§ 3.33 p.m.
Mr. Peter Thorneyeroft (Monmouth)
I believe that the House will welcome the opportunity on this Vote on Account to have a general discussion upon the grave problems at present confronting the transport industry. I understand that no three-line whip has been issued on tonight's proceedings, but though our discussions will not terminate in the Division Lobby, I believe that the topics we are discussing are fraught with consequences just as grave to our future economy as any of the other matters which have so far been raised this week. The debate can, I understand, range over a fairly wide field, but it may be convenient if, in opening it, I indicate the range of topics with which I propose to deal.
To start with, I want to say something about the mounting losses which the Transport Commission are incurring at the present moment. I want to say something about their causes and about the way in which we ought to approach that problem. I want then to pass to the principles of a common charges policy, which has just been published by the Transport Commission. I want to say something about the proposal to raise another £3½ million from the travelling public in London under the London charges scheme, and to finish by a few remarks on the attitude of the Government and the Transport Commission towards those engaged either in the passenger or road haulage side still under private ownership. I have indicated to the Minister of Transport the kind of subjects I propose to raise in order that he may furnish himself with the necessary and appropriate ammunition for a counter-attack.
If I may start with the losses which the Transport Commission are incurring. I 1092 am a subscriber to and an assiduous reader of the "Tribune." In last week's issue, published on 10th March, I read an interesting article by the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, South (Mr. Crosland) entitled "The People who Didn't Vote Labour." In the course of that article the hon. Gentleman said:Clearly the election hit us at an unlucky moment"—we knew something had hit hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite—when the fruits of existing nationalisation were not yet obvious.As far as the transport industry is concerned, I thought that was a masterpiece of under-statement. If there are any fruits of the nationalisation of our transport industry, they are fruits of increasing bitterness. May I remind hon. Gentlemen of the figures? In 1948, the Transport Commission lost £4¾million, and that was on a system of accounting which, to say the least of it, was not the most unfavourable towards the Transport Commission. In 1949, the estimated loss is £20 million. In 1950, the estimated loss is no less than £30 million. The nationalised transport industry at this moment is running at a loss of half a million pounds of public money a week. It is a sobering thought that, as we sit here and discuss these matters, the public funds are running out at a rate which I calculate to be £50 a minute.
May I turn to the type of problem that this is? First, this is not just a problem of a nationalised industry which has lost in its first year £5 million or £10 million, which is being faced with certain increases in costs of labour, of raw materials, like coal, and matters of that kind. That is a problem which could perhaps appropriately be dealt with by some modest increase in the charges to bring the matter into line with other industries. There is no increase in wages, no increase in the cost of materials, which could possibly account for this savage upward spiral of increasing losses which are going from £5 million in one year to £20 million in the next and to £30 million in the year that follows.
If we are to find an explanation for a cumulative and mounting loss of that character, it is not in the level of material costs or wages. I do not think any hon. Member opposite would suggest that the railway wages were the cause of this 1093 mounting loss at the present time. So it is not there that we must look for the cause, but to the policy pursued by the Transport Commission.
May I say a word about the policy of the Transport Commission on the passenger side? On 21st April, 1949, the Railway Executive and the Transport Commission published their policy for passenger rail transport. They announced that they were going to put up the passenger train mileage by 300,000 miles a week; that they were going to run 183 more trains every weekday and 349 more trains every Saturday, cross-country expresses, non-stop runs, and buffet cars, and, I think, they even put on that "Ye Olde Worlde Tudor Pub" on wheels to culminate the whole thing—a bold and imaginative policy.
What happened? Between June and September the increase in train mileage was no less than 1,200,000 for every four-weekly period. Despite that increased mileage, in not one single four-weekly period did the gross receipts come up even to the 1948 level. In other words, there was a vastly increased expenditure of materials, of wages, of everything, to provide this service, and it was not matched by any increase in receipts. Let me take, not my statement upon it, but the statement of Sir Eustace Missenden, who, after all, as head of the Railway Executive, ought to know. At the end of this experiment, he said:During the Summer months just past, we have provided a fine train service, all things considered, and it is somewhat disappointing to all of us that for one reason or another we have not conveyed as many passengers as we had hoped.It is no good providing an enormous train service if it is empty and for one reason or another—I shall come to those reasons presently—the travelling public just do not choose to travel in those trains.
I am not quoting a lot of figures, but this is a matter on which one or two must be referred to. The average receipts per passenger train mile were 13s. 9d. in 1948; in 1949, they were down to less than 12s. 3d., a decrease of more than 10 per cent. I assure the Minister and the House that I quote these things not in any spirit of carping criticism. Our duty in this Committee today is to try to find out what is wrong and then there may be some opportunity of trying to put it right.
1094 I ask the Minister to consider these facts which I have put before him. I gave him notice of these broad matters before the Debate and either already or during the course of our discussions today consideration can be given to them. I ask him; is it not a fact that these events on the passenger rail side are the prime cause of the present increasing losses on the railways? If there is some other cause, let it be put forward, but if this is the right cause then, at any rate, Members of the Committee can all be talking about the same thing and we can all be directing our minds to what is the real problem which we are up against.
I should like to put forward one or two considerations which, I think, should be borne in mind in trying to arrive at a solution. It is my firm belief that British Railways, on the passenger side, have priced themselves out of the market. I do not believe that people can afford to pay the fares which are at present asked for on our railway system. A lot has been said about a rise of only 55 per cent. but it seemed to me, when the case for an increase in rates on the goods side was being argued, that the general views expressed on the part of the Commission itself was that passenger fares were up about 98 per cent. on pre-war. But whatever the figure is, it is too high for people to pay. The only way we will ever get more people to travel on the railways is on a basis and under a policy in which the fares are brought down instead of being put up.
The second consideration I put to the right hon. Gentleman is this. Does he think that the extended running on the passenger side last summer was justified? Did it, in fact, pay a dividend? I think it is impossible, on the figures I have quoted, to argue that it did. Does he, and do the railways, intend to repeat the same experiment next summer? If they do, it looks to me as though we shall be paying a very heavy loss on that.
My third consideration is this. I do not believe that a solution to the problem is to be found in London; it can only he found in the railway regions. I do not believe that the Transport Commission or the Railway Executive know what sections of their line or what services they provide are running at a profit and what at a loss. Certainly, it is impossible to find out from the railway 1095 accounts. The only way in which the railways can be made profitable is to de-centralise responsibility for their administration, to place the responsibility for running the railway lines fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the chief regional officers. They ought to be sent for now, to be asked to show and to say what are their proposals for making their railway regions profitable, and they ought to be given the maximum freedom for putting that policy into full effect.
The last consideration that I want to put on this particular side of the matter is this, and I say it in no spirit of criticism of existing members either of the Railway Executive or of the Transport Commission. Is there not room for some new blood on the Transport Commission? Why is Lord Ashfield's vacancy not being filled? The right hon. Gentleman is under a duty to fill that vacancy; he has to have four full-time members of the Transport Commission. Where is—if I may so express it—the man with real commercial knowledge on the Transport Commission—who is he? I am not casting reflections upon Sir Cyril Hurcomb, whom we all know as a magnificent civil servant, or Mr. Benstead, a most outstanding member of the trade union movement, or Lord Rusholme. But where is the man of real commercial upbringing, background and knowledge? When it comes to making the difference between a profit and a loss, the man for whom we ought to look is the man with real commercial training. I beg the right hon. Gentleman to exercise his duty and to appoint someone to the vacancy created by the lamented death of the late Lord Ashfield.
I know the difficulties with which the Minister is faced. He is faced with the proposal, with which I shall deal presently, of increasing the freight rates by 16⅔ per cent. I beg him to think carefully before he assents to any proposal of that character. I beg him to examine carefully the kind of points I have tried to put before him this afternoon, to see whether we cannot get increased efficiency on the railway side and cut out some of these losses. I assure him that if he decided to take that course, if he decided to make a real effort to take the necessary steps to improve the railway administration, and tried to make 1096 the savings that way instead of taking the very dangerous step of putting up the freight rates, he would have the wholehearted backing and co-operation of hon. Members on this side of the Committee. Even though some of the measures he had to take were unpopular, he would still have that support.
In turning to the remedies which have been put forward by the Transport Commission and by the Government, I come to matter which may be a little more controversial. I think that the remedies which they have proposed are mistaken in their objectives and likely to be very mischievous in their effects. The first point from which one ought to start is the proposals for integration. Hon. Members who were in the House during the last Session, and certainly every hon. Member who participated in the General Election of 1945, will recollect the bold claims which were made by the Socialist Party about the benefits of what they called "an integrated and co-ordinated system of inland transport." The Golden Age almost was to be ushered in as soon as this integration had taken place. The principal weapon of integration was to be a charges scheme, which was to be common to both road and rail. In due course the Transport Act was passed, and in that Act a period of two years was laid down within which to produce the charges scheme. No charges scheme was forthcoming at all, and eventually the right hon. Gentleman extended the period for a further two years. Now, at long last, we have not a charges scheme, but a document which is called the "Draft Outline of Principles Proposed to be Embodied in a Charges Scheme for Merchandise Traffic."
Before coming to its intrinsic merits or demerits, the first thing I say is that this document, and the principles embodied in it, are no help whatever in the problems about which I have been talking so far. Mr. Wilson, the Financial Controller of the Transport Commission, giving evidence before the Transport Tribunal the other day, was asked when they would get benefits from this integration, and he put it at approximately 10 years from the time the Commission was first set up. Ten years is rather a long time. The right hon. Gentleman and his party are always boasting about the way in which they fulfil their election pledges, 1097 but this is to be paid on a very much post-dated cheque. In 1945 there was no mention that the public would have to wait 10 years for the benefits of this integrated and co-ordinated system of inland transport. Looking at it from the best point of view, we cannot look for benefits for five years to come, so we are very doubtful whether any benefit could come from the pursuit of a policy such as this.
May I remind hon. Members of the way in which charges have been fixed so far? Up to now, in theory at any rate, the charges for goods traffic on the railways have been fixed under a railway classification drawn up under the Railways Act, 1921. On the roads side the charges have been fixed by what it costs to carry the goods, plus a margin of profit for the road haulier concerned. That is all to be altered. Under the Government's proposals in this document, they say:There now arises the question of what is needed to co-ordinate the charging arrangements of the three services … The best practical foundation for achieving these ends is to provide a classification … which, as far as possible, shall be common to all three services. The charges of the respective forms of transport may, however, differ, but should be so framed as to encourage traffic towards the service which can convey it most conveniently and economically.I think "framed" is the operative word. Who is to judge which traffic can carry goods most economically and effectively? Not long ago private traders had the right to choose which form of traffic could carry their goods most effectively and economically. Who is to decide now—Sir Cyril Hurcomb, the Transport Tribunal, or the Minister? We ought to be told, and we ought to be told what kind of principles they have in mind. As far as I am concerned, I have no idea whatever of the kind of factors any of those bodies would bring into consideration in making a decision of that character, which is of overwhelming importance to every trader concerned.
They go on with all sorts of proposals. They are going to divide up the whole country into map squares on the Ordnance Survey and charges are to be based on how many squares one crosses. It reminds me of "Alice Through the Looking Glass." The whole thing will look like a gigantic chess board with the country divided into squares and with Sir Cyril Hurcomb as the Red Queen in the 1098 middle. I suggest that whether or not some of the proposals here may be of advantage in a new system of railway rating, they cut across everything that we on this side have ever stood for in transport policy. Our policy is that each and every form of transport should be encouraged to give the best and cheapest service of which it is capable. The whole object of the scheme outlined here is to prevent that from happening. The whole object is to see that in every circumstance the road rates are brought up to the rail rates.
I want hon. Members to understand very plainly that there is a proposal for putting up the railway rates 16⅔ per cent. If this scheme were put into effect, this scheme of co-ordination, the first step necessary would be to put up the road rates by 16⅔ per cent. as well. Otherwise it would cut across any form of co-ordination between road and rail. In fact, it would be necessary to put them up by more than 16⅔ per cent. to stop traffic going from road to rail, as at present.
This document dealing with the principles of an integrated transport scheme is a typical product of a railway theoretician and has nothing whatever to do with the realities of transport on either road or rail. What does determine charges in any transport system? They were not decided by the 1921 classification based upon what the traffic could bear, but by the harsh impact of road competition. What is going to determine charges in the future is not some theory about loading capacity, but the fact that the nationalised railway system is making losses. What has happened is not the submission of some well drawn up charges scheme, but a decision to put up the rates all round by 16⅔ per cent.
That brings me to the expedients the Government and the Transport Commission have been driven to in trying to get out of this very serious position in transport policy. I will summarise the expedients. The first is to force up the rates and to try to pay the losses quickly that way; the second thing they will try to do is to force up road rates to keep level with the rail rates, and the third thing is to smash the outside competition which, in circumstances of that kind, will very quickly take away a large part of their business. In the remainder of my 1099 remarks I propose to say just how they propose to carry out these expedients.
That brings me to the question of the 16⅔ per cent. The first expedient is to force up the rate, the easy way any monopolist will always choose to buy himself out of difficulty—a flat-rate all-round increase of 16⅔ per cent. Let us consider the history of the application. I remember that on 28th November the right hon. Gentleman came to the House of Commons and said that the Transport Commission had asked him to look into the application for an increase in rates as a matter of the utmost urgency. In an answer given yesterday, he informed the House that the report of the Transport Tribunal was received by the Government before the election. It was received on 6th February. Why has it not been published? I cannot overestimate—I think it would be difficult to do so—either the gravity of the decision which has to be made or the dangers of delay in making it.
Just consider the position of men in this country engaged in the export trade. They have got to plan. I do not know whether hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite recognise the fact that private enterprises in this country have to plan a long way ahead. When they are trying to break into the American market, it is no use saying to a buyer from that country "I am sorry, but we cannot tell you what our prices will be. You see, we are waiting for the Minister of Transport to say whether the transport charges are to go up by 16⅔ per cent." The buyer would put his order book in his pocket. A firm would never get an order on those terms. It is of the utmost importance that we should be told whether these rates are to go up by 16⅔ per cent. or not.
I emphasise, too, the gravity of the decision. To grant this application would give a sharp twist to the vicious upward spiral of increasing costs in this country. It would mean that steel would be affected to an amount of between 8s. and 10s. per ton. It would mean that people in London would have to pay another 4s. a ton for their coal. It would mean a direct tax on the agricultural industry of something like £2 million. It would place almost intolerable difficulties upon those people in the far-off parts 1100 of this country, such as those in the north of Scotland or the far west, in whose businesses transport costs are absolutely fundamental. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will hesitate for a long time before he takes such an easy short-term method of evading his difficulties.
I mention London, which brings me to the special tax which is to be placed by the Transport Commission upon the travelling public in London. Another scheme has been produced. An application has been made for a London Area Passenger Charges Scheme, the effect of which is to raise another £3,500,000 out of the travelling public in London, a pretty large amount. The whole scheme is drawn up under the pretence of being something to iron out anomalies. It is amazing what one can do under the cloak of ironing out anomalies. The Commission say it is:to secure, as far as possible, equality of fares for different journeys of similar length. …Then it is stated, in paragraph' 11 of their memorandum:The scheme is designed to secure a large measure of assimilation of Railway Executive and London Transport Executive charges by applying to both, as far as practicable, a new standard scale based generally on a rate of 1.25d. per mile.Is that what they are doing? If they are doing that, why are they applying to put up to 3d. the 2½sd. bus fare, which is based on exactly 1¼ per mile? That is a new anomaly. Could anyone in the Committee really justify the creation of that new anomaly? Everyone who knows about these things knows that the 2½ bus fare is a gold mine in the London Passenger Transport world. This is a deliberate attempt to raise another £3,500,000 out of the passengers in London to help in some small way towards paying the losses which the nationalised railways are at present incurring.
I challenge the right hon. Gentleman to deny that. Could anybody seriously imagine that at this moment in our economic history, with Minister after Minister going to the microphone and talking about the importance of keeping down costs and profits, anyone would say "We must increase the revenue of the London Transport Executive by 1101 another £3,500,000 "? It was openly admitted before the Transport Tribunal before the election that this was a method of getting more money out of one side to pay the loss which would be incurred on the other.
Nor is this the end of the damage that is being caused. I have always said plainly that what the Government are trying to do is to put up the bus fares in order to try to pay the loss on the railways. I have always said so. It was always indignantly denied. is it denied now? Does anyone on the benches opposite deny it? Is it not the open and accepted policy of the Socialist Party to put up the bus fares to pay the losses on the railways? Of course, no one denies it. It was admitted by counsel for the Transport Commission before the Tribunal. He said:I am told that we are putting up road charges where we can, and that we will continue to do so.There could not be a more frank or more open admission of what the Government's real intentions were.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman wants to extend this system to the rest of the country. I remember that before the election he said in the House of Commons:I am satisfied that when the road haulage process is complete,"—that is, when he had smashed competition in the road haulage business—I shall mention that matter in a moment—it is a polite way of putting itand when the rest of the country follows the same plan, through the area schemes that we applied in London in 1933, we shall get that balance between the receipts and expenditure of road and rail transport which will enable the Commission on the whole to pay its way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st December, 1949; Vol. 470, c. 1358.]The local authorities on the North-East Coast are not quite as dumb as that. I think every one of them intend to fight that scheme tooth and nail. They have seen what has been done in London and they do not want it to be done to them. I warn the hard-headed folk in the Eastern Counties, where the London Passenger Executive are travelling round in two buses, known as Cardwell's circus to popularise a scheme, to look a little closer at the scheme being offered to them. They do not want money to be 1102 taken from them to pay for the losses on the railway side.
There are no lengths to which the right hon. Gentleman and the Transport Commission are not prepared to go at present in order to close down competition. There is not a section of the public which is not being made to suffer from the pursuit of this policy. Let me give a quotation from the "Oxford Times" of 10th March. It says:The attempt of the Ministry of Transport to force members of the public to patronise the nationalised railways against their will has received further illustration at Culham and Abingdon. Personnel from the Royal Naval Air Station at Culham and the R.A.F. Station at Abingdon have in the past, when going on week-end leave, to London or beyond, travelled by coach to Victoria at a fare of 8s. 6d. return. As most of the men stationed at Culham live in the Chatham area, it has been particularly convenient for them to go direct to Victoria, and has given them longer time at their homes than would have been possible had they had to travel to London by rail and cross from Paddington to Victoria. The coach firm who provided this very useful service has now been ordered to stop it—on pain of having its allocation of petrol reduced.The Service Ministers ought to do something to stop this kind of thing going on. Service men are not paid very much, and why they cannot have the benefit of going in coaches on their leave if they want to, I do not know. On one side is the whole pressure of the Transport Commission and the Ministry of Transport; let the Service ministries try to do something on the other.
That case might come before the Traffic Commissioners, but the Minister is most anxious to avoid having to go before the Commission. One method he has followed is this: a few days before polling day in the General Election the Transport Commission bought the Red and White bus group for £4,500,000—£60,000 in cash and the rest in Transport Stock. It was a voluntary agreement; the concern were willing to sell. They were going to take the money out of this country and put it into their African interests. They take the view that it is less speculative to run transport in Africa than buses under a Socialist administration in South Wales. Why did the Minister buy the Red and White bus group? For what purpose? There is no scheme, not even an outline scheme for the area. I will tell the House, in case the Minister does not know—in 1103 order to buy out the opposition before he made an application for the scheme. That is a grossly improper way of spending public money.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
Is there any difference between this proposal of the Transport Commission and the standard practice of privately-owned railway companies in buying a controlling interest in road transport undertakings?
The railway companies generally bought them for some purpose; and they also used their own money. This is being paid for by public money, for no admitted purpose whatsoever.
No, I am not giving way to the hon. and learned Member; we all know him.
On the road haulage side, I have always said that it was the deliberate intention of the Government, of the Socialist Party, and the Transport Commission, to smash the free hauliers of this country, and I repeat that charge today. Indeed, it follows as night follows the day from the policy which they pursue. They are going to put up rail rates by 16⅔ per cent. They will have to put up road rates as well in order to have that co-ordination between road and rail which they always say that we have to have. What would happen if they did not smash the free haulage side? The free haulage side would undercut them all over the place. So what do they propose to do?
Every hon. Member who has been in his constituency knows what they are doing at the present moment. I visited a haulage firm in my division the other day and I saw seven lorries idle. Sitting round the fire were seven men who had been idle for three weeks because they had no petrol. They were reading a speech by the President of the Board of Trade saying that hard work was the one way to get out of all our difficulties. I commiserated with the haulage contractor concerned, and he said, "That is not the worst." He said that on 1st April, or whenever is the appointed day—28th February—they were limiting his steel lorry to 25 miles. They had refused the original permit. He said, "That lorry used to run steel from the great valleys of South Wales up to Scotland." What 1104 does the right hon. Gentleman think that that man can do hawking steel round the suburbs of Abergavenny?
I can produce case after case of this kind. I quote the case of another man in another part of the country who started his business in 1927 and whose son went into one of the Services. He postponed forming a partnership with his son until the boy came back. Because he did that, under a trick in the Act, he is not entitled to have an original permit at all. He managed to get supplementary permits. He writes:These were received on 11th February, 1950, and expired on 28th February, 1950. After that date we were allowed to take one ton per annum outside the 25-mile radius. Since then we applied for two months extension of this permit, which has been granted. However, the fact remains that we either have to go over to the Road Haulage Executive completely or in part or operate 10 vehicles on 25-mile radius which is impossible.Is that the right way to treat the ex-Service men of this country? Why penalise men like that? Cannot the great transport monopoly get on without trying to smash every decent man who is endeavouring to earn his living in that way in the country?
I apologise for having detained the Committee longer than I intended, but I believe that these matters are important. The right hon. Gentleman and hon. Gentlemen opposite know my views plainly enough. I am against this Socialised system of transport. I condemn great State monopolies. But I do know this; I know that the right hon. Gentleman is faced today with a decision of no small importance. He has to make up his mind whether he is going to put up these transport rates or not: and I imagine, on a matter of that kind, it would be a Cabinet decision. He is faced with the same kind of problem as faces every right hon. Gentleman on that bench.
He can sit there and just watch things drift on, with the rates going up steadily. He can try to bolster up the thing by putting up charges here or fares there, and getting a bit more off the passengers somewhere else. He can bolster it up by smashing competition and by eliminating bus companies or eliminating road hauliers. Or he can use the powers that Parliament has given him under the Transport Act, which are wide powers of 1105 direction. He can put new blood into the Commission. He can appoint in the place of Lord Ashfield someone who has real commercial knowledge, and there are two or three more part-time men who could come in. He could make a reformation in the policy pursued by the Commission along the lines I indicated earlier in my speech. I hope he will take the latter course. It is the course which both courage and the national interest alike demand.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
I welcome very much indeed this opportunity for the affairs of the British Transport Commission, and transport generally, to be reviewed by the House at the present moment; especially if we can conduct this Debate in the spirit in which the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) opened his speech, although I am afraid he did not continue in that spirit throughout the whole of his remarks. He stated that possibly we should not end tonight in the Division Lobbies. If we can discuss the affairs of the transport services of this country, which I have always recognised represent, and must of necessity be, an on cost on British production, I think it will be to the common good.
The first thing with which I wish to deal is the appeal to the emotions by the misrepresentations of the hon. Member for Monmouth when he was referring to the problem of the treatment of ex-Service men. To introduce that matter into these affairs does no service to anyone. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Let me put this point to hon. Members. My mind goes back to the circumstances that prevailed after the 1914–18 war. I remember the circumstances in London very clearly, because I was closely associated with all the steps leading to the forming of the London Passenger Transport Board. At that time hundreds of ex-Service men had put the whole of their gratuities into the purchase of buses on the hire purchase system; and as a result of the conditions created on the London streets the whole of the capital invested then by private enterprise in the London General Omnibus Company was imperilled.
On that occasion the Conservative Government was not concerned in the least with the rights of the ex-Service men. What it was concerned about was the 1106 interest on the capital invested in the London General Omnibus Company. At the request and direction and through the influence of the London General Omnibus Company, the Conservative Government in 1933 passed the London Passenger Transport Act. The passing of that Act wiped out all these ex-Service men and created the only complete monopoly of transport that we have in this country today, and have had so far anywhere else. Then it was not a question at all of considering the rights of private enterprise. What concerned the Government of that day was simply the protection of the interest on the capital invested in the London General Omnibus Company.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
As I was a member of that organisation, I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that every single person, ex-Service man and otherwise, was fully compensated for his expenditure and was given an opportunity of joining the London General Omnibus Company.
§ Mr. Barnes
Under the Transport Act any road haulage undertaking which is taken over is compensated. In the case of the Red and White Omnibus Company which operates in the constituency of the hon. Member for Monmouth, compensation was paid. I do not know whether he is alleging that the £4,500,000 is too much compensation, but I think that is the answer. The same principle applies here in our legislation. When by Act of Parliament the property of an individual is compulsorily taken over in order to serve the interests of the wider community, the principle of compensation still prevails.
§ Sir R. Glyn
Will the right hon. Gentleman forgive me for interrupting him again? Surely there is a difference between starving a man to death, which is the policy which has been followed in the case of these freight transport ex-Service men, and buying them out and giving them compensation?
§ Mr. Barnes
I do not accept that there is any policy of starving to death in this matter. I am amazed that any hon. Member who followed the process of passing the Transport Act could make a statement of that kind. The compensation provisions were adequately and fully debated, in Committee, in the House and 1107 in another place. Therefore, there is no justification for that statement.
Perhaps I may now address my remarks to the larger problem involved. I do not in any way attempt to evade the fact that the major problem of finance involved here arises on the railway side of the Transport Commission's undertakings. How could it be otherwise? In the early stages of this transfer the first undertakings to be absorbed into the administration of the British Transport Commission were the four main line railway companies, the canals and the London Passenger Transport Board. When one considers the financial circumstances which immediately arise from that state of affairs, I do not consider that it is fair in a Debate of this kind to ignore the history of what had happened prior to that decision of Parliament. It is my duty briefly to recall to hon. Members those circumstances.
In the first place, no one—and certainly not the hon. Baronet the Member for Abingdon (Sir R. Glyn), who has been a director of one of the railway companies in this country—will deny that this problem of road and rail competition has not arisen from the advent of the British Transport Commission. That problem has been growing steadily and has become graver in its repercussions on the affairs of the country throughout the whole of the first part of this century. As a House of Commons, we cannot avoid responsibility for the fact that up to the beginning of this century the railways practically had a monopoly of traffic in this country. But with the coming of the road vehicle that began to change.
I recall that just before the outbreak of the Second World War—in 1939, I think, speaking from memory—the Transport Advisory Council drew attention to the grave position of the railways and stated that their financial stability was becoming jeopardised. That was when they were considering the claims of the railways under their "square deal" proposals. Parliament was facing that situation before the war broke out. The problem, however, was obscured for the whole of the duration of the war.
I feel it is right to say that the nation used the railways of this country to the fullest possible extent for the purpose of 1108 prosecuting the war. Not only did the receipts of the railways during the war period enable the Government of the day to pay the agreed rent of £43,500,000 to the railways but, as I have stated before, over the whole period there was a surplus over and above that sum amounting to something like £190 million. I submit that since the Government of the day, which was predominantly Conservative, was aware that before the war those conditions, which were certain to be more severe after the war, were bringing about financial instability to the railways, it would have been a sensible policy to have made from that surplus some provision to cushion the effect on the railways of the post-war conditions which they were bound to face. But that was not done.
The problem was further aggravated in this sense: I do not know whether the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) objects to this, but I think it is vital for the full consideration of this problem, in view of the conditions which the British Transport Commission and those responsible for the administration of the railways have to face. I would also emphasise that one has to consider the livelihood of over 600,000 persons employed on the railways in this country. The position was aggravated by the wear and tear upon the railways during the war, and that is represented in arrears of maintenance and in costs which no other branch of industry in this country has had to face.
I think it is essential to get a proper appreciation of the financial background of the British Transport Commission at the moment. It is necessary to remember that all through the war the price level of every other commodity in this country was steadily rising. Prices always rise during a war, and they were steadily rising against the railway managements of this country. An enormous amount of traffic was being channelled through the railways during the war—military, passenger and other traffic. Incidentally, passengers were being carried under impossible conditions, although I will refer to that later when I am dealing with the improved services of the railways. It does not alter the position that the increased revenue obscured the fact that the railways were able to carry on despite the steady rise in the level of costs against them. That obscuring of the situation went on until 1945–46.
1109 But immediately this enormous artificial and abnormal traffic, which had been channelled through the railways during the war, came to an end at the conclusion of the war, the weight of these increased prices which had been rising throughout the whole commodity market fell with increased severity upon railway receipts. The net effect which has had to be faced by the British Transport Commission is that its overall average level of expenses has increased by 120 per cent. over what it was in 1939. During the war and until 1946 when I, as the responsible Minister, had to face the position, the only increase in railway freights and fares that had been made amounted to 16⅔ per cent.
I put it to any hon. Member, and especially to those with any business experience: Tell me any form of business management, either private or public, that could pay its way with its expenses increased by 120 per cent. and with an increase in its charges of only 16⅔ per cent. That was the position at that period. There have been two subsequent increases in freights and passenger fares, first of 25 per cent. in freights and 33⅓ per cent. in fares in 1946, and then later on of 55 per cent. in both. Even with increased charges of 55 per cent., the average overall level of costs which the railway management have to meet is 120 per cent. above what it was in 1939. I would remind hon. Members that that increased cost has occurred over the whole field of private enterprise.
When we are considering the procedure for adjusting the situation, we find that there is no other industry in this country, private or public, no matter whether we take the National Coal Board, the Electricity Board, the Iron and Steel Federation or any other business concern in this country, which, when its expenses are increased like that, does not automatically increase its charges. That is the procedure throughout the community. The railway administration, and now, of course, the British Transport Commission—because Parliament has transferred that procedure to the Commission—is the only business administration in this country which, when it wishes to adjust its charges to its expenses, has to go through a special procedure.
I want the Committee to consider what that procedure is. From 1940 until the most recent application by the British 1110 Transport Commission to the Transport Tribunal, it was the responsibility of the Government and the Minister, while the railways were controlled, to decide whether there should be any increases in charges, and, so far as that phase of the problem was concerned, they went up by 55 per cent. Then, Parliament passed the Transport Act. When we were passing the Bill through the House, the hon. Gentleman, who was a member of the Standing Committee and is no doubt very familiar with our discussions on that occasion, will remember that it was anticipated that, when the British Transport Commission took over, the Minister would be no longer responsible for the day-to-day management and conduct of affairs of the Commission.
Before the Commission could function, we passed through the period of acquiring all these undertakings, and they had to he safeguarded against any situation which might arise and might involve them in adjustment of their charges rates. Under Section 82 of the Transport Act, there was a special provision that, if such a situation did arise, then application should be made to the Minister, but that, in this case, although the Minister has the executive power of making the decision, it was provided that the Minister should first consult the members of the Transport Tribunal, and should take into consideration their advice. As a matter of fact, this situation did arise, as the Committee is aware, and, before we adjourned for the Christmas Recess, I reported that I had received such an application.
In the intervening period, the Transport Tribunal has been considering this application for an increase of 16⅔t. in freight charges, and all the main trading and industrial bodies of this country have had an opportunity of putting their case to the Tribunal, which represents a procedure in which the traders' organisations are concerned. This makes utterly absurd, in my view, the kind of statement which we have had in the opening speech to the effect that the British Transport Commission is a monopoly which enforces its will here, there and everywhere else without any consideration for those who have to bear its charges. As a matter of fact, all these large trading bodies have represented their case to the Tribunal.
In regard to the dates, the Tribunal reported on railway charges on 6th 1111 February, they reported on canal and dock charges on 16th February, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will bear this in mind, especially in view of the comments he made about the injurious effects of any increases of this kind and the appeal which he made to me that it should be avoided at all costs. Would he suggest that the Government should automatically accept the decision of the Transport Tribunal in this transitional period without considering the impact of such charges on the industries of this country, and, if that is his view, what becomes of his accusation, or rather the inference which I detected running through his remarks, that this has been withheld?
In view of the urgency of the matter, the hon. Member must decide on which point he wants to press any criticisms on me. If his main plea is that, in his view, such a charge at the present moment would be injurious to the economic affairs of this country, he cannot complain if the Government of the day takes into consideration and reviews the arguments that have been put forward by the trading concerns who represented their views to the British Transport Commission.
When we take into consideration the fact that the final decision and report to me was made only on 16th February, and that hon. Members and everybody else in the country were then engaged in the final stages of a General Election, surely he does not say that there has been any undue delay in considering this matter? At the first opportunity which I had, I announced in this House my intention to publish the Report and recommendations of the Transport Tribunal, and I am able to state here and now, and hon. Members will be able to confirm it when they get the published report, which will be out very quickly now, that the Transport Tribunal, after considering all the arguments levelled against these increased charges by the different trading bodies, see no alternative but to ask the Minister to authorise those charges.
It is that recommendation which the Government are considering at the moment, and, for the very reason which the hon. Gentleman so strongly pressed this afternoon—that, before any decision 1112 is made, because responsibility does rest upon the Government and the Minister, they are considering the repercussions of such an increase before any final decision is made.
Mr. P. Thorneyeroft
In order to get it absolutely clear and beyond doubt, am I right in understanding the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Tribunal has made a recommendation that the increased charges should be made? Do I also understand that, up to this moment, the Government have not decided whether to accept that advice or reject it?
§ Mr. Barnes
I think I have made that matter perfectly plain.
Whilst we are on this matter, it occurs to me that it might be desirable, in order to avoid confusion in the future, if I refer to the comments of the hon. Gentleman opposite on the London Charges Scheme and on the procedure of the charges schemes generally. It might be of assistance if I were to state the procedure which will prevail in future. In the very nature of things, this is the only occasion on which the transitional provisions of Section 82 of the Transport Act are likely to come into operation. Side by side, or, rather, just subsequently to this last application, the British Transport Commission were in the position of submitting their first charges scheme under the Transport Act which deals with the whole of their services in the London area.
On this question of the charges scheme, I recollect the debate which we had on the first annual accounts of the British Transport Commission. The right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite on that occasion, as he has done on other occasions, emphasised the importance of the British Transport Commission reaching the point when these charges schemes should be submitted. That is the general intention, and it is my view as well. It is impossible to carry through the process of integration to any substantial extent and to secure the economies that we believe can be secured by the Transport Act until charges schemes are in operation.
The British Transport Commission has arrived at the stage when it is able to put the first charges scheme into operation, and that scheme applies to London. I do not think there is any 1113 justification for minimising the importance of the London charges scheme. After all, something like one-fifth of the total population of these islands live within the London area as defined by the London Passenger Transport Board, and that area represents a very important section of their operations.
I would remind hon. Members that in the competition in the past between road and rail a great multitude of variations and anomalies have developed in our transport system, particularly on the railways. I do not think it has ever been contested by hon. Members opposite, even though they have disagreed with the principle, that if we are going to have a public system of transport, it is desirable that in such a system these anomalies should be removed, and that there should be an equitable principle as between one citizen and another and one trader and another in the conveying of their goods or services on the public transport system. The whole purpose of the charges scheme is to iron out and to remove those anomalies, and I do not wish to evade the issue that, by that process, the British Transport Commission ought to be able to pay its way.
I wish to explain the difference between the London charges scheme and the pamphlet with which the hon. Member opposite played so much in his comments. That pamphlet, as he knows, was an initial preparation by the British Transport Commission outlining the principles upon which the merchandise charges schemes would be based, and as something on which to form a basis of discussion with traders and other bodies so that the Commission could get their reactions side by side with the building up of these schemes. I would point out to the Committee that the main line railways operate a considerable number of suburban services in the London area. London transport is responsible for the road services and for the Tube and Underground services. But over the London transport system, particularly if we compare that system with the suburban lines of the railways, all kinds of anomalies exist. The purpose of this London charges scheme is to remove those anomalies and to introduce a principle of equity between all the various grades of traffic.
1114 It is not for me, nor, if I may say so, for the hon. Member opposite, to discuss the merits or the demerits of the London charges scheme here today. I would remind the Committee that this procedure was laid down in the Transport Act and that under this charges scheme the executive and final decision does not rest with either the Minister or the Government. It rests with the Transport Tribunal. Here, again, all bodies—the local authorities, trade unions, traders' organisations, and, indeed, everyone—will have an opportunity of placing their views before the Transport Tribunal.
When the hon. Member opposite says that this or that fare has been agreed to, that is not the situation at the present moment. It is only the proposal of the British Transport Commission, which must be investigated by the Transport Tribunal. Such charges are subject to the criticisms and the views of the various bodies representing the London population, and it is only when the Transport Tribunal eventually decides the issue that those charges will come into being. Therefore, it will not be the British Transport Commission that will determine the charges, and neither will it be the Minister or the Government; it will be. as I have said, the Transport Tribunal.
I suggest that there is no other industry in this country whose proposals, whose affairs, whose expenses, and whose administration are subject to the same kind of severe public examination as that which will prevail with regard to the British transport system. Therefore, far from any hon. Member of this Committee being justified in pointing a finger of scorn and ridicule at that procedure, it would be a better thing for this country if private organisations had to submit in a similar way to that type of investigation.
I want to remind the Committee of one or two things in connection with the railways that ought to be borne in mind, because I recognise that this is mainly a criticism of the railways. In 1949, for instance, not a single passenger carried on the railways in this country was killed in a train accident. The railways carried 992,782,000 passengers in that year, and yet not one was killed. There were other accidents, of course, but what other service in this community can boast of a record of that kind?
1115 On the roads, 4,773 persons lost their lives. In civil aviation, 27 persons lost their lives. But on the railways, which carried nearly 1,000 million passengers, not one passenger lost his life in a train accident. Is not that something which this Committee ought to bear in mind, and is it not a valuable means of transport which we should not lightly set aside?
I now come to the problem of integration. We cannot integrate services nor can we secure the economies that will eventually arise from such integration until, first of all, we get the resources. The first problem of the British Transport Commission was to unify the four main line railway companies, and I venture to suggest that whatever test we apply to those four amalgamated companies, we shall find that considerable economies have emerged from their amalgamation. It is very regrettable that these economies have not been disclosed and been made apparent to the community owing to the fact that as they have accrued they have been absorbed by the process of rising expenditure. But there is not the slightest doubt that, had it not been for unification, the financial plight of the railways would have been worse.
The next point I wish to emphasise—and I want hon. Members opposite, in particular, to keep this in mind—is that if we take the £4,750,000 that was lost in 1948, the £20 million deficiency of 1949, and the estimated deficiency of £30 million in 1950, we see that the proposed increase of 16⅔ per cent. is largely for the purpose of paying the interest to the stockholders of the railways. I say that it is a legitimate charge, but hon. Members should bear in mind that these sums do not represent the normal running expenses of the railways, or even wages, but are largely necessary to meet the interest payments on the compensation stock. The alternative is that the taxpayer should meet these charges, because they are guaranteed under the Transport Act.
It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to get up and talk bravely about the need for avoiding placing these additional burdens on industry today; but does not industry cover, in all its ramifications, the interest charge on capital? Will he deny that industry generally always carries this interest charge on 1116 capital? Is he taking the position today that public transport should not carry these charges, but that the taxpayer should carry them?
That discloses the real purpose behind Conservative policy. They recognise—as is the case with railways in practically every country in the world—that the railways of this country, faced with the growing road competition of today, are not a paying proposition. I doubt whether any railway system of any magnitude in the world has been able to pay its way with a growing system of road transport by its side. The purpose behind Conservative criticism is that the State, that is to say, the taxpayers, should be landed with the privilege of meeting the deficiencies of the railways in competition with any form of transport on the roads—and the public maintain the roads.
We hold to a different policy. It is quite absurd for the hon. Member to say that all competition is crushed out. Of the commercial lorries on the roads under "A" and "B" licences, the British Transport Commission, when the scheme is completed, are taking over the whole of long-distance road transport on the goods side. Their fleet will comprise only about one-third of the total "A" and "B" licences. What becomes, then, of the accusation that we are starving out and limiting competition on the roads of this country? There are 700,000 commercial vehicles with "C" licences.
§ Mr. Barnes
I know that here I differ from some of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee. My contention is that it is an entirely different thing from taking over a public service vehicle. You cannot enter into details of a private business and determine at any particular time whether a particular journey is beneficial or not.
What I am dealing with is the major charge levelled against me and against the Government that we are crushing out any form of competition on the road. I say that that charge does not bear a moment's examination. Over 700,000 vehicles under "C" licence are carrying the traffic of private business concerns while the British Transport Commission have only about one-third of the total fleet other than the 700,000 vehicles under "C" licence operated in this country. What the 1117 Transport Act has rightly done is to take over long-distance road goods vehicles, with payment of proper compensation, for the purpose of integrating the road and the rail system of this country. In 18 months the vehicles, the plants and so on of over 2,000 road haulage undertakings have been absorbed by the Road Haulage Executive. The British Road Services can be seen operating about the country today. No one can quote a similar performance with regard to the taking over of so many businesses and knitting them into a co-ordinated national enterprise such as the Commission have done in the past 18 months.
The Committee must bear in mind that, whilst that process of taking over was in operation, the process of integration could not be carried out in its most thorough sense. Now we are reaching that stage, because the process will be completed by April of this year. Under the Act, these 2,000-odd firms have been absorbed. Their lorries and machinery have been knitted into a national organisation. We are now reaching the stage when the results of integration are becoming apparent. I want to put a direct question to hon. Members opposite, and especially to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe), who will speak later. It is this: if the Conservative Party are returned to power, do they propose to hand this organisation back to private enterprise? We are entitled to have an answer. It is a matter of very great moment to the interest of this country. Here we have carried out a process whereby we have now a nationalised organisation to handle goods on long-distance road journeys. We are getting economies in the handling of this traffic. If I understand the policy of hon. Members opposite, they propose to hand this organisation back to some form of private enterprise. Do they propose to hand it back to the old owners who have gone out of business, or are we to have a series of private monopoly groups again in this country?
If we review the work of the British Transport Commission we shall find that it has thoroughly justified itself up to the present moment. If this Committee will only give it time to develop in its full sense, I am confident that, for the first time in the history of transport in this country, Great Britain will show that it 1118 can solve the problem of road and rail in the interests of industry and of passengers.
§ 4.57 p.m.
§ Sir David Robertson (Caithness and Sutherland)
The Minister devoted a large part of his speech to the charges policy of British Railways. It is apparent that the Government have not yet established any proper policy for fixing passenger fares and freight charges. It seems to me that the old system that grew up when there were 200 or more railway companies in Great Britain is still being carried on today. I should have thought that the policy of the planners, who decided to take over our railways, would have been to decide these things in advance. As my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) said in his very brilliant speech, it is entirely unsatisfactory that we might have to wait 10 years before a policy is established.
When the Government acquired British railways, from Land's End to John O'Groats, they were faced with an expenditure of not less than 75 per cent. before they began to move any loaded vehicles at all. I wonder if they took that fact into account. I have always resented the crude system of charging by so much a mile. Look at the interest charge, the rents, the rates, maintenance, wages and depreciation and all the staffing of every station on the line, every signal box, every locomotive works and shed right throughout the whole system. I suggest that those amount to not less than 75 per cent. of the total expenditure, yet we still retain the principle of charging fares at so much a mile. By doing that we are favouring the short-distance user and penalising the long-distance user. In fact, we are putting the latter out of business.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth said, if this policy is pursued we will price the transport organisations out of business altogether. It costs over £10 return for a Londoner to go third-class to Wick. It costs £3 6s. 0d. to go to Paris, £3 7s. 3d. to go to Brussels and £7 16s. 3d. to go to Nice—those are single fares. With a third-class sleeper, which is essential on a journey of 24 hours to Wick, the single fare would be £7 5s. 0d.
1119 There must be something radically wrong with a charges system which permits fares of this kind. I believe fervently in a prosperous and successful railway system, because I feel that Great Britain cannot possibly prosper unless we have such a system. When the Government acquired the railways they acquired the finest network in the world, built at a capital cost many times less than it would cost today. The present lines could not be built at the cost at which they were acquired. The Transport Commission acquired skilled and willing staffs of high and low degree. They acquired some of the finest artisans in the country. I am sure that none of us will ever forget the devoted work which railway employees did during the war in keeping the trains running under intensive bombing by night and day. The British Transport Commission had a rich inheritance when they took over these railways.
I am surprised that this basic charges policy has not yet been fixed. Out of the extraordinarily crude system which favoured the near-distance user and penalised the long-distance user, a situation developed which made transport so cheap and attractive that very many tickets were sold. That illogical system worked well so far as the railways were concerned, although it hurt the industrialist and the farmer in the remote places. I wonder whether that is not the real solution of this difficulty. Instead of going to the tribunal which fixes rates with this monopolistic 16⅔ per cent. increase, would it not be better to tackle this matter in a commercial way, because I think it is a commercial problem? There is this vast expense of charges which have to be met annually before a train begins to be moved. Is not the remedy to be found in moving more trains, better filled trains, and running trains much more frequently? Is not this a salesman's job? Is it not for the Transport Commission to go out and sell transportation to the people?
The Minister was wrong in suggesting to the Committee that no railway companies anywhere in the world were making money. In the United States they are paying—
§ Sir D. Robertson
They were. If am wrong I apologise, but my belief was that they were putting up a fine show in competition with other forms of transportation.
§ Mr. Follick (Loughborough)
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that shares in the New York—New Haven—Hartford Company, which were nine dollars in 1936, are not worth half a dollar today?
§ Sir D. Robertson
The hon. Member well knows that to quote me the stock value of an old and small railway is no indication of the point I am trying to make. I have not been to the United States since the war, but right up to the war the majority of the railways were profitable. In addition, they gave fine service with much cleaner coaches than we have, much better food and they had a flat rate. They had none of this offensive first and third-class system which, I think, is obsolete. There should be supplementary charges for greater comfort. The Minister has something to copy with great advantage in the parlour cars and the pullman cars and other facilities. The man who wants additional space and comfort pays for it in America.
§ Mr. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)
Will the hon. Gentleman accept these figures? The United States Interstate Commerce Commission tells us that in 1948 the deficit attributed to passenger train services was 560 million dollars; in 1947 the railroads lost 126 million dollars on their express services, 8 million on smalls and another 32 million on less than car load traffic. In order to get over that deficit increases have been made in the overall rate level, making it 60 per cent. higher than in 1946.
§ Sir D. Robertson
I am obliged to the hon. Member for giving those figures to the Committee. When I get a chance to study them tomorrow I will do so. From what he has said it appears that my observation that the United States railways are paying is wrong, and I apologise. I am still firmly convinced that this policy which, I imagine, the Transport Commission is following, of trying to dovetail or integrate arrangements with competitors is not really a wholesome policy. I would much prefer to see the railways coming out boldly and accepting the challenge of competition. I should like to see them 1121 meet that competition by running more trains and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth said, decentralising. In every area there should be salesmen to persuade people to use trains instead of other forms of transport when visiting football matches and the like. There is a tremendous field. Why should not transportation be sold like any other commodity? Why has it to hinge on to an artificial price arrived at by a monopolistic arrangement?
The sellers' market is disappearing fast. It will not be a tribunal which will fix the railway charges which can be paid. It will be the industries. The question will arise of whether or not they can afford to pay the charges. I can imagine that if freights are fixed too high there will he a serious decline. I ask the Minister to consider that at this time, when it is apparent that the sellers' market is passing not only at home but overseas—there is consumer and sales resistance everywhere—it is most unwise to contemplate further automatic increases, such as this of 16⅔ per cent.
I should much prefer to see him put into the regional staffs able and energetic young men, and women too, to canvass business for the railways. That is the only way in which we can ever recover the tremendous expense which must be incurred before movement occurs. The only way in which we can get that expense back is by increased traffic and fully laden goods trains. We should make the railways an attractive proposition. Since I came to this House today I have received a telegram from the Provost of Thurso. It reads as follows:Members of Thurso fishing industry view with great concern the decision to end flat rate, Increased transport charges will prove crippling blow to North of Scotland ports. Solicit your energetic support to have flat rate retained.I know that probably it is not within the power of the Minister to grant that the flat rate should be retained, but some consideration must be given to these fishermen in the north-east of Scotland and other places. The withdrawal of the Ministry of Food flat rate means that they will have to pay three times as much in transportation costs as they paid during the operation of the scheme. I know that the fishing interests on the Humber, who are so much more favour- 1122 ably placed, are objecting. I also know that the North-Eastern Railway, the North-Western Railway and the Highland Railway showed great enterprise in the past. The great ports of Grimsby and Hull were built by railway companies, as was Fleetwood, which was built by the London and North-Western Railway Company. Of course, they gave very favourable rates to those ports. The 'Government are carrying on with those favourable rates, and denying similar rates to fishermen in the north and in Cornwall and other remote ports. After the building of Grimsby docks it was natural that the old Manchester-Sheffield Railway Company should want to attract all the traffic they could, to and fro, and they succeeded by giving a very favourable rate.
If I may have the Minister's attention I wish to tell him that this is a very important point, because fish food production is second in importance only to agricultural production. That apart, there is nothing more important in Britain. The greatest problem any Government will have to face is how we can feed 50 million people in these islands. It will not do, after having seen such a message as this telegram from the Provost of Thurso—who, by the way, is one of my political opponents, though I am very glad to serve the industry irrespective of that fact—for it to be cast aside and for us to say, "It is just too bad that these fellows will have to pay 1s. 6d. a stone freightage on fish from Thurso and Wick to the consuming markets while the man in Grimsby pays 6d." That is the approximate position.
I do not want to damage the men in Grimsby, of course, but I want the Government to face this situation, because the fishing industry at Thurso has been almost entirely built up by ex-Service men from the Navy, Army and Air Force since the war, and that is typical of all those little ports round the coast. The Government have told us what they will do for the Highlands, but we have not seen anything done, apart from talking. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the last Secretary of State for Scotland went to Edinburgh in the summer and made speeches about what they would do, and here is something of great importance to which I draw their attention.
1123 I am wholly convinced that if the Government follow a policy of abundance, going out to compete in the freight market for freights and in the passenger market for passengers, they will find both. Why do not the Government turn Thomas Cook and Son loose to sell the Highlands of Scotland to the thousands of people in this country who have never seen them? It is the loveliest area in Europe—there is nothing comparable to it. Sutherland is the most beautiful county of all. Why divert all the energies of the Thos. Cook business, owned by the Transport Commission, to selling holidays at Nice and elsewhere in Europe? Why not sell our own country to our own people? Is it not time we did that? Does not the Minister realise what a wondrous change it would be for the overworked housewife of Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and London if she could get to that glorious countryside and scenery, to the sandy beaches where the foot of man scarcely walks from one year's end to another? There is first-class accommodation in the hotels, boarding houses and private lodgings at cheap rates, which will give food and service equal to anything that can be obtained on the Continent.
A great field of endeavour exists there, and I draw the Minister's attention to it. The Highland area represents more than one-half of Scotland. Before railways it carried a third of the people but now less than a twentieth. It is the only area in Great Britain which can make a massive contribution to the production of beef, mutton, lamb, pigs, poultry, butter and eggs. I recall that 50,000 head of cattle used to be walked down every year to Falkirk Tryst and then taken on to Newcastle and Scotch Corner to be handed over to the English drovers. We have to use that country again.
The neglect of the past is finished—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and it was not the neglect of the Tory Party, either; I knew that would be suggested. It was the disgraceful neglect of the Liberal Party, with unrestricted free trade, so long backed up by hon Members opposite. That neglect is ended; we have to raise cattle there. Here is a great field of endeavour for the British Transport Commission. We are doing 1124 our duty as an Opposition in pointing out the weaknesses of the present position. We wish the Commission success because without a successful and efficient transport industry there is no hope of industrial and agricultural prosperity in Britain.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Mr. A. J. Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I agree with much that has been said by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) about the Highlands of Scotland, but I think he tended to disparage the achievements of the British transport industry and, in particular, of British Railways. I feel that the Committee cannot fail to have been immensely impressed by the safety record of the British railway system last year, to which my right hon. Friend drew attention. It is a record which must compare extremely favourably with that of any other railway system in the world. There are other matters on the credit side which have been carried forward with great effect. There is the steadily improving level of punctuality in the running of trains. That is seen by all of us who travel by rail, and is corroborated by the figures in the Report of the Transport Commission. It represents a very real improvement upon the old order. In another field there are the very substantial achievements in terms of economy and transport efficiency in the turn round of freight loads and in the economic use of freight wagons. On all these matters—safety, punctuality, the economic use of freight wagons—I submit to the Committee that the achievements of British transport have many features which ought to make us extremely proud?
I rise to speak in this Debate because, considering the question of the efficiency of the British transport industry and of the British railways in particular, I am especially concerned with the contentment and welfare of the workers in the industry as a factor of supreme importance in achieving economic efficiency. The Edge Hill division is a division with a great and famous railway connection, and I do not wish to conceal the impression which I have formed during my years of contact with the railwaymen in my division—an impression that certain anxieties and certain worries beset them. They had the highest hopes of nationalisation. Some of those hopes have been 1125 fulfilled, but others have not been fulfilled, and I hope it will be regarded by my right hon. Friend as perfectly fair and proper that I should draw his attention to some of these factors and ask him if he will be good enough to deal with them.
There is, of course, no doubt that the background of the British railway workers' attitude to nationalisation and to the running of the industry is very much shadowed and affected by the fact that nationalisation has come into operation at a time when very substantial, and as many of us believe, very justifiable, wage claims are having to be restrained. If we are thinking in terms of the economic efficiency of the British transport system and of the British railways as a whole, it is a factor of some importance that over half the British railwaymen are at present working at a basic rate of something less than £5 per week. It is discouraging to British railwaymen, as they consider how nationalisation is proceeding and how their industry is developing, that that should be the wage situation and that wage claims should have to be restrained. I find that there is a readiness among the higher grades of railway workers to see an adjustment of the differential between the lower paid grades and the higher paid grades, but the general standard of wages in the lower grades of the railway workers is, in the view of many of us, a matter which will need urgent attention as soon as the Government can see their way to deal with it.
On the other hand, the railwaymen are, of course, quite aware of advantages which have come their way since nationalisation. Matters like the abolition of rural rates of pay have been appreciated. In my own experience I have come across instances where the new rates have been appreciated. They are operating in the case of men who are downgraded in consequence of failing eyesight, and who are now, for that misfortune, under the new provisions, treated more generously than they were before.
Speaking as the Member for a railway division—what may, perhaps, be described, at any rate in large part, as a railway division—I take this opportunity of impressing upon my right hon. Friend what, no doubt, he is already very well 1126 aware of, that there is a widespread feeling among our railway workers that the railways are not "our railways" at all—that the sense of ownership, and of participation in an industry of their own, which they hoped to feel, is one which, in large measure, they are not yet feeling. The whole system of joint consultation is at a very uneasy and experimental level.
Hopes are entertained of the new sectional councils, the new regional boundaries, and the new promotion and redundancy schemes which are now being worked out or are ready to be put in operation. But the problem of stimulating morale, the sense of participation in their own industry, among railwaymen is not a problem which can be solved on paper it is not a problem which can be dealt with by preparing new schemes and new systems. It depends upon the outlook and the behaviour of the men in the key positions. It is that fact which makes it so extraordinarily difficult for an hon. Member of this House to make constructive proposals. He has got a human problem, and, as I say, it is not easily solved on paper by schemes put down in black and white.
What are the men finding? So far as I can ascertain by my constant contacts with them—contacts all the closer in the last few weeks, when we were fighting the General Election—I have found that the practical men employed in the industry are in far too many cases given no opportunity of a voice in the management at local levels. They are constantly complaining about it. They thought that when nationalisation came along their opportunities of making contributions of a useful kind at local levels would be enhanced, and they have found nothing of the kind.
There is also a sense of widespread dissatisfaction about promotion. Do not let it be thought for a moment that any of them are desirous of going back to the old dispensation. My right hon. Friend and hon. Friends on this side recognise that nothing could be further from the truth than that. It is a case of their having received rather less than they had hoped for. In the matter of promotion what seems to happen in a great many instances is this: the local officer makes his choice, and promotion from one grade to another in a particular instance takes place. Then there is a complaint that a 1127 better man has been passed over, and the men make a complaint, through the usual channels, to the managers about the promotion of one man who is less good than another man, one who is widely regarded as better.
The men tell me they know perfectly well the managers' answer even before it it uttered. It is always the same. It is a stereotyped formula, "The most suitable choice was made." It comes as a formula, and exactly the same formula is then repeated at the higher level when the union head office representative puts the point to the chief regional officer's representative, "The most suitable choice was made." By that time, time is beginning to work its healing effect, and an atmosphere of stagnation and disillusionment and disappointment is apt to take the matter into control; and there is a good deal of feeling about that.
The same considerations apply to the vast numbers of matters affecting the men's welfare, matters such as the schedules of special trains, dining car schedules, lodging turns, conditions of the signalmen's work, to mention only a few. I would mention this also while my right hon. Friend is being good enough to be here to hear what I have to say, that in the treatment of wage claims I have myself seen the most extraordinary tactless handling of the matter. My right hon. Friend will remember the occasion quite recently when the Railway Executive was prepared to make certain concessions, certain improvements, to the lower paid wage grades beneath a certain datum line. The very lowest paid grades under the proposed concessions were to receive quite reasonable advances which the men could consider seriously, but the people immediately beneath the datum line, of course, were going to receive, if the rule of thumb and the exact mathematical proportions were applied, a quite derisory—and they thought a quite insulting—advance.
I happened to be present at a district branch meeting at which these proposals came down from on high, and the men who were present were investigating the effect of the proposals upon themselves. In the case of the grade which happened, at this district branch meeting, to be the most widely represented, the proposed changes offered to that grade an increase 1128 of 6d. a week. It was treated as an insulting and derisory offer, but it was the consequence, of course, of applying the rule of thumb, the mathematical formula and the mathematical calculation, to a matter upon which people are very touchy, namely, their own income, their status and their wages. This trouble could have been avoided by a more tactful, less inhuman handling of the matter.
I have had, in the course of the last two years and more, a great many opportunities of talking with railwaymen at Edge Hill in all grades and in all branches of the industry, and they are aware, whichever way they turn, of this tendency to receive an inhuman, rule of thumb reaction to their problems and difficulties. They felt when nationalisation was first introduced that they would receive a more sympathetic and understanding reaction from authority, and the extent of the improvement which has occurred has, in fact, disappointed them.
One is left with the question—if it is a difficulty of personnel, of the men who are to be selected, and of how men should behave—of what constructive suggestion can be made from these benches about what can best be done. I am convinced that the only thing we on this side can do on this particular matter is to keep on impressing upon the Minister and, through him, the Commission and the Executive, the vast importance of this factor of skilled man-management and a reasonable, sympathetic approach to these problems.
It seems to me that there are two principles, in the main, which ought to be borne in mind. In the first stages of nationalisation there was a great deal of emphasis upon the necessity of continuity of management. The State was taking over the main line companies, and it was desirable, in a great number of cases, that men of experience and knowledge of the old companies should continue in the new system. I should like to think that as the nationalised industry is getting into its stride, so to speak, it may be possible to widen the field of selection and have less regard to that degree of continuity and administration and more regard possibly to sheer merit.
The second factor which, I believe, can be of fundamental importance, and 1129 which can easily be misrepresented by hon. Members opposite, although I am not suggesting that they wish to do so, is that we must have in these key positions men who are heart and soul enthusiasts for the running of a publicly-owned enterprise and a publicly-owned industry. I am not proposing to mention names, but at all levels one comes across instances of persons holding appointments in the industry who have on record statements made by themselves which are critical of the whole conception of nationalised transport and State-owned industries. These men, with the best will in the world, are disadvantaged from having that prejudice, right or wrong, against a national publicly-owned industry.
These are the two principles which I wish to put forward: less emphasis at this stage upon continuity among personnel and more emphasis on having in the key appointments men who are heart and soul enthusiasts for making a publicly-owned transport system a success. If that outlook prevails among the men in the key positions, then I believe that there will be such a response among the workers in the industry that it will have a great effect upon increasing the economic efficiency of the industry, and the doubters will doubt no more; and that those people in the country who are watching the development of the socialised industries with the greatest attention, and who are perhaps now inclined, vast numbers of them, to say, "Go slow," will be prepared to say, "Go ahead."
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Mr. McAdden (Southend, East)
I am very greatful for this opportunity of addressing hon. Members for the first time, and I do so with more confidence than I might normally have, after witnessing the courtesy and consideration which hon. Members are always prepared to accord to those making their maiden effort.
I listened with a great deal of attention to the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) and with a great deal of what he said in the early part of his speech I found myself in a considerable measure of agreement. I do not know whether that is due to the fact that my early political life was spent in the hon. 1130 Gentleman's constituency. Perhaps the mild air of Edge Hill and its surrounding districts has something to do with the fact that we find so much in common. I was interested to find one small measure on which I could disagree with him, and it is on this that I should like to base such few remarks as I have to address to the Committee.
The hon. Member stressed the fact that it was supremely important to see that the conditions of the workers on the railways are improved to the greatest possible degree. I believe that is an extremely important thing, but I am one of those old-fashioned people who also believe that the job of a transport undertaking, whether road or rail, is to convey passengers and goods as efficiently and economically as possible from place to place. That is really its job. The provision of employment for a large number of people is incidental to the job it performs. One should get these things in their right order, and if one does that, one may find a more reasonable and practical solution to the difficulties that confront the British Transport Commission. This we will not do by pursuing the line that our principal and supreme objective is to see that the conditions of those employed in the industry are perfect, without having regard to the service that is provided. If we fail to provide the service, they will not have a job at all. I point that out at the outset, in order that it should not be thought that I bring to this discussion a parish-pump outlook.
It is necessary for me to refer to my own constituency, not merely because I am proud of the constituency that I represent, but because it happens to be particularly applicable to the subject before the Committee. It so happens that we are one of those areas coming within the category of the London scheme, and that scheme, we are told, has been brought forward to be considered, as a basis of discussion before the Tribunal, as the method the British Transport Commission should seek to pursue, subject to due consideration of such objections as may he raised. It is important to Members from every other part of the country that this scheme should be considered in all its aspects, because I do not think that I misrepresent the Minister when I say that, in his view, the London scheme is a good one and may serve as a model for other 1131 schemes in the country. Members, although far removed from Southend, may do well to remember that in time, the arguments that apply in this particular case may apply elsewhere and apply to them.
So far as my own division is concerned, we find that we are in a position in which the British Transport Commission are anxious to remove certain anomalies. In point of fact, they are creating more anomalies than exist at the moment. it so happens that my division is served by two railway stations, one at Fenchurch Street and the other at Liverpool Street. One station is classified by the Transport Commission as being outside the area and the other, 200 yards away, is classified as being inside the London area. The fares on one are to be maintained at the present rate, and the fares upon the other are to be increased. Surely that is a perpetuation of anomalies and not removal of them.
So far as this question is concerned, it is not the object of the Committee, as the hon. Member for Edge Hill rightly pointed out, to try to solve these problems so that they look nice on paper. It is true that he was talking about a different problem, but the same argument applies. It is not the purpose of this Committee to try to plan a transport scheme on the basis that one can work out the transport needs of the community according to the number of miles that separate one place from another, without having due regard to the individual characteristics of different districts.
I hope that I may have the support of the Minister on this matter, because he knows, as I do, that a very large number of his constituents come to my constituency from time to time. Incidentally, if this scheme is approved they will have to pay a jolly sight more in order to get there. I hope that I shall have his support on this matter because it is imperative for us to recognise that since the old Fenchurch Street-Tilbury-Southend railway line, some 36 miles long, was built, it has become a profitable line on the basis of a cheap season ticket. On the basis of the cheap season ticket—one of the lowest tariff rates in the country—we are at present conveying 20,000 people to work in London every day.
1132 These people have been persuaded to come from London and adjourning parts and to live some distance away from their work because of the attraction of a cheap season ticket. Some of them have purchased houses in Southend, and I hope that the fact of having done so in that particular district will not be held against them. Those who listened to the Debate on housing last night know quite as well as I do that it is impossible for them, merely because the Transport Commission wish to increase the fares, to say that they will leave Southend and live in London, near to their work. They cannot do it. They have been attracted to the district because of the inducement of a cheap season ticket, and if the Transport Commission put up these prices, as they seek to do, these people will be disadvantaged, because immediately their incomes will be considerably reduced, as a result of the suggested alterations in the tariff.
These questions ought to be ventilated, and I think it is important that hon. Members should realise that what is happening in Southend now, may happen in, say, the Liverpool divisions when Southport is affected in due course; it may apply throughout the country. It is, therefore, important for us to remember that due consideration should be given by those who understand local conditions before suggestions of this nature are put before tribunals; and we should have the opportunity of more careful consideration of individual differences which are to be found from place to place.
I have stated that the journey on the Southend-Tilbury-Fenchurch Street line is being treated as wholly within the London area, and that the Southend-Liverpool Street line is treated as outside the London area. We all remember the troubles associated with the Polish corridor, and I am sure we do not want a perpetuation of that trouble in a "Southend corridor." Southend is being treated as part of an area comprising London and its dormitory zones, but only so far as the Fenchurch Street line is concerned. Southend as a seaside resort, with an industry depending upon passenger transport, is totally ignored. As a matter of fact, Southend is the only seaside resort included in the scheme.
The cost of such a scheme to the community income of Southend will be 1133 between £250,000 and £500,000 out of the £3½ million which the Transport Commission hope to receive. It is hoped that the income will be increased by some £3½ million, and they hope to get up to one-seventh of the increase out of the people who live in Southend and the surrounding constituencies. To my mind, that is not fair. That seems to me to place an undue hardship upon us; and it seems unjust that, at a time when we are already suffering from a high cost of living, these further demands should be made upon the purses of the people who have to travel from Southend to London, with a resultant reduction in their ability to spend their money in Southend and with the evil effects it will spread throughout the whole community.
Last night in the House we heard something of the evils of price fixing; we were told that anybody who tries to maintain prices at a higher level than is necessary for the needs of the community is something of a traitor to the nation; that such a person ought to be wiped out of existence. But that is precisely what is happening here. I am sure the Minister knows as well as I do that what is happening in regard to the suggested increase in fares on the Southend line is not occasioned because the line is not running at a profit. It is. It has one of the lowest tariff rates in the country, and it has one of the highest profit rates in the country.
That gives some force to the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) that one of the troubles with our railway industry is that the fares are too high, and that if they were brought down, more people might travel, so that we should make money instead of losing it. The Southend section of the line lends force to that argument, because there we find that although the tariff rate is very low the profit is very high. I hope that these factors will be borne in mind by the Minister.
I, too, wish to quote from the book referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth, although held up to some scorn by the Minister. On page eight of the "Draft Outline of Principles Proposed to be Embodied in a Charges Scheme for Merchandise Traffic" we find that, in dealing with goods, this is the object of the scheme: 1134It is the object of the scheme, therefore, to avoid as far as practicable the complexities and inconsistencies which arise when departures are made from a soundly designed plan. It is realised that exceptional cases may arise where the development of a substantial flow of traffic is contingent upon the level of transport costs, and in such instances, the need and practicability of a departure from the plan in the form of a special rate or charge will be taken into consideration.If they are prepared to take account of special considerations in their calculations with regard to freight, then I think they should take account of special considerations in their calculations with regard to human beings, who have to travel from one place to another. One of the major troubles running throughout the labour problems of the British Transport Commission—and this is a point upon which the hon. Member for Edge Hill and myself find ourselves in entire agreement—is that these things cannot be solved on paper, no matter how pretty the plans look, without having some regard to individual characteristics and conditions.
I should now like to refer to transport facilities by road as they affect the Eastern Region, of which my own constituency is a part. It is true that ours is one of the "guinea-pig" areas. The North-Eastern Region was the first, and we are second on the list. I think it is fair to say that we are second on the list because the Transport Commission, through their purchase of Tilling's, have already secured a large measure of control over some forms of transport within the area. What is preventing them from having a nicely integrated scheme—how they love the sound of that phrase "integrated scheme"—is the fact that a number of municipalities have excellent transport undertakings, which they have been running for years, in most cases at a profit and to the relief of the rates. Today it is suggested that they should be taken over and run by the British Transport Commission.
To my mind, the same argument applies here. I am satisfied that the people who know best how to run the buses in Colchester are the people who live and work in and control the affairs of Colchester; I am sure they know how to do it much better than anybody else. If I may be permitted to refer to Southend again, I am certain that the Southend Corporation knows much better how to provide a municipal bus service, 1135 and run it effectively, than does the British Transport Commission. I am strongly opposed to this suggestion to place these things on a large regional basis, and to remove from the people on the spot, who know how to run these things, responsibility and the opportunity to operate the services satisfactorily. Every single one of the municipalities in the Eastern Region has strongly opposed this suggestion, and I hope that they will have the support of the Minister, so far as it lies within his power to give it.
Now I should like to say a word or two about the suggested increase in freight charges. I know it is easy for people to say: "Well, 16⅔ per cent. is not very much." There is a point which I do not think has been mentioned in the debate so far, and that is that the 16⅔ per cent. is only half of what the increase will be. I do not know whether it has been brought to the attention of the Minister, but the actual suggestion is that the increase shall be 33⅓ per cent., not 16⅔ per cent. Let me try to clarify that. It is proposed to increase the charge 16⅔ per cent., but surely it has not escaped attention that a great variety of the articles which are conveyed by a transport service are, in these days of penal taxation, subject to Purchase Tax, in one form or another, so that, with Purchase Tax levied upon the free delivery price of the goods, if the cost of the carriage is put up by 16⅔ the cost of the Purchase Tax is also put up by 16⅔. Therefore, they will be paying twice, once through the Transport Commission and once through Purchase Tax.
The increase can be very considerable, and hon. Members who have just returned from their constituencies—and I congratulate all of them upon that return—should also remember that the cost of living is a very live and important issue on which the British Transport Commission can have a very serious effect. From the time when we get up in the morning, this question of the cost of living is with us. We are wakened by an alarm clock on which we had to pay tax and we then switch on the light and on the bulb we had to pay tax. When we wash ourselves we use soap on which there is tax, and there is also tax to be paid on the toothbrush and on the toothpaste which we use when we clean our teeth. The knives and forks 1136 which we use at breakfast are subject to tax. And so it goes on all through the day.
These increases in freight charges are going to be seriously reflected in the cost of living. I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will reflect upon the fact that the activities of the British Transport Commission are going to affect most seriously both them and their constituencies. It may be true that the suggested operation of the London charges scheme may not seem as real and as present a danger to hon. Members in some parts of the country as it seems to me, but if it is to be regarded as a model, sooner or later hon. Members in all parts of the Committee will have the matter brought to their attention by their constituents. It is better to look at it now while there is a chance of doing something about it, rather than to let the whole thing go on growing and growing until it becomes so cumbersome that we shall have lost control over the activities of the body which is under discussion this afternoon.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
It is inevitable that the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) should join issue with those of us who sit on this side of the House and who believe in nationalisation, but he has done so in such a delightful manner and with such felicitous phrasing and has revealed such a sense of humour that I hope he will not think it presumptuous on my part if I offer him the congratulations of the Committee on his maiden effort, and express the hope that in future whenever he differs from us he will continue to do so in such an excellent spirit. The history of railway facilities to and from Southend goes back a long way, and I am quite certain that we could spend a very interesting hour examining why certain things happened in years gone by; but that is outside our province today, though perhaps I may have an opportunity of talking to the hon. Member about it on some other occasion.
I must confess that I thought the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) spoke with more heat than light this afternoon. He complained very bitterly of the railways' deficits, and then found fault with my right hon. Friend for submitting specific proposals to over- 1137 come those deficits. The purpose of Section 76 of the Transport Act is to enable the Commission to provide an adequate, economic, and properly integrated system of inland transport and to conduct their business on a self-supporting basis. The hon. Member must appreciate that the whole tenor of his speech was a criticism not of the Commission but of its predecessors.
The hon. Gentleman asked for an infusion of fresh blood into the Commission. I do not quarrel with that, but I am surprised that he was so critical of the men who are now in authority, because the Minister of Transport accepted, in the first instance, the men who were nominated and given the authority by those who formerly owned British Railways. For instance, the chairman of the Railway Executive was formerly the general manager of the Southern Railway, and the gentleman who is virtually in charge of the division for the revision of freight rates was vice-president of the L.M.S. and is one of its best statisticians, a man, in fact, whose ability none will deny. The chairman of the Transport Commission has nearly 40 years' experience of the work of the railways, and in the ordinary way it would have been thought that such a man would have made a ready appeal to hon. Members opposite. If the Minister of Transport is able to infuse a little fresh blood, we shall be very glad to give him some names, because up to now the charge of finding jobs for the boys has not been made out and must be entirely repudiated.
The history of the railways demonstrates that our present plight is not anything new. I have spent the best part of 40 years in the railway service, and I have never known them in other than financial difficulty. It was in 1938 that the Transport Advisory Committee, a non-political body, advised the Government of the day that, unless something was done to give the railways a square deal, railway finances and business would end in utter chaos.
I reminded the House on a previous occasion that the general managers and directors of the former railway companies appealed to the staffs to tour the country asking for a square deal for the British railway system. They suggested that we ought to try to address rotary clubs, 1138 chambers of commerce and public bodies, demonstrating to them that the conditions in which the railways were working were totally unfair as compared with road transport. We complained that the advice offered to the railway managers by the railway unions 20 years ago to take an interest in road transport had been rejected, but we gave them our cooperation and we said we would help to get a square deal. As my right hon. Friend pointed out, the war intervened.
The railway managers suddenly became alive to the threat of road transport, and they started buying up road transport concerns. The hon. Member for Monmouth complained that my right hon. Friend was doing that, but he was merely following the precedent set by the former railway companies, who bought up where they could and paid rather high prices with one simple object in mind—to deprive themselves of competition. The right hon. Gentleman, who has the task of integrating and co-ordinating transport, cannot be blamed if he follows that precedent.
I wish the hon. Member for Monmouth had pointed to a vital difference between the railways and road transport. The railways are common carriers and must accept everything. Road transport are able to pick and choose, and, in effect, that means that the railways have to take the heavy stuff and road transport can have the cream and the most profitable side. That obviously is a very unfair system altogether.
During the election I did not see in any newspaper or hear in the speech of any hon. Member opposite that if the Tories were returned to power they proposed to de-nationalise the railways. They accept the policy, and I suggest to them very seriously now that it is a responsibility upon their shoulders as well as upon ours to make nationalisation a success. In order to do it, they must give us the necessary authority to make legitimate charges, both in respect of passenger and freight traffic. I have heard it suggested several times this afternoon that the fares are too high, and that consequently people will not travel by train. The inference is that the fares should be halved; but surely it is appreciated that if the fares were halved and we carried double the number of passengers, that would add nothing at all to our revenue.
1139 Last May the Minister of Transport addressed a conference of 600 delegates representing the clerical, administrative, supervisory, professional and technical staffs of British railways. He appealed to them to exercise all the powers that they could to make transport a great public asset and a profitable concern. They accepted his invitation, but what they cannot understand is that if the masters in the iron and steel world, in the timber world, in cement or any such commodity find it necessary to put up their charges to meet increased costs, there is no public outcry at all. As soon as somebody suggests that, in order to meet the heavy additional costs which the railway industry has to bear, we should increase the charges, great public indignation is expressed by hon. Members on the other side of the Committee.
May I remind hon. Members that the charges which the industry has to bear are very considerable. They include an increase of something like 80 per cent. in respect of steel, 174 per cent. for coal and more than 600 per cent. for certain kinds of oil, canvas and timber, which are all things for which the railways are very great customers. They have all gone up to tremendous price levels, while the charges made by the railways have not approached those levels to any extent. It is manifestly unfair, if the railway industry is to be efficient and to give public service, that we should decline to give it the necessary sinews of industrial warfare. The proposals that the Minister makes are reasonable and are the minimum proposals to ease the position in the London area.
The railway section of the transport industry has to earn £24 million per annum to pay the interest on the stock. I make no complaint about that. The bargain must be kept and the payment made, but if we are not allowed to earn the money to do so in a legitimate way then the £24 million per annum must be borne by the general exchequer and not be a burden on the railway industry. If we are expected to wash our own faces and keep them clean, we ought to be given the material necessary to do so. I would further remind the Committee that railway men of all grades are at the tail end of the queue in respect of wages and salaries. They have exercised a restraint which makes me feel very proud 1140 of them. We have found it very difficult to prevail upon them to continue that restraint. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) pointed out, thousands of these men are earning less than £5 per week. Even the Railway Executive had to concede that there is cause for complaint in regard to basic wages and salaries. Their only opposition to an increase was that overtime, Sunday duty and night duty were added to the men's pay and helped the pay packet a little. Railwaymen are not in isolation. They believe that they should have more leisure and be able to cultivate the arts. They think that overtime, Sunday duty and night duty are penalties that should be avoided wherever possible.
Unless the railway industry is given a reasonable opportunity to impose charges that can be justified on a mathematical basis, and even on a business basis, there must be a subsidy from some other source. I warn the Government very seriously that unless they give heed to that aspect of the matter, we cannot hold out any hope of continued industrial peace on British Railways. At the same time, there is a desire in the hearts and minds of railwaymen to play their part in the economic recovery of Great Britain. They are anxious, as hitherto, to maintain industrial peace. They are prepared to take the rough with the smooth and they ask for an opportunity to make a coordinated, integrated transport system a great success. When we find that the key positions are held by men who were formerly held in high esteem by hon. Members opposite we will not complain, provided that as time goes on and new opportunities present themselves, the men and women in the industry who can demonstrate by their work and by their character that they can make a contribution shall be given more frequent opportunities to reach the top of the ladder.
The opportunity is with the Government, and the opportunity ought to be seized to give the transport industry the facilities to which it is entitled. Let the men feel that there is a prospect of their work being properly paid for, and then they will render to the people of Great Britain the same efficient service as they have given for the last 50 or 60 years.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Sir Ronald Ross (Londonderry)
I shall not attempt to follow the line taken 1141 by the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris) on the question of wages, except to say that I think it is apparent to all of us that if we start subsidising wages in one industry, there may be other industries which will consider that they should have equally favourable treatment. As regards the railways on the whole, the hon. Member adopted rather a pathetic line. The pathos was even greater in the speech made by the Minister, who relied upon bringing tears to our eyes about his difficult situation, in order to get out of some the criticisms which have been made about the service. I cannot think he really has very much to complain of. He got all the railway services, which are incomparable, for nothing. If he had had to build them, the cost would have been many times greater than was paid to the railway companies when the undertakings were nationalised.
Again, under the present system, British Railways have every advantage, including some advantages which the railway companies did not possess. Let me give an instance. When property belonging to a Government Department, like the Army, the Navy, the Air Force or the Ministry of Supply, was lost, as it sometimes is, the railway companies had to pay, but now that loss comes on the Vote of the Department concerned. That creates a different position, and represents an indirect subsidy which the railway companies did not have. However, I wish to consider several points affecting one of the farthest distant parts of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, which I have tried to bring to the attention of the Minister before.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
The hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) referred to remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West, about subsidising a certain class of worker, which the hon. Member did not think would be a very good thing. If an industry is not to be permitted to earn a revenue because of the direct charge it must be upon the economy of the country, does that not rather mean that the railway service is subsidising the other industries of the country?
§ Sir R. Ross
I think the hon. Member is misled and that when he thinks the 1142 matter over calmly he will form a different opinion. I have great hopes today of getting an answer from the Minister. The last time I spoke, for a very short time, the debate was much too short. There was a speech from the Parliamentary Secretary which was a masterful anticipation of the election campaign. The speech was very good from the electioneering point of view, but it did not contain one word in answer to the points which I had put. I have been trying to extract an answer by correspondence, without success at the present time. The Parliamentary Secretary has run away to sea. He is not here now.
Northern Ireland is probably more dependent upon transport than any other part of the United Kingdom. Our raw materials are obtained from Great Britain and our finished articles go back there. We send enormous quantities of food over. In some cases, steel, for instance, the material goes to build ships in Belfast and is affected only one way, because the ships carry themselves away. My constituency's main industry is shirt manufacture. We get cotton cloth from Lancashire, with which county we have a very close connection. We send back the finished articles to the British market, as a rule. Every rise in freight rates on British Railways and the cross-channel steamers very seriously and adversely affects us. I look with the gravest apprehension at the question of putting freight rates up still higher.
It is not that we are having a frightfully good service. The service is deteriorating. I have in my hand a letter from the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, one passage from which reads as follows:Several complaints have been received that shirts have been badly damaged and, in some cases, totally destroyed. These shirts are sent forward in special containers and they have been allowed to remain in the open and water has soaked in, with fatal results. Delays are very frequent, both in the arrival of cloth and in the delivery of shirts.One of my constituents has said that the time it took to come from Londonderry to England was comparable with the time it took to come from West Africa to London. He had worked out the times and had found a slight advantage in the case of West Africa. That really is not good enough, and the service should be much better than it is at present.
1143 The reason it is not better is that it is not given any kind of appropriate priority. The British Railways seem to be obsessed with the idea of traffic to the Continent. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who said that instead of trying to increase traffic to the Highlands, and to Northern Ireland, which is also a delightful place, the emphasis is laid on traffic to and from the Continent, where people spend British currency outside the sterling area.
We see that particularly as regards the shipping services. Never once since the railway shipping services have been under the management of the Transport Commission have we been given any assistance by ships which normally run to the Continent. Constantly, however, ships are taken off Northern Ireland routes and put on to the Continental routes. We have had much the most crowded routes and probably the most paying ones. Sailing tickets were never necessary on any other routes; they were never heard of for France, Belgium or Holland. They were put on to limit the number of people travelling to Northern Ireland, and at the same time ships were taken away and put on the Continental routes. One of the Heysham ships, the "Duke of York," has been taken away permanently and has been running between Harwich and Holland, thus depriving us of our Sunday night service. If I or any of my colleagues go back on Saturday and wish to be in this House on Monday, we must fly, and there is no flying terminus within 60 miles of where I want to be.
Again, the ships on the service have not been properly reconditioned. The beautiful, nickel-plated splendour of the ships running to the Continent is not reflected in those running to Northern Ireland which have done honourable war work. Many have shellholes in them as a result of gallant service on the coasts of France and elsewhere. Some were lost, but the others have never been properly reconditioned and one can still see the crash panels in the door through which people were supposed to scramble when the ship was submerged. They ought to be properly reconditioned and made to look attractive, instead of this work being directed entirely to ships running to the Continent.
1144 The only ship that has been built for the Northern Ireland run has been to replace the motor carrier the "Princess Victoria," sunk when she was working for the Admiralty as a minelayer. Yet one sees on other services new ships built by the Transport Commission, notably the new ships running from Holyhead to Kingstown. I do not grudge them that, but it is extraordinary that the Transport Commission have paid so much attention to the needs of the citizens of Eire that the best ship on the Larne and Stranraer route, the "Princess Maud," an oil-fired vessel, was taken off her proper work and stationed at Holyhead in case some of those people had not quite enough transport. The result is that those who have to sleep on board the "Princess Margaret," which is coal-fired, hear thunderous avalanches of coal all night and get no sleep, just because a good ship was taken away and a much older ship was left.
The service was far better looked after when it was under independent railway management. If the Minister will listen to me—everyone always says that, but I would like his attention at this moment—I will compare the pre-war situation with the situation under the British Transport Commission on the services running to Northern Ireland from London. In pre-war days the Heysham service left at ten minutes past six; now it leaves at a quarter to five. The service to Stranraer used to leave at twenty minutes to eight, now it leaves at six-thirty. I have already said, as regards the Heysham service, that the Sunday service has been abolished because the ship has been "pinched" by the Minister and is being used at Harwich.
As regards the Stranraer service, the system is beautifully arranged. One starts much earlier than before, arrives at Stranraer and then has to wait about three hours before the ship sails. I cannot imagine why, with all the wisdom of railway management, they cannot arrange a train which arrives in reasonable time, say with not more than an hour to wait before the ship sails. As it is, probably having got up at five o'clock in the morning, one arrives at the port and just sits on the ship. It is a thoroughly uncoordinated system, and the local services from Newcastle-on-Tyne and elsewhere are equally bad.
1145 Then I come to the Liverpool services. Here British Railways appear to have made a dead set against private enterprise, because the Liverpool boats are not under British Railways. They have so arranged their train service that it is the worst imaginable from the point of view of those travelling by these boats. In the old days one left Euston at five minutes past six; now one has to leave Euston at a quarter to four. There is another train, but it is so carefully arranged that it just misses the boat. That seems to me to be a most deliberate and determined plot to try to give the worst service possible to the competing line of ships. If, before the war, a train could leave Euston at five minutes past six, I cannot see why that should not happen now. There are plenty of people who wish to travel that way, and it is lengthening the journey unnecessarily. The same applies to a great extent to the Stranraer journey.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland said, all the emphasis is being laid on travel to the Continent, travel out of the British Isles, and we are apparently under the ban that anything is good enough for Northern Ireland. Ours is probably the best paying section of the services, and the right hon. Gentleman should know that there is grave dissatisfaction at the way these services are being managed and run. They are more expensive and far worse than they were before the war; there are unaccountable delays and an increased proportion of damage to goods. In no direction can I see anything except deterioration.
My own view is that if the ships were handed over to the Ulster transport authority, we should get a very much better service. It is our lifeblood and vital to us. The Transport Commission seem to take a very light view of the whole thing and to transfer the ships to Continental services without due regard for the needs of their fellow citizens in other parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of these things, and I hope still more that attention will be given to trying to improve these services
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
I would not wish to follow the 1146 hon. Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) into the various aspects of the Northern Ireland services, but, with his indulgence and that of the Committee, I would continue the point about subsidising the railways in the event of their not getting sufficient in terms of profit to pay for wages, and the Government's having to come to the assistance of the men in the industry.
I take the view that the request now before the Minister and the Government that the rates should be moderately increased by 16⅔ per cent. upon their present reasonable basis, must be accepted if we are to say at the outset that, at least, the Government will not consider relieving the Transport Commission of some of its obligations in terms of compensation, or that its hands are not to be tied in the way which is proposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite.
The argument which is put forward is simply that if we were to raise transport charges the effect would be to increase the cost of goods for export and of all commodities, both raw materials and those which we manufacture, and that this would be a very bad thing. Certainly, there is some justification for that argument. As the Minister has made clear, however, the railway companies and the various units of our transport industry have, like other business houses, to consume a quantity of raw materials and semi-manufactured articles, for which they have to pay the market price and, above all, in the case of coal, the greatly enhanced price. If their rates are to be tied down to a figure of some 50 or 60 per cent. above pre-war, the railways will not have a chance to operate on a proper economic basis. Under these conditions the effect would be that, far from our subsidising wages, the railways and the railwaymen would be subsidising the trade of the country.
It may well be that that viewpoint could be justified, that it might be a good thing to stabilise the railway rates at their present level or even to reduce them. Some people, in fact, hold the view that in some forms of economic organisation we should not bother about charges in terms of profit and loss as far as freight rates are concerned, but that it is vital to the interests and the commercial life of the country that we should have a first-class transport system cheaply and 1147 almost irrespective of cost. It will be agreed on all sides, however, that without a first-class, most efficient transport service we should be losing something in terms of the trade of the country.
When the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) gets up and flagellates himself, as he did today, and says that all our troubles are newly-born and part and parcel of what has happened since 1947; he is very naïve if he thinks he can mislead the Committee and the country. I do not think, however, that he is as naive as that; he is very well informed upon these matters. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. P. Morris), has today so clearly shown, many of the problems now confronting us are not new at all, but have pursued us for a generation. As practical railwaymen, who have worked in the administrative and operating sides of railways, many of us on these benches have known throughout the last 25 years that the railway companies have had a problem to balance their budgets and to make their industry pay. It has been a contracting industry, and if we overlook these things we shall not be facing the facts.
The coming of the internal combustion engine completely revolutionised the railway industry, and this process still continues. Whatever else is done, our railways will have to be radically re-organised and modernised, and much of the dead wood—not in terms of overhead administration, as some people may think, but in terms of outworn equipment—will have to be removed. It should be one of the most urgent tasks of the Transport Commission, projecting their minds as far as they can over the next 20 or 50 years, to decide what is to be the function of the railways, and then, having decided that, to build up the ancillary and surrounding industries. With the coming of the internal combustion engine the railway companies can, quite obviously, no longer serve the community as they were called upon to do in the 19th century.
The system of charges, as has already been said, is a most complex and difficult matter and I, as a practical railwayman, do not complain of the time which the settlement of this question is taking. I am however, impatient and anxious to see the new system introduced for the 1148 various sides of the industry. After all, after the 1921 Act it was some seven or eight years before we were able to straighten out the rates and charges.
§ Mr. Davies
My hon. Friend reminds me that it was 10 years; my estimate was a modest one. I well remember that in 1928 we were still wrestling with that problem. Far more difficult, however, is the present situation, where we are dealing with water, road and rail transport and seeking to establish what shall be the reasonable place and function of each of these services.
Hon. Members on all sides will agree that if we are to hold our place in the world as a great exporting nation, we want nothing less than the best transport system. In my view, that will call for great capital expenditure, which I do not think can be related to an annual balance sheet. Vast sums of money will have to be spent on electrification. I am glad to see something of the experiments now taking place in the Western Region which will reduce the running costs of locomotives and lessen the consumption of coal. The closing down of some of the branch lines is bound to follow. There will be a centralisation and radial distribution of traffic, which can be done very much better with the use of the internal combustion engine than by the old-fashioned methods of operation.
The railwaymen are today very disgruntled. They are, nevertheless, appreciative of much of what has been done in giving them an opportunity for increased consultation. They have been promised that an educational system will be devised which will enable men from the humblest ranks to rise to the highest executive positions, and they are promised that on the great matters of reorganising the industry they will be consulted. All this process, however, is not yet fully appreciated at the lowest level, but it is our hope that a proper appreciation of all these improvements will percolate down to all levels.
But a start has been made and we are appreciative. In matters of welfare, and so on, certain practical proposals have been made, but let none of us be under any illusion about this. We inherited, as the Minister of Town and Country Planning, a former Chancellor of the 1149 Exchequer, said, "a poor bag of physical assests" when we took over the railways—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."]—Oh, yes. Unlike some hon. Members opposite, I have worked for a generation in many stations and I know some of the conditions under which my colleagues had to work. They were a disgrace to any commercial undertaking and to a Christian country. Because they were exempted from Home Office inspection, there were dark holes and festering hovels. Many of them continue and one could not expect that the Commission could radically alter these things in a short time. A great deal of money has to be spent on there improvement and on the staff. Railwaymen have done a good job of work and in some places machinery was metaphorically, if not literally, tied up with pieces of string, but they carried the traffic and we are proud of their efforts. But their patience is running out rapidly.
With my colleague the hon. Member for Swansea, West, I have had something to do with persuading railwaymen to hold back demands. We contended that in the present condition of the country we could not keep on increasing wages. We succeeded in that contention, but I must confess that today the men are very dissatisfied, especially those referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) who referred to basic wages of less than £5 per week. Can any hon. Member in any part of the Committee say that a man can be expected to keep his family in decency on such a wage, taking into account all the great social benefits we have had under the Labour Government, especially when they see men in new industries getting twice, and perhaps three times, that sum of money? They are not likely to be content. Therefore, I must ask the Minister to recognise that if we are not to have a system of charges which will enable us to earn a revenue and to pay a decent wage to the man in the industry, he must look out for trouble on that front. The men must have economic justice and their claims ought to have been attended to, in some instances, before now.
Some of us believed that integration of the transport services of this country was the only means of getting a first-class system of transport. There was no future for the railways apart from it. If ever the Tories are returned to power and de- 1150 cide that the railways shall not be de-nationalised but that the profitable road transport shall be denationalised, I warn them they will have to enact extensive legislative control over the road side of the industry to give justice and parity to the railways.
As the hon. Member for Monmouth rightly pointed out, the industry has grown up over a century and the railways have had to build their charges system upon a classification described as what the traffic would bear. It was superseded by flat rates and other things afterwards, but it is completely outmoded and if road transport were denationalised in equity something would have to be done, if we agree that railways are to continue as a transport service. How vitally necessary they are, not only in times of peace, but in war, has been proved and they have to be given an opportunity to earn revenue and to continue. The road system could not be set free to skim off the cream of the traffic while the railways were left without assistance.
What is the Minister doing to speed up the acquisition of the road side of the industry? We have heard of the difficulties in the North East area and elsewhere and some of my colleagues and I are impatient that greater progress has not been made. The Minister has told us of great progress on the freight side in acquiring road vehicles, but very little progress has been made on the passenger side and, unless we get reasonably complete integration, we cannot see that the problems of charges and proper functioning of the several aspects of the industry can ever be solved. I hope that if the legislation framed in 1947 is inadequate for the job with which the Commission is confronted amending legislation will be put on the Statute Book, so that we can get on with the job and do good work.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Wilson (Truro)
I must crave the indulgence of the Committee on this, the first occasion on which I have had the honour of addressing it. I suppose that all new Members must feel on coming here rather like the new boy at a boarding school: rather wondering what the position will be and very apprehensive as to whether their own views about themselves will be shared by the older boys, particularly in the upper VIth. Of course, as Parliamentary democracy 1151 means government by discussion and government by discussion implies that there must be considerable differences of opinion, it seems a very good thing that there is a tradition in the House that a new Member making his maiden speech should seek not to be too controversial lest he should outwear the patience of those listening to him, for whose indulgence he is asking.
I should hardly have ventured to speak in this Debate at all, because it is rather difficult for a Conservative to speak non-controversially about the affairs of a nationalised industry, but I believe I am the only Member on this side of the Committee who has actually been a railway employee and who has had experience as a railway employee since nationalisation. For 19 years I was an assistant solicitor in the legal department of the Great Western Railway and for one year with British Railways. The legal department comes into contact with all grades and I have experience of all parts of the line from London to Chester and Chester to Penzance and have dealt with all departments and all grades from the chief regional officer down to the fifth grade clerks and carriage cleaners. So I have had some opportunities of seeing how the railway service works from below.
As I am trying to be non-controversial, I take it that there is no dispute in this Committee that we all want a good and efficient transport service. That means that to be efficient it must be a transport service that pays, because that seems to be implied in efficiency. The railways were built by man and by man they must be run. Railway losses are not an act of God, nor are they an inevitable accident. If there are losses—and there are losses at present—I take it that our problem here is to try to think of ways and means of avoiding those losses and to make practical suggestions as to how they can be overcome and what is best to be done to get out of that situation.
I do not intend to deal with many of the proposals which could be made, as some of them are beyond the scope of this Debate, since they involve changes in legislation. Some hon. Members have alluded to a number of them which we cannot develop here. They referred to our policy at the General Election. Of course, 1152 we did not propose to de-nationalise the railways, but we had other proposals which would have involved alterations in legislation. Nor can we pursue the line of argument dealing with the "square deal" before the war, because that also involved getting rid of many obsolete Acts which are still hanging round the neck of the railways like the Albatross round the neck of the Ancient Mariner, ancient provisions imposed by Parliament in its wisdom in the days when the railways were a monopoly, but which are no longer valid.
I refer, for instance, to Section 68 of the Railway Clauses Consolidation Act, 1845, relating to railway fencing, which has been a source of trouble to railway managers and a profitable source of income to railway solicitors for the last 100 years. All these are outside the scope of this Debate. Then there are such questions as the very complicated matter of railway rates and charges which has been dealt with and will be dealt with by other hon. Members.
I wish to concentrate on one point which is very often overlooked, and which seems to me to have an important bearing on this matter. It seems to be forgotten that in this island of ours, when institutions have been in existence for a long time they tend to develop into organisms rather than organisations. In other words they develop a spirit of their own, become a corporate unit, develop a language of their own and a spirit of their own apart from their own individual members.
The railways of this country were constructed 100 years ago. Certainly the railway which I had the honour to serve had been in existence during the whole 100 years under the same name. It developed a language of its own, as anyone who has worked at Paddington even for a short time will know. For example. the not very attractive space between the hotel and the end of the platform is known as "The Lawn." I suppose because grass once grew there. Many of the trains are known to the staff by special names which do not appear in time tables. It is still, or was quite recently, common to describe one train as the "Zulu," a name which referred to a railway engine long since defunct. Another was described as "The Owl." I never discovered why, but I think because an 1153 owl was discovered in the tender on one occasion. The most famous of all G.W.R. trains, the "Cornish Riviera" is never referred to by that name but always as "The Limited." When expressions and a language of its own, grow up in any organisation like that, it ceases to be an organisation and becomes an organism, it has a corporate unity, a spirit of its own, a tradition with which it is unfortunate to interfere.
One of the main criticisms which I make of the railway service under nationalisation is that there were too many changes for change's sake. I may say that I resigned from the service one year after nationalisation. My reason was that as a prospective Conservative candidate I saw no reason to alter my previous opinion that nationalisation was not in the best interests of the staff or the travelling public, and I thought that it was not proper for someone expressing those views in public also to be a junior officer in the railway service. I resigned for that reason. Whether that was right or wrong is a matter for controversy which I will not pursue. As I say, after nationalisation, all sorts of things were done which seemed to me to be quite unnecessary. Even the colours were altered for no particular reason, and very curious colours were substituted. I believe that the official designation of one set of colours put on the rolling stock was "plum and spilled milk," which sounded like a dirty tablecloth, and very soon began to look like a dirty tablecloth, too, and ultimately I am glad to say was discontinued.
All these unnecessary changes had a disturbing effect on the staff. They rather spoiled the corporate unity, and it must be remembered, so far as the Great Western was concerned, that it was a family railway. A large proportion of the staff are the sons and grandsons of Great Western men who have been brought up with the railway. They did not like changes which seemed to them unnecessary, and which spoiled the spirit of the railway which had continued for so long. The crowning folly of all was that promotion ceased to be by region. I know from my own experience that many men in the railway service have often remained in it in the past, although drawing lower salaries than they could have earned elsewhere, solely for sentimental reasons. To start altering all the names, giving new 1154 names to old jobs, new colours, and so on, destroyed prestige, and the value of that connection was gone.
In the past the War Office has often been criticised for too much red tape, but even then they never contemplated abolishing the Grenadier Guards because they ceased to be armed with grenades. Yet that sort of thing was constantly going on in the nationalised railway service. There seemed to be no appreciation of the value of tradition and too much attention was being given to paper work and altering things for the sake of altering them. I have always defined Conservatism as a balanced attitude of mind which seeks to apply the lessons of past experience to the problems of the present. I do not expect hon. Members opposite to accept that definition; I do not even expect my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee to accept it; but I suggest that as a business maxim it is of some value—that one should apply to the problems of today the experience of the past. Surely the experience of organisations everywhere is that there is great value in tradition, and we in this Committee should realise that more than anyone else. One of my criticisms of the alterations in the nationalised railway service is that that factor has been entirely disregarded.
In conclusion, I urge that we pay far more attention to tradition in the railway service, that we should not make any further changes merely for the sake of making changes, and that we should seek to close the gap—I am not referring to the dollar gap but to the equally dangerous gap which unfortunately exists between the British Transport Commission and the Railway Executive and the even greater gap which exists between the Railway Executive and the regions. I think that the efficiency of the lines would be greatly improved if a great deal more authority were given to the man on the spot.
In the railway service there is at all grades great responsibility resting on the man on the spot, and that must always be so. That extends down to grades which are not high in the service—the signalman in his lonely box on a branch line, a ganger walking his length. In many other grades too there are people who are taking great responsibility and on whose skill and ingenuity the con- 1155 tinuance of the railway depends. Even the goods porter, whom I have seen in some of those conditions to which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) has referred—conditions which I agree are not good, in dark and places—has great responsibility, for he can cause quite a lot of damage by carelessness when handling goods unless he appreciates the value of his work and has a pride in his job. He, too, has to act with responsibility, a responsibility which will be fostered by getting back to the unit system and by giving a pride in the job to the local unit. Finally, I suggest that a real attempt be made to carry into effect the words which appear in the first annual report of the British Transport Commission, to give the maximum devolution of authority in the regions to the regional and divisional officers in regard to executive action.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
i am sure I express the sentiments of hon. Members in conveying to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) our heartiest congratulations on an excellent maiden speech. I would also express the hope that we shall have further contributions from him on the many complex problems with which this House deals from time to time.
Having passed from the realms of the non-controversial, I must enter the realms of the controversial. I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) when he suggested that the Transport Commission might be superseded by a body of business men. As an ex-railwayman my reply would be that we have had that business experience in the past, and it left British transport in a sorry plight. It is true that the problem of transport enters into every aspect of industry and of private life, and I am astonished that the Opposition should try to demonstrate that they are always the custodians of the public purse. I recall very vividly the years 1919, 1920 and 1921, when the Government of that time subsidised the British Railways. In 1919 and 1920 they subsidised the British railways to the extent of £42 million, and in 1920 and 1921 to the extent of £51 million. Apparently they claim that to subsidise private enterprise now which, it 1156 is true, is running at a loss, must be considered as a crime, but that to subsidise private enterprise then, in the manner which I have indicated, was a virtue.
The hon. Member for Monmouth suggested that the problem of transport should be considered as separate entities, that is to say, that rail, road and canal transport should be treated as separate entities. I would suggest that the hon. Member is completely divorced from the realities of the situation if that is his contention. I am not unmindful of the fact that the attitude of the Opposition today in discussing this problem of transport as a nationalised undertaking, is indicative of the spirit which they demonstrated in the last Parliament when they put forward such virulent opposition to all forms of nationalisation. In my opinion, and in that of other hon. Members on this side of the House, we have reached the stage when the future of all forms of nationalised transport should be examined with a view to a greater devolution of authority. There must be integration, giving a complete implementation of a policy which seeks co-ordination of rail, road and canal transport. It has been suggested by Conservative and Liberal Members, not only here but during the election, that the road transport section of the industry should be taken out, to leave the rail section to function on its own. That, in my view, could only end in disaster.
In following such a suggestion no thought is given to what is to happen to the railways, which are the main artery of our economic life. Also, no attention is given to what is to happen to railwaymen in particular. If railways were dealt with as a separate entity there is only one way out of the dilemma in which we should find ourselves. That is by making an attack upon those engaged in the industry by a reduction of wage rates. I wish to say, quite frankly, that certain railway wages are at the moment below subsistence level. Railwaymen have decided, whatever may be the views of the Opposition, that no longer will they be exploited, whether by private enterprise or under nationalisation, by having their wage standards further reduced. Since the advent of nationalisation we have been able to protect the wage standards of the railway servants.
1157 The hon. Member for Monmouth referred to increased freight and rail charges. I would remind him that if there is an increase it is entirely due to the fact that we have approximately 100 per cent. wage increase to the conciliation and shop staffs. I would also remind him that coal has gone up by approximately 175 per cent.
§ Mr. Monslow
As the hon. and gallant Member has made that interjection may I say that I remember, in 1947, the nationalised coal industry having a deficit of £23 million. But we hear very little from hon. Gentlemen opposite now that we are making a profit of £10 million, as was made last year.
§ Mr. Monslow
I will deal with that. After the advent of nationalisation we ought at least to recognise that we gave £63 million to the miners of this country to improve the economic situation so far neglected by the Opposition in past years. Having done that in the transition stage we then made a profit of £10 million. So, also, in the case of the electricity industry; and in the transport industry. We shall make a profit when we integrate road, rail and canal transport.
I wish to deal with the price levels in respect of what railways have to carry, because the average increase in charges has been only approximately 55 per cent. When we examine this problem dispassionately, divorced from our political philosophies, we have to recognise that these charges must be met. General timber charges have increased by 225 per cent.; railway timber, sleepers and crossings, charges by 344 per cent.; and paint and colours, 254 per cent. Oil and lubricating costs, rather an important matter to railway locomotion, have gone up by 215 per cent.
§ Mr. Monslow
Then there are metals, non-ferrous, 148 per cent.; and iron and steel 80 per cent. Hon. Members opposite are inclined to make destructive criticism without making any concrete proposals for dealing with this problem. Whatever may be their views on this problem, the railwaymen have made up their minds. I warn the Opposition now that the railwaymen will not accept a situation in which the road section of the industry is treated differently from the railways, thus impoverishing or pauperising those left in the railways. Those days have gone. The days of exploitation will cease, and we shall see to it, as railway workers, that in this industry we maintain our wage standards and, indeed, improve them, even through the medium of nationalisation.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Mr. David Renton (Huntingdon)
The hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow) appears to assume that integration will solve the railways' financial problem and the great long-term problem which we all understand—or, at any rate, we know exists—of competition between road and rail. I suggest that the hon. Gentleman is quite wrong in thinking that integration will solve the problem. All that integration will do, so far as the railways are concerned, will be to pass on the problem in part to the roads. The only solution, if there be a satisfactory solution—and I am prepared to concede that it is doubtful—if the British Transport Commission and the Government between them can do anything about it, is to do two things which at the moment are not being attempted. One is to stop inflation and bring down costs. The other is to make radical reorganisation of the railways which, quite apart from integration, we always understood was one of the objects of transport nationalisation. But what has happened? The Government are finding that their own policy, which has led to inflation, is preventing their nationalisation policy from succeeding, The Government are hoist on their own petard. Socialism is preventing Socialism from being a success,
§ Mr. Monslow
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that what was embodied in,the Tory manifesto, upon which they fought the election, would have led to a situation of greater inflation?
§ Mr. Renton
I do not know, Major Milner, whether I should be in Order in dealing at length with that somewhat irrelevant interruption; but perhaps you will permit me to say that we are convinced that some sense can be put into our economy, the cost of living brought down and the value of people's money restored, if the Government will cut out the cost of Socialism. I do not wish to follow the hon. Gentleman in, if I may say so, his somewhat academic thoughts. I would prefer to proceed to the question which I invite the Committee to examine.
Now that we have had the British Transport Commission set up for over two years, I think we should consider the relationship between Parliament and the Minister, the Minister and the Commission, and Parliament and the Commission. In other words, we should make sure that the people—good, honest folk who voted Labour largely out of a misguided sense of loyalty to their kind, but without having the slightest conception that they were being led by the nose into nationalisation—are not being duped into believing that nationalisation means Parliamentary democracy.
Let me refer to the Report of the British Transport Commission. The first Annual Report, a most interesting document. was brought out in August, 1949, and related to the year 1948. It was not even brought out soon enough for hon. Members to take with them on their summer holidays for light reading. We should observe that the only time that the House or any Committee of the House has so far discussed the accounts or a report of the nationalised transport industry was in the debate which we held in November, 1949, upon the workings of the Commission in 1948. We have had Adjournment Debates; I remember my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) trying to raise the question of area passenger transport schemes. He did not get very far before he was out of order.
Have we not to face the fact that, valuable though these general debates such as we are having today may be, and essential though they are, something further is needed if we are to have effective Parliamentary control? Besides interesting and valuable discussions like this, we need something of the committee 1160 type—some occasion on which hon. Members on both sides, preferably possessing some accountancy knowledge, which I do not claim to have, should settle down and examine the report not too long after the period to which it refers. Hon. Members on such a committee should have power to call for further evidence and should have a duty to report to the House. Unless something like that is done, our Parliamentary supervision of this great industry must be only of the vaguest and most indeterminate kind. I ask hon. Members to consider seriously whether there is real responsibility to Parliament at this moment for what the British Transport Commission does.
I welcome the return of the Minister to the Chamber. As we all know, he is a very willing old horse, if he will forgive me for putting it like that, but at the same time some of us think that he is going to find it very difficult to serve the House adequately without injuring his health, unless he has the assistance of a Parliamentary Secretary in the strenuous times which lie ahead. We shall not be able to spare him if it comes to praying late at night.
§ Mr. Renton
I know he is in another place. It is very nice for another place, but surely it is unfortunate that such a great and important industry as the transport industry should not be represented by two Ministers in the House of Commons, especially now that the industry is being nationalised. Also, there should be sufficient democratic control over it, although, as the Minister will appreciate if he is good enough to read my speech, there is not now such control.
The Minister has put forward two views as to the relationship between the British Transport Commission and Parliament, and I suggest those two views are inconsistent. On the one hand, he says that he is responsible to Parliament for the nationalised transport industry; and yet, on the other hand, he says that he must leave the British Transport Commission to go its own sweet way and free from political interference. If there was one phrase which was repeated more than any other phrase in the last Parliament—and it was one of the most dreary phrases to which we had to listen—it was "This 1161 is a matter for the British Transport Commission."
I find it rather illuminating, as well as alarming, to hear the Minister describe the way in which responsibility emerges in relation to this increase of freight charges for the railways. Responsibility for that is being tossed about like a shuttlecock. The Commission first of all put up a scheme, then the Tribunal considers it and then it goes to the Ministry of Transport, where eventually the Minister himself considers it. He knows that, in this particular case, the Tribunal came to its decision as long ago as 16th February. We are now at 15th March, and still no decision has been given.
Frankly, I find it surprising that there should be a delay of a month in such an important matter as that. I should like to think, but I cannot believe it, that the Minister was doing the House the courtesy of waiting until after this debate before making up his mind. The right hon. Gentleman indicates that even that is not the case. Surely, if the responsibility for formulating policy and achieving a final decision is thrown about and divided in that manner, Parliamentary democratic control becomes non-existent?
I feel that one of the lessons which we have to draw from the experience of the transport world, particularly in the last six months, is that the Minister has shown no leadership. He somehow thinks it is his duty not to show it, and he accepts no responsibility, except sometimes in a very roundabout way. It really is time that we sorted out our ideas on the matter and got the Government to change their ideas.
Let us see where this peculiar and circuitous arrangement, which many of us envisaged when the Act was passed would emerge, has placed the British Transport Commission. I say that the Commission are in a position of lofty isolation. They are isolated from Parliament, as we know. They are isolated from the Minister, because the Minister considers that it is his duty to let them paddle their own canoe, even if they are shipping water to the tune of £500,000 a week and getting in everybody else's way. They are isolated from responsibility to shareholders in a way in which the former railway companies were not. They are free to pursue their Socialistic theories of integration, provided they can 1162 find their way through the very intricate wording of the Transport Act, which it appears from the first Report which they have published has caused them a good deal of trouble.
They are floundering about in the obscurities of the Act, but the worst feature of the isolation of their present position is that they are isolated from the obligation to pursue national policy. Their terms of reference are to carry out the instructions contained in the Act, provided they can understand them. This isolation from national policy, of course, is having very serious results, as is evidenced by the application to increase freight charges. Quite obviously, that is going to be inflationary in its result. It is bound to have a very serious effect upon the cost of living, upon the value of the people's money, upon wages policy and upon our export trade.
I suggest to the Minister that he should bear in mind these important factors about railway economics. May I remind him—and I can tell him where to get the evidence for it—that in most countries at most times railway freights have remained a stable factor in the economy? When the value of money has gone up or down, railway freights have not gone up or down in proportion. If they have changed, they have changed only slightly, and by their remaining a stable factor in the economy they have prevented inflationary tendencies from becoming more inflationary than they would have done if rail freights had gone up, and in the same way have prevented deflationary tendencies from becoming more exaggerated.
By sanctioning this increase of 16⅔ per cent., coupled with his intention to increase the London passenger fares and with a possible increase in road passenger fares after the confirmation of area schemes, the Minister, unless he stops the Transport Commission doing it, will be departing from that very wise economic principle that freight charges should remain a stable factor ill the economy. If the Minister wants the evidence for this, he can get it, if he does not know it already—and possibly he does—from the very full evidence, at the recent hearing before the Tribunal, of the Transport Commission's application for increased rates of charges. Reference is made not only to the tendency in this country 1163 between the wars but also to experience in other countries as well.
If he really wishes for advice—and I do not know whether he does or not—as to how he should exercise his judgment and what decision he should make in relation to the application for increased freight charges, I would say that to raise the charges would be inflationary, and that he should, therefore, avoid it if possible, and that he should get over the difficulty by persuading his colleagues in the Government to bring down taxation and restore the value of money. Secondly, those economies which the Transport Commission have hinted at in their first Report, as being their intention to make, should be carried out. The railways should be reorganised and modernised in the sense of adapting them to modern conditions of competition. So many railway branch lines were built when no one imagined that there would ever be a road haulage system; and yet they are still kept going today, though quite unnecessarily.
The Minister may quite rightly ask what he is to do in the meantime while the railways are losing a lot of money. The answer is simple. The British Transport Commission have taken over large liquid resources, including, incidentally, the £190 million of the so-called surplus revenue earned by the railways during the war. It has been taken over by the Commission, but I believe not yet spent. Bearing in mind that the tendency seems to be that, at the rate of £500,000 per week, the Minister only has until 1952 before the losses tot up to £100 million, I would say that he should tell the Commission that they must rely upon their liquid resources until matters can be put into better order, which must be done by 1952. That would be the wisest decision for him to take at this time.
In conclusion, I want to say a word or two about the area passenger transport schemes. The Commission have said perfectly frankly that they want to remove the disparity of fares between road and rail, and it is not disputed that that does not mean bringing down the rail fares; it means putting up the bus fares. Here I feel I must say a word on behalf of my constituents. Living in 80 villages and hamlets and five small towns scattered over a wide area, they are depen- 1164 dent upon their cheap buses for much of the amenities of life. My constituents do not want integration, co-ordination and the removal of disparity of fares. They want their bus services to remain cheap and they want them to be as frequent and ubiquitous as possible. I am candidly warning them that with an extension of Socialism, their bus fares will not remain cheap.
I should like to point out that employees of the bus companies, in my constituency at any rate, from the evidence which I possess, do not seem to be a bit impressed with this idea of nationalising their buses. I have had letters from bus drivers asking me to do everything I can to oppose the nationalisation of their buses, and I have not had a single letter from a bus driver asking me to support it. I ask the Minister, therefore, in this matter as well, to show some leadership, to take some responsibility and to stop a calamity.
§ 7.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I do not propose to detain the Committee very long After these Debates on nationalised undertakings I am always left with a very dissatisfied feeling, but it is not actuated by the same causes as those which are bound to irritate the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton). He complained that we were not debating the 1948 accounts of the Transport Commission until August, 1949.
§ Mr. Poole
That was very much better than was the case in the past, because before nationalisation, we were never able to debate in this House the accounts of any of the rail companies. We on this side of the Committee would give a lot to be in the position today to debate such matters as the accounts of the Imperial Chemical Industry and other bodies such as that. Perhaps that time will come, but it has not yet arrived. Having said that, I do not want hon. Members to think that I approach the present situation in our nationalised industries with any sense of satisfaction whatsoever. Indeed, I will be perfectly frank; I have tried to keep out of the Chamber because of the temptation to speak which I should feel if I entered it. I did not want to speak in this Debate because some of the things I shall have to say will be critical 1165 I must confess that I enjoyed listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft). I heard that speech in the last Session of Parliament, or very much the same thing; he delivers it with a good deal of enthusiasm and infuses some enthusiasm into right hon. and hon. Gentlemen around him. Much as I enjoyed it, however, I could not help feeling that he missed a wonderful opportunity in the Debate. As I listened to him I wished that I was sitting on his side of the Committee, with the opportunity of showing the Minister where the British Transport Commission was going wrong. Of course, we had the Conservative Party speech; I could imagine him making it in that delightful town of Monmouth. I thought we were suffering today from an overhang of the General Election. There was some criticism for, I think, 40 minutes, without a single constructive idea, without a single suggestion as to how the unfortunate position, as he characterised it, could be overcome. All through we have had not a single suggestion from his party as to what they would do with the nationalised transport industry—except, of course, one.
§ Mr. Poole
To-morrow's OFFICIAL REPORT will show whether I am speaking the truth or not. We have had from his party, in every one of their documents, and it is my business to read their documents on transport, only this: that they will continue the nationalisation of the railways and will hand back road transport to the private road transport operator. That, I understand, is Conservative policy in relation to transport. In other words, the railway industry, which for the last 25 years has been in considerable difficulty and has been making losses, that section of the industry which is not paying its way, shall be carried on the back of the taxpayers, while the other section of the industry, which is making a profit, shall remain in the hands of the profiteers. That is exactly the suggestion of the Tory Party, and we have had nothing beyond that from them.
I approach the transport question from one angle only. The question we ought to ask ourselves is, what interests and what considerations ought to prevail? I believe 1166 there is only one answer and it is that the over-riding national interests should govern the measure of direction of our transport industry. I go so far as to say that I do not believe there is any case to be made out for the nationalisation of transport unless, in the process, we produce a co-ordinated and integrated transport system, and I say this to the Minister, "You have not done it yet, you cannot do it on the way you are travelling and you never will do it unless you alter your path."
§ Mr. Poole
Give the noble Lord up as a bad job? I agree with Sir Henry Drummond—Betwixt the stirrup and the groundHe mercy ask'd, he mercy found.There is always a chance of eleventh-hour salvation and I exhort the noble Lord not to give up, because some day he too may have a sane approach to this problem. Unless we can have such an approach there is no purpose in nationalisation. The Minister knows in his heart as well as I do, that we can never have a co-ordinated and integrated transport system and at the same time have 700,000 vehicles running about this country under "C" licences, carrying what they will, where they will, when they will and under any terms and conditions they will. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I can assure hon. Members opposite that I shall quite frankly state my position in this matter, although it may be unpopular and although they may feel they can use it against me. The over-riding national interest cannot be considered while we allow the number of "C" licences to grow, as they have grown, from about 380,000 before nationalisation to about 700,000 today. It is uneconomical, and we shall be led into considerable difficulty all the time.
I turn to my last point. I have made it before, and I have made it in an interjection, and I rose tonight to make it in a speech simply to show that I am not ashamed to be on record as of this opinion. I believe that the integration of transport is not possible unless the power of direction of traffic is in the hands of the Transport Commission. It is useless and, I think, morally wrong to adopt the methods of direction of traffic which the 1167 Commission are proposing now to adopt. What they are seeking to do is to channel traffic into certain forms of transport by the charges barrier. If they want traffic from A to B to pass by road and not by rail, then apparently the rail charges must be made prohibitive so that the traffic finds its way to the road. If they want it to pass by rail rather than road, however, then the road facilities are to be made entirely uneconomic for the user so that traffic may find its way by rail. I think that is a state far worse than the one I posed for the consideration of the Committee. I believe the Transport Commission ought to have an overriding power of direction of traffic in the national interest.
§ Mr. Poole
I do not expect the noble Lord to know what is the national interest. I shall never look to the benches opposite for a definition. I thought every ordinary citizen knew what was the overriding national interest. It is that interest which is not the purely selfish interest of the individual. Perhaps that is too much to expect a Member of the noble Lord's party to appreciate. I interrupted the hon. Gentleman the Member for Monmouth on this very point. It is not in the national interest to have non-urgent traffic moving by road and creating highway problems and vast capital expenditure on extending highways.
I know that unscrupulous politicians turn to me, or, rather, turn and say when I am not there, "Of course, what you are saying is that if Mr. Jones or Mrs. Jones want to go to Blackpool they must go by train, although they want to go by coach." But I am talking solely about the movement of goods and stores in this country. As far as persons are concerned a case might be made for the price factor in the situation but with inanimate objects the only consideration should be the availability of transport of the particular kind required, the peculiar circumstances at the initiating and receiving end of the journey and whether the premises are connected with sidings. But if we are to consider the over-riding national interest we cannot leave it to any one person to determine.
1168 Let us get away from selfish interest. If we are to nationalise let us do it intelligently. We are not doing it intelligently now.
Something has been said in the Committee about the responsible personnel of the Commission. It is quite wrong to take advantage of our position in this House to suggest that certain people, who have no means of replying in this House, are not competent to do their job. I have criticisms which I should like to make but I will not make them in this House. It is not fair to those who have no opportunity of replying. In any case, as an hon. Member said earlier in this Debate, most of the people recruited to manage the Transport Commission were drawn from the executive offices of the main line railways and similar undertakings in transport, "Jobs for the boys" does not apply here. If it does "the boys" were not drawn from this side of the House, or from supporters of the political party to which I belong. Unfortunately, we have far too many people in all our nationalised undertakings who have been drawn from the political party which does not believe in nationalisation. Far too many of them are not concerned to see nationalisation succeed. I am not making any attack on any person.
I am at a loss to understand, and our trade union movement is at a loss to understand, how it is that Minister after Minister, when somebody is required for the Board of a nationalised undertaking, seeks for them among men who believe least in nationalisation. We have been doing that for so long and we still wonder why nationalisation does not succeed. It will not succeed until we have in control people who really believe in nationalisation. As long as the Minister sits, as he is doing now, in a halfway house between nationalisation and private enterprise, not quite able to make up his mind where he is going to travel, there is no hope for the transport industry. I urge him to take his courage in his hands, and to let us have direction of traffic, not by charges but by an intelligent approach to the needs of traffic. In that way we shall get a co-ordinated and integrated transport system. Integration cannot be accomplished without these, and without integration nationalisation has no meaning.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Reader Harris (Heston and Isleworth)
I am grateful for the opportunity of making my maiden speech in this Debate on transport. Probably many hon. Members have long forgotten when they made their maiden speeches. If so, I hope they will not forget to give me the indulgence I so badly need tonight.
I am very proud indeed to have been elected to this House by the constituents of Heston and Isleworth. It is a borough which is very deeply concerned with the problems that face the British Transport Commission. Heston and Isleworth is a borough which is not known to a large number of Londoners, partly because a great part of it is better known to the public as Hounslow and partly because up to 1945, for Parliamentary purposes, is was attached to Twickenham. The late Member for the borough in the last Parliament began the good work of trying to put it on the map. I hope to try to continue that good work.
Heston and Isleworth are two ancient parishes. They have had an interest in transport ever since the days when passenger and freight transport were seriously interrupted by Dick Turpin on Hounslow Heath. Today the people of Heston and Isleworth are still concerned about transport because a very large part of the borough is residential and large numbers of its inhabitants travel to other parts of London for their daily work. There is also a large number of factories in the borough, particularly on the Great West Road, which rely on transport to bring in their raw materials and to get their manufactured goods away. My constituents are very much hoping that the Minister will not become a 20th century Dick Turpin who removes from their pockets inordinate amounts of money for the privilege of travelling to and from the borough. They are deeply concerned over the prospects of integration and the proposed increase in transport charges in London.
In accordance with the custom of the House, I must disclose to the Committee that I am the secretary of the National Tyre Distributors' Association, and I have had some close contact with certain parts of the Road Haulage Executive. In speaking of road haulage tonight, I am not here to be controversial or to make things difficult for the Executive. I want 1170 to try to be constructive. I assure the Committee that I am as anxious as they are to see that the Executive is a successful and profitable undertaking under the British Transport Commission. The livelihood of everybody in this country depends upon it. It is not to our advantage to make matters more difficult for the Road Haulage Executive or to prevent it from working efficiently.
I am frightened when I listen to this proposed scheme of integration which has been referred to by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I am frightened that the proposed scheme will militate against the efficiency of the Road Haulage Executive. I hope that the British Transport Commission will not proceed on the assumption that road transport—whether of goods or passengers, whether private or State owned—must be restricted or made less attractive if the Commission are to provide an adequate and properly integrated system of public transport, as they are required to do by the Act.
Such an assumption would disregard the basic principles which must be carried out if a national transport system is to operate for the long-term benefit of the country as a whole. These principles have been enumerated many times in many places, and more recently by the International Chamber of Commerce in a report prepared at the request of United Nations. One of these principles is that a user should enjoy unrestricted freedom of choice among means of transport, including the running of his own vehicles. Another is—and here I quote from the report—that:nothing should be done which would hinder the development of any particular form of transport or disguise the advantages it could offer"—or—which would discourage its use in order to provide artificial support or any alternative form of transport.It is clear, whether we like it or not, that a scheme of integration in a very short time would hit the small man.
I should like to say a few words about the passenger-carrying side of the business Surely, eventually, integration would mean an increase in the fares charged by long-distance coaches. That must happen eventually. If it did, it would be bound to hit the small man 1171 who relies upon coaches to get him to the place where he wants to go on holiday. Very often the cheapness of the fare to the place where he wants to go is a determining factor in deciding whether or not he can take a holiday: it certainly is a prime factor in deciding where he can take a holiday. I think it was G. K. Chesterton who said, "When you go on holiday always go as far away from home as possible, because it does you more good to have a complete change." But if prices are increased for seats, either in trains or coaches, many small men will either be unable to go away at all or will have to restrict their travel.
I am a firm believer in the principles enunciated this afternoon by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), who said that if we want to get people to fill up the seats on the trains we should make the trains attractive to them and sell the tickets at attractive prices. In my constituency there is a large factory which sells cosmetics, soaps, lipsticks, face powders and other articles of that kind. On the face of it, there may appear to be no connection whatever between lipstick and seats in railway trains; but there is one connection, and it is that to persuade people to take seats on trains we must attract them there just in the same way as this firm has to try to persuade people to buy the lipsticks, soaps or face powders. I was interested to discover a short time ago that, in order to sell its commodities, this firm maintains a large organisation which does nothing but assess the potential demand of the consumer. It has a staff of investigators who visit some 2,000 housewives regularly every month to whom a small fee is paid for disclosing how they spend every penny of their income. These investigators discover how much money is left in the pocket of the housewife after she has paid for all the necessities of life. They assess how much is left over, and they price the articles which they manufacture accordingly.
If they find that the amount of money left over has decreased considerably, then they alter their production schedule. They reduce the size of the commodities they sell and cut down the frilly packaging to make them cheaper so that the 1172 housewives can buy them. If we put up the prices of railway or coach tickets we shall find that people cannot afford to buy them, and the losses will simply accumulate. On the same principle, I ask the Minister to consider this matter and to ensure that railway tickets are sold at prices which people can afford to pay because, unless they are sold at those prices, the whole scheme of integration must become sheer nonsense.
On the question of the Road Haulage Executive, in which I am particularly interested, I think that they have carried out a very difficult task with, by and large, good sense and with a standard of efficiency which is as good as that of any other nationalised undertaking. There is no doubt that they have had a most difficult job. The progress to date is as satisfactory as it could be, but it must be remembered that the effects of nationalising the road haulage industry have not yet been felt. They have begun to be felt, but not fully, because when an undertaking is taken over from private enterprise it continues as it was running before for the first few months. It is only after a few months that the Executive begin to take over control.
We have heard the statistics from the Minister. Approximately 3,000 undertakings have been taken over. Some have been compulsorily acquired and some have been acquired voluntarily. The total number of vehicles concerned is about 40,000. As control tightens on the undertakings, it is fair to ask whether efficiency is increasing and whether confidence is increasing in the minds of the people who use these lorries.
The Minister has been good enough to give details about the number of "C" licence holders. He said that 675,000 vehicles are working under "C" licences, but it is only fair to point out that in 1938, 365,000 vehicles operated under "C" licences; that by 1946 the figure was still only 383,000; but that between 1946 and November, 1949, the number leaped from 383,000 to 675,000. It is reasonable to ask whether that great increase has come about because there is any lack of confidence on the part of the traders of the country in the nationalised undertakings. If they had great faith in the Road Haulage Executive, surely they would have been content to use the Executive's vehicles.
1173 My experience of industrialists is that if they have sunk their money in the production of a certain commodity, they want to use all their available capital on production. They do not want to spend money in buying a lot of vehicles which take up space, require extra staff and cause worry. If they can have their goods carried expeditiously at a cheap rate, they will far sooner use somebody else's lorries, no matter to whom they belong. Despite what has been said by hon. Members opposite, industrialists, who are always out to make profits wherever they can, are not concerned whether the vehicles they use are owned by His Majesty's Government or by some private haulier. All they want is the cheapest, the quickest and the best service they can get.
It is an inescapable fact that it is not very difficult or complicated for a haulage concern—whether it be run by the State or a private person—to carry somebody else's goods. It is not complicated or difficult if the haulier has been in the business all his life. No doubt, it would be most difficult for hon. Members of this House. I would find it difficult, because I have not been in the business all my life, but to someone with experience who owns 10, 20, 50 or 100 lorries it is not very difficult to arrange matters so that the lorries travel with full loads for most of the time. It is not very difficult to make a profit. All it requires is individual attention, some prompt decisions and quick action, all of which one can provide if one has had the experience. There is no reason why the Road Haulage Executive should not be just as good as private hauliers in those respects. But it is pertinent to ask whether there is the machinery and the organisation for giving just those very things that go to make a successful road haulage undertaking.
I should like to quote some facts and figures about the Road Haulage Executive. The 3,000 undertakings which were taken over from the private hauliers are now organised in 2,500 depots. I have no quarrel with that. To reduce 3,000 undertakings to 2,500 is a reasonable thing to do, but the question I ask is what power has the manager in charge at each of those depots? I suspect that he has very little power, because those 2,500 depots are organised into 300 groups. It is then pertinent to ask what power has 1174 the man in charge of one of the groups; he cannot have very much because those groups are organised into 31 districts. I do not know what power the men in the 31 districts have because, above them, are eight divisions, and above them are the Road Haulage Executive's headquarters.
There are five levels without taking into account the British Transport Commission, who give decisions on matters of policy relating to road haulage very much, of course, at a high level. There are six layers of authority altogether, and there are five layers above every lorry. I wonder whether that is the best sort of set-up for giving just those three ingredients which I say are necessary for the running of an undertaking.
It is a fact that, at any rate in the Road Haulage Executive headquarters and the divisions, there is the accountancy department, the engineers' department. the staff and welfare departments, the surveyor's department, the traffic officer's department, the public relations department, and maybe several other departments as well. They are duplicated at divisions, possibly triplicated at districts, and, for all I know, quintuplicated right down at the depots. It is also interesting to look at one or two figures in regard to the staffing of the Road Haulage Executive. I am not saying that the staff is either too great or too small, but I suggest there are some figures which the Minister might usefully look at, because I can assure him that I want to see the Road Haulage Executive making a profit and running efficiently. Our export trade depends on that.
The facts are that in the Road Haulage Executive there are 68,500 persons. Of that figure, 45,500 are engaged on the operating side. Again, I have no quarrel with that figure; I merely point out that it includes 2,800 supervisors and traffic clerks—about 1,400 of each. There are, in addition to the operating staff, the maintenance staff which total 8,500, including about 500 supervisors, giving a total figure which strikes me as being very reasonable for the driving, loading and maintaining of 40,000 vehicles. But I wonder a bit when I look at the administrative staff which, according to the transport statistics for the four-week period ended 29th January this year, total 10,649. That means one administrator for every 1175 five operators and maintenance men. I suppose those 10,500 odd are distributed over the various layers.
That may or may not be the right figure, but it seems rather a large one to me and the Minister may feel inclined to look into it. If he does not feel inclined to look into that figure, I should be grateful if he would look at the bottom of the table, where, under the word "Miscellaneous," there appears the figure of 3,441. I do not know what that represents. Perhaps it is justified, but it seems a very large number for people who cannot be classified as porters, clerks, maintenance men, stable men, administrators or anything else. That figure of 3,441 is exceptionally large when one sees on the previous page that British Railways have only a miscellaneous staff of 10,500 out of a total staff of 623,000. There seem to be approximately 10 times as many miscellaneous staff on the Road Haulage Executive as on British Railways. However, I leave those figures to the Minister to do with them what he likes.
I do not feel that attempts at becoming self-contained, which I think is the eventual object of the Road Haulage Executive, will always save money. The motor trade in this country is very large and widespread, and very experienced. It has a great range of facilities which are always available in almost every town and village in the country. On page 131 of the last full Report of the British Transport Commission it says that, in the initial stages, instructions were given to the companies taken over to continue to order from the same suppliers as in the past unless there was some particular reason for changing which, of course, had then to be reported to the Road Haulage Executive headquarters. The report makes it clear that eventually there will have to be lists of approved suppliers in some things so that bulk prices can he negotiated by the headquarters. I do not quarrel with that as a principle, but I suggest that full use should he made of the facilities which can be offered by private enterprise in different parts of the country.
I particularly draw the attention of the Minister to the fact that this tendency to become self-contained and to use only the Road Haulage Executive facilities does mean that, in some cases, lorries have to go several miles out of their way in 1176 order to get petrol instead of using, perhaps, a petrol pump already on the route. It is a fact that on the London-Glasgow run there are only six British Transport Commission filling stations, and that is not many for a long run. It means that if a lorry is coming into London and gets to about Dunstable and wants to fill up, it has to go eight miles out of its way to Luton in order to get the petrol, and eight miles back to get on to the main road again. If it is only doing six or eight miles to the gallon, it seems absurd to use two gallons in order to fill up. The same sort of thing applies in other ways.
There is one further point I want to stress very strongly, and it is that if the Road Haulage Executive is to work efficiently and is to give the best services which the traders need, it is absolutely essential that its staff at the lower levels should be contented. There is much evidence at the moment that the drivers, upon whom so much depends, are not as contented as they were. I do not want to be controversial, but I hope that hon. Members opposite will not mind my saying that before nationalisation there were some good private employers.
I particularly direct the attention of the Minister to a recent letter in one of the transport magazines. It was written by a driver who said that under the private firm for which he worked before it was taken over by the State he had a guaranteed week of 61 hours, he received £1 a fortnight for clear signatures on receipt notes, he had £10 per annum no-accident bonus, and three weeks' full pay while sick in any one year. This opportunity of earning extra money through working long hours is something which the men now miss because, under the present regime, this particular driver says that he has a 44-hour week, no bonuses of any sort, and receives no sick pay.
I am sorry about that, because I live about 30 miles out of London and am continually travelling by car on a main arterial road. I can testify to the fact that the long-distance lorry drivers of this country are among the most considerate and courteous and safe drivers on the roads. They are a magnificent set of men, and private enterprise has given them the incentives to be proficient and courteous. I hope that the Road Haulage Executive will maintain that tradition, because we shall all suffer if this grand body 1177 of men becomes discontented. It is also a fact that, in the old days, when a driver had delivered his load he had the opportunity—he was encouraged—to look around to try to get another load to bring back in the lorry. Now he has to report to the local depot, and wait about many hours, from which he may return with an unremunerative load, or else without one at all.
I should like to say one word about the question of compensation, and put in a word for those hauliers who have not yet received compensation for the undertakings which they have lost. It would be interesting if the Minister could tell us how many of the undertakings have been acquired compulsorily and how many voluntarily, and how much money has been spent on the compulsory acquisitions. I believe it is a fact that in no case of compulsory acquisition has there been a final settlement. This is causing undoubted hardship. In conclusion, let me assure the House that I am only too anxious to see this great industry become efficient, and give the country the service it so badly needs.
§ 8.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
I am not quite sure that I understood what exactly the hon. Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) meant when he referred to Dick Turpin during his speech, but I am sure that I listened with pleasure and interest to what he said, and I feel that I voice the opinion of the rest of the Committee when I say that I hope we shall have the pleasure of listening to the hon. Gentleman on many occasions in the future. I mean that very sincerely indeed.
If the hon. Member will excuse me I wish, in the short time at my disposal. to jump at once into the really controversial parts of our Debate. In an evening paper tonight there appears this headline:£50 a Minute Loss by British Transport.This is stated to be directly due to the policy of the Transport Commission. These observations are extracted from the speech of the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft). I want the Minister, if he will, in his winding-up speech to take the opportunity to come down hard on that absolutely untrue statement of the position that exists in 1178 British transport today. "£50 a minute." It is suggested that that £50 a minute loss is directly due to the policy of the Transport Commission. I think that headline is a travesty of the position and of the truth, because anybody who understands anything at all about the Transport Commission's work and British transport in general knows that that loss is not due in any way to the policy of the Commission, and that had it not been for the policy of the Commission it would have been considerably more than it is at the present time. I trust the Minister will deal effectively with that particular outcome of the day's proceedings
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
I do not quite follow the hon. Gentleman. Can I take it that he agrees that there is a loss of £50 a minute? Can I take it that that is agreed and common ground between us? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The hon. Gentleman is making his own speech. I take it that the hon. Gentleman agrees that there is a loss of £50 a minute, but that he objects to a statement that appears in a newspaper about something else I said?
§ Mr. Harrison
My objection is to the statement in the newspaper reporting the hon. Member's speech, in which he said that that loss is directly due to the policy of the Transport Commission. I categorically deny that statement, and I am quite sure that the hon. Member himself. with his experience of the Transport Commission, will also deny it.
§ Mr. Harrison
The hon. Gentleman also talked about charges. He suggested that the increased freight rates suggested in the recent inquiry, if imposed on railway freights, would have a devastating effect on the farming industry. That was the statement he made. I should like to point out that the average cost of farming products at present is 250 per cent. above pre-war, and that with the addition of 16⅔ per cent. increase in freight rates, the increase in rail freight charges will he about 74 per cent, I am suggesting that, in that comparison, rail freight charges stand as fairly equitable in view of the general rise in prices.
Another point I should like to mention in connection with the speech of the hon. Member is that of people being unable to 1179 afford rail travel. We had the illuminating report from the Minister that 92 million passengers travelled on British Railways last year. Yet we had the previous statement of the hon. Member to the effect that people could not afford to travel by rail. I think it would be in the interests of everybody concerned if the Minister dealt with some of the statements made in the hon. Gentleman's speech, and supplied authoritative figures in each case to disprove some of the assertions in it, and some of the inferences that most certainly will he made from them.
What I should particularly like to bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend is the question of railway employment. I want to repeat what has been said by other hon. Members on this side of the Committee, that it cannot be expected that we can continue to employ in the railway industry for an indeterminate time the mass of workers who are drawing £5 and less per week. I suggest to the Minister that he should use his influence whenever and wherever possible to try to persuade the Transport Commission to view considerately the question of doing something about the lower paid grades in the railway service. I think that is a very important matter to be considered if we are to do what we must in future—make the railway service a really efficient, cheap one in the interests of the people generally.
I was reminded during the Debate today of a view that has been widely talked about by a good many people in the transport industry and also in other influential circles, and that is that the railways of the country have had their day, and that the policy of the future must be one of restricting capital investment in that industry. I want the Minister, if he will, to consider that policy very carefully, and the implications of it, because if we cannot have a reasonable amount of capital equipment put into the railway industry generally, it cannot be expected that the railways, with their outmoded equipment, can possibly preserve, still less develop, a cheap and efficient service. It will "do" the railway service for ever if we cannot have a reasonable re-investment of capital, so that new machinery, new engines, new sheds, etc., can be provided in order that the industry may be run efficiently.
1180 In nearly every part of the country we are listening to complaints of inefficiency in the new haulage undertakings. I would like the Minister to deal with the question of efficiency or otherwise in the road haulage undertakings recently set up, because it is generally known that most of the complaints arise not from the actual facts of the working of the industry but from prejudices in certain circles which are designed to make it more difficult for the Road Haulage Executive to establish itself.
It is only about a month since the majority of the road haulage undertakings were taken over by the Road Haulage Executive, and I think that it would be of value to everyone if the Minister explained exactly the position of the Road Haulage Executive at present because of this widespread, and, I feel, generally unsupported criticism of what they have been able to do.
I suggest that on every occasion possible we should be given an opportunity in the House to discuss nationalised undertakings. We are again indebted to the Opposition for this opportunity of discussing such an undertaking. I impress upon the Minister the necessity of the Government granting more time to the discussion of nationalised undertakings and that he should not leave it on every occasion, as it seems to be left at present, to the generosity of the Opposition to provide time for these Debates. I think it ought to be a Government responsibility to provide more time for Debates like the one we have had today, because I am sure it would be in the interest not only of the Government but of the people and the industry if we had more time for such discussions.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Brigadier Thorp (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
I am in agreement with the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) on many points. He has of course, laid a great burden on the Minister of Transport by asking him to answer so many questions when he winds up this debate, which I think only goes to prove what was said by one of my hon. Friends, that we should have in the House a Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport. The Minister has a heavy responsibility, and, if he has to answer all these very important questions, it wall be a great trial to him.
1181 I understood the Minister to say that there were certain profits made by the nationalised transport of this country, but that they were absorbed in some way which he did not specify, probably in covering some losses.
§ Brigadier Thorp
I think that it is unsatisfactory that we should be told that there are profits and that they have been absorbed, but that no statement should be made as to how exactly they have been absorbed. We ought to know something about that. It has been said that some of the losses are the result of the rise in the cost of everything.
When I intervened during the speech of an hon. Member on the other side and mentioned nationalised coal, he went on to say that increases in the cost of coal had been spent on the miners' wages, but he avoided the point that the costs have gone up by, I believe, 100 per cent. Some of that increase is due to the cost of nationalised coal. It was stated, I believe, to the Tribunal that the cost of coal will go up by 4s. a ton if the freight charges are put up by 16⅔ per cent., and that the cost of steel may go up by 9s. a ton. We are in the position that if the Minister carries on with increases in freight charges, he will have to come here and say that costs have gone up again and that the freight charges must go up again. We shall then get into that spiral which we all want to avoid.
I think that many hon. Members opposite have missed the whole point of this Debate. The whole point of the Debate has been to try to see how we can reduce costs and the big losses that are being incurred at the present time by this nationalised industry. I believe that they can be cut by a real overhaul of the way in which the trains, rolling stock, personnel and everything in the industry are being run.
I should like the Minister—he may have done it—to travel as much as I do on the railways, but not to do so in a compartment labelled "Reserved," "Do not disturb," "This side up, with care," or anything like that. If he will travel as an ordinary member of the public, he will hear complaints from the men on the trains about how they think money is being wasted in this nationalised service. He will hear many complaints that they are disappointed with how things 1182 are being run and feel that they are not getting a fair opportunity of putting forward their case and stating how they think losses could be reduced. He will also hear it said that the staffs are too big, that there is not enough delegation of responsibility and that trivial matters have to be taken almost to the highest level before they can be decided. I believe that by going into this sort of thing he can get down to the question of how to reduce the losses of this nationalised service.
I emphasise once again, though I believe it was denied by the last speaker, the effect that increased freight charges will have in the rural areas. There is no doubt that the cost of producing food will go up. We must not forget that carriage has to be paid on such things necessary to the production of food as seed, fertilisers and machinery, which have to be taken to the farms; and when the food is produced it has to be taken to market and into the factories. Therefore, the cost of production of food is bound to go up.
The increase in freight charges will also increase the cost of fish in this country. It will have a very serious effect on the fishermen all round the coasts of this island. I hope that in the very near future we shall have a Debate on that subject, because the fishing industry is in a very difficult position. I am having continual complaints from inshore fishermen about the difficulty of selling the fish which they catch. This increased freight charge will have a serious effect, because it must not be forgotten that the flat rate for the transport of fish is to be done away with in April. If that is done away with—and many of them agree that it should be—and if at the same time freight charges are raised, they will have a difficult time.
Lastly, I wish to refer to the effect of taking over certain transport companies in the north-east. We in the north-east were the original "guinea-pigs," but the people of the north-east are not just "guinea-pigs" willing to feed on carrots and vegetables, and wait for the doctor's needle to he pushed into them as the patients. They feel that they have a service to perform to the people in the rural areas. They have been performing an excellent service, as far as they could, in providing 'bus services to the various villages and small mining districts in my 1183 contituency. They are now in a quandary because they do not know exactly what is to happen to them. Many of them have asked me whether they should buy new buses and enlarge their business, or whether they are to be taken over immediately. All this delay is not only maddening for them, but is doing a great disservice to the rural communities.
I therefore ask the Minister to examine the whole question, and particularly those points I have put to him, especially about how to reduce the losses in the nationalised transport industry. I ask him, in spite of the very tiring day he must have had, to give us the fullest answers to these questions.
§ 8.22 p.m.
§ Mr. Proctor (Eccles)
This has been a very interesting Debate on the nationalised transport industry, and I wish to start my speech by saying that I consider that nationalisation of that industry has been a success. In the last Parliament we took the responsibility of nationalising the industry, and I believe it was the only course open to us. Had we failed to nationalise the industry, we should today be faced with a breakdown, because the rail section of our transport system would have broken down had it been handed back to private enterprise. In a sense, we are today deploring that the railway system is not patronised as much as we should like it to be. Nevertheless, there is at the service of British industry at present a very efficient railway system which I think compares favourably with any in the world. Unless we had nationalised that system, we should not today have had that efficient organisation at our service, and as a consequence British industrial life would have been gravely prejudiced.
During the Committee stage of the Transport Bill I said that if the railway system were handed back to private enterprise, it would face bankruptcy. The truth of that is demonstrated when we consider that on the great London and North Eastern Railways system most of the engines, rolling stock and equipment had an average age of 34 years. The nation can easily visualise what tremendous difficulties we should be facing now had that problem, insoluble to privite enterprise, been handed back to private enterprise.
1184 I consider that the financial position of the railways was the sole responsibility of the House and of the parties who formed the Government in the inter-war years. The railway system was regarded as a monopoly; it was subject to restrictions and controls; rates were fixed by law, and the railway companies had very little power of initiative. They were at a great disadvantage in being excluded from road transport, which prevented them from developing that side of the transport system. They were regarded as a private monopoly long after they ceased to be a monopoly, and the Tory Party, which was in control of our industrial destinies at that time, bears responsibility for having two systems of transport, almost entirely separate from each other, growing up side by side. Had there been integration on a proper basis, we should have had a much better transport system than we have at present, but the railways were prevented from engaging in road transport in its early development, with disastrous consequences to our transport system.
I should like whoever winds up the Debate for the Opposition to tell us exactly what is their transport policy. As far as I was able to understand it as explained by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft), it is a free-for-all, letting anyone go on the road and engage in transport. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that by having a free competitive system we shall no longer have dealings in bus services, such as the Red and White Service, which has just changed hands at a price of millions of pounds, and other transactions of that sort, I can tell him he is wrong. In a free-for-all the small man will be squeezed out, while the big private monopolies would tend to dominate the scene. Perhaps the party opposite will also tell us what would have been their policy in the last Parliament had they been responsible for dealing with the railway system. We nationalised the railways, and said that it was the only policy. The Opposition opposed nationalisation of the railways. I should like to know what policy they would have pursued had they been in power.
What policy will the Tory Party pursue if they have power in the future? I understand they are prepared to continue with a nationalised railway system, but 1185 that they propose to separate the road transport system from the rail transport system, running road transport as a private unit. In that case, the publicly-controlled unit, the railways, is bound to lose money, and will have to be subsidised if it is to be kept in being. It is either that, or else the traffic which must go by rail—that is, the heavy traffic, coal and steel—will have to pay such excessive rates in order to keep the railway system going that it will be such a crippling burden upon British industry as almost to destroy us. I want them to face this problem absolutely.
In the first place, what do they intend to do with road transport? The railway companies in pre-war days owned a considerable amount of road transport. Do they intend to hand back all the road transport or only a proportion of it, and if so, how are they going to separate it? It is far easier for us to go ahead with our scheme of nationalisation in order to bring these two forms of transport into an integrated system, under which I am certain they could be made a profitable business.
I should like to say a word about the "C" vehicles. This is a very difficult problem. I am all in favour of the person who has a small business being allowed to use "C" transport as he likes, but the problem of very large industries operating large fleets of transport should be given further consideration. I suggest that no firm, however large and however prosperous, could possibly organise all its own transport. If it is going to exist, it must have access to the public transport for certain of its goods. It cannot itself run the lot. It can only cream off a certain part, and run that profitably for itself. The industrialists of the nation should look at this problem of "C" transport, and consider whether these large fleets of vehicles could be properly integrated in the new system of transport which we are bringing into being.
With regard to the difficult problem that confronts us now—the question of the increase in railway rates—we should proceed with all speed towards the completion of nationalisation and the proper integration of our road and rail system, which we then could make a paying concern within a short space of time. While making a plea for speed in the development of nationalisation I suggest to the Government the advisability in the inter- 1186 val of a policy of not increasing the railway rates and of meeting the deficit by means of a subsidy. I know that it is a suggestion that calls for very careful thought, and though I do not pretend to have at my disposal all the advice which the Government of the day have, I think that if we proceeded with all speed with the nationalisation and proper integration of transport, covering the intervening period by temporarily granting this subsidy, we should be serving the nation in the best way that we possibly can.
A problem that concerns all of us is that of finding a wage level that would be satisfactory for the whole of the transport industry. In view of the fact that we have brought into existence this unnatural separation of the road and rail sections the responsibility rests on the nation and on the House to see that decent conditions operate in this great basic industry, upon which so much in the life of the nation depends. We were entirely right to nationalise. I can see no alternative for an efficient and cheap system of transport in this country.
We should as quickly as possible go forward with the scheme of integration, and I look forward to a solution of the transport problem, especially the passenger section, so that it will be possible to take a ticket on a bus and return by rail. Such a state of affairs would prevail if we had complete interavailability of tickets. It seems absolutely wrong to me to find a queue nearly half a mile long waiting for buses and the train running out of a nearby station empty because the train fare is double that of the bus fare. We should have interavailability of tickets and co-ordination of services. I am quite convinced that the basic plan that has been recommended, when put into operation, will give a greatly improved service. I trust that the Government will proceed with all speed with this great idea, which I am sure can be brought to fruition in a short space of time. Transport should be cheap and efficient.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley (Angus, North. and Mearns)
It would be tempting 1,3 accept the challenge of the hon. Member who has just spoken, and to follow him in expounding Conservative or, since it is now my privilege to speak from this bench, Liberal-Unionist policy. In view 1187 of the lateness of the hour, I will confine myself to recommending to him the policy explained in "This is the Road." Apart from that, there are three specific points which I shall make as briefly as I can.
The first point is in regard to the free road hauliers. In the North of Scotland, and in the Aberdeen area in particular, hardly any contract licences have been issued. The Road Haulage Executive in Aberdeen are not even making available forms of application for job permits. The reason they give is that no job permits will be granted where British Transport Commission's vehicles are available. Moreover, in cases where permits for jobs have been granted, restrictions have been imposed which, instead of giving a general licence, have restricted the classes of commodities or goods which may be carried. That has made it particularly difficult to secure economical running, because if the transactions are to be worth while, the vehicles must have return loads.
The Minister will remember the Debates that we had in the House and in Committee when the Bill was going through, and when the case of the coastal towns was discussed. He will remember that we discussed the geographical difficulties arising from the fact that the 25-mile radius was restricted because of the sea. There are other difficulties in the case of places like Aberdeen, which have not towns of comparable size within the 25-mile radius. I ask him to look at the special problems of towns like this, to see whether it is possible for him to give special instructions to the Transport Commissioners to look sympathetically at the case of the private hauliers in such areas. It seems wrong, and not in accordance with what he himself has said, that there should be an arbitrary refusal even to consider applications which are authorised by the Act and the regulations. It seems to be a most dictatorial interpretation of authority.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
Whenever somebody intends to permit road haulage with a "B" licence, we have about 20 or 30 existing licensees objecting right away and insisting upon control.
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
That may or may not be true. I should be quite prepared to argue it, but it does not affect 1188 the point I make that there has been refusal to give job permits, or even to make forms of application available. I ask the Minister to look into the matter.
The second point is the problem of freight charges, and the proposed increases which have been thoroughly discussed in the Committee today. I would remind the Committee that for each of the 21 classes of commodities which are carried, there are four basic rates. The first is the rate per ton-mile for distances up to 20 miles. The second one for distances thereafter up to 50 miles, The third up to 100 miles. The fourth for distances over 100 miles. It appears, therefore, that for under 100 miles the rate per ton-mile decreases with the distance, whilst for journeys over 100 miles there is a fixed rate per ton-mile. If the 16⅔ per cent. increase is to be applied, the costs of freight for journeys of 400 or 500 miles from the North of Scotland to the great consuming centres in the South will be almost impossibly high, and too high to make effective competition with the southern industries possible.
Let me give two examples of what I mean. In 1937 the cost of transporting fish from Aberdeen to London was 5s. 7d. a hundredweight. Compare that with the cost in 1937 of carrying one hundredweight of fish from Grimsby to London, which was 2s. 4d. With the proposed increases of one-sixth, those rates will be 10s. 7d. from Aberdeen as compared with 4s. 2d. from Grimsby. May I give one more example—
§ Mr. Thornton-Kemsley
That may be, but it is not in the interests of my hon. Friends who are anxious to speak. I am trying to be as quick as I can.
The present rate for conveyance of granite from Aberdeen to Birmingham is 105s. 9d. per ton and the new rate per ton, if these increases are granted, will be 123s. 4d. For exactly the same type of product, from Shap to Birmingham the comparable rates will be 58s. 11d. as compared with 105s. 9d. 1189 and 68s. 9d. as compared with 123s. 4d. The proposal I have to make is that the principle of decreasing rates ought to be extended and made to apply not only, as at present, to rates for distances under 100 miles, but also to rates for distances over 100 miles.
Finally, on the question of the abolition of the flat rate, I agree entirely with what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) and by the hon. and gallant Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp) and others who have spoken about the most serious consequences of the proposed abolition of the flat rate upon the carriage of fish upon the livelihood of the inshore fishermen in distant places like the coasts of Scotland and Cornwall.
I could enlarge upon the difficulties these gallant men are having by reason of high costs of gear and other things. I will content myself only with reading a telegram which has come to me this evening from the county clerk of the County of Banff which, as hon. Members know, is one of the counties principally concerned with the inshore fishing industry—concerned just as is the County of Aberdeen, my own County of Kincardine, the County of Angus, and so on down the Scottish coast:At meeting Banff County Council held today extreme apprehension expressed as to future of fishing industry in view of withdrawal on 15th April of existing flat rate on carriage of fish. In the opinion of County Council and leaders of the fishing industry this step coming on top of other increases in costs must be ruinous to north of Scotland fishing industry. It is in the view of the County Council indefensible and illogical for the Government to advocate setting up new industries in north of Scotland at same time by withdrawal of flat rate to place Scottish landed fish beyond economic reach of south market thus ruining a major industry. Should the nation throw this great industry to the wolves it may pay dearly for it in a national emergency. Meantime the County Council urgently request that action be taken immediately at least to postpone abandonment of flat rate until full representations on the subject can be made.—County Clerk.These representations from a great county council express exactly the view of all the local authorities in the whole of the north-east of Scotland and of all who represent the inshore and deep-sea fishing industries.
§ 8.46 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
The Debate has shown, if nothing else, that everyone is very much aware of the importance to the country of the railway industry. We have had speech after speech about its effect on various industries, and directly upon the cost of their products, as a result of the threatened increase of freight charges, and every hon. Member who has spoken has deplored what might arise. I have listened very carefully, hoping and waiting for suggestions to be put forward by hon. Members opposite about an alternative solution.
It seems to be generally realised that the financial position of the railways is precarious, but no one has proved, or even attempted to prove, that that position is due to nationalisation. Suggestions were made by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp) about how savings could he made, but I am still waiting for actual details. The hon. and gallant Member said he had talked to people in the trade, who had made suggestions to him, but he did not tell us what were their proposals for saving the £20 or £30 million, which it must be remembered, is really what is at stake. He left us in complete ignorance.
It has not been proved that nationalisation is the cause of the existing financial situation of the railways, or what action could be taken immediately to remedy the position. Only by the means of interruptions of hon. Members on this side has it been suggested by the Opposition today that they do not intend to hand back the railways to their former private owners. The question which we have to ask is whether the railways, had they been left in private ownership, would or would not be asking today for an increase of freight charges.
I well remember the years just before the war, when the railway companies were placarding all their own and other hoardings about something which was called "A square deal for the railways." That was a campaign leading up to a demand for increased passenger and freight rates. I remember those days also because at the time I was travelling daily by train from Glasgow, when we were joined at a place—which you, Sir Charles, will remember very well—named Barassie, by men employed there in the locomotive works. I 1191 remember week after week at the same time as a demand was being made for a square deal for the railways, there was always another man being paid off as redundant.
I suggest that it is about time the Opposition faced up to the practical problem of the future of our railways. It is not good enough to work it off by sloganising about the evils of nationalisation. This is an acute problem. The railways are as dependent as any other industry on raw materials and the cost of labour and it is not fair to say that whereas every other object should be allowed to rise in price railway charges alone must remain stationary. I remember that in the last Debate we had on the subject, in the last Parliament, it was pointed out that steel had not risen so much in price as nationalised coal, but that very week it did rise in price because one of the subsidies on steel, which we hear far too little about, had been removed.
I wonder why the Government are so squeamish about the question of subsidies for the railways. We should face up to this. If raising the cost of freight affects so many of our industries directly we should face the same question in regard to steel where, in the last five years, direct and indirect subsidies amounting to £56,500,000 have been given, not because we want to do anything other than keep down the price of steel. We should face squarely, in this transition stage in a key industry like the railways the question of subsidising present losses until we get the integration and profits of the road passenger section and the road haulage section balancing the inevitable losses of the railways. That is by far the best solution.
From the point of view that we cannot do without the railways it is not good enough for the Opposition to say that they will give back the road passenger section to former private owners. That is burking the question altogether. Why is it so wrong to nationalise Scottish Motor Traction, but seemingly a virtue for Scottish Motor Traction to have taken over every little firm in Scotland? I want to test the sincerity of the Opposition in their contention that the service should go back to original owners. If, when they are handing back the road passenger services in Scotland, will they 1192 give Kilmarnock Corporation its service back and Perth its service back and Ayr, and all the others? They were sold to Scottish Motor Traction by Tory town councils. Are the small bus firms squeezed out by Scottish Motor Traction to go back to original owners? Inevitably, we must maintain our railways from a defensive point of view and, I suggest, from the point of view of the development of our industries.
It is as true today as it was when the Leader of the Opposition spoke in Dundee, in 1918, that if we want to develop the trade of this country properly the railways must be nationalised. The problem has been made much more difficult because we have waited more than 30 years to do it. We must, as one of my hon. Friends has said, get capital flowing into the railways to bring them up to date. Meanwhile, I suggest that until that integration has been achieved, with the benefits from the road passenger and road haulage side balancing the inevitable losses on the railways, we should face up to the question of subsidies.
I wish to mention only one more point, which is fairly parochial. There have been benefits to the railwaymen in the change over and one of the greatest has been that there has been proper consultation before this vexed question of redundancy has been dealt with. Railwaymen appreciate that very much, but I wish the Minister to find out whether or not it is true that there are certain people who have been given a little power under the change over who have, in certain departments, been acting as the manager of one workshop in Kilmarnock has done. He has said, "I shall clear out a third of the staff" and has adopted a dictatorial attitude without having had discussions with the unions and the people concerned. That causes a certain amount of grievance among the men. I would like that kind of thing to be cleared up. I think that on the whole the action the Government have taken and the way they have faced up to the whole problem of transport is the right one. I want them to face up to the question of subsidy as well.
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ Lady Tweedsmuir (Aberdeen, South)
I should not have intervened at this late hour had not a situation of great urgency 1193 arisen only yesterday, affecting Scotland. It has already been adequately dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for North Angus and Mearns (Mr. Thornton-Kemsley). I should however like to support him on one further point and I hope that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) will, accordingly, forgive me if I do not follow him into all his arguments. The domestic subject on which I wish to say a word is the abolition of the flat transport rate for fish. Yesterday, at Question time, the Secretary of State for Scotland revealed that at long last he had come to the firm decision that as from 15th April, when price control on fish is lifted, the flat transport rate is also to go.
I asked the Secretary of State, in a supplementary question, whether he had urged the Minister of Transport to consider a charges scheme for merchandise. The Secretary of State gave this reply:There is a Departmental inquiry going on, although I would not be too optimistic about the outcome."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th March, 1950; Vol. 472, c. 895.]I should like to ask the Minister when he will be able to tell us the result of this Departmental inqury? It is not a new inquiry; this matter has been under consideration for a long time, I should say at least a year. Countless deputations from the Scottish fishing industry have come to London and have also visited the Secretary of State, and they have brought into their consultations not only the Secretary of State for Scotland but the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Food.
As my colleagues on these benches have already pointed out, this is a matter which is causing grave concern to the whole fishing industry in the North-East of Scotland. We quite realise that the Minister of Food feels himself to be in a difficult position, because he is in a cleft stick between the South ports and the North ports. But the North ports are confronted not only with a possible rise in freight charges throughout the country of l6⅔ per cent. but also with the abolition of this flat transport rate, which will have a most serious effect on the possibility of an expansion of the fishing industry and also on the possibility of maintaining a high level of employment.
I should like to ask the Minister, or whoever is to reply, to state definitely the 1194 result of these Departmental inquiries, and also whether it is proposed to have some interim charges scheme before 15th April, when the price control is lifted and the flat rate is abolished. I assure the Committee that Scotland and all those ports North of the Border feel strongly about this subject, and are anxious to have a lead from the Government.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Major Sir David Maxwell Fyfe (Liverpool, West Derby)
Once again it is my pleasure to express on behalf of the Committee the delight with which they have listened to the first contributions from new Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. McAdden) not only gave the Committee good proof of the reason why that constituency sent him here, but impressed on all of us why and how we in turn should go to his constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Truro (Mr. G. Wilson) was listened to with the attention which hon. Members always pay to those who contribute a special knowledge; while my hon. Friend the Member for Heston and Isleworth (Mr. R. Harris) gave us an analytical study of a problem which he took for his own and which I think all of us will remember for a long time.
We in turn have contributed something to those hon. Members, because today they have seen this Committee in that lull after the storm of a succession of three-line Whips which is not the least attractive aspect of our communal life. Also, by intervening in this debate they have, if you, Sir Charles, will allow me to use a somewhat colloquial term, joined the "transport gang" in the House. The "transport gang," if I may repeat that term, have two characteristics. The first is that none of them ever pull their punches against each other. The second is that we ever strive to put the best construction on the views of everyone who speaks in our debates, believing that they are endeavouring sincerely to contribute what they can to the common measure and knowing that they are never speaking from lower or less estimable motives.
I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that of the many hundreds of debates on transport matters which he and I have shared, this Debate does stand out as one in which a contribution has 1195 been sought to be made by everyone who has taken part. It is important that we should try to have debates where that attitude prevails. I am only a little sorry that the right hon. Gentleman had not the time to discuss the charges scheme which has been put forward in what I call the "brown pamphlet." I put the point to him—and it has no party significance at all—that when the Commission are endeavouring to consider such a problem, it is important that we in the House should discuss it and leave our mark upon it at an early stage. It ought not to get hardened in the hands of anybody outside before we can try to put our imprint upon it. I should therefore like very shortly to put one or two of the matters which have given me difficulty.
I believe that the placing of the main emphasis on loading capability and not on value is a sound reform that is long overdue. I am very worried about the time factor. I said in the last debate on this subject in the last Parliament that it was unlikely that the scheme would be ready before 1952. I gather that the chairman of the Transport Tribunal has said that even that suggestion was optimistic. Therefore, hon. Gentlemen must face up to the fact that if they are relying on integration—an integration which will have as its basis a general charges scheme of this sort in its final form—then they are relying on something which cannot come into effect for, say, seven to 10 years. If the five years is optimistic as to the final form, then we must allow another period for integration to take effect.
I put it to the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole), and others who have considered this matter very seriously today, that this is not of any avail for the short-term problem which is co-terminous with our problem of closing the dollar gap by improving our trade conditions. We must face that fact and consider what we should do. I hasten to assure the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that I will try to deal with his point, though he will understand that, in the course of half an hour, it must be an outline answer that I give him. I ask hon. Gentlemen, who have put the point with such feeling and obvious consideration, to approach the question from the aspect that integration is not the immediate answer to their problem.
1196 Therefore, we have the two aspects which we must consider. On the one side, we have to try to reduce costs or prevent costs from rising; on the other side, we have to deal with the problem of this sector of employees who are drawing wages of under £5 a week. We must look to the question of improvement in efficiency, and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite to consider my suggestions even if the next time they get the opportunity they pull them to pieces. In any case, I want to put my suggestions before the Committee.
I should like to say a little more about the scheme in the "brown pamphlet." Contrary to the hon. Member for Perry Barr, I view with some dismay and doubt the putting of a differential on traffic which the consumer thinks should be sent by a different form of transport from that chosen by the British Transport Commission. I feel that that will be assumed to be endangering freedom of choice and will have an adverse effect both on practical commercial results and on morale.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
I am sorry. The hon. Gentleman will realise that one has to take some sustenance, and I had not the pleasure of hearing the whole of his speech. I accept that, and am very glad to find that he and I are on common ground.
Now let me come to the question of the railway operating policy. The Minister has put forward as the explanation—and it has been supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite—the rising costs of materials. I find it difficult to accept rising costs in the period 1948 to date as an explanation of an increase of losses by six times—from £5 million to £30 million—and I think we should want a lot of convincing on that point. Again, let us face the future. We must do that.
I think hon. Gentlemen will remember that I made, I am sorry to say, 179 speeches against the principle of nationalisation. I do not think they would want me to repeat any of them tonight, but what we do want to consider is how we are going to deal with the position in which we are at the moment when the losses have risen from 1197 £5 million to £20 million and to £30 million. If it goes on in anything like the same way, we shall reach the figure of £100 million by 1952. The 16⅔ per cent. rise will relieve the position only for this year, but it will not completely close that gap, and it will not make up the backlog, and, of course, will do nothing towards building up a reserve. That is apart from the points, which again we must face, however we explain them, that it is going to mean sacrifices in traffic and increasing costs in basic industries such as coal, iron and steel.
I do not want to go in any detail into the interest charge argument, because we have had it very often already, but I remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that when one makes a purchase and uses capital in order to make that purchase, one does expect to have an interest charge in respect of that capital. This is not a question of an existing business, but of an acquisition which must be made in that way. I hope hon. Members will allow me to develop this point because I am not, for one moment, making a point against the railwaymen. They will see that is so when I finish my argument, and I think they will agree that it is a point worthy of consideration.
What impressed me were the figures which Mr. Basil Smallpiece gave a short time ago as to the output per man. He said that in freight services it was 2½ per cent. higher in 1948 than in 1938, but that in passenger services it was roughly the same. With regard to the staff employed, the same gentleman's figure per 100 engine hours in regard to freight showed that it had gone up from 232 to 265, and his figure in regard to passengers that between 1938 and 1948 it had risen from 363 to 474. I ask hon. Gentlemen, especially those who are greatly experienced with regard to the railway unions, whether they do not agree with me that longer holidays and shorter working hours ought not inevitably to result in figures like these.
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will allow me to finish the point. I believe that if we do deploy our force allowing for the fact that they have had longer holidays, and allowing 1198 for the fact that they are working for shorter hours—that if we deploy them well, and place them in the right jobs, then we ought not to have this enormous increase which Mr. Smallpiece has pointed out.
§ Mr. Hynd
I do not know how many hon. Gentlemen know who Mr. Small-piece is, but certainly the figures quoted convey very little to me, because so many multifarious things can play a part in the development of the figures. To quote them out of the blue conveys nothing at all. There is the pressure of traffic, the availability of equipment—all kinds of things. They are entirely false figures that have been given.
Sir D. Maxwell Fyle
I am sorry the hon. Gentleman does not know who Mr. Smallpiece is, but Mr. Smallpiece was an official of the Transport Commission, and he gave these figures, not in any party way, but in a careful study of the railway position. I was quoting them, I think hon. Gentlemen will realise, not to make any party point, but to make the point that we get an expert employee of the British Transport Commission saying that these are the results of his studies. I think that if the hon. Gentleman reads HANSARD he will not find it quite so difficult as he did at first sight. He will find that these figures need some explanation in working, and that is the point I was making.
There is another one. I hope it is one that will not tax the perception of the hon. Gentleman too highly. It is that the drop of receipts per passenger train mile from 13s. 9d. in 1948 to 12s. 4½d. in 1949 is a serious drop. It is a drop of 10 per cent., and therefore one has to consider profitability very seriously, because, again, this is a figure which is not a selected statistic for a point, but one which we all have to face if we are considering this position.
I 'believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) did make the serious and important suggestion that in filling the vacancy left by the late Lord Ashfield, whom we all not only admired but loved as a personality, the Minister should try to get someone with commercial experience who will deal with that point. [Interruption.] I hope hon. Gentlemen will allow me to proceed now, because I must sit down by 9.30.
1199 I always like, as I think they know, to give way if I can, but I do not want to trespass on the right hon. Gentleman's time.
I come to the argument of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross). We fought the last election saying quite clearly—it will be found in all our literature—that we did not think that the problem in the railways was a change back of ownership but was one of de-centralisation. Perhaps I may point out to him that it is a similar problem to a previous one, which was one of the main subjects of consideration in the case of coal, and of the Burrows Committee that inquired into the working of the Coal Board. If the hon. Gentleman will cast his memory back or read HANSARD for 1st December, he will find that I devoted quite a considerable time to this aspect of the problem in the speech that I made on the Report of the Transport Commission. I believe that the fact of the Railway Executive being constituted on a functional basis, and the fact that we have functional members of the Executive looking over the heads of the chief regional officers to the functional officers inside the regions is a bad and inefficient method of organisation. I believe that unless we give some responsibility to the chief regional officers, we shall never get the restoration of efficiency which is needed.
I think that everyone will agree that the hon. Member for Edge Hill (Mr. Irvine) made a most temperate and balanced speech about the difficulties inside the industry. I am not seeking to twist his frankness into an advantage for us on this side of the Committee. I am restricting the point to what he said about the wages situation, joint consultation and promotion, which he said must be taken into consideration today with the article published in the N.U.R. magazine last November, with regard to the frustration that the author found. This is an aspect which, after all, is not confined to the railway service. The Trades Union Congress statement with regard to coal shows the same approach, and I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite what is the matter with a fair and frank consideration of decentralisation on the lines that I have suggested.
I believe that if we gave this great power and responsibility to the chief 1200 regional officers and made our central body one of representatives from the regions with an independent chairman, kept it a policy-making body, and allowed the regional officers to operate as commercial undertakings, each responsible for carrying out that policy and showing its own financial results, we should get a great deal of improvement in every way.
I should like to put this point to the right hon. Gentleman and to hon. Members opposite who have made so much about the suggestion of the separation of haulage. I understand that road haulage represents at the moment some 5 per cent. of the assets of the Commission. It seems to me to be very difficult to base on that either the argument that the roads could carry the railways or that the separation of the roads would have a fatal effect on the railways.
There are two points which I want to make in a moment, but first I wanted to answer the points put by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and other hon. Members. I believe that the status quo with regard to the passenger service was better both from the point of view of efficiency and integration. From the point of view of efficiency, if we take the service provided in the provinces and the fares at which that service was provided, then I fail to find any matter of complaint that has been urged seriously during the last 20 years. Taken from the point of view of integration, the fact that the railway companies owned, not the whole of the associated bus companies, but 41 or 43 per cent.—
§ Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe
Well, something under 50 per cent.; it varied with different companies. The position was that there were boards on which there were railwaymen, and also joint standing committees between the railway companies, the bus companies and local authorities—and this was especially the way in Lancashire and Yorkshire—which gave a practical integration of services. That is one point.
The second point is this. I take my stand unhesitatingly—and I am really unimpressed by everything I have heard today in this respect, although I have paid great attention to it—convinced in the 1201 belief that in the vast majority of cases the corporation services should be run by the corporations, who are local people, who understand local conditions, know the routes, the stops and the fares and—and hon. Members opposite must concede this—the members of the council are always there to be shot at; people go round to their houses and make the councillors' lives a misery if they do not get a good service. Hon. Members on both sides know that. I believe that that is the way to run it.
With regard to goods transport, let me put my difficulty to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. By the application of what is known to members of my profession as the rule in Enston's case—the rule on which road and rail transport worked before the war—a new entrant, and to a slightly lesser extent anyone who wanted to run a new vehicle, had to show two things: first that he had the customers available; and secondly, that the existing methods of transport were neither suitable nor adequate to deal with the customers' needs. Not to agree that coming within these two propositions justifies the existence of road transport is to condemn the producers of our country to an inferior form of transport. I cannot believe that that is a good method to use for getting on with production at the present time.
That is the general position. I am not strait-laced about it. I do not want—and I think the Minister knows me too well to think that I ever would—to take away "C" and "D" licensed vehicles from the railways; I do not want to prevent the railways from having proper complementary services. I do not think anyone who has had anything to do with transport would ever suggest that for a moment. But I do say—and I believe it now as intensely as I did three years ago when speaking on the Transport Bill, and after all the experience we have had—that to get sound local application of goods road transport there must be a small unit, and that is the only thing that will give it.
I have tried to give a general outline in reply to some questions. No doubt we shall have other opportunities of dealing with the points. In the few minutes remaining to me I wish to say a little about the London scheme. There again, we 1202 ought to get our approach right. At an embryo stage we do not want to pick out details and concentrate on them. On the other hand, again, we in the House must have the right of examination; and if we are to do our duty to our constituents we dare not let go the right of considering at an early stage the general trends and policies which underlie proposals of this sort.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that there were anomalies and historical variations in London. That is no justification for Londoners paying £3½ million towards the Commission's revenue, if their fares are going to be so much dearer than the fares of provincial buses, which are governed by the Traffic Commissioners. That is a general point which we must face. We have not only to do justice between the people of London and the people in the provinces, but we have to consider what we think is a proper method of dealing with the situation. Are we to take it that this proposal for London is to be a precursor of the rest of the country going the same way? If so, we must consider it, because that is a matter which we, as custodians of the comfort of our constituents, cannot avoid considering.
Finally, I hope the Minister will not rush on with the passenger scheme. However little attention he may pay to words of mine, let him think again of words so graphically used by his colleague, the Lord President of the Council, who paid us a brief visit and has left us again, to our sorrow, that he always viewed with regret the loss of something from a local authority to a nationalised industry. If the right hon. Gentleman remembers that, not only will he add to his popularity along the North-East Coast and in the Eastern Counties, but he will have done a service to the users of passenger transport throughout the country.
I have tried to give a general survey of the position in reply to the debate. Let us now on one point face the situation without blinkers—how are we to prevent further rises in costs and how are we to try to improve the position of the people in the industry? I submit that our proposal for the railways of de-centralisation and change from the strait-waistcoat of the present arrangements is the only way, and I commend it to the Committee.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Barnes
If I have the permission of the Committee, I should like to reply to many of the important issues that we have discussed. Before I do so, I want to reflect on a matter which was of interest to many of us when the Act to nationalise transport was passing through the House. At that time there was considerable concern in the minds of hon. Members as to whether they would have adequate opportunity to discuss the problems of transport. When I recall the Debate we had on the first annual accounts of the British Transport Commission and also our Debate today, with the wide opportunities it has presented to hon. Members to express their views, I do not think anybody can in future argue that there is not a reasonable opportunity in Parliament under the new dispensation. I have always taken the view that it was not necessary for the House to consider the day-to-day transport problems going down into detail, but I have never evaded the issue that transport policy as such ought to receive our consideration from time to time.
No one can complain of the range of the Debate or the way that arguments have been presented. From my point of view I consider this has been a very timely Debate. It has come at a period when another phase of transport policy is about to be unfolded. The views expressed here will receive the thoughtful consideration and examination of all those concerned. It is not possible for me to reply in detail to a great number of the issues that have been raised. They fall into categories, and I undertake that each comment and proposal will be examined and, as far as possible, given due consideration. I would join with the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) in congratulating hon. Members who have made their first contributions to our deliberations. They expressed themselves with remarkable ease and fluency. They may not yet be familiar with the atmosphere of this place, but that fact did not interfere with the logical way in which they presented their views.
The first matter with which I should like to deal is the problem of staffs and costs of British Railways. It is interesting to look back at the experience after 1204 each of the two wars, and I should like to give certain figures. We must bear in mind that they represent two different principles of management. It was not until 1932, after the First World War, that we saw any reduction in the staffs of the railway companies, whereas, after the recent war, there has been a very widespread and general change in the conditions of labour in the country. When there is a general movement affecting the working conditions of wage earners it is not possible, under any form of management, to isolate an industry like the railway industry, which employs more than 600,000 persons—not all wage-earners, it is true.
The introduction of the 44-hour week, the granting of holidays with pay, and the fact that, in 1948, the British Transport Commission spent approximately £20 million in endeavouring to overtake arrears of maintenance that had occurred during the war are three factors that must be taken into account. This industry cannot spend £20 millions in that direction without a very considerable increase in the labour force. While it is never possible to get accurate figures, nevertheless, I consider it is a conservative estimate to say that those three factors alone would possibly account for a labour figure of at least 50,000 persons. Despite that, between December, 1948, and December, 1949, the British Transport Commission have effected a reduction of over 24,000 members of the railway staffs. Taking the three figures together, I do not consider that any right hon. or hon. Member or, indeed, any trading body outside, can accuse the British Transport Commission and their executives A neglecting their responsibility to effect economies.
It is not possible in a Debate of this description to detail all the economies secured, but I am satisfied that if one applies every reasonable test which determines administrative efficiency, it will be found that as a result of unifying the four railway administrations the efficiency test has shown good results in almost every direction. I do not say that those economies have been sufficient to affect the major issue we are discussing today, but it is certainly a notable feature of this Debate that while hon. Member after hon. Member has expressed dismay, regret and opposition to any increased charges, not 1205 a single hon. Member from the other side has indicated how this deficiency is to be met—
§ Mr. Barnes
The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) mentioned two points which I will dispose of at once, as he has interrupted. I had intended to deal with them later. The hon. Member referred to the fact that there were sums at the disposal of the British Transport Commission which could be used in this direction. I assume that he was referring to the £190 million which I have mentioned, but that has never been at the disposal of the Transport Commission or of the railway companies. The only amount available to the Commission was an agreed sum for the purpose of meeting deferred maintenance and, in 1948, £20 million of that was spent in overtaking such arrears.
The hon. Member made the further point that it was inevitable that road passenger and road haulage costs would go up and that railway fares would never be reduced. That, again, is not correct. I shall not comment on the London Charges Scheme because that is a proposal which must come before the Transport Tribunal, and it must be argued by the bodies who voice public and trade opinion. As I indicated earlier, it is certainly not for the Minister, at this stage, to offer any general comments on its merits or demerits. Nevertheless, one has only to glance at that proposal to be able to dispose at once of the argument of the hon. Member that it does not represent any decrease in railway charges. Under that scheme the fares operating on the suburban lines of the main line railways will enjoy a reduction if that scheme should go through. At present no one can say whether it will or will not go through in its present form. It may be considerably modified by the decision of the Transport Tribunal.
When hon. Members allege that this represents an increase of £3½ million on the fares of London passengers, again I say that it is too early to state that as a fact; it will depend eventually on the decision of the Transport Tribunal.
§ Mr. Renton
is it not a fact that the Executive have published a statement to the effect that the result of the applica- 1206 tion they are making will be an increase in the net revenue?
§ Mr. Barnes
Certainly. I have admitted that that is in the proposals. No one can say that that will be the result when the scheme is approved, because it is a matter for the Transport Tribunal yet to determine.
I think it will be of interest to the Committee if I compare what happened after the First World War, when the railways—
§ Mr. P. Thorneycroft
Before the right hon. Gentleman turns again to what happened after the 1914–1918 war, would he direct his answer to two points which were made by my hon. Friends and myself during the Debate? The first was a request for a detailed analysis of the policy of the Transport Commission in passenger railway services. The second question asked what the Minister was doing to fulfil his duty to fill the vacancy created by the death of Lord Ashfield.
§ Mr. Barnes
Hon. Gentlemen opposite have enjoyed the advantage of putting their case in their own way, and their comments here tonight have been a defence of the whole system under which transport was formerly operating.
§ Mr. Barnes
Our policy represents a change, and I want to show that the experience of the railways since the Second World War, the effects of which were much graver and deeper, is not different from what happened under the administration of the old railway companies. While I always listen to the views which are expressed by hon. Members, no one can influence me to say things differently from the way in which I want to put my own argument or case.
I know that hon. Members opposite do not like these facts to be published, but it is desirable that they should be published; that is why I intend to give them here tonight. In 1917, passenger fares increased by 50 per cent. During the late war, however, as I indicated earlier, passenger fares were maintained at the level of an increase of 16⅔ per cent. until the end of the war. In January, 1920, freight rates were increased by 50 per cent. By August, 1920—all this took place before the railways were decon- 1207 trolled, and was under a predominantly Conservative Administration; passenger fares increased to 75 per cent. over what they were in 1914.
In the matters we are discussing today, the proposed increase—the hon. Member for Monmouth does not like to take his gruel, but I am not disposed to exempt him tonight. In 1920—I hope the hon. Member will note these points—under a Conservative Administration, passenger fares increased to 75 per cent. over what they were in 1914. I would remind the hon. Member that in the present proposals the Transport Commission expressly state that it is not their desire to increase passenger fares any further. In September, 1920, freight rates were increased, again under a Conservative Administration, to 112 per cent. over 1914. I suggest that the situation in those days, under private enterprise and Conservative Administrations, compares very badly with the situation today.
During the period which then followed, under Conservative Governments—I was in the House all through that period—the subject came up time after time. It was evaded and it drifted on from year to year and from Parliament to Parliament. I think I am entitled to make the further point that before this Government came into power, when representatives of the four main line railway companies were negotiating with the war-time Government, and were anticipating that at some time after the last war they would come to a period of decontrol, the representatives made it quite plain that before decontrol took place they would expect their charging powers to be put on a satisfactory basis. I suggest that if a Conservative Government had been in power after the last war they would either have had to agree to that situation, or they would have faced the position we are facing today.
The right hon. and learned Member for West Derby said that if we go on on this basis—and the full charges scheme cannot come into operation until 1952, when they must begin to work their way out—the Transport Commission, if nothing is done in the matter, will be facing a cumulative deficiency in the neighbourhood of £100 million. We have not heard one practical busi- 1208 ness like suggestion from the other side as to how a problem of that kind will be met.
§ Mr. Barnes
I do not consider that the suggestion of decentralisation touches the financial problem involved here in the slightest degree. How would decentralising the railways into six or eight regions—they are in six regions today—bridge a deficiency of £100 million, merely by the creation of local boards with local chairmen for the purposes of making decisions on the spot? Making decisions on the spot will not provide the railways with physical assets, the modernised physical assets, which are essential in this matter. I have not hesitated to state, and I repeat tonight, that I think hon. Members are taking too gloomy a view of the future of our railways.
To give a recent example, on the Eastern Area suburban line to Shenfield electrification has recently been completed and, as a result, passenger receipts have increased by more than 40 per cent. in a short time. Much of the traffic which previously went by road services has been attracted back to the railways. The problem which lies before the Transport Commission, when restrictions of capital investment and other economic difficulties are out of the way, is to modernise the railway system. I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the suggestion that the mere decentralisation and breaking down of machinery and having local boards will in no way touch a deficiency of this kind.
I emphasise that there are only three ways in which we can deal with the problem. We can secure severe economies—which is not possible, because if we cut to that extent we would vitally injure our railway system. The only other two ways in which we could stop the accumulation of the deficiency is by increased charges or by subsidies. Many of my hon. Friends have openly advocated a subsidy. I have not heard any hon. Member opposite advocate a subsidy, but at the last General Election they were holding out hope to the people that they would reduce taxation by £100 million, £200 million, or £300 million, as the case may be. Will they state here tonight whether they can carry out, or ever hope 1209 to carry out, a policy of this kind if they are to add to the present subsidies a subsidy on the railways? If that is not the case how is this deficiency to be met or its growth into a sum of £100 million stopped, unless it is met by an increase in charges?
I come to the point which the right hon. and learned Member for West Derby has always and rightly stressed in our Debates on transport matters. He has emphasised that a policy of integration between road and rail that will give the largest measure of economy can never be carried through in the fullest sense until the charges schemes are first established. I suggest that if we allow this accumulation of £100 million deficit to develop by 1952 it will make nonsense of any charges schemes that may be introduced at that period. To allow this sum to accumulate and then endeavour to liquidate it in the charges schemes would produce an impossible situation. I know of no form of business organisation of any kind, whether in the field of public or private enterprise, that can exist if it refuses to face up to the problems which confront it from day to day. Hon. Members opposite cannot relieve themselves of this responsibility.
I am satisfied, and I think there is evidence to support the view, that if the whole of our public transport services are integrated—the railway, goods and road passenger services—a service of that kind will in time eliminate the enormous waste there is in all forms of transport. Whether one considers "C" licences, rail transport, goods transport or road passenger services, it will be found that a great number of empty miles are run, which represent a good deal of wastage. The more ownership is duplicated and split up into small sections the more that element of waste is increased.
If that is not the case why did the right hon. and learned Gentleman deal with the principle embodied in the Road Traffic Act, again a Measure passed by a Conservative Government after examination of this problem? Why was it laid down even in the field of private enterprise that in respect of road haulage and public passenger services an applicant had to prove that there were not sufficient transport services already in being before he could enter those services. That prin- 1210 ciple had to be introduced, and it has always been supported by the Road Haulage Association. They were against new entrants coming into that industry because it would represent an increase in waste. I welcome this Debate tonight because I think that the more this House discusses this problem the more the public will understand the inherent difficulties and the more they will gather behind this party for a permanent solution.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That a sum, not exceeding £855,595,000, be granted to His Majesty, on account for or towards defraying the charges for the following Civil and Revenue Departments and for the Ministry of Defence for the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1951.
§ Resolution to be reported Tomorrow:
§ Committee to sit again Tomorrow.