed in the last decade, when it is usually the manual workers who today are in receipt of bigger earnings than the white-collared workers. I am not talking of wage rates but of earnings.
The hon. Member for Enfield also referred to workmen's tickets out of hours. There is another injustice which I would like to point out and which ought to be rectified. There is some arrangement, I understand, whereby tickets at workmen's rates out of workmen's rate hours can be obtained, particularly for evening shifts as a result of the need for staggering working hours, by the production of a certificate from the employer. But that certificate must state that the man is a manual worker; he has to be a worker in the strict old-fashioned sense of the word. That seems a very unfair discrimination against another group of men: namely, the clerks, draughtsmen, and all the others, whose work is just as essential to Britain as anybody else's and who in many cases receive lower rates of pay.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
I do not want to make the position worse than it is, but I think the hon. Gentleman will agree that there is an arrangement for allowing workmen's fares to shift workers only when their hours are staggered officially in connection with the electricity scheme.
§ Mr. Erroll
The broad injustice remains; but there is an injustice within the injustice, and I thought that point would be worth bringing out tonight.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
Is the hon. Member now suggesting that we should abolish all other kinds of fares and get only cheap fares or workmen's tickets?
§ Mr. Erroll
No. The particular injustice I was referring to was the injustice within the injustice: namely, the fact that workmen's fares out of hours, given in certain cases, are granted only to manual workers. If there is to be a concession it should be granted to all workers who can obtain the necessary certificate.
§ Mr. Erroll
No. I am afraid the hon. Gentleman has missed my point. He is obviously not aware of the particular concession to which I was referring.
The hon. Member for Enfield made some very interesting references to the growth of "C" licences, and I think it should be clearly understood that many people are sending their goods by road because it is more convenient. It is a question not only of cost but of convenience, and the railways cannot expect to recover a lot of that traffic for the simple reason that it is very much more convenient to send the goods from door to door and have complete control over the moment of dispatch and the moment of receipt, which can be achieved only by road transport. The railways are at present showing up particularly badly in that respect.
Delays on the railways are extreme with freight movement. I should like to mention the instance of a firm moving its plant from an old site near Liverpool to the north-east coast, near Middlesbrough. They got a quotation for the job, but it was three weeks after the dispatch of the first consignment of machinery at Liverpool before its appearance at the Middlesbrough railway sidings—and that was only after intensive inquiries had been made, during which time the railway officials admitted that they simply did not know where the trucks had got to; when they were ultimately located in the Middlesbrough sidings it was discovered that they had been there for a whole week, but the Middlesbrough station staff had done nothing about it. That sort of management just is not good enough. It is small wonder that that particular firm sent the rest of its machinery by road, although it was more expensive; because they knew they could load it on one day and it would he in Middlesbrough the following day.
The railways have to compete with the efficiency of a better method of transport for many types of activity. Unless they really do try to improve considerably their traffic will be lost for all time. Mind you, a great deal of it gets lost today: railway pilferage has become a byword; one can never be sure of getting anything through without it having been tampered with. I know that a great deal 1791 of the traffic gets through without being pilfered on the way; but the proportion which is pilfered is such that one cannot really have any feeling of security about sending something by rail. I should like to put this question to the House: Does any hon. Member feel happy about sending a trunk or a suitcase full of personal goods, unaccompanied, by rail today? The probability is that it will get through all right; but there is a very real measure of risk, and the railways must do something to reduce the pilferage which is now taking place.
Before concluding I want to make just a passing reference to engineering progress. I think that all who have noticed what has been taking place are delighted at the progressive outlook which the Railway Executive is taking about engineering matters. The swapping of locomotives to gain experience is a very happy idea which should lead to valuable results. It is, indeed, one of the results to which we are fully entitled as a result of nationalisation. Surely we are allowed to have one or two advantages from nationalisation? It has not got to be all loss; we must surely be allowed one or two gains; and I hope that some of the technical gains will bear fruit.
The danger is that what can be gained by that sort of move may be lost in an unnecessary amount of committee work. I understand that a large number of committees have been set up. Now, one does not get very far with progressive designing by means of committees. Committees may be all right for reviewing work already done, for bringing about standardisation, simplification, codifying rules, and so on. But when it is a question of designing a locomotive the designer must be given his head and allowed to get on with it. It is no good trying to get these things done by committees, and I urge the Railway Executive to cut down the number of design committees which they have at work and allow a few original thinking men to have their heads and go ahead in the right way.
With railway electrification I think we are in great danger of falling over ourselves backwards. Railway electrification of the traditional type was all right in the early 'twenties, and maybe in the 1792 'thirties; but because it is all right for dense suburban lines it does not follow by any means that a system of electrification is the right thing for a modern British railway today. Great advances have taken place in the design and development of railway motive power. I need hardly mention the diesel-electric locomotives which are being tried out today—one of the last developments of the old London, Midland and Scottish Railway; there is also the possibility of utilising gas-turbine driven locomotives, and several other projects at present only in the experimental stage. We must not be led backwards to the old ideas of railway electrification; nor must we let new developments get bogged down in a mass of detailed committee work.
The same certainly applies to signal-ling. With trains running as they are today, with the large number of accidents which have taken place recently—and by "recently" I mean in the last couple of years—it is surely time for a radical overhaul of the signalling system, because some very serious defects have been brought to light in recent accident investigations. With signalling we must look forward, and not merely review the techniques of the past.
In conclusion, I should like to refer particularly to the courtesy with which Sir Cyril Hurcomb, the head of the Commission, replies to any point we may put to him. It must be a burden for him to have to deal personally with numbers of queries on railway matters. He deals with them more promptly than perhaps the Minister would do, and perhaps more explicitly. It is only fair to pay tribute to some of the work which is of great value to us. I hope, too, that the staffs of the old railway companies will not take this Debate amiss and feel resentful at our strictures, comments and criticisms. Now that the railways are nationalised they will surely realise that Parliament is the proper place for a discussion of these great public services.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
I was at a loss in trying to follow the speech of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll). He said at one stage that nobody cares, and then went on to tell us about the progressive engineering programme of the Railway Executive.
§ Mr. Erroll
I thank the hon. Member for giving me this opportunity to clarify my remarks. I said that no one on the operational side seemed to care, but that there was quite a different approach on the engineering side.
§ Mr. Harrison
The first time I worked in the service was nearly 40 years ago, and therefore I ought to know the difference between the departments. I can assure the hon. Member that it is impossible for the Railway Executive to be progressive on the engineering side and not to care one iota about the other departments of British Railways. I think the hon. Member was exaggerating, probably unwittingly, as he will see when he comes to read HANSARD tomorrow.
I congratulate the hon. Member, however, on having drawn attention to the traditional restriction imposed on the railways by the better facilities that can be offered by road transport. That is an important factor which we must consider in relation to the future success of British Railways. I would point out to the hon. Member, when he says that no one cares, that there are nearly three-quarters of a million railwaymen in the country who are wedded to their jobs and are very concerned, not only with the present position of the railways but with the future of British Railways, because their livelihood is involved. The hon. Member referred to the law of diminishing returns, but I would remind him that at the close of the 1914–18 war, some of us in the railway service had a bitter experience on this question of the rate of fares and the amount of traffic we could attract to the railways. I can assure the hon. Member that this is not a new lesson. I entirely agree with his remarks about Holyhead. There is no doubt that, with the amount of traffic between this country and Ireland, the facilities there should be improved at the earliest opportunity beyond all recognition. At present the facilities are very elementary, uncomfortable and undesirable in every shape and form.
1794 I welcome this opportunity to discuss generally the operations of British Railways. I particularly welcome Part II of the Bill which refers to powers to make works, and that part of it which refers to the widening of the railway between Radford and Basford stations. I think we should be very unwise to oppose the provisions in this Bill which will enable the Railway Executive and the other interests under the Transport Commission to proceed with very necessary works to Improve the service generally. In regard to Clause 46, which deals with the powers of the police, as to search and arrest, I should be glad if the Minister would tell us whether this involves any additional powers for arrest on suspicion. The Transport Commission and particularly the Railway Executive, have done a really good job in steadying or stopping the rapid decline in freight and passenger traffic that was so noticeable some months ago. The introduction of cheap fares—that is the single fare return—has attracted quite a large number of passengers back to the railways. Recent improvements in regard to handling freight have also resulted in a steadying down of the decline in freight traffic. I am sure we all welcome this check to declining traffic which the Railway Executive and the Transport Commission have been able to effect.
Overcrowding in rush hours is not confined to the London area. In most of our towns and cities where large housing estates have been developed, we can see passengers standing and otherwise inconvenienced during rush hours. I suggest that the staggering of hours has failed to overcome these difficulties, but when it is possible to provide new engines and coaches at a more rapid rate than at present it will go a long way towards relieving this pressure during rush hours. It must be remembered that we have had great difficulty in providing the necessary new engines and keeping the old ones in repair. However, that difficulty will pass as the supply of raw materials improves.
The public are not satisfied with the present position and I am sure that the railwaymen are not satisfied. I am, however, sure that the co-operation of the staff will be given in any effort British Railways or the Transport Commission make to improve the railway services generally. With some knowledge of the 1795 position, I am pledging the goodwill of nearly 750,000 men and women engaged regularly in British Railways, and I make that pledge on the basis of the fact that those men and women know that the future of our railway industry is essential to their own well being.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Sir John Mellor (Sutton Coldfield)
I want to draw attention to the position of those railway pensioners who draw their pensions on a pre-war scale and who are suffering serious hardships as a result of the increase in the cost of living. I have not given specific notice to the Minister of Transport that I intended to raise this tonight but he has had general notice, not only from me but a large number of other hon. Members, that this is a burning question.
Perhaps the best introduction would be for me to read an extract from a standard form of communication of which I have sent the right hon. Gentleman a number of copies. I expect that other hon. Members have also sent him large numbers of copies which they have received from their constituents. I have received other forms of complaint but the standard form is as follows:My pension is due from"——the L.M.S. or whatever other railway is appropriate:—Railway Superannuation Fund, is on prewar scale and not adequate for present necessities of life. The Railway Executive has rejected an appeal for an increase made by a great number of pensioners. Please ask the Minister of Transport to put through Order in Council permission for a percentage increase to be granted same as civil servants, teachers, etc., under the 1944 and 1947 Acts.When the Minister received the first communication from me on this subject, he referred me to a written answer given to the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) on 14th February. The hon. Member for Moseley asked the Minister if he would:make regulations under Section 98 of the Transport Act, 1947, to provide for the revision of pensions granted under superannuation schemes by the railway and canal companies having regard to the increased cost of living since retirement took place.The reply of the Parliamentary Secretary was:No. The question of granting supplementary allowances to existing pensioners has been raised by the trades unions and by 1796 other parties with the Railway Executive, who have had to decline such applications on the grounds of cost. My right hon. Friend would not feel justified in making regulations on this subject."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 119.]This is a matter of very considerable importance and I hope that we shall receive a rather fuller reply from the Minister than my hon. Friend received from the Parliamentary Secretary on 14th February. The Railway Executive has assumed or had thrust upon it the assets and the liabilities of the former railway companies, and therefore it has assumed not only their financial but also their moral obligations. I have received a much longer letter from one of my constituents which says:I worked as a clerk for nearly 46 years with the old L. & N. W. Railway and later the L.M. & S. and retired 12 years ago at a pension of £150 p.a. and was then quite satisfied. … The galling part of it is that men retiring now in the same position as me get £75 p.a. more as they enjoyed a cost of living bonus.There ought not to be this discrimination. If men now retiring require a cost of living bonus to enable them to live decently, surely those employees of the former railway companies whose pensions are on a pre-war scale are equally entitled to that consideration?
If it had not been for the nationalisation of railways, it would have been an obligation on the former railway companies to see that those pensioners were well treated. Whether or not they would have been able to fulfil that obligation is a matter of guesswork, but now that the Government have taken over the railways, they should give full and fair treatment to those former railway employees who have been deprived of the moral claim they would have had against their former employers. They can now look only to the Railway Executive, and the Railway Executive ought not to let them down. I very much hope that I shall obtain a sympathetic and encouraging answer from the Minister.
I have two short points to make about the Clauses of the Bill. The first concerns Clause 40 which is the first Clause in Part VI. It is entitled "Crown rights" and says:Nothing in this Act affects prejudicially any estate right power privilege or exemption of the Crown.That may be an old form but I rather doubt whether it ought to be included 1797 in this or any future Bill because during the life of this Parliament we have passed the Crown Proceedings Act which was designed to place the Crown for all practical purposes at law on the same footing as the subject. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will explain why it was considered necessary to insert this Clause.
I also want to ask a question about Clause 50 which reads:As from the passing of this Act no right of way as against the Commission shall be acquired by prescription or user over any road footpath thoroughfare or place now or hereafter the property of the Commission and forming an access or approach to any station goods yard wharf garage or depot or any dock or harbour premises of the Commission.That may be a necessary and desirable Clause but it is a pretty tall order to have in a private Bill a Clause which overrides the common law in that way. For the Transport Commission to ask for power which will exclude the acquisition of any prescriptive right over its property is something which requires a very special justification from the Government Front Bench. Those are the only points which I desire to raise in this Debate, which is one of very considerable importance because it gives us the very rare opportunity of raising points on railway administration.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Walker (Rossendale)
I should not have risen but for the speech of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll). It is quite obvious that he is a very difficult person indeed, and I should imagine that he is very hard to please, especially when travelling on the British Railways. He seemed to think that everything was wrong and nothing was right. The trains were late, the stations were leaking and people got wet through while waiting for trains to come in. The conveniences were dirty, the railway servants drank beer in the refreshment rooms when they ought to be doing something else.
Those were some of the complaints that he levelled against the nationalisation of our railways. I have been advocating the nationalisation of our railways for the last 50 years. There have been some good books written about the advantages of nationalising our railway system, and it is early yet to be criticising so adversely what has happened in this 1798 great service. I imagine that when we have carried out many of the details of the Bill before us tonight they will have cost the Transport Commission a considerable amount of money. Yet they are bound to spend money for they took over the railways in a wretched and deplorable condition.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale talked about trains being late. He is not the only Member of Parliament who travels up North. The last time I travelled to Manchester I left Watford Junction just after nine o'clock in the morning. The time table scheduled the arrival of the train as one p.m., and as I got out of the carriage at London Road Station, the clock showed exactly one p.m. On Monday I came down from Oxenholme Junction by the morning train. I believe it is due at Euston somewhere about 4.30, and we arrived there at 20 minutes past four. I do not think that was bad. However we must not overlook the fact that many trains are held up at different points because of the work on the railways, such as the laying of new sleepers, lines, etc. There are a hundred and one things hindering a train in its progress on a long journey. Of course, if a person is not sympathetic to the public control of our railways, then, like the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, I imagine he can and a good deal of fault.
There are one or two things that I suggest to the Minister of Transport might be of advantage in making our railways more popular. I live in the North of England, on the road to the Lake District. In Summer I can see from my bedroom window the main road from the South towards the lakes. I see scores and scores of motor coaches travelling from Yorkshire and Lancashire into the Lake district. From the back windows of my house I can see the branch line from Oxenholme Junction to Windermere, but I do not see as many trains conveying people to the Lake District as I see coaches on the roads.
If we are to compete with road traffic, the policy we have been pursuing in the past is not correct now. If we are to popularise the railways, it is no good increasing the cost of railway travelling. When I look at this Bill and think of the money that will be spent in carrying out its provisions, and all the money that is being spent on renewals 1799 and reconstruction, and on top of that, the demand of the railway workers for increased pay, I can see that we shall have a first-class problem presented to us.
What should be the attitude to be adopted in the future? Shall we do as was done in the past and pile increased expenditure on to the travelling public? One of the most popular forms of travelling today is provided by a monthly ticket, which costs a fare and a third. That ought to be extended. It would not do the Railway Commission any harm to make it two or three months or, as the road transport people do, even six months or for an unlimited period. Why should not a monthly ticket be extended so that the holder can come back when he pleases?
Before the war we had what were called runabout tickets which were very popular. They cost 10s. and were available for a week. People who hardly ever travelled on the railways took advantage of them, especially in the Lake District. Not only did they take one almost round the Lake District, but they also gave the facility of a steamboat excursion from one end of Lake Windermere to the other. Those steamboats were never as busy in all their history as during the days of those tickets. I believe there are four or five of those steamboats on the lake. During the winter months they are laid up at Lakeside Station, and it is only in the Summer that they cater for the travelling public. Speaking as an ordinary observer, I should imagine that something could be done in the way of issuing those runabout tickets once more. I do not say that they should be issued at 10s. each; they might be 15s. or £1, but if something could be done in that direction I think that the railways would be very busy indeed.
As a keen supporter of the nationalisation of the railways, I do not like the experience I had on Monday. I travelled all the way from Preston to Euston alone in a compartment. No one else attempted to enter it. It was not the only empty compartment. I want to see our trains filled and well patronised. The only way that can be done is to stop the excessive charges that are being made and make a more reasonable charge to the travelling public. If that were done, we should popularise the railways and 1800 make them far better competitors with road traffic than they are at present. I support the Bill in order to enable the Commission to make the railways a first-class job, and to give to the general public the facility of cheap and pleasant travel from one part of the country to the other.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham, Moseley)
I feel strongly that some more generous consideration should be extended to the senior officers of the railway administration which has come under the control of His Majesty's administration. Of course all possible and convenient arrangements have been made with regard to the fixation of salaries and pensions and the promotion of the general efficiency of transport services throughout the country. However, the higher executives who have had to leave their occupations and have retired have not had the same measure of consideration.
I put a Question on the Order Paper the other day inviting the Minister—for whom I have the greatest possible respect for we have been friends in this House for a long time—to revise the pensions of higher executives of the railway services who have retired and of those who will have to retire shortly. Arrangements have been made through the Joint Whitley Council, with which I was associated for a great many years, for the fixation of salaries and remuneration. I can recall no such organisation between the Commission and those members of the higher branches of the service who have retired. Some arrangement of that kind ought to have been made.
I tried to put down a Question but the Minister, in his wisdom, has managed to elude all these questions in the House by placing the responsibility on the Commission. How delightful of him to try to avoid a lot of trouble in this House in that way. Those, however, are the ways of present-day statesmanship. I did, however, succeed in getting a Question on the Order Paper regarding pensions. The Parliamentary Secretary knows that the answer was wholly unsatisfactory and that no arrangement is being made for an increase of pension. Officers were retired from the transport and railway services many years ago after long service, but no extra consideration is given to them in spite of the increased cost of living and 1801 everything else which we all experience in these wholesome and healthful times through which we are now passing.
The Minister should give special consideration to the old servants of the railways and canals. At one time I enjoyed the highly respectable position of chairman of the National Council of Inland Waterways. I made a poor job of it, I admit, but on the whole it was a respectable position in the economic life of the country. Members of that service who retire should have some recognition by the Government in their pensions so that they will not become a burden to the taxpayers of the country. I am perfectly certain that all of us in this House would endorse any action by the Minister which would place those classes of servants, who have done so much for the community, in a position in which they would not have to appeal for the charity of their fellow citizens to maintain a standard of life commensurate with their position in our society.
I am fond of the Minister of Transport and have told him so many times, but I can never get him to see my point of view. It is a sad experience trying to get Ministers on the Front Bench to see the viewpoint of hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and myself, who are always sensible in our views. I appeal to the Minister not to fob me off by saying that all these questions must be dealt with by the Commission. As one of His Majesty's Ministers he should take a certain measure of the responsibility which he is now trying to hand over to the authorities which have been created under the direction of the House.
My appeal on behalf of these servants of the railways is a very strong one. Many of them who have now retired after long employment have rendered abounding service to the community in their various capacities. Instead of being turned aside they should be given full consideration so that the rising cost of living and all the other factors are taken into account. I hope that in future the Minister will deal fairly and squarely with cases of this kind.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Keenan (Liverpool, Kirkdale)
I want to congratulate the House on having found an opportunity of dealing 1802 with this nationalised service. All of us have been disappointed that we have not been able to raise questions of this nature. This is, perhaps, a warning to Ministers that if they are as bad-hearted in dodging the issue as hon. Gentlemen opposite consider them to be, they should avoid introducing Measures of this kind if they wish to escape criticism of their services.
I wish to ask the Minister about the present position of pensions, a question already raised by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It appears from what they have said that they are pleading for supplementation of pensions granted years ago and not necessarily from the Transport Commission. The hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) mentioned one case of somebody who retired 12 or more years ago. Why was not some adjustment of his position made before the Transport Commission came into being? Why have we had to wait for so long?
§ Sir J. Mellor
Would the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan) agree that the Transport Commission took over not only the assets but also the liabilities from the former railway companies? The basis of our suggestion, therefore, is that the Transport Commission should honour those obligations.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
May I put a query to the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir J. Mellor)? He suggested the men had been deprived of a moral right because the British Transport Commission had assumed responsibility for the railways. Is he not aware that for nearly three years prior to nationalisation, the railway unions had made repeated representations to the railway companies to grant supplementary pensions but that those pleas were made entirely in vain?
§ Mr. Keenan
May I be allowed to continue my speech? The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, when he raised the question half an hour ago, entirely mistook the point. What I am suggesting to him is that representations should have been made years ago on behalf of these pensioners, for the cost of living has not risen appreciably since the Transport Commission took over. No representation was made or, at least, there was no agreement—
§ Sir J. Mellor
But is it not since the war that the Cost of living has risen and the need for an increase has become obvious?
§ Mr. Keenan
Following the interjection of my hon. Friend the Member for West Swansea (Mr. P. Morris), I should point out that representations were made on behalf of widows and orphans to the former shareholders when there was so much noise about the question of compensation, but they refused to make any concession before the Commission took over. In all forms of public and private service, when anybody is pensioned off, there should be an obligation to see that the pension is maintained at least at its value in relation to the cost of living at the time it was granted. Obviously, as the cost of living increases, the value of the pension becomes less.
I suggest that had the railway companies remained in being, and had the Transport Commission not come into existence, hon. Gentlemen opposite would not have mentioned this question. They would not have listened to appeals of this nature. Representations were made by the unions on behalf of these unfortunate individuals, but nothing was done. Although the Commission has been running for only about 13 months, hon. Gentlemen opposite are grumbling that it has not responded quickly. I hope, however, that this matter is not lost sight of, for I realise that the railway services have been taken over and that anyone who takes over a public service of this kind takes over also its obligations.
The matter of fares, about which something must be done, is nothing new. Difficulties existed long before the Government attempted, or even suggested, the taking over of transport services. In prewar days railway companies had long recognised the competition from bus services, particularly on long-distance routes. It is no use the Opposition trying to blame the present Government for creating something which existed long before the nationalisation of transport was attempted or even visualised. Railway fares, certainly in the Merseyside area, appear to be something like twice the ordinary bus fares. The difficulty is that the bus is more convenient for the individual, and that fact must be faced. I can see no solution. I can only think that either railway fares must come down 1804 or bus fares will have to go up. That is the general suggestion as to how to balance it. It has been suggested that all we have to do is to reduce railway fares and automatically everyone will travel on the railway. One hon. Member was talking about travelling from Preston to Euston and having a carriage to himself. I do not suppose that if on that day the fare had been reduced by half, it would have attracted another passenger. I personally do not mind travelling alone. It is much more comfortable and one can stretch out one's legs.
We must agree that the problem is one which has not been created since the Commission came into being; but the angle from which I regard the problem is that the British railway service is one of the most important in the country and we have to see that it is maintained, developed and preserved. Even if it necessitates some adjustment of fares either up or down, that has to be done. I have heard a lot of criticism about over-staffing, and whether there is not already redundancy of staff on the railways. They certainly carried a lot of directors in the old days—more than they ought to have done. The Commission will have to recognise that it cannot afford to carry its workpeople as passengers. In dealing with this question, there will have to be a rather better approach than there has been. If the railways have to make a reduction of fares and carry a greater burden, we shall have to accept it.
§ Sir P. Hannon
Is the hon. Member giving the House to understand that he wishes to reduce the number of railway servants now employed in railway administration?
§ Mr. Keenan
No; I said it was suggested that there are rather more employees than are wanted on the railways. I do not know to what extent the old railway companies were responsible. I have heard it said that they they were responsible, but whether they were or not the fact is that the problem has to be faced. The Transport Commission, in taking the whole thing into consideration, must realise that the railways will have to be run not only for the public but in the interests of trade and the public service of the country.
1805 I am glad that we have had this Debate on the nationalised railway service. It gives us an opportunity of putting forward our point of view, which we seem to be in danger of being denied. If any Ministers think on the lines suggested by the Opposition, and wish to dodge the issue, they should think a second time before introducing a private Bill of this kind.
§ 9.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Drayson (Skipton)
This Debate on the first British Transport Commission private Bill has brought forward some very disquieting views from hon. Members opposite, particularly from the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan). Did I understand him to say that the railways should not carry their own workpeople as passengers? Those, I think, were his words.
§ Mr. Keenan
I am sorry that the hon. Member is perhaps not familiar with some of the words used in industry. It may be my fault. I was foolish enough to expect that the hon. Member would understand me. If I remember rightly, what I did say was that the railways could not carry redundant servants. At any rate, that was what I intended to say. In common parlance a "passenger" is someone who does not pull his weight.
§ Mr. Drayson
The hon. Member is now suggesting that at the moment the railways have on their books a number of redundant workers. Will he tell us how many redundant workers he thinks that they have, and is he suggesting that the special concessions to railway workers, regarding holiday fares and so forth, should be withdrawn—
§ Mr. Drayson
—and that they should not be carried as passengers on the nationalised railways, but should pay their fares just the same as anyone else? As we have present the Minister of Transport it does afford as an extra opportunity of putting some very direct questions to him. The hon. Member for Kirkdale has said that he wishes to bring the bus fares and the railway fares together, that they should somehow meet halfway.
§ Mr. Keenan
I wish that the hon. Member would not try to make a speech 1806 by exaggerating what I did say. I did not say anything of the kind. I pointed out the problem and suggested to the Minister what should be done. I did not make the slightest reference of the kind he has mentioned about privilege tickets in connection with the conditions of workmen.
§ Mr. Medland (Plymouth, Drake)
The hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) does not understand workmen's language.
§ Mr. Drayson
I listened to the hon. Member for Kirkdale very carefully and I understood that he wanted to bring these fares together somehow. He did not say it was the final answer; but he made the suggestion to the Minister of Transport for his consideration.
I wish to get a definite guarantee tonight from the Minister of Transport that he has no intention whatever of putting up the bus fares in this country, either on long distance road transport or on short distance transport by the ordinary bus services. I hope that he appreciates that this is a most important point as it affects rural areas such as those which I have the privilege to represent. In the Yorkshire Dales, bus fares to the market towns are a considerable item in many a country housewife's budget. I hope that we shall get an assurance that the Minister has no intention of increasing those fares. If buses, whether nationalised or not, can operate on their present fares at a reasonable profit, or any profit at all, there is no excuse for putting up fares merely to help the Government out of their difficulties with nationalised railways. The Government initiated the nationalisation of the railways. They told us in this House that they were certain that they could make a far better job of it than the previous owners. So far, all indications are that they have utterly failed.
§ Mr. Drayson
The indications are that the railways will make a loss of several million pounds which the taxpayers will have to find.
§ Mr. Ernest Davies
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that until the railways were taken over, under the control agreement the loss which had to be met and sub-sidised by the Government during the 1807 last year was somewhere in the neighbourhood of £60 million, whereas we do not know yet the extent of the loss made during 1948?
§ Mr. Drayson
That has absolutely nothing to do with this question. The railways operated for a very long time before that agreement. Sometimes they made a loss, sometimes they made a profit. When they made a loss they lost their shareholders' moneys and not that of the general public.
§ Mr. McAdam (Salford, North)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that from 1927 until 1938 the railways were subsidised through decreases in railway workers' wages?
§ Mr. Drayson
I do not accept that suggestion. I was referring to the important question which worries a lot of people, concerning the intentions of the Minister about bus fares. It is possible to get from London to Edinburgh by long-distance bus transport for 50s. return. The single third class fare on the railway today is 81s. 9d., and the return fare to Glasgow is 109s. Many people would find it impossible to go from the North to the South of England if they had to pay £5, but private enterprise is able to carry people from London to cities in the North for half the price charged by the railways. I hope that the Minister will allow that state of affairs to continue.
It was suggested by an hon. Member opposite that the monthly fare should be increased to a longer period if not indefinitely. In that connection I would refer to the question of children at boarding schools who would benefit by such a provision. I hope that the Minister will be able to extend the period from the present four or five weeks to the seven or eight weeks which is the time which students are away from home so that they may benefit by the cheaper return fare instead of having to pay single fare for both journeys. That concession would also benefit students at universities. I also ask the Minister to consider extending the half-fare rate to coincide with the school-leaving age. At present, now that the age has been increased and people are finding that their family budgets are strained to the limit by the high cost of living, they have an extra burden when they have to pay full fare 1808 for children over 14 who are still at school.
I return to the question of redundant workers and say how glad I am that the women porters have been removed from the stations throughout the country. It was most unfortunate that we had to expect women to do work which was traditionally the work of men. I am sure that it was not a fact of which any trade unionist or any hon. Member opposite was really proud. Naturally, we appreciated the fact that women were prepared to do the work while there was no one else to take their place. I am glad that they are the first redundant workers, and I hope that they have all found congenial work in other directions.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Champion (Derby, Southern)
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) into the difficult field in which he travelled. It is quite certain that it is going to be a difficult enough job for the tribunal to deal with railway fares. I want to add my voice to the plea made by the hon. Member for Moseley (Sir P. Hannon) relating to the pensions of those people who were pensioned before the Transport Commission took over our railways. I should like to be able to do it in his honeyed tones, and I rather think that, despite the fact that he kissed the Blarney Stone a long time ago, the effect has not yet worn off, and he is still able to make his appeal in such words and such a manner as must, if the Minister's heart is touchable at all, succeed in touching it. I should like to add my plea to what he said, recognising as I do that there must have been representations made by the railway trade unions in connection with the matter. The parties most concerned have already made known their views in other places, but I feel that it is justifiable to add my voice to theirs.
I would say to the hon. Member for Skipton (Mr. Drayson) and to the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) that if they have not seen any improvements in the railway services as a result of nationalisation, they must surely be blind to what is happening on our railways today. They certainly must be blind not to see the new spirit which is actuating the railway workers, and they must also be blind to the improvements 1809 which are the result of the work of the Railway Executive. Indeed, some of these improvements are showing themselves in a small way, but some of the bigger works will not show themselves fully for quite a long time. Such things as engineering projects, improvements in locomotives and general standardisation obviously will not show themselves for some time, but there are some improvements in smaller matters which have been showing themselves already and which are indicative of better standards.
The trains which I normally use, I notice, are now running very much nearer to time than before nationalisation, and there are big improvements, for which I must praise the Hotels Executive, already showing in the hotels and in railway catering generally. I am pleased to say that, at the station which I have to use quite often, that at Derby, there has been a vast improvement in a refreshment room there which I used to regard as one of the most hideous of all the places which I had to frequent before nationalisation.
Sir P. Harmon
Will the hon. Gentleman allow me? What he is now telling the House is a reflection on the previous management of these hotels, because the same people who managed the hotels before nationalisation are managing them now.
§ Mr. Champion
That is not quite the case. The people who managed them before had to do their job within the limited field set down for them by people like the hon. Gentleman himself, who was a railway director, who set a comparatively narrow field in which to work, but now these people have more scope and they are using that scope in a way which is showing results in general management in that sphere.
I should have liked to have a longer time in which to cover many other aspects of the working of the railways. For instance, I should have liked to ask the Minister what progress is being made in connection with automatic train control. Are we, in fact, spreading this method from the Western Region to the other parts of the system with the rapidity with which my right hon. Friend said he hoped to do it in the answer which he made to me in an Adjournment Debate some time ago? Is he carrying on with a great extension of track circuiting, and 1810 is the Railway Executive examining the suggestion which I saw was put forward recently that, where trains have been stopped because of accidents, flares instead of detonators should be used? I hope he will look into those minor points.
I have been particularly struck by the wording of Clause 46 which is designed to deal with pilfering on the railways. I, as an old railway servant, condemn absolutely and entirely every railway servant who participates in any way in that bad practice. I believe it is bad for the railways and bad for everyone associated with the railways. Every decent and honest railwayman is affected and be-smudged by the action of those people who do not recognise the seriousness of pilfering. I am hoping that the administration will look at this and consider it because I think there are certain words in that Clause which perhaps might be looked at again. I feel a little bit doubtful about the words "reasonably suspected." I want to know who is going to decide what those words really mean, and whether they have been arrived at after reasonable consultation with the unions concerned.
There are certain other things in the Clause which I do not like and upon which I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us. I believe that the honest, decent railwayman must expect some protection from the activities of perhaps some of the police who might not have a reasonable outlook on this matter. Pilfering is something with which I have dealt as a member of an executive of a trade union. I recognise and appreciate these difficulties, but I would ask the Minister to consider carefully everything which this Clause contains. I shall end where I started on this matter with a plea to all those with whom I used to work and to all who are working on the railways at the present time who are stupid enough to pilfer, to cease this practice because it is destructive of morale and destructive of the usefulness of this great service to the public.
§ 9.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I rise to make a few observations before the Minister replies. The first thing I wish to say is that I think the House—and I believe I shall carry hon. Members opposite with me in this—should be grateful for the application and watchful- 1811 ness of some of my hon. Friends who, by an appropriate objection, caused this Bill to be brought on to the Floor of the House and debated among us this evening. It is an old principle of our Debates that money should not be voted without the redress of grievances, and certainly no Bill of this kind should be passed without first of all going into the credentials of those who are petitioning us in this matter to see whether they are fit and proper persons, carrying on their duties in such a way as to justify their having this Bill.
After all, in Question and Answer, the Minister can often say, "Well, this is a matter for the Commission," and nearly always it is; but when the Commission comes, as it has to come this evening, to ask through the Minister for certain special privileges, we are entitled to ask for, and on this occasion to demand, an answer before we are prepared to give those powers and privileges to this body. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will recognise—I am sure that on this occasion he does—that it will not be enough in reply to this Debate to turn round and say, "It is a matter for the Commission." Of course, it is, but that is the reason why the Debate has taken place. We shall require an answer to all the main questions which have been put from both sides of the House.
The next thing I wish to say is how much I enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Southern Derby (Mr. Champion). He was in a difficulty over time; I have often been in that difficulty myself. I agree with him that we want a little explanation of the wording of Clause 46. It certainly places the onus in exactly the reverse way to that in which it is normally placed in all matters of criminal law. It may be that the words are taken out of previous Acts, but I do not know and I think we should have some explanation of why the Clause is in that particular form. In the rest of his remarks the hon. Member was in striking contrast to most of his colleagues. Very few hon. Members opposite could fail in the course of their comments to refer to the grave problems which confront the railways at the present time. The hon. Member for Southern Derby reminded me somewhat of a vicar thanking his congregation for a successful fete. He was praising the Hotels Executive, the 1812 Minister, the canals; everybody came in for praise and he was obviously anxious to leave nobody out in case they felt hurt about it all.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I cannot give way, for I have little time. I must say that the Minister perhaps looked a little happier during the speech of the hon. Member for Southern Derby than he did during most of the speeches of hon. Members behind him this evening. There was, for example, the speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Walker). He must be a very unhappy man tonight. He has been advocating nationalisation for 50 years, but when he came to the end of his speech tonight and really began to open his heart to the House, all he could do was to look back with a certain nostalgia to those happy days of private enterprise when one could go for 10s. round about and move up and down Lake Windermere. They must have been happy days; that is not what one can do at the present time. The hon. Member complained of the sadness, and it must be sadness for a man who has advocated nationalisation for 50 years, of having to sit in a completely empty compartment all the way between here and his constituency—scarcely an advertisement for the success of the policy he has so constantly put forward.
§ Mr. Walker
I was protesting against the excessive charges of travelling, which are not a result directly of nationalisation.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
I sympathise with the hon. Member. Hon. Members on all sides have shared in his protest. I come to the hon. Member for Kirkdale (Mr. Keenan), who put forward a most unconvincing case about pensions, because on this occasion he found himself in an unusual role as an ex-official of the Transport and General Workers' Union—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
—then, a doubly embarrassing role. For an official of the Transport and General Workers' Union to find himself in the embarrassing position of having, so to speak, to advocate the employers' case—because in fact that is what he was forced to do—was naturally a matter of acute embarrassment to 1813 him, and one can hardly be surprised that he did not do it very well. The hon. Member then went on to the situation of the railways today, a subject which has occupied a large number of the speeches of many hon. Members on all sides of the House. He described the problem as it exists—rail fares were going up, traffic was going away to the roads; my tongue was hanging out in the excitement of anticipating what solution he was going to provide for all these problems. At the critical moment, however, he said, "I have not really got a clue."
That disappointed me somewhat and made me feel that at this stage in the proceedings some contribution should be made as to what could be done about these problems. He went on a little further, however—and it is no good sheltering behind words—saying "There is a limit; I suggest to the Minister that this or that should be done." I heard what he said perfectly plainly. One thing he wanted the Minister to consider was putting up bus fares, and he said it perfectly plainly; it is within the recollection of the House and it is on record in HANSARD. In a moment or two, I will ask the Minister what are his intentions on this matter. The second contribution of the hon. Member was that, they should stop carrying the workmen, because work-people in the industry have at the present time certain privileges in the matter of travel, privileges similar to those which are quite customary in many industries—for instance, free coal. There are three separate points in the hon. Member's speech with which I shall deal. I am coming to the third point.
§ Mr. Keenan
I know the hon. Gentleman does not want to misrepresent anybody. "Carrying" can be used in two contexts. I did not mean carrying them by issuing them with special privilege tickets, but carrying them when not required as workers.
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
The hon. Member did not make himself very plain. I thought he intended to say they should not have privileges in travel. The only other thing he could have meant was that they ought to be sacked. If he meant the Minister ought to sack a substantial number of railway workers, let him get up and say so. I should be interested to hear what the Minister's views are about that. 1814 What it boils down to is that the only solutions the hon. Gentleman put forward was that bus fares should be put up so that the people who normally travel by bus—which, as the hon. Gentleman admits, is more convenient in many cases —would be compelled to travel by railway; and the second solution was to save costs by sacking railway workers. If only he had said in 1945 that that was the policy of the Socialist Party I think the people of this country would have found it much easier than they did to make up their minds about some of the intricate problems that then confronted them. So much for the hon. Member for Kirkdale.
Now I come to the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies). He again put forward, as he has on several occasions, the interesting and extremely clear-cut and well-reasoned point that in the difficulties in which the railway industry finds itself at the present time, the solution is a more imaginative approach. I do not see much imaginative approach by this Transport Commission. What imaginative approach, for instance, was there in the drab, little bureaucratic decision to paint all the barges the same colour? There is not a lot of imagination in that sort of thing. Incidentally, I wish the Minister would take the opportunity of saying something about that matter. In itself it was a small thing, but I can imagine few things that more clearly illustrate the miserable pettiness we sometimes find in large-scale organisations. The Transport Commission must think of something else than the standardising of the colour of barges if we are to get anywhere. To that extent I agree with the hon. Member for Enfield. I think he would join with me in condemning a decision of that character.
Then he said—which is true—that fares have gone up a long way and that there will be substantial losses. Incidentally, the hon. Member made a point, in answer to one of my hon. Friends, about a loss of £60 million that he claimed was paid under the balancing charges. That was an awfully bad point, as the hon. Member knows perfectly well —a thoroughly bad point. The railways, on balance, before and during the war, were running perfectly well. If ever there was a time when the railways ought to be running at a profit, it is now, when there is large-scale employment in the country, when there is an American Loan 1815 of many millions of dollars which are being poured into the country, with a great deal of resultant activity. If in these circumstances the railways cannot run at a profit, they are not likely to do so afterwards.
The hon. Member then said—and I thought at first I was going to agree with him—that the solution is not to put the bus fares up but to bring the railway charges down; but a little later in his argument he invited the Minister to draw up the charges schemes. What did he mean by "draw up charges schemes"? The charges schemes to which he was referring are schemes which the Minister is entitled to draw up under the Transport Act for the purpose of co-ordinating road and rail charges. Is the Minister engaged upon that activity now, because in the interim period it is his responsibility? Is he engaged upon it at this moment? Does he agree with the hon. Member for Kirk-dale in regard to these charges schemes and contemplate putting up the bus fares in order to drive the traffic back to the railways? Does he contemplate that as a proper function for a charges scheme because I think it is about time we had a clear answer on some of these matters. After all, the Minister has had quite a long time to think about that matter, and this is not the first time I have asked him a question about it. I have never yet got an answer, and I do not suppose that I shall get one tonight, but if ever there was an occasion when I am entitled to one, it is tonight.
Here is the Transport Commission coming along, after a longish period to think these matters over, and asking the House to pass legislation. We are entitled to ask what are its ideas about the relationship between road and rail, and it is time that the House of Commons was told something about that matter. We have been told nothing whatever about it so far. All that we have had have been statements from men like Sir Frederick Heaton that one of the things to be done is to put the bus fares up, supported by hon. Members like the hon. Member for Kirkdale who have said that that is a perfectly proper procedure for the Minister to contemplate. What has the Minister to say about that? I hope we shall have an answer.
What about the road passenger side anyway? Under the Transport Act, the Minister was given power to consider schemes for the co-ordination of passenger transport. Is he contemplating nationalising the road passenger side? I think that the House of Commons ought to be told that. I do not think this is a thing which the Transport Commission should be allowed to decide behind our backs, because that is what is happening. Only one scheme has been considered so far, and the evidence given by the Transport Commission indicated that it was contemplating area schemes in all the areas and complete public ownership of the road passenger side. That was not necessarily a feature of the Transport Act as it left the House of Commons. So I say that we want to know what are the views of the Transport Commission. If there is any nationalising to be done, it ought to be done by the House of Commons and not in this hole-and-corner way.
I hope very much that the Minister will say quite plainly that it is his intention to make a statement to the House of Commons before any general policy of nationalising the road transport side is even contemplated.
The last point to which I want to make reference is the "C" licence holders. Once again, this evening, as on so many other occasions, the hon. Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) has pressed the Minister to look into this question of the "C" licence holders. When the hon. Member says, "Look into it," what he means is that he holds to his original opinion that the "C" licence holders ought not to have been allowed the freedom secured for them by this side of the House. I wish that he had the frankness and forthrightness to say plainly—
§ Mr. Thorneycroft
If I misrepresented the hon. Gentleman I apologise, but his view has been made plain on previous occasions that he' considers that the "C" licence holder should never have been allowed the freedom which we secured for him. What we are not happy about is 1817 the Minister's view. It is, after all, the Minister's view that really counts in this matter. I hope that the Minister is not too fascinated by the Lord President of the Council to listen to what I have to say. This evening, I want to hear from the Minister his attitude towards these "C" licences. True, they have increased in numbers—and small wonder. It is about the measure of the success of his nationalisation policy. After all, they operate under considerable disadvantages; in the great majority of cases they have to travel one way empty, which very much increases the costs. Yet despite all that, these people prefer to carry their own goods in their own lorries rather than subject them to the delays and uncertainties, which have been described in many speeches during this Debate, involved in handing them over to the nationalised monopoly of the right hon. Gentleman.
Those are the main points on which I should like some reply this evening. The situation of the railways at the present time is a serious matter, and has been described by hon. Members on both sides as not by any means a happy one. They are losing money and the fares are going up. Everybody agrees that something ought to be done about it. We have often put our side of the matter. This evening it is time for the Minister to come forward and say what the Transport Commission's own policy is on this matter.
§ 9.41 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
The Debate this evening has covered an exceedingly wide field, and I am satisfied that after this experience no hon. Member can say that there are not adequate opportunities of discussing the affairs of socialised industries.
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd (Mid-Bedford) The right hon. Gentleman did not give us the opportunity.
§ Mr. Barnes
So many details and aspects of the transport administration have been discussed—most of them are in no way affected by this Bill—that I trust I shall be excused if in the short time at my disposal I do not deal with individual Member's comments and suggestions, but group them under the issues that have been raised.
1818 First, I deal with the monopoly accusation. This Bill covers mainly the affairs of the four railway companies and the old London Passenger Transport Board. Before nationalisation, each of these five bodies had a monopoly over the respective areas granted by Parliament; and if each individually had brought forward the proposals embodied in this Bill the situation would have been no different in fact as regards the relationship of the House to these proposals.
The problem of fares, and the difficulties that represents in the winning of railway traffic, has played a large part in and run consistently through most of the' Debate. I sometimes feel that in thin regard both Parliament and the public are not quite fair to or appreciative of the recent history of our railways. I do not think we take sufficiently into consideration—and this is not a question of what body of persons is for the moment responsible for administration—the fact that the nation has completely subordinated railway affairs, managements, and interests to national requirements during two wars, and particularly in the last war. The railways served the interests of the nation under very grim circumstances dur-the war, when the British railway system was the channel for the bulk of transport.
The Government of that day made no arrangements and no financial provisions to enable whatever railway management emerged after the war to equate its price levels with the moving price levels in the-community. I said, when the increased charges were put on, that this had had the effect of confronting the railway administration with one complete increase to try to meet the costs of their requirements. The price of coal, timber, steel and all the major requirements of the railways had been rising steadily throughout the war, but the Government did nothing to meet that situation, nor did they allow the railways, which were performing a first-class military task, to keep the rolling stock and permanent way up to a state of efficiency. It is an exceedingly unfortunate situation, if the service has suffered more than the normal business interests in this country, that it should now be subjected to unfair and inconsiderate criticism on the Floor of the House.
1819 I took the responsibility for the increased fares and charges before nationalisation, because I did not consider it fair to place the responsibility on any body of persons called upon to carry out this task. But even today the increase in railway fares is only 55 per cent. over 1939, as compared with an increase of over 100 per cent. in the price of the major commodities the railways have to use. This problem was disclosing itself in the inter-war years. There was the rapid growth of road passenger transport and road haulage. The weight of capital expenditure for the railways was so much heavier than the weight of expenditure for road vehicles that it enabled comparable road vehicles to operate at a level of charges against which no railway administration could possibly compete. The old railway companies tried to get over the difficulty by purchasing an interest in the road passenger and haulage undertakings, but the process was not sufficiently quick to enable them to catch up with their financial arrears due to the rapid growth of road transport. The policy of the Government was to accelerate what was taking place, namely, private unification, when they introduced the nationalisation proposals.
I have never altered or in any way obscured the fact that the policy behind nationalisation was not to interfere with the choice of the individual in the service he wishes to use. The policy was eventually to co-ordinate the whole of the transport services of certain kinds—not "C" licence transport and short-distance haulage transport—and by that process eventually to pool the receipts coming from all forms of transport so that in the final result, the British Transport Commission could pay its way irrespective of whether any particular section was able to be run at a profit or not. The other alternative was that the railways should be subsidised direct by the Exchequer. That policy I have just referred to is perfectly plain and is working out in fact.
With regard to representations which have been made about falling receipts, workmen's fares, the school leaving age and bus fares, the position can be stated quite clearly. Problems such as those concerning workmen's fares and those relating to the raising of the school-leaving age, must come under 1820 review in some form or another. I have always resisted the suggestion that they should be determined by the Minister or by Parliament. I have always resisted that, because I do not consider that the Minister is equipped with adequate advice, machinery and personnel to deal with such exceedingly complex business problems. Before the Transport Act was passed, I established a working committee to get on with the preparatory work for the charges scheme because of its immense complexity, the wide range of variations that take place and its reaction on railway finance. It was laid down quite clearly in the Act that within two years the British Transport Commission would have to prepare a revision of its charges scheme, and a proper public legal tribunal has been established under Section 76 so that all their proposals can come under legal and public examination. When we reach that stage, all public bodies and all interests will be able to represent their views about these charges.
As far as existing road passenger bus services are concerned, hon. Members are aware that they are dealt with by the conditions attached by the licensing authorities, who are quasi-judicial authorities, when they grant a road passenger service licence, and neither the Minister nor the House nor the British Transport Commission can at the present moment deal with the problem of existing bus fares. I want to make it perfectly plain that in this period—[Interruption.] Hon. Members have addressed these questions to me very directly. I have limited time at my disposal and I am entitled to ask for their very close attention. To avoid any injustice in this matter, I want to make it perfectly plain that no individual has any authority to make any statement about what railway fares or bus fares or any other type of fare will be until this procedure has been complied with. With regard to the request—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he make this clear? Does what he has just told us mean that the issue of the continuance or not of workmen's fares is still in doubt?
§ Mr. Barnes
It is not a question of being in doubt or being under consideration. It does not matter whether it is 1821 season tickets, bus fares, workmen's fares, coal charges or steel charges; anything which affects the system of charging on any aspect within the British Transport Commission will come under the charges scheme. All anticipations, all assumptions and all statements at the present moment are without any authorisation or official foundation whatsoever. That is the position which I want to make perfectly plain so that hon. Members cannot engage in assuming and publicising and creating opinions in the minds of the people which are not justified, not accurate and not fair at the present moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Ernest Davies) asked that I should publish the Report of the working party on the London Railway Plan. I agree that that is a matter of major interest to the London population. It involves a very large capital expenditure. I have just received the Report and I am giving it full, immediate and urgent consideration. It would be my desire to publish a report of that kind at the earliest possible moment because I think that the more the London population appreciates the accumulation of problems which has to be faced today, the better.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) made great play with over-crowding difficulties. I have travelled on the London Transport system for 40 years. I travelled on the old steam trains. Whenever there was an improvement it was assumed that overcrowding would cease to exist. As a matter of fact, the growth of London's population, the increasing habits of travel, the spreading out of the population, and the longer journeys have always outstripped the facilities provided in the past, whether by private enterprise, by the London Transport Board, or by the present organisation which, of course, has only had 12 months in which to work. Since the war some 30 miles of additional electrification and extension of the tube system in London have taken place. That is a major work of improvement, and there are some 28 more miles still in the course of construction. I believe that the bulk, if not the whole of that additional 28 miles, will be completed this year. The present capital cost of new extensions is approximately £14 million.
1822 With regard to the staff problem, the staff of the British Transport Commission is small and many have been drawn from the existing railway service. I would put the problem of redundancy in this way: I had the experience of examining this problem when it was under the control of the four general managers of the main line railways. I saw then that the railways had been through the experience of any big organisation. Many of their experienced personnel were called up and temporary staff—both men and women, but primarily women—were brought in to do the job. At the end of the war, and with demobilisation—anyone who has controlled a big organisation well knows, the ex-Service men have to be taken back, it is a little time before the wartime personnel can be removed, the staff made smaller, and the organisation brought back to a healthy condition.
I think that the British Transport Commission are handling this problem with due consideration of all the circumstances involved. They do not want to dismiss thousands of persons ruthlessly and brutally, but there is no doubt that the total number employed in transport is more than is necessary. In the interests of good national economy, we cannot afford with the shortage of manpower today and because of the financial position of the railways, to be carrying unnecessary people. Provided the reduction is carried out with due consideration, as any decent business organisation would carry it out, that staff must come down to normal proportions.
§ Mr. Barnes
I cannot say how many there are to go. That is a matter for consultation between the British Transport Commission—
§ Mr. Barnes
No, I have only a minute left. The only other point I want to refer to is the repeated statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield. Continually he creates the impression that the taking over of bodies like Tilling and S.M.T. has represented a higher price than would have been paid if they had 1823 been taken over through an area scheme by a compulsory clause. I do not consider that to be the case, and I should like to state clearly that in my view such an assumption is unwarranted.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Whiteley) rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put accordingly, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed.