§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."—[The Chairman of ways and Means.]
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
Mr. Deputy-Speaker, before the House proceeds to a discussion of this Bill it would be of great assistance to hon. Members if you would be so good as to give some guidance as to the possible scope of the Debate. I submit that the Ruling that Mr. Speaker gave on 22nd February last year on the previous Bill promoted by the Transport Commission covers the Debate in this case, but I shall be grateful for your guidance.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I thank the hon. Gentleman for warning me that he intended to raise this point. The Debate may extend beyond the contents of the Bill, though it must remain related to its purpose and not traverse the constitution and power of the Commission, which has been settled already by Parliament.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I understand that is the Ruling which Mr. Speaker gave on the occasion I have mentioned, and therefore that Ruling in its fullness covers this Debate.
It is a little surprising in present circumstances that the British Transport Commission should at this moment be bringing forward this Bill. I think all hon. Members fully appreciate the gravity of the financial position, at least of the railway side of the Transport Commission, and it is with the railway side that this Bill mainly, though not exclusively, deals. Hon. Members in most quarters of the House are concerned not only at the grave and increasingly difficult financial position of our railways, but even more perhaps by the inevitable repercussions of that situation upon all our national economy. It is against that background, with the grave issues concerned still unsettled, with one of the gravest of them still awaiting a decision on the desk of the Minister, that the Transport Commission come forward with a Bill which, if this House passes it, will give them 656 authority among other things for the expenditure of money upon works and for the carrying on of many activities, most of which, however admirable, cost money.
This House would be failing in its duty to the people it represents outside if it gave a Second Reading to this Bill without enquiring further as to the position and intentions of the Commission. If we in this House give a Second Reading to this Bill, and in due course pass it into law, we place upon our own shoulders responsibility for the continuance of the Commission along these lines and for the consequences of its so continuing. Therefore, it is right for hon. Members before passing this Bill, to inquire pretty drastically into the proposals of the Commission for rectifying the serious position in which they now find themselves, whosoever may be at fault for that.
Perhaps I should sum it up in this way, that we start our discussion on the basis that the body promoting this Bill is on a non-stop run to bankruptcy and that we must insist—as we would in the case of any body, state owned or privately owned, which came before Parliament with a Bill of this character—on discovering how that Commission hope to be able to find themselves in the financial position to carry out the proposals contained in this Bill as well as to cary out their other duties. It is particularly important that this should be done in the case of the Transport Commission because I am certain that the Minister will agree with me that it has been his consistent policy to shelter the Commission as far as possible from inquiries in this House.
It is, therefore, particularly right that, when the Commission comes to this House for Parliamentary powers, hon. Members should take advantage of the opportunity so given to investigate further than the policy of the right hon. Gentleman always permits. We are, as it were, the shareholders at a meeting of this concern; at any rate, we are the representatives of the shareholders—I very nearly said, the trustee in bankruptcy—and it is important that we should take this opportunity of examining the situation.
Now, what are—I hope that the Minister will take an early opportunity to intervene and help us on this matter—the proposals by which the Transport 657 Commission hope to raise sufficient financial resources to enable them to carry out even the proposals set out in this Bill? As I understand it, almost their only major proposal, almost their only proposal consonant in scale with the size of the problem, is to raise charges of one sort or another; to raise charges both for those people who pay their fares upon the railways and also, if one looks at Clause 28 of the Bill, of those philosophers who seek to evade that obligation.
It is our first duty to analyse whether that is the right way to achieve what it is sought to do. Of course, it is a great temptation to a great monopoly, when it gets into financial difficulty, to put up charges. Indeed, it is one of the most serious disadvantages of monopoly that that is so. The questions we must ask ourselves before giving authority for this Bill are, whether those proposals work, whether they will, in fact, get the Commission out of their financial difficulties and, equally, the question of whether those proposals will not, even though they get the Commission out of their difficulties, inflict serious harm on the nation, which in another capacity all of us here represent.
The Minister will recall that he and I have discussed this matter before. He will recall that some years ago we had a Debate upon a statutory instrument under which, shortly before nationalisation, the right hon. Gentleman gave authority for the raising of passenger fares.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I see the right hon. Gentleman recalls that occasion. He will recall that I took it upon myself to warn him that the effect of raising those fares would not be to improve the financial position of our railways. I warned him that it seemed, to me at least, that a concern whose trading activities were diminishing was singularly ill-advised if it raised its charges to its customers; that that process, instead of raising revenue, would diminish it; and that, instead of stimulating trade, would discourage it.
What has happened? I ask the right hon. Gentleman to pay attention in that connection to the observations of the very able man whom he has placed in charge of the Railway Executive, Sir Eustace Missenden, who had, as the right hon. 658 Gentleman knows, a career of great distinction with the Southern Railway and who, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to say, was a very fine choice for the responsible job which he holds. In referring to the transport situation last summer, Sir Fustace said this: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.The reason, I submit, is the reason which I warned the Minister across the Floor of the House a few years ago would be the reason: that if passenger fares were raised, as was done despite the warning of my hon. Friends, traffics would be diminished. I think the right hon. Gentleman can now see the result of that policy in those words I have quoted of Sir Eustace Missenden. It is against that proved experience—it is not a matter now of logical argument, but of proved fact; it is against that background that the right hon. Gentleman is now dealing with this question of the proposed rise in railway freight charges, which is, as I mentioned a moment ago, still before the right hon. Gentleman. It is, perhaps, appropriate that hon. Members who feel strongly about this proposal should take this opportunity of stressing their views upon the right hon. Gentleman before he takes irrevocable decisions.
Is it not the fact that, without doubt, what happened with passenger fares will happen with freight; that we will discourage inevitably that margin of traffic which so often makes the difference between profit and loss? I ask the right hon. Gentleman, because practical examples are sometimes of very great use, to pay a little attention to a particular case, which by happy chance came to me today, the case of a constituent of mine, particulars of whom I should be happy to forward to the right hon. Gentleman, who wrote to me this morning in these terms:I had occasion to send approximately 3 tons 10 cwt. of machinery from High Wycombe to"—it is a place in the Northern kingdom and I apologise for my pronunciation of it—Monifieth, near Dundee"—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am much obliged to the hon. Member for his pronunciation of the name. The great advantage of this House is that it has an expert upon every subject. My constituent continued:and went to the expense of having it cased for rail transport. An identical consignment was ready the following week but I had no means of casing it and therefore sent it by Road Transport, door to door. The cost by Rail was £30 0s. 4d. and the cost by Road Transport under £19. Can the Railway Authorities wonder why they cannot attract custom on such conditions.That is the type of thing of which most hon. Members will have had experience in their own constituencies, that this very high level of freight charges inevitably drives traffic away. What is so very alarming about this is that it happens that this policy of raising freight charges is not to be confined to the railways; that it is, indeed, the intention of the body promoting this Bill not to seek to check the drop in traffic on the railways by reducing railway rates, but by the infinitely more pernicious method of raising road haulage charges to something like a comparable level.' The House will no doubt recall—
§ Mr. Pargiter (Southall)
On a point of Order. May I ask you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, how the questions now being raised even remotely refer to the words contained in the Bill? It seems to me that the question of revenue does not arise and cannot be established.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
On that point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I would respectfully submit that this is the position: that the Transport Commission are bringing forward a Bill which will inter alia involve the expenditure of a great deal of money. It is surely not only in Order—but, indeed, the duty of—this House, before giving assent to the Motion, to satisfy itself that the financial means of carrying out the proposals of the Bill will be available.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
In my view, the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) was not going beyond the Ruling which I gave at the beginning of the Debate, which, as perhaps hon. Members heard, had been given on a previous occasion by Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
As I was saying when the hon. Member intervened, it appears that the policy—in my view, the 660 policy which will not prove to be a policy able to finance these proposals—is to raise road haulage charges in order, it is hoped, to offset the disparity between road and rail. I rely for that upon the words spoken by learned counsel, who, on the instructions of the British Transport Commission, appeared before the tribunal early in January of this year in connection with the proceedings the result of which is now on the desk of the right hon. Gentleman. The learned counsel said, no doubt on the instructions of the Commission:I am told that we are putting up road charges where we can, and that we will continue to do so.That was plain enough, and if learned counsel spoke without the instructions of the Commission on that decisive point of policy, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take the earliest possible opportunity to repudiate those words, because until they are repudiated they throw a discouraging light upon the financial measures behind the Bill.
I ask the House to look at this question a little from the point of view of public policy. One thing is inevitable if this process continues, and that is that the cost of production, particularly of our heavy industries, will be raised—transport as hon. Members know, plays a very large part in the costs of steel; coal—itself an item in the costs of production of other industries; agricultural produce and so on; and at a time when, as all hon. Members agree, the stimulation of our competitive power on the world market is not merely desirable, but an essential of national survival, it seems a terrible thing that this great transport monopoly should be using the vast powers vested in it by this House to inflate the cost of production of every industrial process in this country.
If hon. Members prefer, to the point of view of an hon. Member on this side of the House, the measured periods of the newly published Economic Survey—which is so newly published that it has perhaps some little validity—they will see that it says, under what are after all stated to be the conclusions of His Majesty's Government:This competitive power rests today largely upon the price advantage resulting from the present rates of exchange and will be diminished with every rise in the United Kingdom price level.661 They go on to say in the final paragraph:The Government … regard … as of vital importance … increased efficiency and lower costs.How on earth is British industry to produce lower costs if the item of transport costs is not only to rise here and there, but to be deliberately raised as a result of the considered decision of the great monopoly which controls our transport system? That is an issue to which hon. Members must address their minds and, of course, an even greater degree of responsibility rests on the right hon. Gentleman.
There is another aspect of this matter. There are proposals put forward at the moment in connection with the London area. I appreciate that it would be undesirable, and perhaps out of order, to discuss those particular proposals which the London Transport Executive have put forward, because they are still, I understand, awaiting discussion before the Tribunal. However that may be, it is common knowledge that those proposals, which would involve raising £3,500,000 more from the travelling public, are simply part and parcel of these consistent proposals which the Government put forward. In connection, not only with London, but with every great metropolitan area, it is a very important factor from this point of view.
In the private budgets of workers in urban areas travel is a very large item. It is an extremely important item to workers in my constituency, many of whom have to travel long distances to work. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman in all frankness that a policy which will raise those sort of charges, suburban fares and so on, is completely incompatible with any attempt to maintain a wage freeze because the pressure so put on individuals, already living on a very narrow margin, would be quite intolerable and it will be impossible for them with the best will in the world to co-operate in the proposals put forward by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that if the costs of producing the transport service cannot be met in any other way, there should be an increase in the price of this particular commodity of convenience? Would he agree to paying the economic price for this service or would 662 he inform us in what other way he suggests we could get the money to keep the service running?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Member has been good enought to anticipate some later remarks I was going to make, but I will answer the direct point he has raised at once. Of course if there is no other measure which human ingenuity can find of putting the finances of our transport system upon a sound basis the question of charges would have to be considered, but the effect of such a rise in charges would be so disastrous that it is the duty of the Commission and of the Minister to take every step to prevent that necessity from arising. I hope to offer one or two suggestions in due course and I am grateful to the hon. Member for intervening with that extremely relevant question.
In connection with the proposals for, as the right hon. Gentleman so nicely puts it, integration of road and rail, I wish to raise a point in the hope that he will be able to deny it. In a newspaper closely associated with His Majesty's Government, the "Daily Mirror," on 27th March, an article was published which purports to give the intentions of His Majesty's Government and indicates that the difficulties of the Transport Commission are to be met by a short-term loan.The short-term loan would be to enable the railways to carry on over say, the next three years, … The plan, it is believed, would be for the loan to be repaid out of a special charge or tax levied on road passenger transport.I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not fall back on the pretext that statements as to taxes must await the Chancellor's Budget statement. I hope he will be in a position to deny the suggestion outright. It is a very dangerous proposal and if it is untrue it would be in the interests of our transport system to deny it at once.
The great issue before the House is whether we must accept the proposal of the Transport Commission as inevitable, and, in answer to the hon. Member for Nottingham, East, if they are inevitable then it is, as Mr. Phillip Guedalla once put it, unwise to attempt to avoid the inevitable. But is it inevitable? Has everything been done to put the financial position of the Commission in a proper position? One issue immediately rises to 663 my mind. During the proceedings before the Tribunal to which I have made reference Sir Walter Monckton, appearing for one of the interests concerned, cross-examining the representatives of the Commission, pointed out that whereas in 1938, 550,000 men on the railways were sufficient to secure the movement of 298 million tons of freight, in 1948, 650,000 men—100,000 more—were required to move 276 million tons of freight—22 million tons less. It would appear prima facie at least that there is there some possible inefficiency.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If it is due to bad organisation or a wastage of man-hours due to organisation, at anyrate those figures do call for inquiry before this House can assent to the policy of the Commission. Are we satisfied that the Commission organises its affairs really efficiently to do the job?
I have been very much struck with the fact that the old feeling of loyalty and enthusiasm which the old railway companies were able to evoke—particularly because I have some family connection with the Southern Railway which my father-in-law served for many years, and I knew from him the extreme spirit of loyalty in serving this country which was well shown by these railway men when working under bombardment—is to some extent being lost, inevitably perhaps under an organisation so vast as the present one. That spirit of loyalty, that team spirit, is not merely an inestimable quality; it is of very considerable economic value, and it causes men not only to do their duty, but to do more when necessity requires. I have the feeling that, to some extent, that team spirit has been lost under the Railway Executive. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he cares to follow that up, to notice particularly the results of this amalgamation down in the extreme south-west of England where the old Southern and Great Western Railways overlap. I think he will there find evidence in support of what I have said.
Then, are we sure—if I may say it once again—that higher fares have produced better revenue? After all, it costs nearly as much to run an empty train as to run a full one; and most hon. Members, who 664 arrange their travelling to as to avoid Bank Holidays, know perfectly well how empty are our long-distance trains. If fares were reduced, we should get much more revenue for very little extra expenditure. Are we sure that all new sources of revenue are being looked for and that all old sources of revenue are being retained? I ask that question because I have received a communication from a constituent of mine who for many years advertised his concern—a small hotel—on the back of railway time tables. He has received from the Southern Region of the Transport Commission a letter dated early last year stating:The Railway Executive has directed that public timetables shall cease to carry any commercial advertisements. In view of that decision, I have to advise you with much regret that I shall be unable to insert your advertisements in future editions of the timetables.The amounts involved are no doubt trifling compared with the vast scale of railway expenditure, but does not that symbolise something? Here we have a concern with a vast and increasing deficit, and which is seeking to meet that deficit by increasing its charges to the public, by some general ruling deliberately dispensing with a source of revenue which, at any rate, brought in some money to its predecessors.
The incident seems to me worthy of recalling to this House, not, as I say, for the small amount involved, but because, if this can happen in one case which happens to come to the personal attention of an hon. Member, how many similar things may be taking place which do not come to the attention of hon. Members? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider carefully with the Commission why it is that sources of revenue, however small, should in the present circumstances be disregarded in deference to some abstract principle of, as I see it, no particular validity. That seems to me to be the issue before the House.
I know that several of my hon. Friends are anxious to deal with important issues that arise on particular Clauses of the Bill, several of which, I am glad to say, have not escaped their experienced scrutiny. But, in opening this Debate, I did want to confine myself, as I sought so to do, to this great main issue. Is the financial policy of the Transport Commission now being conducted in a way which will 665 secure the financial stability of the Commission, and, what is infinitely more important, in a way which will assist our nation's economic struggle for survival? It is those questions which must be in the background of the minds of all hon. Members who in their responsibility have to decide upon a Measure put forward by this Commission. I know the right hon. Gentleman will believe me if I say that no one will be more relieved than I if he is now able to indicate to the House that steps are at last being taken to remedy a position which, as I say, involves not only a great nationalised industry, but must also involve the future of our industrial system itself.
§ 8.34 p.m.
§ Sir Austin Hudson (Lewisham, North)
I am very glad of this opportunity to break my enforced silence of four and a half years—a silence enforced by the fact that I lost my seat—by saying a word or two on this Bill. As many old Members of the House know, I was connected with the Ministry of Transport for some four and a half years before the war. One of the things which has surprised me on coming back, is the change in the functions of that Department after 1945. In my day railways were practically never dealt with. If trains ran headlong into each other, then perhaps a Question might be asked in the House and the Minister might give an answer. At that time the railways were run by different companies and we had to deal, not so much with them, as with the vast and increasing road traffic of this country.
I want to narrow my short contribution to the Debate on this Bill to the question of London. The tabling of this Bill gives the House one of its few opportunities to discuss some of the work of the British Transport Commission. A very important body to the Londoner under that Commission is the London Transport Executive. The Preamble to the Bill lays down that it is the duty of the Commission toprovide or secure or promote the provision of an efficient, adequate, economical and properly integrated system of public inland transport and port facilities within Great Britain for passengers and goods. …The Bill lists a number of ways in which it hopes to bring this about. I was struck by what my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said about the importance of 666 the transport system to everybody, and particularly to Londoners. It was brought home to me today by a letter I received from a constituent who was not concerned with this Bill, but with a proposition that in the Budget reasonable travelling expenses should be allowed against Income Tax. He told me that his income is about £5 a week, but owing to the fact that he is living some way out his season ticket costs him some £20 a year. He pointed out what a difference that made to him, living outside the centre of London, compared with somebody doing an equal job but living right on top of his work. Therefore, I make no apology for raising this question—of Londoners' fares—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The question of London passenger transport fares is before a tribunal at the moment. It is sub judice; so I do not think we can discuss it.
§ Sir A. Hudson
I bow to your Ruling, Sir, but I think that one of the ways in which the British Transport Commission hope to finance this Bill is to raise another £3,500,000 from Londoners. At least they hope to raise that sum.
§ Sir A. Hudson
I bow to your Ruling, Sir. Part of the Title of the Bill is "to confer further powers on the Commission." Some of us are not entirely satisfied that the Commission are using wisely the powers which they now possess.
There is a Clause of the Bill dealing with the County of London. It is in Clause 5, page 5. It deals with certain works which are to be carried out on the Northern Line both at the Oval Station and at Wandsworth. I hope the Minister will be able to tell us something about those works. Apparently the works at the Oval Station have something to do with the deep-level shelter works. I was always under the impression that those deep-level shelters were not actually built as shelters but were part of the extension of the underground railway which is to come later. I do not know whether that is so or not.
There have been—and the Minister knows this—frequent requests to the Minister and later to the London Transport Executive that this Northern Line 667 should be pushed further towards the Lewisham area. I understood that the reason that has not been done up to now has had something to do with the wetness of the land. I am told that it is extremely difficult to push a tube through the very marshy and shaley ground in that area. I should like to know whether these works at the Oval, which are comparatively small, are in any way connected with this proposition. If so, it would be a great blessing to the people in those parts. It would relieve congestion and it would also help to save some of the enormous cost which, as the Minister knows, has to be undertaken in that part of London in the uprooting of the tramway system and replacing it with 'buses. I do not know whether I should be in Order in telling the Minister that if he could give any information as to the date of that desirable change-over. I should be more than delighted.
There are two other points on which I should like to say a few words. So far as I can make out, Clause 28 deals with fines of different kinds. In subsection (2), page 18, the Transport Commission seek to take powers to increase certain fines. I have looked at the Act of 1936, and I find that the fine that is being increased from 40s. to £5 applies to people who do not show their tickets. Further on there is another fine of 40s. which is being increased to £5, and that applies to people who try to leave the train without showing their tickets. I should like to know why, further on, there is this terrific increase from £5 to £20 which appears to be for a second offence of trying to leave a tram, train or bus without showing one's ticket. Obviously there must be some reason for inserting that provision. I should like to know whether there has been an enormous increase in the number of these offences. An increase from £5 to £20 is pretty steep. I hope that no hon. Member will think that I am trying to encourage anybody who goes in for that undesirable practice of trying to travel free; but the point is one which I think should be explained.
The next point concerns Clause 33, on page 19. Why do the British Transport Commission contract out of the Town and Country Planning Act? We should all like to contract out, and here 668 they calmly insert in the Clause a provision to the effect that the enactment shall be deemed to have been passed before the coming into force of the Town and Country Planning Act. I should like to know if that is to be a precedent for all these public commissions, and I should like to know the reason for this action. It may be that they are contracting out because they do not like the Act, but they seem to be only people who are allowed to do so.
I hope that the next time we have a British Transport Commission Bill—and I presume this will be a yearly event—they will have a better record of achievement than they have to date. The ground was very ably surveyed in the opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames. I think we all recognise that there are many hon. Members who are profoundly disturbed about what is happening on the railways, on the London Passenger Transport network and in other places—not only about the financial happenings but also, as my hon. Friend said, about the vast staffs which live and have their being under the Transport Commission. I hope that later in the Debate, the Minister will be able to answer some of the questions I have endeavoured to put to him.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East)
It is satisfactory that, even at a rather late hour in our proceedings, we are able to discuss so broadly and widely the affairs of the British Transport Commission. There are one or two points I wish to contribute to the Debate, and I shall do so, briefly, since a number of other hon. Members wish to take part in the general discussion. This Bill contains many provisions and proposals which will ultimately save the British Transport Commission quite a lot of money. For instance, there is one proposal on page 4, concerning work in the city and the county borough of Nottingham, which, if carried out, will be of great convenience to railway operation in that district and will, in the not-too-far-distant future, save the Commission a considerable amount of money. I therefore welcome this opportunity to support the Measure, as I am sure it will ultimately be supported by all sections of the House.
I should like to comment on the staffing figures quoted by the hon. Member 669 for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). He mentioned, accurately so far as I can remember, that the staff in 1938 was 550,000–550,111, I think, is the actual figure—and he also referred to the present-day staff as being 610,000.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The figures I quoted were given by Sir Walter Monckton before the tribunal recently. They related to April, 1948, and they were 650,000.
§ Mr. Harrison
The position today is that the figure is 610,000, if my memory serves me correctly. Let us, however, take the figure of 650,000 quoted in the tribunal proceedings. I want to draw the attention of the hon. Member and of the House to the fact that railwaymen today are working shorter hours and are enjoying longer holidays. If we compare the pre-war figures with those of today for both the numbers of the staff and the amount of traffic per tonnage mile—and even taking into consideration the fact that the number of passengers is less—we find that the railwaymen are doing more work today because more traffic is being handled by fewer men. That is the only accurate method of assessing what is being done on the railways, and that is the fact that we find. It is a matter of great importance in considering the scientific organisation of railway operation and control at the present time.
Another matter mentioned by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames that I should like to take up, is that of advertising. I think it is noticeable to everybody who travels by rail that there has been an extraordinary improvement in railway advertising during the last two years. We read in the very authoritative Report of the Transport Commission that a special study has been made of the subject and a special effort made to extend the profitable lines of advertising on railway properties and in railway conveyances. I think we ought to congratulate the Transport Commission on that, not criticise it, as the hon. Member attempted to do. Particularly I do not think we should criticise by taking what seems to me to be a small isolated case for criticism, as he did. He took the timetable advertisements. If we consider other aspects of railway advertising, and the spread of railway advertising as a whole, we see that the British Transport 670 Commission have really made an effort to increase income from it.
§ Sir Wavell Wakefield (St. Marylebone)
Could the hon. Gentleman say by how much the advertising revenue has been increased during the last two or three years?
§ Mr. Harrison
I could not possibly, without notice, indicate the exact amount extra that has been made by advertising on railway premises, but I remind the hon. Gentleman of an illustration given by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) when he spoke about the old-fashioned English tavern on wheels to advertise the restaurant car service on long-distance passenger trains. The hon. Gentleman criticised the tavern on wheels very severely as a rather stupid methods of advertising. I think he so described it. I am not discussing now the merits of that particular attempt at advertising. I take it to illustrate thefact—
§ Mr. Peter Thorneycroft (Monmouth)
I did not accuse them of advertising anything. I thought the purpose was to sell beer.
§ Mr. Harrison
The point of the whole structure was to advertise the fact that there was beer—and railway travel—to sell. It was an effort in advertising. It was probably not particularly successful, but I take that instance to illustrate the fact that the British Transport Commission have widened railway advertising on stations and all over their premises.
§ Mr. Harrison
Maybe. I am not discussing the merits of any particular form of advertising, but answering the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames by saying that the Commission have made an effort to increase revenue by advertising.
The last point is that of rail rates—freight and passenger. It seems to me that when hon. Members on the other side criticise the operations of the Commission they always get stuck on this question, and say that it is wrong to raise rates, whether for passengers or goods. I agree with them that, normally, it is most undesirable to raise passenger or freight rates. I put this question to them, although they never seem to answer it.
671 Irrespective of any economies which we may make in administration or operation, how can we run the railways without charging a really economic rate for both passengers and goods? The alternative to that is to subsidise the railways to enable them to operate at anything like an economic cost. If a subsidy is the alternative put forward by hon. Members opposite, I wish they would make that clear.
I do not think that is the answer. I do not think that any subsidy should be given to rail transport. I think that all we should ask for is an economic rate for both goods and passengers. Up to the present, we have never enjoyed an economic rate in the railway service. We have always carried goods and passengers under-price. To suggest that the difficulties of the railways are due to any inability to organise the railways seems to me completely to ignore the fact that road transport is cheaper, and will remain cheaper no matter what we do, in comparison with railway costs. Therefore, to submit that there is any lack of administrative organising ability on the part of the Transport Commission because road traffic is cheaper, seems to ignore the economic and geographical position of both forms of traffic.
I suggest to the House that it should recognise very seriously that the railways today, owing to very low fares both for goods and passengers, cannot possibly pay their way, and without integration of the services as between road and rail we cannot hope to continue to run the rail services. No one could contemplate for a moment a position arising in which the railways had to curtail their operations to such an extent that rail traffic would virtually cease in this country. We have a serious problem to face and this Bill, although it may involve the spending of money, is designed particularly to assist the rail section of the British Transport Commission to do its job more efficiently than at present.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Morris (Swansea, West)
I gather from the observations of the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) that he and his hon. Friends are reluctant to give a Second Reading to this Bill unless they are satisfied that the British Transport 672 Commission are making very essential economies and taking all possible steps to improve their revenue. I was disappointed by the tenor of his speech, because after making a series of complaints he made only one constructive suggestion, namely, that greater economies should be effected, and the Minister should call on the Transport Commission to work with that end in view. This House will have to make up its mind as to what its attitude is to be towards British Railways. There are two courses open. One is, by negative and destructive criticism, to denigrate the work of the Commission, executives and the railway employees; the other is to engage in positive and helpful suggestions to encourage the Commission to improve and extend the railway section of the transport industry.
I turn for some of my information to the document quoted by the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames—the report of the permanent members of the Transport Tribunal sitting as a consultative committee under Section 82 of the Transport Act. Their report is dated 6th and 16th February, and on reading it I observe that in 1949 the Railway Executive achieved no less than £7 million in economies, and in the year ended November, 1949, a reduction of staff of 27,000. Obviously it cannot continue at that rate, although a further economy of between £2 million and £3 million is anticipated for 1950.
The Tribunal advised the Minister to grant these additional charges because they could not reasonably anticipate further economies of a substantial character. No fewer that 28 representative bodies asked to be heard at that inquiry, and Sir Walter Monckton and 11 other eminent members of the legal profession submitted evidence, and the Tribunal reported to the Minister that after hearing that evidence they had no alternative but to advise him to agree to the charges. On page 13 of the report it is stated:The principal attack on the estimate for 1950 was that of the British Iron and Steel Federation, whose submission covered the objections of practically all the other critics.If the British Iron and Steel Federation and I.C.I. will sell their products to the Railway Executive at a cost of not more than 55 per cent. over pre-war the financial state of the railways will be 673 very healthy. Even the latest charges agreed upon for the goods rates mean an increase of only 81 per cent. over pre-war. It was with that in mind that the Tribunal were compelled to tender the advice they gave to the Minister.
§ Mr. John Grimston (St. Albans)
One of the principal products sold by one of the companies the hon. Gentleman mentioned is copper for the manufacture of fireboxes in engines. The copper is manufactured by the company he mentioned, but bought originally from the Minister of Supply, who is charging that company 400 per cent. above the pre-war price, so how on earth could that company increase its price by only 55 per cent.?
§ Mr. Morris
If the hon. Gentleman examines the statistics relating to the consumer needs of the railway industry he will find that they are being charged 600 per cent. above pre-war for some of their essential needs, and for a number of others considerably over 100 per cent. The point I am making is that if the railway industry is not allowed to increase its charges in order to meet additional costs—and it may be a bad thing for trade as a whole to do that—then help must come from some other source. I am disappointed that hon. Members opposite have not conceded to the Commission credit for having effected these substantial economies.
Let me mention two other features. A new standard of permanent way has been adopted. It is more costly to instal, but it will require less maintenance, will last longer, give smoother riding, and will better withstand the wear and tear of heavy locomotives at high speed. That is a very desirable improvement that should have been effected many years ago. In place of the several hundred types of locomotives now in use twelve standard designs have been prepared and will be in service next year. That will bring about a tremendous economy as a long-term policy. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Mr. Harrison) pointed out, compared with 1947, more work is being done, and done faster, with less locomotives, less rolling stock, the burning of less coal and with less staff., If Members will take the trouble to examine the first Report of the Commission and the evidence given to the Tribunal, they will not be able to deny that substantial economies have 674 been effected, and that much has been done to co-ordinate and integrate the services.
On the last occasion when we discussed the railway section of the transport industry, much was said about decentralisation. It was asked why we did not allow each region to do its own work, and the chief regional officers to exercise to the same degree as the former general managers the right to run their particular services. I find that the chief regional officers have ample scope to exercise all the enterprise and initiative of which they are capable. They can organise special services, offer special rates and do more, in fact, than they were allowed to do under the old regime.
Reference has been made to the family spirit of the Southern Railway. That spirit was very prevalent, and it has not departed. It will be agreed that the chairman of the Railway Executive is the former general manager of the Southern Railway. Tribute has been paid to his ability, and that ability is no less because he is now serving the country and not the directors and shareholders of the Southern Railway. I suggest once more that unless we give the Transport Commission reasonable facilities to develop a long-term policy, to extend its services, to renew its stock and modernise and mechanise much of its equipment, revenue will have to be found from other sources. I am not making a threat but an earnest comment when I say that the railway employees, who are doing so much to bring the industry back to its former prosperity, will not be content to see this huge amount of money being spent on the railways without themselves having proper recognition. That recognition can be given if we are allowed to develop our resources and services. It is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Dorset, South)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I welcome this Debate because it enables us to continue the discussion on a vital nationalised industry. It is rather interesting to observe, in passing, how Parliament seizes on some old-fashioned piece of procedure and refurbishes it to make it serve modern times. It was suggested at one time that 675 in order to investigate nationalised industries it was necessary to have a Select Committee of both Houses of Parliament and things of that kind, but here we have a simple railway Bill of the old kind, which would not have been looked at in previous Parliaments, that gives us a magnificent opportunity to investigate one of these important nationalised industries.
I was very interested to hear from the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Harrison) that he did not think it necessary to subsidise the railways. He thought that the railways might be made to pay on their own account. I hope to suggest something of the same sort in the course of my remarks. His speech was very different in character from the speeches made a fortnight ago by Member after Member on the other side of the House, including the Minister himself, who told us that losses should more or less be expected and made good in other directions. The hon. Member for Lichfield was almost totalitarian in his views. He said that the wishes of the Commission and of the Railway Executive should ride roughshod over all other interests. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) in his place.
§ Mr. Poole (Birmingham, Perry Barr)
I am not the hon. Member for Lichfield, and I did not say what the noble Lord said I did.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I beg the hon. Member's pardon. It was the hon. Member for Perry Barr (Mr. Poole) to whom I was referring. I am glad to see the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, in his place. He said control should be taken off the road services in order to give parity and justice to the railways. The Minister used remarks which went to show that his whole view and sympathy was with the idea that the railways should be cushioned from competition with the roads. He said incidentally that we in the Conservative Party ought to have done something of the same kind out of the profits of the 1914–18 war.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
If the right hon. Gentleman looks in HANSARD, he will see that he said something of the kind.
676 The persistent syndicalism of the members of the Labour Party is a distinct feature of these Debates on the nationalised services. We take a very different view and we believe that as a House of Commons we should search for a financial principle in the operation of these services. I take the view that the nationalised industries should make neither a profit nor a loss, for if they make a profit they are clearly mulcting the consumer, and if they make a loss that loss falls upon the taxpayer in some form or another. The general aim should be, after paying for the charges and providing for depreciation, to strike a balance. It seems to me that that principle must go right through the Transport Commission down to the separate services which constitute it. Therefore, we differ, because hon. Members on the other side clearly think that road and possibly other forms of transport like air services, should be made to subsidise the railways. Many hon. Members opposite are railway men, and they like the idea put forward by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Monslow), in the last Debate that if the railways cannot pay they should be well padded by the roads. I believe that is quite wrong in principle.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I cannot give way because there are other hon. Members who wish to speak. Road Transport whether it is nationalised or not—I hope it never will be completely—should be made a self-contained unit, and I hope the railways and docks will be self-contained, too.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I really cannot give way because there are many hon. Members waiting to speak and I have still a few more things to say. That is the only way by which we can guarantee to the consumer, who is far too often forgotten by the other side of the House, absolute freedom of choice in transport, because there is no freedom of choice to the consumer once it is accepted that charges for one service should be artificially high in order to bolster up the losses of another form of transport. I arrive at the general conclusion that the railways somehow must be made to pay their way, and if they cannot pay their 677 way they must slowly decline in importance before other forms of transport. That situation must be accepted.
I hope it will be possible for the Transport Commission or the Railway Executive to approach the position of no profit and no loss first by means of cutting expenditure. There are some items which should be looked at. It is very pleasant to travel by rail today. There is a considerable amount of service, some of it extremely redundant. It seems to me that there are too many porters at London terminal stations. Again when one sits in the train inspectors of every sort and kind walk up and down the corridors to look at the tickets, and I am told that in the cabs of engines of not very important services there are no fewer than three men, the driver and two firemen, one to look out on one side and one to look out on the other. Those are features of railway expenditure that should be looked at. If it is necessary to keep certain branch lines for strategic purposes, the State must subsidise the railways to the extent of the expenditure on those lines. Otherwise they should be ruthlessly closed down and public road transport instituted instead.
On the question of raising revenue I can only be very brief. What my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson) said the other day is clearly very true. Trains must be filled, cheaper fares instituted, and some adventurous advertising indulged in by the Railway Executive. Trains running short distances from London to places 60, 80 and 100 miles away ought to be increased in speed. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) and I are both interested in a borough of significance a few scores of miles north of London. The train service to that borough has deteriorated progressively since the First World War. It could not be worse than it is at present. It is not a good thing for hon. Members to dwell lengthily upon their own constituencies or upon towns in which they are interested, but that is an example of the kind of thing I mean.
Passenger train-mile receipts have fallen from 13s. 9d. in 1948 to 12s. 4½d. in 1949. That clearly shows that the policy of the Railway Executive is not sufficiently directed to filling the trains and providing an interesting holiday service 678 to the public. There are not nearly enough cheap fares or excursion trains, especially along the South Coast. On this question of raising revenue I am driven to the logical conclusion that some increase in freight charges is necessary, perhaps not the whole 3s. 4d. which is projected, but some part of that sum.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames was right in saying that some of the freight charges should come down. I think those should be the charges which are competing with the road. Heavy freight, merchandise and minerals, which the road can never or seldom take, indicate the direction in which we shall probably have to look for some increase in revenue for the railways. I am afraid that this will vitally affect costs in industry, but I cannot see any other way if we are to reach the principle of no-profit-no-loss on the railways.
If, after all this has been done, the railways continue to show a loss, then, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Mr. Erroll) said in a letter to "The Times" the day before yesterday, we must assume that 19th-century rail development has reached its zenith, and that some recession must be allowed to take place. After all, what is a loss which cannot be overcome by processes of economy? A loss of that kind is the measure of the public's refusal to use the services at the prices asked and a clear indication of their desire to move to other forms of transport.
Finally, I will try to express to the House what I conceive to be the real danger of nationalisation in the transport field. What nationalisation does is to refuse to acknowledge and provide against deteriorating user—it refuses to recognise the fact that that loss is there. Nationalisation maintains the status quo, freezes the facilities and the trading characteristics of the nation and stops the natural processes of change and development. Just by way of illustration, since coal nationalisation it is extremely doubtful whether enough of the national effort has gone into atomic energy, hydroelectric development and oil refining. In my view, coal has been provided with too much social capital, and since transport was nationalised, we are seeing, under the syndicalist attitude of hon. Members opposite, road services sacrificed to the railways, freight vehicle 679 licences reduced, the Ministry of Transport allowing deterioration to take place in the upkeep of our first-class roads, and we are finding that it is increasingly difficult for the ordinary road user either to acquire cars or the petrol to put into them.
There is no doubt whatever that laissez-faire—unrestricted competition—is by far the best way to ensure that a nation keeps abreast of the times in comparison with other nations and to ensure that new industries and new services are fostered. I am quite certain that full scale laissez-faire applied to the railways today would make short work of them and probably throw thousands of men on to the labour market. Laissez-faire does fearful social damage and it cannot be tolerated in this day and age—we are all agreed about that—but what we are doing today is to fly to the opposite extreme. We are bolstering up the status quo in rail transport to the detriment of competing transport industries. The road transport concerns are being bought up and suppressed, no private aeroplane flying is allowed, petrol applications by car users are suppressed, and so on. I wonder what would have happened if nationalisation had been applied to the stage coach and turnpike road system of the 19th century. Does anybody suppose for a moment that there would have been the magnificent rail development which has taken place? Of course not. The Government's power of control would have been associated with the old-fashioned form of industry and the new ones would never have been allowed to come into being.
I am convinced that it is quite wrong to inhibit road and rail competition. I am convinced that it is wrong to prohibit private flying, to restrict the use of petrol for cars and to send so many British-made cars overseas to sterling area countries which do not need them. I wonder who dares to maintain in the House of Commons that the railway system is the right and proper system of transport for the 20th century. Who knows, for example, whether it would not ultimately serve the interests of this nation much better if one of the great railway lines—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
The noble Lord appears to be dealing with the whole principle of nationalisation, 680 but that is far beyond the confines of this Bill. There is a limit beyond which the noble Lord cannot go.
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I have gone a little wide upon nationalisation, but I am drawing to a speedy conclusion on that subject. Perhaps I may just say, in conclusion, that it might repay this country in the end if, for example, the great central line from London to Manchester were torn up, the signals dismantled and a four-lane motor road to take fast passenger and fast goods vehicles instituted in its place. That might come under laissez faire; it certainly will not come under the syndicalism of hon. Members opposite and the nationalisation policies of the State.
I do not like one sentence in the first Report of the Transport Commission, because it seems to exemplify completely what I mean about the denial of alternative forms of competition and the denial of liberty of choice of transport to the consumer. On page 25, speaking of Section 3 of the Transport Act, the Commission say:Although the Section goes on to qualify itself by providing that the Commission are neither bound to provide any particular form of service between two points, nor prevented from making different charges according to the service provided, the obligation to allow freedom of choice seems to preclude any enforced direction of traffic to particular services contrary to the expressed wishes of customers.I feel sure that the hon. Member for Perry Barr likes that sentence very much indeed. I regard it as highly dangerous.
The desire, expressed there clearly, is to consult the interests of scientific integration of the transport system and nothing else. On this side of the House we believe that the services provided should follow consumer interest and consumer desire and nothing else, unless it is a strategic question. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) said the other day that the best and cheapest services should be our aim. If, subject to strategic questions, the interest of the traveller points to roads or, indeed, to air—
§ Viscount Hinchingbrooke
I have really concluded what I want to say, and I will not keep the House any longer. The proposals in this Bill, which obviously carry forward the general intentions of the Government on rail transport, ought to be looked at with great keenness and circumspection. Unless we do that, we shall not advance the transport interests of this country, and I fear that under nationalisation progress in that industry will inevitably be arrested.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Manuel (Ayrshire, Central)
The House is indebted to the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) for the clear, concise and all-embracing way in which he opened this Debate. I am not saying that I agree with the contentions made by the hon. Member but, nevertheless, he made the Debate wide enough for us to view the provisions here contained over a wide field. It is appropriate that I should say something in this Debate, having worked as a railwayman for just on 30 years. I was never one of two firemen on an engine though, and I believe I am the last railwayman from the footplate to enter this House. I also have a large number of railwaymen in my constituency and it is, perhaps, appropriate that I have hosts of friends among railway workers. Although my time is limited, there are some observations on the Bill which I can make, and I should like to ask one or two questions and to answer some of the things which have been said.
The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, in dealing with railwaymen, touched upon the question of loyalty in connection with their jobs. I think his suggestion was that there is less loyalty today than in pre-war years. As a railwayman I want to refute that statement and to try to turn the picture and to give another view. We should not forget that in the era before the last war, railwaymen very often had to suffer a great deal of degrading and intolerable conditions. During the years of depression thousands of footplate men were degraded, with a consequent loss of income and status with 10 per cent. off their wages.
We had one period, I think it was in 1932, when the trade unions actually met the four main line railway companies to agree on what percentage should be deducted from our wages in order to allow 682 the railways to carry on. I myself had to come to London because I became redundant in Scotland and, very much against my will, I worked in London for four years. I believe now, however, that that was a good thing, for I became more closely connected with railway trade unionism and the Labour movement and, possibly, this was responsible for my subsequent arrival at the House of Commons.
It should also be recognised that when the railways were taken over, they were completely run down after six years of total war. I know the locomotives that we were working. We could hardly do running repairs on them; far less could we get new locomotives. I know of the synthetic material which we were using, and of those struggles we had during the night shift to get war material on to the road and to centres of industry, from which it would be despatched to our troops. During those six years of total war very little re-organisation or repair work was accomplished.
I maintain that when the railways were nationalised they were handed over in a decrepit condition. We must realise and square up to it quite frankly, that until we deal with this industry as we have dealt with the mining industry, and are prepared to say that we will simply pour into it millions of pounds for capital development, we shall not have the railways equipped to do the job which they ought to be doing. We need a complete reorganisation, complete modernisation and, above all, a fuller integration between our road and rail transport and our coastwise shipping. It is simply ludicrous for any sane body which is dealing with this problem to say that they will allow road services to take the cream of the traffic and to leave what is left for the railways, and for the Opposition then to cry out that the railways must stand on their own feet.
If the railways are to be run economically, we should have that integration in order that transport as a whole may serve the needs of the people and be able to clear the deficits, wherever they appear, with the total results from traffic as a whole. The hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames showed antagonism to the raising of fares or other railway charges, except as a last resort. In the present development of circumstances, owing to the present economic position, we have 683 either to agree to raise fares and charges, or to agree that the railways shall be subsidised by the nation in order to meet their commitments. We cannot carry on in the way we have been doing.
Previous to the war we saw all over Britain posters saying, "The Railways want a square deal." We still want the railways to have a square deal, but I want to see railway workers getting a square deal from the nation. I believe we and the Minister have to face up to a very full recognition that lower-paid railwaymen must receive better remuneration for the job they are doing. That must proceed with the re-equipment, integration and modernisation of our railways. If we do this together, we shall arrive at a situation in which the needs of the nation can be served.
§ 9.38 p.m.
§ Mr. De Chair (Paddington, South)
I wish to ask the Minister two questions. I realise that it is not in Order tonight to deal with the question of the raising of fares in the London area which seems so obnoxious to many of us on this side of the House. I wish to know when the London Area Consultative Committee was set up and whether the Minister has yet received any recommendations from it in respect of increasing fares in the London area. The other point about which I wish to ask is concerned with Parts 2 and 3 of the Fifth Schedule. A number of works are listed the period for the completion of which is extended by the Measure to 31st December, 1956. Can the right hon. Gentleman say why such a long period of extension is required? Is it because the London Transport Commission fear they may not be allowed to increase fares by £3,500,000 and are, therefore, reserving to themselves power to postpone these expensive works?
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ The Minister of Transport (Mr. Barnes)
In reply to points raised by the hon. Member for Paddington, South (Mr. De Chair) I do not think for a moment that there is any connection between the date of the completion of these works and the charges scheme which is now before the Transport Tribunal. The London Area Consultative Committee was established quite recently, about a 684 month or six weeks ago, and, as the hon. Member has submitted the direct issue to me as to whether I have received any recommendations from them in regard to the charges scheme, I take the opportunity of making plain the function of that committee.
These consultative committees were set up under the Transport Act and they cannot make representations to the Transport Tribunal on charges schemes but they have the power to make recommendations to the Minister through the National Consultative Committee. If the London Consultative Committee desires to express any views on the charges scheme the procedure would be to submit their views to the National Committee, which can submit them direct to the Minister, who would in turn decide whether he would pass them on to the Tribunal. That procedure was adopted for the purpose of ensuring that the National Committee which has the same facilities as the Transport Commission itself for direct approach to the Minister should have before it the views of the area Committees.
In opening this Debate the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) appeared to accuse me of desiring to avoid a discussion on the affairs of the British Transport Commission. I entirely repudiate such a suggestion. No one welcomes more than I debates on the affairs of the British Transport Commission. The House is quite aware that I took the view that, although the railways were under the direct control of the Minister and thus made him responsible for the minutest detail of railway management and operation, he was in no way fit to be responsible to Parliament for that type of question.
When we consider the opportunities which this House has had since the passing of the Transport Act and in the two years during which the British Transport Commission has brought forward its annual Bill we find that hon. Members have been provided with a very wide review of its administration and affairs. Again, in the presentation of the annual accounts of the British Transport Commission, statistics and information far greater than those obtainable from any range of industries in this country have been made available. Hon. Members had another opportunity last week in a Debate 685 on Supply. Those four occasions proved conclusively that hon. Members are not denied the opportunity of fully reviewing the affairs of the British Transport Commission.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The right hon. Gentleman will agree that it has been his constant policy to seek to limit Parliamentary Questions to an extreme edge, and to a far greater extent than, for example, the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
§ Mr. Barnes
I entirely deny that. It is only a matter of day-to-day management for which the Minister has no facilities or opportunities in his own Department of accepting responsibility. With regard to broad policy and the powers and functions of the Minister, I submit that there has been adequate opportunity for discussion.
This Debate, again, has ranged over the financial problem of the railways, and as to whether the deficit is to be met by an increase in charges. In reply to a Question the other day, I stated that I was not in a position at the moment to indicate the decision of the Government whether these new charges would be accepted and operated. All the discussions that are taking place, including those in our Debate last week and today, and all the evidence submitted by the representatives of some of the major industries in this country, emphasise the seriousness of any substantial increase in railway charges at the present moment. The Government are giving full consideration to the views that have been expressed both in this House and by the representatives of traders, and are measuring the reactions or repercussions of any increased charges of that character. That does not in any way prevent me from submitting to hon. Members the problem as it is working out in fact.
The British Transport Commission have not imposed any general increase in freight rates or passenger fares since they took possession of the transport industry on 1st January, 1948. This is the first general increase in charges they have proposed. In the two years that the Commission have been responsible for the management of the railways, of London transport, of the canals and, in more recent months the taking over of long distance road haulage, they have had to include on their expenditure side all the 686 increased charges imposed by the coal, timber, steel, copper and any other industry for commodities used in railway operations.
In the whole of my business experience I do not know of any section of industry or of any undertaking where, as in this case, owing to the history of the industry and the conditions that Parliament has imposed on it, the management have to take into consideration increased prices of commodities without being accorded equal facilities to adjust their own prices. I am increasingly struck by the attitude of some hon. Members in these Debates on transport. They appear to think that it is perfectly normal and natural for the British Transport Commission to accept every increase in price made by other industries without increasing the Commission's own charges. Yet they think that if transport charges are increased the coal and steel and other industries are immediately entitled to pass that increased cost of transport to the consumer.
I want hon. Members to consider some figures. The pre-war cost per ton of building a locomotive was £73. Today the cost is £156 per ton. The cost of constructing carriages has increased by 150 per cent. over pre-war. The cost of constructing wagons is today 110 per cent. more than it was before the war. The railways are among the largest if not the largest consumers of British steel products. The average increase in the price of steel products used by the railways is 101 per cent. The increase in cost of non-ferrous metals needed by the railways is 187 per cent. Timber for sleepers are again a substantial item in railway costs. Something like four million sleepers a year are needed to maintain the permanent way. The price of these has increased by 343 per cent. In a range of 56 commodities used in large quantities by the railways there is an increase over the pre-war price of 145 per cent.
Whether the railways are privately owned or publicly owned, and certainly while they are publicly owned, hon. Members cannot escape the responsibility of facing a situation of that kind. I have stated, and I state again with a full sense of responsibility, that Parliament must make up its mind whether this situation is to be adjusted by an increase in the form of a subsidy, which will fall on the 687 taxpayer, or by the normal process followed by industrial undertakings of adjusting charges to the cost of the services they themselves receive.
I do not think there is any evidence that the British Transport Commission in its administration has in any way endeavoured to throttle or hamper its road services. The British Transport Commission already controls companies owning over 12,000 road passenger coaches in this country, and that process of acquiring road passenger undertakings will continue, despite the opposition of hon. Members opposite. The Commission has already carried out the complete acquisition of the long-distance transport, and today owns something like 40,000 commercial lorries. What right, therefore, has the noble Lord the Member for Dorset, South (Viscount Hinchingbrooke) to say that the British Transport Commission is not aware of the need and the importance of road transport services? There is no fleet on the roads today which can equal the road haulage fleet of the British Transport Commission.
In 1939 when the railways were under the management of the four main line railway companies the Transport Advisory Council, reporting on their "square deal" proposal, said:The financial position of the railways, which has for some time past been unsatisfactory, has recently deteriorated to such an extent as to give rise to acute concern for the future stability of the companies.That was an opinion expressed before the war. As I said in our previous Debate, the circumstances of the war obscured that situation; if the main line railway companies had had to carry on after the war they would have been facing an equally serious situation and, in my view, a much more serious situation.
It must be remembered that in the accounts of the British Transport Commission there was a contribution from the road services, and there was an economy of something like £7 million. When hon. Members quote the views of Sir Eustace Missenden, I notice that they quote only one or two paragraphs that suit their own arguments. They did not go on to quote the further statement which he made, namely:It is a fact that the railways are being worked more efficiently today than ever before.688 That is Sir Eustace Missenden's view, but the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames did not refer to that. Sir Eustace went on:Despite the handicaps of inferior coal, shortage of material, and in some cases trained staff, the progress we have made reflects credit on all—management and staff alike—for it is only by united effort that a great business like ours can hope to solve its problems and so serve the public best.It does not matter what test is applied to railway efficiency today. There has been a reduction of staff of something like 30,000 persons; there has been the introduction of the 44-hour week, holidays with pay, sick pay, etc. As I have stated, there was an expenditure of something like £20 million of capital to overtake the arrears of maintenance. If we take the test of operational efficiency, and if we bear in mind the reduction in staff and the overtaking of arrears of maintenance neglected during the war, I venture to suggest that the efficiency test is discharged.
I hope hon. Members, now that they have had this further opportunity of discussing the affairs of the British Transport Commission, will give us this Bill, which represents an extension of work not only for themselves but also the provision of additional railway facilities for many private productive undertakings in this country. The fact that those private productive undertakings want many of these extensions of railway facilities indicates, I think, the value of the railways even to private enterprise today.
§ Sir W. Wakefield
Will the Minister explain why handling costs at various junctions have gone up by as much as 700 per cent.? Does that suggest the efficiency he has described to the House?
§ Mr. Barnes
I am not able to accept a statement of that kind across the Floor of the House, and no one knows that better than the hon. Member. We cannot deal with a statement of that kind by question and answer across the House, but I shall not hesitate to send him a communication on the point.
§ Mr. Renton
The right hon. Gentleman said he could not tell the House about the increase in freight charges and he said that that was a decision for the Government. Would he not agree that 689 under the Transport Act it was a decision for him? Will he say why he has not yet taken that decision?
§ Mr. Barnes
I thought I had already conveyed the answer to that. I think hon. Members have supported the need for the serious consideration of this problem. The hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Renton) knows that in this case, as in other cases, the Minister would consult and take into consideration the views of his colleagues.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time and committed.